10th Asian Security Conference

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  • Rapporteur Report on Session III: The Emerging Challenges to the Nuclear Order in Asia

    February 5, 2008
    Prepared by Reshmi Kazi & S. Samuel C. Rajiv

    Rajesh Rajagopalan: The Future of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime

    Non-proliferationalists generally believe that the NPT regime is in constant crisis. One important factor that poses a significant threat to the NPT regime is ‘cheating’ by a select few countries that slowly erodes the foundations of the regime. Another factor that threatens the NPT regime is the hegemonic power and the other great powers – whose interests are reflected in regime formation, sustenance and decline – may for different reasons conclude that the regime no longer serves their interests. The loss of faith of the great powers in the NPT regime has jeopardised the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

    For Liberal theorists, ‘cheating’ represents a major threat since they view it as obliterating the fundamental purpose of a regime, namely, ensuring some amount of predictability to international behaviour. To that extent, the NPT regime despite its stated obligations have expanded by a handful of countries and only one NPT-member state North Korea has defected from the regime. Several NPT-member states like Iraq, Iran and South Korea have attempted to acquire nuclear weapons technology, but none have been able to overcome the prohibitions of the regime. Further, the indefinite extension of the NPT regime in 1995 resulted in the further strengthening of the non-proliferation regime. Paradoxically, the NPT regime has emerged stronger as a consequence of ‘cheating’ or spread of nuclear weapons technology. Every instance of violation of the regime has been used as a justification for further strengthening the regime. The 1974 Indian nuclear test though not being a case of ‘cheating’ since India was not a member of the NPT, led to the emergence of the Nuclear Suppliers Group with the mandate to prevent other non-nuclear powers from following the Indian path. Iraq’s violations of its NPT obligations led in the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991 to the formulation of an Additional Protocol to the IAEA safeguards system. The North Korean case has made Washington seriously consider the issue of the right of withdrawal from the NPT. This again is an indication of tightening control in case of defection from the regime.

    The fate of the NPT regime is intricately linked with US interest. However, American support for the NPT regime has somewhat dwindled under the current Bush administration. It failed to prevent North Korea from going nuclear. This ambivalence does not mean that the US has adopted the Waltzian approach of ‘more may be better’. However, there is a degree of scepticism in the Bush administration about the efficacy of the present NPT regime to meet the emerging challenges. This scepticism is evident in the lackadaisical approach towards the NPT regime, interest in forming new voluntary international mechanisms like the PSI and the US-India nuclear deal. The attitude towards Article VI of the NPT was at best dismissive. The NPT regime thus faces one of the most serious challenges in the form of US doubts about the utility of the regime.

    The emergence of a multipolar order also constitutes another source of danger to the NPT regime. Creating a consensus among powers on matters of non-proliferation would be difficult in such an order. The decline of American power might lead American allies to seek their own deterrent. Many of these countries have nuclear weapons technology and can develop their deterrent capability.

    What does all this mean for the NPT regime? There are both positive and negative fallouts of the prevailing dynamic. There is a rethink in Washington that the next US administration will not adopt as radical a position on arms control as the present one. Negatively, North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programme can threaten the NPT regime by triggering nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia and the Middle East respectively. These dynamics, coupled with decreasing US power, could signal the slow demise of the NPT regime.

    T.V. Paul: Nuclear Weapons and Asian Security in the 21st Century

    The emerging regional security order in Asia shows that there are three dyads with the most potential for a nuclear arms race: US-China, India-China and India-Pakistan. A limited nuclear arms race among US, China, India and Pakistan is underway and may accelerate with the advance of the century. In addition, the North Korean nuclear programme and consistent efforts by Iran to acquire nuclear capability has further propelled significant interest among states in Northeast Asia and Middle East to acquire their own capabilities. This will in turn result in the emergence of additional nuclear states or opaque nuclear weapon states in the larger Asian continent.

    The threat of the potential of transnational terrorism going nuclear and the implications of such a possibility will be tremendous for the regional order. It is fairly well-documented that al Qaeda has sought to acquire nuclear arms and had some rudimentary success in obtaining materials for crude dirty bombs. Although their efforts have been constrained with the US attacking their hideouts, these groups are continuing their efforts in the volatile region of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

    Under the above stated dynamics, deterrence will become more complex in Asia both at the theoretical and operational levels. Although deterrence is likely to be the cornerstone of state policies, and it will be robust at the strategic level, at the sub-strategic and non-state levels, deterrence could be challenged. Deterrence among leading actors will be general deterrence as immediate deterrence will be less pronounced unless crisis erupts on a regular basis.

    On the positive side, the possession of nuclear weapons by rising powers may help peaceful power transitions in the international system. China and India will use their nuclear capability as a means to enable their peaceful rise. Nuclear capability will also enable rising powers to engage in economic interactions and benefit from economic globalisation.

    Selig Harrison: North Korea and the Future of East Asian Nuclear Stability

    In 1989, the US discovered that North Korea was secretly attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, reportedly gave centrifuges to North Korea for uranium enrichment. However, neither Kim Jong II nor Pervez Musharraf is ready to accept this. Unless the truth can be established, the ongoing denuclearisation deliberations with North Korea are likely to collapse.

    A.Q. Khan has been kept away from IAEA interrogators since his arrest three years ago for running a global nuclear black market. President Musharraf wrote in his memoir that Khan provided "nearly two dozen" prototype centrifuges suitable for uranium enrichment experiments to Pyongyang -- a charge emphatically denied by North Korea. "Why don't you invite A.Q. Khan to join the negotiations?" North Korea's U.N. representative, Kim Myong Gil, asked Anderson over lunch recently. He further asked: "Where is the invoice? Give us the evidence." John Bolton and other opponents of the February 2007 denuclearisation agreement reached with North Korea are trying to undermine it by reviving the CIA's 2002 assertion that Kim is operating a secret weapons-grade uranium-enrichment plant. Bolton argues that unless North Korea provides information about the plant's location and dismantles it, the denuclearisation accord should be cancelled.

    As regards why Musharraf is determined to keep Khan shielded, the official answer lies in the fact that Pakistan's sovereignty would be affected by allowing U.S. intelligence agents cross-examine him. Khan is regarded as a national hero, and the United States is widely hated in Pakistan for invading Iraq and Afghanistan and for its insensitivity to civilian casualties. If Musharraf wanted to co-operate, however, he could permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to interrogate Khan, as Benazir Bhutto had suggested, or Musharraf could find out what Khan knows and give the United States the information it needs to confront the North Koreans. Many Pakistanis say Musharraf is stonewalling because he and some of his army generals collaborated with Khan and fear exposure. Another possible explanation is that documentary evidence does not exist. Still another is that Musharraf changed his position on the centrifuges and invented the "facts" in his memoir to curry favour with the Bush administration; by strengthening its case against North Korea. He thus hoped to offset dissatisfaction in Washington with his ineffectual performance in combating al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This explanation cannot be dismissed, since in a February 2004 New York Times interview Musharraf "emphatically denied" U.S. reports of Pakistani nuclear technology transfers to Pyongyang. Whatever the explanation, the United States should put the Khan issue at the top of its agenda in Islamabad. At the very least, the IAEA should be able to question him about what he gave not only to North Korea but also to Iran and Syria.

    If Musharraf's allegation can be substantiated, North Korea would have to co-operate in establishing the facts in order for the denuclearisation process to be completed. The successful implementation of the six-party North Korean denuclearisation agreement is crucial for a stable nuclear order in East Asia. Conversely, a stalemate would result and Japan could accelerate its sophisticated civilian nuclear capabilities to the development of nuclear weapons. This in turn would rekindle South Korean nuclear aspirations which in the long run could be integrated with North Korea when and if Korea is confederated or reunified.

    Shireen M. Mazari: The Threat of Nuclear Proliferation Amongst Non-State Actors in Asia

    Pointing out that the assumption that non-state actors would want to acquire nuclear weapons is highly contentious, Mazari noted that terrorists already have access to enough destructive capability in the conventional realm. She saw the ‘cacophony’ about non-state actors seeking nuclear weapons as a “strategy of victimising particular states, seen as untrustworthy in terms of loyalty to the US and its interests.” Mazari instead focused on the threats that nuclear installations faced from non-state actors, and detailed the major instances of nuclear safety, missing fissile material, and illicit trafficking of nuclear material in the case of China, Japan, India and the United States.

    Dr. Mazari noted that Japan can be extremely vulnerable in the context of nuclear terror due to its expanding civil nuclear base and cited the example of the Aum Shinrikyo chemical weapons attacks in 1994 and 1995. Examining the Indian context, Mazari pointed out its Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery System (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act 2005 was enacted after the adoption of UNSCR 1540 and in the backdrop of the NPT Review Conference 2005. In contrast, Pakistan’s Export Control Act was enacted in September 2004. She affirmed that Islamabad has been ‘open’ about its command and control structures, citing the periodic briefings to local and foreign media as well as diplomats. At the same time, she charged the United States with lax control over its nuclear assets in the light of the incident of a B-52 bomber flying across the Untied States carrying six nuclear-armed cruise missiles on August 29, 2007.

    Dr. Mazari concluded by calling for the inclusion of India and Pakistan in the NPT by amending it, argued against country-specific accommodations in the IAEA safeguards provisions as well as in the NSG guidelines and instead called for a ‘principle based- approach’, the need to focus on the wider context of arms control, the need to provide cheaper and easier access to civil nuclear technology, among other recommendations. Mazari attested that acquiring nuclear technology was increasingly becoming a matter of political will rather than technological capability.

    Michael D. Yaffe: Strategic Implications of a Nuclear-Armed Iran for the Middle East and South Asia

    Yaffe examined the strategic implications of a nuclear-armed Iran for the Middle East and South Asia in the light of continuing concerns being expressed by the UN Security Council, the IAEA, and the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Noting the difficulties involved in making an assessment about the likely impact of Iranian nuclear weapons due to the complex relationships that Iran has with its immediate neighbours, Yaffe however advanced five likely strategic consequences for the neighbourhood, the broader region, and the non-proliferation regime. These included, firstly, greater likelihood of chances of nuclear war rather than creation of a deterrent security system, due to the adversarial relationship that Iran has with the Arab Gulf states; internationalisation of Gulf security due to the location of the world’s largest proven oil and gas reserves; higher oil prices and global economic shock due to the tremendous uncertainty in the oil markets, with attendant negative effects for oil-importing economies of the world, including in South Asia; an extended period of regional strategic adjustment – by the US, by Iran’s neighbours and by countries in Central Asia and South Asia; and finally, a further weakening of the non-proliferation regime.

    Yaffe concluded by pointing out two possible policy options for the international community – either to step up efforts to stem the Iranian enrichment programme or take steps to create a stable security environment in preparation for the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran. He noted that neither of these paths is mutually exclusive.

    Chairperson: Ambassador Arundhati Ghose

    • The non-proliferation regime is weakening. If we use coercion of any kind in an unequal regime, it will automatically become weak.
    • Indo-US nuclear deal will strengthen the regime.
    • The point about nuclear dyads in Asia brought out by Dr. T.V. Paul is interesting but there is another dyad that needs to be focused upon – the China-Pakistan dyad.
    • Though this is not a conflictual dyad, it does affect the contours of the other two dyads.

    Q & A

    • NPT is not based on any moral or ethical principles. ‘Cheating’ on the NPT does not carry the same connotations as is found in the everyday sense.
    • NPT regime is a ‘nuclear hegemony’ regime created by the hegemonic powers to perpetuate their power. Using the nomenclature of the nuclear non-proliferation regime is misleading. It is actually a ‘nuclear hegemonic regime’.
    • Regimes are only created by strong states. Regimes like the New International Economic Order (NIEO) or the disarmament regime did not succeed because they were not backed by the powers that count in the international system.
    • Need to worry about the possibility of future nuclear states. States like Malaysia and Egypt are making efforts to secure nuclear technology. Japanese Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had called for a nuclear debate in the country. This was very significant in a country which abhors nuclear weapons.
    • There is a lot of scepticism in the Bush administration regarding the efficacy of the current nuclear regime to deal effectively with the challenges of the future.
    • There seems to be a realist argument which is getting strengthened for nuclear disarmament, apart from the moral or other attendant reasons.
    • The possibility of terrorists attempting to acquire nuclear weapons is a real possibility.
    • There are problems with the regime but the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. Need to look at the longer term and hope that things change by the time of the next review conference in 2010.
    • Do we really need to look at an equitable nuclear order? International relations are not that equal. India has a stake in the system and should make the best use of the existing one instead of making it easier for countries like Sri Lanka or Nepal to become nuclear weapon powers.