The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) is an instrument of the arms control regime that seeks to ban the future production of fissile material, ie the uranium 235, 233 and plutonium 239 isotopes, while leaving the existing stockpiles untouched.
It has been portrayed as an altruistic measure by the nuclear weapon states (NWS), especially the US, to halt proliferation and thereby contribute to the global cause of non-proliferation. Its putative status as a treaty seeking to address the fissile material asymmetry between the NWS and non-nuclear weapon states is a clever artifice to deny the non-NPT NWS, such as Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel.
The Shannon mandate of 1994-1995 was an attempt to set the stage for a multilateral, non-discriminatory and verifiable international treaty, seeking to lure those non-NPT states whose fissile material production capacity could not be affected by the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The hastily convened proceedings of the Shannon mandate, before the NPT Review Conference of 1995, failed to address all the differences of opinion amongst the international community. These differences resurfaced after a negotiating committee started negotiations for the FMCT in 2009.
In any case, the NPT compliant states are already abiding by the rules of the NPT and, therefore, not producing any weapons-grade fissile material. It is an attempt to assuage the concerns of the leading global powers and the NWS to achieve the nuclear capping that could not be achieved through the NPT. It is a veritable attempt to bring the non-NPT states into the net of NPT through an indirect approach. The international community has been divided into two schools of thought on the FMCT.
Those in favour of bringing the past and existing fissile material stockpiles into the ambit of the treaty have coined the term ‘Fissile Material Treaty’, while those arguing for banning only future production are enamoured of the term ‘Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty’. The FMT/FMCT dichotomy, therefore,represents the fears and distrust of the nuclear have nots towards the nuclear haves. The nuclear haves, without having fulfilled their obligation of general and complete disarmament, as enshrined in Article VI of the nuclear arms control regime (NPT), are attempting to end nuclear inequality.
This nuclear apartheid is against all principles of equity and justice, an aspect that will one day become the arbitral bailiwick of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Just as the ICJ has ruled on the illegality of using, or threatening to use, nuclear weapons in violation of humanitarian and international law, the court also has to give a legal opinion on the question of banning the lethal brew stockpiled in the nuclear basements of NWS.
Pakistan’s official stance on the FMCT is in line with the principles of equity and justice underlining its sincerity to subscribe to a holistic approach to non-proliferation and disarmament. Pakistan has reached a principled conclusion, after carefully analysing several approaches to the FMCT being followed by the international community.
The traditional approach, which emphasised banning future production as an easy way out, has been anathematised on the yardsticks of equity and justice and therefore is not subscribed to by Pakistan. The Australian/Japanese approach, which recommends a two-step solution– starting with banning future production and then negotiating for the elimination of existing stockpiles – is also not acceptable, as it does not offer any guarantee of altruistic conduct by the NWS, after having achieved their objective of defanging the non-NPT NWS.
The recommendation to the government of Pakistan as an official delegate in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) would be to insist upon not including the existing fissile material stockpiles in the treaty, and not to accede to the NWS’s request for a moratorium on future production while leaving the existing stockpiles untouched.
By allowing the CD negotiations to clear the way for a treaty banning future production only, Pakistan risks leaving itself vulnerable to a costly future nuclear arms race with India. The freezing of nuclear asymmetries between Pakistan and India would only be to the advantage of the largest protagonist in the Subcontinent’s nuclear conflict equation – India. Also, by acceding to the current format of the treaty, Pakistan – unlike India –gains no material advantage, vis-à-vis the future development of its nuclear deterrence and peaceful nuclear programmes.
Pakistan, at this point in time, should leverage its principled stance of including future, as well as existing, stockpiles in the ambit of treaty to gain access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and concomitant fissile material for civilian uses. Strategic parity with India should be one plank of the strategy and the acquisition of negative security assurances for nuclear security from the NWS as enshrined in the NPT could be another plank.
By adopting the above stance, Pakistan would also avoid getting excoriated by the international community for it alleged obduracy in the negotiation process of the FMCT in the CD without a rationale.
The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.