ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A new report by two American think tanks asserts that Pakistan may be building 20 nuclear warheads annually and could have the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile within a decade.
The report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center concludes that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear capabilities because of fear of its archrival, India, also a nuclear power. The report, which will be released Thursday, says Pakistan is far outpacing India in the development of nuclear warheads.
Analysts estimate that Pakistan has about 120 nuclear warheads, while India has about 100.
In the coming years, the report states, Pakistan’s advantage could grow dramatically because it has a large stockpile of highly enriched uranium that could be used to quickly produce low-yield nuclear devices.
India has far larger stockpiles of plutonium, which is needed to produce high-yield warheads, than Pakistan does. But the report says India appears to be using most of its plutonium to produce domestic energy.
Pakistan could have at least 350 nuclear weapons within five to 10 years, the report concludes. Pakistan then would probably possess more nuclear weapons than any country except the United States and Russia, which each have thousands of the bombs.
“The growth path of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, enabled by existing infrastructure, goes well beyond the assurances of credible minimal deterrence provided by Pakistani officials and analysts after testing nuclear devices,” the report states.
Pakistani military officials were not available to comment on the report when it was made available to journalists Wednesday.
Western officials and analysts have struggled for years to get an accurate assessment of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. Several Pakistani analysts questioned the findings of the report, saying it is based on a faulty assumption that Pakistan is using all of its existing stockpiles of fissile material to make nuclear weapons.
Mansoor Ahmed, a nuclear expert at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said he suspects that a more accurate assessment of Pakistan’s capability is that it can develop no more than 40 to 50 new warheads over the next several years.
Ahmed, however, doesn’t dispute that Pakistan’s military is seeking to expand its nuclear capabilities.
“This report is overblown,” said Ahmed, who was recently named a nuclear security fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “However . . . what the world must understand is that nuclear weapons are part of Pakistan’s belief system. It’s a culture that has been built up over the years because [nuclear weapons] have provided a credible deterrence against external aggression.”
France has about 300 warheads and the United Kingdom has about 215, according to the Federation of American Scientists. China has approximately 250.
The report was written by Toby Dalton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Policy Program, and Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center.
Pakistan is believed to use plutonium as well as highly enriched uranium to create nuclear warheads. Dalton noted that Pakistan recently added a fourth plutonium production reactor at its Khushab Nuclear Complex.
“We assume, maybe correctly, maybe inaccurately, with the fuel coming out of the four reactors, they are processing it as rapidly as possible to get the plutonium out,” Dalton said.
India and Pakistan, which have fought three major wars, became declared nuclear powers in 1998. Since then, Western leaders have been increasingly alarmed about the potential for a nuclear exchange between the rivals.
India has adopted a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons. Pakistani leaders have repeatedly declined to take a similar stance, saying they might be forced to resort to using the weapons should India’s larger army ever invade Pakistan.
India views nuclear weapons “as a political tool, a prestige item, not something you use on a battlefield,” Krepon said. In Pakistan, he said, nuclear weapons are seen as “things you have to be willing to use” to guarantee stability.
But Krepon and Dalton said there is still time for Pakistan to slow down the development of its nuclear arsenal. If it does, they said, the international community should consider what steps it can take to recognize it as a responsible nuclear state.