This issue is usually framed in terms of numbers. Pakistan possesses what is thought to be the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world and if present trends continue, could equal or surpass Britain’s stockpile within a decade. So far, the Western world has viewed this expansion as a nonproliferation issue, not a security one. But, over the longer-term, that could change. As a recent report from the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium noted, “EU members might have military facilities within reach of Pakistani longer-range missiles … or temporary bases and personnel” and, “in the case of a deterioration in Pakistan’s relations with the West, this could be a subject of concern.” Pakistan is free to dismiss European and American anxieties, but this will only reinforce the country’s longer-term isolation.
There is also a second, more serious concern. Pakistan is developing a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) that target not Indian cities, but Indian military formations on the battlefield. The purpose of these, as former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi explained in November, is “to counterbalance India’s move to bring conventional military offensives to a tactical level.” The idea is that smaller nuclear weapons, used on Pakistani soil, would stop invading Indian forces in their tracks.
The rise of tactical nuclear weapons has been well documented over the past two years. What has received less scrutiny, however, is the doctrine on which this rise has been based. Pakistan’s nuclear advocates make the case that their approach is no different than NATO’s Cold War nuclear posture towards the Soviet Union, and like NATO is the inevitable result of a conventionally weaker country trying to negate its more powerful adversaries’ conventional advantage. But the problem is that this comparison misses some key facts.