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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons

What’s at stake and who should be worried.

Foreign Policy ran a piece by SWJ’s Robert Haddick on recent disclosures about Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal.  Pakistan’s single-minded pursuit of destabilizing the subcontinent should not come as a surprise to those that have followed Pakistan’s weapons program.  However, this article, like many others in the West, perpetuates the notion of an “arms race” in the subcontinent that Pakistan is swept helplessly into.  This blogger finds such narratives very disturbing, and hence the rebuttal.  Mr. Haddick’s first paragraph on Pakistan reads thus:

The most obvious and enduring explanation for the continuing buildup in Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is the inescapable demographic and economic superiority enjoyed by India. India’s economy is nearly nine times larger than Pakistan’s, it spends 7.6 times more per year on its military and can mobilize 6.8 times as many military-aged males. Absent the arrival of previously unknown trust between the two countries, nuclear weapons are the only way for Pakistan to reassure itself about this unfixable strategic imbalance.

No, the explanation is neither the most obvious, nor enduring.  Because it presupposes and rationalizes the argument that Pakistan must gain strategic parity with India under all circumstances.  This, of course, is misleading because there simply is no reason for a country one-ninth that of India to try and gain parity with it, especially when India has never provoked conflict with it.

Let us also be careful about throwing about numbers on defense spending.  Yes, India does spend considerably more than Pakistan does in absolute numbers.  However, India’s defense spending, firstly, isn’t Pakistan-centric.  And second, when considered as a percentage of GDP, Pakistan’s defense spending is at about 5%, while India’s is below 2.5%.  This does not even factor in the $2 billion the U.S. provided Pakistan in overt military aid, which in and of itself amounts to about 1.2% of Pakistan’s GDP.  That should put Pakistan’s defense “spending” at 6.2% of GDP for FYE11.  And let us not even get into discussions about the misappropriation of aid provided to Pakistan.

Next, the article attempts to draw parallels between Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal and the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement:

The completion of the civil nuclear agreement between Washington and New Dehli was no doubt highly disturbing to Pakistan. With India’s nuclear technology and expertise fungible, the civil nuclear agreement allowed India to divert resources to its military nuclear program. Pakistan likely concluded that it had to respond to a potentially much larger Indian nuclear program at some point in the future.

Again, a very convenient excuse.  No doubt, the civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. does disturb Pakistan.  But not because it “allows India to divert resources to its military nuclear program” but really because it negates the parity that Pakistan imagines it has with India.

If India really wanted to produce more nuclear weapons than it already has, it can, since it has sufficient fissile material reserves (as opposed to Pakistan).  The fact that India hasn’t weaponized its reserves amply demonstrates that it is committed to maintaining minimum credible deterrence (something that Pakistan has never been committed to).

But here’s the kicker in the article:

The latest round of nuclear news out of Pakistan demonstrates that South Asia has not found a way out of the security dilemma it has long been in.

Excuse me, “South Asia?”  Let us not equate the actions of a rogue state with one that has been a constructive participant of several nonproliferation and disarmament discussions, including the FMCT talks.  Let us not also assume that Pakistan has no option but to add more weapons to its stockpile because of India.  If Pakistan was concerned about deterrence, it should revisit the unfolding of events subsequent to the December 13, 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament and 26/11.

The question that the West must ask is why Pakistan continues to add weapons to its stockpile, especially when their payloads are unlikely to give India any more of a headache than they already do. Mr. Haddick alludes to one aspect of this in his discussions about Iran — but the key here isn’t Iran per se, it is Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Rawalpindi sees value in portraying Pakistan to be an unstable and irrational state.  An Islamic state teetering on the precipice while adding nuclear weapons to its stockpile quicker than any other nation is bound to attract Washington’s attention — and benevolence.

Pakistan’s most successful industry today is selling its irrationality to the rest of the world.  Rawalpindi is the snake-oil salesman and Washington, the wide-eyed wonder.  The U.S. has doled out billions of dollars to Pakistan since 2001.  How does it know how the money was spent, and if it ever made it to its intended recipients? What has the U.S. received from Pakistan after 10 years of appeasement?  The answer to these questions should worry D.C. more than it should New Delhi.

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About the Security Council

Step away from the NPT!

One of my favorite blogs,  Armchair Generalist,  has a blogpost out on President Obama’s endorsement of India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.  The blogpost, while appreciative of  India’s desire of joining other permanent members at the UNSC, disagrees with the decision, at this time.  It reads:

It’s just that this action, at this time, reinforces the concept that the price of influence in international politics is possession of a nuclear weapon. This directly counters the message that the nonproliferation community has been trying to set for the last decade or more.  If India is “rewarded” with a permanent seat while not having to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke? It doesn’t make sense. If Obama is serious about changing the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, he needs to start with Brazil, Japan, and Germany. Reward those nations who want to follow international norms first. [Armchair Generalist]

Notwithstanding the tremendous odds that would need to be overcome for Mr. Obama’s endorsement to translate into reality,  I have several issues with the logic in the blogpost.

First, if the price of influence in international politics is indeed, the possession of a nuclear weapon, why haven’t similar cases been put forward for other nuclear weapons states? North Korea? Pakistan? Even Israel?  A country’s power and influence in international affairs is a function of multiple factors, –  economic, military and demographic – and all three have played their part in how India is viewed, by itself, and by the rest of the world, today.  Its growing economy has played a critical role in India’s elevated global profile — we’ve seen this at the more recent G20 summits, at Copenhagen and at the World Economic Forum. It is only natural, then, for India to want (and for its friends to support) a greater presence at the UNSC.

Second, about the NPT.  Armchair Generalist asks, “why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke,” if India were to be “allowed” to join the UNSC without signing the NPT.

Well for starters, both Iran and North Korea were signatories to the NPT when they embarked on programs that violated aspects of it.  While Iran today remains a signatory, North Korea withdrew its membership when it became an inconvenience.  India, on the other hand, while never actually signing the NPT (more on India’s opposition), has strongly adhered to many of its core principles (even moreso than some, ahem, NPT/UNSC permanent members).

Moreover, India has indicated on multiple occasions that it does want to join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state (NWS).  Of course, per NPT, the status of NWS was only accorded to countries that had tested or possessed nuclear weapons as of 1968.  Convenient. The solution to this though, is to structurally reform the NPT to allow post-1968 nuclear powers to gain membership as NWSs, and not to plug away with demands that a country do what it has already agreed to do, in principle.

There is a bigger issue here, though.  Let us not turn every Indian attempt at playing a role in shaping the global order into a debate about whether or not it must accede to a structurally flawed nuclear non-proliferation regime.  When the UNSC was established, membership to the council was not awarded solely on the grounds of countries possessing nuclear weapons (none of the UNSC members, with the exception of the U.S., had conducted nuclear tests prior to 1946).  Nuclear weapons were not the sole indicator of power or influence in the world back then, and they certainly aren’t now.  To that end, India as part of the so-called G4, has been unequivocal in its support for permanent UNSC memberships for Brazil, Germany and Japan.  The U.S.’s own support for Germany and Japan’s permanent membership dates back to the 1990’s.

Similarly, and by extension, accession to non-proliferation regimes was never a requirement during the UNSC’s formation (NPT was only brought into force in 1970); it would therefore be wrong to make this a requirement for future members. New Delhi seeks an expansion of the UNSC because it believes that for it to be an effective body, the council’s membership must reflect the shifts in global power and influence from being concentrated in hands of one or two superpowers to the presence of multiple power centers, of which India is one. It would be wrong to suggest that India’s quest, and the U.S.’s subsequent endorsement, is anything other than a recognition of this reality.

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Big leaky tent

The Economist’s article on India and the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The Economist ran an article (h/t Anantha Nageswaran) on June 24, 2010 on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.  Or so the title of the article suggested.  However, a closer inspection will take you, the reader, through an elaborate labyrinth of half-truths, baffling arguments and sweeping generalizations. They all come to a close, not as one might expect, with a stern rebuke of China and Pakistan’s nuclear shenanigans, but with an admonition of India’s “growing nuclear arsenal.”

The writer should have stopped writing when it was clear that this was going to be the article’s first sentence:

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India.

The Economist fails to makes no attempt to substantiate the statement.  The argument is lazy and fallacious, and deserves to be challenged. But the fun doesn’t end there.  With regard to the India–U.S. nuclear deal, the  article contends:

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t).

Raise your hand if you’d like an explanation on India’s supposedly blemished non-proliferation record.  Let us say, for argument’s sake, that the  writer is alluding to India’s use of fissile material from the CIRUS research reactor towards its first nuclear test in 1974.  This act by India could be called a lot of things, but nuclear proliferation, it most certainly wasn’t.  Moreover, India’s actions were neither an infraction of any international treaties nor of agreements it had with Canada or the U.S.

The article’s final paragraph, though, is an absolute zinger:

If Pakistan really is worried about India’s growing nuclear arsenal, diplomacy might work better than an arms race. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, a think tank, says Pakistan should lift its veto on a ban on the production of fissile materials for bombs. That would put India (which claims to support a ban) on the spot. Like enriched uranium, hypocrisy can be costlier than it seems.

Really? India’s growing nuclear arsenal? Just last year, U.S. CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen, commented on Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arms in a testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Adm. Mullen’s observations were further corroborated by reports by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The Federation of American Scientists. That being the case, it should be pretty clear which country’s been adding to its nuclear stockpile like nukes are about to go out of fashion.

The bigger issue with the article though,  is its defense of the discriminatory nature of the existing non-proliferation order, and the convoluted arguments it employs to suggest that “renegade” nuclear powers like India have endangered non-proliferation regimes  (most of which came into force, by the way,  after the Big Five had acquired enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over).

And if the hypocrisy of the article isn’t immediately apparent, a gander at the accompanying chart, which displays  the status of all nuclear weapons’ programs, excluding those of NPT nuclear powers (as if they were somehow above scrutiny),  should put all skepticism to rest.

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Atomic outsourcing

More on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The inimitable K. Subrahmanyam is on target in this Indian Express piece on the motives and implications of the China-Pakistan nuclear deal which envisages China building two 650-MW reactors in Punjab province:

The real issue is the following. According to US nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman who wrote The Nuclear Express, Deng Xiaoping took a decision to proliferate to selected Marxist and Islamic countries in the early ‘80s including Pakistan, North Korea and Iran…[I]t stands to reason that the Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and proliferation by both countries to Iran were deliberate state-led acts. All subsequent Pakistani proliferation attempts to Iran and Libya were state-sanctioned, and Khan was acting with full approval of successive governments and army chiefs in Pakistan.

China managed to insert a clause aimed at India into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty draft, totally in violation of the Vienna Convention on Treaties, that the treaty would enter into force only when India which was totally opposed to the treaty, signed and ratified it. This was a challenge to India’s sovereignty.

The real issue they overlook is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’s destabilizing effect on West Asia and the strategic gain for China from that phenomenon. On June 7 this year, The Washington Post disclosed that a former CIA officer who managed intelligence reports on Saudi Arabia has sent an uncleared manuscript to Congressional offices claiming that China supplied nuclear missiles to the kingdom early in the George W. Bush administration.

Shia Iran finds itself confronted on two sides by Sunni nuclear-armed powers. Iran has an experience of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon) by its Sunni leadership (Saddam Hussein). They face millennium-old Sunni hostility, al-Qaeda and its associates patronized by the Pakistan army regularly target Shias even while praying in mosques. Western analysts are right to worry about an arms race in West Asia. But the origins lie not in Iranian proliferation, but in Chinese-Pakistani proliferation. Iran is only trying to protect itself. The arms race is already on. [Indian Express]

A couple of points to further accentuate these arguments. First, the real issue here is how nuclear non-proliferation regimes have been singularly incapable of both holding China accountable to its non-proliferation commitments and dealing with nuclear proliferation perpetrated by a larger power like China.  While the West fumes and frets over a nuclear Iran or Myanmar’s so-called “nuclear brigade,” the 800-pound giant panda in the room is a China that has been entirely unapologetic about its intent to proliferate.

But then, this has been the defining characteristic of global non-proliferation regimes — they are discriminatory by design.  Recent news reports bring up China’s NSG commitments because of the impending NSG meet in New Zealand.  But there are several non-proliferation treaties that China has violated since 1990 in its decision to supply Islamabad and Pyongyang with nuclear know-how.

Second, China has, from the outset, sought to ensure India’s containment in the subcontinent.  It has pursued this by utilizing Pakistan as a tool — equipping Pakistan with nuclear weapons is just one aspect of this.  Given China’s intentions, India taking up its concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan to Beijing assumes that China can be turned around and that it can play the role of an honest broker in the subcontinent.  However, there is no precedent in the last 60 years to support this well intentioned, but misplaced leap of faith.  China can’t be an “honest-broker” when it is part of the problem.

Finally, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out, the impact of China’s actions will be felt most in West  Asia. Pakistan’s deterrence vis-a-vis India has, arguably, been in place since about 2000-2001.  Yet, Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons at a frantic pace.  The answer to this apparent disconnect lies in Pakistan’s nuclear commitments to Saudi Arabia.  Iran’s misplaced bravado and miscalculations have largely led to its nuclear isolation; however, the Sunni world is disquieted by Tehran aspirations and has sought refuge under a nuclear umbrella, provided by China, by way of Pakistan.

China’s reckless actions, which have already destabilized the subcontinent, now further complicate matters in an already volatile West Asia.   In addition, its defiance of non-proliferation efforts further accentuates systemic flaws in the global non-proliferation order.  These issues are of consequence to India and the rest of the world.  Myopic editorials on the matter hurt efforts in confronting the reckless behavior of a serial proliferator.

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