By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal                                                                                   

Wonderland of nuclear non-proliferation has a treacherous history; it is full of fantasies, rhetoric, dilemmas, deceit and duplicity. Third nuclear test by North Korea, an interesting statement by the Speaker of Iranian Majlis about the status of his country’s nuclear programme, and recent imposition of fresh American sanctions on four Chinese and two Belarusian entities for their alleged violation of Missile Technology Control Regime indicates that the nuclear politics continues to revolve around selective application of discriminatory laws. Nuclear scenario at the global level really has to cover a lot of distance to attain maturity; it is yet an emerging scenario, going through the pangs of evolution.

From Global perspective, we are living in an environment of nuclear apartheid, perpetuated by numerous legal regimes and instruments starting with the NPT. Persistent state of denial to grant dejure status to de’facto nuclear weapon states casts shadow on the prospects of continued viability of NPT regime in its current form. North Korea has set a precedence of walking away from the NPT, and going ahead with its bold nuclear pursuits to address its perceived national security concerns— for each state has the sovereign right to determine threat to its security and muster a matching response.

At the same time, there have been positive developments as well. A number of countries have given up their nuclear arsenal when they felt that threat to their national security had receded and they no longer needed these dreadful weapons. Some countries have surrendered their fissile materials as well. Approach of switching over of health, engineering, agricultural facilities and power reactors from usage of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) is also a welcome step; it would certainly reduce the demand of weapon grade material.

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Nuclear arms control and disarmament areas have always been premised on two parallel tracks. Of these, arms control regimes are pursued by the nuclear haves, possessing piles of nuclear warheads. Arms control instruments play around with numbers without slashing the capability.  Disarmament approach is looked up-to by the nuclear have-nots; it calls for retirement and destruction of nuclear weapons aimed at qualitative down gradation of nuclear capability. Both approaches have exclusive proponents.

Unfortunately, laws pertaining to nuclear transactions are porous and their application is politically and ideologically motivated, and hence selective. Attitude of the counties having access to advanced nuclear technologies is not favourably poised toward the countries striving to have access to civilian application of nuclear technology even in benign fields like health, agriculture, power generation etc. Terms and conditions of the US Agreements 123 signed with India and UAE present two extremes, a non-NPT state has been allowed to pile up mounts of weapon grade material; and an NPT member has been denied all opportunities to have an enrichment option. Ongoing efforts to have a FMCT regime negotiated for across the board stoppage of fissile material production without accounting for the existing stockpiles of bomb making material also aims at freezing yet another asymmetry.

Handling of nuclear related knowledge, doctrines, machines, materials, expertise and trade have all along been fussy domains. IAEA is the only UN organ having legal authority to handle proliferation matters. However latest trend indicates that though lip service is paid to its central role, ways and means are continuously being sought for, to settle the nuclear issues by circumventing the IAEA frame-work. Over a dozen entities try to assert their claims over nuclear matters in a piecemeal and self-righteous fashion. Despite mushrooming of such a large number of claimants, monitoring and indexing of nuclear security, safety and trafficking related incidents portray a horrible picture. Most of the times, commercial interest of the countries having control over nuclear materials and expertise override the non-proliferation concerns.


Notwithstanding the fact that heavy menu of existing treaties, conventions, UNSC resolutions and structures is unable to work with requisite synergy, emphasis continues to be on creating new structures, protocols and treaties. Forum of “Nuclear Security Summit” has also been mobilized to serve this purpose. While bypassing the principle of global consensus, a number of multilateral understandings, pledges and treaties have evolved during the two summits, to handle the nuclear security issues piecemeal. This has resulted in a wheels-within-wheels sort of working pattern.

In the post 9/11 setting, bogey of nuclear terrorism has been overplayed for shaping the nuclear narratives that suit the nuclear haves; and make a case to attack some of the nascent nuclear programmes and even pursue the ambition of disarming some nuclear states. Setting up of missile shields is another emerging trend. This indeed weakens the deterrence in regional contexts and has the potential of triggering arms race in various conflict prone regions.

In the global context, some of the mind boggling quires are: could the nuclear arms race ever be stopped?; is the concept ‘Nuclear Energy for all and Nuclear Weapons for None’, suggested in the conference held in Iran in 2010, an achievable objective, and is it synonymous with Obama’s concept of Global Zero?; is the nuclear weapon free World likely to emerge? Or is it an utopian rhetoric?;  will the setting up of LEU fuel bank reduce the chances of nuclear terrorism or stop further nuclearization of states?; how would the US and Indian missile defense shields impact the arsenals of other countries?

At regional level, asking Pakistan and India to sign NPT as non-nuclear wepon state is untenable; none would give up its capability. However, there is ample space for a solution through proactive diplomacy and concerted effort for an ‘Additional Protocol’ to the NPT that would recognize these two nations as nuclear weapon state parties. By blocking this approach, NPT, is being undermined by its proponents. Point further carried forth, asking Pakistan to do anything that India is not asked to do, in the nuclear regime, is certainly a non-starter. Likewise, asking Iran to give up its nuclear programme while doing nothing concrete for establishing a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East in unsustainable.

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Pakistan has successfully neutralized India’s Cold Start Doctrine by testing tactical nuclear missile, ‘Naser’. Development of ‘Naser’ missile with 60 KM range was a necessary and a well-timed move. It demonstrates that Pakistan has acquired requisite technology and capability to counter India’s ‘cold start’ and ‘second strike’ capabilities. ‘Naser’ is not a battlefield weapon and hence, does not signal Pakistan’s shift from deterrence towards war mode. Development of cruise missiles by Pakistan was also a compulsion in view of India’s development of missile defense capability. Pakistan continues to follow its doctrine of “minimum credible deterrence” and “strategic restraint”. It continues to act responsibly, cautiously and wisely. This approach has paid off. Over the years Pakistan has been able to maintain the deterrence and is determined to offset any development in the region that could disturb the nuclear balance between the two countries. Pakistan also pursues an agreement with India on “Strategic Restraint Regime”. However India has been reluctant for such a regime in both nuclear and conventional areas.

Dilemmas posed by these analyses lead towards a conclusion that unless a sincere effort is made to establish a universal across the board nuclear disarmament regime on the pattern of Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, the objective of non-proliferation is likely to continue haunting the comity of nations.