The Need for a New Nuclear Security Framework for South Asia

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By

Elliot McBride[1]

South Asia has long been a region defined by rivalry and dispute.Since its reshaping in 1947, theregion witnessed Indian proliferation in 1974, and the Pakistani reply in 1998. Neither nation has ratified the two most important nuclear security frameworks; the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As a result, disagreements regarding nuclear stability complicate their international standing. Analysts argue that the lack of assimilation to these international frameworks means that the problemlies within the South Asian attitude toward nuclear security and weapon transparency.[i]This paper argues that the best guarantor of nuclear safety in South Asia will be secured by including India and Pakistan as nuclear weapon states.In order for the international community to come to a consensus regarding nuclear South Asia, a halfway point must be found.Developing a framework that accepts India and Pakistan as valid nuclear weapon states can be done within or alongside a conditional framework that complies with international security norms. The international community seeks disarmament and restraint in nuclear South Asia, without risking destabilization in the region. Both South Asian nations want a security guarantee that doesn’t fall victim to the tidal nature of international alliances. With equal recognition and a transparent transition into the international nuclear community, India and Pakistan will be free to ratify the NPT and CTBT while contributing to other nuclear security frameworks and safeguards. Successive steps should be considered to allow both nations membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for civilian purposes with oversight from the global standard in nuclear safety, the (IAEA). While the NSG deal with India can be seen as an example of good inclusion, without the consideration of Pakistan this is likely to be destabilizing. India and Pakistan have made consistent advances in competent nuclear safety, and both nations are capable of satisfying the requirements for nuclear weapon status under a conditional framework that could benefit both South Asia and the international system.

One framework to rule them all

Global nuclear structure has witnessed significant changes since the NPT was ratified in 1970.  When the treaty was signed it was amida bi-polar nuclear Cold War with multiple proxy states. It has since transitioned into a multi-polar world containing differentnuclear standoffs, held together by varying alliances and extended nuclear assurances. Since the NPT entered into force, it has been unanimously applied to every instance of nuclear material and weapons development, with no consideration of this changing nuclear environment. A legal framework that met the needs of a community in 1970,will not be as relevant or applicable to that community (or indeed the new community) 44 years later. If the NPT is not adapted, it risks becoming outdated and unable to satisfy the security needs of the ever changing environment and the nations that give the treaty weight.

The landscape

When the NPT was open for signature in 1970 India, was facing a rising and nuclear enemy to the north and longstanding rival to the west. China had developed the ability to detonate a nuclear device in 1960 and thus had asserted regional escalation control. Within the international system nuclear weapon states had not engaged in any actions that would reduce stockpiles of warhead numbers. India, who had been developing a nuclear option, was unwilling to part with the solution for its growing deterrence problem.  The expended development costs and time that India had put into its nuclear weapons system was incentive enough to cross the Rubicon in 1974, exploding ‘Smiling Buddha’ and declaring itself non-aligned in the Cold War.[ii]Pakistan, who was a country that did not possess a conventional force capable of deterring India, stated adamantly that if India developed nuclear weapons then it would also ‘even if it had to eat grass’.[iii]Pakistan considered the nuclear option as an essential one,in light of their conventional inferiority. Islamabad decided its nuclear weapons and advanced delivery systems would provide the balance of power in South Asia that it would be lacking otherwise. The NPT states that all nuclear weapons nations that tested before 1967 are allowed to maintain their nuclear stockpiles, and that those that had not must cease any and all involvement with nuclear development or acquisition.  From a South Asian perspective, this was the international system ruling it illegal to access the deterrence measures that both nations considered necessary to continue to utilize.  The NPT was not ratified by either India or Pakistan.

The rebel

The actions of nuclear engineer and physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, has complicated thePakistani nuclear saga. Leakingnuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran have bolstered resistance to Pakistani nuclear development, with the US Governmentdeclaring that Pakistan is ‘a serious proliferation risk’.[iv]A.Q Khan was tried and placed under house arrest by the Pakistani Government who maintained that Islamabad was unaware of the rogue physicist’s actions. It is unclear whether this proliferation would have been possible without the knowledge of the government. However it can be disputed whether AQ Khan would have been able to proliferate if Pakistan was included in the nuclear community earlier, asincreased regulations and international oversightmight have made such a feat impossible. Furthermore,a valid nuclear status will increase Pakistan’s nuclear transparency, decreasing the likelihood of misdemeanors. Something that Pakistan has not experienced since the AQ Khan affair.

We both oppose, but we don’t agree.

India and Pakistan’s non-ratification is not an indication that they have any more desire than any other nation to detonate or proliferate nuclear weapons, it is for two separate reasons altogether. First, the frameworks are discriminatory. The NPT does not recognize South Asia’s need for nuclear deterrence as a credible one. Stating that from a certain date, any nation who possesses nuclear weapons will be allowed to continue development, while others must completely refrain, is an arbitrary and heavily biased contract that does not consider the complex geopolitical and strategic circumstances of nuclear deterrence.  The CTBT does not act as a tool of counter proliferation, rather an instrument that prevents further nuclear development, as the CTBT does not require states to reduce arsenal size but does prevent the testing of nuclear devices. For states who have successfully developed nuclear weapons this treaty has a less profound impact, it is only those who are still developing nuclear programs and cannot test their systems that are prevented from further nuclear development by the CTBT.

Secondly, South Asia is a high-risk flashpoint, where arsenal transparency is avoided by both nations due to their opposing security concerns. Due to its geopolitics and history of conflict, South Asia has developed a strategic culture of prolonged and heated rivalry. India and Pakistan have engaged in four separate wars since partition[v](A  period of tension longer than the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States). For Pakistan the Indian rivalry has been the most influential determinant of its foreign policy since partition.[vi]For India, the conflict inKashmir has increased its already bloated conventional defence budget and furtherincreased itsnuclear budget.[vii]India’s increased military spending includes longer-term acquisitions for overland operations regarding potential postures in Kashmir, with training exercises that further develop its Cold Start Doctrine.[viii][ix]The Kashmir region has long had a fuse of both rapid and volatile nature, being the primary precursor to three of four wars and countless skirmishes between the two rivals. Considering the shared border and the tiny distances between population centers, the concentration of the Indo-Pak theatre has foreign policies which are dominated  by  national security. Neither state trusts one another, nor the international system to deliver security that is in their best interest. This has lead to rapid armament and counter armament in both nations’ nuclear and conventional defence sectors.[x]

If you can’t join them, beat them

India’s nuclear history was borne from abstention to international norms. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of which it is now acquiring membership was developed in response to India’s first nuclear detonation.[xi] Since its initial declaration of non-alignment, Indian nuclear policy has been deliberately opaque. Considering its history of regional conflict and abstention from international security norms this lack of transparency has increased international doubt surrounding Indian nuclear responsibility.[xii] Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation also occurred after the final stop date given for valid nuclear weapon possession. Since proliferation, it has stood in isolation when instances of communaldisarmament have been taken, Pakistan has regularly blocked the Conference on Disarmament work plan that aims,for a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). Having a much younger nuclear program than its rival, Pakistan was unwilling to surrender its advantage by signing a treaty that ‘would lock the disparity in place.’[xiii] India and Pakistan rank very poorly on the nuclear threat initiative scale (the score used by the IAEA to rank the safety of nuclear State programs),[xiv]which would logically place them under the heading of “less responsible state”, and only exacerbate criticisms of their non-conformation. However these criticisms show a lack of appreciation of the motivations underpinning South Asian nuclear programs.

First an uncomfortable reality must be understood by world leaders which is, India and Pakistan need their nuclear weapons.  To accept that South Asian nuclear weapons possess political utility is a proposition that exists outside of the comfort zone of the western-centric, liberal-minded analyst. However, in order to truly develop nuclear security at an international level, frameworks that accept and incorporate the arsenals of India and Pakistan as valid nuclear weapon states must be developed either within or alongside existing international security frameworks. The international community has only used sanctioning and punitive measures as a means of responding to non-conformation when trying to regulate South Asian nuclear proliferation. This will be the beginning of a new approach.
Considering the aforementioned concerns, both India and Pakistan have contributed to global nuclear security throughmethods outside of the norms and treaties that threaten their security assurance. After India’s nuclear weapons test, Pakistan proposed a nuclear weapons free zone in South Asia, and made an appeal for simultaneous signature of the NPT by India and Pakistan.[xv]While attempts to keep South Asia free from nuclear weapons proved unachievable, Pakistan continued to promote nuclear security whilst developing its arsenal.Despite its inability to ratify the NPT and CTBT, Pakistan’s nuclear facilities have been open to IAEA safeguardssince their development.[xvi]In the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit of 2012, Pakistan committed to building a nuclear security training centre whilst supplying nuclear safety assistance to other States.[xvii]It is a member (or ratifier) of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), and in 2014,  it was awarded ‘most improved nuclear state’by the nuclear threat Initiative.[xviii]

India has also shown responsibility surrounding it’s nuclear weapons. It has ratified United Nations Security Council (UNSC)Resolution 1540, which affirms that “proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security…”[xix]Current trends suggest that arsenal and material security is under an ever increasing microscope in South Asia, with more funding and infrastructure planned for better nuclear security.[xx]

Even during periods of high tension leaders of both countries have unanimously rejected the notion of nuclear exchange. In 2001 after a Pakistani based terror attack on the Indian Parliament,the Indian Chief of Army stated, ‘Nuclear weapons are not meant for war fighting’,strongly suggesting that Indian nuclear weapons are intended only to provide stability. Pakistani leaders have also contributed similar comments agreeing that ‘no sane individual’ [would engage in a nuclear exchange].[xxi]It would seem that the severities associated with a nuclear detonation are not lost on the region’s top decision makers. If either country had intentions that undermined global nuclear security neither would be engagedin areas that increase accountability, such as the bilateral agreement in 2005 to give advanced warning to one another before conducting ballistic missile tests.[xxii]In order to further progress toward a global nuclear standard, it must be recognized that both nations are responsible possessors of nuclear weapons and are worthy of becoming responsible nuclear weapons states.


Despite the pro-nuclearmentality that accompaniesthe validation of more nuclear states, this proposal intends to be a tool of gradual disarmament. This suggested method differs from its previous notions, where punitive measures by way of sanctions has remained the preferred response to South Asia’swayward behavior. Considering the divide between the east and the west that developed after the release of the NPT and CTBT, sanctioning and negative incentive have failed to develop a binding agreement concerning disarmament and non proliferation. This model attempts to highlight the middle ground that can be achieved, with relatively little lost by either party. Any disarmament agreement, has more chance of success when both parties come to the table at equal standing. This integration provides South Asia with the necessary equality, in return the international community can add provisos that ensure global nuclear standards are embedded in nuclear policy. It is logical that the pathway to global acceptance of nuclear standards is achieved through increased integration. Arms control is the first step toward disarmament and South Asia is the ready starting point for an assimilation.

During the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, several indicators reflected the potential for South Asian incorporation into the nuclear community. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments were of sound and positive appraisal, noting that recent Pakistani advancements in nuclear safety had him ‘impressed’.[xxiii]This sentiment was supported by a statement from IISS nuclear expert, Professor Mark Fitzpatrick who suggested that ‘the time has come to offer Pakistan a cooperation deal akin to India’s…’[xxiv]The Professorwent on to state that the most powerful tool that the west could use to positively affect concerns surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear program is a deal that incorporates, rather than excludes.[xxv]

No branch at all is better than half a branch

Since 2010, the United States government has taken steps towarda nuclear deal with India.  The United States, amongst other nations, have expressed support for India to join the NSG,a group from which Pakistan has not received any support despite its avid interest in joining.[xxvi]Other countries with an economic stake in Indian membership have supported this move, whichhas largely been seen as a positive step toward a more secure nuclear South Asia.

Allowing Indian membership while denying Pakistan the same benefit could prove to be more detrimental to the region than not allowing either country membership. Yet the idea to promote both countries is seen as too radical. Pakistan has an equally legitimate claim to assume a role within the NSG. Additionally, it has a real need for developments to its civilian reactor technology to help boost the severe national electricity shortages.[xxvii]

The South Asian landscape is undeniably codependent when considering matters of security. It is therefore an unviable strategy to approach the region on a state by state basis without considering the regional ramifications of doing so. While the United States backing of India’s membership to the NSG is positive for a more transparent and secure South Asia, without considering the effects on Pakistan, this could be a precursor for future non cooperation by Islamabad, further withdrawal from the international community and increased friction between rival neighbors.  For two countries that already have a mixed and distrustful relationship with the international system, the only solution remains the joint incorporation of both India and Pakistan within a framework that brings them to nuclear equivalence with each other and the remaining nuclear States.

Risks? Always.

Like any major revisionist perspective on nuclear matters, new frameworks will always present risks associated with the disruption of the status quo.  An increase in membership undermines the core principles of the NPT, which has been the most successful document preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Conditional requirements will need to dictate that while this framework grants South Asia nuclear State status, it is a recognition of the need for stability within South Asia, and not an opportunity for heightened horizontal proliferation for Indian and Pakistani nuclear arsenals.

There is a valid concern that states that possess nuclear weapons outside the NPT, such as North Korea and Israel and potentially Iran will justify further proliferation based on the South Asian nuclear deal, and potentially motivate these nations to request a similar agreement. However, these claims lack the validity that give Pakistan and India the potential to be responsible wardens of nuclear weapons. Israel has maintained a status of nuclear ambiguity, failing to declare responsible nuclear policy, cooperation and oversight.[xxviii]North Korea has no claim of responsibility when conducting international relations, within the nuclear sphere, or otherwise. Iran, as they have not yet produced a weapon, are still subject to the constraints of the NPT, and international efforts should continue to prevent such proliferation.

Potential gains

A global priority of eliminating nuclear threats is both more important and more complex than simply eliminating nuclear weapons. The International Commission on Nuclear Non proliferation and Disarmament (ICNNPD) stressed the importance that no new nuclear States are developed, in order to maintain a stable nuclear globe.If the two nuclear powers of South Asia were to sign the NPT as nuclear States, there would be little change for the worse and potential host of benefits to gained. This proposal does not increase the number of states with nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan have possessed nuclear weapons for four decades, a time during which no device has been used to attack one another despite numerous military engagements.

A unique window of opportunity exists that can satisfy the nuclear security needs of both the international community and the nuclear nations of South Asia. First, a change of perspective is needed. India and Pakistan will not surrender their nuclear weapons anytimein the foreseeable future, a fact which the international community has been able to do nothing about.These nuclear arsenals have been indoctrinated into the strategic and defensive culture of both nations for decades.International recognition will allow India and Pakistan the opportunity to assimilate into dialogues and safeguards that they have been missing.  Second, this framework should be negotiated and applied simultaneously rather than individually.Simultaneous integration as nuclear weapon states will promote the bilateral security dialogue between India and Pakistan, this will also encourage more transparency regarding nuclear materials and arsenal information during the transition. This proposed framework is not a cry to the international community for excessive aid or funding, itrequires very minimal action at all. It is the proposal of a framework that  requires a change in attitude toward South Asia, one that changes distrust to trust. From a ‘them’ to an ‘us’.  It is time for a new approach. In the nuclear age, governments cannot act in isolation when matters of international security are at risk. The weakest link effects everybody in the system, and strengthening the weakest link is achieved via incorporation and not ostracism.

References

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Ahmed, S. “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program: turning points and nuclear choices.” International Security 23, no. 4 (1999)

Amin, Shahid M. Pakistan’s foreign policy: a reappraisal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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Chari, P. “India’s Role in the Hague Nuclear Security Summit” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2014)

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[1]Elliot McBride is an Australian strategist living in Pakistan. He is a Graduate of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, and has published articles with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, and the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute in Islamabad. he can be contacted at elliot.a.mcbride@gmail.com


[i]Ganguly, Sumit. Beyond the Nuclear Dimension: Forging Stability in South Asia. Arms Control Today, 2001, 31.10: 3-7.

[ii]Chiriyankandath, James. “Realigning India: Indian foreign policy after the Cold War.” The Round Table 93, no. 374 (2004): 199-211.

[iii]Ahmed, Samina. “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program: turning points and nuclear choices.” International Security 23, no. 4 (1999)

[iv]Warrick, Joby Warrick (7 February 2009). “Nuclear Scientist A.Q. Khan Is Freed From House Arrest”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011.

[v]Ganguly, Sumit. Conflict unending: India-Pakistan tensions since 1947. Columbia University Press, 2001.

[vi]Amin, Shahid M. Pakistan’s foreign policy: a reappraisal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[vii] Blair, Bruce & Brown, Matthew. WORLD Spending On Nuclear Weapons Surpasses $1 Trillion Per Decade “Global ZeroTechnical Report Nuclear Weapons Cost Study” (2011) http://www.globalzero.org/files/gz_nuclear_weapons_cost_study.pdf

[viii]Thomas, Raju GC. “The Armed Services and the Indian Defense Budget.”Asian Survey (1980): 280-297.

Navlakha, Gautam. India’s Military Budget 2013-2014: Giant with feet of clay “South Asian Citizens Web” (2013)

[x]Dalton, T &Tandler, J. “Understanding of the South Asian Arms Race” The Carnegie Papers – Nuclear Policy.(2012)

[xi] Nuclear Suppliers Group, History of the NSG.  last modified http://www.nuclearsuppliersgroup.org/en/history1

[xii] Chari, P. “India’s Role in the Hague Nuclear Security Summit” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2014)

[xiii] Lynn, J. ” Pakistan blocks agenda at U.N. disarmament conference” Arms Control Association

[xiv] “NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index, 2014 Findings” Date Accessed: June 3rd, 2014. http://ntiindex.org/data-results/2014-findings/

[xv]Sastry, Viyyanna, ” Pakistan against signing the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state” IDSA Comment – Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (2010): accessed June 2014

[xvi]Khan, Salim, Saeed, Mulla, &QayyumSohail .” IAEA Safeguards in Pakistan and Emerging Issues/Challenges” IAEA Papers Repository http://www.iaea.org/safeguards/Symposium/2010/Documents/PapersRepository/077.pdf (2010) accessed: June 2014.

[xvii]Feuer, Anna “Guest Post: The Hague Nuclear Security Summit: Opportunities for Pakistan and India” Council on Foreign Relations (2014) accessed June 2014

[xviii]“NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index, 2014 Findings” Date Accessed: June 3rd, 2014. http://ntiindex.org/data-results/2014-findings/

[xix]“United Nations 1540 Committee”  Date accessed June 1st, 2014. http://www.un.org/en/sc/1540/

[xx] Roth, Nickolas. “Conflicting Views on Nuclear Security in House Armed Services Committee” Belfer Centre for Science and International Relations.May 21 2014.

[xxi]Krepon, Michael Haider, Ziad& Thornton, Charles ” Are Tactical Nuclear Weapons Needed in South Asia?” The Stimson Centre” (2011) accessed June 2014.

[xxii]Agreement Between India And Pakistan On Pre-Notification Of Flight Testing Of Ballistic Missiles.date accessed 2 July 2014. http://www.stimson.org/research-pages/agreement-between-india-and-pakistan-on-pre-notification-of-flight-testing-of-ballistic-missiles/

[xxiii]Sprenger, Sebastian. “Nearly Three Dozen Nations Sign Hague Statement on Nuclear Security Framework” date accessed June 23, 2014.  http://www.nti.org/gsn/issues/2014-03-25/print/

[xxiv] http://www.iiss.org/en/iiss%20voices/blogsections/iiss-voices-2014-b4d9/february-72f2/Taiwan%20says%20China%20could%20launch%20successful%20invasion%20by%202020

[xxv] Ibid

[xxvi]Hibbs, Mark. “Pakistan deal signals China’s growing nuclear assertiveness.” Carnegie Endowment Nuclear Energy Brief 27 (2010).

[xxvii]Muneer, T., and M. Asif. “Prospects for secure and sustainable electricity supply for Pakistan.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 11, no. 4 (2007):

[xxviii]Cohen, Avner, and Benjamin Frankel. “Israel’s nuclear ambiguity.” Bull. At. Sci.;(United States) 43, no. 2 (1987).

Cochran, Edwin S. “Deliberate ambiguity: An analysis of Israel’s nuclear strategy.” The Journal of Strategic Studies 19, no. 3 (1996): 321-342.