Discrimination and global nuclear stability
Shireen M. Mazari
To begin with, it is a fallacy that arms control will eventually lead to disarmament. While the former refers to negotiated measures leading to curbs on acquiring new weapons, the latter term refers to a quantitative reduction in total number of existing weapons -that is, the elimination of either specific armaments or as in the notion of General and Complete Disarmament (G&CD). In some ways, in the post-45 period the very notion of global disarmament was undermined with the format of the UN Charter in which a system of collective security was envisaged through the UN’s Military Staff Committee and with the provision for collective defence by groups of states within regional military alliances. All this assumed the prevalence of, at least, a minimum level of arms.
As one comes to understand the politics of arms control and disarmament (AC&D), it becomes only too clear that there has been no effort to make war morally or legally unacceptable. Instead, all efforts in the field of arms control and disarmament have had a dual purpose: First, in the case of the developed states, especially the nuclear weapon states, AC&D has evolved primarily in terms of economic efficiency and cost-effectiveness; second, in the case of developing states, especially potential nuclear proliferators, AC&D has been aimed at control of technology rather than an overall effort to reduce arms levels.
Perhaps the nuclear non-proliferation issue area reflects more starkly than any other the underlying discriminatory approach. This has been the hallmark of developments in the field of nuclear non-proliferation since the Irish Resolution of 1961, which gave formal recognition to the distinction between horizontal and vertical nuclear non-proliferation. Until the passage of this resolution in the General Assembly in 1961, nuclear weapons proliferation in a general sense was taken to refer to the multiplication of nuclear weapons without distinguishing the number of states that possess them; and initial attempts at non-proliferation were based upon this definitional premise. Also, the attempt to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons was accompanied by the recognition that the exploitation of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes could not be prevented, so it needed to be regulated.
This duality of purpose was present in the Baruch Plan put forward by the US at the opening session of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in June 1946, which failed to gain acceptance and was countered by the Gromyko proposals, which also got lost in the East-West confrontation of the Cold War. Then came a shift to the notion of nuclear-weapon-free-zones (NWFZs) with Poland’s Rapacki Plan. But the first fruitful moves in the nuclear non-proliferation issue-area came in 1958 at the 13th General Assembly session.
It was here that the Irish presented a proposal which emphasised the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and attempted to stop the dissemination of nuclear weapons technology. The Irish proposal also separated this issue from the demand for a stop to all nuclear testing. But at the time the US was unwilling to accept the Irish proposal because of the Soviet launching of Sputnik. Instead, the US was encouraging its Western European allies in the development of their nuclear programmes.
It was after the Sino-Soviet split and the creation of the Ten Nation Disarmament Committee (1959), that the Irish Resolution got serious consideration. In December 1961, the UN General Assembly unanimously passed Resolution 1665 (XVI) on the Prevention of the Wider Dissemination of Nuclear Weapons – also known as the Irish Resolution. This Resolution laid down the non-proliferation principle which would eventually guide the creation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):
The General Assembly, … Calls upon all States, and in particular upon the States at present possessing nuclear weapons, to use their best endeavours to secure the conclusion of an international agreement containing provisions under which the nuclear States would undertake to refrain from relinquishing control of nuclear weapons and from transmitting the information necessary or their manufacture to States not possessing such weapons, and provisions under which States not possessing nuclear weapons would undertake not to manufacture or otherwise acquire control of such weapons.
One of the most important features of this Resolution was that it did not make non-proliferation conditional upon nuclear disarmament. Non-proliferation was seen in terms of horizontal non-proliferation embodying the notions of:
- preventing an increase in the number of nuclear weapon states, and
- preventing the dissemination of nuclear weapons and technology by nuclear weapon states to non-nuclear weapon states.
The principle of horizontal non-proliferation gave recognition to the distinction between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Since the separation of the issue of horizontal from vertical proliferation, the debate has centred on the nth country problem from amongst the developing world.
In fact the non-proliferation debate, especially relating to the NPT, saw the developing world constantly drawing attention to the fact that there was something inherently wrong with the developed world’s stance which reflected the view that while it was acceptable for them to have weapons of mass destruction, these weapons were not suitable for the developing world. The notion that deterrence with nuclear weapons was legitimate in some regions and not in others, and that there was an inherent difference in the security of the developed world and security of developing states, undermined and continues to undermine the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime that has evolved around the NPT.
Thus, the initial debate on the whole issue of nuclear non-proliferation was dominated, on the part of the developing world, by the question of equitable treatment for all states, the need to push for non-proliferation per se rather than just horizontal non-proliferation, and on the right of all states to have access to the benefits of civilian nuclear technology and nuclear energy. This last factor became a critical issue in the wake of the oil crisis in the early seventies, for the energy-starved developing states.
However, the signing of the NPT did little to assure safety for a state’s nuclear installations. While the case of Iraq is generally cited by the West, as one where NPT safeguard provisions failed to work, for a number of developing states the case of Iraq highlighted the inadequacy of the NPT in relation to the nuclear installations of developing states that are party to the Treaty. Given the fact that Iraq had already signed and ratified the NPT (Iraq signed the NPT in 1968 and ratified it in 1969) when Israel attacked its nuclear facility in June 1981, and no international sanctions were forthcoming against Israel, the NPT provides little assurance for states that are regarded as having politically “unacceptable” governments by the Developed North.
In fact the inherent discriminatory approach has been a source of constant instability in the nuclear issue area, as the nuclear tests of India and Pakistan showed, followed by the North Korean and Iranian nuclear crises. And throughout there is the big question mark over the Israeli nuclear programme. How has this impacted global nuclear stability? Before answering this question it is critical to understand the two strands in the nuclear issue area – the non-discriminatory versus the discriminatory approach – to assess which is a factor of stability.
Major instrumentalities of the universal, non-discriminatory approach
Parallel to the development of the discriminatory approach to nonproliferation favoured by the US, there has evolved a more universal approach to the whole issue of nuclear arms control and disarmament that is premised on treaties created through consensus building. Central to this approach is a regional focus where states within a particular region move towards establishing a regional nuclear weapon free zone for themselves. But such moves are only successful when they are initiated through a regional consensus. Accompanying this regional approach have been moves within the IAEA to move beyond merely the safeguards element of nuclear power to a more positive approach to nuclear energy development that prevents weapons proliferation but allows states to enjoy the benefits of this source of energy.
The Tlatelolco Treaty created a nuclear-weapon-free-zone for the Latin American region. It has its own monitoring agency -OPANAL – and it has two Protocols attached to it, which are an integral part of the Treaty. These Protocols require nuclear weapon states not to introduce nuclear weapons in the region and not to use nuclear weapons against parties to the Treaty. Since the treaty does not have a static definition of the nuclear weapon state, all states who are seen as nuclear capable – be they overt or covert – have been asked to sign the relevant Protocols. The Treaty also distinguishes between nuclear weapons explosions and peaceful nuclear explosions.
This Treaty has been the model for the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the South Pacific – the Rarotonga Treaty which has become operational after Australian ratification. A similar initiative has now become operational in Southeast Asia – the Bangkok Treaty – and the latest is the Pelindaba Treaty for a NWFZ in Africa.
In June 1980, the IAEA created the Committee on Assurances of Supply (CAS) dealing with the supply of nuclear fuel and associated services. The idea was to allow all IAEA members assured sources of nuclear fuel on an economical and reliable basis. However, this initiative has been neglected by IAEA members.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a follow-up of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) of 1963. Pakistan, like India, has signed and ratified the PTBT, which forbids nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. (In fact India was a signatory to the PTBT when it tested its nuclear device in 1974). The CTBT plugs the gap in the PTBT by banning nuclear explosive testing in all environments (Article I) – including underground (which was the loophole in the PTBT). The CTBT was adopted by the UN GA on September 10, 1996 with 158 states, including Pakistan, voting in favour. Only three states – India, Bhutan and Libya – voted against.
The CTBT has been signed (up to Oct 13 1999) by 155 states, and 51 have so far ratified it. The CTBT does not distinguish or discriminate between Nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. It does not deal with nuclear weapons – only with explosive nuclear testing. It allows cold testing and nuclear simulation for all states able to do so.
The CTBT will enter into force only after ratification by 44 designated states – according Article XIV those states that possess nuclear weapons and nuclear power reactors/research reactors. Pakistan and India are included in this list. Out of these 44 states (listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty), 41 have signed the CTBT – only Pakistan, India and North Korea have not; and of these, 26 have ratified it, including Britain and France. The US Senate has voted against American ratification of the CTBT. The CTBT also provides for withdrawal on 6 months advance notice on basis of “extraordinary event or events which a State Party regards as jeopardizing its supreme interests” (Article IX).
Major instrumentalities of the US-centric approach
The Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963) came about as a result of trilateral negotiations between Britain, the US and the then Soviet Union. It was decried even then as a discriminatory treaty by the growing anti-nuclear movement within the civil societies of the Western states and by countries like China. This was because the PTBT simply tried to make testing more difficult and expensive by banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, outer space and under water – while allowing for tests underground. That this was the intent was made clear by President Kennedy when he explained US support for such a Treaty:
“We have, and under this Treaty we will continue to have, the nuclear strength that we need. On the other hand, unrestricted testing – by which other powers could develop all kinds of weapons through atmospheric tests more cheaply and quickly than they could underground – might well lead to a weakening of our security.”
The Non Proliferation Treaty exemplifies the discriminatory approach to nuclear arms control and disarmament propagated by the US. The Treaty has differing sets of rights and obligations for nuclear weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states. While the latter are forbidden to acquire nuclear weapons technology and weaponry, the former are simply required to pursue “in good faith” negotiations towards reduction and eventual elimination of their nuclear weapons (Article VI) – a non-binding commitment. The Treaty also places compulsorily only those nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards that have an imported component – which basically means the reactors of developing states.
Again, the Treaty has a static definition of a nuclear weapon state – a state that tested a nuclear device “prior to 1 January 1967” (Article IX). This clause makes the Treaty redundant for new overt and covert nuclear weapons states like Pakistan, India and Israel. However, the two articles that do impose a binding obligation on nuclear weapon states have never really been operationalised. These are Articles IV and V which stress the right of all parties to the Treaty to fully exploit nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and the right of all parties to receive the benefits of peaceful nuclear explosions (pnes) at low costs from the nuclear weapon states. Finally, the redundancy of the Treaty was made apparent when a full party to the NPT found its nuclear facility attacked by a non-party (the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor by Israel) and the international community did nothing.
The London Suppliers’ Club
In the wake of the Indian nuclear test of 1974, a nuclear-technology Suppliers’ Conference was held in London where a “trigger list” (also known as the Zangger List) was drawn up of sensitive technologies which the Club members’ agreed not to export – especially to potential threshold nuclear powers. The list was later made more extensive and this suppliers’ agreement not only continues to exist, it set the tone for the MTCR that followed.
The MTCR is a Suppliers’ Club arrangement where exporters of military and dual-use missile technology agree to refrain from this export. So while it does not impinge upon a country’s own missile development it reassures the rest of the world that such a country will not aid in the proliferation of missile development. Already, by 1991, Argentina, China, Israel and South Africa had all declared that they would unilaterally respect the MTCR guidelines. Obviously, the MTCR guidelines were not seen as having an adverse effect on the defence capabilities of any of these states. So what exactly is the MTCR?
It is an effort to coordinate national export restrictions prohibiting transfer of missiles and technology for missiles capable of delivering a 500 kg payload over a range of 300 kms. The regime itself was the result of a process begun quietly in the late 60s, and which continues today. The MTCR itself was originally negotiated by Britain, Canada, France, Germany (what was then West Germany), Italy, Japan and the US in the mid-eighties. It was first made public in 1987.
It is very important to be aware of the fact that it is not a treaty. In fact, it is little more than a list of proscribed technologies and an agreement to cooperate on enforcing this list. The MTCR comprises primarily tacit assumptions implicit within its guidelines along with supporting diplomacy. States who commit to the MTCR agree to forgo trade advantages in order to enforce the proscribed technologies list. There are seven main guidelines and a comprehensive equipment and technology annex, the latter having been enlarged in the 90s.
Critically, the guidelines are not designed to impede national space programmes or international cooperation in such programmes as long as such programmes do not contribute to nuclear weapons delivery systems of potential nuclear weapon states. Also, of course, the MTCR allows trade in smaller weapons. Nevertheless, many of the MTCR-committed states, like Britain and Germany, are involved in the transfer of space technology to countries like India. Here, the dual-use technology aspects are deliberately ignored or fudged over.
What about the FMT/FMCT
Where the FMCT will eventually place itself will depend upon the final form the Treaty takes. Presently there are two main contentious issues:
One – That relating to stockpiles, and, two, the issue of linking an FMCT to include deweaponisation of space.
Also, in terms of nuclear nonproliferation, one can see that while numerous arms control measures exist at the global level, nuclear disarmament is evolving within a regional context – and so far is limited to areas where there are no overt and covert nuclear weapon states.
The Ballistic Missile Defence plan – with its National Missile Defence and Theatre Missile Defence components – directly contravenes the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 as well as undermining Article VI of the NPT. Indirectly, it threatens the stability achieved through notions of deterrence through mutual vulnerability and nuclear arms control regimes – the latter an ongoing process. It is clear, that China would be even less amenable to signing an FMCT. Also, many of the NWFZ treaties may now be contravened given the manner in which the US intends to deploy TMD across especially the Asian continent. BMD also goes counter to the deterrence rational of mutual vulnerability and challenges the traditional wisdom that a nuclear war is not feasible in military terms. So the international nuclear regimes premised on curtailing and cutting back nuclear forces as well as preventing nuclear proliferation may now all be undermined – either directly or indirectly.
With the end of bipolarity and especially post-9/11, the discriminatory approach has become strengthened and with it global nuclear stability has been further undermined. The nondiscriminatory approach has a consensual element to it that allows for stability of the regime’s instrumentalities and leads to a multiplier effect in creating greater stronger rules and procedures relating to nonproliferation and thereby global nuclear security – as exemplified by the Tlatalolco treaty and the expansion of the NWFZ model to other parts of the world.
In contrast the discriminatory approach has an in-built destabilising effect because of insecurities that push states into defying the regime further. This has been the case in connection with our own region of South Asia as well as in North Korea and West Asia (including the Israeli case).
Post 9/11 the whole focus of non-proliferation and arms control was only on the specific programmes of certain states – all Muslim states, barring North Korea – and there was a general linkage between all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that is, nuclear, chemical and biological. As a result of the following developments on the part of the US, post-9/11, which strengthened discrimination, global nuclear instability has increased:
One, the US rationalised the military dimension of its pre-emptive doctrine partly in terms of the WMD logic. And it was not proliferation per se that was now the focus of the US but the WMD programmes of specific “suspect” states.
Two, the US strengthened the linkage between all types of WMD, thereby undermining the uniquely deadly character of nuclear weapons, in its Nuclear Posture Review of 2002, whereby it declared its intent of first use of nuclear weapons against states possessing any type of WMD. At the regional level this example was followed by India in its nuclear doctrine also.
Three, the Indo-US nuclear agreement also known as the 123 Agreement, in which the US effectively acknowledged India’s nuclear status by allowing for technological assistance for its civilian nuclear facilities, which it has to separate from its military facilities.
Four, the signing of civil nuclear agreements by a host of countries with India which completely undermined their NPT obligations and thereby weakened the NPT-based regime’s credibility.
Five, the attempts by the US and now UK to actively seek membership of a non-NPT signatory to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) thereby setting a precedence for undermining the intent of this group’s creation.
Six, to allow sales of sensitive dual use technologies to a non-NPT member as well as seeking to keep Israel’s nuclear programme out of the framework of all nuclear regimes, which is pushing countries like Pakistan into accelerating its nuclear arsenal to sustain its deterrence credibility and to build up its fissile stockpiles; and countries like Iran to move closer to weapons capability. The latter has its own multiplier effect in the region especially in terms of Iran’s neighbouring Arab states of the Gulf region.
Seven, the rising and then waning interest in North Korea’s nuclear antics which could lead to other countries of the region moving closer to acquiring nuclear capability.
At the end of the day, global nuclear stability can only be achieved if certain criteria are met and the manner in which an FMT evolves will be a critical deciding factor.
- One, the states of the region have to desire for stability through a treaty-based commitment to nuclear nonproliferation.
- Two, one cannot have local arms control and nuclear non-proliferation if external arms and weapons are present in the region
- Finally, as the Iranian nuclear issue has shown only too clearly once again, a discriminatory approach is not adopted as that will only undermine global nuclear stability.
On January 4, 2003 in a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, in the context of operationalisation of India’s Nuclear Doctrine, it was stated that it retained the option of first use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack “against India or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons”. Press Release, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, January 4, 2003.