China, India, & Pakistan Expand Nuke Arsenals

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China, India, & Pakistan Expand Nuke Arsenals

While global nuclear stockpiles are decreasing, Asia’s nuclear powers are beefing up their forces.

China, India, and Pakistan are all extending the size of their nuclear weapon stockpiles, according to an annual report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released on Monday.

In the 2013 SIPRI Yearbook, the organization stated that China is the only one of the five recognized nuclear powers—the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China— that is expanding the size of its nuclear arsenal and India and Pakistan are alone among the remaining nuclear powers in expanding both their nuclear weapon stockpiles and delivery systems (North Korea is not counted).

SIPRI estimates that China expanded its nuclear arsenal from 240 warheads in 2011 to 250 nuclear warheads in 2012. India, on the other hand, saw the size of its arsenal grow from between 80-100 nuclear warheads to between 90-110 between 2011 and 2012, while Pakistan’s nuclear stockpiles grew from 90-110 to 100-120 during the same period.

SIPRI’s baseline measurement for the size of the 2011 nuclear arsenals of each state is consistent with estimates from other sources like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ “Nuclear Notebook.”

Still, the figures are of necessity based in part on speculation given the difficulty in obtaining precise information on nuclear stockpiles. As the report notes, “China remains highly nontransparent as part of its long-standing deterrence strategy” and “reliable information on the operational status of the nuclear arsenals and capabilities of the three states that have never been party to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—India, Israel and Pakistan—is especially difficult to find. In the absence of official declarations, the available information is often contradictory, incorrect or exaggerated.”

Still, it has been widely believed that China, India, and Pakistan would expand the size of their nuclear arsenals as they diversified and expanded their delivery systems.

China and India are both in the process of building reliable sea-based legs of their deterrent in order to complete the nuclear triad. For India this includes the indigenously-built INS Arihant nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which is currently undergoing sea trials and whose reactor is expected to go critical sometime this week. Although the Arihant is believed to have a dozen or slightly less launch tubes, Delhi is likely to build more SSBNs in the future.

Similarly, China is building a flight of its Type-094, Jin-class SSBNs, with three already operational and five more on the way, according to the Pentagon’s latest report. The Jin-class SSBNs are said to be able to carry up to 12 JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).

Furthermore, as reported last week, both China and India are seeking to equip their intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), which would likely require India at least to expand the size of its arsenal and produce lighter warheads.

Interestingly, if SIPRI’s estimates are correct, Pakistan no longer has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal but rather shares that distinction with China and India. Still, not all nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are created equal, and if SSBNs can possibly help stabilize a nuclear dyad, the same cannot be said of the tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) Pakistan is said to be pursuing to counter India’s “Cold Start” military doctrine. Unlike China and India, Pakistan also does not have a no-first-use policy.

At the same time, a larger nuclear arsenal could increase Pakistani leaders’ confidence in the survivability of its nuclear force, possibly leading them to desist in risky behavior like regularly transporting nuclear warheads in unmarked cars along the country’s busy highways.

Despite the increases in these country’s nuclear arsenals, SIPRI estimates that the number of nuclear warheads worldwide declined in 2012, from 19,000 at the beginning of 2012 to 17,265 nuclear weapons at the start of 2013. Nearly 2,000 of these are kept on a state of high alert, according to the report.