A nuclear deal such as Pakistan’s military and diplomatic elites have demanded for years would make them more, not less, risk-prone.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, is among the latest to hazard solutions to Pakistan’s nuclear dangers and myriad other problems. In his Adelphi book, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, he identifies four specific dangers presented by Pakistan’s nuclear programme: the potential for nuclear use; for a nuclear arms race; for nuclear terrorism; and for onward proliferation and nuclear accidents. After an assessment of each danger, he proffers three recommendations, among them the ‘nuclear normalisation’ of Pakistan, defined as offering the country a nuclear-cooperation deal ‘akin to’ the one given to India in 2008. 

Such a deal is something Pakistan’s military and diplomatic elite has been demanding for years. Fitzpatrick simply repackages Islamabad’s arguments as a non-proliferation necessity for the West. According to him, ‘providing a formula for nuclear normalisation is the most powerful tool that Western countries can wield in positively shaping Pakistan’s nuclear posture’. He suggests that by offering the possibility of a deal, the West can induce Pakistan to change its nuclear strategy. He fails to mention that the deal with India was accomplished only after a three-year-long, very public and highly debated process of give and take between India and the United States, as well as between India, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It did not come about because India’s nuclear behaviour needed to be changed, but rather because the country’s behaviour was already in keeping with international norms.

Is Pakistan indeed amenable to external inducements in the nuclear arena? Does it merit inducements? More importantly, if the West were able to offer them as part of a quid pro quo, would that change the basic drivers of Pakistan’s nuclear policy? If not, could any offer from the West prompt Pakistan to alter its nuclear-weapons trajectory to the satisfaction of the non-proliferation community? Based on the available evidence, it would seem that Fitzpatrick’s answer to these questions is overly simplistic. The West or, more accurately, the NSG, is free to grant or deny nuclear cooperation to any country based on its assessment of how this would serve its interests without violating its own guidelines or other international obligations. But to believe that such an offer could address the dangers that emanate from Pakistan’s nuclear brinkmanship, including its fast-evolving force posture and resolute opposition to negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, is naive at best. In fact, such a concession would be interpreted and projected by Pakistan’s military elites as a kind of victory, and only make them more, not less, risk-prone, thereby increasing the dangers of the country’s nuclear policy. Unless these dangers – some real, others deliberately manufactured to scare the West into precisely the kind of action that Fitzpatrick recommends – are correctly understood, an optimal solution will remain elusive.

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Arundhati Ghose is a retired diplomat who last served as India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva and Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament. She is Adjunct Faculty, National Institute for Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

Manpreet Sethi is ICSSR Senior Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

February-March 2015

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