On December 16, 1993, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the “negotiations of ‘a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”. Since then, negotiations for the fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) continue to be stalled on various issues.
The US contributed to the stalemate by refusing to accept international mechanisms for verification and insisting that National Technical Means (NTMs) were adequate to ensure compliance. The Obama Administration broke the impasse last year by its pledge to support international verification.
Fundamental differences between the 65 members of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on the purpose and scope of the FMCT have failed to evolve its final draft. Every member has the right of veto, countries have the right to halt negotiations; if the national interests of any member country is targeted the next stage is not possible. Many members question whether it would be a measure of nuclear non-proliferation or would it address the issue of stockpiles of fissile material possessed by some states through progressive and balanced reduction to promote nuclear disarmament.
Pakistan refuses to sign the FMCT because of its apprehensions that a fissile material ban should cover existing stocks of fissile material instead of simply halting future production, a position backed by several other CD members, primarily from the developing world. Most nuclear weapons possessors, including India, insist on a production cut-off that does not address current stockpiles.
Prohibiting future production would freeze the imbalance between Pakistan and India, making the treaty discriminatory and Pakistan-specific. Pakistan would be at a permanent disadvantage in the nuclear equation with India because of India’s greater fissile material stockpiles. Attempting to cap Pakistan’s atomic programme, the US has tried to stop our enrichment of fissile material, asking us to return the fissile material it had furnished in 1960 (which we could not do having consumed the same as per agreement).
India’s civilian nuclear deal with the US, its growing conventional military superiority over Pakistan, its long-term plans for a ballistic missile defence system and evolving dangerous war strategies such as “Cold Start” puts pressure on Pakistan’s declared goal of maintaining a credible minimum nuclear deterrent. As the Indian war machine acquires more offensive and defensive capabilities, the more Pakistan would need to ensure its own viable nuclear deterrent.
Through the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement and the consequent Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) India can escape the cap on the size of its nuclear arsenal, the waiver allows it to conclude agreements with countries, including Russia and France, to supply it with nuclear fuel, allowing acquisition of hundreds of nuclear warheads. India can increase its fissile material stocks qualitatively and quantitatively and divert most of its indigenous stocks to its weapons’ programme. It can even abrogate its international understandings in the future to redirect the externally supplied fuel meant for civilian purposes to nuclear weapons development.
India’s pursuit of ballistic missile defence (BDM) for which it seeks help from Russia, Israel and the US and development of a Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) capability will alter the strategic balance in the region. Pakistan has no option but to respond by accelerating its own missile development programme and develop more warheads, for which it will need more fissile material.
Islamabad’s position in the past called for a declaration by the parties of their stockpiles, an agreement on “balance” in stocks (reflecting the requirements of different countries and a reduction in excess stockpiles). Without verifiable elimination of fissile material stocks, and concerned only with stopping future production of nuclear material is inherently discriminatory not serving the purpose of global nuclear disarmament. Freezing inequalities would place Pakistan at a strategic disadvantage in the South Asian region. The issue of fissile material stocks is important not only for the goal of global zero but Pakistan’s survival as well.
Alternatively the Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) has been proposed. All existing stockpile of fissile material should be disposed off as well as a ban on future production of fissile material. This proposal also reflects US President Barack Obama’s mission of “Nuclear Zero”. Presently this plan of disarmament is only an idealistic theory i.e. first arms control measures (FMCT) must be implemented and only than measures for disarmament taken.
Pakistan’s position was articulated clearly by Dr Shireen Mazari during the debate on FMCT in the CD in Geneva in February this year. To quote “We may accept the FMCT in about five to seven years down the road because by then we will have built up a proportional fissile reserve to India’s as a result of our plutonium production picking up”, unquote. She added, “it was time for Pakistan officials to stop being apologetic about their nuclear development, India has been evolving conventional strategies such as Cold Start, pre-emptive war, limited war as well as low intensity warfare doctrines in order to get out of nuclear deterrence stalemate in a way”.
Without seeking to achieve parity with India, Pakistan has to maintain the status quo, by upgrading its non-conventional weapons capabilities i.e. better and more accurate delivery platforms, more plutonium (instead of uranium) based warheads for its ballistic and cruise missiles (because they ensure a better ratio of yield versus weight of the fissile material used per warhead) and ensures second nuclear strike capability by deploying plutonium based warheads on its subs. This does not achieve parity with India but maintains status quo. The delay will enable Pakistan to accumulate sufficient plutonium stocks before negotiating over it.
Fazal H Curmally eloquently summed up that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has hit a wall, “the world is changing and this change could be a constructive change instead of a destructive change or a change where the acrimony intensifies. It will depend on the wisdom of the leaders who are in positions of power and can influence what the new shape of things looks like. Irrespective of what anyone says, possession of a nuclear weapons’ programme is your ticket to a world power status. All the pontifications of experts that this is not the case do not alter the situation. You can’t be overlooked ever again. You have become a member of the big boys’ club and will be counted when push comes to shove. The FMCT talks came to a grinding halt in 2010 because according to William Langweische, in his book The Atomic Bazar, “....transformed this runt called Pakistan into something like a runt with a gun,” this delayed the progress in framing an Agenda. New Economic and nuclear realities are rewriting the shape of the Non Proliferation regime of which the FMCT is a part.”
Unless Pakistan is treated at par with other countries and given its due right, Pakistan has no recourse but to continue to block the FMCT that remains intensely discriminatory towards Pakistan’s national interest.
As a measure of our detente with India which has conventional superiority, we have the nukes and the means to deliver them, is it a surprise that the Pakistan Army and the ISI are targeted ad nauseam? Without “Balkanizing” them, how else would our nuclear assets be “secured” to the satisfaction of our detractors?
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org