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Punching above its Weight: Pakistan and the FMCT

Yogesh Joshi is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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  • February 11, 2011

    Pakistan is the main outlier in negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament over a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Its ceaseless quest for parity with India are not likely to meet with success. Meanwhile, nuclear stocks within Pakistan pose a danger to Pakistan itself.

    The Conference on Disarmament - the principle organisation of the United Nations on arms control and disarmament- met again in January this year and once again failed to make any headway in negotiations over a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). The treaty is meant to stop all future production of weapon usable fissile material (therefore the word cut-off) and hence is considered pivotal for global nuclear disarmament. Pakistan has emerged as the most formidable nemesis of the treaty in recent times.

    Since June 2009, when the CD unanimously agreed to pursue the FMCT after 16 years of dilly-dallying, Pakistan has consistently blocked all resolutions on the treaty. On FMCT, the buck seems to stop with Pakistan. The question is simple- when the whole world is ready to stop production of fissile material, why is Pakistan holding out?

    The answer to this question comes mainly in two versions. First is the Pakistani version. Pakistan asserts merely a cut-off treaty will not suffice to ensure complete disarmament. The verified elimination of fissile material stocks is a sine qua non for the treaty to have any meaning. However, Pakistan believes that a cut-off treaty will be detrimental for Pakistan’s security. And this is simply because India - Pakistan’s arch rival- has significant amounts of fissile material stocks that can be readily converted to nuclear weapons, giving it superior nuclear capabilities and possibly a first-strike advantage. Therefore, fissile material stocks may prove to be a game changer in tilting the strategic balance in India’s favour.

    Adding fuel to the fire, is the Indo-US nuclear deal, which, laments Pakistan, allows India to double its fissile material production. A number of auxiliary concerns such as ballistic missile defences and India’s increasing conventional capabilities are also cited but these are of marginal importance. The core issue that remains relates to stocks and the statements made by Pakistan at the CD in the last couple of years bear out these concerns.

    The Indian view is the polar opposite. For India, Pakistan’s obstruction of the CD is nothing more than a ploy motivated by vanity and self-delusion. India’s rise and especially its acceptance as a full fledged member of the international nuclear community, thanks to the Indo-US nuclear deal, has infuriated Pakistan. Pakistan hankers for similar recognition which because of its rather dubious credibility – a legacy of both the A.Q Khan network and the ubiquitous terrorist organisations which rule the roost in the country- is going to be difficult to come by.

    Moreover, Pakistan’s obstruction of the FMCT is hardly motivated by a concern for global nuclear disarmament. Pakistan is, on the contrary, interested in continuing production of fissile material for its weapons capabilities. This is because nuclear weapons are the only assets which give recognition and leverage to the Pakistani state, which includes both the military as well as the civilian government. It would otherwise have been at the top of the list of failed states. The increasing nuclear inventory of Pakistan - it is believed to have one of the world’s largest nuclear weapons capabilities - is testimony to this .

    Any common sense observation of global opinion would suggest that the scales are tilted in India’s favour. This is clearly reflected in the statements of other members of the CD especially the US. There appears to be a lot of frustration around the CD as expressed by Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, who was ‘puzzled by’ and ‘impatient of’ the blockade of the resolution on FMCT. She cautioned the world community that the treaty may ‘wither with the vine’ if something was not done soon enough. EU, Russia and other major powers have also expressed their displeasure. There are also indications that a ‘coalition of the willing’ could actually negotiate the treaty outside the CD, as was the case with the Ottawa landmine treaty, if the conditions within the CD do not change. Pakistan is the main target of such moves.

    However, if the ultimate goal is global nuclear disarmament, there is hardly any doubt that the issue of fissile material stocks will need to be addressed. The failure to do so by the FMCT will constitute an act of ‘nuclear apartheid.’ It is interesting to note that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram used the same words to express his concerns vis-à-vis the FMCT which India’s ambassador to the 18 party Disarmament Conference used for opposing the NPT in 1968. In which case it is quite clear that opposition to the inclusion of stocks, to use the words of the proverbial realist E. H. Carr, constitute a ‘harmony of interests’ among the members of the international nuclear regime. Clearly the interests of other leading nations, which effectively constitute the global nuclear regime, do not intersect with that of Pakistan and Pakistan much like North Korea - and to its ultimate dismay - is an outsider. Pakistan would have had no problem if India had been clubbed with it. Hence, as in all other things relating to India, FMCT poses a problem of identity for Pakistan.

    Currently there appears to be no respite on the horizon for Pakistan. There is hardly any chance that Pakistan’s ego will be satisfied by the world community - though concessions were made for India. Pakistan would agree to be more cooperative if a deal similar to the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement comes through for it. However, the prospects for this are dim since the US has already faced a lot of flak over the granting of nuclear concessions to India. Further accommodation with a non-NPT member can seriously lead to more non-nuclear powers falling to the enticement of nuclear weapons.

    It is important for Pakistani statesmen to understand that India is now in a different league altogether. Pakistan can hardly match India’s influence and role in global politics. It needs to carve out a distinct sphere for itself, de-hyphenated from its Indo-centric world view. The trends however point in a different direction. The blockade of the FMCT in hindsight appears to be a clear manifestation of the frustration that breeds within Pakistan vis-à-vis India’s increasing global clout. This was also evident when in December 2010, Pakistan stood alone in opposing the nuclear fuel bank proposal of the Nuclear Threat Initiative in the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s board of governors meeting. Pakistan’s attitude towards global nuclear order is becoming increasingly confrontational.

    By increasing its nuclear weapons capabilities Pakistan is not only creating a hazard for the entire world but fundamentally for itself. Enhanced nuclear capabilities ratchet up the possibilities of the theft of nuclear material and hence require more robust safety and security apparatus. The current situation in Pakistan and especially the killing of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, does not bode well in this regard.