I'm asking about what seems to me to be a double standard in the level of concern, in the media and among world leaders, regarding the nuclear capability of two states in the Greater Middle East.

The two countries I am referring to are Iran and Pakistan. The former doesn't have nuclear weapons yet, but the prospect of it obtaining them has caused widespread alarm in the international community, with US sanctions being imposed, and more recently with the very disputed nuclear deal.

But it is no secret that Pakistan has had a nuclear bomb for some time. Furthermore:

  • It is one of the countries never to have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  • It has admitted to state-sponsored terrorism, has been accused of aiding and abetting Osama Bin Laden, and has convicted the doctor Shakil Afridi who was instrumental in the CIA's effort to locate him. Radical and militant Islam is arguably more of a problem in Pakistan than it is in Iran.
  • It does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but has solid relations with Iran. Is there really a difference opinion, between the population and political leaders of Iran and Pakistan, regarding the legitimacy of the Zionist regime? Here is an interesting article on the topic, which can be accessed using google cache.

I'm not saying there is more cause for concern for the nuclear programs of Iran and Pakistan than there is for other nuclear powers, like Russia, North Korea and Israel. I'm just interested in the comparison between Iran and Pakistan: one of them has an atom bomb, and everybody is worried about the country that doesn't yet.

Please excuse me for my ignorance on the topic, and thank you for any helpful answers.

  • 7
    @EmilioFerrucci - Probably because Pakistan never threatened to wipe another state off the map and refuse to recognize its existence.
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:10
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    There's also the argument (popular amongst academics at least) that allowing both India and Pakistan, who have a long history of conflict, to have the bomb helps to stabilise the region by preventing all-out war.
    – lemon
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 1:29
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    @lemon - well it worked for US/USSR, kind of.
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 1:32
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    As for not signing NPT, neither has Israel or India. Why does that make it okay for them? And even though Israel never admitted officially to be a nuclear power, their nuclear arsenal is believed to be 80+. It is amusing that you completely ignored the Western nuclear powers and aimed your question solely on Eastern powers RU, NK, IN, PK. Maybe those countries have similar concerns about your Western nuclear powers? Especially as only West has a history of actually using a nuclear bomb? And you might wanna take a look at US "Nuclear oops" moments. Not very bright record there.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 11:59
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    And btw, US had sanctioned Pakistan. See Pressler amendment and Aftermath of Pakistani nuclear tests. It failed to convince them to give up their weapons because as stated earlier, they perceived nukes as necessary for their survival against India. Also, US interests soon forced them to be "friends" with Pakistan so the sanctions didn't last long.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 12:01

6 Answers 6


As Geobits said,

It's generally accepted that Pakistan has had nuclear weapons for over 20 years.

The problem with Iran is that their statements to the effect of "We're going to destroy Israel" are well-documented. Pakistan, on the other hand, isn't friendly but isn't overtly hostile. Moreover, their record on this is pretty good- when have you heard of them using a nuclear weapon?

This a crucial point. Why should anyone be worried about a nation using nuclear weapons when it never has and isn't threatening to? As an analogy think of people. If there was one person that had a gun on them and never used it, you'd be uneasy but you wouldn't do anything about it. If someone else was saying "I'm going to buy a gun and then I'm going to shoot you", you'd damn well call the police.

I agree there's a theoretical threat, but clearly Pakistan recognise that they're better off not nuking anyone. Iran has to be fanatical to make these outrageous threats, so maybe, just maybe they'd be crazy enough to actually try it.

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    Iran has never made any threats, especially not about using nuclear weapons. Pakistan has made explicit threats against India in the past, e.g. after the failed Kargil war, Nawaz Sharif boasted that the next time his soldiers would take control of Srinagar. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kargil_War "U.S. intelligence had imaged Pakistani movements of nuclear weapons to forward deployments for fear of the Kargil hostilities escalating into a wider conflict." Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 19:48
  • 1
    Didn't Ahmadinejad clarify what he meant to Larry King? If Poroshenko makes a dubious statement, wouldn't we ask Poroshenko for clarifications about what he meant, or do we ask Putin to explain to us what Poroshenko really meant to say? Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 2:15
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    "The enemies are talking about the options [they have] on the table. They should know that the first option on our table is the annihilation of Israel" "We will not abandon our [armed] struggle until the annihilation of Israel and until we will be able to pray in al-Aqsa mosque" "The Zionist regime will soon be destroyed, and this generation will be witness to its destruction." I could give more examples if not for the character limit. Let's not question Iran's belligerency. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 8:15
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    What is being questioned is not Iran's belligerency but if they would use a nuclear weapon. For instance they want the annihilation of Israel in order to pray in a mosque that is in Israel. If they nuke it how are they supposed to pray in it? The annihilation they refer to is not necessarily (though the easiest) the physical representation but rather the political entity (even through war). Israel has also made threats about bombarding Iran. So no one is a saint in this issue.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 13:36
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    For the sake of completeness: " TIME: You have been quoted as saying Israel should be wiped off the map. Was that merely rhetoric, or do you mean it? Ahmadinejad: [...] Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way." So no it's not annihilation as you understand it. And this: "On 8 May 2006, Shimon Peres told Reuters that "the president of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map."
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 13:40

You are incorrect to say, that there are double standards. You see, the is only one standard, INTEREST. Outcries, outrages, condemning, and expressing worry, are more or less, tools to secure and promote interests. They are not standards in themselves. Iran, is percieved hostile and defiant to the West. So, they would not want Iran to get a nuclear capacity. As has always been the great feat of the West, to evoke the Moral Law in whatever it does, and make everyone at the recieving end of their communication, feel , what they are doing is right. And hence, their belligerents are evil. (When was the last time you felt hostile about a country, or ideology?)

Pakistan most often walks the line US provides it. US percieves interest in Pakistan since the time of Nixon. So, US sees it favorably aligned to its own interests. So, it does not say a lot. And basically, US and the west are the dominant voices, which are percieved in the global sphere. So if you feel nobody is worried about the Pakistan Nuclear Programme, the information which you consume, is of this area.

So, what happens is normal. Nothing conspiracy.

Besides, talking of media, and what they want to cover, there are no directive principles. They show what they want to show. And most often, they will want to show what occupies there mind, or what is promoted, by , lets say anonymous agents and sources.


Politics is not conducted on the basis of rational scientific methods, it's based largely on irrational preferences. The reality is that the Pakistani nuclear weapons pose a much greater threat to World security than any Iranian stockpiles of nuclear weapons would, let alone Iranian enrichment facilities under strict IAEA inspections.

The reason why everyone is worried about Iran has nothing to do with the relevant facts, it is the animosity between the US and Israel vs. Iran combined with cognitive biases like the Bandwagon effect, Confirmation bias etc. etc.

  • 4
    First sentence is correct (yet unreferenced :) Second sentence and on is pure opinion/speculation. Especially since USA is a lot less worried about nukes in Iran compared to say KSA which you didn't even mention (I'll randomly guess because it doesn't fit your own bias that this is all about Israel)
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 23:01
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    Also, "strict IAEA inspections" is a falsehood. As late as February 2015 IAEA complained that Iran was stonewalling inspecions
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 23:02
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    The IAEA has a different role in Iran than other NPT members because Iran got referred to the UNSC and was subject to UNSC resolutions that imposed restrictions on its nuclear program. Whether that referral was justified or not is another discussion (it was done over the objections of El Baradei). The IAEA has now a double role, besides its usual role, it has to report to the UNSC on the issues the UNSC wants clarified. Iran never accepted the extra conditions imposed on it by the UNSC, it isn't going to give clarifications on issues it thinks the IAEA has no business in getting clarified. Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 23:21
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    The fundamental issue when judging compliance or non-compliance is to consider if a country is complying (or not complying) with agreements that it signed on to, or if the problem is that foreign powers have imposed (or want to impose) conditions and the country isn't complying with those restrictions. Suppose that some countries would say to Israel that it needs to sign the NPT and give up its nukes. If Israel refuses, would that make Israel in violation of the NPT? I don't think so, but we've dealt with Iran as if this logic does apply, which is just not realistic. Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 23:29
  • This could be an interesting answer, if there were any evidence for the claim that the Pakistani nuclear weapons are a threat to world security.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 2:15

What makes you believe nobody is worried about Pakistan?

The international reactions back in 1998 were similar to those to Iran today, including sanctions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chagai-I#International

The simple fact is that that was then and this is now. 20 years of reality don't leave others much choice but accept the fact.


Why is nobody worried about Pakistan's nuclear program?

This is actually untrue.

USA and India times and again expressed concerns over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear sites.

I'm just interested in the comparison between Iran and Pakistan: one of them has an atom bomb, and everybody is worried about the country that doesn't yet.

  1. The first difference is in tone. Pakistan times and again made it clear that their nuclear program is only aimed at India and no one else. On the other hand, Iran is openly antagonistic towards Israel, not only verbally but also actively. For instance, their assistance towards Hamas, and various other Shia groups in Syria and Yemen are routinely frowned upon by Israel.

  2. The second difference is in connection with the international community. Iran is a pariah country, while Pakistan is not. Iran is a theocracy while Pakistan is an active democracy for quite some time now. Pakistan was a partner in NATO's operation in Afghanistan. The recent US-Pakistan spat is going to be a temporary one and has much to do with Indian lobbying than USA's own interest. Not to mention that NATO's supply goes through Pakistan's territory.

  • I agree that people do think about it, but I'm not sure how much Pakistan successfully shows it's not a threat to anyone but India. Pakistan's pioneering nuclear engineer AQ Khan seems to have been key in providing nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Qadeer_Khan) Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 23:43
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    @cactus_pardner, that is largely considered to be AQKhan's fault, not the state's fault. At least Pakistan was able to sell the incident in that way.
    – user17569
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 7:12
  • Point 2 kind of begs the question. It's all true but the broader question is why is that.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 20:42

I would bet, at the core of it, is the hostage situation during the Carter administration. Many in the US are still chapped about that. Unfortunately most people in the US don't know what lead to that incident...

  • 2
    Without you providing those details, this is meaningless.
    – Phil Lello
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 22:02

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