By Mr. Saqib Mohammed 

Sep 24, 2013

NCAA meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) was held on September 5, 2013. NCA is the highest decision making body responsible for the development, deployment, and employment of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The statement issued following the meeting reiterated Pakistan’s stance on a number of nuclear issues, and highlighted a number of concerns and associated policy compulsions of Pakistan.

The NCA meeting was chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif and attended by all members of the NCA, the Federal Ministers of Finance and Interior, the Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Services Chiefs.

In the statement, NCA reposed “full confidence in Pakistan’s robust nuclear Command and Control structure and all the security controls related to strategic assets of the country.” This gesture of recline and confidence was essentially a response to the recently revealed secret information published in the Washington Post, regarding the ultra-active American scrutiny of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program and intelligence estimates and analysis predicting the possibility that Pakistani nuclear weapons could potentially fall into the hands of militants. The intention here is to send a signal to Western propaganda centers declaring ‘relax, everybody, we’ve got the safety and security of the nuclear programme under control.’[1]

In the following paragraph of the statement, the NCA, after reviewing the ‘developments at regional level’, reiterated that Pakistan would continue to ‘adhere to the policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence’. In the same vein, given the rapidly changing dynamics of security in the region, the NCA also affirmed in the same paragraph that Pakistan would ‘maintain full spectrum deterrence capability’.[2]

What then does the NCA mean by ‘developments at regional level’ and ‘rapidly changing dynamics of security in the region’? And what does ‘full spectrum deterrence capability’ realistically include – is it a new term to redefine ‘capability’, or merely an extension of the existing policies in certain aspects? Do both these terms define the one same concept, or do they hint at different thoughts and two different postures? Let us examine them individually.

Regional Developments / Evolving Security Dynamics

The regional developments which have sensitized Pakistan’s threat perception stem mainly from the Indo-US nuclear partnership that has sparked nuclear nationalism and strategic anxiety in Pakistan. This partnership, based on doctrines of apartheid and discrimination, has the potential to destabilize the strategic balance in South Asia.[3]

The first step in this regard was taken in January 2004 with the signing of an agreement on ‘strategic partnership’ between these two states, according to which, the US will help India to build its civilian space program (which also has clear military implications), missile defense and nuclear energy infrastructure.[4] The deal paved the path for ending the international isolation of India’s nuclear program.

Furthermore, the inclusion of India in the NSG and other export control regimes, as well as the civil nuclear deal between the US and India is fueling these apprehensions. India has large stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium – much larger than Pakistan’s. According to the International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM), India is estimated to possess a stockpile of 0.8 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU). The total production of non-civilian plutonium is estimated to be between 5.2 tons, and civilian use plutonium is approximately 0.24 tons. Pakistan is estimated to possess 0.15 tons of non-civilian plutonium[5].

India is currently running twenty two nuclear power plants – including eight heavy-water power reactors, fast breed reactor and tritium production, uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing facilities which are allowed to run outside IAEA safeguards. India is rapidly expanding its uranium enrichment program and may add another three thousand gas centrifuges for producing more highly enriched uranium (HEU) for its nuclear submarine program[6]. To date, it has been using only two of its production reactors, CIRUS and Dhurva, for the production of fissile material, which may have given, according to some conservative estimates, ‘500kg of weapon grade plutonium, sufficient for some 70-90 weapons’. Furthermore, under the Indo-US deal, ‘eight of its unsafeguarded heavy-water reactors – if operated on low burn-up – can produce another 1,250 kg of plutonium-laden spent fuel per year’[7].

Furthermore, the terms of the agreement are overly beneficial for India and lack specific measures to limit India’s nuclear weapons program. While India has pledged that any U.S. assistance to its civilian nuclear energy program will not benefit its nuclear weapons program, some experts argue that India could use the imported nuclear fuel to feed its civilian energy program while diverting its own nuclear fuel to weapons production. New Delhi has done similar things in the past; India claimed it was using nuclear technology for civilian purposes right up till its first nuclear weapons test in 1974.[8] As the deal lacks preventive measures, India’s nuclear intentions cannot be guaranteed, as a Congressional Research Service report (PDF) on the agreement states, “There are no measures in this global partnership to restrain India’s nuclear weapons program.”

Additionally, following the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group waiver of September 2008, the scope for supply of both reactors and fuel from suppliers in other countries to India opened up. It paved the way for signing civil nuclear cooperation agreements with the USA, Russia, France, UK, South Korea and Canada, as well as Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia.

Despite the fact that Pakistan lags behind India in terms of its nuclear weapons development, the international nuclear regime unduly favors and supports India, disrupting the nuclear balance of the region and increasing mistrust.

Apart from the abovementioned apprehensions, Indian Cold Start military doctrine, its pursuance of Billistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme and assured sea based second strike capability, Conventional Arms modernization and its advanced and ambitious military space program are major concerns which force Pakistan to adapt, develop and maintain ‘full spectrum deterrence capability.’

Full Spectrum Deterrence Capability

Firstly let us reexamine the very basic logic of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear weapons, as asserted by the famous American Military strategist Bernard Brodie in a piece written just after end of the World War, are not meant to ‘win war’ but to ‘avert war.’ The chief purpose of nuclear deterrence is to deter and restrain the enemy’s behavior, hence making the war impossible. Throughout of Cold War period, both the US and the former Soviet Union managed to maintain strategic stability and stayed away from war by following this very basic and simple logic of nuclear deterrence.

This same deterrence logic, according to some deterrence theorists (optimists) has made the concept of full scale war obsolete in South Asia. They believe that it was this deterrence that worked in 1984, 1986, 1990, 1998, 2001-02 and 2008. However, while nuclear deterrence may have made war less likely between two nuclear arm rivals, it has not quite rendered it impossible. The Indian military believes that a small scale ‘limited’ war is possible under the nuclear threshold. This idea is reflected in the Indian military Cold Start Doctrine, which India theoretically and, to some extent, operationally has tried to manipulate since the Kargil Crisis.

The Cold Start doctrine is based on an assumption that rapid military action involving the element of surprise, could trump India’s political leadership and have the upper edge at times of crisis, and that a faith accompli would resolve the conflict politically and diplomatically.

In response to this potentially destructive, dangerous and destabilizing Indian military doctrine, Pakistan, on April 19, 2011, announced the successful test firing of a newly developed short-range missile named ‘NASR’. This missile with a range of 60 km can be launched from a multi-tube mobile launcher capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. This development revealed that Pakistan has achieved the technical capability to miniaturize its nuclear warheads.

Two principal schools of thought emerged following the announcement of the test-firing of this battlefield tactical nuclear weapon. One claimed that the successful test-firing of NASR aimed to add a deterrence layer at the battlefield level, and inducing nuclear deterrence at the battlefield will make the enemy believe that even small-scale conventional conflict under the nuclear threshold is impossible, thereby making conflict impossible at all levels. According to this group, NASR is a counter-measure against the Indian Cold Start military doctrine.

Simultaneously, skeptics claimed that the negative implications that are attached with this development are far more significant. They argue:

  1. The certainty or at least the very great probability of use at very early stage in case of aggression (Use it, or lose it dilemma)
  2. Physical security at a fluid battle field is difficult
  3. Greater vulnerability to enemy’s counter action
  4. Problem of command and control (centralized or delegative)
  5. Greater chances of rapid escalation to the full blown nuclear war

The problem with the above mentioned five arguments is that most of these arguments are applicable at a stage where the conflict is already underway. In that case, since the conflict has broken out, deterrence has already failed and these arguments become irrelevant.

On the other hand, the proponents of tactical deterrence believe and rationalize the role of tactical nuclear weapons before the outbreak of the actual conflict, as a preventive countermeasure to restraint the enemy behavior to take certain aggressive steps.

From the Western perspective, the two terms may well be seen as contradictory. If ‘credible minimum deterrence’ implies the minimum level of nuclear capability to deter aggression, then ‘full spectrum deterrence capability’ may not necessarily adhere to the minimum standards.

This point of view has developed in the backdrop of prevailing Western perspectives on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. A large number of western scholars argue that while initially Pakistan’s doctrinal thinking may have aimed at developing ‘enough’ weapons for ‘credible minimum deterrence’ – due mainly to the lack of economic resources or a disinclination to get into nuclear arms race with India[9] – it is no longer the case. They now believe that Pakistan has shifted the calculus of its strategic thinking from credible minimum deterrence capability to credible deterrence capability. They argue that Pakistan is rapidly increasing and diversifying its nuclear capability and has become the fastest growing nuclear weapon state in recent years.

The ambiguity of the terminology used in the statement, i.e. “full spectrum deterrence capability,” may be seen to support the idea that Pakistan is entering into the realm of Credible Deterrence. A misinterpretation of the statement can therefore send the wrong signals, potentially escalating a regional arms race.

While the NCA endorsement to develop full spectrum nuclear deterrence indicates that it would develop both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons to deter aggression at tactical, operational, and strategic levels, this does not necessarily mean that Pakistan is aiming to build a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons. Rather, the only aim in developing this policy is to bridge the gaps in credible minimum deterrence and help deter war at all levels.

Pakistan and the proposed FMCT

Furthermore, NCA also took note of the discriminatory trends and policies’ within the international arena and reiterated that ‘Pakistan’s position will be determined by its national security interests … while maintaining its principled position on various arms control and non-proliferation issues’. This is reflected in the country’s continued opposition to the proposed Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty [FM(C)T], which is viewed as specifically targeted towards Pakistan and bringing about asymmetry and hence deterrence instability between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is the only country currently blocking negotiations on the FMCT.

Pakistan has actively participated in the last two NSS summits, which have given huge impetus to nuclear security worldwide. Pakistan marked a history by joining these summits and ensures that nuclear security lies within the state. However, in any form, the security of the state is its national responsibility. Pakistan being a responsible nuclear weapon state, inclined to make its nuclear security as utmost priority.

Pakistan and Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

PAEC has the following five training Institutes/Centers, which provide academic as well as practical training in diverse areas of nuclear science and engineering. The NCA states ‘as a responsible nuclear weapon state with advanced technology and four-decade long experience in safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants, Pakistan is ready to share its expertise with other interested states by providing fuel cycle services under IAEA safeguards and by providing training placements at its Centers of Excellence on nuclear security.’

The application of science and technology has been successful in Pakistan for the prosperity of the country. Despite widely known limitations, Pakistan has done remarkably well in establishing a nuclear security regime and an evolving nuclear security culture that requires encouragement and support. However, Pakistan is in a position not only to use nuclear science and engineering for its national programmes for development and progress, but also can provide assistance and help for countries of the region in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Therefore, Pakistan can become a regional/international hub to meet the futuristic existing energy shortfalls and to respond to the future requirements of a growing population and economy.


[1] Cyril Ameida, Full-Spectrum Deterrence, DAWN, September 8, 2013, view at,

[3] Feroz Hassan Khan, “ Eating Grass: The making of Pakistani Bomb” ( New Delhi: Cambridge University Press,2013)385

[4] “US Plans to make India a major World power”, Agence France Press, March 26, 2005.

[5] Accessed on 9th September 2013 at 14.__ hours

[6] Feroz Hassan Khan, “ Eating Grass: The making of Pakistani Bomb” ( New Delhi: Cambridge University Press,2013)385


[8] Esther Pan, Jayshree Bajoria “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal” September 2008 accessed accessed on 9 September 2013

[9] David O. Smith, The Us Experience with Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Lessons for South Asia, Stimson Centre,

President CPGS Senator Sehar Kamran strongly condemned the barbaric attack on the Peshawar Church, terming it against the true teachings of Islam, the Quran, and Sunnah. Such attacks are part of deliberate efforts to not only tarnish Pakistan’s image internationally, but also to inculcate instability and disharmony amongst the different segments of Pakistani society. She said that terrorists intend to weaken the spirit of Pakistan with such incidents but we will not allow this to happen. Condemning this inhuman act of violence, Senator Sehar Kamran also expressed her sympathies and solidarity   with the bereaved families.

Send this to a friend