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Pakistan's Momentous Decision

Responding in kind to Indian nuclear tests only would heighten tensions on the subcontinent

Institute for Science and International Security

For Immediate Release: May 13, 1998
ISIS MEDIA ADVISORY
For more information, contact: David Albright, President
or Kevin O'Neill, Deputy Director
(202)547-3633

India's decision to conduct nuclear tests threatens to spark a nuclear arms race on the Indian subcontinent. While such an arms race has long smoldered in South Asia, a decision by Pakistan to conduct its own nuclear test could set this arms race fully aflame.

Although Pakistan has not admitted to actually assembling nuclear weapons, Pakistani officials have said that Pakistan could conduct a nuclear test quickly. While demonstrating this capability would help satisfy Pakistani public opinion, a Pakistani test would only escalate tensions on the subcontinent.

Moreover, any popular euphoria resulting from a Pakistani test would be short-lived. Pakistan would no doubt suffer the same international condemnation and sanctions that India is expected to receive. Given that Pakistan has fewer economic resources than India, these sanctions would affect Pakistan more than they would affect India.

An equally troubling Pakistani response would be for Pakistan to resume its production of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU). Pakistan declared in 1991 that it had ceased HEU production.

Rather than conduct nuclear tests or resume HEU production, Pakistan should act with restraint. A "wait and see" approach should be adopted until India signals its intentions. Now that it has conducted nuclear tests, India may choose to follow a more conciliatory path with respect to international non-proliferation efforts. A Pakistani test would only assure India's continued hard embrace of its nuclear weapons capability.

An attached fact sheet providing estimates of the current and potential capabilities of India and Pakistan to produce nuclear weapons.

Further information from ISIS is available upon request.