Letter from Pakistan: How an unfair non-proliferation regime undermines nuclear security

By Zahir Kazmi | August 30, 2012

In a September 1967 speech, V.C. Trivedi, the Indian Ambassador to an early UN arms control effort known as the Eighteen Nations Committee on Disarmament, said that developing countries could tolerate nuclear weapons apartheid, but not an atomic apartheid that prevented them from attaining the economic progress that civilian nuclear power can bring. Regrettably, today’s global nonproliferation architecture is being applied with such selectivity that it can truly be called the neo-nuclear apartheid.  That architecture not only works against the peaceful use of nuclear energy in developing countries, it also undermines global nuclear security.

The Nuclear Security Summit process — which in recent years has been a focus of US nuclear proliferation policy — professes to tackle robust concerns. The Seoul summit held earlier this year, for example, addressed not just nuclear security, but nuclear safety, the integrity of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

But the positive elements of the Nuclear Security Summit initiative pale in comparison with the selective application of the nonproliferation regime to states that seek to create a nuclear power industry. The inequity of the nonproliferation regime is illustrated by its disparate treatment of developing countries.

India rejected the NPT and tested nuclear weapons — but still managed to be treated well under the nonproliferation regime, with the Nuclear Suppliers Group granting it a waiver to trade in nuclear materials in 2008. Because it is a signatory of the NPT, Iran has limited access to peaceful nuclear technology through Russia, even though Tehran stands accused of covertly attempting to develop nuclear weapons. And North Korea — a nuclear-armed state that withdrew from the NPT and threatens its neighbors — has been offered help with civilian power reactors during negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Pakistan — which has gone to great lengths to support the global nuclear nonproliferation regime — has been denied membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a decision that greatly hampers Islamabad’s efforts to develop a commercial nuclear energy program.

Though the NPT is considered the pivot point of the nonproliferation system, the nuclear states outside the treaty are major players in the international security system, and they affect the world’s nuclear balance. It will be difficult for the Nuclear Security Summit process and other similar initiatives to gain global acceptance until the nuclear nonproliferation regime is applied with at least a semblance of fairness.

If the overall nonproliferation system is to become equitable and therefore effective, it must allow the non-NPT nuclear weapon states to participate in nuclear export-control cartels, so long as they contribute to controlling the proliferation of nuclear materials. Such a policy change would, as a byproduct, create transparency in the nuclear programs of non-NPT states and thereby enhance overall strategic stability.

The Pakistan example. Few outside of South Asia are familiar with the tribulations Pakistan has faced as it has attempted to support international nuclear security and grow a nuclear power industry.

Despite media and political claims to the contrary, Pakistan has supported the Nuclear Security Summit initiative and encouraged international cooperation and voluntary actions to ensure nuclear security. Furthermore, Pakistan observes nonproliferation norms in their letter and spirit. Islamabad’s nuclear security and safety structure rests on four pillars: a robust command and control system under the National Command Authority, a thorough safety and security regulatory regime, a comprehensive system of export control management, and an extensive program of international cooperation.

Since the 2010 summit in Washington, Islamabad has taken eight steps to buttress the Nuclear Security Summit initiative:

  • To prevent non-state actors from gaining access to nuclear materials, Islamabad vigorously enforces UN Security Council Resolution 1540 on WMD proliferation.
  • The Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences offers a specialization in nuclear security, while the School of Nuclear Radiation Safety conducts courses in nuclear safety. During the 2010 summit, Pakistan, among other countries, announced that it would host a “center of excellence” — that is, a collaborative hub where innovative approaches will be developed to strengthen the nuclear security process. In April 2012, Islamabad announced that it has opened a Strategic Plans Division Training Academy, and at the Seoul Summit in March, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani offered nuclear security training to the international community.
  • To prevent nuclear terrorism, Pakistan constructively participates in Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism-related events and has helped develop guidelines on nuclear-detection architecture.
  • In a significant development, Pakistan has announced it will add 8,000 highly skilled officials to its team of security professionals, including the creation of a special response force. The first batch of security personnel graduated from the Strategic Plans Division Training Academy in April 2012. This special response force, which supplements an existing SPD security force, has been termed a “qualitative milestone in … rapid response capability” for safeguarding Pakistan’s strategic assets.
  • Islamabad and the IAEA conduct joint seminars and workshops on nuclear security.
  • Pakistan supports the spirit of the Proliferation Security Initiative by participating in its exercises as an observer. The United States launched this initiative in 2003 as an effort to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern.
  • Through its Exports Control Act, Pakistan continues to strengthen UNSC Resolution 1540 via measures that include a recent revision of its national control list to support the global efforts to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  • To augment its export controls, Pakistan is deploying special nuclear material portals at key border points to deter and detect illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.

Despite this exemplary record, Pakistan’s nuclear power industry has faced severe challenges in dealing with the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which, because of Pakistan’s limited cooperation with China in nuclear matters, would not grant membership in the cartel. (In this realm, Pakistan started cooperating with China in 1986, before China participated in the NSG.) A refusal to let Pakistan participate in the export control cartels, and especially the NSG, would seriously limit the country’s efforts to meet its growing energy needs through nuclear energy.

According to Pakistan’s Energy Security Plan of 2050, its needs to build nuclear power plants that will produce 8,800 megawatts of electricity within the next two decades. Participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group is essential if Pakistan is to be able to acquire the equipment and expertise needed to build the nuclear plants that will fill this power gap.

India — which, like Pakistan, has not signed the NPT — was given an exemption by the NSG, and it has been able to advance its civilian nuclear power industry, relieving pressure on its challenged electric utility system and cementing strategic and economic partnerships with other countries. This differential treatment of India and Pakistan under the international nonproliferation regime is simply unfair.

Equity means security. The legacy of the Seoul Summit is a determination among state participants that their commitments toward nuclear security will remain “voluntary” until the states find the world nonproliferation regime equitable. The glaring inequities of the nonproliferation regime keep countries like Pakistan from meeting their energy needs and, thereby, harm their overall development. The unfairness of the nonproliferation regime is also keeping the world community from coming together around a common set of verifiable nuclear security standards. The sooner the nuclear nonproliferation regime ends its neo-nuclear apartheid policies and puts all countries on an equal footing, the more stabilizing the nonproliferation regime will become, and the safer the world will be.

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