Pakistan’s nuclear programme is again making headlines in the international media. This is often repeated; mostly whenever new estimates about the world nuclear forces are publicised or other topics become too boring for scholars, who are waiting for an opportunity to debate the conspiracy theories regarding Pakistani nuclear arsenals.

The current rumbling comes after the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released their estimates on the world nuclear forces, indicating that China, India and Pakistan are increasing stockpiles of their nuclear weapons. The SIPRI, although an institute of extreme reputation, can also at times “miss by a mile”.

In 1986, for instance, after Mordechai Vanunu’s disclosure, Israel was believed to have around 200 nuclear warheads. The Jane’s Intelligence Review estimated Israeli stockpiles to be in excess of 400 nuclear/thermonuclear weapons in 1997, but since then, Israel appears to be on its way to denuclearisation. In 2002, Federation of American Scientists brought these numbers down to 200 nuclear weapons.

The SIPRI, picking the lead, reflected Israeli nuclear warheads around 200 from 2003-2005 and further brought them down to 100-200 in 2006. These estimates were further reduced to 100 in 2007 and finally have been fixed at 80 warheads since 2008.

Unfortunately, Pakistan does not enjoy privileges like Israel and despite that no nuclear weapons state can get a clean chit for nuclear proliferation or safety and security issues, only Pakistan is singled out and subjected to criticism.

C. Christine Fair and Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy are two prominent examples who specifically target Pakistan on its nuclear issue. Fair, in her recently published Time magazine article, has accused Pakistan of playing a double game with the US, despite receiving over $26 billion in aid. Without understanding the ground realities and aspirations of the Kashmiri people she also proposes the Line of Control (LOC) to be declared as international border. Not only Fair needs to recalculate and ascertain actual figures of US aid reaching Pakistan, she also needs to understand the Indo-Pak history before giving such incongruous proposals.

Dr Hoodbhoy, on the other hand, while “Confronting the Bomb”, besides singling out Pakistan on the nuclear issue, in principle opposes the existence of nuclear weapons being a threat to humanity, an idealist approach that must be endorsement by all the pacifists. But world politics mostly functions in the realist paradigm and not in his utopia. He belongs to the scientist’s community, which usually is not cognisant of the complexities involved in global politics, a subject that falls within the domain of social sciences. Thus, whenever a natural scientist steps into the domain of social sciences, or vice versa, he or she is bound to err and Dr Hoodbhoy is no exception to this rule.

As brilliantly explained by Kenneth Waltz, the distribution of power within the international structure defines the state behaviour. According to Waltz, “nuclear weapons are not ordained for war fighting as these have no military utility. Nuclear weapons are only meant to deter states from committing aggression or engaging in an unacceptable behaviour considered inimical to perceived national interest by another state.

“Nuclear weapons lose their purpose if their actual use is even contemplated in a crisis, thus paradoxically, display of will to use them in crisis is only to deter and add credibility to deterrence.”

Deterrence is a complex phenomenon pivoting around adversary’s risk benefit calculations. The more the cost is, less willing would be the opponent to take risk.

Credibility of nuclear deterrence is also proportional to adversary’s geographical size and second strike capability, and thus is a dynamic phenomenon. Consequently, the size of Pakistani nuclear forces cannot remain frozen in perpetuity. Natural scientists must, therefore, understand that geopolitics is based on real politik and weak states chasing the idealistic delusion in troubled neighbourhood risks becoming Iraq or Libya.

But, at the same time, Krepon rightly argues that states must choose “what is enough” to avoid over kill capacity. In purely South Asian context, a stockpile of around 200 nuclear weapons with a naval based assured second strike capability should constitute as enough.     So till the time global nuclear disarmament does not start taking place, expecting Pakistan to dump its nuclear weapons would be naive.

The writer holds M.Phil degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from NDU, Islamabad, and is co-author of the book “Iran and the bomb: Nuclear Club Busted”.