by Tariq Rauf

International Organizations and Nonproliferation Project
Monterey Institute of International Studies

(The following is a text on which is based Perspectives "Accommodation not confrontation" published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 1999, pp. 14-16. The Bulletin is on the web at: www.bullatomsci.org)

Last May's nuclear detonations in the Pokhran Desert and in the Ras Koh mountain range presented the world with its seventh and eighth nuclear-weapon states. Israel became the sixth in 1967. To make matters worse, as Lloyd Axworthy (Canada's foreign minister) warned a "new nuclear realpolitik" was being enunciated not only by known nuclear proliferators--India, Pakistan, and Israel-but also by the five declared nuclear weapon states, justifying the proliferation or continuing retention of nuclear weapons.

In moving to rely on nuclear weapons for their security, thus emulating the five declared nuclear-weapon states (NWS), India and Pakistan served up a major challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation regime, for which the international community still lacks an appropriate diplomatic tool box. Early on, the Security Council and the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8) were unable to reach consensus on sanctions, however their later pronouncements, while containing calls for nuclear restraint by India and Pakistan, were replete with hypocrisy regarding the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear disarmament obligations of the five NWS. Furthermore, the howls of outrage from Western countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, and Japan among others were equally bereft in credibility or moral force as all of these countries continue to benefit from extended nuclear deterrence (provided by the United States).

Following the May tests, the United States imposed sanctions mandated by the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act (Glenn amendment) on both India and Pakistan that prohibited the export of sensitive technologies, military and foreign assistance, official credits or credit guaranties, lending by U.S. commercial banks, and the U.S. withdrew its support for World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans. However, by mid-summer agricultural exports had been exempted in response to complaints by farmers in the United States, and by early November the sanctions regime was further eased to cover only high technology and military equipment exports. This was to reward India and Pakistan for announcing testing moratoria and for their pledges to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty by September 1999. Subsequently, a list was published identifying 40 Indian and 46 Pakistani entities along with a number of subordinate entities, which were covered by export restrictions under the Clinton Administration's sanctions policy, and which were barred from any dealing with U.S. firms or government agencies--in all over 300 entities were listed.

In its dealings with New Delhi and Islamabad, Washington has focused on three priorities:

  • preventing any escalation of a nuclear and missile race;
  • minimizing damage to the non-proliferation regime; and
  • promoting bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan on reducing tensions--crucially differences over Kashmir.

The United States also helped establish the non-proliferation benchmarks set out by the Security Council (Res. 1172 of June 6) and the G-8, for India and Pakistan to move back from the nuclear brink by:

  • signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty;
  • halting all further production of weapon-usable fissile material and joining the negotiation on a fissile material treaty at the Conference on Disarmament;
  • limiting development and deployment of delivery vehicles for weapons of mass destruction (WMD);
  • implementing strict export controls on sensitive materials and technologies for WMD; and
  • resuming bilateral dialogue on resolving long-standing tensions and disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir.

In the past, Washington's South Asia policy has been a failure, mainly due to successive generations of policy makers regarding the region as beset with intractable conflict and war, frustration emanating from ill-conceived or poorly executed regional initiatives, trying to choose between Pakistan or India, and the absence of South Asia from the U.S. geo-strategic policy map except in cases of acute crisis. However, since May 1998, the U.S. approach has tended to be uncharacteristically pragmatic though limited, focusing on the art of the possible. It is based on the principle that while neither India nor Pakistan can ever be recognized as nuclear weapon states under the NPT, since both countries have overtly demonstrated their nuclear weapon capabilities--what has been tested cannot be untested--the United States must now reach a deal under which India and Pakistan would commit to accepting the benchmarks noted above.

In this context, seven separate rounds of negotiations have been held between the United States and India, and between the United States and Pakistan, trying to work out an acceptable non-proliferation and security architecture for South Asia. Traditionally the obstacles to nuclear arms control and confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) in South Asia can be traced to: a failure of discourse on reasonable levels of conventional, nuclear, and ballistic missile forces; an inability to evolve a common strategic language incorporating arms control as an integral component of national security policy; and a failure to transform tacit bargaining into an explicit strategic dialogue, thus resulting in an emphasis on global nuclear disarmament at the cost of more modest region-specific restraint measures.

In their negotiations with the United States, both India and Pakistan have engaged in hard-nosed bargaining. It appears that Washington has decided to opt for a strategy of accommodation in a nuclear South Asia, rather than one of appeasement or confrontation as some of its critics have charged. As such, Washington has remained unusually tight-lipped about the status of its dealings with India and Pakistan, to the extent of keeping even its close allies in the dark The U.S. accommodation strategy calls for a recognition that neither India nor Pakistan will give up its nuclear weapon or ballistic missile capabilities in the short- to medium term, hence the practical possibilities are to be sympathetic to their respective security dilemmas, to aim for restraint in the development and deployment of nuclear weapons, to promote strategic dialogue between Pakistan and India as well as between India and China, to demonstrate flexibility in sanctions by waiving restrictions on economic assistance and military-to-military contacts, to provide expertise in implementation of export controls on WMD materials and technologies, and to engage in technical discussions on restraints on nuclear weapons including safety, security, and chain of custody. Apparently, France too is discussing certain types of high technology cooperation with India, such as in the field of inertial confinement fusion (ICF) and advanced laser research for peaceful purposes.

In its negotiations with the United States, India's goals have included, among others:

  • recognition of India's status as a regional and a global power;
  • mitigation of the effects of a United States-China strategic alliance;
  • lifting of technology sanctions;
  • sharing of information and data on sub-critical tests and simulation technology for nuclear weapon safety and reliability;
  • keeping the Kashmir dispute a bilateral matter between itself and Pakistan; and
  • achieving progress at the multilateral level on global nuclear disarmament.

Among Pakistan's goals are: securing essentially the same package as does India from the U.S. in terms of non-proliferation, economic assistance, and technology sharing; U.S. and/or international intervention in resolving the Kashmir dispute; easing the threat of war in the region; and salvaging its crumbling economy.

Since the May tests, India and Pakistan's heads of government, foreign secretaries, and other senior officials have met bilaterally in several fora both within and outside the region. These discussions have been based on an agreed framework to:

    1) address all outstanding issues of concern to both sides, including, inter alia--

  • peace and security, including CSBMs;
  • Jammu and Kashmir;
  • Siachen glacier;
  • Wullar Barrage / Tulbul Navigation Project;
  • Sir Creek demarcation;
  • terrorism and drug trafficking;
  • economic and commercial cooperation;
  • promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.

    2) set up a mechanism, including working groups at appropriate levels, to address all of these issues in an integrated manner.

It was agreed that the issues of peace and security, as well as Jammu and Kashmir, would be dealt with at the level of the foreign secretaries.

At the last round of talks between Foreign Secretaries Shamshad Ahmed (Pakistan) and Krishnan Raghunath (India), held in Islamabad in mid-October, Pakistan proposed a non-aggression pact, with a provision to set up a dispute resolution mechanism, as well as measures to prevent air space violations, prior notification of military exercises, and upgrading of military communication links. India which had already declared a no-first use of nuclear weapons policy asked for reciprocation, advance notice of ballistic missile flight tests, non-targeting of population and economic centers, military-to-military exchanges, and upgrading of communication links between the prime ministers and foreign secretaries. However, disagreements over key issues such as Kashmir and nuclear restraint measures prevented agreement on other CSBMs even where some common ground existed.

In the post-Cold War world, the best chances for controlling proliferation in all its aspects is to attack the problem in all its aspects--that is, to address both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of proliferation, together with the ballistic and cruise missiles and advanced fighter-bomber aircraft. Global norms need to be truly universal in their application and scope if they are to be credible and effective. Such norms must not serve to perpetuate possession of certain types of weapons of mass destruction for a select few while at the same time outlawing them for the rest. Concurrently, regional norms need to address the sources of conflict that generate the demand for weapon systems. At the same time the nuclear weapon states, more appropriately termed as the original proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic and cruise missiles--the United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France and China--who coincidentally are also the largest purveyors of conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use technologies, must exercise serious restraint in arms sales and technology transfers.

The nuclear security dilemma in South Asia remains centered on the fact that nuclear proliferation and nuclear security are interlinked: Pakistan versus India; India versus China; China versus Russia, and Russia versus the United States. Regional security efforts in South Asia, therefore, can be served only by recognizing that both Pakistan and India are at a strategic crossroads. They can opt for the continuing development and deployment of nuclear and missile forces. Or they can reduce the proliferation dangers through CSBMs that strengthen mutual trust and regional security.

At the regional level, India and Pakistan could be encouraged and assisted to consider a variety of bilateral (and multilateral) discussions and agreements to maintain current tacit limited-deployment practices regarding nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, to agree on some measure of sufficiency in terms of weapon-usable fissile material stocks, warheads and weapon systems; to negotiate and implement a package of regional CSBMs; and to actively contribute to the universalization of current global non-proliferation norms.

The United States and the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations should remove all sanctions save those directly related to the transfer of WMD technologies and advanced conventional weapons, thus facilitating a short-term focus on a South Asian nuclear non-proliferation strategy that could involve several inter-related components, which are only briefly described here:

  • India and Pakistan must maintain their respective moratoria on further nuclear testing, and must ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), while those states whose ratification is required for entry-into-force must also ratify the treaty unconditionally in quick order so that it can be brought into force through the mechanism of a political conference scheduled for fall 1999;
  • Non-weaponization or limited-deployment of nuclear-weapon capabilities, including a commitment of non-use of WMD, against the back-drop of the ratification and implementation of START II, and negotiation of START III and follow on strategic arms reduction treaties;
  • Positive contribution to the negotiation of a fissile material treaty (FMT) at the Conference on Disarmament--including a moratorium, at the latest, by the year 2000 on new production of weapon-usable fissile material, provided that the FMT negotiating mandate includes ways of capturing existing stocks of weapon-usable fissile material in all five nuclear weapon states as well as in India, Israel, and Pakistan;
  • Limits on the deployment of ballistic missiles and agreement on prior notification of ballistic missile flight-tests;
  • Activation and upgrading of the "hot line" already set up for periodic communication between senior military leaders, with the United States providing appropriate technological and financial assistance;
  • Establishment of a functional risk-reduction center, with United States expertise, technology and funding--to include technical discussions on averting the consequences of the Y2K problem in India and Pakistan's nuclear and missile infrastructures, and discussions on prevention of dangerous military activities;
  • On-going meetings involving senior military officers and government officials from India and Pakistan to discuss global and regional security issues--including conventional force balance stability, crisis stability and crisis management, no re-transfer or export of nuclear and missile technologies without adequate safeguards, etc., and to discuss the framework for a common strategic language for ensuring regional security at the lowest levels of deployed conventional and unconventional weapons;
  • Convene meetings involving officials from India, Pakistan, and the IAEA to discuss adherence to and compliance with relevant IAEA conventions on physical protection and nuclear safety, and a tri-lateral dialogue on technical cooperation and monitoring of peaceful uses of nuclear energy; and
  • Good governance and community building activities involving the participation of academics, journalists, parliamentarians, and businesspersons from India and Pakistan.

A regionally focused approach to deal with the proliferation dilemma lies in resolving or ameliorating the security concerns that have generated the requirement for the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons in South Asia. At the same time, it is essential that the political currency of nuclear weapons be devalued in the post-Cold War age. As long as the nuclear weapon states and their allies rely for their security on nuclear weapons, it is perceived as illogical by the de facto nuclear weapon states to deny them the same rationale.

In addition to maintaining existing global mechanisms to control proliferation, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the nuclear weapon states must themselves move away from reliance on nuclear weapons for their security, if they expect other countries to do the same and to respect global non-proliferation norms. The new nuclear realpolitik of mission creep in nuclear weapons employment policy in the nuclear weapon states, as well as justifications for nuclear and missile proliferation in South Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere, must be effectively countered and rejected in multilateral fora such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty review process, the Conference on Disarmament, the First Committee, and the NATO strategic concept review. The new nuclear realpolitik cannot be allowed to stand.

For the foreseeable future, a nuclear South Asia is here to stay for better or for worse. Pragmatic arms control strategies must therefore focus on prudent accommodation, not appeasement or confrontation. South Asia is sufficiently different from other regions of conflict that a prudent yet pragmatic accommodation strategy need not set a precedent.

30 December 1998