Non-proliferation regime not harmed by India and Pakistan’s capability
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: While nuclear proliferation in South Asia has not helped the global non-proliferation regime, it has not greatly damaged it either, according to a British expert.
Sir Michael Quinlan, former permanent undersecretary at the UK Ministry of Defence, told a meeting in London on nonproliferation challenges, whose proceedings were published recently by the Woodrow Wilson Centre, that beyond the risk of a direct Pakistani or Indian nuclear weapons use, lies the broader proliferation risk that nuclear technology might leak to other states or non-state actors’ programmes.
The risk was most dramatically illustrated by Dr AQ Khan. Quinlan suggested that if Pakistan wanted to continue to strengthen defences, both Pakistani and international, against nuclear technology transfer, Islamabad needed to extract and share with the international community everything it could about Dr Khan’s actions. He said the last eight years had not validated the initial doomsday scenarios proposed by some observers that the non-proliferation regime would not survive in the long the blow dealt by the 1998 Indian and Pakistani tests.
Quinlan said there was some question as to whether the 1998 open declarations of operational nuclear capability by India and Pakistan had increased the risk of an actual nuclear weapon use on the subcontinent. He suggested that there had in fact been some increase in risk given that two high-profile confrontations had arisen since the tests. These crises, while nowhere as serious as the 1962 Cuban missile episode, had, however, been overcome and lessons had been presumably learnt, although as far as publicly available evidence went, the Indian and Pakistani security establishments seemed still to have a significant way to go before attaining a level of sophistication in nuclear doctrine as in the Cold War.
The British expert held that the global non-proliferation consequences of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests had often been exaggerated. First, there was no direct impact of the tests upon the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), as India and Pakistan had never acceded to the treaty, so the tests and developments that followed could not be in formal breach of the treaty. However, it could be argued, he added, that apparent Chinese aid to the Pakistani programme had been a breach of the treaty on China’s part.
Paolo Cotta-Ramusino of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs underscored the risk that any conventional conflict on the subcontinent could escalate to a nuclear confrontation. He conceded that the nuclear risk use might own more to poor command and control than it does to a wilful state-level decision to use a nuclear weapon.
He added that no attempt to increase stability on the subcontinent would be successful if it is not linked to some sort of a resolution of the continued standoff on Kashmir. He felt that the current trend in India-Pakistan relations represents a step in the right direction and, if continued, would decrease the likelihood of a nuclear standoff. He argued that there is a substantial non-proliferation incentive for the West to give at least some degree of tacit legitimacy to Indian and Pakistani nuclear possession. If Pakistan feels cornered or pressured, it will have a motivation to help other states proliferate, as such states would then attract significant international scrutiny on their own and would thus deflect some of the pressure from Pakistan. Conversely, if Pakistan sees the status quo of the international regime as one that protects Islamabad’s own right to a nuclear arsenal, Pakistan would have far less incentive to violate that regime.
Ashley J Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, another participant, said that the greatest threat South Asian nuclear expertise poses to US interests is not the direct use of that expertise against the US, but rather the risk that it might leak to other state on non-state actors who may intend such use. He suggested that the international community should work with South Asian states to restrict the network activity that could result in nuclear technology diffusion.
Pakistan, he added, is deeply dissatisfied with the geopolitical status quo and sees nuclear weapons not simply as a deterrent but also as a capability to be exploited for political gain and even as a potentially usable battlefield weapon. Given this approach and the implication of greater operational deployment of nuclear warheads, it is time for a serious conversation about the mechanisms that protect South Asian countries’ warheads from unauthorised use. Pakistan, he added, must critically examine the command and control measures that would prevent a high-ranking officer from taking things into his own hands and launching a nuclear weapon without the orders to do so.
Western countries, Tellis proposed, must work with India and Pakistan to ensure the security of nuclear materials which could potentially be used by international terrorists. In securing nuclear assets, strategic installations and nuclear materials, Western states would have to overcome their reluctance to take action that might in any way suggest endorsement of South Asian nuclear programmes. Such reluctance, he added, is counterproductive since the Indian and Pakistani nuclear capabilities are not going to disappear, so it is in the interest of the West to make sure they are as safe as possible.