By Manpreet Sethi
In the midst of nearly daily attacks by home grown terrorists on its own populace, Pakistan found a moment of cheer when China engineered an unfavourable consideration of India’s case for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership in June 2016. Having submitted its own application for membership within days of India doing so, Pakistan was hoping to piggyback the Indian case. Indeed, its all-weather friend China boldly stepped in to press home the point that there could not be a single country consideration without making a similar exception for other NPT holdouts. Both lobbied for the simultaneous inclusion of India and Pakistan, and if that was not to happen, then to deny a consideration of the Indian membership too.
In fact, by tying Pakistan to India’s coattails, China has cleverly sought to stymie India’s chances since those who are vehemently against Pakistan’s entry into the NSG are forced to rule against India’s membership. Meanwhile, Islamabad has since been building its own case for membership of the NSG along with India.
The major argument that Pakistan makes for a simultaneous grant of NSG membership to both is to “ensure parity for regional stability”. A longing for parity has indeed been an obsession for the country since its independence. Despite being nearly one fourth the size of India, about one tenth the size of its economy, nearly one sixth the size of its population and several notches behind on every other human development parameter (not that India has very high standards either), the country’s desire for military parity refuses to wither. Buoyed by this mindset, it has resented the India-US agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation and India’s exceptionalisation by the NSG. This de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan on non-proliferation, an issue that had long kept them conjoined owing to their non-membership of the NPT, has rankled Islamabad.
Craving for parity to be restored, Pakistan campaigns against the country-specific approach favoured by the NSG members since a consideration on the independent merit of the country throws up the stark contrast between the two in terms of their nuclear histories, behavior and strategies. Wanting to gloss over its by now well documented history of proliferation, Pakistan presses for a criteria-based approach for the NSG membership. But the point is that no criteria designed to promote the cause of non-proliferation (the objective of the NSG), cannot but not take into account the myriad risks posed by a fast expanding nuclear arsenal that seeks developing and deploying tactical nuclear weapons in a politically volatile, terrorism supporting nation. In fact, the dilemma that Pakistan faces on this front is actually of its own making. On the one hand, its nuclear deterrence strategy is based on blatant brinkmanship that rests on keeping nuclear weapons in full view of India and the US in order to use them as a shield against the possibility of retribution for state sponsored terrorism. On the other hand, the country wants to project itself as a responsible nuclear power in order to be mainstreamed into the nuclear regime. Unfortunately, the two cannot go hand in hand. A choice will have to be made.
The fact of the matter is that at this moment there is no equivalence between the Indian and Pakistani cases for NSG membership – neither on the scale and nature of their nuclear power programmes, nor in the capabilities of their nuclear industries to link into the global nuclear supply chains, and least of all in the level of responsibility shown through their programme histories. In earning the nuclear cooperation agreement with US, India bore the cost of offering for safeguards several indigenous facilities (nuclear reactors and fuel cycle assets). Pakistan has none to offer. The differences are clearly evident. In fact, India meets all the factors for consideration for NSG membership as listed on the group’s website (including adherence to the principles of NPT, which China has tried to mischievously morph into membership of NPT).
In treating the cases of India and Pakistan independently of one another and on the basis of their individual merits and demerits as they should be, the non-proliferation regime has a golden opportunity to set an example that strongly dis-incentivises wrongful nuclear behavior. Grant of membership, or even the consideration of its application along with India (which itself constitutes parity in the mind of Pakistan) would only embolden the military to continue down the path they are presently on and even claim it as victory for such behavior. Use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy from behind the shield of nuclear weapons and dangers of deployed TNWs are all matters of deep concern for international security. Holding up NSG membership till such time as tangible reforms are visible offers a leverage that should be used judiciously to effect changes in Pakistan’s nuclear behavior.
Meanwhile, one can be sure that other nations are watching and making their own assessments on the benefits that possession of nuclear weapons offer for blackmail and hard-core political bargaining. The future course of the non-proliferation regime lies in its own decisions.
(Manpreet Sethi is a Senior Fellow and Project Leader - Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: firstname.lastname@example.org)