Nuclear powers India and Pakistan were once on the brink of war, but India is now finalizing a civil nuclear deal with the United States. Speakers at a conference on nuclear challenges discussed how the South Asian nations are breaking the nonproliferation mold.
Some of the most crowded and most blogged-about sessions at the Burkle Center's March 6–7 conference on nuclear threats were about preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons, convincing North Korea to drop its program, and stopping terrorist organizations and other non-state actors from complicating an apocalyptic game now in its seventh decade. However, speakers at several other discussions on March 7 made it clear that India and Pakistan also represent a significant challenge.
At a panel discussion on focusing on India and Pakistan, UCLA Diplomat in Residence Peter Kovach said that most people don't realize how close the two South Asian countries came to a "nuclear showdown" in 2002, before his recent term as Counselor of Public Affairs in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
"While India and Pakistan are failures as a nonproliferation story, they were a great success in conflict resolution," he said.
Two of the very few countries that never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 (NPT), India and Pakistan tested their first nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998. Tensions between the neighboring nations suddenly escalated into a 10-month-long military mobilization following the attack of Dec. 13, 2001, on the Indian Parliament. India blamed Pakistan-based militant groups, and both countries lined up troops along the border of the contested Kashmir region.
The episode showed just how quickly tensions can escalate, said Neil Joeck, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Security Research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. As a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, Joeck worked specifically on nuclear proliferation portfolios during the standoff. He said that it took only two weeks for India to mobilize and that Pakistan had the ability to counter rapidly.
The underlying dangers remain, panelists said.
"The problem comes in controlling behavior at the point of attack," according to Joeck. Although Pakistani authorities say their nuclear weapons are under tight command and control, Joeck wonders, "What will it be like under stress?"
Gregory Treverton, a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation, called India and Pakistan a "good news, bad news story." Both countries have small nuclear arsenals that seem effective in deterring open conflict. So far, these weapons have been in relatively safe hands, he said.
The bad news is that "there are a lot of grounds for worrying about control" of nuclear weapons, Treverton said. The revelation in 2004 of an international black market set up by A. Q. Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, continues to promote unease about Pakistan's control of its nuclear program. The network transferred nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The Musharraf government's tense relationships with the Taliban along the Afghan border, increased incidence of terrorism, and the potential for coup and assassination are also causes for concern.
In contrast to its line on Iran and North Korea, U.S. policy towards India and Pakistan no longer pushes nonproliferation or disarmament as a goal, according to several speakers. In a separate panel about the recent U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, Joeck said that "nuclear proliferation policy has changed because it is essentially a security policy" rather than a "disarmament policy." In the Indian case, U.S. policy shifted because India has significant energy requirements and strategic importance in Asia. U.S. President George Bush expanded the United States' relationship with India, Joeck said, "to give China something to think about."
Lifting a long-standing policy that prohibited nuclear trade with India, the deal allows the United States to provide India with civilian nuclear fuel and technology. India agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its civilian nuclear facilities, but retained the right to determine which facilities would be subject to inspection. The deal has passed through the U.S. Congress and is now in the final stages before implementation, when technical details get ironed out.
Raymond Juzaitis, Associate Director for Nonproliferation, Homeland and International Security at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, described the shift as part of a U.S. vision of a "more graded environment" for nuclear technology.
Juzaitis posited that motivations, rather than just capability, are important in assessing the nuclear threat that a given country might present. Even though India is capable of quickly using nuclear weapons, he said, politically speaking it is far from "acting in damaging ways."
Two Treaties in One
If the United States' deal with India reflects a new paradigm through which to see nuclear power, where does that leave the NPT and the regime it helped to create? At the conference's opening session on March 7, panelists praised the treaty's effectiveness: 62 years since the invention of the bomb, only nine countries have acquired nuclear weapons. Still, those who spoke at a later breakout session on the NPT questioned whether the treaty is responsible for successes.
Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University and a visiting professor at UC Santa Barbara, argued that the NPT projects two images of nonproliferation. He called these the treaty regime and the geopolitical regime.
The NPT created a "two-tiered world" that "plays this brilliant mind game that the real danger in the world is the non-nuclear states" rather than those which have nuclear weapons, Falk said. It was the geopolitical regime, not the treaty regime, which allowed the United States to make a deal with India. He called on the United States to adhere to Article VI of the NPT by committing to disarmament.
"The way to modernize the NPT is to take all of it seriously," Falk said.