The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. This issue’s column examines Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which includes 140 to 150 warheads. The authors estimate that the country’s stockpile could realistically grow to 220 to 250 warheads by 2025, if the current trend continues.
Pakistan continues to expand its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, more delivery systems, and a growing fissile materials production industry. Analysis of a large number of commercial satellite images of Pakistani army garrisons and air force bases shows what appear to be mobile launchers and underground facilities that might be related to nuclear forces.
We estimate that Pakistan now has a nuclear weapons stockpile of 140 to 150 warheads (See Table 1). This stockpile exceeds the projection made by the US Defense Intelligence Agency in 1999 that Pakistan would have 60 to 80 warheads by 2020 (US Defense Intelligence Agency 1999 US Defense Intelligence Agency. 1999. The Decades Ahead: 1999-2020, A Primer on the Future Threat, in Scarborough R (2004) Rumsfeld’s War: The Untold Story of America’s Anti-Terrorist Commander, 194–223. Washington, DC: Regnery., 38).
With several delivery systems in development, four plutonium production reactors, and its uranium enrichment facilities expanding, however, Pakistan has a stockpile that will likely increase further over the next 10 years. The size of the increase will depend on many factors. Two key factors will be how many nuclear-capable launchers Pakistan plans to deploy, and how much the Indian nuclear arsenal grows. Speculation that Pakistan may become the world’s third-largest nuclear weapon state – with a stockpile of some 350 warheads a decade from now – are, we believe, exaggerated, not least because that would require a buildup two to three times faster than the growth rate over the past two decades. We estimate that the country’s stockpile could more realistically grow to 220 to 250 warheads by 2025, if the current trend continues. If that happens, it would make Pakistan the world’s fifth-largest nuclear weapon state. But unless India significantly expands its arsenal or further builds up its conventional forces, it seems reasonable to expect that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal will not continue to grow indefinitely but might begin to level off as its current weapons programs are completed.