The Emerging New Nuclear Order and Pakistan

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By

Ali Sarwar Naqvi*

A wind of change seems to be blowing in the esoteric world of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. New terms like “Nuclear Renaissance” and, more recently, “Nuclear Spring” are in circulation. Observers and analysts have started talking of a new nuclear order that may be taking shape. This has been spurred in a large measure by growing concerns in regard to carbon emission resulting from the use of fossil fuels for producing energy. Not long ago, in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the international community, particularly the Western countries, had begun shunning nuclear power generation, but the new scare of global warming that set in with the turn of the new century, restored nuclear power as a “kosher” source. Nuclear energy was adjudged as environmentally “safe,” despite the vexing problem of waste disposal, for which it is being argued that improving technology will eventually solve the problem or at least make it manageable. From about the middle of this decade, many countries began contemplating setting up nuclear power plants. At present a total of 30 countries are involved in setting up as many as 40 nuclear plants for generating electric power.

The flip side of nuclear power is, of course, the danger of nuclear proliferation. For a long time, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was considered an effective regime for guarding against nuclear proliferation (which essentially involves the diversion of nuclear fuel for power to weapons grade fissile material). The Treaty provides for IAEA inspection of nuclear power facilities in adherent states and thus stops them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. The first half of the 1990s saw the voluntary renunciation of nuclear programs geared to weapons capability by Argentina and Brazil and later South Africa, and the termination of nuclear programs in the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Belarus. The NPT Review Conference in 1995 was an upbeat, self-congratulatory meeting, in which the NPT was given a permanent lease of life.

However, the nuclear tests conducted by India and later Pakistan in 1998 cast a pall of gloom on the NPT Review Conference in 2000. Then, in the very first few years of the new century, some NPT signatory states were found to be in violation of their obligation of abstaining from any steps leading to weapons development: North Korea, Libya, which confessed and came out clean, and Iran, where traces of enriched uranium were found on imported centrifuges, which were unexplained. The NPT regime seemed to be collapsing, as its own members were found to be in violation of its provisions. The NPT Review Conference in 2005, held in New York, in which I was the Pakistan Observer, met for a month, took more than two weeks to even agree on an agenda, and ended without an agreed statement, which had never happened before. The nuclear order, carefully crafted in 1968, much like the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 in the inter-war years, was fraying at the seams and spiralling downward towards possible collapse. As the North Korean and Iranian programs continued eluding international monitoring and inspection, the descent towards collapse seemed to continue unchecked, and many feared, had become unstoppable. To boot, with the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) decisively blocked by the US Senate, and the FMCT negotiations stalemated, the outlook of global non-proliferation looked bleak. It is this situation that the Obama administration found itself confronted with when it assumed office.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the emerging realities, some elder statesmen in the US had been giving serious thought as to how the imbroglio that had developed could be cleared up. Quite naturally they realized that the root of the problem lay in the original discrimination or unfairness embodied in the NPT, whereby only five countries were allowed to have nuclear weapons and the rest of the world prohibited from doing so. This stipulation was arrived at in a grand bargain, under

which Article IV gave all non-weapon signatory states the right to have access to nuclear technology and receive international assistance in this regard, as a compensation for giving up the right to develop nuclear weapons capability, while Article VI contained a firm commitment by nuclear weapon states to disarm. The famous bargain struck between the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) in the negotiations leading to the finalization of the NPT required implementation of both the articles, but as it transpired, Article IV has been rigorously implemented and Article VI has been ignored.

Realizing that this selective execution of the Treaty was gradually bringing the NPT regime to a collapse, the elder statesmen, Senator Sam Nunn, former US Secretaries George Shultz, William Perry and Henry Kissinger, wrote a joint article in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007 urging the Administration to go for eventual nuclear disarmament or what they termed as the Nuclear Zero option, in implementation of Article VI of the NPT. They argued that nuclear weapons had outlived, with the end of the Cold War, whatever utility they might have had, “that the various risks associated with their retention by existing powers, and acquisition by new ones, not to mention terrorist actors, meant that the world would be better off without them.” An active debate ensued over the following years, in which the proponents of the Nuclear Zero argument gained general support. This eventually led to President Obama’s Prague speech, just over a year ago, which officially committed the United States to total disarmament in the years to come, through a step-by-step process leading to complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Obviously, a lot has changed since 1968 when the NPT was drafted. As we look back more than forty years ago, and glance at the nuclear order that has prevailed over these years, we notice certain glaring shortcomings that characterize the old order:

•             It lacks equity, as the NPT allows only five countries to have nuclear weapons, and disallows the rest of the world from having them.

•             Some important states that remained outside the NPT developed nuclear weapons, thus undermining the entire international non- proliferation regime.

•             In  course  of  time,  there  have  occurred  violations  of  NPT regulations by signatory states, thus almost depriving the NPT of its legal and moral authority.

•             In the wake of 9/11 and the global terrorist threat, the total inadequacy of the old order or the non-proliferation regime to deal with threats of nuclear terrorism, emanating from sources outside state systems, usually called non-state actors, further diminished its efficacy.

•             The old order has not brought about the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or meaningful negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), which are both vital adjuncts to the NPT.

In the wake of the nuclear renaissance on the one hand, and the angst of the international community, particularly the Western countries, at the collapsing international regime on nuclear non-proliferation on the other, new initiatives and approaches seem to suggest that an emerging nuclear order is in the offing. These are:

•             The issuance of the US Nuclear Posture Review on 4 April in which the US declared that it would not launch nuclear attacks against non-nuclear weapon states, unless faced with a WMD attack, and announced cuts/reductions in its nuclear and missile development programs.

•             The signing of a US-Russia new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) on 8 April reducing their respective arsenals by 30 percent, to be effected in seven years time.

•             A 47-nation  Nuclear  Security  Summit  held  in  Washington on 12-13 April, at US initiative, which approved a voluntary plan for nations to secure thousands of tons of fissile material now existing in many countries.  By focussing on the safety and security of nuclear technology and material, the Summit per force relegated the goal of non-proliferation to a lower priority.

•             The five-yearly NPT Review Conference that ran through a four week session in New York in May and aimed at the strengthening disarmament, rather than on non-proliferation.

•             On the other hand, the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation                and   Disarmament,   headed   by   former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Japanese diplomat Yoriko Kawaguchi, is lobbying internationally for support of a graduated program of global disarmament.

All these events and actions seem to indicate new or revised thinking in regard to the major issues of nuclear disarmament and non- proliferation, which is likely to result in substantial changes in the nuclear order that now prevails. As this new outlook represents a hopeful future, enthusiastic supporters have dubbed this period as a nuclear spring. While the contours of the new order have yet to take shape and form, it is possible to make an educated guess of some likely features that would characterize it. These may be:

•             A degree of flexibility in the rigid non-proliferation regime of old, as has already manifested  in the Indo-US nuclear deal. The US decision to extend to India extensive nuclear cooperation, under the deal, despite the fact that India did not sign the NPT and developed a nuclear weapons program in open defiance of the non-proliferation principles, was a body blow to the NPT, and demonstrated its virtual obsolescence.

•             Greater focus on safety and security of nuclear materials and nuclear technology, to avoid the danger of nuclear terrorism, resulting from nuclear material falling into the hands of non- state actors and terrorist groups.

•             In regard to non-proliferation, efforts towards an early entry into force of the CTBT, and negotiations towards an early conclusion of an FMCT, would continue, but for various reasons the realisation of these objectives, at least in the short term is unlikely.

•             Continued serious efforts towards forward movement on global disarmament, both at the level of states and in multi-lateral forums. In this regard, the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament has published a report titled

“Eliminating Nuclear Threats—A Practical Agenda for Global Policy Makers” which has charted out a full program of action for national governments, and has begun strong advocacy of the issue in multi-lateral events.

Interestingly, for Pakistan these trends carry positive implications. It is well-known that Pakistan has been against the status-quo in regard to the existing nuclear order. Whatever flexibility or change takes place in the present unfair and rigid international nuclear regime, Pakistan is bound to benefit.

The Nuclear Security Summit held in April seems to have exonerated Pakistan from the earlier stigma of a suspected proliferating state pinned upon it following the exposure of an illicit network trading in nuclear technology and material headed by Dr. A.Q.Khan. The argument that Pakistani diplomats have been making that: (a) the government did not know about the clandestine network nor support its activities, and (b) it took strong action against Dr.A.Q.Khan and his accomplices and has dismantled the network when it was discovered, finally seems to have been conceded. As this was perhaps the principal reason why the US withheld a civilian nuclear deal a la India to Pakistan, it should now look forward to developing a framework for nuclear cooperation with Western countries, particularly the United States. If this were to happen, Pakistan would be able to break out of the present isolation and virtual ostracism that it faces from the international nuclear community.

The great benefit of such a deal would be to open up the possibility of civilian nuclear cooperation with other advanced countries as well, besides of course the United States. According to reports, Pakistan has already made a request for civilian nuclear cooperation with the US, and significantly has not been rebuffed. In any case, again according to press reports, Pakistan is likely to finalize a civilian nuclear deal with China, which would provide for the setting up of two additional nuclear power plants in Pakistan. As China is also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which does not allow nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, as a non-signatory of the NPT, the Chinese decision is akin to the US decision to undertake nuclear cooperation with India. The effect of the request for a civilian nuclear deal.

Pakistan has also made a bid to be considered as a supplier state for providing nuclear fuel to a future fuel bank in the envisaged plan for internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle. In this regard, Pakistan argues that it is one of the few countries in the developing world which have mastered the entire process of the nuclear fuel cycle. This enables it to produce low-enriched uranium, used as fuel in nuclear power plants. Besides its own needs, Pakistan could produce nuclear fuel for sale to other states, which do not have a nuclear fuel cycle program. Thus Pakistan could qualify as a supplier state. It should be possible for Pakistan’s offer to be accepted under the new nuclear order. Therefore, Pakistan should look forward, if all goes well, to both a civilian nuclear deal with the United States, and perhaps other Western countries, as well as its acceptance as a supplier state in arrangements for the internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle and the setting up of nuclear fuel banks.

Pakistan had placed on the table, some years ago, a proposal for the setting up of nuclear power parks, in which foreign private investors can build nuclear power reactors in the designated parks, and operate as foreign enterprises, much as investors in other sectors, of course, under IAEA supervision and Pakistan’s regulatory requirements. This was proposed by Pakistan in the IAEA General Conferences in 2003 and 2004. This scheme does not depend upon a nuclear deal with the US or any other country and can become effective if the IAEA Board and perhaps the NSG approve it. As the building and operation of the nuclear power plants will be in the hands of foreign companies, and the electricity can be sold locally or to other countries, it should not cause any proliferation concerns either. The time may soon come when it would be possible to receive a positive response from the IAEA in this regard. If that were to happen, Pakistan would have access to state-of- the-art nuclear technology, albeit under IAEA supervision and foreign ownership.

Pakistan should also expect less pressure on it for signing the NPT, and a US official has already been reported to have said that the US will not mark out India and Pakistan as countries that needed to sign the NPT. There has also been talk in the non-proliferation community of some creative ways to accommodate non-signatory Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) in the NPT, either through associate membership or some kind of adherent status. With less rigidity in regard to the NPT, some movement in this regard could be expected.

Pakistan faces the demand of signing the CTBT and moving forward on negotiations for an FMCT, but here too, it can raise its own concerns, before it could oblige. For example, Pakistan can press for a nuclear restraint regime in South Asia, or even a resolution of issues like Kashmir and water sharing with India. At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April, Pakistan Prime Minister, Yusuf  Raza Gilani proposed (a) the setting up of a nuclear restraint regime in South Asia, (b) a balance in conventional forces, and(c) a meaningful conflict resolution mechanism in South Asia. Pakistan maintains that its nuclear weapons program is security driven, an improvement in the security environment in the region was necessary before it can enter into negotiations regarding a fissile material cut-off treaty. This position has already been taken by Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, and is likely to be maintained.

To conclude, as far as the overall outlook of the nuclear order is concerned, it is obvious that a new perspective is now appearing to develop. It will depend upon our negotiating strategy how we can extract benefits for ourselves from this new orientation of the United States and the larger international community towards a more flexible and accommodating nuclear order in the process of taking shape. Secondly, it would be necessary for us to do our home-work before we can seek a civilian nuclear deal with the US or other Western countries. As things stand, our nuclear program is an integrated program, with no clear separation of the open civilian, power generation facilities, and the classified military program. Like India, we will have to separate the two. It carries financial implications, and we would be well-advised to start looking for the additional resources that a separation would entail. Perhaps, in the short term, the effort should be to push forward the nuclear power park idea and invite foreign entrepreneurs to set up power plants, which they can operate for profit. In this manner, we will be able to bring into Pakistan advanced power generation technology and break loose of the restrictive bind of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, as is the case at present. At the same time, we should continue to press for a civilian nuclear deal, so that it materialises when we are ready for it. Similarly, we should closely watch the progression in regard to the internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle initiative and make a bid as a supplier state at the appropriate time.

What is amply clear is that various possibilities for Pakistan will open up once the old order loses its rigidity and sole focus on nuclear non-proliferation. The days of heavy sanctions and restrictions on a country like ours, whose “sin” was non-signature of the NPT and the CTBT, and that of developing an indigenous nuclear program, may well be soon over. Pakistan has long remained “out in the cold,” in the phrase of John le Carre, and deserves to come back inside. If that happens, Pakistan would indeed be a beneficiary of the Nuclear Renaissance, and the new nuclear order that is likely to emerge.