Naeem Salik’s Learning to Live with the Bomb: 1998-2016 is a more judicious treatment of hot-button issues than his earlier book, The Genesis of South Asian Nuclear Deterrence: Pakistan’s Perspective, published in 2009. Back then, the author offered stout rebuttals to outsider accounts that, in his view, unfairly maligned Pakistan for events such as the AQ Khan affair and the “myth of technological collaboration” between Pakistan and China.
The passage of time has produced a more nuanced, less defensive narrative by the author — one that, on occasion, strays from the orthodoxy of the Strategic Plans Division. But make no mistake: this book constitutes a thorough vote of confidence for Pakistan’s nuclear stewardship. His focus is on the lessons, adaptations, and evolutions that have occurred since the 1998 tests.
What have these lessons been? The topmost lesson – which seems equally directed toward internal and external audiences – is that with the right leadership, “single minded determination, national resolve, and across the board national consensus, even the apparently insurmountable challenges can be overcome.” Second, western opposition to Pakistan’s nuclear program has reaffirmed a national sense of victimisation. And third, major powers will bend the rules governing non-proliferation for commercial and geopolitical gain. Pakistan’s nuclear program, as well as India’s, has benefitted from such convenient flexibility. Afghanistan is truly a thorn in Pakistan’s side, but twice – in 1979 and 2001 – events there relieved Pakistan of outside pressure, first against covert, and later overt nuclear developments.
Pakistan has not published its nuclear doctrine, making it hard to discern lessons. Nonetheless, its trajectory is clear: the modest, minimum deterrence doctrines that Pakistan strategists presumed to be eminently possible after testing nuclear devices in 1998 has given way to a three-digit sized arsenal, with no signs of future restraint.
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Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in the Dawn Herald on May 3, 2017.