INDIAN & PAKISTANI NUCLEAR TESTS:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Nuclear Control Institute
June 9, 1998
(Click on question to get the answer.)
1. What kind of nuclear weapons did India and Pakistan test?
2. How many nuclear weapons could India and Pakistan make?
3. How would they deliver these nuclear weapons?
4. Who will control the nuclear weapons in these nations?
5. Who provided outside assistance to their nuclear programs?
6. To what extent did India and Pakistan use their civilian nuclear-power programs to develop nuclear weapons?
7. Wont fears of "mutual assured destruction" deter both nations from waging nuclear war?
8. Are India and Pakistan likely to enter into a U.S.-Soviet type of nuclear arms race?
9. Are India and Pakistan now more likely to join international arms control agreements, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?
10. Could the United States have prevented India and Pakistan from testing nuclear weapons?
11. Are economic sanctions likely to force India and Pakistan to modify their nuclear behavior?
12. What steps need to be taken now to defuse the India-Pakistan nuclear crisis and to permit the lifting of economic sanctions?
- What kind of nuclear weapons did India and Pakistan test?
The Indian government claims to have tested three different designs on May 11, 1998: a fission bomb with a yield of 12 kilotons (explosive power equivalent to 12,000 tons of TNT); a "thermonuclear device" with a yield of 43 kilotons; and a low-yield device. On May 13, India tested two additional devices that produced a total yield of less than one kiloton.
In May 1974, India tested a "peaceful nuclear explosive," a fission device, with a yield estimated as low as two and as high as 15 kilotons. (For comparison, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 produced an estimated yield of 18 kilotons.)
U.S. intelligence sources question whether Indias claim of testing a "thermonuclear device" actually meant a hydrogen bomb. It may have been a "boosted" fission device, in which the explosive yield from fissioning plutonium or uranium is increased by neutrons generated by a fusion reaction from compressing and heating deuterium and tritium, isotopes of hydrogen.
But this is different from a hydrogen bomb, a three-stage, fission-fusion-fission device with yields usually equivalent to hundreds of thousands or millions of tons of TNT. India insisted that it did not test a boosted fission device, thereby leaving the impression its thermonuclear device was a hydrogen bomb. The low-yield device was likely a compact design intended for deployment on Indias medium-range missiles. The sub-kiloton tests, according to India, provided information needed to perfect computer simulations of nuclear explosions that could be used in subsequent weapons design work, possibly without the need for further testing.
Pakistan claims to have detonated five simultaneous nuclear tests on May 28 of boosted devices made with highly enriched uranium (HEU), which Samar Mobarik Mand, head of their nuclear test program, claimed produced a total yield in the range of 40 to 45 kilotons. India disputes this, contending that the total yield of the May 28 Pakistani tests was in the range of 10 to 15 kilotons. Using seismic information, U.S. intelligence has confirmed only two nuclear explosions that day, with an estimated yield of six kilotons. Pakistan conducted an additional nuclear test on May 30. Mand claimed the yield was in the range of 15 to 18 kilotons, but U.S. intelligence estimated it was far less, on the order of one to two kilotons.
Pakistan has stated that all six tests were boosted fission devices, some of which are designed for deployment on the new Gauri medium-range missile. The head of Pakistans nuclear weapons program, A.Q. Khan, claims that, although Pakistan has not built a hydrogen bomb, it has conducted research and is capable of building such a device should the government decide to do so.
India and Pakistan claim to have completed their nuclear testing programs and say they do not plan any further tests at this time. However, both nations have reserved the right to do so if circumstances warrant.
- How many nuclear weapons could India and Pakistan make?
Indias nuclear bombs are fueled by plutonium, a man-made byproduct of fissioning uranium in nuclear reactors. As of the end of 1995, India had a total inventory of 315 to 345 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, according to a study by David Albright, Frans Berkhout and William Walker of world plutonium and highly enriched uranium inventories. Assuming that five kilograms of plutonium are required to build a bomb, this would give India enough plutonium for some 63 to 69 weapons.
India also operates pilot-scale centrifuge and laser uranium enrichment plants. These facilities are not subject to international non-proliferation safeguards.
Pakistans bombs are fueled with highly enriched uranium (HEU), enriched at its unsafeguarded centrifuge facility at Kahuta. Under pressure from the United States, Pakistan halted production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in 1991, but reportedly resumed HEU production some months ago. After last weeks tests, Pakistan still possesses 335 to 400 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough for some 16 to 20 nuclear bombs, according to the Institute for Science and International Studies (ISIS). If Pakistan is using boosted warhead designs as claimed, however, it would produce a considerably larger number of weapons from the same amount of material, or fewer weapons, depending on considerations of yield and weight of individual warheads.
Earlier this year, Pakistans unsafeguarded plutonium production reactor at Khushab, built with Chinese assistance, went into operation. This reactor can produce enough plutonium for at least one to three bombs a year.
- How would they deliver these nuclear weapons?
Both nations possess advanced military aircraft that would be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Indias military deploys such aircraft as the Jaguar, Mirage 2000, MiG-27 and MiG-29. Pakistans military aircraft include nuclear-capable, U.S.-supplied F-16 fighters.
Of greater concern, because of their speed and invulnerability to conventional air-defense systems, are both nations ballistic missiles. Indias Privthi missile, based on the U.S. Scout, has a range of 150 to 250 kilometers, depending on the size of the payload. The two-stage Agni missile, based upon Soviet and German technology, has a much greater range of 1,500 to 2,500 kilometers. India claims the ability to hit targets anywhere in Pakistan with the Agni missile.
Pakistan has about 30 nuclear-capable M-11 missiles, supplied by China, with a range of 280 to 300 kilometers. Pakistans recently-developed Ghauri missile, developed with Chinese and North Korean assistance, has a range of 1,500 kilometers, and its flight tests in early April may have been one of the factors that moved Indias government to resume nuclear testing. A.Q. Khan, father of the Pakistani bomb, claims that the nuclear devices tested by Pakistan could "very easily be put on our Ghauri missiles." According to Khan, Ghauri is the only nuclear-capable Pakistani missile at this time, but other missiles could be modified for the mission if necessary.
These missiles reduce warning time on both sides to nearly zero, making any nuclear crisis extremely unstable. India could hit targets in Pakistan in four minutes, and Pakistan could hit Indian targets in under twelve minutes.
- Who will control the nuclear weapons in these nations?
No information is publicly available on the nuclear chain-of-command in either India or Pakistan. Presumably the weapons "pits" of plutonium or HEU are fabricated at each nations nuclear-research centers, which are not under the direct formal authority of the military. The delivery systems are controlled by the armed forces. Developing a technically sound command and control system for nuclear weapons is time-consuming and expensive. Ensuring adequate civilian control over nuclear weapons will be one of the greatest challenges these nations face, whether or not they move to active weaponization of their missiles. U.S. assistance in these areas would violate U.S. law, as well as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits nuclear weapons states from assisting other nations "in any way" to develop nuclear weapons.
- Who provided outside assistance to their nuclear programs?
Both nations received extensive outside assistance, both overt and covert, from about a dozen countries. (For a list of countries and what they provided, see "Outside Assistance to Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Programs.")
Indias "peaceful nuclear explosion" in 1974 used plutonium produced in the Canadian-supplied Cirus research reactor, which was made operable by heavy water supplied by the United States. The plutonium was separated from Cirus spent fuel at a reprocessing plant constructed with unannounced assistance from U.S. and European companies.
Power reactors were supplied to India by the United States, Canada and Russia. Heavy water, needed to make these plants operate, was supplied by Canada, China, Norway, Romania, the Soviet Union and West Germany. Heavy water plants, which enabled India to produce its own heavy water for power and military production reactors, were supplied by Canada, France, Switzerland and West Germany.
China provided Pakistan almost its entire nuclear program. China even supplied a tested nuclear bomb design to Pakistan in the early 1980s, probably the same design tested last week. China also helped Pakistan construct the Khushab reactor, which began producing plutonium for weapons earlier this year. The unsafeguarded Khushab reactor may have started up using Chinese heavy water diverted from the safeguarded, Canadian-supplied Kanupp power reactor.
Pakistan developed its ability to enrich uranium to bomb-grade using centrifuge designs stolen from URENCO, a European consortium, in the 1970s. These centrifuges certainly were used to enrich the uranium used in the devices tested last week. France provided reprocessing technology and components. Germany provided tritium, tritium-production technology, and machinery important to producing nuclear weapons.
- To what extent did India and Pakistan use their civilian nuclear-power programs to develop nuclear weapons?
As noted above, civilian nuclear-power and research programs were an integral part of the bomb programs of both nations. India used reactors and technology supplied for peaceful nuclear research to acquire plutonium for bombs. Pakistan developed uranium enrichment capability on the pretense that the uranium would be used to fuel its civilian reactors, which operate on natural, unenriched uranium.
- Wont fears of "mutual assured destruction" deter both nations from waging nuclear war?
India and Pakistan each claim that their nuclear weapons are intended to deter the other, but neither has ruled out the first use of these weapons. In announcing its nuclear tests on May 28, Pakistan expressly noted that these weapons were intended to deter aggression against Pakistan, "either nuclear or conventional." India says it is willing to discuss a no-first-use agreement with Pakistan, suggesting that it currently reserves a first-use option.
Thus, both India and Pakistan will have to weigh the need to "use or lose" their nuclear weapons in an escalating crisis. Given the shared border and extremely short flight times involved, both nations might perceive that they must strike first with nuclear weapons to eliminate the capability of the other side to use its nuclear weapons. Inadequate command and control might permit lower-level military commanders in the field to seize the nuclear initiative without orders from the central government. This instability is exacerbated by the fact that neither nation might have any early warning of attack, given the few minutes required for ballistic missiles to reach their targets.
Kashmir, the focus of deep hatred and open hostilities between India and Pakistan, could become the next Cuba. Unbeknownst to the Kennedy Administration in 1962, Soviet field commanders were authorized to launch nuclear missiles if the United States attacked Cuba. Given the absence of warning, the same is likely to be true of Indian and Pakistani military commanders in the vicinity of Kashmir.
- Are India and Pakistan likely to enter into a U.S.-Soviet type of nuclear arms race?
Despite some heated rhetoric immediately after the tests, neither India nor Pakistan has announced a firm decision to build and deploy nuclear weapons. Both nations claim they can now deploy nuclear weapons within a matter of days, suggesting that additional "pits" of fissile material, and the explosive component packages to trigger them, have already been fabricated but not assembled. India and Pakistan each could have between 12 and 18 nuclear weapons, according to an estimate made after the tests by Paul Beaver of the Janes Information Group.
Given that these nations share a 1,500 mile border, have fought three wars in the last 50 years, and exchange fire daily over the Kashmir border, an Indo-Pakistani nuclear arms race is likely to prove destabilizing. Whether a full-fledged arms race begins depends on many factors, including international pressure, domestic politics, national economies, and civil-military relations.
- Are India and Pakistan now more likely to join international arms control agreements, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?
Since conducting their nuclear tests, both nations have said they are willing to consider joining the CTBT, but have made no firm commitments or begun any formal discussions to that end. India has said it is willing to join the NPT only as a nuclear-weapon state, an option not open to it under the terms of the treaty. Pakistans position for many years has been that it will sign the NPT if India does so first.
- Could the United States have prevented India and Pakistan from testing nuclear weapons?
For many years, U.S. pressure did prevent India and Pakistan from testing. As long as nuclear non-proliferation was a top priority of U.S. foreign policy toward the Subcontinent, their nuclear weapons programs remained covert and limited. Earlier this year the Clinton Administration, following the recommendations of a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, signaled India that a "quantum leap" in relations with the United States was now possible, and nuclear disagreements would not dominate the agenda. Only a few months later, India conducted its tests, followed by Pakistan.
- Are economic sanctions likely to force India and Pakistan to modify their nuclear behavior?
Both nations, but particularly Pakistan, are heavily reliant upon loans from international lending institutions, such as the World Bank. After the Indian test, the United States convinced the World Bank to defer consideration of over $1 billion in loans to India. Some economists have estimated sanctions could ultimately cost India as much as $20 billion. Because of U.S. sanctions, Pakistan is unlikely to be able to continue servicing its huge foreign debt. The stock markets and currencies of both nations have already suffered from the political fallout from the tests; Pakistans Karachi stock exchange dropped off 31 percent after Indias May 11 test, in anticipation of a Pakistani test that would trigger economic sanctions.
The sanctions imposed by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act of 1994, if maintained, could stimulate domestic opposition in India and Pakistan to further nuclear tests and to deployment of nuclear weapons, thereby setting the stage for defusing the nuclear crisis and lifting the sanctions. (See below) Only time will tell. However, it should be remembered that strict economic sanctions contributed to South Africas decision to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Over the past two decades, U.S. economic and political pressure helped derail nuclear-weapons efforts in Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan.
- What steps need to be taken now to defuse the India-Pakistan nuclear crisis and to permit the lifting of economic sanctions?
Sanctions should be lifted only after each country unconditionally ratifies the CTBT, freezes production of military and civilian nuclear-explosive materials, and agrees to enter into negotiations with the other to cap and to roll back their nuclear weapons programs. Multilateral discussions to achieve these objectives should begin promptly. Those who rely on the truism that "nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented" miss the point. They also ignore the historical fact that Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, as well as South Africa, all once had nuclear weapons, but gave them up when they calculated that they would prove more of a liability than an asset. The responsibility of the international community is to do everything possible to guide India and Pakistan to the same conclusion.
The worst mistake that could be made at this point would be to treat Indo-Pakistani nuclear weaponization as a fait accompli, and undertake misguided efforts to "manage" their arsenals, such as providing them with nuclear-weapons technical assistance, command and control equipment, etc. This anticipatory acceptance of weaponization and deployment would quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and encourage other countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea, to follow the South Asian example.
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