By Rajiv Nayan,
Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses
The Conference on Disarmament is an organ of United Nations (UN) for negotiations on disarmament and related issues. The UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) is the centre for pre-negotiation activities on disarmament. The FMCT is a core issue in CD negotiations. Other issues are nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances and prevention of an arms race in outer space. All 65 members have to agree before, negotiations can commence on any issue. No decision can be possible without a consensus.
Over and above other reasons articulated in previous years, Pakistan had an additional excuse this time. On earlier occasions, Pakistan had stated that the 2008 India-specific exemptions given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had adversely affected the strategic balance in its neighbourhood. Though it did not mention India this year, yet the language and its earlier explicit references to India leave no doubt about what it wants to convey. Referring to South Asia’s strategic environment and to a non- NPT member, Pakistan said: “…it cannot agree to negotiations on a FMCT in the CD owing to the discriminatory waiver provided by the NSG to our neighbour for nuclear cooperation by several major powers, as this arrangement will further accentuate the asymmetry in fissile materials stockpiles in the region, to the detriment of Pakistan’s security interests.”
This time, Pakistan’s objection was that India’s membership of the four multilateral export control regimes, with the support of the U.S. and other countries, would destabilise the region. In November 2010, the U.S. supported India’s candidature for membership of the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. Later, France also endorsed the U.S. move. It was followed by the Russian support for the membership of those régimes of which Russia is a member – Russia is not a member of the Australia Group. Many more countries are expected to support India’s candidature given its rising global status. Pakistan’s statement in the CD showed its resentment regarding the likely modification of criteria to accommodate India in the NSG and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
It is necessary to examine the objections raised by Pakistan regarding the 2008 India-specific waiver in the NSG. Is it really going to allow India to accumulate so much fissile material that the region around Pakistan would be destabilised? Would the exemption enhance the fissile production capabilities of India? Actually, such propaganda may well serve as an excuse for Pakistan to increase its own fissile material production. In the past, some Pakistani diplomats misled the world by saying that India’s eight unsafeguarded reactors can comfortably produce 1400 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium – sufficient for around 280 nuclear weapons a year – if run for that purpose, or even more if totally dedicated to fissile material production purposes.
When the India-US civil nuclear energy agreement was being debated before the 2008 waiver, one of India’s leading strategic analysts argued in favour of the agreement saying that it would enable India to ‘release’ its indigenous uranium for nuclear weapons, and to use imported uranium for nuclear energy generation. This was one of the many arguments used by both the supporters and opponents of the agreement. However, many of these arguments were unsubstantiated and polemical. The U.S. non-proliferation community followed by the Pakistan government used some of these polemics for their convenience and propaganda. Moreover, India’s indigenous uranium can be allocated in any way by the government, so, the word—release—is basically meaningless.
First, India’s strategic and security imperatives demand that it rely on nuclear weapons mainly for deterrence. If there is a choice between national security and electricity generation, India may prefer the former. Electricity can be generated by other means – despite the growth in nuclear energy production in recent months, overall electricity generation stays around three per cent.
True, there are eight reactors in the strategic category. The categorisation of these and other fast breeder reactors outside the civil category should not imply that India would go in for unlimited and unnecessary fissile material production. These reactors are not going to produce fissile materials round the clock. India’s nuclear doctrine is one of credible minimum deterrence, meaning India will not needlessly hoard nuclear weapons and fissile materials. Moreover, a new nuclear weapon country like India has the benefit of learning from the Cold War experience of nuclear weapons accumulation by the two super powers. The unnecessary accumulation of nuclear weapons created the problem of disposal – not only of nuclear weapons through arms control – but also of excess fissile materials.
Even if we accept the logic that the reactors outside the civil category may be used to produce fissile materials, under the Indo-US nuclear deal India has increased its number of power reactors in the civil category from 6 to 14. Therefore the increase in the number of power reactors in the civil category and the decrease of power reactors outside it should indicate that Indian fissile material production may be decreased, not increased. Any logical analysis would underscore this. Of course, propaganda has its own logic!
This leads to the question: If India is not interested in unnecessary production of fissile materials, why is it retaining eight reactors in the strategic category? The answer is simple: to deal with an uncertain strategic environment. There are some declared NPT and non-NPT nuclear weapon countries which have not made their fissile material stockpiles public. The nuclear weapon declarations of these countries are also uncertain and lack credibility. At the same time, there are undeclared and potential nuclear weapon countries, which are likely to further complicate the strategic environment in the future.
The new Pakistani argument against FMCT negotiations in the CD, namely, that the Indian membership of the multilateral export controls regimes may adversely affect regional stability, is superficial. The membership of the regimes has nothing to do with regional stability; in fact, it is about enabling India to play a role in promoting international peace and stability by participating in the global strategic trade management. Pakistan’s obsession with projecting itself as a competitor to India is frequently leading it to make ridiculous and incomprehensible moves like the one in the CD. Instead, it may do well to imitate India’s responsible nuclear behaviour. It does not realise that the proliferation network and terrorism may not be able to sustain the Pakistani state for long. Pakistan needs to change.
(This post originially appeared at IDSA. USINPAC and IDSA are content partners.)