VIEW : Nuclear nexus in the NSG — Momina Ashier
Two actors, the United States and India, are playing their cards predominantly to legitimise India’s nuclear weapons programme to fortify its hegemony in the region, and to defame Pakistan’s nuclear weapons
Shannon Kile, Senior Researcher of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) lately stated, “In spite of the world’s revived interest in disarmament efforts, none of the nuclear weapon-possessing states shows more than a rhetorical willingness to give up their nuclear arsenals just yet. While the overall number of nuclear warheads may be decreasing, the long-term modernisation programmes underway in these states suggest that nuclear weapons are still a currency of international status and power.” The statement does not appear as a bolt from the blue. This is what is actually happening in this anarchic world. The new great game of the big powers is playing out to get maximum hegemony and in this pursuit of hegemony, legitimacy is being undermined at various levels.
Last month, SIPRI released its annual yearbook of analysis on developments in armaments, disarmament and international security. In the report, SIPRI says that despite the downward trend, countries with nuclear weapons either have already developed new nuclear weapons delivery systems or are in the process of doing so. The report clearly states that possession of nuclear weapons has become the chief criterion to ensure deterrence against an aggressive foe. Like any other nuclear report, it sheds light on the nuclear postures of India and Pakistan. The report says Pakistan and India are increasing the size and sophistication of their nuclear arsenals. Both countries are developing and deploying new types of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles and both are increasing their military fissile material production capabilities. Such concerns are being highlighted worldwide. However, in reality these advances in the two states are not equally proportional to each other and cannot be seen through one prism.
The South Asian nuclear activities came widely under focus in the 22nd Plenary Meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which took place in Seattle on June 21 and 22, 2012. The meeting was chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman, of the United States, who expressed the deep commitment of the US to the goals and success of the NSG. The NSG brings together 46 Participating Governments with the European Commission and the Chair of the Zangger Committee participating as permanent observers. The group aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation on a national basis of export controls for nuclear and nuclear-related material, ‘dual use’ material, equipment, software and technology, without hindering international cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The meeting took stock of the ongoing fundamental review process of the Trigger and Dual-Use Lists including the approved changes to reactors and isotope separation. Because of these conciderations, the western countries led by the US, again urged China to address their ‘concerns’ about Chinese plans to add two reactors (Chashma 3 and 4) to the nuclear power plants supplied by it to Pakistan and to provide more information on the project. It is argued that under the NSG guidelines, which China pledged to adhere to when it joined the group in 2004, it agreed not to export nuclear reactors to Pakistan. However, before China joined the NSG, it signed contracts to set up two power reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma site, as provided by a pre-NSG Sino-Pak cooperation agreement. Nevertheless, according to people who were on hand when China joined the NSG in 2004, it enumerated what was on its list of goods that it had committed to export to Pakistan under that old trade agreement. According to media reports, the western efforts to pressure China were ‘rebuffed’ on this issue. The latter showed no sign of reconsidering its position on building two more reactors at the Chashma nuclear power complex in Pakistan’s Punjab region. Beijing adopted the same line at a 2011 NSG gathering in the Netherlands.
The recent two-day meeting also debated the issue of India’s possible membership in the NSG. In 2010, the United States announced backing for India’s membership — a step that would make it the only country outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the group but Pakistan has warned against allowing its rival to join. When the United States sealed a nuclear supply deal with India in 2008, China and others found it questionable because Delhi like Islamabad is outside the NPT. Pakistan wants a similar civilian nuclear agreement with the United States to help meet its growing energy needs. Nevertheless, because its ties with the United States have become strained in recent years, it has been trying to move closer to the Asian powerhouse, China, which has also welcomed Islamabad’s overtures.
Both issues, western concerns on the extension of the Chashma nuclear power plant and the entrance of India to the NSG are very much interconnected. They are in fact two sides of the same coin. Two actors, the United States and India, are playing their cards for the same objective, predominantly to legitimise India’s nuclear weapons programme to fortify its hegemony in the region, and to defame Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The strategy is the main component of the US’s policy as announced by Bush and taken forward by Obama, to handle Pakistan and India separately, like two prongs, according to their own interests. China is the only major power to have offered resistance to the Indo-US designs. Most of the other major nuclear suppliers, who in the past had been insisting on the acceptance by India of ‘full-scope safeguards’ on its nuclear programme (i.e. inspections of all nuclear facilities) as a condition for opening nuclear supplies, have fallen in line behind the United States. They must have done so either because they see profitable trade opportunities in the opening of the Indian nuclear market or because they do not desire to annoy a rising regional power, and besides they lack the capacity to stand up to heavy-handed pressure from the United States.
Nuclear analyst Mark Hibbs said, “There had been an erosion of the principle that recipients of nuclear exports must put all their atomic activities under IAEA safeguards. First by Russia a decade ago in its trade with India, then in the US-sponsored India deal, and now by China’s trade with Pakistan, since the late 1990s we have seen a weakening of milestone non-proliferation commitments by big powerful countries.” It is a fact that violation of rules by one powerful state gives the other powerful state a reason to violate the same rules. T hat is why the Indo-US nuclear deal is called a ‘game-changer’. The Indo-US deal has further eroded the NSG’s credibility and has forced Pakistan and China to brush off the NSG rules as well.
In order to balance nuclear deterrence in the region, Pakistan would definitely seek nuclear agreements and of course, China is the best available option when the United States is more tilted towards India. However, the recent scenario also gives Pakistan a fair chance to demand from the United States a civil nuclear agreement in return for the opening of the supply routes. The Pakistan government should seriously consider such options, which are best for its future well-being. It is the responsibility of the NSG to establish criteria and a roadmap to ensure legitimate nuclear trade acceptable to all states if it really wants the triumph of non-proliferation measures.
The writer is an M Phil student at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad