The Indo-Pakistani Nuclear Arms Race

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Since 1974, India and Pakistan have been in an arms race. Both conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and have been enlarging their stockpiles ever since. Given their long-standing rivalry, a small conflict now has the potential to go nuclear.

International Rivalry

The phrase, 'Keeping up with the Joneses,' might conjure images of suburban housewives flaunting overpriced handbags or their husbands trying to out-do each other with flashy cars. Why do they do it? Pride? Jealousy? Fear? Aggression? Maybe all of the above?

The same set of motivations led European nations to expand their overseas empires in the late 1800s and pushed Germany to challenge Britain for dominance of the high seas. Ironically, only mutually assured destruction kept the United States and Soviet Union from nuking each other throughout the second half of the 20th century. Thankfully, such brinksmanship and militarism ended with the Cold War. Or did they?

In Southeast Asia, the rivalry between India and Pakistan has been simmering since the end of WWII, and the two nations have fought a number of conventional wars in response, especially over possession of Kashmir. But now, it's gone nuclear.

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  • 0:01 International Rivalry
  • 1:05 India and Pakistan's…
  • 2:35 The Indo-Pakistani Arms Race
  • 4:13 International Consequences
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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India and Pakistan's Nuclear Programs

India began its nuclear program at the height of the Cold War. Pakistan's Prime Minister had infamously vowed, 'If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.' Sure enough, after years of denying nuclear weapons capability, India exploded the Smiling Buddha in 1974. Although India justified the test by claiming it felt threatened by China, the nuclear explosion inevitably made Pakistan feel threatened, which responded by stepping up its own program.

The ensuing decades may have seemed quiet on the surface, but both nations were busy in research and development, with Pakistan updating the world as it reached milestones along the way to a nuclear bomb. In 1988, the two nations graciously agreed not to attack each other's nuclear facilities, but their arms race escalated in the coming decade.

Then, in 1998, India began the first of five nuclear tests in an underground site near its border with Pakistan. A government spokesman admitted that it was a show of power, intended 'to establish that India has a proven capability for a weaponized nuclear program.' And though this defensive posture was as much for China's benefit as for Pakistan's, the latter nation scrambled to display its own weapons. Just weeks later, Pakistan tested six nukes, as well as a new long-range missile.

The Indo-Pakistani Arms Race

The international community responded immediately with economic sanctions against both nations, but this hasn't deterred them. Shortly after the 1998 tests, India's Prime Minister announced that he had no intentions of scaling back his nation's nuclear weapons program. As for the world's criticism, India has responded with the goal of fully indigenous production, meaning they would be completely independent of all foreign supply and the political influence that accompanies it. In 2012, India added long-range missiles and nuclear submarines to its arsenal and now has the capability of launching nuclear weapons from air, land or sea. As of 2014, India is believed to have as many as 110 nuclear weapons and is enlarging a uranium-enrichment plant to build more.

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