FMCT — the odds are against us

Why Pakistan should sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and why it won’t sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Published June 15, 2015

Why Pakistan should sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and why it won’t sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Refusing to sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty means consigning ourselves to an arms race we simply cannot win

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Pakistan goes nuclear on May 28, 1998
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Pakistan goes nuclear on May 28, 1998

A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has revealed that Pakistan, India and China have increased their nuclear stockpiles. In SIPRI’s words, this now constitutes an arms race, one that Pakistan can ill-afford. So how do we end this arms race, and in the process reorganise our priorities based on the realities we face?

The answer to this question starts with the FMCT, the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. It aims to freeze fissile material production for use in weapons globally. Pakistan is the only nation in the world holding up its ratification at the Conference of Disarmament (CD). None of the reasons we have offered for this stance are particularly credible, and are easy to refute. This article aims to do precisely that, and argues in favour of Pakistan signing the FMCT as soon as possible.

Officially, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is founded on the notion of minimum credible deterrence. Deterrence is underpinned on the notion of second strike capability i.e. a guaranteed ability to respond to any initial nuclear attack by a retaliatory strike of our own. This would achieve Mutually Assured Destruction (aptly called MAD). That notion is very undesirable, so both parties are deterred from using nuclear weapons to begin with, thus the term ‘minimum nuclear deterrence’. Finally, the entire point of adopting minimum credible deterrence is to prevent an arms race; once you have achieved the minimum threshold, you need not develop any more weapons. Pakistan has manifestly failed to do this.

The problem with our deterrence policy is that nobody knows where the threshold lies, beyond which we don’t need to expand our nuclear arsenal. This suits the military establishment, the guardians of our nuclear weapons, just fine. The deliberate vagueness of this deterrence allows them to keep on producing weapons and delivery systems till eternity.

Pakistan has approximately 120 nuclear warheads, with Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for 100 more, and Weapons Grade Plutonium for 20 warheads (as of 2010). India has approximately 110, with Weapons Grade Plutonium for a 100 more. (India’s HEU stock is believed to be for naval purposes).

Our reasons for not signing the FMCT predictably revolve around India. We say that the FMCT should actually be called the FMT and thus avoid the word ‘Cut-off’ altogether as this implies that current stocks won’t be taken into consideration. This is a problem because India has more fissile material than us and will be able to produce more bombs with it even after the FMCT comes into effect. The reality is that India has a GDP 8 times our own ($1.877 Trillion vs. $232.3 Billion) which is growing at a much healthier rate than Pakistan; they can afford to build many more weapons, we cannot. Two, India is concerned with China (GDP: $9.24 Trillion) as a nuclear rival; their build up has little to do with us.

Even if we take the imbalance in nuclear stockpiles as a credible reason for us refusing to sign the FMCT, the best time to have ratified this treaty would have been around 2010, at which time, Pakistan and India had almost equal amounts of weapons grade material. India has the ability to ramp up production of weapons grade materials much quicker than Pakistan, thereby increasing the gap between the stockpiles even further. Bringing the FMCT into effect around 2010 would have frozen the disparity of weapons grade materials at the lowest possible level.

A caveat to this point: India also has large amounts of reactor grade plutonium, enough to manufacture up to 350 plutonium-based warheads (as of 2010). Pakistan’s position at the CD takes this into account, but again, the longer we hold off on the FMCT, the raw materials gap will only increase, so this should actually be an incentive to sign the treaty at the earliest.

The second point is the civil nuclear deal signed between India and the US during the Bush administration. We say that if Pakistan were to be given similar treatment, we will sign the FMCT, but a civil nuclear deal similar to India’s consists of private firms investing billions of dollars setting up nuclear plants here. It’s a purely profit making venture, which takes issues such as security into consideration, and simply put, nobody will risk such investments in Pakistan. The US—India Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed in 2006. Nine years later, not a single US reactor has been set up in India over concerns about liability in case of an accident. So even the US-India deal has been an unmitigated failure.

The third point made by the nuclear hawks is that India has a Breeder Reactor program. A Breeder Reactor consumes reactor-grade plutonium but produces weapons-grade plutonium. All countries that have thus far invested in research in Breeder Reactor programs (including Britain, Germany, France, USA) have abandoned them as not being worth the effort. India isn’t likely to get very far in its efforts in this regard either. Even if they somehow miraculously manage to get a working reactor, what they will get is weapons grade plutonium, something we (and they) already possess. There is no technological leap involved which will upset the deterrence equation, not if we implement the FMCT protocol now. The longer a potential Breeder program operates, the more the imbalance will grow, at a much increased pace than previously. This should give us even more of a reason to sign the FMCT. In any case, India has the resources and the money to try and fail at this many times over. We do not. It’s that simple.

The Ghauri—I missile was successfully tested about a month before Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests in Chagai, Balochistan. It has been in service since 2003.
The Ghauri—I missile was successfully tested about a month before Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests in Chagai, Balochistan. It has been in service since 2003.

Not signing the FMCT will ensure one thing: a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent (already in full flow) involving Pakistan and India. Only one country is ever going to win that race. Hint: It isn’t Pakistan.

Uranium vs. Plutonium is another point raised in this debate. Plutonium-based weapons cause more destruction with less material; their yield to weight ratio is larger than a uranium bomb. As of 2013, India possessed 0.54 ± 0.18 tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Pakistan has 150 ± 50 kg of weapons-grade plutonium, generated from four nuclear reactors in Khushab. Our Plutonium stockpiles are rather low; the Khushab reactors coming online only recently. So we cannot sign the FMCT, we say, not for a good few years.

Due to their higher yield to weight ratio, it is possible to make plutonium-based weapons lighter and more versatile in terms of deployment and use. This is especially helpful when it comes to developing lighter Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs), which Pakistan has developed to counter the Indian ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. The delivery systems associated with such weapons have limited range (up to 60 km), which means that these weapons must by necessity be deployed in the field, leading to the chain of command of a nuclear detonation being delegated to the actual theatre of war. This weakens said chain of command (put in place to prevent accidental launches of nuclear warheads) and increases the possibility of a nuclear mishap.

Consider this scenario: War has broken out. You are charged with the nuclear hot button in the field. Despite considerable preparation, things aren’t going to plan. Indian troops are closing fast. Indian Air Force fighter jets are flying overhead clearing the way for a potential ground invasion. You are losing men fast and it is highly probable that you will be dead soon. You are now stuck in a “use it or lose it” mode as far as your mini-nuke is concerned. So, what do you do? When you have no idea whether the threshold for tactical nuclear weapons use has been crossed or not?

Theories are built around decisions being based on cold hard logic. To say that the fog of war is not conducive to such logical thinking is to state the obvious. So even this potential advantage that lighter plutonium-based tactical weapons gives us is recklessly dangerous, making it immeasurably easier to walk into a nuclear doomsday scenario should war ever break out.

The ‘Cold Start’ doctrine of India is also an issue in the nuclear debate. That is where the Tactical Nuclear Weapons we have developed come into play. ‘Cold Start’ is a conventional war strategy devised by India as a way to bypass our nuclear deterrent. This begs the question: If India is devising conventional war strategies to deal with Pakistan (implicitly confirming the effectiveness of our deterrent) why are we developing nuclear weapons currently?

Looked at in this light, this becomes a very strong argument in favour of signing the FMCT.

The Pakistan military seeks to counter Cold Start by the use of weapon systems like the “Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile Hatf IX (NASR)” with a “range of 60 km, carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot attributes (sic).” In other words, TNWs.

These will likely be armed with the aforementioned lighter plutonium-based warheads. There have been strong indications that Pakistan is prepared to use small-scale tactical nuclear bombs within Pakistani territory aimed at invading Indian troops.

As noted before, deployment and use of TNWs to counter Cold Start also involves a significant weakening of the command and control structure, and is too dangerous to actually implement. “The best way forward to counter Cold Start (which itself has never gotten off the drawing board and was described by the US as “a mixture of myth and reality”) is to devise conventional war strategies. Countering what is currently a pie-in-the-sky theory with nuclear weapons is unwise at best.

One last thing to note about Cold Start is that it is an inherently retaliatory doctrine; it is not meant to initiate hostilities.

There is only one credible reason for not signing the FMCT: money. The reactors in Khushab have been recently built, producing little output. This money will be wasted if we sign the FMCT. However, we can ask for our investment to be reimbursed, which isn’t a high price to pay for the CD in return for activating the FMCT. Regardless, there is still an argument to be made for cutting our losses, for money saved on our nuclear program can be directed to other needs.

We can also ask for concessions in exchange for ratifying the FMCT. The US has made no secret of the fact that it wants us to ratify the FMCT and we can ask them to help us in eliminating our power crisis in return; perhaps reduce our external debt. The possibilities are many, but the decision will depend purely on what our priorities are.

There is no denying the fact that a nuclear deterrent has prevented war from breaking out in the aftermath of Kargil, the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and the Mumbai attacks in 2008. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy even argues that a clear line can be drawn between our nuclear tests in 1998, and the Kargil episode; the latter would never have taken place without the former. One could even argue that nuclear deterrence has in fact emboldened non-state actors as well, providing them a shield under which to carry out their activities unhindered.

For our citizens, on the other hand, nuclear weapons have provided absolutely zero benefits. We are no safer today than we were on 27th May, 1998. Nuclear weapons have left us with no tangible economic benefits to speak of. They have actually left us poorer as a country since developing nuclear weapons is an expensive venture. We are not more socially cohesive as a nation since we acquired nuclear weapons, this bizarrely being one of the stated aims of the bomb. Implementing the FMCT protocol should thus be seen as a first step to a subsequent reduction in the number of our nuclear warheads, eventually leading to complete disarmament.

We stand to draw many benefits once our nuclear program becomes dormant. There will be a substantial amount of money saved annually once the FMCT goes into effect. Pakistan is estimated to have spent $2.2 billion on the nuclear program in 2011, up from $1.8 billion in 2010. This will be a start in the right direction. Perhaps that money can be spent on building some dams so the floods aren’t as bad as in 2010 when the monsoon season comes around next time. We are a nation whose last government printed more money than all previous governments combined, where people drown in now annual floods, where people die because of dengue, where the literacy rate is 58 per cent and where poverty is 31.7 per cent. That’s our reality. Let us take note.

If we want to remain a security state armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons then we should continue to be the sole dissenter on the FMCT. But if we want to be a progressive state which values the welfare and lives of its citizens more than its nuclear warheads, then we should sign the FMCT. We should sign it right now.

The author is a freelance writer

Splitting atoms: Why the NPT needs a makeover

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

By Dr Rizwana Abbasi

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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

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

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