While most of the media’s attention has been focused on Iran and its nuclear ambitions, a full-throttle nuclear arms race is now underway in another part of the world where terrorism, ethnic violence, religious extremism, border disputes and political instability are endemic.
In the last year, Pakistan has test fired a short-range ballistic missile and a surface-to-surface battlefield missile, both systems with nuclear capability—indicating an alarming willingness on Pakistan’s part to actually nuke its own territory in the event of an incursion by India.
Pakistan has also ramped up its production of fissile material. With the help of China, it has begun construction of a fourth plutonium reactor, greatly increasing its ability to turn out smaller, more efficient—and easier to steal—weapons. Latest estimates now put the number of warheads on Pakistani territory at 90 to 110, up from about 70 or so just two years ago. Pakistan has already passed its rival and main nemesis, India, and is now on track to overtake Britain as the world’s No. 5 nuclear power. If things continue unchecked, Pakistan could become the world’s No. 3 nuclear power—behind U.S. and Russia—before the end of the decade.
Meanwhile India, with an eye on its burgeoning rivalry with China, has just added a new Russian-made nuclear submarine to its navy and is now building its own fleet of nuclear subs. One has already been launched and will enter service next year. Also in April, India test-fired its first long-range ballistic missile, dubiously dubbed the “China Killer” by the Indian press. But to really match the Chinese, India needs more warheads. A controversial 2008 agreement with the U.S. on civilian nuclear power now allows India to buy uranium on international markets, meaning India can build more reactors—and theoretically produce more weapons-grade fissile material.
India says it won’t tolerate “another Mumbai”—the audacious 2008 terror attack on the city by militants with links to Pakistan—while Pakistan has done little to assure the international community that it has curbed the terror groups based on its territory. For two countries that have gone to war with each other three times since 1948, and have had several close calls in recent years, the risk of a catastrophic miscalculation is considerable.
Pulitzer Center Senior Editor Tom Hundley travels to both countries to speak with officials and top experts about the factors—real and imagined—that are driving this dangerous new nuclear arms race.