George H. Quester

November 25, 1992

The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Nuclear proliferation, a security issue which has transcended the cold war, has been, and is, particularly troublesome in South Asia. There, India and Pakistan, neighbors with unresolved disputes since they were granted independence at the end of World War II, are believed to have nuclear weapons (although the leaders of both nations deny it) and are intermittently engaged in conflict with each other.

Professor Quester has examined this unique nuclear relationship, analyzing the attitudes and behavior of both nations. He concludes with a paradox: both have "bombs in the basement," if not in their respective military inventories, and these weapons present serious dangers to the world simply because of their destructive potential, even if their leaders have the best intentions. On the other hand, Indian and Pakistani leaders appear to have low levels of concern about each others' nuclear (not conventional military) developments. It is possible to be optimistic and conclude that the relationship is actually stable and, like the U.S.-Soviet nuclear relationship of the cold war, helps prevent war on the subcontinent, or to be cynical and conclude that each regime cares more about the prestige of membership in the nuclear club than the ominous threat posed thereby against their populations.

The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to publish this report as a contribution to understanding the challenges of international security in the post-cold war era.

                               GARY L. GUERTNER
                               Strategic Studies Institute


South Asia has settled into a worrisomely peculiar relationship on the spread of nuclear weapons. Government spokesmen for India and Pakistan have been saying seemingly identical things in the comparison of their countries: "We know that we don't have nuclear weapons; but we have to assume that they have them."

This emerges against a background where India, of course, detonated what was officially described as a peaceful nuclear explosive (PNE) in May of 1974--and has not detonated any such explosives since, but nonetheless has been accumulating what could be a significant amount of reprocessed plutonium. In the same years, Pakistan, under Presidents Zulkifar Ali Bhutto and Muhammed Zia ul-Haq, evaded the world's export restrictions and worked hard to develop an ability to enrich uranium; none of this was halted under Prime Minister Benacir Bhutto. Pakistan has not detonated any nuclear explosives, but such detonations are hardly needed anymore for any state to be reasonably certain that a bomb will explode, and there are also rumors that the Chinese have offered Pakistan advice on the design of a nuclear warhead.

We are thus at a stage where each nation, in the absence of international inspections and safeguards to assure anyone to the contrary, may be accused of having nuclear weapons. Adversaries may be inclined to worst-case assumptions where there is ambiguity about one another's capabilities. The outside world, including many nations which are adversaries to neither India nor Pakistan, may similarly have to be inclined to be pessimistic when so much is in doubt, and hence to conclude that both nations must have nuclear weapons.

A possibility remains, of course, that Pakistan has in effect been bluffing, that it has not really managed to enrich so much uranium for bombs yet, and has merely been letting the rumors circulate to get a deterrent impact or prestige for free. It is also possible that India has used much of its plutonium (so the Indian Atomic Energy Agency has indeed claimed), so that it can not have a large inventory of nuclear weapons. As things stand, the outside world can not verify this one way or the other.

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SOURCE: US Army Strategic Studies Institute