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October 30, 2010

FMCT — fending off coercive agendas

World

AFP
October 30, 2010

The Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) deliberations even as these are yet to commence, have got the diplomats of Pakistan and US locked in sharp verbal skirmishes. The venue and opportunity was provided by the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon who, on 24th September, called in a high level meeting to pave the way for the convening of the 65 -member UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), one of world’s principal arms control forums. His aim; to dismantle the resistance put up by Pakistan thereby preventing the CD from going ahead with deliberations on the FMCT. The CD works on the principle of consensus and Pakistan’s refusal prevents the forum from pursuing a discordant agenda.
The FMCT seeks to ban the production of the fissile material; principally highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, for nuclear weapons production. It needs to be mentioned here that the US, UK, Russia and France have acquired sufficient stocks over the years to satisfy their current and future needs for nuclear weapons and have already halted the production of the fissile material for weapons. China, too, has unofficially halted its production. In a highly discriminatory move the Nuclear Weapons States (less China) seek to end any fresh production of fissile material, which they already have in abundance, yet would not address the bulging stockpiles held in their inventories.
At the heart of Pakistan’s reservations in joining the FMCT talks is its insecurity emanating from the asymmetry in holding of the fissile material vis-a-vis India. In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear detonations of 1998, under pressure by US, Pakistan agreed to negotiate fissile material talks on the basis of the existing Shanon mandate. Even then it was made clear that she intended to “raise its concerns about and seek a solution to the problem of the unequal stockpiles with India”. Articulating Pakistan’s concerns, Munir Akram, the country’s then ambassador to the CD, said, “We believe that a

wide disparity in fissile material stockpiles of India and Pakistan could erode the stability of the nuclear deterrence.” He explained, “India will transform its large fissile material stocks into nuclear weapons”. “Pakistan can’t therefore agree to freeze inequality,” he said.
This stark resolve was echoed again when the current Ambassador to the CD, Zamir Akram, declared recently, “An FMCT that purports only to ban future production of fissile material, will permanently freeze a strategic disadvantage for Pakistan, and is therefore unacceptable to us. “For Pakistan it is not a matter of choice but a question of survival that has compelled it to block the launching of negotiations on FMCT at the forum of the CD. A January 2010 decision by Pakistan’s National Command Authority provides the framework for this stance which says that country’s position at the CD would be based on its “national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia.”
Pakistan is also concerned about the implications of the Indo-US nuclear deal, signed into a law in Oct 2008, which will accelerate the build up of fissile material stockpiles by India. As part of the deal India is free to carry out nuclear trade, including import of uranium for its civil program, with the cartel of Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). This will enable her to use the domestic supply of uranium to produce up to 200 KG of weapons’ grade plutonium, enough for 40 weapons per year, in un-safeguarded heavy water reactors allowed by the deal.
India is also permitted to declare eight of its indigenously built power reactors as civilian and open them for IAEA inspections by 2014. It is estimated that these reactors, by then, could produce four metric tons of un-safeguarded plutonium by then. India has also kept the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) outside of the safeguards for the purpose of “maintaining long term energy security and for maintaining the minimum credible deterrent.” This reactor could produce up to 130 KG of weapons grade plutonium each year; a four fold increase in India’s current output and equivalent to another 25 nuclear weapons annually. The deal also allows India to choose whether any future reactor it builds will be declared as military or civilian.
Pakistan’s stance on FMCT is based on legitimate and vital security concerns which demand ensuring a manageable fissile parity with India; good enough to retain equilibrium of strategic deterrence in the subcontinent. Its insistence that mandate for negotiating the treaty must include discussion on disposal plans for the existing stocks of fissile materials held by NWS has merit and is a cause worth fighting for. In this context, Pakistan’s suggestion that FMCT be named Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) has struck resonance among many states represented in the CD forum. A number of countries and independent analysts have endorsed this usage.
Pakistan’s stance is legitimate and it has done well not to yield in face of pressure as well as subterfuges. Consequently the patience at the CD is running thin with threats to bypass the forum in favor of pursuing the US led exclusive non proliferation FMCT agenda in the UN General Assembly.
Its principled stand has attracted support from a number of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Sri Lanka and Syria; demanding a more balanced ‘program of work’ and a greater focus on nuclear disarmament instead of singularly fixating on the FMCT. China, too, has not approved the CD plan of work and presumably some states are hiding behind Pakistan in its refusal to permit talks. Even as the P-5 (less China) gang up to force their way on FMCT, Pakistan must hold its ground and ensure that its security concerns are thoroughly addressed before it relents.