This article incorrectly said that the Obama administration is seeking to bring to completion this year an international treaty banning production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The administration is seeking the formal launch of negotiations on the treaty this year.
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New estimates put Pakistan's nuclear arsenal at more than 100
Those figures make Pakistan the world's fifth-largest nuclear power, ahead of "legal" powers France and Britain. The vast bulk of nuclear stockpiles are held by the United States and Russia, followed by China.
While Pakistan has no declared nuclear doctrine, it sees its arsenal as a deterrent to an attack by the Indian forces that are heavily deployed near its border. India has vowed no first use of nuclear weapons, but it depends on its second-strike capability to deter the Pakistanis.
The United States imposed nuclear-related sanctions on Pakistan and India after both countries conducted weapons tests in 1998, but lifted them shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. With U.S. guidance and a $100 million assistance program, Pakistan moved to increase international confidence by overhauling its command and control structures.
Revelations in 2004 about an illegal international nuclear procurement network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan, which supplied nuclear materials to Libya, Iran and North Korea, led to further steps to improve security.
The 2008 agreement that permits India to purchase nuclear fuel for civilian purposes was a spur to Pakistani weapons production, experts said. Pakistan maintains that the treaty allows India to divert more of its own resources for military use.
As Pakistan sees India becoming a great power, "nuclear weapons become a very attractive psychological equalizer," said George Perkovich, vice president for studies and a nonproliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The 1998 test date is a quasi-holiday in Pakistan, and the test site was once declared a national monument, part of the nuclear chest-thumping that, along with political instability, makes U.S. officials as nervous as the actual number of weapons.
In December 2008, Peter Lavoie, the U.S. national intelligence officer for South Asia, told NATO officials that "despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world," according to a classified State Department cable released late last year by the Internet site WikiLeaks.
Publication of the document so angered Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, that he told journalists there that the Pakistani people believe that the "real aim of U.S. [war] strategy is to denuclearize Pakistan," according to local media reports.
In 2009, Congress passed a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan with the stipulation that the administration provide regular assessments of whether any of the money "directly or indirectly aided the expansion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program."
While continuing to produce weapons-grade uranium at two sites, Pakistan has sharply increased its production of plutonium, allowing it to make lighter warheads for more mobile delivery systems. Its newest missile, the Shaheen II, has a range of 1,500 miles and is about to go into operational deployment, Kristensen said. Pakistan also has developed nuclear-capable land- and air-launched cruise missiles.