The blowing of the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP) by the Russian state is, quite simply, an act of terror by this terrorist state. With his army failing, his air force stuck in its hangars, it would appear Putin is prepared to do almost anything to cling on to the Russian occupied areas of Ukraine and his throne in the Kremlin. This is another war crime to add to the growing list, a list that includes the unlawful deportation of children – something that led to the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant for his arrest.
The Russian military motivation behind the blast is clear and not unexpected. The vast area to the west of the dam is a ‘tank’ highway to Crimea, and Putin knows his demoralised forces are likely to collapse in the face of Challenger and Leopard tanks charging towards them. The flooding will likely block this axis for many weeks. The ecological and agricultural damage alone will be legion, and with no power coming out of KHPP or Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), Ukraine is going to be short on electricity for a while.
This type of terrorism is not new and is to be predicted from the tyrant. I had the honour to be one of the Peshmerga’s chemical weapons advisors in the fight with another terror state: IS. In 2017, as the Islamic State was falling in Iraq, they blew up the Al Mishraq sulphur mine south of Mosul. From a tactical perspective this had the same effect as blowing the dam at KHPP. The 400,000 tonnes of very toxic sulphur dioxide went across the route of the advancing Iraqi army’s direct approach to Mosul and delayed them for several days, allowing IS to dig deeper into the city. At one point the toxic cloud was heading to the Kurdistan capital Erbil, with over one million people in mortal danger. Thankfully the ‘gods’ intervened, and the poison dissipated in the high atmosphere. When you have no limits or concern for civilian casualties like IS and Putin, sadly virtually nothing is off limits.
But the Ukrainians are canny, very canny. No doubt the Ukrainian high command will have planned for such an eventuality and will have numerous lines and methods of attacks to rid themselves of this evil scourge. At the early stages it also looks as though the Russian plan may have backfired, with Russian troops defending this sector scrabbling for high ground and the water needed for Crimea disappearing into the Black Sea.
Kyiv’s forces have started their long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture occupied territory, according to Russian sources on social and state media.
Andrey Rudenko, a correspondent for Russian state television channel Rossiya 24, said that Ukraine had launched a tank offensive in the direction of Zaporozhzhia that was repelled by Russian troops. He added that Ukraine had “many seriously wounded troops lying on the battlefield.”
Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russia-backed administration of the partly occupied oblast, told the Solovyov Live programme: “In my opinion, there has been an attempt at a full-scale offensive for three days, even four” in the Zaporizhzhia region.
He said that overnight on Wednesday Ukrainian forces had probably used U.S-supplied HIMARS systems to open fire on the city Tokmak, the Tass news agency reported.
Russian sources on Telegram also noted there had been an increase in fire and assault positions in the Zaporizhzhia direction, with Ukrainian tanks attacking Moscow’s positions and reports of non-stop shelling, according to the Twitter account of War Translated.
Another milblogger said: “We can already talk about the beginning of the offensive announced by Ukraine for so long.”
Russian state media war correspondent Alexander Sladkov wrote on Telegram on Thursday that it was difficult for Ukrainian soldiers to accept the signal to attack “with the knowledge that there are mines ahead, impregnable trenches” as well as Russian soldiers “who are not going to retreat.”
The Russian Storm Z unit with the call sign Ali told Tass that Ukrainian forces had tried an advance on the village of Lobkove with at least at least 20 military vehicles and 100 infantry, but were “driven back” and suffered losses.
Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian defense ministry about the Russian claims. On Wednesday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, said Moscow’s claims that the counteroffensive had started were “not true.”
Danilov said Russian officials had mistaken Ukrainian advances in some frontline areas for the start of the larger operation and that when Ukraine does launch its push, “everyone will know about it.”
Former Australian army general Mick Ryan said in a Substack post on Thursday that the Ukrainian operations being undertaken around Bakhmut and in southern Ukraine “appear to confirm that H-Hour for the 2023 Ukrainian offensive has probably arrived.”
In comments emailed to Newsweek, Atlantic Council fellow and a former Ukrainian defense minister, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, said early actions by Ukrainian forces have centred on Bakhmut, which Russia has claimed control over.
Zagorodnyuk said that Ukraine encircling the Donetsk city would “deny the Russians an opportunity to use any benefits of capturing the territory, and set themselves up to eventually recapture it.”
When Kyiv’s counteroffensive starts, Zagorodnyuk said: “We will see a full use of the brigades trained and equipped for that operation and, of course, the magnitude of the operational activities will be much higher.”
The global nuclear order has so far proven resilient in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine. European engagement through the EU and NATO can help shore up this uneasy equilibrium
Russia’s war against Ukraine is intimately tied to the global nuclear order. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has issued countless nuclear threats since February 2022: among other things, warning those who might consider coming to Ukraine’s defence of consequences “never seen in your entire history”; placing Russia’s nuclear forces on “enhanced combat duty”; and preparing to deploy Russian nuclear warheads in neighbouring Belarus.
The Kremlin has also conditioned arms control talks with the United States on Ukraine, stating that such discussions “cannot be isolated from geopolitical realities” in an attempt to blackmail Washington into giving up on Kyiv. Indeed, the very fact of Russia’s war could break the international non-proliferation regime – as countries facing threats to their security may be more likely to seek the bomb, and those that already have it will never give it up.
Yet, the global nuclear order has proven resilient to Putin’s challenge. The norms, practices, and institutions of the nuclear age – no matter how unjust – remain largely as they were before the war. Russia’s nuclear weapons may dissuade NATO countries from sending troops to fight alongside those of Ukraine. But the alliance’s nuclear weapons also deter Russia from attacking the supply hubs in Poland and elsewhere that facilitate Ukraine’s self-defence. The nuclear non-use norm remains unbroken, and no new countries have acquired nuclear weapons since Russia’s landgrab of Crimea in 2014. Multilateral engagement by Europeans through the EU and NATO can help to shore up this uneasy equilibrium.
EU member states are deeply divided on nuclear matters. One EU country – France – commands a nuclear arsenal of its own. Most others benefit from the United States’ nuclear umbrella as members of NATO. Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands even host US nuclear weapons on their soil through the alliance’s nuclear sharing arrangements. Austria and Ireland, meanwhile, were instrumental in the drafting and adoption at the United Nations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017, which seeks to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons; Malta signed up too. Finland and Sweden, which were militarily non-aligned throughout the cold war and after, have now joined NATO, or, in the latter’s case, will do so imminently.
EU member states thus represent the full continuum of views towards nuclear weapons. Consequently, the EU’s position on nuclear weapons and how to address their risks, threats, and benefits reflects the three pillars of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as the lowest common denominator: nuclear non-proliferation, access to civilian nuclear energy, and negotiated disarmament. NATO upholds that it will remain a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist. In private, some European leaders might even subscribe to the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s view: “I want a war-free Europe. A nuclear-free Europe I do not believe would be a war-free Europe.” Their ranks might have swelled since February 2022. But this diversity of views across the EU also allows member state governments to credibly engage different global constituencies, as views around the world are no less diverse.
Nuclear treaty proliferation
From 2010 onwards, the “humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” began to receive increasing attention in international discussions. Austria and others championed a “Humanitarian Initiative” and pledged to close the legal gap on prohibition that the NPT left open. Ban treaty sympathisers among EU member states have since tried to shift the bloc’s default position. Within the EU, this led to a crystallisation of two subgroups, which, according to one EU official, brought “the worst” out of supporters and opponents alike whenever the TPNW was on the agenda. The result has been an agreement to disagree among EU members, to avoid the elephant in the room and permit progress on other parts of the union’s common security and defence policy agenda.
The TPNW has neither had quite the effect its proponents hoped for, nor that its opponents feared. Critics of the ban treaty had argued that it would undermine the NPT regime. But since its entry into force in 2021, no signatory of the TPNW has withdrawn from the 1968 treaty. To the contrary, many government statements have stressed the two treaties’ complementarity, as did the final declaration of the first meeting of parties to the TPNW in June 2022.
Where the meeting fell short was in condemning Russia’s nuclear-backed invasion of Ukraine. For all their emphasis on humanitarian principles, ban treaty members’ solidarity with the attacked should have come almost naturally. After all, Ukraine is one of only four countries globally to have relinquished nuclear weapons (the others being Belarus, Kazakhstan, and South Africa). Yet, most delegations refrained from calling out Russia – albeit not all – and the final declaration effectively resorted to nuclear whataboutism, castigating “any and all” nuclear threats. This could turn out to be as much of a roadblock to expanding membership as the rejection of the ban treaty by the countries who would actually do the disarming. Compared to the TPNW, the participation of the US, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union in the NPT considerably boosted buy-in from other UN members.
The non-outcome of last year’s NPT review conference illustrates another way in which Russia’s war has affected consensus-based forums. Whereas the ban treaty meeting avoided taking a stand on the invasion to achieve consensus, a Russian veto on the final day of the NPT conference prevented a joint declaration and with it explicit condemnation of Russia’s occupationof the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Some delegates reported frustration that the war crowded out discussions on other critical issues, such as emerging and disruptive technologies and their effects on nuclear risks and stability.Others were disappointed that language on disarmament in the draft did not go far enough. But most considered the conference a success – and none (bar Russia) threatened to block the final statement.
China has been notoriously unwilling to engage in discussions of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here!”
Diplomatic discipline has allowed EU members and their partners to push for farther-reaching condemnation in majoritarian forums such as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, which adopted three resolutions in 2022 against Russian opposition. European diplomats need to be mindful of the decision-making mechanisms of the forums in which they operate, and acknowledge that the perception of their initiatives by countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America could evolve as Russia’s war drags on. If Europeans push the envelope too far, it could come at the cost of progress on other issues of importance to these countries. In some cases, assembling a coalition for a side statement may be more effective than insisting on specific language for a consensus document. This can also serve to put reluctant countries on the spot. China, for example, has been notoriously unwilling to engage in discussions of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine.
EU member states and NATO allies can adopt other measures to reduce nuclear risks. US-Russian arms control is now on life support, and China’s nuclear build-up is accelerating unchecked. Short of formal arms control agreements, the international community is rediscovering risk-reduction, transparency, and confidence-building measures as ways to close off the riskiest pathways for inadvertent and accidental escalation between the nuclear powers. Military-to-military communication channels, for example, can help to de-conflict activities and prevent misunderstandings. NATO allies have also demonstrated unilateral restraint in refraining from mirroring Russia’s nuclear bluster, to avoid normalising it.
But, even in an area as seemingly uncontroversial as nuclear risk reduction, not every conceivable measure actually enhances security. And, given Russia’s record of deliberate risk manipulation, some might even put Europeans at a distinct military disadvantage. Arguably, Russia has had a little too much confidence about what NATO countries would not do in support of Ukraine. Nevertheless, as NATO allies and their partners seek to promote a distinction between responsible and irresponsible – or to some: less and more irresponsible – nuclear behaviour, some risks associated with unilateral steps could still be worth accepting to gain broader international support in the narrative confrontation with Russia (and China).
Europeans should prepare for an era of intense nuclear competition. In addition to Russia’s heightened propensity for risk manipulation, there are also growing reasons to doubt Moscow’s commitment to non-proliferation: Russia’s plan to deploy nuclear warheads to Belarus turns on its head the Kremlin’s previous criticism of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements. The Kremlin might also come to believe that selective proliferation – or tacit support for others’ nuclear hedging – would create a bigger headache and distraction for the West than for itself. Already, Russia’s dependence on Iranian drones for strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure has led to a shift in Moscow’s position on negotiations to curb Teheran’s nuclear ambitions. Far from the post-cold war era of cooperative threat reduction, Russia is becoming a nuclear rogue.
It is crucial to condemn Russia’s behaviour in the broadest possible terms. However, it is the Kremlin’s disregard for humanitarian norms and violent rejection of the post-cold war European security architecture that requires Europeans and NATO allies to be able to deter, and if necessary, defeat Russian aggression. Beyond the requirements for effective conventional defence and deterrence, a competitive armaments strategywould give Russia a reason to take seriously Europeans as counterparts in arms control. This would also support the EU’s non-proliferation objectives by allowing Washington to shift resources and attention towards the assurance of allies in other regions – given that US nuclear backed security guarantees have long contributed to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
The US will in all likelihood follow through on its ‘Indo-Pacific pivot’ over the coming years, or be forced to do so suddenly in response to Chinese actions. In that scenario, it will only become more imperative for Europeans to present Russia with risks and challenges it would wish to negotiate away – rather than plead in vain for the Kremlin to come to its senses.
The Chinese also have demonstrated ASAT capability to hit enemy’s military satellites, which support their space-based ballistic missile defence systems. (Representative image/ File photo)
By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
It is estimated that China has 410 nuclear warheads at present. As per international assessment this figure is likely to go up to 1500 hundred warheads by 2035. That’s more than a triple jump in just a decade and represents a quantum increase. The country is also building more than 200 silos at multiple locations. In addition to silo-based ICBMs, China is building more road-mobile ICBMs, strategic nuclear submarines as also increasing its air delivered nuclear capabilities.
China possesses one of the world’s largest missile forces. Its land-based missiles which can carry nuclear warheads include variants of DF-4, DF-5 , DF-21, DF-26, DF-31, and DF-41 ICBMs. In particular, the DF-41 is capable of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV). China is concentrating on longer-range, road-mobile, solid-fuel, quicker- launching missiles. It’s nuclear submarine fleet normally carries the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The newer JL-3 SLBM with a potential range of 9,000 km could also be carried on its latest nuclear submarines. China’s H-6 bomber and a potential future stealth bomber are both nuclear-capable. It also has air-launched land attack cruise missiles and the ground-launched cruise missiles with nuclear or dual-use capabilities. Overall it has a robust second-strike ability which is being strengthened manifold. With the development and demonstration of an Hypersonic Glide Vehicle capability which can be nuclear tipped, China has acquired an offensive edge which can no more be couched in mere reactive/defensive policies of “no first use”.
The Chinese are also investing heavily in space, cyber systems, communication networks, a nuclear recce surveillance system and a targeting philosophy as part of their system based warfare. It will also do us well to understand that the Chinese have organised their nuclear forces into a Strategic Support Force with a clear line of command and control and integration with the CMC and apex leadership. The Chinese also have demonstrated ASAT capability to hit enemy’s military satellites, which support their space-based ballistic missile defence systems. They are developing their own BMD in addition to the deception which Silos provide to increase the survivability of their nuclear forces. When seen holistically this expansion will transform China’s current nuclear arsenal into one of full spectrum capability including a fully operational triad.
Hither to fore China’s nuclear arsenal was a weapon of political choice with a declared “no first use” policy. It was accompanied with a stated capacity of minimum credible deterrence. However as China has risen globally, it has an unstated nuclear policy which it has put into effect. It has become more ambiguous. The change is based on the threat it perceives from the USA and the need to seek parity as an emerging superpower. Till some time back it was believed that the Chinese lacked the technical ability to detect an incoming first strike. Accordingly it was felt that China does not have a “launch on tactical warning” or “launch on attack “ capability. However that seems to have changed. Recently during the 20 Party Congress Xi Jinping, stated China seeks to ‘establish a strong system of strategic deterrence’ and also called for a boost to ‘new-domain forces with new combat capabilities’. Very clearly the Chinese are developing an expanded nuclear capability to seek parity with USA and impose deterrence on it. Axiomatically, as China increases its nuclear arsenal, ostensibly against USA, the threat to India is inherent and also increases manifold. The asymmetry in capability is also changing equally fast. One needs to understand that as capabilities change intent can also change. Nuclear coercion to settle the Sino Indian issues cannot be ruled out in future.
In addition to the implicit threat from China, one can not forget Pakistan. The latter might be down economically or be in one of its episodic bouts of chaos. However Pakistan, its military, its intelligentsia and its people are prepared to eat grass to expand their nuclear capabilities and are doing so despite being near bankrupt. One must also factor in that the Chinese have long used Pakistan as the catspaw to deal with India. Their iron brother status though rusted has a core of steel when it comes to collusivity against India. This is an additional factor in our nuclear calculations.
So the question is, what does India do in these circumstances? Very clearly from a perspective of numbers alone, India will find itself outmatched. However that is only half the problem. The force multiplication due to MIRVs, multiple silos, hypersonic capability and an effective triad in a networked mode puts the slightly dated Indian nuclear capability on the mat. The entire issue needs a rethink. At the outset it must be mentioned that India still has 164 nuclear warheads with a triad capability in its nascent stage. There would be a networking capability to go along with it and we do have a nuclear command set up. However there are a number of deficiencies in the structure. Some of our delivery systems and warheads could be of an older generation. Having said that there is a need to examine things de-novo in the light of Chinese nuclear expansion and come up with an appropriate response and a road map.
The first thing is that India should not get into a nuclear arms race with the China cum Pakistan combine. However that should not prevent us from expanding our arsenal, to the extent that we possess minimum credible deterrence against China and Pakistan in the new paradigm. We should take stock of issues involved and embark on a program of modernisation and right sizing our arsenal to achieve minimum credible deterrence. Secondly, India must put in place adequate deception and safety measures which will ensure that our delivery systems and warheads side step any first strike and leave us with adequate capability for an assured second strike. A lot of this capability will stem from being able to monitor Chinese activity and gauge political temperatures. It will also mean that we need to have vectors which will be able to penetrate Chinese countermeasures. This means building up a strong space based surveillance capability with adequate back-ups. It will have to be both active and passive in nature. The fundamental nature of our response and posturing will be political and hence we must eschew any loose talk of counterforce capability and stick to countervalue effects. Operationalisation of a triad capability will be invaluable in our context. Expansion of the capability by developing underwater launch capacities will be invaluable. Fast tracking MIRV and hypersonic capabilities must be given priority. In turn, this implies a closer degree of civil military fusion of the entire command and execution chain. Rather than counting the number of warheads it would be more prudent to expand dual use delivery systems including hypersonic systems. Very importantly, the government will have to generate interdepartmental and inter-ministerial synergies to ensure that desired outcomes are achieved in the correct time frames. If one has to put it in succinct terms, the need is to make our nuclear response ‘smart’ based on modern technologies.
In this process it is possible that we might have to do some more simulative testing to have better warheads of latest design. In this endeavour utilising AI based simulation will be beneficial. In this connection we might have to take into account the sensitivities and the leeway our strategic partnerships afford us so that we do not end up with sanctions.
There is also a necessity to take a hard relook at our “no first use” policy. It is not set in stone. With our western adversary openly professing the “right of first use” and our northern adversary virtually abandoning “no first use” it will be wise on our part to reassess our own policy. It needs to be tweaked in such a manner that our adversaries get the message. At the core, there must be a policy shift. Our nuclear programs are all based on “peaceful nuclear science” and its connected activities. The outlook is largely civilian in nature. Whilst this has served us well in the past, there is requirement now to ensure that the weapons program stops being a poor second cousin on all counts. There is no doubt that the core nuclear science research can continue on its traditional path. However aspects pertaining to modernisation, system integration, weaponization, deployment and operations go beyond the realm of civilians thinking and needs to be addressed differently.
In summation, it can be said that India cannot wait and watch idly when China is openly increasing its nuclear arsenal and related capabilities. Whatever increment it does to counter USA will prove to be an overmatch for India hereafter. In this connection, it is reiterated that India does not have to even endeavour to match China weapon to weapon. However India will have to resort to “smart” technologies to modernise our nuclear arsenal and make it more potent and diverse. If it involves incrementally increasing our numbers, so be it. The need to do so is here and now. We cannot afford to hesitate. A growing power like India should reserve the right to defend itself and her people in the best way it can.
The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ http://www.gunnersshot.com . Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.
The Russian invaders have blocked the transmission of information from the Automated Radiation Monitoring System (ARMS) of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant they have occupied, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine reports.
“The Ukrainian regulator informed the IAEA about this case, which threatens the safety at the Zaporizhia NPP, but did not receive notifications about possible planned measures from the Agency to resolve this situation,” Oleh Korikov, head of the nuclear regulator, is quoted in a message on the regulator’s Facebook page in Friday.
As the regulator described the situation, in particular, due to the dismantling or theft by Russian invaders of important elements of systems, the disabling of part of computer equipment, significant efforts and resources are required for the restoration of the plant’s physical protection system. The occupiers have almost completely degraded the system of emergency preparedness and response at the ZNPP, the regulator added.
“In order to restore nuclear and radiation safety, it is necessary to immediately withdraw the Russian military and Russian personnel, in accordance with the resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors GOV/2022/17, GOV/2022/58, GOV/2022/71,” the inspectorate said in the statement.
Prevailing Unstable Environment in Pakistan: If events were not so tragic, the fast moving violent, dynamic, unpredictable politico-social drama being enacted in Pakistan would appear to be ‘comic-action film’ on TV. Nevertheless, being a transactional, impersonal world, people are watching with great interest and unfortunately great amusement. But, a nuclear crisis is certainly no laughing matter, and powers that be will do well to plan and be ready for all contingencies.
The situation is exacerbated by the rivalry and obvious power games between the military, judiciary and executive, with Imran Khan as the ‘invincible, highly popular action hero’. Lost in the turmoil and violence, is the constant fear about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons ecosystem – the warheads, the missiles, delivery vehicles (land, air, sea, undersea), the readymade, high grade, unused fissile material, communication systems and aspects like security of the launch codes. I am quite sure that the heads of governments of specifically USA, China and India and their national security advisors (NSAs), and intelligence agencies must be having sleepless nights. The contingency plans to be put into operation for securing the nuclear assets must be getting finetuned. Why specially these three; USA the superpower still fighting global war on terrorism (GWOT) and wants to keep the nuclear club exclusive with no additions, China with her Xinjiang and fundamentalist elements despite Pakistan being her client state (like North Korea), and India, Pakistan’s arch rival for eternity. At the outset it is important to highlight that the two most relevant but worrying aspects are, whether effective state control would be asserted at all times, and whether there are conditions where weapons could be used without due authorisation?; secondly, how to prevent subversion and theft both of physical nuclear assets and technical and communication details, including launch codes, by the very people who are guarding/protecting it. Pakistan’s capability and capacity to protect their nuclear assets along with a historical perspective, followed by contingencies in case the international powers need to intervene has been analysed. This article has used credible open source material [i].
Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal:Pakistan currently has 170 nuclear warheads, and claims a triad status which indicates the capacity to launch from land, air and sea. Details of her assets are listed below:
Source: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
Experts believe that Pakistan could well be the world’s fourth-largest nuclear weapon state; with a stockpile of some 350 warheads in a decade (2030).
Air: Apart from Mirage III and V, Pakistan can also deploy F-16s (24) and Chinese J 17s (186 in pipeline) for nuclear delivery.
Sea: abur III, range 470 kms; deployed on the air-independent-diesel-electric Agosta class submarines (ordered 8; deployed 4?); some Babur IIIs are pre-mated for second strike capability.
Tactical Nuclear Weapon (TNW):NASR/HATF 9 has a range of 60 k.m. only, most probably pre-mated, some deployed with forward troops, and possibly under command and control of HQs at operational level (Corps HQ); raising the probability and its vulnerability of misuse/rogue use/panic use, and finding its way in wrong hands including terrorist organisations; and starting a nuclear Armageddon. In 2016 Obama said, “Battlefield nuclear weapons, by their very nature, pose [a] security threat because you’re taking battlefield nuclear weapons to the field where, as you know, as a necessity, they cannot be made as secure”.
Pak does not possess enough launchers compared to the warheads it holds; and
all launchers are dual capable!
Nuclear Policy: Pakistan boasts of ‘full spectrum deterrence capability’. Policy similar to NATOs ‘flexible response strategy’, with threat of use when her red lines/threshold will be crossed without explicitly spelling it out. Pakistan claims that she has a formal policy which is classified, and believes that ambiguity adds to the value of deterrence.
Command and Control of Nuclear Assets: The apex body which exercises command and control is the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) headed by the PM, with the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) under a three-star army general, which is responsible for the protection of its tactical and strategic nuclear weapons stockpile, and the strategic assets. Special Response Force (SRF) is the special forces unitof SPD Force with the strength of 25 to 28000 personnel which secures the assets. The selection standards in terms of intelligence and physical standards for the force are even higher than army due to very sensitive nature of their duty. After initial training in army training establishments, they are now trained in Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security (PCENS), located in Chakri near Rawalpindi. Training is modelled on US National Nuclear Security academy.
Regarding Pakistan, it will be fair and reasonable to assume, that the military (COAS) would have the final and decisive vote for exercising the nuclear option.
International Opinion and Observations on Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) Pakistan : Ashley J. Tellis in his book (Striking Assymetries: Nuc Transitions in Southern Asia) says Pakistan is building “the largest, most diversified, and most capable nuclear arsenal possible”, which is endorsed by Peter Lavoy, a US intelligence officer. The Trump administration’s South Asia strategy in 2017 urged Pakistan to stop sheltering terrorist organizations, and noted the need to “prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists”. President Biden in Oct 2022 said ““Pakistan “may be one of the most dangerous” countries in the world having “nuclear weapons without any cohesion”.
Deployment/Location of Nuclear Assets:
Note: Areas shown as Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas are an integral part of India (map not to scale)
Even when nations proclaim transparency, as exists(ed) between USA and Russia, regarding holdings and deployment of nuclear assets, in terms of agreements (SALT II, which now stands abrogated/suspended), there is always uncertainty and ambiguity regarding accuracy of details, especially when most delivery mechanisms are dual-capable (can fire both conventional and nuclear warheads) and also co-located which is a new dangerous trend followed specially by China and Pakistan. US aggressive anti-nuclear stance against North Korea is mainly because she can never be 100% sure of deployment of nuclear assets, thus not confident of knocking them out in a ‘first strike’ if ever the need arises. However, Pakistan nuclear assets locations are known to a fair degree of certainty, both due to diligence and ISR by the big powers, specially USA, as also with an existing agreement between India and Pakistan[ii] to notify each other. Details of known locations are placed below:
Fissile Mtrl Production Complex – Pakistan has a well-established and diverse fissile material production complex that is expanding at Kahuta, enrichment plant at Gadwal North of Islamabad. Four heavy water plutonium reactors in Khushab and thermal power plant (helps in estimation of production of fissile material). A new Reprocessing plant at Nilore, E of Islamabad, and second at Chatham in NW Punjab processing spent fuel and extracts plutonium.
Fissile Mtrl – In 2020, the International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated that Pakistan had an inventory of approximately 3,900 kilograms of weapon-grade (90 percent enriched) highly enriched uranium (HEU), and about 410 kg of weapon-grade plutonium. This material is theoretically enough to produce between 285 and 342 warheads.Pakistan uses tritium to boost fission process and reduce size of warhead. Possesses 690 gms, enough to boost over 100 weapons. Most short range missiles like NASR, Abdali, Babur, Ra-‘ad will need small, lightweight tritium boosted fission warhead.
Production of Msl and Mob Lrs –National Defence Complex at Kala Chitta Dahr mountain range West of Islamabad with two sections;
West – development, production, test launching of missiles and rocket engines;
East – production and assembly of road mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs)
Some launcher and missile-related production and maintenance facilities may be located near Tarnawa and Taxila.
Warhead Production-Pak Ord Factories near Wah, NW of Islamabad.
Safety and Security of Nuclear Assets
Pakistan has put in place all safeguards expected from an NWS and as per international norms of IAEA’s Nuclear Security Strategy (NSS)[iii]. During late 2000 a US report stated “we’re, I think, fairly confident that they have the proper structures and safeguards in place to maintain the integrity of their nuclear forces and not to allow any compromise”. The SPD is the institutional link between civilian and military facilities. Pakistani sites have three “rings” of security. The first is within each facility itself with SPD personnel responsible for physical searches, Nuclear Media Acess Control (NMAC)[iv] protocols; while the second ring is formed of physical means (limited Access Areas, physical barriers). Outside of each site, the third ring of security is provided by a wider counter intelligence effort. Being aware of the dangers of subversion, NCA has put in place a very rigid system of vetting regularly; different for scientists, civilian staff and military personnel. Screening involves four of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Some important measures incorporated are:
The National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) of the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has become an IAEA collaborating centre for Nuclear Security Education, Training and Technical Support in Oct 2022.
Working with the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) in different areas. The GICNT is an international partnership intended to improve international capacity for prevention, detection, and response to nuclear terrorism, particularly the acquisition, transport, or use of nuclear and radiological materials.
Advanced-level training in American National Laboratories and applied it to improve the overall security practices in the country.
Additional measures in terms of equipment enhancement are:
Specially trained – as per IAEA and Nuclear Security Series.
Special theft and tamper-proof vehicles and containers are also used.
SPD and PNRA operate radiational detection portal monitors at nuclear sites.
All round and fool proof communications.
Nuclear Security Emergency Coordination Centre (NuSECC) in Islamabad.
Mobile Radiological Monitoring Laboratory (MRML) established.
Historical Statistics and Vulnerabilities:But impressions, reputation and opinions has gone steadily downhill in the last decade, more due to the socio-politico-unstable internal security situation, rise of political Islam and fundamentalism, Pakistan’s unrelenting dalliance with terrorist organisations, which has come back to bite them like the proverbial snake. There are credible intelligence reports that Al Qaeda, IS, TTP have shown renewed interest in acquiring both warhead, fissile material and technology. The two main constant and real worries are theft (material and intellectual) as also ‘insider operations.
The latest mob violence on Imran Khans arrest, has ignited violence and instability, and specter of even civil war. There are worrying reports of dissension within the Army ranks, both within the highest (rift between COAS, CJSC, Corps Commanders), middle and lower echelons; reports of mutinies in old established army units; soldiers abandoning their posts and duties, increasing insubordination which should cause grave apprehension regarding the safety and security of nuclear assets. If the most disciplined force can be beset with insubordination and desertion, the paramilitary, intelligence agencies and most importantly the personnel manning the security protocol of nuclear assets are equally susceptible. The vulnerability is not only physical theft of warheads and fissile material, but technical data and electronic codes which can operationalize the weapons and missile systems. In the current unrest and fragile security environment ‘when it is time to implement the harshest security measures, is ironically the time when it is at its most vulnerable to subversion and theft. Some historical lapses concerning security of nuclear assets are listed below: –
In November 2007, suicide attack killed seven PAF staff travelling between Mushaf Mir Airbase and the Central Ammunition Depot, Sargodha. Both sites have been associated with Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
A double bombing in August 2008 killed 64 people in Wah Cantt. One explosion took place outside the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), which is believed to house the Gadwal Enrichment Plant.
In July 2009, a bus carrying KRL workers was attacked by a suicide bomber at Chor Chowk, Peshawar Road.
In October 2009, the Minhas air force base in Kamra was attacked. The site is widely assessed to host Pakistani nuclear weapons, although the attacker is reported to have detonated a bomb at “a checkpoint on a road leading to the complex,” rather than the base itself.
The biggest of them all; AQ Khan both stealing sensitive information from the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, a subcontractor to the URENCO enrichment consortium, and then going on to sell indigenised versions of that technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya.
Subversion at the highest level revealed when Lieutenant General (retired) Javed Iqbal and Brigadier (retired) Raja Rizwan who received 14 years’ imprisonment and the death penalty, respectively for nuclear espionage.
Note: – If staff can be identified for attack, they may also be coerced into becoming “insiders. Insiders have been a real concern to Pakistani authorities.
Scenario Building and Recommendations.
Pakistan will obviously remain the first responder for most contingencies, and is expected to act immediately and decisively in case of theft of warhead or fissile material, or loss of critical technological information; assuming the command and control of nuclear assets is still intact and not broken (contingencies like civilian and/or military control, or break up of both is a realistic probability). They are expected to act responsibly and alert the international community immediately specially the ‘Three’ (USA, China and India the immediate neighbour), and United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
In case, the UN and world body led by USA and China feel that there exists conditions where the nuclear assets are NOT under the command and control of any responsible body, be it the civil or military, and safety and security of the assets are compromised, and real and present threat to them exists (terrorists, breakaway military leader/group(s) and rogue elements); there is a need for physical intervention to secure them, with or without the sanction/permission of Pakistan authorities. The current scenario does warrant planning and coordinating for such a contingency specially by the ‘Three’.
In the eventuality of the above, and if the unstable situation of a civil war like situation persists, there is a case of following a variation of the Ukraine model* with Pakistan. Pakistan naturally will be loath to give up her nuclear assets. The process will take time, but the world cannot afford to have the spectre of a Nuclear Armageddon hanging over its head all the time.
*Note: When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, there were thousands of former Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers, left on Ukraine’s territory (some in Belarus and Kazakhstan too), which they decided to transfer to Russia. Ukraine never had an independent nuclear weapons arsenal, or control over these weapons, but agreed to remove former Soviet weapons stationed on its territory. In 1992, Ukraine with the other two, signed the Lisbon Protocol[vi] and joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1994. The transfer of all nuclear material took some time, but by 2001, all nuclear weapons had been transferred to Russia to be dismantled and all launch silos decommissioned. Interestingly, the Protocol in itself does not talk of any security guantantees by either USA or Russian Federation. However, The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances comprises three substantially identical political agreements signed at the OSCE conference in Budapest, Hungary, on 5 December 1994, to provide security assurances by its signatories. The three memoranda were originally signed by three nuclear powers: the Russian Federation, the UK and the USA. China and France too gave somewhat individual assurances in separate documents.
The memoranda, prohibited the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States from threatening or using military force or economic coercion against Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, “except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”. The memorandum did accelerate the handing over of nuclear weapons.
Conclusion: Pakistan has always led a rather unstable existence ever since its independence. Its nuclear weapon status provides the proverbial edge, which does keep world powers and India on their toes. Pakistan has institutionalised systems in place to secure the nuclear assets. However, given the unstable internal security situation, which can deteriorate in an accelerated manner, and possibly weaken the command and control chain, and security of nuclear assets, it makes eminent sense to plan and put procedures in place to secure the nuclear assets by external agencies led by the ‘Three’. India must make it her business to ensure the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear business.
(This article was earlier published in bharatshakti.in)
[i] Current geo-polical-social situation in Pakistan is being widely covered in the internet and other media sources. Nuclear aspects have been covered by sourcing the following articles online: –
[ii]‘Non-Nuclear Attack Agreement’, signed between Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on 21 December 1988 in Islamabad (ratified 1991), according to which, both countries have to inform each other of the nuclear facilities. Accessed on 12 May 2023.
[v]Permissive Action Links (PALs) – ensures that even if an unauthorized person gets hold of a weapon, he cannot activate it unless he also has access to electronic codes.
[vi] ‘Protocol to the Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation Of Strategic Offensive Arms’, signed on May 23, 1992, between representatives of USA, Russian Federation, Republics of Ukraine, Byelarus and Kazakhstan; available at https://2009-2017.state.gov/documents/organization/27389.pdf. Accessed on 17 May 2023.
09:52, Fri, Jun 2, 2023 | UPDATED: 10:12, Fri, Jun 2, 2023
Zaporizhzhya power plant has been occupied by Russian forces (Image: Getty)
Ukrainian Nuclear Regulation Inspectorate head, Oleg Korikov, warned the situation at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant is “getting worse every day”. Korikov said Russian troops occupying the Zaporizhzhya plant are “causing direct damage to the nuclear safety and security of the plant”.
He continued: “In order to restore nuclear and radiation security, it is necessary to immediately withdraw the Russian military and Russian personnel.”
He added: “International partners were informed that the Russian invaders continue to exert intense pressure on the personnel of the ZNPP, resort to intimidation, search the private residences of the station employees, prohibit contact with persons who are in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, and when people try to leave the occupied territory, they are not released and threaten confiscation of property.
“Representatives of Rosatom, who are illegally present at the ZNPP and are in fact complicit in the war crimes committed by the Russian Federation and its military, recruit personnel who do not have the appropriate qualifications.
Russian troops are causing direct damage to the plant (Image: Getty)
On Tuesday, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cautioned that the nuclear safety and security status at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant situated in Ukraine is extremely fragile and dangerous.
“Military activities continue in the region and may well increase very considerably in the near future,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a UN Security Council briefing.
According Grossi, despite being in a temporary shut-down is not sustainable, the plant has been operating with a notably diminished workforce,
According to Grossi’s statement, there have been seven instances when the site lost all off-site power and had to rely on emergency diesel generators; the last one, the seventh, occurred just one week ago.
“We are fortunate that a nuclear accident has not yet happened… we are rolling a dice and if this continues then one day our luck will run out,” Grossi said, adding, “So we must all do everything in our power to minimize the chance that it does.”
Grossi laid out new “concrete principles” which “are essential to avoid the danger of a catastrophic incident” at the Zaporizhzhia plant.
Grossi also emphasized the need of safeguarding all structures, systems, and components, which are fundamental to the secure and safe functionality of the Zaporizhzhia facility, from potential assaults or acts of sabotage.
UNITED NATIONS — The nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine remains extremely fragile and dangerous, said the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday.
“Military activities continue in the region and may well increase very considerably in the near future,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told a UN Security Council briefing.
The plant has been operating on significantly reduced staff, which despite being in temporary shut-down is not sustainable, he said.
There have been seven occasions when the site lost all off-site power and had to rely on emergency diesel generators, the last line of defence against a nuclear accident, to provide essential cooling of the reactor and spent fuel. The last one, the seventh, occurred just one week ago, Grossi said.
“We are fortunate that a nuclear accident has not yet happened… we are rolling a dice and if this continues then one day our luck will run out,” he warned.
“So we must all do everything in our power to minimize the chance that it does,” said Grossi.
The IAEA chief laid out new “concrete principles” which he said are essential to avoid the danger of a catastrophic incident at the Zaporizhzhia plant.
There should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, in particular targeting the reactors, spent fuel storage, other critical infrastructure or personnel, he said.
Zaporizhzhia should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons or military personnel that could be used for an attack from the plant, and off-site power to the plant should not be put at risk, he added.
All structures, systems and components essential to the safe and secure operation of the Zaporizhzhia plant should be protected from attacks or acts of sabotage, Grossi said.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant was taken under Russian control in March last year, becoming one of the first major areas to be captured by Vladimir Putin’s forces – but staff say they are intimidated by Russian troops to keep quiet about what’s happening behind closed doors.
Over a period of a few weeks we spoke to two workers at the Zaporizhzhia plant.
And the warnings they gave of what could happen should send a cold chill around the world.
The interviews were conducted on the condition of anonymity and at great personal risk to them. They told us that if they were caught, they could be tortured, imprisoned, or worse. They know the dangers but still wanted to be heard.
Neither of the technicians knew that we were talking to the other. But their testimony of the possibility of a major nuclear catastrophe was worryingly familiar. One of the men, who we will call Serhii, warned the consequences could cause devastation across much of Europe, Russia and the Mediterranean.
Both sides blame each other. But our sources told us that Russia has been deliberately targeting power lines to disrupt the flow of electricity to Ukraine. These lines are essential for plant safety and the cooling mechanism of the reactors.
For 30 years, workers at Europe’s largest nuclear power station couldn’t imagine that there could be a power outage.
Since Russian forces occupied the site last year it has happened seven times.
The back-up generators we were told are also not being properly maintained, the other man, Mykola, told us that this was because of staff shortages.
He says that before the war there were 11,000 staff at the plant and now there may be as few as 3,500.
“There is the same deficit of workers for repairs who can actually do the servicing and fix problems. The quality of the workers is lower because the qualified staff left. So generally the situation here is deteriorating.”
Ukraine’s defence ministry alleges Moscow could be about to simulate a major accident, such as a radioactive leak, as a way of stopping any Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south of the country.
Ukraine is expected to order its troops to reclaim territory lost at the beginning of the war in the coming weeks.
The power station has been under occupation now for 15 months and the technicians have told us that in the last few weeks the level of military activity has increased dramatically.
They’ve witnessed Russian forces, moving more armour, more ammunition and more guns into place as they fortify their positions.
Serhii says that he thinks it’s because they know the nuclear plant is safe from Ukrainian strikes.
“Ukrainian armed forces will not shell the station. That’s why they are multiplying the numbers of troops and vehicles here because if they did it in another place they would definitely get shelled by the armed forces of Ukraine.
“The thing is, one month and half ago there were two times less troops on the power station and now there are two times more which means they are definitely preparing for the counteroffensive.”