The Debate

The Case for Pakistan’s Nuclear Suppliers Group Membership

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The Debate

The Case for Pakistan’s Nuclear Suppliers Group Membership

Pakistan should be able to join the NSG alongside India.

The Case for Pakistan’s Nuclear Suppliers Group Membership

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in India

Credit: The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in India

For about a decade there have been forceful discussions in South Asia about U.S. efforts to mainstream India into the non-proliferation regime and enhance nuclear cooperation with the country that famously denounced the regime as discriminatory and “Nuclear Apartheid.” This has been seen in Islamabad as harming Pakistan’s strategic interests.

Pakistan’s policies vis-a-vis the nonproliferation regime will be influenced by the evolution of India’s case for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, for obvious security reasons. The tenacious efforts of the United States to conduct nuclear trade with India and make it a member of the NSG will reduce Pakistan’s space in the nonproliferation regime and it is highly probable that the doors for Pakistan’s nuclear mainstreaming will close permanently if India becomes a member of the non-proliferation regime before Pakistan. However, there is also a case for viewing Pakistan as a prospective member of the NSG on its own merit if the international criteria is developed multilaterally, with due consideration of the strategic interests of all parties and the goal of balancing them with the possibility of strengthening the non-proliferation regime.

With the existing asymmetry of military and economic potential between India and Pakistan, advocating a criteria based on international norms of nonproliferation for any future NSG memberships is Pakistan’s best bet. Pakistan for some time, has been advocating a criterion-based approach for any future addition of non-NPT states to the NSG. However, there hardly is a universal criterion for the case of non-NPT states. For some states, the criterion can be as simple as the possibility of nuclear trade and business for their companies. Others might also like to include the non-proliferation credentials of a given state. The Chinese stance of seeking to develop criteria before considering the Indian or Pakistani case for NSG membership falls in the category of states that still want to have a principled approach to nuclear trade, rather than rubbing the geoeconomic and geopolitical interests of big powers in the faces of small countries. The derogatory approach of the United States toward smaller states is obvious specifically in two ways: first, the way Washington has tried to influence (read browbeat) the smaller states’ decisions regarding Indian membership in the NSG; and second, its partial demands for Pakistan (and not India) to improve its non-proliferation credentials to be considered for NSG membership.

However, the measures of nonproliferation credentials discussed to establish Pakistan’s case are mainly related to vertical proliferation and strategic stability with India. Interestingly, onward nonproliferation and the establishment of optimum safety and security measures are the only established nonproliferation norms internationally. Controlling arms buildup is not an international norm and all states that have decided to adopt a moratorium on further testing or production of fissile materials have done so based on their own strategic calculations, rather than to fulfill their NPT obligations. This puts a question mark on the U.S. demands that Pakistan sign the CTBT and facilitate the FMCT as a bargain for nuclear mainstreaming. Both of these are noble goals in terms of inching the world closer to nuclear disarmament. However, it is unfair to ask Pakistan to choose between its strategic imperatives and NSG membership. It is a cost bigger than Pakistan can realistically bear.

Similarly, the NSG is not the right platform to discuss issues related to strategic stability between India and Pakistan, like Indian conventional modernization and Proactive Defense Strategy, and Pakistan’s development of short-range nuclear weapons. These are issues of genuine concern, but the prospective provision of NSG membership to Pakistan does not provide the United States enough leverage to push Pakistan against its stance on full-spectrum deterrence. Also, pressure in this regard would only enhance the Pakistani sense of alienation and further increase its reliance on nuclear deterrence.

A relatively fair criteria, which may or may not be universal, should consider the potential of each prospective member to enhance the international nonproliferation agenda. Again, this has to be based on the potential to contribute to international efforts to promote nuclear safety and security and curb onward proliferation, as vertical proliferation has a separate set of dynamics and has not traditionally been considered as a measure of a state’s nonproliferation credentials. China, Russia and the United States are all modernizing their arsenals but this has never cast doubts on their nonproliferation credentials, since all three are committed to controlling proliferation to other countries and non-state actors. One could argue that all these states are de jure nuclear weapons states under NPT while India and Pakistan are not. Yet if both states could accept the obligation of non-nuclear weapons states, why would they resist joining the NPT in the first place?

So how can Pakistan contribute to the nonproliferation agenda? Pakistan is a de facto nuclear weapons state with complete nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. The NSG is better off with Pakistan inside the regime than outside. Even though Pakistan does not possess remarkable business potential like India, it has demonstrated an interest in developing its civilian nuclear sector for energy, medical, and R&D purposes. The Energy Security Action Plan of the Planning Commission of Pakistan envisages increasing the share of nuclear in the total energy mix from 0.67 percent to 15.11 percent. In any case Pakistan’s potential for both nuclear imports and exports is better than many current NSG member states.

Also, Pakistan has established positive safety and security records. Today it can contribute to the improvement of nuclear safety and security of other states through its Nuclear Security Summit-mandated Centers of Excellence, by participating in the IAEA IPPAS (International Physical Protection Advisory Service) missions, etc. No state in the world can claim an impeccable nuclear safety and security regime, but some need to do more work than others. Both India and Pakistan are developing states with a need for capacity building.

There is no reliable methodology to grade a given state’s nuclear safety and security parameters; however, it is more important that all states have confidence in international cooperation to this end. Pakistan’s engagement with the United States, IAEA, Nuclear Security Summit process, and other multilateral platforms for improving its nuclear safety and security complexes is an important way in which Islamabad is helping reduce national and international nuclear risks. This is also reflected in the confidence the U.S. government places in Pakistan’s nuclear safety and security efforts. One clear way in which Pakistan can benefit from NSG membership would be streamlining its export control procedures. Once it can formally communicate with individual member states, especially in terms of licensing and end-user certification issues, it will be better able to fill the gaps in the implementation of its export control laws.

The pace of progress on Pakistan’s strategic export controls and strengthening the safety and security regime is partially influenced by its desire to become a mainstream nuclear state. Despite highlighting its reservations about how the 2008 India-U.S. nuclear deal will impact strategic stability in South Asia, especially when an India-specific waiver was issued by the NSG, Pakistan did not oppose the deal. That’s because there was an implicit understanding that in the future Pakistan will be a candidate for such a deal as well. There is a general understanding in Islamabad, stated a Foreign Ministry official who desires to remain anonymous, that Pakistan’s aim is not to get Indian membership blocked in the NSG but also enter the NSG along with India.

However, the behavior of the nonproliferation regime in the last decade toward Pakistan, if combined in the future with India’s formal membership in the NSG, will leave no incentive for Pakistan to continue its international engagement with the nonproliferation regime bodies.

Sobia Paracha works as a consultant with Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Pakistan.  The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of IPRI.