Address by the Permanent Representative of Pakistan on the subject of "Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament : A Policy Framework for South Asia" at the Defence Threat Reduction Agency on 2 June 1999

In today's uncertain world, the spread of weapons of mass destruction is often cited as one of the major threats to US national security.  In fact the primary mission of the newly established Defence Threat Reduction Agency has been defined as, "to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction".  Following the events of May 1998, any discussion on this topic leads us inevitably to the situation in South Asia.

On 11 May 1998, to the surprise of all but its hapless neighbours, India conducted a series of nuclear tests and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. These Indian tests, and the subsequent tests by Pakistan, have led to the nuclearization of South Asia. This paper aims at discussing broadly the the factual aspects of the situation within an analytical framework, and also makes certain recommendations for the future.

To achieve its objectives, the paper briefly attempts to place the US conception of non-proliferation within a broader strategic context, and then tries to highlight one of the most neglected aspects in the debate: the failure of the US intelligence and political judgement in anticipating the Indian nuclear tests.  This is important because any policy recommendation for South Asia has to take into account the lessons of the past.  Such an analysis also highlights the differing motives underlying a state's quest for nuclear weapons.

In terms of the global picture, the initial euphoria generated by the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union has given way to more cautious perceptions of the future.  We confront a world where the harsh but nonetheless well-defined power configurations of the Cold War have been replaced by a global strategic picture that is infinitely more intricate and varied.  Phrases like the "end of history" and the "new world order" which were trumpeted as the organizing concepts for a new epoch seem grossly inadequate and simplistic when confronted with today's complex challenges.

The events of the past year alone demonstrate only too clearly the dizzying complexity of the political and economic picture of our world, poised as it is on the threshold of a new millennium.  Within the brief span of 12 months we have witnessed an unanticipated but potentially global economic crisis triggered by the collapse of East Asian economies, chaos and disorder in South East Asia, political and economic uncertainty in Russia, escalating ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and Africa, missile tests by North Korea and Iran, nuclear tests by India and then by Pakistan, a stalemated Middle East peace process, continuous refugee flows, a devastating hurricane hitting Central America, and a full blown war in Kosovo.  Uncertainty, flux, the varied diffusion of power in the international system, the changing nature of the state and statecraft, the emergence of new trans-national actors - these, in a nut shell, are some of the defining characteristics of a world in tumult.

Against this chaotic backdrop, the United States stands out as the sole military super power.  Its array of information age military capabilities include - "digitized and automated tactical forces, fifth generation fighters, advanced battle management systems, fully net-worked sensor-to-shooter architecture, advanced intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition, precision logistics, etc".  These combined factors give the United States an unchallenged and unprecedented force projection capability around the whole globe.  This colossal "information age" military machine confronts what can be described at best as "industrial age" armies.  This quantum jump in the relative US military prowess is dramatically illustrated in its confrontation with Iraq, where the US after having flown tens of thousands of sorties since 1991, has hardly lost any aircraft.  For a moment, compare this with the Hanoi bombings of about 25 years ago, when the North Vietnamese with their rag-tag air defences managed to bring down scores of American aircraft.

However, in spite of this unparalleled and unchallenged conventional power, and the absence of any strong military rival, nuclear weapons continue to retain their primacy in the US defence policy.  Although devoid of the rigour of Cold War nuclear strategy, American strategists today continue to paint various scenarios for the possible use of nuclear weapons.  The US continues to extend this nuclear umbrella to its numerous allies from Japan to Canada.  As President Bill Clinton has stated, the United States "must and will retain strategic nuclear forces sufficient" to safeguard itself and its allies.  Moreover, the US still deploys tactical nuclear weapons on the soil of numerous allies that are non-nuclear weapon states.  The expansion of NATO in April this year further extended the nuclear umbrella to a few more "privileged" states.  This practice has led to a system offering total security to the powerful and advanced states, and consigning the small and the weak to total insecurity.

A corollary to this policy of extending nuclear protection to its allies is the United States continued concern with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  US nuclear diplomacy centres on efforts to strengthen the status quo and to stabilize the balance of power through non-proliferation and arms control.  Nuclear disarmament, in the sense of bringing about a material change in the nuclear status quo and world security order, has at best been kept on the back burner, and at worst been used synonymously with non-proliferation.  Even arms control efforts appear in practice to be an instrument of strategic policy to get rid of redundant weapon systems while, at the same time, gaining some political capital.  For example, the 1997 Pentagon Annual Report states,  "Arms control can help to preserve and reinforce American military and technological superiority; and deny the potential adversaries weapons or technologies that could blunt or neutralize the capacity of the US to wreak devastating and overwhelming punishment".

The term "proliferation" has been used in the US policy discourse as a catch all phrase.   In the post-Cold War era, particularly, it lumps together a whole spectrum of actors ranging from a lone terrorist and criminal gangs, to several states.  Proliferation is simply perceived as a problem which has to be managed and countered, without any consideration for the factors spurring proliferation.

The South Asian case deserves to be examined more closely.  Nuclear tests by India and then by Pakistan have led to a qualitatively new situation.  The tests have made the application of the traditional non-proliferation agenda redundant for South Asia.  It sets out new challenges and generates the need to search for new policy tools.

Despite its knowledge about India's desire for overt weaponization, Pakistan continued to hope that restraint would be exercised.  However, the BJP's rise to power made it clear that India was set to move on the path to overt weaponization.   In fact, what was most surprising was the United States shock at the Indian tests.  Perhaps the reality of Indian tests did not blend with the "liberal image of a poverty stricken India, the home of Mahatama Gandhi, and a country once in the forefront of global disarmament efforts".

The truth is that as early as the 1960s, India had acquired a Canadian nuclear research reactor and other facilities, either outside, or with inadequate IAEA safeguards.  Utilizing the same facilities, India conducted an underground nuclear test in May 1974 -- an ominous sign which was glossed over by the champions of non-proliferation.

Over the next decade, coupled with the unbridled pursuit of nuclear weapons technology, India also developed nuclear delivery systems, especially ballistic missiles like the Prithvi and the Agni.   India was able to achieve these breakthroughs in its nuclear and missile programmes with the active assistance and cooperation of several industrialized countries.

On the diplomatic front, a major indication of India’s intentions was its rejection of the NPT, and its refusal to accept any of the half dozen or more Pakistani proposals for non-proliferation in South Asia, including the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, simultaneous accession to the NPT by India and Pakistan, the establishment of a Zero Missile Zone in South Asia, etc.

If nothing else, the CTBT negotiations should have been an eye-opener for the international community.  India single-handedly tried to sabotage the CTBT, failing which it refused to sign the Treaty, terming it a “worthless piece of paper”.  We have heard many supporters of India trying to find moral and ethical motivations under-girding India’s defiance, but to us it was clear that the Indian intransigence on CTBT was based on technical and operational considerations. The events of May 1998 only served to confirm these apprehensions.

The BJP’s election manifesto and its ascent to power in 1998, meant that an Indian nuclear test was no longer a matter of years, but only of weeks or months. Unfortunately, there are none so blind as those who will not see. The international community, especially the major powers, continued to be equally indulgent of the BJP’s aggressive designs.  For example, when the BJP swore to conduct nuclear tests, the IAEA’s spokesman said, “ India is not a signatory to the CTBT.… It has always kept the option open.... There is no infringement of its international obligations”.  The CTBTO’s spokesman went a step further in stating, “They are not saying anywhere they are going to test.... They are saying that they are going to produce nuclear weapons....  It is not our business till that happens....  We do not want to isolate India; we want to attract India”.   Frank Weisner, former US Ambassador to India, stated, “Vajpayee just said a fresh look at the nuclear policy; it does not imply that he is rushing to exercise the nuclear option....  New Delhi has shown utmost restraint in the past”.

Pakistan, for its part, tried to put things in their proper perspective for the benefit of the international community, but to no avail.  In April 1998, the Prime Minister of Pakistan  addressed a letter to the leaders of important countries, including President Clinton, warning them of the possibility of an Indian nuclear test.  Like our earlier warnings, this letter was also ignored.

It is important to note here that while each escalatory step on the nuclear and ballistic missile ladder was taken by India, at every stage the Western countries chose to penalize Pakistan.  Following the 1974 Indian nuclear test, for example, the very countries that had aided and contributed to the Indian nuclear programme, terminated all civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.  France which had played an important role in laying the foundations of the Indian nuclear programme, cancelled an agreement for the supply of a nuclear reprocessing plant to Pakistan which was to be under full and comprehensive IAEA safeguards.  Specific legislation was adopted by the US (the infamous Pressler Amendment) targetting Pakistan, while no such parallel legislation was enacted against India.    More ironic was the fact that, just weeks before the 1998 Indian nuclear tests when the Prime Minister of Pakistan was trying to warn the international community about BJP’s nuclear ambitions, the US Administration slapped MTCR Category I sanctions against a Pakistani entity. By debilitating Pakistan's conventional capability, these sanctions made Pakistan more and more dependent on nuclear deterrence.

Inspite of this long history of discrimination against Pakistan, and the passive acquiescence of major powers in Indian nuclear plans, Pakistan deliberated for 17 days after the Indian tests over the question of whether or not to conduct a test of its own.  However, the unfolding of events during those 17 days proved to Pakistan that it alone would have to cater for its own national security.

Following the Indian tests, there was a rapid escalation in provocations and threats emanating from the highest echelons of the Indian leadership.  Prime Minister Vajpayee declared that India had the "big bomb", and that it was prepared to use it in case of an attack or aggression. Many Indian leaders in responsible positions, did not mince their words in proclaiming that India had "weaponized" its demonstrated nuclear capability.

During those fateful 17 days, it was also becoming clear that the BJP-led Indian Government would engage in some form of aggression against Pakistan, in line with its election manifesto which called for conducting hot pursuit operations across the Line of Control in Kashmir.  Nothing illustrated this point better than the statement by Indian Home Minister Advani on 18 May 1998, “Islamabad should realize the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world, and roll back its anti-India policy, especially with regard to Kashmir....  India’s bold and decisive step to become a nuclear weapon state has brought about a qualitative new stage in Indo-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem.....  It signifies India’s resolve to deal firmly and strongly with Pakistan”.

Although Pakistan was facing such enormous and tangible threats to its security, no major power offered any credible security guarantees to us.  On the contrary, we witnessed a  muted international condemnation of India, which almost bordered on a passive approval of Indian actions. Beyond the mandatory penalties enshrined in the US national law, there were no sanctions imposed against India, nor did the Security Council take any resolute action to mitigate Pakistan’s security concerns.

A Pakistani nuclear test had thus become a strategic imperative in order to avoid war, prevent miscalculations, and to restore the balance of power in the region.  Any further delay in this nuclear test was putting Pakistan's security in peril and emboldening India towards adventurism.

In short, Pakistan’s nuclear test was not meant to acquire any great power status or to threaten anyone.  On the contrary, it was meant to deter aggression, to restore the balance of power in South Asia, and to re-establish the deterrence between Pakistan and India.  NATO member countries can perhaps better appreciate the strategic rationale underlying Pakistan’s nuclear tests, as NATO’s strategic concept states: “The fundamental purpose of (the) nuclear forces (of the Allies) is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war”.

The purpose of this is to illustrate the inadequacy of the flawed and discriminatory non-proliferation policy of the past three decades, which, inspite of all the tell-tale signs, was unable to foresee the coming Indian tests, or to analyze the immediate and serious security threat that was inevitably created for Pakistan.

The point to be emphasized here is that, while nuclear proliferation in the Indian case was motivated by considerations of prestige, in the case of Pakistan, proliferation was inextricably wedded to its security concerns.  Given this complex matrix, a paint-by-numbers or one-size-fits-all approach to non-proliferation in South Asia, motivated by narrow bureaucratic and legislative concerns, is bound to be short-sighted at best, and counter-productive at worst.  An important lesson to be learnt from the history of proliferation in South Asia is that discrimination against Pakistan will not work.  Apart from strengthening Pakistan’s resolve, such an approach gives India every reason not to cooperate in non-proliferation efforts.

South Asia is nuclearized today.  Given the tensions over Kashmir, the region has also practically become a nuclear flashpoint. To make any meaningful progress we need to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to set ourselves realistic goals based on objective assumptions. To begin with, the international community, and especially major powers, need to recognize the fact that, following the May 1998 tests, the traditional non-proliferation framework, of which the NPT is the corner-stone, is redundant as far as addressing the question of nuclear proliferation in South Asia is concerned.  Realistically speaking, the immediate challenge is one of management, and not of roll back or prevention.

In dealing with momentous challenges in South Asia, an inter-linked and parallel three-track approach is suggested.  The first track would employ an arms control and threat reduction approach.  The second would focus on ways to make the first track sustainable by addressing the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.  The third track would envisage a focus on global nuclear disarmament as a means to make progress towards the denuclearization of South Asia.  In following this approach, US decision-makers need to realize that Pakistan is a long time and staunch ally of the US.

On the first track, the international community, together with India and Pakistan, needs to address immediate issues crucial to the safe management of relations between two states, with nuclear weapons, with a history of three wars, and with a simmering dispute over Kashmir. In other words, this track could use the Threat Reduction Approach, and should address the following: (a) the question of Pakistan and India’s accession to CTBT; (b) fissile material production; (c) export controls; (d) conventional imbalance; and (e) confidence building measures to ensure strategic restraint between the two countries.

The CTBT would constitute a key barrier against qualitative nuclear escalation in South Asia.  During the 53rd UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Pakistan clearly re-affirmed Pakistan’s support for the CTBT.  At the same time, he stated that Pakistan’s adherence to the Treaty would take place only in conditions free from coercion or pressure.  Since that statement at the 53rd UNGA, some progress has been achieved in the Pakistan-US dialogue on non-proliferation.  Similarly, there were some positive indications initially about India’s stance on the CTBT.  The two states joining the CTBT, will in effect formalize the moratorium on nuclear testing announced by the two states separately, and re-affirmed during the meeting between the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India in Lahore last month.   One hopes that the current political instability in India does not become an excuse for delaying a positive decision on the CTBT.

Pakistan has joined the negotiations for a multi-laterally negotiated, non-discriminatory and verifiable Fissile Materials Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.  As in the case of Pakistan’s participation in negotiations for multi-lateral treaties, like the CWC and the CTBT,  we have joined the negotiations for a Fissile Materials Treaty with an open mind, and hope to contribute positively to the negotiations for this important Treaty.  However, Pakistan cannot accept the demands from certain quarters to declare a moratorium on the production of fissile materials even before the conclusion of a Fissile Materials Treaty.  We certainly cannot assume any international legal obligations before such a legal instrument enters into force.  It is also pertinent to mention here that Pakistan may be forced to reassess its requirements of fissile material if India goes ahead with its planned acquisition of S-300 Theatre Missile Defence Systems from Russia and its collaboration with others for the development of an ABM capability.

In terms of controls on the export of sensitive technology, Pakistan has an impeccable record, and has always acted with a great sense of responsibility.  Pakistan is in the process of formalizing its existing policy of not exporting sensitive technology and know-how, through appropriate legislative and administrative steps.  The US can help both Pakistan and India in formalizing strict export control policies.

One of the important issues on the first track would be to discuss the conventional aspects of the strategic equation between India and Pakistan.  The international community needs to address the serious imbalance in conventional arms between the two countries.  It is alarming to note that the imbalance created by the unjust official and unofficial embargoes against Pakistan, and the simultaneous Indian procurement from various sources (including from some champions of non-proliferation), is further tilting the balance in India’s favour.  Although India officially portrays China as the primary threat to its security, the fact that 75% of its conventional assets and especially its strike formations are deployed on Pakistan's borders belies this claim

There is an inverse relationship between Pakistan's conventional capability and nuclear deterrence.  Weaker conventional defences would mean greater reliance on nuclear deterrence.  As the Indian conventional superiority becomes definitive, Pakistan's reliance on nuclear weapons would increase proportionally.  Given Pakistan's lack of "strategic depth", any threat of India launching a decisive and lightning strike due to its overwhelming preponderance in conventional weapons, can only force Pakistan to adopt a more pro-active nuclear posture.  The strategic logic inherent in such a situation is somewhat reminiscent of NATO's dilemma vis-a-vis the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.

Pakistan's weakness is most glaring in terms of air power.   In the absence of sufficient frontline aircraft (the Pakistan Air Force is less than one fourth the size of the Indian Air Force in terms of sophistication and numbers), it will become an operational necessity to deploy more ballistic missiles in conventional mode.

This situation carries within it the seeds of instability, and the possibility of a conflict that could spiral out of control.  The issue of conventional imbalance, therefore, needs to be squarely addressed in any discussions on nuclear stability in South Asia.

Pakistan and India share an enormous responsibility as states with demonstrated nuclear weapons capabilities.   They need to actively take steps to create a stable and predictable nuclear equation amongst themselves.

Such an undertaking has various facets, ranging from evolving a common strategic vocabulary, to preventing the possibility of an accidental launch or serious mis-communication.  Good progress on this issue had been achieved during the Lahore Summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, where a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries had been signed, under which the two sides would discuss the necessary steps to prevent accidental launch.  This would also involve discussion between experts on verifying their respective doctrines and concepts.  The two sides had also agreed to notify each other in advance of any ballistic missile test.  This is where the US can help the two countries most from its rich experience in CBMs and threat reduction.  The US might actively consider sharing the hardware component of nuclear command control including giving both countries access to Permissive Action Link Technology. The US could also help the two countries in making their strategic systems safe from the Y2K problem.

Steps could also be worked out to arrange the peace-time deployment of strike forces in a manner which is less threatening.   It is also important to ensure that any large assembly of conventional forces for military exercises does not create a crisis situation.  These steps in the long run could form part of a broader effort toward a Mutual Conventional Force Reduction Agreement between the two states on the pattern of the CFE Treaty.

We now come to the second track dealing with the core issue of Kashmir.   The earlier steps for cooperative threat reduction, would hopefully lay the foundations for a strategic restraint regime between Pakistan and India.  However, these steps, and a possible restraint regime, would not be sustainable without any concrete progress on the second track dealing with the vital question of Kashmir.  Even a cursory glance at the history of conflict-ridden Pakistan-India relations, illustrates clearly that the Kashmir dispute is at the root of tensions between the two countries.   The brutal suppression of the Kashmiri uprising by a 600,000 strong Indian military force carries the ingredients for a dangerous spiral of escalation between Pakistan and India.  The resolution of this dispute becomes even more important in the wake of the nuclear tests conducted by the two states in May last year, and the current serious escalation of tension with the use of air power by India on the Line of Control.

Given the dramatic change in the South Asian strategic landscape, the time has come for the international community to resolutely engage itself in finding a solution to this 50-year old dispute.  Pakistan is firmly committed to make sincere endeavours in the resumed bilateral dialogue with India to work towards the settlement of the Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people, as promised to them by repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions.  Meaningful progress on Kashmir cannot be achieved without the resolute and consistent engagement of the international community.

Significant progress on these two tracks will stabilize the strategic situation in South Asia, diminish any possibility of escalation of hostilities between Pakistan and India, and act as a prelude to meaningful and substantive progress towards arms control between the two sides. However, the long term goal of de-nuclearization of South Asia can only be achieved with progress on the third track, or global nuclear disarmament.  Frankly speaking, the long list of prescriptions and moral sermons addressed to South Asia smack of double standards in the face of almost negligible advances in the field of global nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately, some nuclear weapon states have misinterpreted the indefinite extension of the NPT to signify an endorsement of their right to retain nuclear weapons indefinitely. Global peace and security is more than threatened by the thousands of nuclear weapons in the inventory of nuclear weapon states.   Even more dangerous is the fact that some nuclear weapon states have adopted nuclear war fighting doctrines which even envisage the use of nuclear weapons against conventional threats. This murky picture could become even more dangerous if confrontation resumes amongst nuclear powers in a multi-polar world.

The irony inherent in this policy of double standards is best explained by the fact that the nuclear weapon states “together possessed by published estimates about 39,000 weapons when that Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968;  three decades later, these countries reportedly possess about 36,000 of such weapons in various stages of read iness; at this rate of reduction - 3,000 weapons in 30 years - these countries will reach zero sometimes in the middle of Twenty Fourth Century, just a few years short of the UN’s 500th Anniversary". Is it not ironic to note that there is an international legal instrument to ban nuclear tests (CTBT), but no legal instrument to prevent a state from testing a nuclear weapon by dropping it on another country.
The present global strategic situation, characterized as it is by a lack of overt confrontation between the original nuclear weapon states, perhaps provides an ideal opportunity to make meaningful progress towards nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, this opportunity seems to be slipping away as there is no tangible progress in reducing nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapon states seem to be concentrating on refining and modernizing their existing nuclear weapons. Even more dangerous are the prospects of an arms race in outer space.

The challenges of non-proliferation in South Asia are enormous, but so are the stakes involved. The nuclear tests of May 1998 have dramatically highlighted the conflictual Indo-Pakistan environment, and the concomitant threat of nuclear exchange. Let us look at these challenges as a window of opportunity to develop a new conceptual framework which could be the basis for a realistic and even-handed policy process aimed at finding a solution to the problems bedeviling peace and security in South Asia..

For further information please contact:
Pakistan Mission, 8 East 65th Street, New York NY 10021.
Tel: (212) 879.8600 or E-Mail: [email protected]