India and Pakistan: Nuclear Capabilities

India and Pakistan are rivals and have maintained hostile relations since they gained independence from the British in 1948. Three times these two nations have gone to war, twice over disputes about Kashmir. The two have been involved in a conventional arms race since the beginning, allocating huge percentages of their budgets to defense.

While war has always been imminent between these two countries, the threat to the entire region has never been as great as it is now. The threat of a conventional war is always cause for political tension in any region and it is no secret that India and Pakistan have amassed huge stockpiles of conventional arsenal.

But as of May 1998, it is clear that the threat is much greater to the region should India and Pakistan embark on another war. It is evident these two rival nations are now also capable of producing and using nuclear weapons.

India’s nuclear capabilities have been understood since it carried out its first nuclear test in 1974. This has always been cause for great concern on the part of Pakistan. Its nuclear program is miniscule in comparison and while it was widely believed Pakistan was on the road to developing nuclear weapons, it lagged far behind its Indian counterpart. However, since 1996, Pakistan has made it clear that if India exploded a nuclear device, it would immediately start assembling its own.

India’s nuclear ambitions were clear at its inception. It began a program for the exploration of uranium ore in 1948. Within ten years it had established a plutonium reprocessing facility giving it a dual-use capability that gave India the potential for making nuclear weapons.

But while the aim toward a military program has always been there, India has spent much time and effort in establishing a civil use for nuclear power as well. It is estimated that by 2005, some 10% of India’s energy needs will be met by nuclear power. Pakistan’s civil program comes nowhere near this. Currently, only 0.65% of Pakistan’s total energy comes from nuclear resources.

Pakistan’s nuclear program has been focused almost entirely on weapons technology, especially the production of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons using indigenous sources.

Because both countries have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, both are largely excluded from trade in nuclear plants and materials except for certain resources needed for safety purposes. For this reason, India’s strategy with respect to its nuclear program is directed at achieving complete independence in the nuclear fuel cycle. This self-sufficiency extends from exploration and mining of uranium all the way through to reprocessing and waste management. Currently, India’s nuclear power program proceeds largely without fuel or technological assistance from other countries.

The United States administration has cut off aid to Pakistan since 1990 because it was unable to certify that Pakistan was not pursuing a policy of manufacturing nuclear weapons. However, this has not prevented both India and Pakistan from receiving help. China has been giving Pakistan intermittent help, most recently by providing it with centrifuge enrichment technology — a critical step on the way to weapons production.

India has been given help by Russia. Since India conducted its tests in May of 1998, Russia has reaffirmed its commitment to supplying India with a large nuclear power plant to add to its group of some 16 others with at least ten more planned.

It is widely speculated that India may have built up enough weapons grade plutonium for 100 nuclear warheads. When India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, it was perceived that even at that time the country either possessed or had the capability of quickly assembling nuclear weapons. Pakistan is also believed to possess enough weapons plutonium to produce at least 40 nuclear warheads.

In 1997, India deployed its own medium-range missile and it is now in the process of developing a long-range missile capable of reaching targets in China’s industrial heartland. In April of the following year, Pakistan tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the city of Madras in southern India. This development has removed India’s main military advantage over Pakistan.

While India has maintained in the past that its nuclear testing was for peaceful purposes, it has stated openly that the last set of detonations, including one thermonuclear device, were military in nature. India declared the explosions were “to help in the design of nuclear weapons of different yields and different delivery systems.”

The public stance of these two nations on the subject of non-proliferation differs greatly. Pakistan has initiated a series of regional security proposals including establishing a nuclear-free zone in South Asia. It has also proclaimed its willingness to engage in nuclear disarmament and to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty if India will.

India, on the other hand, has not been so forthcoming. It has said it will sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty if there are some major revisions. It says the treaty as it is currently written is biased in favour of nuclear weapons states. While India showed support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty initially, it withdrew that support in 1995 and moved to block the treaty altogether the following year.

However, since the 1998 tests, both India and Pakistan have shown willingness to sign the CTBT.

Events in Indian, Pakistani Nuclear Development:


1948: India establishes an Atomic Energy Commission for exploration for uranium ore.
1953: President Eisenhower launches “Atoms for Peace” program, offering access to exchange atomic technology for pledges to use it for civilian use, not weapons.
1954: Head of India’s AEC, rejects safeguards, oversight by new International Atomic Energy Agency.
1956: India completes negotiations to build 40 megawatt “Canadian-Indian Reactor, U.S.” research reactor. United States supplies heavy water, used to control nuclear fission.
1958: India begins designing and acquiring equipment for its own Trombay plutonium reprocessing facility, giving the nation a dual-use capability that could lead to atomic weapons.
1959: U.S. trains Indian scientists in reprocessing, handling plutonium.

1963: Two 210-megawatt boiling-water reactors are ordered for the Tarapur Atomic Power Station from General Electric. United States and India agree plutonium from India’s reactors will not be used for research for atomic weapons or for military purposes.

1964: First plutonium reprocessing plant operates at Trombay.

1965: Chairman of India’s AEC proposes subterranean nuclear explosion project. China, one of five declared nuclear states, detonates first atomic explosive device. U.S. withdraws military aid from India after the India-Pakistan War.

1966: India declares it can produce nuclear weapons within 18 months.

1968: Non-Proliferation Treaty completed. India refuses to sign.

1969: France agrees to help India develop breeder reactors.

1974: India tests a device of up to 15 kilotons and calls the test a “peaceful nuclear explosion.” Canada suspends nuclear cooperation. The United States allows continued supply of nuclear fuel, but later cuts it off.

1976: Soviet Union assumes role of India’s main supplier of heavy water. Canada formally halts nuclear cooperation.
Early 1980s: India acquires and develops centrifuge technology, builds uranium enrichment plants at Trombay and Mysore.

1991: India enters agreement with Pakistan prohibiting attacks on each other’s nuclear installations, a measure to ease tensions.

1992: Rare Metals Plant at Mysore begins producing enriched uranium. Nuclear Suppliers Group, organization of nations with nuclear materials, stops supplying India.

1997: India announces development of supercomputer technology that can be used to test nuclear-weapon designs. Fuel reprocessing plant at Kalpakkam, a large-scale plutonium separation facility, completes “cold commissioning” in last phase of pre-operating trials.

1998: India announces plans to sign deal with Russia for two 1 000 megawatt nuclear reactors.
May 11-13: India conducts five underground nuclear tests, declares itself a nuclear state.

1972: Following its third war with India, Pakistan secretly decides to start nuclear weapons program to match India’s developing capability. Canada supplies reactor for the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant, heavy water and heavy-water production facility.

1974: Western suppliers embargo nuclear exports to Pakistan after India’s first test of a nuclear device.

1975: Purchasing of components and technology for Kahuta uranium-enrichment centrifuge facility begins after return of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, German-trained metallurgist who takes over nuclear program.

1976: Canada stops supplying nuclear fuel for Karachi.

1977: German seller provides vacuum pumps, equipment for uranium enrichment. Britain sells Pakistan 30 high-frequency inverters for controlling centrifuge speeds. United States halts economic and military aid over Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.

1978: France cancels deal to supply plutonium reprocessing plant at Chasma.

1979: United States imposes economic sanctions after Pakistan is caught importing equipment for uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta.

1981: Smuggler arrested at U.S. airport while attempting to ship two tons of zirconium to Pakistan. Nevertheless, Reagan administration lifts sanctions and begins generous military and financial aid because of Pakistani help to Afghan rebels battling Soviets.

1983: China reportedly supplies Pakistan with bomb design. U.S. intelligence believes Pakistani centrifuge program intended to produce material for nuclear weapons.

1985: Congress passes Pressler amendment, requiring economic sanctions unless White House certifies that Pakistan is not embarked on nuclear weapons program. Islamabad is certified every year until 1990.

1986: Pakistan, China sign pact on peaceful use of nuclear energy, including design, construction, operation of reactors.

1987: Pakistan acquires tritium purification and production facility from West Germany.

1989: A 27-kilowatt research reactor is built with Chinese help and comes under international monitoring.

1990: Fearing new war with India, Pakistan makes cores for several nuclear weapons. Bush administration, under Pressler amendment, imposes economic, military sanctions against Pakistan.

1991: Pakistan puts ceiling on size of its weapons-grade uranium stockpile. It enters into agreement with India, prohibiting the two states from attacking each other’s nuclear installations.

1993: Report by the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute says about 14,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges installed in Pakistan. German customs officials seize about 1,000 gas centrifuges bound for Pakistan.

1996: Pakistan buys 5,000 ring magnets from China to be used in gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment. China tells U.S. government it will stop helping Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. Islamabad completes 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor that, once operational, could provide the first source of plutonium-bearing spent fuel free from international inspections.

1998: Reacting to fresh nuclear testing by India, Pakistan conducts its own atomic explosions.
Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Calif.; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center.
Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper 45, Uranium Information Centre, February 2001.

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