The latest report that Pakistan possesses more nuclear weapons than India should come as no surprise to the South Asia watchers. For a country that survives on the staple diet of the war cry ‘death by thousand cuts’, it is understandable that stockpiling the weapons of mass destruction becomes an obsessive priority. And, it is obvious that the all-weather friend, China, has been helping Pakistan to arm itself to the teeth. According to a new yearbook released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there are 320 nuclear warheads in the Chinese arsenal while Pakistan and India are estimated to have 160 and 150 weapons respectively. The figures have been updated till January 2020. It is pertinent to point out that India has put in place ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy while Pakistan makes no such commitment. Moreover, it is an open secret that Islamabad has made terrorism as an instrument of its state policy. The Swedish think-tank has revealed that China is in the middle of a significant modernisation and expansion of its nuclear arsenal and is developing the nuclear triad for the first time, made up of new land and sea-based missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft. The findings come at a time when India and China are grappling with the diplomatic fallout of a bloody confrontation along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. There is also a noticeable military build-up on both sides of the border, stretching from Ladakh to Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Unlike in the past, Beijing now publicly displays its nuclear forces more frequently but releases little information about force numbers or future development plans. In a region prone to conflicts and tensions, nuclear weapons constitute a major deterrence factor. While China is carrying out significant modernisation of its nuclear arsenal, India and Pakistan are steadily increasing the size and diversity of their nuclear forces. The SIPRI yearbook, which assesses the state of armaments, disarmament and international security, found that though there has been an overall decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in 2019, the trend among all nuclear weapon-possessing countries has been towards modernising their nuclear arsenals. Russia and the United States together account for more than 90% of global nuclear weapons. The nine nuclear-armed countries — the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea—together accounted for an estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons as of January this year. The US and Russia have reduced their nuclear arsenals under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), but it will lapse in February 2021. Efforts must be made to extend the New START or negotiate a new treaty.
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