The nuclear ‘haves’ should adopt a non-discriminatory, criteria-based approach to Pakistan and other NPT outliers.

The non-proliferation regime’s long-running discrimination against Pakistan peaked in 2008, when the 48 member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted an exceptional trade waiver to India. The group’s application of country-specific criteria for civil nuclear-technology cooperation has the potential to erode its credibility, and suggests the regime operates on the principle that, as George Orwell wrote, ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. The responsibility for establishing nuclear ‘normalcy’ lies primarily with the regime rather than Pakistan, which has invested more in the process and received little in return, compared to India. Such normalcy would be best achieved by allowing India and Pakistan equal access to the NSG, one of four informal export-control arrangements that complement the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-based regime. These countries, which are the only nuclear-armed states that have not signed the treaty (aside from Israel), should be brought into the mainstream in order to both normalise the non-proliferation regime and enhance its credibility.

Aspects of this issue are examined in Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, a recent book by Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In a distinct departure from the usual Western narrative, Fitzpatrick makes a conditional proposal that Pakistan be ‘treated as a normal nuclear country’ and suggests ‘a nuclear-cooperation deal akin to India’s’, albeit one with different stipulations. Islamabad’s strong record in the safe and secure use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, commitment to the non-proliferation regime and widely recognised enforcement of export-control norms make it a deserving partner of the NSG.

Fitzpatrick’s formula for a civil nuclear deal is the latest among several proposed sets of criteria for NSG membership that have emerged since the NSG’s unique waiver to India in 2008. His case study on Pakistan acknowledges the measures that the country has taken to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and hence earn a deal. Fitzpatrick’s formula for the nuclear normalisation of the state centres on three broad themes: restraint in declaratory policy; practices that ensure safety and security; and institutional compliance with the regime. Although many Pakistanis approve of the desired end, the proposed means would be tantamount to disregarding their national-security interests. Other observers, particularly those in Washington, find such a proposition either too lenient or entirely impractical. Such rationales miss the elephant in the room: it is the non-proliferation regime that must be normalised, not Pakistan. 

Among the nuclear-armed states that have not signed the NPT, only Pakistan and India have expressed a keen interest in NSG membership. This is understandable, as their population size, energy requirements, technological needs and geopolitical position are entirely different from those of Israel, whose transparency on nuclear matters could cause major problems in the wider Middle East. Although various independent security assessments conclude that Israel has a nuclear arsenal, the state refuses to either confirm or deny its existence. The country is not only a key American ally in the region but also has an unparalleled ability to influence the domestic politics of the US. For instance, Israel seems to face little diplomatic pressure for ignoring calls to negotiate a Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction.

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Zahir Kazmi is a Director at the Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs Branch of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, and a former Visiting Fellow for Strategic Affairs (South Asia) at the IISS. The author’s views are his own.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

February-March 2015

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