At the start of 2019, the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea had a total of some 13,865 nuclear weapons, according to a new report by the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
That represents a decrease of 600 nuclear weapons compared to the start of 2018 but all nuclear weapon-possessing countries are modernizing (upgrading) these arms – and China, India and Pakistan are also increasing the size of their arsenals, the SIPRI report added.
North Korea has an estimated 20 to 30 nuclear warheads, which SIPRI said was a priority for the country’s national security strategy. However, it noted that North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon or long-range ballistic missile since it entered into denuclearization talks with the United States in 2018.
France has 300 nuclear warheads, China 290, the UK 200 and Israel 80 to 90.
To date, the United States is the only country to have the ignominy of resorting to the use of nuclear weapons when it dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) in the final days of World War II.
Within the first four months of the bombings, the radiation had already killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; nearly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day of the bombings.
Israeli nuclear arsenal
In total, the SIPRI report estimated that Israel possesses between 80 and 90 nuclear weapons, an increase over previous years.
The SIPRI report described Israel’s nuclear arsenal as follows: 30 gravity bombs capable of delivering nuclear weapons by fighter jets; an additional 50 warheads that can be delivered by land-based ballistic missiles; and an unknown number of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles that would grant Israel a sea-based second-strike capability.
During a speech last August in front of the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to use nuclear weapons to “wipe out” Israel’s enemies. More recently, Netanyahu and his allies in the U.S. accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, despite the fact that intelligence agencies of both the U.S. and Israel have long recognized that Iran has no such program.
India and Pakistan
Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, which have 130 to 140 and 150 to 160 nuclear warheads respectively, are increasing the size of their arsenals while also developing new systems.
“India and Pakistan are expanding their military fissile material production capabilities on a scale that may lead to significant increases in the size of their nuclear weapon inventories over the next decade,” said Shannon Kile, director of the SIPRI Nuclear Arms Control Program.
It may be recalled, the Congressional Research Service’s May 15 2009 report to US lawmaker said that Pakistan’s nuclear energy program dates back to the 1950s “but it was the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in a bloody war with India that probably triggered a political decision in January 1972 (just one month later) to begin a secret nuclear weapons program.”
“The origins of the Pakistani nuclear program lies in the deep national humiliation of the 1971 war with India that led to the partition of the country, the independence of Bangladesh and the destruction of the dream of a single Muslim state for all of south Asia’s Muslim population.”
On the other hand, White House insider Bruce Riedel, who co-authored the Obama administration’s Af-Pak policy, offered the following sequence in a op-ed, broadly concurring with the CRS report:
“The new prime minister of those times, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, secretly convened the country’s top 50 scientists in January 1972 and challenged them to build a bomb. He famously said that Pakistanis would sacrifice everything and “eat grass” to get a nuclear deterrent. The 1974 Indian nuclear test helped Pakistan to tell the world that this is the cause of their nuclear bomb. Starting in 1972, Pakistan came up with its own nuclear bomb in 1998 with the slight help of China, just a few days after India’s second nuclear test.”
The CRS Report further added, “Mr. Bhutto received an unsolicited letter from a Pakistani scientist who had studied in Louvain, Belgium, Abdul Qadeer Khan, offering to help by illegally acquiring sensitive centrifuge technology from his new employers at a nuclear facility in the Netherlands. Over the next few years—with the assistance of the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)—Mr. Khan would acquire the key technology to help Pakistan produce fissionable material to make a bomb.”
Both the CRS report and Riedel pointed out to the help which China gave to Pakistan in its nuclear weapons quest, a subject successive US administrations are leery of broaching for fear of angering Beijing. “Islamabad gained technology from many illegal sources,” says the CRS report, adding, “This extensive assistance is reported to have included, among other things, uranium enrichment technology from Europe (stolen by Khan, according to Riedel), blueprints for a small nuclear weapon from China, and missile technology from China and North Korea.”
India plans a covert military attack on a Pakistani nuclear reactor
In their book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Conspiracy, Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark claim that Indian military officials secretly travelled to Israel in February 1983 to buy electronic warfare equipment to neutralize Kahuta’s air defences. Israel reportedly also provided India with technical details of the F-16 aircraft in exchange for Indians providing them some details about the MiG-23 aircraft. In mid- to late-1983, according to strategic affairs expert Bharat Karnad, Indira Gandhi asked the IAF once again to plan for an air strike on Kahuta.
The mission was cancelled after Pakistani nuclear scientist Munir Ahmed Khan met Indian Atomic Energy Commission chief-designate Raja Ramanna at an international meet in Vienna and threatened a retaliatory strike on Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Trombay, according to Sushant Singh of Indian Express who also wrote in October 2015:
The next time India is believed to have seriously considered attacking Kahuta was in September-October 1984. It has also been rumored that Israeli air force was part of the plans to attack Kahuta in 1984 because it did not want to see an “Islamic Bomb” developed by Pakistan. Israel was supposed to lead this attack and not merely play the role of advising the IAF. Bharat Karnad has written that Israeli aircraft were to be staged from Jamnagar airfield in Gujarat, refuel at a satellite airfield in North India and track the Himalayas to avoid early radar detection, but Indira Gandhi eventually vetoed the idea. Levy and Scott-Clark though claim that Indira Gandhi had signed off on the Israeli-led operation in March 1984 but backed off after the US state department warned India “the US will be responsive if India persists”.
Earlier inn January 2015, India Times reported: “In 1981, India planned to bomb Pakistan’s nuclear plant at Kahuta, inspired by Israeli attack on under-construction Iraqi nuclear reactors, the India Times reported on January 25, 2017.”
According to the India Times about 930,000 declassified documents posted online by the CIA provide interesting insights into India’s increasing concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear program in the early 80s. One such set of documents pointed out how India had planned to bomb Pakistan’s nuclear plant at Kahuta. This was a covert operation planned by India that was shelved after international pressure.
The India Times also said:
“Secret documents revealed that the US Ambassador to Pakistan handed over a letter by President Ronald Reagan to General Zia-ul Haq which warned Pakistan about a possible Indian military attack on the Pakistan’s nuclear reactor at Kahuta.
“An article in Washington Post in 1982 revealed Indira Gandhi was advised by the Indian military to target the Pakistani nuclear plant.
“Israel, according to reports, wanted to use Gujarat’s Jamnagar base to launch its jets and another base for refuelling. In March 1984, Indira okayed the operation, bringing India, Pakistan and Israel within striking distance of a nuclear conflict. But Gandhi backed off after the Regan administration warned of action, say reports.”
2019 report about India-Israel joint plan to target Pakistani nuclear facilities
More recently, Daily Pakistan Global reported on March 4, 2019, Pakistan has disclosed a joint plan by India and Israel to target its nuclear facilities ostensibly on the pretext of anti-terror war in the wake of Pulwama attack.
The daily reported that as tension between Pakistan and India lingers on, official reports by the government of Pakistan confirm that India and Israel were ready for a joint attack against Pakistan, however, the threat of retaliation and active vigilance staved off the strike a few days ago.
Multiple journalists in Pakistan, while quoting official sources and meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan have revealed that the joint plan was thwarted due to the contact between the spy agencies of the South-Asian countries and threat of retaliation by the armed forces of Pakistan. “High-level sources have informed us that there was a plan to attack 7-8 places in Pakistan from a base in Rajasthan, India. Pakistan had learnt that Israel was helping India in this plan and this was a joint plan of these countries,” the Daily Pakistan Global quoted a veteran journalist as saying.
Interestingly Shimon Arad, a retired Israeli colonel, wrote on National Interest website in February 2018, ‘How Israel and Pakistan Can Avoid a Nuclear Showdown?’ He said:
“The advancement of Pakistan’s nuclear-missile capabilities and Israel’s growing military ties with India are increasing their respective military relevance for each other. In the absence of formal diplomatic relations and against the backdrop of a prevailing antagonistic public dialogue, the need for an effective and discreet channel of communication between Islamabad and Jerusalem to mitigate misunderstandings and misperceptions about each other’s intentions is growing.
Col. Arad recalled that a website called “AWD News” claimed that Israel’s defense minister had threatened to destroy Pakistan with a nuclear attack if it sent ground troops to Syria on any pretext. Although clearly fake (the website misidentified the Israeli defense minister as Moshe Ya’alon, who resigned in the previous May), Pakistan’s defense minister hastily tweeted a nuclear threat and warned Israel that “Pakistan is a nuclear state too.”