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Event Review: Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out

Event Review: Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out

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by Magnus Newth

In an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment on Tuesday March 5, Pakistani nuclear physicists Zia Mian and Pervez Hoodhboy discussed the subjects of a newly released essay collection, Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out. The collection has been edited by Hoodhboy and contains essays by Pakistani and Indian scientists and experts, Hoodhboy and Mian among them. The essays address various aspects of the nuclear politics of South Asia. The discussion was moderated by George Perkovich, Carnegie’s vice president for studies and director of their Nuclear Policy Program

In his opening remarks, Zia Mian discussed how the book came about and the challenges associated with working on nuclear security in South Asia. Mian argued that while a public debate on these issues is sorely needed, the current one, particularly in India and Pakistan, is informed by politics, emotion and propaganda. It would be much better served by being rooted in scientific analysis, technical knowledge and sober policy analysis. The recently published essays contain a selection of the work that has been done to provide such background for the debate.

Focusing on Pakistan and the development of its nuclear standoff with India, Pervez Hoodhboy continued by discussing the origin of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent, postulating that this development had not provided the intended security for either state.

By developing nuclear weapons without taking the Pakistani response into consideration, India forced the militarization of its neighbor’s nuclear program. This in turn led to a situation where India had no way of answering such incidents as the 2008 Mumbai attacks without fear of nuclear escalation. Pakistan’s own idea of building just enough nukes to counter India was not much better, Hoodhboy said, critiquing the idea of minimal deterrence and arguing that there is in fact an ongoing arms race in South Asia today.

One of the most dangerous issues between India and Pakistan today, according to Hoodhboy, is the “new game in town,” tactical nuclear weapons. As tensions has risen between the two countries, Pakistan has sought to counter the threat of conventional Indian forces with an expanding arsenal of tactical weapons, as evidenced by the increase in recent short range missile tests. While some in the Pakistani military may believe such weapons can be used without fear of escalation, Hoodhboy warned of the recklessness of this idea.

Raising proliferation concerns, he went on to discuss the implications of having smaller nuclear weapons dispersed or forward deployed. Pursuing a tactical arsenal for Pakistan is problematic, not only for command and control reasons, but also as it raises the specter of theft or loss of weapons. This is particularly true for Pakistan, a country where elements within the state and army have ambivalent and troublesome connections with extremists and terrorists.

Although the situation between Pakistan and India is complicated and dangerous, the panelists warned of jumping to conclusions and agreed that while patience might be needed, diplomacy and better relations would serve as the best way to defuse the tension between the two rivals.

American Security Project has previously released a perspective paper on Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal providing a comprehensive, fact-based background on these and other issues.

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