"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004

Compliance with Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Norms Is Eroding, New Study Finds



All nuclear weapons possessor states failed to make progress to reduce their nuclear arsenals; Key states’ records in nine of 10 nonproliferation & disarmament categories have deteriorated.

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—A new, 80-page study published by the Arms Control Association evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states, as well as several states of proliferation concern and finds that respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally-recognized obligations and commitments is eroding.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016-2019," is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition of the Arms Control Association’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Report Card covering the 2013–2016 period.

The study comprehensively evaluates the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possesses nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern, from 2016 through March 2019.

“Each of the states that possess nuclear weapons is taking steps to invest in new delivery systems and several are expanding the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines," noted Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of the report. "These trends increase the risk of nuclear weapons use,” she warned.

“Our review of actions—and inactions—by these 11 states suggest a worrisome trend away from long-standing, effective arms control and nonproliferation efforts," warned Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report. "By documenting the policies of these states over the last decade, we hope this report will demonstrate that support for critical nonproliferation and disarmament norms is eroding.”  

Several of the key findings include:

  • The United States and Russia: The overall grades for both the United States (C+) and Russia (C+) dropped, due partly to Russia’s violation of a key bilateral arms control treaty and the U.S. decision to withdraw from that treaty in response. Both states also expanded the circumstances under which they would use nuclear weapons and are investing in new, destabilizing delivery systems.
  • France and the United Kingdom: These two states received the highest overall grades (B) of the 11 states assessed, but neither country has taken steps during the period covered in this report to make additional nuclear force reductions.
  • China, India, and Pakistan: All three of these states are increasing the size of their nuclear arsenals and are investing in new nuclear-capable delivery systems. New missiles being developed and fielded by all three suggest that these countries are now storing warheads mated with certain missiles or moving toward that step, which increases the risk of use. China’s overall grade was a C+; India and Pakistan both scored C.
  • North Korea: North Korea scored the worst of the states assessed in this report with an overall grade of F. Pyongyang continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal and is the only state to have tested a nuclear weapon during the timeframe covered. However, North Korea continues to abide by a voluntary nuclear and missile testing moratorium declared in April 2018 and appears willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
  • Iran: Through the period covered by this report and until June 2019, Tehran continued to adhere to the restrictions on its nuclear activities put in place by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal over the course of this report, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement last year and its decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments. Iran, however, has transferred ballistic missile components in violation of international norms and Security Council restrictions, causing its overall grade to drop to C-.
  • Israel: Israeli actions over the past several years in support of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty earned it a higher grade on the nuclear testing criteria, but its inaction on the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and backsliding on negative security assurances caused its overall grade to drop to a C-.

The report reviews implementation and compliance with existing internationally-recognized obligations and commitments.

“The standards and benchmarks in our report do not necessarily represent our ideal strategy for addressing the nuclear weapons threat,” noted Davenport. “New and more ambitious multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament strategies will be needed to meet to future nuclear challenges,” she remarked.

Last week, the U.S. State Department convened a meeting involving more than three-dozen countries, including the five original nuclear weapon states, to discuss steps to improve the environment for nuclear disarmament.

“We hope this report card can serve as a tool to help hold states accountable to their existing commitments and encourage effective action needed to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. 

“We encourage all states who are serious about strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament enterprise to commit themselves to meet and exceed the existing goals and objectives to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger,” he urged.

The full report can be accessed at www.armscontrol.org/reports


A new report details the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. 

Subject Resources:

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

The Pulwama Crisis: Flirting With War in a Nuclear Environment

May 2019
By Moeed W. Yusuf

Nearly two decades ago, U.S. President Bill Clinton prophetically characterized Kashmir as the “most dangerous place on earth.”1 Since conducting nuclear tests in 1998, India and Pakistan have regularly faced crises linked to Kashmir, the disputed region at the northern tips of the two nations. Serious tensions over the last two months provided the latest reminder of the ease with which Kashmir could transform into a nuclear flashpoint.

Pakistan shot down an Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter jet like this and captured its pilot during the Pulwama crisis, but the pilot's return to India days later served to calm tensions. (Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)On February 14, Adil Ahmad Dar, a native of the Pulwama district in Indian Kashmir, ambushed a paramilitary convoy, killing 40 security personnel. The attack, which was claimed by the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), was the deadliest terrorist incident in Kashmir in three decades.

In the days that followed, India and Pakistan engaged in aggressive threat-making and massive tit-for-tat artillery exchanges on the Line of Control, which separates Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir, and India suspended several travel- and trade-related confidence-building measures. In just two weeks, the situation had escalated into the most dangerous crisis India and Pakistan had experienced since their overt nuclearization in 1998.

Tensions spiked on February 26, when India conducted air strikes on an alleged JeM terrorist camp deep inside Pakistan. India claimed to have killed “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis” in the attack.2 Pakistan retaliated the next day with its own air strikes in Indian Kashmir and also captured an Indian pilot, whose aircraft was shot down during a mission over Pakistani airspace.

The crisis was now on the brink of major war. India reportedly contemplated launching multiple conventional missile strikes inside Pakistan.3 Pakistan promised an immediate, scaled-up response. Fortunately, these plans never materialized. Instead, tensions subsided rather abruptly over the next two days.

Although the risk of nuclear conflagration remained extremely low during the Pulwama crisis, the episode witnessed unprecedented escalation. India and Pakistan not only engaged in air warfare, traditionally seen as escalatory by leaders on both sides, but India’s deliberate choice to strike Pakistan beyond Kashmir signaled a willingness to cross new frontiers. Pakistan too had never responded in such a tit-for-tat manner in previous crises in the nuclear era.

To learn how such an escalation happened and stopped short of a nuclear conflict requires an understanding of past trends in crisis management in South Asia. Despite the unprecedented aspects of the Pulwama episode, the initial escalation and subsequent termination of the crisis conformed to the historically established dynamics of crisis management between the two sides. Yet, the crisis also offered a stark reminder of the increasing complexity of these dynamics and the challenges this poses for crisis de-escalation.

Past Crises in South Asia

Pulwama was the fifth major Indian-Pakistani crisis since the two sides tested nuclear weapons in 1998. In each of the previous crises, third parties, principally the United States, were essential in brokering a peaceful end to the episode. Although India and Pakistan have displayed varying degrees of brinkmanship, each time they have welcomed third-party mediation, seeing it as an insurance policy against all-out escalation. Indeed, their crisis behavior through the years has been aimed as much at attracting third-party support as it has been at compelling the adversary to bend in the face of each other’s direct threats.4

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (left) meets U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on October 2, 2018. During the Pulwama crisis, Pompeo urged his counterpart to avoid escalating the conflict. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. success in crisis management was historically a function of its unwavering commitment to de-escalation above other competing regional interests and alliance preferences. During the first post-nuclearization crisis, the Kargil conflict in 1999, the United States shocked Pakistan by setting aside Washington’s history of angst and mistrust with India to back New Delhi’s demand for a unilateral reversal of Pakistan’s unprovoked military incursion into Indian Kashmir. In the next two crises, the 2001–2002 military standoff on the international border and the 2008 Mumbai crisis, each triggered by terrorist attacks linked to Pakistan-based outfits, the United States played down the middle despite the fact that its position on global terrorism naturally aligned with India’s. It worried that a more partisan stance in India’s favor would embolden Indian leaders to use military force against Pakistan in retaliation to the terrorist strikes.

None of these crises threatened to cross the nuclear threshold. Each episode featured nuclear signaling, including statements from both nations hinting at their resolve to employ nuclear weapons, unsubstantiated press reports of unusual movements around nuclear sites, and meetings of the agencies responsible for authorizing nuclear use. These signals, however, were largely aimed at playing on third-party nations’ fear of war to compel them to intervene in favor of one side or the other.

U.S. officials tended to take such indications seriously. Washington’s policymakers radiate an inviolable belief that all nuclear contexts carry a greater-than-zero risk of deliberate or inadvertent escalation. They therefore have been keen to intervene even though South Asia’s recessed nuclear postures—India and Pakistan are believed to store their nuclear warheads separately from their delivery systems—create a major buffer against swift escalation to the nuclear level.

The fundamental contours of this trilateral dynamic have remained intact over the years, but two developments following the Mumbai crisis complicated nuclear crisis management in South Asia. First, India’s lingering frustration with its inability to prevent terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil began to boil over. In exchange for relative Indian restraint during the Kargil conflict, 2001–2002 standoff, and Mumbai crisis, third parties promised to pressure Pakistan to do more to end anti-India terrorism. Yet, this pressure was never delivered effectively. India’s internal debate increasingly shifted toward the need to break from its restraint and raise Pakistani costs for failing to prevent terrorist operations from its soil. This view found official support when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his hawkish stance toward Pakistan, won office in 2014.

Second, the U.S. outlook toward South Asia began to shift in the post-Mumbai period, tracking closely with the tenor of the debate in India. Growing tensions between the United States and Pakistan over Islamabad’s alleged support for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and terrorism in India paralleled a fast-growing U.S.-Indian strategic partnership. Pakistan was increasingly seen as the problem and India as a victim of terrorism, a lucrative economic market, and potential counterweight to China that deserved U.S. support. When it came to crises, the principal focus on preventing major escalation remained as firmly entrenched in the minds of Washington’s decision-makers, but lingering sympathy for India’s predicament with terrorism began to translate into appetite for allowing India to act against Pakistan.

A 2016 terrorist attack on an army base in Uri in Indian Kashmir became the most high-profile crisis since the 2008 Mumbai episode. On September 29, 2016, India retaliated with what it called surgical strikes inside Pakistani Kashmir. The way it did so broke from India’s strategic restraint even though the strikes were largely indistinguishable from the raids India and Pakistan commonly employ across the Line of Control to keep each other off guard. The major difference this time was the Indian leadership’s loud public posturing, aimed at gaining domestic political mileage. Indian leaders were careful, however, to align with U.S. demands for de-escalation. They declared the action as a one-off preemptive strike and privately assured the United States that India wanted the episode closed.

Reacting, the United States publicly blamed Pakistan and denounced it for inaction against terrorists. It simultaneously urged de-escalation, but notably did not criticize the Indian strike. Washington convinced Pakistan that India would not escalate further and discouraged retaliation. Tellingly, Pakistan absorbed the Indian action and simply denied its occurrence.

The Uri crisis did not upend the fundamental contours of crisis management between India and Pakistan. Nevertheless, the episode complicated policies for responding to any future attacks alleged to have perpetrated by Pakistani-based terrorists. In a 2018 assessment, I wrote,

The next major terrorist attack in India could force Prime Minister Modi’s hand to act even more forcefully against Pakistan than he did after Uri. Perhaps emboldened by Washington’s conciliatory response to India’s post-Uri surgical strikes, there also is now an expectation in India that the United States will lean on Pakistan to absorb such Indian action. However, having already expended immense political capital in absorbing the post-Uri Indian action, Pakistan may find it extremely difficult to hold back in a similar future context, especially if the quantum of the Indian use of force is greater than after Uri. The scenario has all the makings of a crisis with a high potential for escalation.5

The Pulwama Crisis

It is difficult to overstate how much the Uri situation directly influenced crisis behavior during the Pulwama episode. India’s decision to act militarily was influenced by its experience at Uri. The Pakistani decision not to strike back during that crisis, while helping to de-escalate tensions at the time, emboldened India. Moreover, much like Uri, Pakistan’s signaling—public statements and private diplomacy with third parties—after the Pulwama attack was aimed quite explicitly at calming tensions. This may have further convinced India that Pakistan would not retaliate to an Indian strike, a precedent established during the 2016 crisis. The support of third parties, which India had reason to perceive as stronger than following the Uri crisis, would have further enabled India’s intent to act. After Pulwama, several capitals issued categorical statements supporting India, including hinting at their understanding for India’s desire to retaliate. The United States took the clearest stance it had to date, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeting that the United States “stand[s] with India as it confronts terrorism.”6 National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly amplified U.S. support for “India’s right to self-defense against cross-border terrorism” during a conversation with his Indian counterpart.7 India could have reasonably perceived this as tacit U.S. support for Indian military action. Indeed, this seems to have been the U.S. intent: to accept India’s need to let off steam and press Pakistan to hold back in response.

Indian security forces guard the Indian-Pakistani border after a February 26 Indian air strike against a militant site in Pakistan. The air strike represented an escalation of Indian actions compared to previous crises. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)India’s choice of striking Pakistan beyond Kashmir, the first time since the 1971 war that led to Pakistan's break up and secession of its eastern half, also seems to have been influenced by the Uri crisis. By blaming Pakistan for the Pulwama attack, Modi de facto was accepting that, contrary to his promises, his post-Uri action did not deter militancy. More had to be done, especially with Indian elections looming, to make Modi’s response sellable at home and send a stern message to Pakistan. The solution: a strike beyond the disputed territory, but limited in scale to ensure that escalation remained controllable. To curry favor domestically, Modi exaggerated the damage of the attack. By all independent accounts, India struck a relatively barren target and the strike caused limited damage,8 perhaps exactly what India had intended. The Indian foreign minister subsequently acknowledged that no Pakistani citizens were killed in the strike.9

Third-party failure to curb Pakistan’s response was not for want of trying. U.S. interlocutors spoke to the Pakistani leadership to encourage restraint and to signal, much like after Uri, their confidence that India was not interested in escalating further. Pompeo spoke to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi “to underscore the priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action.”10

The United States, however, seems to have underestimated how strongly the ghost of Uri was haunting Pakistan. Islamabad perceived danger in reinforcing a precedent set following Pakistan’s restraint during the Uri situation. It risked convincing India that it could use military force in such situations without fear of retaliation.

U.S. public support for India throughout the crisis also crystallized Pakistan’s perennial fears about U.S.-Indian collusion to undermine Pakistani interests. Moreover, although U.S. interlocutors were in regular touch with their Pakistani counterparts throughout the crisis, senior-level communication took a pause in the run-up to the Indian strike. Pakistan had requested a call between Pompeo and Qureshi, but a bureaucratic delay from Washington led some in Pakistan to wonder if it was a deliberate attempt to allow India time to act. When communication was restored after the Indian attack, the U.S. emphasis was naturally on persuading Pakistan to absorb the strike, thereby reinforcing the perception of a biased U.S. role. In these circumstances, Pakistani decision-makers did not trust U.S. assurances about India’s intent to de-escalate.

The Modi government found itself in a domestic political predicament when Pakistani forces shot down an Indian jet and captured its pilot. The Indian government’s triumphant rhetoric after the Indian strike transformed into serious political pressure as the Indian opposition demanded that the government negotiate the pilot’s return and explain the fiasco. This was precisely the nightmare scenario Indian leaders had hoped to avoid. For India to come out on top in the crisis, it needed Pakistan to absorb the strike. Pakistan’s commensurate response to India’s air operations undermined India’s goal of winning military conflicts despite Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Since quitting after a “one-shot” confrontation was tantamount to losing the crisis, India logically would have looked toward escalation. This may well have been the reason for threatening conventional missile attacks against Pakistan.

The Pulwama crisis was notably devoid of any nuclear signaling from either side. Apart from one meeting of the Pakistani National Command Authority, the agency responsible for nuclear decision-making, neither side engaged in nuclear brinkmanship. This is in line with the trend in South Asian crisis behavior: provocative nuclear signaling has progressively decreased with each passing crisis since 1998. Both sides are confident that existential deterrence holds. The urge to focus the world’s and the adversary’s attention on their respective deterrent capabilities, logical in the early years after the nuclear tests when the operationalization of the arsenals was still under question, has therefore declined.

Still, driven by its ever-present concerns over uncontrolled escalation in any nuclear environment and fearing further escalation, the United States quickly reverted to its traditional unequivocal prioritization of immediate de-escalation over alliance preferences after the Pakistani air strikes and the downing of the Indian plane. The tone and tenor of third-party messaging changed appreciably. There was renewed insistence on restraint and crisis termination, with Pompeo insisting that India and Pakistan “avoid escalation at any cost” and other third parties aligning their messaging in equally unequivocal terms.11 Within one day of the Indian pilot’s capture, the United States persuaded Pakistan to announce his release, thereby deflating some of the domestic pressure on Modi. The next day, the United States tabled a resolution in the UN Security Council to list JeM leader Masood Azhar as a terrorist—his listing being a long-standing Indian demand.12 Washington also compelled Islamabad to crack down on JeM and to acknowledge these actions publicly. Although past Pakistani crackdowns on such terrorist groups have not espoused confidence in their sustainability, they were nonetheless useful in offering Modi a potent face-saver. On February 28, the day Pakistan announced the release of the Indian pilot, U.S. President Donald Trump, largely silent on the crisis to this point, confidently stated that he had some “reasonably decent” news from India and Pakistan.13

The Next Indian-Pakistani Crisis

The Uri crisis had left South Asian crisis management in a decidedly more challenging place. The implications of Pulwama are not nearly as clear. This crisis revealed the dangers of third-party ambivalence, even if momentary, in terms of prioritizing de-escalation over alliance preferences. India’s decision to act militarily beyond Kashmir would have been far more difficult if the United States had insisted on restraint. The crisis also highlighted the ease with which intentions and actions of actors can be miscalculated. India and the United States appear to have assumed that Pakistan would recognize the symbolic intent of the Indian strike and absorb it as it did following Uri. Similarly, Pakistan read too much into U.S. support for India; there was no U.S. intention of encouraging India to go beyond letting off steam.

This crisis experience could potentially lead the United States to revert back to unequivocal prioritization of de-escalation and a resolve to prevent any military action from either side. Doing so would make crisis escalation less likely. Furthermore, New Delhi could internalize Islamabad’s successful retaliation at Pulwama and India’s inability to counteract as confirmation of the absence of space for limited war under the nuclear umbrella, which India has been seeking all along.

Yet, this view ignores the growing global support for India. With each passing crisis, the United States and India have come closer on the issue of counterterrorism. The default position in both capitals is to seek ways of raising Pakistan’s costs for what they see as its continued use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The Indian public sentiment also tends to bay for blood in crisis moments, forcing Indian leaders to feel compelled to up the ante. Modi has made matters worse in the wake of the Pulwama crisis by using nuclear threats against Pakistan to rile up nationalistic sentiments for political gain in India’s ongoing national elections.14 These factors once again may encourage Indian decision-makers to flex their muscles in crises, and the United States may continue to support this urge. Crisis escalation is therefore a realistic possibility; depending on what type and scale of force is applied, it could end up creating even greater risks of war than experienced during Pulwama.

The Way Forward

Although Indian and Pakistani officials appear to have easily avoided nuclear escalation during the Pulwama crisis, there will always be risks of unintended outcomes between nuclear-armed rivals. These risks can and must be mitigated, most notably by encouraging bilateral escalation control between India and Pakistan. As important as third parties have been to preventing major escalation, the presence of a multitude of actors inevitably complicates crisis communication. At the very least, India and Pakistan should use their direct communication channels dependably and constructively during crises. Fresh confidence-building measures and agreements aimed at instituting crisis risk-reduction measures, including in the nuclear realm, should also be urgently considered.

Still, even the best form of crisis management cannot offer a sustainable solution. This can only come from efforts at crisis prevention. Crisis management therefore must be complemented with proactive attempts at addressing deeper causes of crises, with the aim of eliminating them.

The principal enabling factors of conflict between India and Pakistan are terrorism and outstanding bilateral disputes. A policy approach that combines the two offers the best chance of success. Pakistan must employ all resources at its disposal to eliminate the ability of any terrorists to operate from its soil. India and Pakistan should also sincerely pursue and accelerate the conclusion of pending prosecution against their citizens known to be involved in terrorism on the other’s soil in the past. Moreover, both sides should set up a discrete channel to share any intelligence that could prove helpful in thwarting terrorist plots.

Simultaneously, greater attention is needed to address the Kashmir issue that still underpins much of the motivation for violence in Indian Kashmir. India’s heavy-handed measures to quash ever-growing dissent among Kashmiri Muslims have caused extreme anger and disenfranchisement among Kashmiri youth. The Pulwama attacker was radicalized after being beaten by Indian security forces in 2016. If the status quo holds, more Kashmiri youth will inevitably be attracted to violence, and regional and global terrorist organizations will seek to exploit them. India must adopt a more humane approach in Kashmir to pacify the situation.

Meanwhile, there is a need for India and Pakistan to engage in a quiet dialogue on Kashmir. This may seem far-fetched at the moment, but the last serious back-channel negotiations on the issue were initiated in similarly tense circumstances in the wake of the 2001–2002 military standoff. These brought the two sides close to an agreement before their bilateral peace process stalled in the wake of the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The world must encourage India and Pakistan to return to a similar dialogue. Otherwise, South Asia is sure to find itself in yet another crisis sooner or later.



1. Jonathan Marcus, “Analysis: The World’s Most Dangerous Place,” BBC News, March 23, 2000.

2. Indian Ministry of External Affairs, “Statement by Foreign Secretary on 26 February 2019 on the Strike on JeM Training Camp at Balakot,” February 26, 2019, https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/31090/Statement+by+Foreign+Secretary+on+26+February+2019+on+the+Strike+on+JeM+training+camp+at+Balakot.

3. Sanjeev Miglani and Drazen Jorgic, "India, Pakistan Threatened to Unleash Missiles at Each Other: Sources," Reuters, March 17, 2019.

4. For an analysis of Indian-Pakistani crisis behavior and third-party mediation in crisis moments, see Moeed W. Yusuf, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018).

5. Ibid., p. 175.

6. Aziz Haniffa, “U.S. Gives Green Light for India to Launch Strikes Against Terrorist Havens in Pakistan,” India Abroad, February 17, 2019.

7. Shamila N. Chaudhary, "Better Late Than Never: U.S. Comes to Its Senses on India-Pakistan Conflict,” The Hill, March 2, 2019.

8. Simon Scarr, Chris Inton, and Han Huang, “An Air Strike and Its Aftermath,” Reuters, March 6, 2019.

9. “No Pakistan Soldier or Citizen Died in Balakot Air Strike: Sushma Swaraj,” Times of India, April 18, 2019.

10. Mike Pompeo, “Concern Regarding India-Pakistan Tensions,” press release, February 26, 2019, https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2019/02/289733.htm.

11. “From US to UK, Major World Powers Urge India, Pakistan to Avoid Further Military Action,” Indian Express, February 27, 2019.

12. "US Calls Upon Pakistan to Let Masood Azhar Be Placed on UN Terror List,” Dawn, February 19, 2019.

13. “Trump Says Hopefully India, Pakistan Conflict Coming to an End,” Reuters, February 28, 2019.

14. “PM Narendra Modi Says He Called Pak’s Nuclear Bluff Because India Has Nuclear Bombs,” The Economic Times, April 17, 2019.


Moeed W. Yusuf is associate vice president of the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He is the author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia (2018). The author wishes to thank Emily Ashbridge and Talha Ali Madni for their research and editorial support.

India and Pakistan worked to maintain nuclear calm when a conflict threatened to escalate. 

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Pakistan

July 2018

Updated: July 2018

Pakistan developed nuclear weapons outside of the NPT and is believed to possess an arsenal of 150-160 nuclear warheads. Pakistan is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country and developing new delivery systems, including development of the sea-based leg of a nuclear triad and speculated development of an ICBM. Pakistan’s nuclear program has largely been driven by its regional rivalry with India since India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. Numerous Pakistani entities and individuals have been sanctioned by the U.S. for nonproliferation violations, though many are still believed to be actively exporting nuclear weapons technologies and know-how. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is a source of security concern given its political instability and robust extremist groups in the country, though Pakistani and U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are secure.


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Bilateral Talks with India
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty



Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)



CPPNM 2005 Amendment



Chemical Weapons Convention



Biological Weapons Convention



International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism



*Pakistan stated that it will not be bound by the provisions of Paragraph 2, Article 2, or by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17

Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards



Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member. Pakistani entities have been sanctioned by the United States for engaging in trade involving missiles and missile technologies controlled by the regime.

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

No, Pakistan has not negotiated such an agreement.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism


Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Pakistan has filed the requested report on its activities to fulfill the resolution and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

Pakistan developed nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Pakistan’s nuclear program dates back to the 1970s and was spurred on by India’s first nuclear test in 1974. Pakistan is estimated to have a nuclear arsenal of 150-160 warheads. As of 2016, Pakistan is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country and developing new delivery systems for its warheads. Pakistan is also be working on the sea-based leg of a nuclear triad.

Delivery Systems

Short-Range Ballistic Missile (<1,000 or less km)

  • Hatf-1: Short-range, solid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 70-100 km.
  • Abdali (Hatf-2): Flight-tested six times; entered service in 2005. Nuclear role ambiguous; 180-200 km range; single warhead. 
  • Ghaznavi (Hatf-3): 290 km range.
  • Shaheen-1 (Hatf-4): 750 km range.
  • Shaheen-1A (Hatf-4): Under development, an improved variant of the Shaheen-1. First tested in 2012, may see deployment in 2017. Listed by Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris as having a 900 km range, but following its first test it was reported to be a medium-range missile.
  • Nasr (Hatf-9): Under development; 60 km range. Each NASR launcher, however, contains 4 missile tubes primarily for conventional payloads. 

Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (1,000-3,000 km)

  • Shaheen-2 (Hatf-6): 1,500-2,000 km range.
  • Shaheen-3 (Hatf-10): Under development; underwent two successful tests in 2015; may see deployment in 2018. The Pakistani government said the missile was capable of delivering a nuclear or conventional warhead for 2,750 km.  
  • Ghauri-1 (Hatf-5): 1,250-1,500 km range.
  • Ghauri-2 (Hatf-5a): Medium-range liquid propellant missile under development with an expected range of at least 1,800 km.
  • Ababeel: Under development; 2,200km range; reportedly capable of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

It is speculated, albeit loosely, that the Taimur missile, with a range of 7,000 km, is an ICBM under development.

Cruise Missiles

  • Babur (Hatf-7): ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles; 350 km range (Pakistani government claims 700 km).
  • Babur-2: ground-launched cruise missile; 700 km range; deployment status unknown. 
  • Babur-3: sea-based cruise missile; 450 km range; deployment status unknown.
  • Ra’ad (Hatf-8): nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile; status unknown; may be deployed in 2017
  • Ra'ad-2: nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile; range of greater than 350 km; revealed in March 2017 and expected to be deployed in 2018.

Submarines, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM), and Submarine-Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCM)

  • Pakistan does not currently possess SLBMs. Following the launch of India’s INS Arihant submarine in 2009, the Pakistan Navy announced its intention to build a nuclear submarine of its own, and in 2012 the Navy announced it would start construction. According to the Navy, the submarine is an ambitious project, will be designed and built indigenously, and will take between 5 and 8 years. It not yet clear if Pakistan is attempting to complete the nuclear triad.
  • According to Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris, there are indications that Pakistan is developing a nuclear weapon for deployment on submarines. Pakistan’s announcement that it would stand up a Naval Strategic Force Command in 2012 also points to an interest in developing sea-based capabilities.
  • There was a confirmed test of the nuclear-capable Babur cruise missile from a mobile underwater platform in January 2017. It may be converted for use on submarines.
  • In April 2018, Pakistan announced that it had conducted a second successful flight test of its Babur-3 nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile which has a range of 450 km. 

Strategic Bombers

  • Pakistan’s available delivery vehicles include dual-use fighter aircraft, reportedly the U.S.-origin F-16A/B and French-origin Mirage 2000 fighter jets. The planes were not transferred for the purpose of delivering nuclear bombs, but Pakistan is believed to have modified them for that mission. Both were deployed in 1998.
  • F-16A/B: ~24 nuclear-capable F-16A/Bs; ~24 nuclear bombs; plane has a 1,600 km range.
  • Mirage III/V: ~12 nuclear-capable Mirage III/Vs; ~12 nuclear bombs or Ra’ad cruise missiles; plane has a 2,100 km range.  

Fissile Material

  • Specific estimates of Pakistan's stockpiles of fissile material are difficult to determine, given uncertainty about Pakistan's uranium enrichment capacity.
  • In contravention of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has supplied Pakistan with 4 nuclear power reactors, the Chasnupp-1,-2,-3, and-4. The fourth reactor, the Chasnupp-4, went critical in March 2017. In addition, China has supplied Pakistan with Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) for use in these reactors.

Highly Enriched Uranium

  • As of the end of 2016, Pakistan is estimated to possess approximately 3.4 ± 0.4 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU).


  • As of the end of 2016, Pakistan is estimated to possess 280 kg of weapons-grade plutonium.
  • By the end of 2015, Pakistan was operating four reactors that produce plutonium for weapons at Khushab. Khushab-I began operations in 1997/98, Khushab-II in 2009/10, Khushab-III in early 2013, and Kushab-IV in 2015.
  • Pakistan separates the plutonium from the spent reactor fuel at the Rawalpindi New Labs facility, which has two reprocessing plants. Another reprocessing facility may be being constructed at Chashma as of 2015.

Proliferation Record

  • The foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was aided by the theft of nuclear technology and know-how from the European company URENCO by scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who became a leading figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons establishment. Khan is also believed to have received a nuclear weapon design from China. Although U.S. intelligence was aware of Pakistan’s illicit program, the United States continued to provide military assistance and foreign aid to Islamabad up until 1990 when President George H. W. Bush decided that he could no longer certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. U.S. sanctions related to Pakistan’s nuclear program were dropped after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when the United States decided to pursue closer relations with Pakistan as part of the U.S. declared “war on terror.”
  • Abdul Qadeer Khan had also developed a black market network of suppliers to procure technology and know-how for Pakistan’s secret nuclear weapons program and then transformed that network into a supply chain for other states. Iran, Libya, and North Korea were all clients and other states might have been as well. After the interception of one of his shipments to Libya in October 2003, Khan appeared on Pakistani television in February 2004 and confessed to running the network, which transferred items ranging from centrifuges to bomb designs.
  • The Pakistani government denied any complicity in or knowledge of the network and confined Khan to house arrest. Although reportedly serving as an intermediary to foreign governments, the Pakistani government has not made Khan available to direct interviews by other states. General concern exists that remnants of the network might still be functioning.
  • Pakistan instituted new export control laws following the public exposure of Khan’s network in 2004, including the establishment of the Strategic Export Control Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pakistan's control list now includes dual-use materials in an effort to meet the regulatory standards of export control regimes.
  • Numerous Pakistani entities and—more recently—individuals, including Abdul Qadeer Khan himself, have been placed under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions, many of which are still active.  

Nuclear Doctrine

Pakistan has pledged no first use against non-nuclear weapon states. Pakistan’s policy on first use against states that possess nuclear weapons, particularly India, remains vague. Although Pakistani officials have claimed that nuclear weapons would be used only as a matter of last resort in such a conflict with India, some analysts contend that Islamabad’s development of battlefield nuclear weapons to counter Indian conventional forces raises questions as to how central Pakistani nuclear weapons are in its security doctrine.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. According to Hans Kristensen, “Pakistan is modifying its nuclear posture with new short-range nuclear-capable weapon systems to counter military threats below the strategic level.” 

Pakistan’s nuclear warheads are believed to be stored in a disassembled state, with the fissile core kept separate from the warhead package. This practice greatly increases the time required to deploy the weapons.

Due to severe political instability from extremist groups in Pakistan, there is unease regarding the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, materials, and facilities from both insurgent threats and insider collusion. Pakistan has shared critical information about its nuclear activities with the U.S., and both Pakistani and U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that Pakistani nuclear assets are secure from such threats.


Pakistan has conducted two nuclear weapon tests, although one of those involved five simultaneous explosions. The first test occurred May 28, 1998, and the last took place May 30, 1998. In 1990, China is believed to have tested a Pakistani derivative of the nuclear design Beijing allegedly gave to Khan.

Back to Top

Biological Weapons

  • There is no evidence that a Pakistani biological weapons program exists, and the U.S. State Department has found no indication that Pakistan has faltered on its commitment to the BTWC.
  • Pakistan has increased its regulation of its biological industry. It has issued a set of biosafety rules in 2005 which established a National Biosafety Committee.

Back to Top

Chemical Weapons

  • Pakistan has no known chemical weapon stockpiles.
  • Pakistan has, in the 1990s, been accused of procuring large quantities of dual-use chemicals and supplying chemical weapons or chemical substances to non-state actors in the 1980s and 1990s.

Back to Top

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Bilateral Talks with India

  • Signed the India-Pakistan non-Attack Agreement which entered into force in January 1991.
  • In 1992 India, signed the India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons for the “complete prohibition of chemical weapons.”
  • After their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan and India volunteered to abstain from nuclear testing.
  • Established a hotline to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war and agreed to exchange advance notifications of ballistic missile flight tests.
  • In 2007, the fifth round of talks regarding the review of nuclear and ballistic missile-related confidence-building measures took place as part of the Composite Dialogue Process.

Nuclear Security Summits
Pakistan has attended all four Nuclear Security Summits. Pakistan claimed, in its 2016 NSS National Statement, that “As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan takes nuclear security very seriously and accords it the highest priority in its security construct. Our nuclear security paradigm, evolved over the years, is effective and responsive against the entire range of possible threats. Nuclear security regime in Pakistan is dynamic and regularly reviewed and updated.”

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community, Pakistan has been a regular and active participant in the CD. Pakistan has blocked the start of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) at the 65-member CD. Islamabad has insisted that an FMCT must cover existing stocks of fissile material due to concerns about India's current stockpile, and is preventing the body from reaching consensus on an agenda that would allow negotiations on the treaty to begin. In an interview with Arms Control Today, Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva Zamir Akram indicated that the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to remove the ban on sales of nuclear material to India was a major barrier to Pakistani support for an FMCT. He said that Pakistan would support negotiations if it, too, received a waiver from the NSG.

Back to Top

Country Profiles

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:

Pakistan Advances Sea Leg of Triad

Pakistan’s conducted its second test of the Babur-3 nuclear-capable, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) in late March, more than a year after its first test, in January 2017. The continuing Pakistani development of the sea-based nuclear deterrent is a response to India’s triad of land-, sea-, and air-launched nuclear weapons. A Pakistani military statement, without citing India by name, states that the Babur-3 will provide a “credible second-strike capability, augmenting existing deterrence” especially in light of “provocative nuclear strategies and posture being pursued in the neighborhood through induction of nuclear submarines and ship-borne nuclear missiles.”

As with the 2017 test, the Babur-3 was reported by the Pakistani military to have an estimated range of 450 kilometers and to have “successfully” hit its target with “precise accuracy.” (See ACT, March 2017.) Slight differences include the military reporting that the missile launched from a “dynamic” underwater platform, rather than a “mobile” one, and video released by the military seems to confirm the missile ejecting horizontally, which could eventually lead to deployment through submarine torpedo tubes rather than a vertical launch system. The Babur-3 SLCM is widely expected to be carried on Pakistan’s diesel-powered Agosta 90B submarine.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Pakistan Advances Sea Leg of Triad

Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Fact Sheet Categories:

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

A June 22-23 plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ended inconclusively on the controversial question of parti­cipation by India and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Meeting chairman Benno Laggner of Switzerland said in a statement on June 23 that he intends to continue the discussion at an “informal meeting” in November.

The NSG, with 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that transfers do not contribute to weapons proliferation. Laggner said diplomats, meeting in Bern, Switzerland, discussed “technical, legal, and political aspects” of NSG participation by non-NPT states. China and others have objected to India’s and Pakistan’s membership bids, which were submitted last year. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has sought to reach agreement on membership criteria for non-NPT states. NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections. In 2008 the NSG agreed to exempt India from that provision, and in 2010, the United States endorsed India’s bid for NSG membership.—DARYL KIMBALL

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions

Relations between India and Pakistan may “deteriorate further in 2017” given Islamabad’s “failure to curb support to anti-India militants,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 23 in discussing the U.S. intelligence community’s worldwide threat assessment. “Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbors,” he said. Easing of tensions, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, “will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan” and progress in Pakistan’s investigation of the January 2016 cross-border attack on India’s Pathankot air base.—TERRY ATLAS

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions


India, Pakistan Escalate Missile Rivalry

March 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India and Pakistan are pursuing the development of new nuclear-capable missiles that risk further escalating tensions in South Asia and increasing the chance of a nuclear exchange.

Pakistani protesters shout anti-Indian slogans during a demonstration in Peshawar on October 4, 2016, after Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across their border. (Photo credit: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)In the past several months, both countries have tested and refined systems for deployment. Although their nuclear ambitions and advancing capabilities should not be considered in isolation or solely as bilateral, there is an action-reaction dynamic between the two states that drives their advances. China is also a factor, particularly in India’s military planning, as New Delhi pursues longer-range ballistic missiles that are more relevant to deterring Beijing than Islamabad. 

This creates a complex nuclear geometry in Asia, in which developments intended to provide stability often have the opposite effect. Indeed, some of the recent developments raise serious concerns about control of nuclear missiles in the field and an increased risk of an unauthorized nuclear attack. 

Sea-Based Capabilities 

Pakistan’s Jan. 9 test-firing of a sea-launched cruise missile, the first for that missile, is one of Islamabad’s responses to India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent and advancing ballistic missile defense system. The missile was tested from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean and hit its target with “precise accuracy,” according to a statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the Pakistani military.

The nuclear-capable missile, known as the Babur-3, has an estimated range of 450 kilometers. It is a variant of the ground-launched Babur-2 cruise missile, which has an estimated range of 700 kilometers and was last tested in December 2016. The Babur-3 gives Islamabad “a credible second strike capability, augmenting deterrence,” the military statement said. 

That judgment might be premature, given that the Babur-3 was tested from an underwater mobile platform and is not likely ready for deployment on Pakistan’s diesel submarines. But Pakistan’s decision to pursue a sea-based deterrent is not a surprise. Evidence, such as Pakistan’s decision to stand up a Naval Strategic Force Command in 2012, pointed toward its pursuit of a sea-based deterrent. 

India was not cited by name as the reason for pursuing a sea-based deterrent, but the Pakistani military statement alluded to Indian developments as a motivation, saying that the missile is a “measured response to nuclear strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan’s neighborhood.” The reference likely included India’s recent deployment of a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched ballistic missile to ensure the survivability of its deterrent and complete New Delhi’s nuclear triad. 

India’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant, completed sea trials in 2016 and is widely believed to have been inducted into the Indian navy. The Arihant-class submarines can carry India’s nuclear-capable K-4 or K-15 ballistic missiles. 

In the days following the Babur-3 test, India announced it would test-fire a K-4 ballistic missile, but there has been no subsequent announcement of a test taking place. The K-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile assessed to have a range of approximately 3,500 kilometers, as opposed to the K-15, which has a range of approximately 750 kilometers. The K-15 reportedly was tested twice in March 2016 and is now in production. 

The decisions by India and Pakistan to pursue sea-based nuclear weapons systems, although presented in terms of strengthening deterrence, raises concerns about the actual impact on stability in the region. 

Both countries currently are believed to keep warheads separated from missiles. Sea-based deterrents, however, require mating the warheads and missiles prior to deployment. If India and Pakistan view their submarine forces as the survivable leg of the nuclear deterrence forces, waiting to deploy a submarine until a crisis scenario is not an attractive option.

This raises questions about the management of the nuclear warheads at sea and the reliability of the communications systems. If submarine commanders have the ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles, it could increase the chances of an unauthorized or accidental launch. 

New Land-Based Capabilities

The concern about delegating command-and-control authority also applies in the case of some ground-based systems, such as Pakistan’s short-range tactical ballistic missile, the Nasr. The Nasr has a range of approximately 60 kilometers, and the ISPR has described the system as filling a gap to “deter evolving threats,” which includes India’s conventional military superiority. 

To use the Nasr as a deterrent against conventional attacks, it may be necessary in certain situations to transfer command and control of these tactical nuclear weapons to commanders on the ground. Some experts view the development of the Nasr, with possible pre-delegation of authority, as potentially destabilizing and increasing the likelihood of use against a conventional attack by India. 

Pakistan also tested a second new system in January, a medium-range ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). The ISPR said that the Jan. 24 test was a success and that the missile, called the Ababeel, has an estimated range of about 2,000 kilometers, “the capability to engage multiple targets with high precision,” and the ability to evade radar. The missile will ensure the “survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missile defense environment.”

Pakistan conducts its first successful test firing of the nuclear-capable Babur-3 cruise missile January 9 from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean. The missile, intended for submarine deployment, was fired from an underwater, mobile platform. (Photo credit: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations)

Pakistan’s development of the Babur-3 and MIRV capability on the Ababeel comes as India makes advances with its ballistic missile defense system. The Indian Ministry of Defence announced Feb. 12 that it “successfully conducted a test wherein an incoming ballistic missile target was intercepted by an exo-atmospheric interceptor missile off the Bay of Bengal.” The statement described this as an “important milestone in building its overall capability” to defend against incoming ballistic missile threats. 

MIRV-capable and cruise missiles, however, can make it more difficult for missile defenses to intercept incoming warheads. The Babur-3 “features terrain hugging and sea skimming flight capabilities to evade hostile radars” and air defenses, the ISPR said in its statement.

India’s Missile Developments

While Pakistan is orienting its new delivery systems based on developments in India, India is considering China as it deploys new ballistic missiles. 

India’s pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles further destabilizes the region’s complicated strategic geometry. These missiles, primarily the Agni-4 and Agni-5, are clearly directed toward China. 

For example, the Agni-5, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers, is not necessary for targeting Pakistan. But it does put all major Chinese cities within India’s range. India tested the Agni-5 in December 2016 and the Agni-4 on Jan. 2. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The Agni-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that has an estimated range of 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, January/February 2012.

China often does not respond to Indian ballistic missile tests, but the most recent Agni-5 launch drew a quick, negative response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman the next day. Hua Chunying recalled a UN Security Council Resolution in 1998 that urged India and Pakistan not to pursue nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, after both countries tested nuclear devices, and said China takes the position that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries.”

During the Chinese New Year, Beijing posted a video of its new medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-16. This system, first displayed in September 2015, is assessed by the Pentagon in an annual report on China’s military in 2016 as improving China’s ability to strike at “regional targets.”

Although it is doubtful that China’s decision to display the missile again is directed at India alone, it does highlight China’s regional nuclear capabilities that likely concern India.

Missile advances may destabilize an already dangerous region.

NSG Membership Proposal Would Undermine Nonproliferation

Six years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged his support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the nuclear technology control organization established in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapon test blast, which used plutonium produced with nuclear technology from Canada and the United States. According the official NSG website , India’s 1974 test explosion “demonstrated that peaceful nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused.” NSG membership currently requires that the state is a member in good standing with the nuclear...


Subscribe to RSS - Pakistan