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July 24, 2017

Revisiting the FMCT


July 24, 2017

In 1963, President Kennedy highlighted the threats posed by the possession and the very existence of nuclear weapons and called for a global effort to seek peace rather than the use of nuclear weapons.

However, after the passage of more than five decades, nuclear weapons continue to exist and so does the temptation to use them. In fact, countries like North Korea and India have been growing their nuclear arsenals with no regard for the existing global nonproliferation regimes.

All four non-NPT nuclear states continue to build up fissile material stockpiles. The desire to secure fissile materials and control their further production is significant in achieving the objective to make this world free of nuclear weapons. Yet, it is unfortunate that the global efforts to address the problem posed by growing stocks of fissile materials have largely failed because of the inability to break the current impasse at the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

The Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), a proposed international treaty, is currently being discussed in the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) to prohibit the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. The excessive importance that is being attached to this treaty stems from the fact that its successful conclusion will not only be termed as a landmark step towards realising the goal to ensure greater nuclear security across the globe but will also create an insurmountable barrier for potential proliferators.

But over the past decade, different members of the CD, including Pakistan, have been intermittently expressing their concerns about ambiguities in the scope of the FMCT. The question whether the proposed treaty will cover the pre-existing stocks of fissile material has constantly remained a matter of considerable importance among scholars working on nuclear issues. The impasse exists because Pakistan remains unwilling to accept a ‘cut-off’ version of the FMCT.

Pakistan’s stance has been that the FMCT, in its present form, would put us in a permanently disadvantageous strategic position. Pakistan’s nuclear security managers are of the view that our country has fallen behind India in producing fissile material and this gap must be narrowed to achieve ‘strategic parity’ with India. Pakistan’s position – while unsustainable – is not without its merits. To advance non-proliferation and disarmament goals, such a treaty must address the question of the pre-existing stocks of fissile materials in the nuclear states.

But Pakistan should allow FMCT negotiations to commence at the CD because this will provide us an appropriate forum to express our concerns. In December 1993, Pakistan had supported the UN General Assembly Resolution that called for talks on a “non-discriminatory multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”.

Many other countries, such as China, Egypt, India, and South Africa, have concealed their reservations about the treaty. Once negotiations start, these countries would have to come out to express their opposition. As a result, it is highly unlikely that all members of the CD would agree to accept the FMCT in its present form. Even Israel would not be able to support the FMCT because it has historically maintained a policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. Pakistan should not entirely accept the blame for stifling negotiations at the CD.

More importantly, under the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) Draft Treaty 2009, parties to the treaty will have to “declare to the IAEA their stocks of fissile materials in the civilian sector, excess for all military purposes, and for use in military reactors”. But several countries have always been reluctant to reveal their existing stocks and also do not permit IAEA inspectors to verify their exact locations.

The questions related to the expansion of India’s unsafeguarded nuclear programme and an apparent lack of transparency can also become prominent in the discussion.

Some so-called nuclear experts who argue that Pakistan should not compromise on its stance regarding the FMCT are misleading public opinion. They are completely unaware of the emerging global realities and Pakistan’s failures in the realm of foreign policy. There is also the problem that our government has made no bones about impressing the need to address legitimate concerns regarding the scope of the FMCT on the international community.

It has been frequently observed during international conferences that our scholars are unable to put up a strong defence when Indian analysts begin their usual rant against Pakistan. While Indian researchers lose no opportunity to pin the blame on Pakistan for everything that goes wrong in the region, our scholars prefer to remain tight-lipped.

Standing on such a weak footing, we should not take an extreme position and draw the ire of the global community. Many nuclear experts are of the view that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is already large enough to ensure a stable deterrence in the region.

­In 1998, Sartaj Aziz also stated that there was no harm in signing the FMCT and Pakistan had enough enriched fissile material to maintain the power equilibrium in the region. Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is better advised to develop tolerance to hear constructive criticism and ensure that competent people represent us on international forums.


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