Why the NPT needs a makeover

June 14, 2015

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Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visits the test site in Pokhran, following India’s successful nuclear detonation on May 18, 1974
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visits the test site in Pokhran, following India’s successful nuclear detonation on May 18, 1974

Pakistan has on numerous occasions raised reservations on the NPT’s provisions and its violations by other states, which have rendering the NPT a tool of selective preferenceand not a comprehensive construct of non-proliferation. As recently as 3 June 2015, Pakistan’s foreign secretary stated during the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that Pakistan shan’t sign the treaty. This statement raises some crucial questions: What is wrong with the NPT? Why did it fail to persuade Pakistan to sign it? Is it still relevant? Does the treaty require structural revision to meet 21st century demands?

These questions necessitate a holistic analytical review of the Treaty. First — a preliminary study of NPT Articles I, IV and VI reveals that fundamental problems exist in its structure. Under the NPT, five countries are recognized as Nuclear Weapon States (NWS — P5) while the rest of the treaty’s signatories are regarded as non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). As a logical corollary, these NNWS are barred from acquiring nuclear weapons. Such conspicuous discrimination has led to arguments that the NPT is primarily focused on preserving the interests of P5 states.

Second — despite a strong emphasis and an emphatic promise to rid the world of nuclear weapons (as prescribed in Article VI) no progress is visible on disarmament by NWS. This is despite the fact that during the NPT extension conference, 1995, members had shown a great determination to implement the Treaty in its entirety.


Since its inception, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has been viewed by many countries, including Pakistan, with suspicion. The reasons are simple; the treaty, as will be discussed, is profoundly biased, exploitable and weakly structured


Third — the multilateral negotiations on nuclear export control (to oversee trade of the dual use technologies and determine their end usage) resulted, in the 1970s, in the Zannger Committee and Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) — an arrangement which was created against the background of the Indian nuclear explosions in 1974. Through these, which I call ‘short-circuited’ methods, the right to peaceful uses of nuclear technology, a highly significant pillar of the NPT, was drawn out of the formal mechanism. For its part, the NSG holds no legal legitimacy and formal structure when you compare it with the institutional stature of the IAEA.

Fourthly — there is a problem with the non-universal status of the NPT and its inability to remain sustainable on the ground. From the outset states adhered to a greater or lesser extent to the terms of the NPT, but India (which detonated devices first in 1974 and later in 1998) Israel (which maintains a policy of opacity since 1968) and Pakistan (which exploded devices in response to the Indian tests in 1998) have never joined the NPT. North Korea withdrew in 2003 thus testing the treaty article IV and X.

The existence of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is rooted in its security compulsions. Indian testing of nuclear devices changed the politico-strategic canvas of the region — thinning Pakistan’s options to remain a covert nuclear state — and forcing Pakistan to go nuclear. In 1974, Pakistan had proposed to establish a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in South Asia; in 1978 it proposed to India a joint Indo-Pakistan declaration renouncing the acquisition and manufacture of nuclear weapons and in the same year also proposed mutual inspections by India and Pakistan of nuclear facilities, simultaneous adherence to the NPT by India and Pakistan and also simultaneous acceptance of full-scope IAEA safeguards. However, all these initiatives were rejected by India.

Pakistan also sought security guarantees but with little response from international regimes and institutions. All these factors, when cumulatively evaluated, indicate how Pakistan faced a security conundrumand how it was forced to choose the nuclear pathway.


In the subsequent period, following the infamous Dr A Q Khan revelations, Pakistan-US partnership helped dispel the misunderstandings, increased ‘strategic trust’ and transparency, and opened discussion forums for future relations. The UNSC resolution 1540 created a new norm and Pakistan as a non-NPT state operates under the rules established by the resolution.


During the 1990s, a missile race and Indian nuclear explosions forced Pakistan to change its ‘cautious and restrained’ policy into one of weaponisation. Pakistan’s policy in pursuit of a NWFZ in South Asia was thwarted when the regional security architecture changed in 1998. Since then Pakistan considers its nukes as a national security life-line and strategic assets. The introduction of new technologies such as low-yield weapons into its inventory is thus meant for reinforcing its full spectrum deterrence capability and to respond to the Indian military’s operational concepts, such as the Cold Start doctrine. This does not necessarily imply, explicitly or implicitly, that Pakistan promotes limited or sub-conventional war in this region.

The fact that Pakistan went nuclear and is not a party to the NPT does not mean that it is opposed to global non-proliferation norms. In pursuit of this policy, Pakistan has instituted an elaborate home-grown solution, which by any international standard is exceptionally strong to safeguard its national assets. In parallel, it closely follows international standards and fulfills global commitments.

In the subsequent period, following the infamous Dr A Q Khan revelations, Pakistan-US partnership helped dispel the misunderstandings, increased ‘strategic trust’ and transparency, and opened discussion forums for future relations. The UNSC resolution 1540 created a new norm and Pakistan as a non-NPT state operates under the rules established by the resolution. After the implementation of the act on export control in 2004, Pakistan instituted international standards adopted by the NSG, Missile Technology Control regime (MTCR) and the Austria Group (AG). More so, Pakistan is a member to the IAEA, adheres to its code of conduct, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, CSI, and Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB). With all these measures in place, there has been no reported case of proliferation since 2004.


The NPT review conference outcomes 2015 have proven that the NPT is widely regarded as a system in distress; nevertheless, we should continue working on reducing the structural flaws of the NPT and to bridge the gaps and distances between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, along with working towards the universalisation of this treaty.


Now is the time to ask another question: doesthe NPT require structural revisions? From its outlook, it appears that the NPT, with a membership of 190 states, is the most powerful instrument of non-proliferation regime. This could have been a potentially significant arrangement for non-proliferation but it demands considerable revisions to make it consistent with current realities. It is my considered opinion that the paradigms of the 20th century have lost their effectiveness, relevance and strength to remain applicable in this age. The NPT review conference outcomes 2015 have proven that the NPT is widely regarded as a system in distress; nevertheless, we should continue working on reducing the structural flaws of the NPT and to bridge the gaps and distances between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, along with working towards the universalisation of this treaty. There is an urgent need to revive the non-proliferation regime and enhance the non NPT states in the full spectrum of non-proliferation and disarmament standards and obligations instead of breaking the designed structure of the NPT for making allowances of non-signatories to seek benefits of signatories.

November 28, 1972: President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto inaugurates the first unit of the Karachi nuclear plant
November 28, 1972: President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto inaugurates the first unit of the Karachi nuclear plant

In parallel, the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has become ever more relevant in an energy-hungry world. Despite the Fukushima Daiichi incident, nuclear energy deployment continues to grow and is expected to increase exponentially in the coming decades. The factors contributing to this growing interest in nuclear power are: energy security — the need to handle increasing global demand and maintain a sustained energy supply; mitigating effects of climate change by curbing greenhouse gases, along with other factors that go beyond the supply of electricity. Nuclear energy offers a greater capacity factor, lesser cost and environmentally safer source than most other alternatives. Nuclear power, as a stable base-load source of electricity in an era of ever increasing global energy demands, complements other energy sources includingrenewables.

As a non-NPT state, India is keen to join the NSG to achieve global support for its civil nuclear deals. Thus, the NSG is under pressure to expand membership outside its defined criteria.

Obviously India, a non-NPT nuclear state, has not placed its facilities under the IAEA full-scope safeguards and, thus, it is not entitled to the benefits of the NSG membership.


In time, the NSG will have to reflect emerging trends in the global nuclear power industry. As agreed in NPT Article IV, the Group by no means will oppose development of peaceful nuclear energy, even as it remains strongly opposed to proliferation.


It is subject to the NSG rules that forbid nuclear cooperation with states that have unsafeguarded facilities and are not party states to the NPT. Besides, India has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has not addressed the moratorium on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Without addressing these concerns, expansion in the Group’s membership to accommodate India’s interests on political grounds would damage the efficacy, spirit and structure of the treaty.

During President Obama’s recent visit to India, both the countries under the Indo-US nuclear deal have been able to address the nuclear liability issue, which has opened the pathways for India for its civil-nuclear deals. Obama and Modi, under the US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), laid down a joint military-industrial base for co-production, co-development and partnership between the two countries and agreed to treat each other as close partners. These agreements indeed are aimed at by-passing the non-proliferation norms thereby making our regional politics much more complicated. Through such coupling with India, the US is making the notion of ‘selective bonding’more pronounced and in all probability this would set an additional discriminatory and dangerous precedent.

Though being without widespread legitimacy, the NSG also has to recognize current realities. In time, the NSG will have to reflect emerging trends in the global nuclear power industry. As agreed in NPT Article IV, the Group by no means will oppose development of peaceful nuclear energy, even as it remains strongly opposed to proliferation.

As a result of its own geopolitical and national security imperatives, Pakistan has proposed to create a criteria base approach, thus demanding revision in the structure of the NSG to align new aspirants to meet the current demands. Such a proposition, pragmatic in nature and consistent with time-sensitive strategic urgency, is paramount for Pakistan as it aspires to institute two additional nuclear power plants to generate 40,000 MW by 2050 to make up for the crippling power deficiency that plagues it.

In June 2013 the Pakistan’s Planning Commission announced that two Chinese 1000 MWe class reactors would be used for Karachi II and III (KANUPP II and III). The K-II is expected to be finalised by 2020 and K-III by 2021 under the IAEA’s safeguard cover. Kanupp II and III are important for Pakistan as they are considered an efficient path towards mitigating growing energy starvation and deficiency.

These above facts powerfully suggest Pakistan’s accession to the NSG. If it is too late to pursue India and Pakistan to give up their nuclear weapons then we should introduce new arrangements through which the two states can be attached to the NPT so that they become full partners to the regional and global disarmament process. If the NPT is not open to amendment then the case of these two states should be addressed giving them separate membership through a protocol or agreement which could be attached to the NPT. This would allow them to retain their nuclear weapons and also restrain them from further nuclear weapon development.

During the on-going US-Pakistan strategic dialogue both sides have discussed the desirability of continued outreach to integrate Pakistan into the international non-proliferation regime. Indeed, this would be a big break-through towards non-proliferation developments after a framework-deal with Iran, if it finalises by the end of June. There is a hope that the deal with Iran would have a far-reaching impact on the non-proliferation regime and stabilising effects in the region.

One could simplistically conclude, by generally observing the trends and directions in global politics, that the NPT has failed to satisfy any of its objectives. It did not stop proliferation, it has been exploited, it has a structure that predicates on discrimination and most importantly it is rigid and inflexible. This makes it a document unworthy of a signature by Pakistan. Islamabad has no question on the spirit of the treaty but it has its reservations and doubt over it being an operationally applied construct. As long Pakistan’s logically valid objections — i.e., making it flexible for letting new nuclear weapons states in the treaty and allowing them use of peaceful nuclear technology — are not addressed, it is highly improbable that Pakistan would choose to sign and ratify the Treaty.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Strategic and Nuclear Studies National Defence University, Islamabad

What is the NPT?

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in March 1970, seeks to inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons. Its 190 states-parties are classified in two categories: nuclear-weapon states (NWS) — consisting of the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom — and non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS).Under the treaty, the five NWS commit to pursue general and complete disarmament, while the NNWS agree to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. With its near-universal membership, the NPT has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement, with only South Sudan, India, Israel, and Pakistan remaining outside the treaty. In order to accede to the treaty, these states must do so as NNWS, since the treaty restricts NWS status to nations that “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967.” For India, Israel, and Pakistan, all known to possess or suspected of having nuclear weapons, joining the treaty as NNWS would require that they dismantle their nuclear weapons and place their nuclear materials under international safeguards. South Africa followed this path to accession in 1991.

Source: http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nptfact

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 14th, 2015

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