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April 26, 2012

Nuclear deals and power politics

Top Story

April 26, 2012

At the April 2012 annual session of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, held in New York, Pakistan again contended that one of the impeding factors behind global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts was the “pursuit of selectivity, discrimination and double standards by major powers in the area of non-proliferation, for commercial and strategic considerations.”
Earlier, at the Nuclear Security Summit, held in late March 2012 in Seoul, South Korea, Pakistan pleaded for access to nuclear technology for “peaceful uses on a non-discriminatory basis” assuring the international community that “Pakistan has taken effective measures ... to enhance nuclear security.”
In demanding access to nuclear technology on a non-discriminatory basis Pakistan was making a thinly veiled reference to the 2008 US-India civil nuclear deal, contending that Pakistan “qualifies to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and other export control regimes.”
Why is the international community reluctant to grant Pakistan access to nuclear technology and accord Pakistan membership to nuclear cartels – in particular the Nuclear Suppliers Group? Pakistan is currently facing a significant crisis in its energy and water sectors. With 15-20 hours of rolling blackouts, Pakistan clearly needs alternative sources of energy, which may rightly include access to nuclear energy.
An argument could be made that in recent years the NSG has been bending its own rules for national security and dubious financial reasons. In a NSG meeting in Vienna in 2008, the United States won special exemptions for its ally, India, that was deemed by many in the then-Bush neoconservative foreign policy circles to be a reliable ‘hedge’ against a rising China. Being outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as well as the NSG, India is barred from being sold anything, even civilian nuclear reactors. But the US used its diplomatic clout at the NSG to allow even the

potential export of enrichment technology needed to make weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
In response, at the NSG meeting held in New Zealand in 2010, China argued that since the US opened the door for India, it was going to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan. This raised two specious concerns: 1) Can Pakistan be trusted given its record of nuclear proliferation? And 2) Will the Sino-Pakistan deal undermine the fragile global nuclear non-proliferation regime?
When we examine both arguments against the power-politics exhibited by the NSG and the monetary motivations surrounding the US-India Civil Nuclear Deal, it unequivocally points to the disingenuousness of those self-proclaimed purveyors of global security and non-proliferation.
The power-politics behind the NSG’s “preferential treatment” of certain states raises important questions about the ambitious vision that Obama had outlined in his famous Prague speech on global nuclear disarmament where he proclaimed “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapon.” The selective interpretation of NSG rules clearly does not bode well for the existing anti-proliferation framework and nuclear disarmament diplomacy.
If anything, the current modus operandi of the NSG is an expression of how hypocritical much of the present arms control process is. The NPT is the cornerstone of the current set-up. Signed in 1970 to lock in the five states that had already tested a bomb – the US, Britain, Russia, China and France – and keep others out, it was also meant to commit these five countries to gradual disarmament, but that has never really happened.
Countries, like India, Pakistan and Israel, risked sanctions and refused to sign the treaty, while others, like North Korea, Syria, and now possibly Iran, joined, but went ahead with bomb development in secret. When India detonated its first test bomb, in 1974, the NSG was created as a mechanism to bolster the NPT treaty.
But making nuclear weapons exclusive just made them all the more desirable and they came to be defined by many as a symbol of grandeur almost divorced from any military purpose. Emerging nations like Pakistan then felt, with its nuclear tests in 1998, that they had no choice but to do the same in order to be taken seriously at the international level.
Contemporary nuclear arms control is not being used to make the world a safer place but to shore up an existing network of dominance. And now that it suits the US to have a nuclear-capable India as a strategic counter-balance to an increasingly confident China, suddenly the international protocols governing nuclear trade could be bended. China, in turn, has seized the opportunity to strengthen its own ally, Pakistan.
Pakistan naturally would like the benefits of being able to undertake civilian nuclear trade with the international community, despite not being a signatory to the NPT. And so not surprisingly Islamabad has sought a nuclear pact with Washington along the lines of the Indian deal, which included safeguards to prevent civilian technology from being put to military uses. However, the then-Bush administration refused such a nuclear pact citing Islamabad couldn’t be trusted to abide by the rules given Pakistan’s “questionable” nuclear proliferation record.
Under the Obama administration, however, the line hasn’t been so clear. When the Pakistan government reiterated the demand at a ministerial level “strategic dialogue” with the US, it was again rebuffed. Yet a number of players in the Washington policy circles have made a case for a civilian nuclear pact with Pakistan, especially as Islamabad’s support remains crucial to winning the war in Afghanistan. Thus, the nuclear non-proliferation efforts in South Asia remain subordinated to economic or geopolitical preferences of leading states, with the discourse on non-proliferation (and access to nuclear technology) itself being articulated in false binaries about “good” versus “bad” proliferation.
The writer is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science, University of Western Ontario. Email: [email protected]

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