2015 was a tense year for the relationship between India and Pakistan. The two countries shot at and shelled each other across their border, canceled bilateral talks, and suffered multiple terror attacks. Though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised hopes for improved ties with a surprise visit to Lahore in December, the risk of more bloodshed between India and Pakistan remains frighteningly high.
Of the dangers, none is greater than the threat of some kind of nuclear attack. Both India and Pakistan possess large nuclear arsenals. And both aim them at the other. While the possibility of all-out Armageddon can therefore never be ignored, these massive armories represent an even greater, more imminent peril: that terrorists will somehow take control of a warhead or nuclear materials to launch a catastrophic attack. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nuclear nonproliferation watchdog, both countries score poorly on their Nuclear Security Index, which assesses the security of nuclear materials around the world.
Fortunately, President Obama’s final Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) beginning today provides an opportunity for high-level political engagement to find a bilateral solution that finally addresses South Asia’s nuclear dangers. Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry recently warned that nuclear conflict is more likely now than at the height of the Cold War. Now is the time for Modi and Sharif to prevent the unthinkable by signing a deal that could actually keep the region safe.
India and Pakistan maintain nuclear-weapon arsenals that are similar in both size and composition, and both countries have threatened to launch a nuclear strike against the other if provoked. Of the two countries, Pakistan is the more likely to actually act on such rhetoric, since the threat of war with India could amount to an existential threat. New Delhi’s army is much larger than Islamabad’s, making Pakistan more likely to resort to a nuclear strike in the event of a conventional war. This isn’t just conjecture: In October 2015, Aizaz
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series