Nuclear Nationalism, Nuclearism, and Deterrence

Nuclear Nationalism, Nuclearism, and Deterrence

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) Chief General Michael E. Kurilla in his recent
testimony before the Senate Arms Services Committee stated that he is “confident in
[Pakistan’s] nuclear security procedures.” The remarks made in the backdrop of the ongoing
economic and political crisis in the country coincided with another statement by Pakistan’s
Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar where he had asserted that “nobody has the right to tell
Pakistan what range of missiles it can have and what nuclear weapons it can have. We have
to have our own deterrence.”
The two statements given in a different context with distinct objectives triggered an
unnecessary debate in the country. On one hand, the US CENTCOM Chief’s remarks were
being projected as an endorsement of Pakistan’s security credentials, but on the other hand
the Finance Minister’s statement at the floor of the Senate created an impression that the
ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are being deliberately
stalled at the behest of the US, to coerce Pakistan to curtail its nuclear and missile
Bringing the focus on Pakistan’s nuclear program by the Finance Minister was disingenuous
and may have intended to divert the focus away from continued failure to conclude an
agreement with the IMF. This triggered unnecessary controversy in a country where
nuclear program remains a sensitive issue and is often exploited by various elements for
their own interests.
The IMF was quick to refute the claim made by the Finance Minister, forcing him to clarify
that his statement was taken out of context and “neither the IMF nor any other country has
made any demands regarding Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.” Notwithstanding this
clarification, appearing to falsely accuse the IMF, not only brought a negative focus on the
type and ranges of Pakistan’s missiles inventory but it may have further complicated the
work of the government team negotiating an agreement with the IMF.
There is a possibility that Finance Minister Dar’s remarks may have been intended to
deliberately scuttle the negotiations with the IMF. The government knows that it may not
be in a position to steer the country out of the current economic crisis even with the IMF

bailout package. To shift the blame from abject failure to achieve progress, Dar may have
indulged himself in a ‘nuclearism’ behaviour with an intent to exploit public sensitivities and
blaming the IMF for demands that were never made.
This is not the first time that the ‘nuclear nationalism’ has been used by the political leaders
for their personal and political interests. It had been exploited by various governments to
build their nationalist credentials, to blame others, or to signal to the outside actors. The
excessive politicization of country’s nuclear program has its own demerits as it heightens
the public sensitivities that are easily exploited – both by the external as well as internal
Finance Minister Dar’s reference that “nobody has the right to tell Pakistan what range of
missiles it can have…”, was most likely a reference towards Shaheen-III ballistic missile that
has a declared range of 2750 km. The specific range of 2750 km had two purposes – to signal
that Pakistan’s nuclear capability covers the Indian landmass; and secondly, that it is not
intended towards any other country, including Israel.
Since Pakistan’s nuclear capability has a singular focus of deterring its major rival India,
therefore limiting the missile range to 2750 Km was deliberate and intended to pacify
concerns of some of the countries that might otherwise feel insecure. Pakistan does not
have any ambition to emerge as a regional hegemon, and neither it has the resources to
build an expansive nuclear posture that could threaten countries in its distant
The out of context statement by a member of Pakistan’s National Command Authority
(NCA) may have raised unnecessary alarm about Pakistan’s nuclear program, and is not
likely to be helpful in the ongoing negotiations with the IMF. It was also intriguing that on
one hand the Finance Minister Dar made this ill-advised statement but at the same time he
was pleading a relatively junior US official of the rank of Deputy Assistant Secretary Level to
show leniency towards Pakistan.
Nuclear nationalism is a result of sustained efforts by the national leadership to assert
nuclear identity, in addition to the collective sense of shared history, language, culture,
religion etc. Once nuclear weapons are made part of the national identity, it becomes easier
to manipulate public sentiments and exploit it for political objectives. Successive leadership

in Pakistan has been exploiting it for political objectives that has led to heightened public
sensitivities on the nuclear issues.
Over the past many years nuclear nationalism has also emerged as a tool used by the
external powers as a leverage to extract concessions from Pakistan. Therefore, the
statements such as the one made by the US CENTCOM Chief need not be celebrated, as
these are politically oriented and mainly to address the US interests. These could change
with the shift in US priorities towards the region.
In view of these known sensitivities and the challenges that Pakistan continues to face
internally as well as external, it is imperative that the national leadership must exercise
restraint in their public utterings and need not indulge in nuclearism behaviour. The
statement such as the one made by the Finance Minister could lead to unwarranted
controversies, and brings into question the credibility of the leadership, which itself is vital
for the credibility of nuclear deterrence.


About Dr Adil Sultan 47 Articles
Dr Adil Sultan is Dean Faculty of Aerospace and Strategic Studies and Head of Department Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), Air University Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected] he is also the co-founder of STRAFASIA (


  1. A very realistic and good analysis. As pointed out by Dr. Adil the undesirable hype created about our national nuclear capability often for political motives reflects poorly on Pakistan’s maturity as a nuclear weapon state. Unfortunately, the populace in general including the intelligentsia have not been educated on the finer aspects of nuclearization nor have the political elites made any effort to educate themselves on the responsibilities that come with the privilege of being a nuclear power. One thing needs to be understood clearly is that the less said about nuclear issues and by fewer people the better it would be for credibility of our nuclear management. Neither should we be delighted on any foreign certification about the good health of our nuclear assets nor is there any need to get perturbed by any negative aspersions cast by anyone.

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