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December 20, 2015

A Faustian nuclear bargain


December 20, 2015

A Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing last week to discuss the prospects and consequences of a civil nuclear cooperation deal with Pakistan.

The hearing was prompted by media reports that suggested that the Obama administration was considering opening up negotiations of a civil nuclear cooperation deal with Pakistan.

The subcommittee called four interesting witnesses to testify before it. Husain Haqqani was the only witness of Pakistani origin. Haqqani is Pakistan’s former envoy to the US, and is also an American citizen. The second witness was Dr Daniel S Markey, senior research professor at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Henry D Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center was the third witness. The fourth person was George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Husain Haqqani made a number of comments that clearly echoed his bias against Pakistan. Haqqani’s view was that Pakistan only wants a civil nuclear deal with the United States because its political elite and military leadership seek parity with India. He added that if Pakistan were given a civil nuclear deal, it would fuel conflict in South Asia because ‘Pakistan has the tendency to recklessly brandish nuclear weapons as an instrument in an ideological conflict with India or other so-called enemies of Islam’.

There is no evidence to support that Pakistan has ever ‘recklessly brandished’ its nuclear weapons in a conflict with India nor is there any evidence supporting the idea that Pakistan has ever threatened to use its nuclear bomb in the name of Islam. The statements of Dr Perkovich and Sokolski seemed far more balanced.

There is no doubt that Pakistan would greatly benefit from an exemption from the NSG through a civil nuclear deal with the United States, not because it seeks parity with India, but to address energy shortages in the country. A civil agreement would allow Pakistan to enter into deals to build nuclear power plants and import uranium to power those plants. But Pakistan has always stated that it would only pursue a deal if the NSG exemption were criteria-based and not simply country specific.

Dr Perkovich said, “The simplest, least ambitious step for the US would be to convey that no states that possess nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (ie, India, Pakistan, Israel, and the DPRK) would be offered membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group without having met criteria that the NSG would establish.” Had the US listened to experts like Perkovich and offered a criteria-based approach to an NSG exemption prior to offering India a deal, they would not be feeling sick to their stomachs about it today.

Sokolski pointed out to the subcommittee during his testimony that “the US tried trading civilian nuclear incentives to secure nuclear restraints with a non-NPT state before, with India in 2008. So far, it has not gone well. The US persuaded the NSG to allow India to import uranium for its civilian nuclear programme but, as predicted, this has only allowed India to dedicate more of its meagre domestic uranium production (which previously was tapped to fuel both military and civilian projects), to military purposes. India, in short, with the deal now can make more bombs. Even key officials who once supported the deal do no longer.”

Sokolski clearly highlights the dangers now posed by the short-sighted civil nuclear agreement with India. The US and the West are so busy milking the Indian cow that most policymakers cannot recall the spilt milk.

The US opened a Pandora’s box by exempting India from the NSG requirements, because it is now fuelling instability in South Asia. As Dr Daniel Markey said, “Pakistan uses its nuclear programme to make up for India’s superior conventional military power, the chances of Islamabad accepting nuclear caps while India’s military grows are slim.”

If anything, this hearing has amply highlighted the dangers and risks of doing nuclear business without taking into consideration the consequences. And the example referred to by almost all of the witnesses that testified was India, and the failure of the US to put restraints on the Indian programme through civil nuclear incentives.

The United States can still turn things around for the better. If it suspends its civil nuclear agreement with India, other countries like Canada and Australia will automatically follow their lead. The Americans can then go back to the drawing board and come up with a criteria-based approach for NSG membership for all non-NPT weapon states, which will be more fair than an exemption for a single state.

Perkovich said, “Such [a] criteria would encompass – at minimum – security of nuclear materials, export controls, and constraints on the expansion and characteristics of [the nuclear arsenals of any country that wanted membership]. If and when the states in question met such criteria, they would be eligible for membership in the NSG.” He added, “This approach would preclude any one of these states from entering the NSG and using that body’s consensus decision-making rule to thereafter block the others from joining once they met the established criteria.”

Perkovich’s criteria-based approach would allow anyone who meets the criteria to become a member of the NSG and freely engage in nuclear trade to address their civil requirements and at the same time ensures that there are constraints on the expansion of that country’s nuclear arsenal. Therefore, if India and Pakistan were to become members there would be no danger posed by their inclusion, because both would not be able to divert any material, technology or knowledge towards their military programmes.

President Obama was no different than his short-sighted predecessor in making the cardinal mistake of not developing a criteria-based approach prior to offering India an NSG exemption. The consequences of his imprudence are that India can now make as many bombs as it wants because it has access to the world’s supply of uranium. One hopes the Americans wake up to the reality Bush and Obama’s actions have created, and put a stop to this madness.

The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad.

Twitter: @umarwrites.