Ever since it dropped atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of the Second World War, successive US governments have used all manner of diplomatic, economic and military tools to prevent other nations from getting the bomb. International nuclear non-proliferation agenda is a top US foreign policy priority. Under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the number of officially recognized Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) was pegged at five in 1968. India and Pakistan did not sign the NPT and became de facto NWS in the summer of 1998. Initially full pressure was brought to bear on both countries through sanctions and UN resolutions to refrain from further testing and to abide by international non-proliferation norms. Gradually the Indians were given quasi legitimacy on the basis of their so-called ‘impeccable’ non-proliferation record. The US granted an approval to India for their nuclear activity by signing a civil nuclear deal signed in 2005 and a Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) waiver was accorded in 2008. Pakistan was left out in the cold.
Nearly ten years later, in August 2015 a joint study of two US think tanks floated the idea of a ‘normal’ nuclear Pakistan. The proposal to give Pakistan a degree of nuclear respectability was premised on a set of conditions like giving up on its Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs), not using the veto against the Fissile Missile Cut-off (FMCT) Treaty at the Conference of Disarmament (CD) and not letting its territory be used for terrorist attacks against India. The reaction in Pakistan was predictable and there were calls for rejecting such a suggestion all together.
The purpose of this paper is to examine if there is any merit in the US proposal of a normal nuclear Pakistan and is the Government of Pakistan in any position to make a counter proposal and strike an appropriate bargain.
Key Words: Arms Control & Disarmament, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Normal Nuclear Pakistan.
*The author is associate dean at the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), H 12 Campus Islamabad.
The problem with the international nuclear non-proliferation regime is that it is constructed in a way that it appears to be immutable. It has a finality about it. It allows only those countries, who had acquired nuclear weapons before the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) was adopted by the UN in 1968, as Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). No other country can be admitted into the exclusive nuclear club. Nuclear weapon aspirants consider this as pure discrimination. Justifying India’s nuclear tests in 1998, India’s former foreign minister Jaswant Singh had decried the existing system as ‘nuclear apartheid.’
Nuclear non-proliferation policy is a matter of vital national security interest for the US. Axiomatically, therefore, it forms the centerpiece of its foreign policy. Over the years, all kinds of resources including diplomatic, economic and military means have been used to prevent non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) from acquiring nuclear weapons. Israel is a notable exception. In order to occupy the moral high ground, a parallel track on global disarmament has also been adopted. Complete disarmament initiatives, such as the global zero (GZ) regime calling upon the phased elimination of nuclear weapons by 2030, and President Obama’s Prague commitment of April 2009, calling for a “world without nuclear weapons,” have been used an effective smoke screen.
Nuclear explosions in the South Asian subcontinent in May of 1998 were naturally a development that shook the edifice of international non-proliferation. It was time for the world to take notice and decide how to handle these new upstart nuclear nations. Initially all pressure was brought to bear on them to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to merit any kind of recognition as nuclear states. This approach didn’t work out because for India and Pakistan it effectively meant giving up on their respective nuclear weapon program, in return for practically nothing.
From the very beginning some international players exhibited a more tolerant and accommodative attitude in case of India as compared to Pakistan. Russia, a longtime friend of India gave clear cut indications that they would not be leaving India in a lurch after the explosions. No angry statements emerged from the Kremlin neither aid was cutoff nor envoys recalled. In fact it was business as usual between India and Russia. On 14 May 1998, a day after India tested the nuclear device for the second time, the meeting of Joint Indo-Russian Council on technical and scientific collaboration held as scheduled in Moscow in an “atmosphere of goodwill and friendship.” On May 15, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Vladimir Kuroyedov reiterated that the transfer of warship Admiral Gorshkov to India would remain on track and that the Russian warships would take part in the joint exercises with the Indian Navy in the coming autumn. On May 19 it was made known that Russia’s Atomic Energy Minister, Yevgeny Adamov, would be visiting India to sign a supplement to the agreement of 1988 on the construction of an atomic power plant in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. There were also reports that the G8 – the group representing the wealthiest nations of the world namely Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia. UK and the US – in a meeting held in Birmingham in the wake of the Indian nuclear explosions were decidedly against levying any harsh sanctions against India.
Over a period of time India has been accepted in most forums as a responsible nuclear state and therefore worthy of special treatment, while Pakistani argument for similar treatment has cut no ice with the powers that be. Obviously the US and other major countries interest in supporting India’s nuclear interests is with an eye on a potentially huge nuclear market in that country. The US in particular has gone out on a limb to accommodate India as a legitimate nuclear power. It offered India a civil nuclear deal in July 2005. This was aimed to end India’s nuclear isolation and open up the gates for nuclear trade with countries possessing nuclear technology and natural uranium. A special waiver was given to India in 2008 “exempting it from the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG)’s rules governing civilian nuclear trade.”  The special concession was only made possible with active American support. According to an editorial published in the New York Times: “For years, the United States has sought to bend the rules for India’s nuclear program to maintain India’s cooperation on trade and to counter China’s growing influence.” Even Pakistan was arm twisted into not creating hurdles for this extraordinary favor to India. The NSG waiver was a real coup because it allowed India to sign nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, the UK, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia; while flouting international obligations such as:
- Fully separating its civilian and military nuclear reactors.
- Adhering to the limited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol as well as US laws (Hyde Act) for transparency in use of imported fissile material.
- Agreeing to a moratorium on fissile material production for weapons use; signing and ratifying the CTBT and putting a cap on its nuclear weapons production.
The US has identified four major areas to support India i.e. the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia group and the Wassenar group. In fact the US has already facilitated the entry of India into the MTCR, and went the whole hog in supporting its candidature in the NSG. With assured US support, India was hopeful that it would be able to gain entry into the NSG and Pakistan not at the NSG annual meeting in June 2016 in Seoul. Pakistan launched a late diplomatic maneuver and was able to stall the Indian effort for now.
Pakistan has been deliberately left out in the cold. The stakes have been raised and the price of joining the nuclear mainstream made steep. It has now been asked to comply with a number of pre-conditions that may actually erode its security. A paper published jointly by two American think tanks last year clearly states the price for letting Pakistan become a normal nuclear state. The conditions are clear and straight forward. Pakistan has been asked in no uncertain terms to limit the size of its nuclear arsenal because it has been alleged by various western official and non-official sources that it has the fastest growing stockpile of nuclear weapons. The number of warheads with Pakistan is estimated at 120. India on the other hand is supposed to have 90 to 100 of these.  The western powers want Pakistan to rein in the production of nuclear warheads and give up its TNWs. It is argued that battlefield missiles are destabilizing for strategic stability in South Asia. Pakistani point of view is that these are meant to deter the Indian Cold Start /Preemptive Doctrine is not accepted as a valid reason. Pakistan is also required to stop obstructing the passage of a Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. The Pakistani demand to include the existing stocks of fissile materials within the ambit of the proposed treaty has been studiously ignored.
The Implications of the US Proposal to Mainstream Pakistan
The image of Pakistan as a nuclear proliferator was sullied and the myth of India having a clean record was constructed simultaneously in the international media. As a result with the passage of time, the Indian nuclear program became kosher, while that of Pakistan questionable. After raising the heat Pakistan was offered a quasi-legitimate nuclear status, provided it fulfilled certain conditions. As mentioned earlier, the idea was conceptualized in a report published jointly by the Stimson Center and the Carnegie Endowment in August 2015. Authored by Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon, the paper A Normal Nuclear Pakistan offers three tough choices: First, Pakistan will not be accepted into the nuclear mainstream unless it made serious changes to its nuclear policy. Second, Pakistan should embrace its already effective strategic deterrent in the service of political rather than military objectives. Third, Pakistan should start formally conforming to the norms of the international nuclear regime. The report demanded that a normal nuclear Pakistan would not allow the use of its territory by extremist groups to attack India.
These broad ideas translate into five specific initiatives i.e. convert declaratory policy from “full-spectrum” to “strategic” deterrence; commit to a recessed deterrent posture and limit production of tactical nuclear weapons and delivery systems; separate civilian and military nuclear facilities; lift the veto on the FMCT negotiations; and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). These initiatives would signal restraint and adherence to global practices of responsible nuclear stewardship. The publication of the report was followed by official and unofficial overtures.
The Indian Reaction
The Indians obviously do not want anyone to give any kind of concessions to Pakistan in any area, and most certainly not by their new strategic partners, the US. They have a particularly strong lobby at the Capitol Hill that makes sure that the US Government (USG) does not concede an inch to Pakistan, when it comes to security matters. This anti Pakistan sentiment was quite visible, when the USG considered selling eight F16s on subsidized rates to Pakistan. The ruckus that the Indian Government created and the intense campaign that they launched ultimately sabotaged the deal. Ironically in stark contrast to this small transaction; India has been on a buying spree to acquire military aircraft and other big ticket items. It has concluded a deal with France to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft. It will be building more than 250 fighter planes in the next 20 year, presumably with technical support from foreign vendors. It has already expressed an interest with Lockheed Martin to manufacture F16s locally. Not only that the Indians have pressurized the Sri Lankan Air Force not to buy JF17 Thunder fighter aircraft from Pakistan because in their opinion the Sri Lankans didn’t these. According to Swedish think tank SIPRI, India ranks among the top weapon importing countries of the world. Given the fact that India has huge conventional superiority in arms over Pakistan, one can only assume that the fierce opposition to the sale of F16 aircraft, meant for use against the terrorists, was only to create problems for a beleaguered Pakistan.
The choices offered to Pakistan under the terms of the normal nuclear Pakistan proposal in Dalton-Krepon article does not make it binding on India in any way to display a similar behavior. In fact in one of his articles appearing subsequently, Krepon had opposed the F16s deal on subsidized rates. He had insisted that Pakistan should make full payment as penalty for its alleged “failure to clamp down on groups that attack its neighbors, while spending freely for nuclear arms.” It was actually quite a strong judgment by a scholar, who is often a guest in think tanks and universities of Pakistan and whose op-eds get published in mainstream Pakistani newspapers.
The Indian propaganda against Pakistan has heightened of late. In his address to the US Congress, this year Narendra Modi talked of terrorism in the neighborhood, clearly maligning Pakistan. He received repeated ovation from the US lawmakers for flourishes of his oratory. Modi’s strong campaign to isolate Pakistan is being carefully choreographed and has a standard theme. Indian security establishment argues that any space given to Pakistan on the nuclear front would allow it to invest more in sponsoring terrorist proxies against India. Terrorism they claim also makes up for Pakistan’s asymmetry in conventional weapons as compared to India. Therefore, they continue to harp on the theme about Pakistan allegedly sponsoring terrorism from its territory. This lets them kill two birds with one stone i.e. rein in Pakistan’s so-called ballooning nuclear program and not let it have modern aircraft to fight terrorism. Any latitude given to Pakistan in this regard, they claim in a display of self-placed righteousness would amount to appeasement. They would if they can a nexus between what they claim is Pakistan’s imperfect nuclear non-proliferation record with their ill-founded terrorism concerns. Given their way, they would like the US to come down harshly on Pakistan on both these issues.
The Pakistani Response
Pakistan has been extremely careful in examining the offer regarding nuclear streamlining and has been observing the various moves with a great deal of caution. Before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington in October last year, it was reported that USG was exploring the option to pave the way for a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan like the one concluded with India in 2005, and that the matter would come up for discussion during. There was a mild expectation in the official circles in Washington that Pakistan would agree “not to deploy missiles capable of reaching beyond a certain range,” and in return the US could support an eventual waiver for Pakistan from the 48-nation NSG. Cognizant of the fact that their nuclear policy and weapons had acquired a sacrosanct status within the country, the government was wary of conveying an impression that it would be willing to make any compromises to the US in this regard. Predictably the prime minister remained non-committal and did not give any assurances to his hosts about the offers that had been made about nuclear main streaming of his country. The official policy was clarified in a Washington presser, by the Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry. The Secretary clarified that the reason to produce low-yield nuclear weapons was to deter India from launching operations under the nuclear threshold within the ambit of the so called Cold-Start doctrine.
The public opinion in Pakistan has generally been against the ‘normal nuclear Pakistan’ proposal. Most of the internal debate on TV talk shows, print media and intellectual forums has hovered around an indignant rejection of the proposal to mainstream Pakistan on unfavorable terms. The prevailing sentiment was that the proposal to accept Pakistan as a nuclear state would put restrictions that no self-respecting nation could accept. In the conferences organized by think tanks in Islamabad, the speakers most vociferously rejected the offer. Writers belonging to the academic community wrote opinion pieces against the idea of mainstreaming on the terms and conditions offered by the Americans. At a seminar organized by an Islamabad based think tank, the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) on November 9, 2015, it was made quite clear to the policymakers that the country should only consider the idea of being mainstreamed if it was offered terms similar to other non-NPT states such as India.
What is the future of this proposal?
For many in Pakistan, the ‘normal nuclear Pakistan’ proposal by the US think tank community lacks any meaningful incentives and thus does not merit serious attention. Nonetheless, it needs to be studied objectively. Pakistan has all along insisted all along that it should be treated on par with India in getting a civil nuclear deal and the admission into the NSG should be on a criteria based approach. If these are Pakistani goals, what is it willing to accept in the bargain? Can it for instance give up on its TNWs, downgrade its policy of full scope deterrence to merely strategic deterrence and can it give up its demand on not opposing the FMCT at the CD without taking into account the existing fissile material stocks and can it agree that it will make sure that it will not allow any terrorist activity to emanate from its soil?
Playing the devil’s advocate let’s examine the merits of accepting some of these conditions. First let’s take the case of TNWs. The Nasr missile is a potent weapon system. It has a credible deterrent value to halt any Indian offensive formation in its tracks. Unless the ground situation changes and Indian strategy shifts to build the offensive from the sea or lets the air force lead with its standoff weapons, there is little likelihood of Pakistan giving up on its battlefield nuclear weapons. It is interesting to note that Pakistan has shown discretion with regards Nasr short range missile, as it was not included in the military parade held on the 23rd of March in Islamabad this year. It had been part of the parade in the previous year. This has been viewed as a move to avoid criticism that this weapon is attracting from the West, in particular from the US. To further ease international pressure, these missiles should not be deployed unless there is credible information of Cold Start doctrine being animated. Similar conditions should apply on the Indian TNWs i.e. like Pragati (60-150 km) and Prahaar (150 km) are also not pre-deployed. The movement of Indian Integrated Brigade Groups (IBGs) to go on an offensive against Pakistan would require intrusive surveillance and monitoring and robust confidence building measures (CBMs). Upgrading the existing national technical means would necessitate international collaboration and sharing of intelligence with countries having surveillance satellites in orbit. In case it is found out that India is not playing by the rule book, Pakistan should be able to quickly deploy the Nasr missiles to deter the impending shallow maneuvers on its territory. Obviously, the danger here is it that the early warning may be too short for any pro-active offensive and response could be delayed through kinetic, electronic and sub-conventional means. Shifting the nuclear policy from ‘full spectrum’ to ‘strategic’ deterrence is a matter of semantics. One informed observer is of the view that this ‘strident’ approach could actually be subsumed within the concept of credible minimum deterrence. In any case it doesn’t matter much because Pakistan refrains from announcing an official nuclear policy.
The issue of FMCT is technical in nature and needs serious consideration. Before any country can put a cap on its fissile material production it should be sure that the amounts it has already produced would suffice in times to come. Every country has its own standards for maintaining sufficient fissile material stockpiles. One way of in ascertaining the levels of these stocks could be to make them directly proportional to a certain number of warheads that it needs to fulfill its requirement of a nuclear policy of minimum credible deterrence. According to the International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM) by the end of 2014, Pakistan had an estimated accumulated stockpile of 190 kg of plutonium, produced at Khushab-I and II production reactors. More fissile material is expected after two additional production reactors Kushab-III and IV become operational. All four reactors have an assumed capacity to produce 40-50 MWt each. So by the end of 2014, Pakistan was estimated to have a stockpile of 3.1 ± 0.4 tons of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). India’s stockpile of fissile materials is estimated to include 3.2 ± 0.9 tons of HEU, 0.54 ±0 .18 tons of weapon-grade plutonium, and 4.9±0.4 tons of reactor-grade plutonium. This includes a strategic reserve of 4.7±0.4 of material and 0.24 tons of safeguarded plutonium. The Dhruva plutonium production reactor and a uranium enrichment facility are not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. 40 MWt of weapon-grade plutonium is produced at the CIRUS and 100 MWt at Dhruva plants, located within the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) complex near Mumbai. CIRUS was shut down in 2010, while the Dhruva continues to operate. India plans to build a new 100 MWt reactor in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh. The total amount of weapon-grade plutonium in India’s stockpile, by the end of 2014, was estimated to be in the range of 0.59 ± 0.2 tons. A simple back of the envelope calculation can be done to find out the requirement for fissile material stocks. As a rough guide a simple gun type of nuclear weapon requires between 40 to 50 kg of HEU; a simple implosion weapon needs 15 kg and a sophisticated implosion weapon upto 12 kg. A simple implosion device needs just 6 kg of Uranium 235 and a sophisticated plutonium device requires only 2-4 kg. Therefore any country hypothetically possessing 200 kg of HEU should be able to fabricate a simple implosion weapons.
There will be no stop in production of fissile material in either India or Pakistan without a bilateral or multilateral treaty. Within the prevailing environment of mistrust there can be no end to the fissile material race. Pakistan is currently holding out in the CD using its consensus vote. It’s sticking to its demand that existing fissile material stocks should be included in a treaty on fissile material. Those who want the FMCT in its present shape have been threating to move out the issue out of the CD and placing it before the UN. If such a scenario materializes there should be a plan B to deal with it outside the CD. Such an eventuality needs to be seriously thought over to determine the amount of fissile material required. Some of it can be used for fabrication for the nuclear warheads over the next 5 to 10 years and the remaining amount could be kept as the strategic reserve.
Certain commitments can be made fairly easily on the condition that India should do the same e.g. the agreement to a recessed deterrence posture and limiting the production of short-range delivery vehicles and tactical nuclear weapons. India needs to abide by its pledge to separate civilian and military nuclear facilities. In contrast all the civilian nuclear power plants of Pakistan and two research reactors are under IAEA safeguards. The civilian reactors include Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), Chashma Nuclear Power Plants (CHASHNUP) I, II, III and IV. The two new coastal plants KANNUP II and III will also be under IAEA safeguards.
Two last points are regarding the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and terrorism. Pakistan’s principled stand has always been that that this is contingent on India’s pledge. In the last conference on CTBT held in Vienna Pakistan has reiterated its stance that “that despite being a non-signatory to the treaty it supported the objective and purpose of the meeting by maintaining a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing.” It needs not change this stance because the US has also not ratified this Treaty. In my opinion, the caveat regarding terrorist activity is superfluous. No sovereign nation will allow the use of its territory for terrorism. Accepting that they would not allow such activity to happen in future is tantamount to mea culpa. Pakistan is doing its utmost to eradicate such misconceptions. Recently the Pakistani authorities shared a lead that they got about probable terrorist related activity in Gujarat. The Indians were then able to put their security forces on high alert and prevent likely sabotage by non-state actors.
Different approaches have been adopted to normalize the environment in South Asia. In the pre-nuclear era, peace proposals were bounced back and forth between the sub-continental leaders. Prime Minister of India Pundit Nehru proposed a no-war pact in 1948 and President Ayub Khan of Pakistan had called for joint defense, provided the Kashmir issue was resolved but both the proposals went nowhere. Before the two countries attained the nuclear status, Pakistan had proposed a South Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ). The motion was approved in the UN General Assembly but couldn’t be moved to the UN Security Council to become binding in nature. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee made a gesture of peace and conciliation by visiting Lahore in February 1999, soon after the nuclear explosions. The Kargil interlude was certainly a setback to the peace process but once General Musharraf became the President of Pakistan offered a 4 point formula to settle the Kashmir issue. According to his foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri this peace initiative very nearly succeeded. In his address at the UN summit in September 2015 the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, suggested a slightly modified peace menu to stabilize relations between the two countries. To begin with there was a lot of bon homie between the current prime ministers of Pakistan and India, Mr. Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Narendra Modi but this has since subsided and the Indian prime minister is on a diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan.
Specifically on the nuclear safety and security issues, Pakistan has invested a lot of time, money and effort on making sure that its nuclear materials are secure. These efforts have won high praise from IAEA chief. The nuclear security summits organized by the US have provided Pakistan an opportunity to appear as a normal nuclear state. In a press conference on the eve of the summit this year, the US Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller for Arms Control and International Security stressed that her country had “a very solid cooperation with Pakistan on nuclear security.” She mentioned Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Center of Excellence and that it had “quite a mature capability now.” She explained that the US continues to work with Pakistan on the nuclear security but did express her concerns about “the continuing deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons by Pakistan. Clearly, the US approval of Pakistani nuclear program is conditional. When it comes to India in comparison with Pakistan, the former are clear favorites e.g. the USG along with other allies like japan put their full weight behind India’s admission into the NSG. Fortunately for Pakistan, it didn’t make any headway in Seoul but it was a close call indeed.
right now is treading a very fine line. The normal nuclear proposal dangled
tantalizingly by the US scholars has its pros and cons. Suffice is to say,
there is no need to hurry. It is better to bide one’s time and make an
appropriate move, when there is a suitable opening. Diplomacy is a mind game
and it has to be played to the hilt.
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