Why Pakistan should sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and why it won’t sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Refusing to sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty means consigning ourselves to an arms race we simply cannot win
The answer to this question starts with the FMCT, the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. It aims to freeze fissile material production for use in weapons globally. Pakistan is the only nation in the world holding up its ratification at the Conference of Disarmament (CD). None of the reasons we have offered for this stance are particularly credible, and are easy to refute. This article aims to do precisely that, and argues in favour of Pakistan signing the FMCT as soon as possible.A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has revealed that Pakistan, India and China have increased their nuclear stockpiles. In SIPRI’s words, this now constitutes an arms race, one that Pakistan can ill-afford. So how do we end this arms race, and in the process reorganise our priorities based on the realities we face?
Officially, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is founded on the notion of minimum credible deterrence. Deterrence is underpinned on the notion of second strike capability i.e. a guaranteed ability to respond to any initial nuclear attack by a retaliatory strike of our own. This would achieve Mutually Assured Destruction (aptly called MAD). That notion is very undesirable, so both parties are deterred from using nuclear weapons to begin with, thus the term ‘minimum nuclear deterrence’. Finally, the entire point of adopting minimum credible deterrence is to prevent an arms race; once you have achieved the minimum threshold, you need not develop any more weapons. Pakistan has manifestly failed to do this.
The problem with our deterrence policy is that nobody knows where the threshold lies, beyond which we don’t need to expand our nuclear arsenal. This suits the military establishment, the guardians of our nuclear weapons, just fine. The deliberate vagueness of this deterrence allows them to keep on producing weapons and delivery systems till eternity.
Pakistan has approximately 120 nuclear warheads, with Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for 100 more, and Weapons Grade Plutonium for 20 warheads (as of 2010). India has approximately 110, with Weapons Grade Plutonium for a 100 more. (India’s HEU stock is believed to be for naval purposes).
Our reasons for not signing the FMCT predictably revolve around India. We say that the FMCT should actually be called the FMT and thus avoid the word ‘Cut-off’ altogether as this implies that current stocks won’t be taken into consideration. This is a problem because India has more fissile material than us and will be able to produce more bombs with it even after the FMCT comes into effect. The reality is that India has a GDP 8 times our own ($1.877 Trillion vs. $232.3 Billion) which is growing at a much healthier rate than Pakistan; they can afford to build many more weapons, we cannot. Two, India is concerned with China (GDP: $9.24 Trillion) as a nuclear rival; their build up has little to do with us.
Even if we take the imbalance in nuclear stockpiles as a credible reason for us refusing to sign the FMCT, the best time to have ratified this treaty would have been around 2010, at which time, Pakistan and India had almost equal amounts of weapons grade material. India has the ability to ramp up production of weapons grade materials much quicker than Pakistan, thereby increasing the gap between the stockpiles even further. Bringing the FMCT into effect around 2010 would have frozen the disparity of weapons grade materials at the lowest possible level.
The second point is the civil nuclear deal signed between India and the US during the Bush administration. We say that if Pakistan were to be given similar treatment, we will sign the FMCT, but a civil nuclear deal similar to India’s consists of private firms investing billions of dollars setting up nuclear plants here. It’s a purely profit making venture, which takes issues such as security into consideration, and simply put, nobody will risk such investments in Pakistan. The US—India Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed in 2006. Nine years later, not a single US reactor has been set up in India over concerns about liability in case of an accident. So even the US-India deal has been an unmitigated failure.A caveat to this point: India also has large amounts of reactor grade plutonium, enough to manufacture up to 350 plutonium-based warheads (as of 2010). Pakistan’s position at the CD takes this into account, but again, the longer we hold off on the FMCT, the raw materials gap will only increase, so this should actually be an incentive to sign the treaty at the earliest.
The third point made by the nuclear hawks is that India has a Breeder Reactor program. A Breeder Reactor consumes reactor-grade plutonium but produces weapons-grade plutonium. All countries that have thus far invested in research in Breeder Reactor programs (including Britain, Germany, France, USA) have abandoned them as not being worth the effort. India isn’t likely to get very far in its efforts in this regard either. Even if they somehow miraculously manage to get a working reactor, what they will get is weapons grade plutonium, something we (and they) already possess. There is no technological leap involved which will upset the deterrence equation, not if we implement the FMCT protocol now. The longer a potential Breeder program operates, the more the imbalance will grow, at a much increased pace than previously. This should give us even more of a reason to sign the FMCT. In any case, India has the resources and the money to try and fail at this many times over. We do not. It’s that simple.
Not signing the FMCT will ensure one thing: a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent (already in full flow) involving Pakistan and India. Only one country is ever going to win that race. Hint: It isn’t Pakistan.
Due to their higher yield to weight ratio, it is possible to make plutonium-based weapons lighter and more versatile in terms of deployment and use. This is especially helpful when it comes to developing lighter Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs), which Pakistan has developed to counter the Indian ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. The delivery systems associated with such weapons have limited range (up to 60 km), which means that these weapons must by necessity be deployed in the field, leading to the chain of command of a nuclear detonation being delegated to the actual theatre of war. This weakens said chain of command (put in place to prevent accidental launches of nuclear warheads) and increases the possibility of a nuclear mishap.Uranium vs. Plutonium is another point raised in this debate. Plutonium-based weapons cause more destruction with less material; their yield to weight ratio is larger than a uranium bomb. As of 2013, India possessed 0.54 ± 0.18 tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Pakistan has 150 ± 50 kg of weapons-grade plutonium, generated from four nuclear reactors in Khushab. Our Plutonium stockpiles are rather low; the Khushab reactors coming online only recently. So we cannot sign the FMCT, we say, not for a good few years.
Consider this scenario: War has broken out. You are charged with the nuclear hot button in the field. Despite considerable preparation, things aren’t going to plan. Indian troops are closing fast. Indian Air Force fighter jets are flying overhead clearing the way for a potential ground invasion. You are losing men fast and it is highly probable that you will be dead soon. You are now stuck in a “use it or lose it” mode as far as your mini-nuke is concerned. So, what do you do? When you have no idea whether the threshold for tactical nuclear weapons use has been crossed or not?
Theories are built around decisions being based on cold hard logic. To say that the fog of war is not conducive to such logical thinking is to state the obvious. So even this potential advantage that lighter plutonium-based tactical weapons gives us is recklessly dangerous, making it immeasurably easier to walk into a nuclear doomsday scenario should war ever break out.
The ‘Cold Start’ doctrine of India is also an issue in the nuclear debate. That is where the Tactical Nuclear Weapons we have developed come into play. ‘Cold Start’ is a conventional war strategy devised by India as a way to bypass our nuclear deterrent. This begs the question: If India is devising conventional war strategies to deal with Pakistan (implicitly confirming the effectiveness of our deterrent) why are we developing nuclear weapons currently?
Looked at in this light, this becomes a very strong argument in favour of signing the FMCT.
The Pakistan military seeks to counter Cold Start by the use of weapon systems like the “Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile Hatf IX (NASR)” with a “range of 60 km, carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot attributes (sic).” In other words, TNWs.
These will likely be armed with the aforementioned lighter plutonium-based warheads. There have been strong indications that Pakistan is prepared to use small-scale tactical nuclear bombs within Pakistani territory aimed at invading Indian troops.
As noted before, deployment and use of TNWs to counter Cold Start also involves a significant weakening of the command and control structure, and is too dangerous to actually implement. “The best way forward to counter Cold Start (which itself has never gotten off the drawing board and was described by the US as “a mixture of myth and reality”) is to devise conventional war strategies. Countering what is currently a pie-in-the-sky theory with nuclear weapons is unwise at best.
One last thing to note about Cold Start is that it is an inherently retaliatory doctrine; it is not meant to initiate hostilities.
There is only one credible reason for not signing the FMCT: money. The reactors in Khushab have been recently built, producing little output. This money will be wasted if we sign the FMCT. However, we can ask for our investment to be reimbursed, which isn’t a high price to pay for the CD in return for activating the FMCT. Regardless, there is still an argument to be made for cutting our losses, for money saved on our nuclear program can be directed to other needs.
We can also ask for concessions in exchange for ratifying the FMCT. The US has made no secret of the fact that it wants us to ratify the FMCT and we can ask them to help us in eliminating our power crisis in return; perhaps reduce our external debt. The possibilities are many, but the decision will depend purely on what our priorities are.
There is no denying the fact that a nuclear deterrent has prevented war from breaking out in the aftermath of Kargil, the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and the Mumbai attacks in 2008. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy even argues that a clear line can be drawn between our nuclear tests in 1998, and the Kargil episode; the latter would never have taken place without the former. One could even argue that nuclear deterrence has in fact emboldened non-state actors as well, providing them a shield under which to carry out their activities unhindered.
For our citizens, on the other hand, nuclear weapons have provided absolutely zero benefits. We are no safer today than we were on 27th May, 1998. Nuclear weapons have left us with no tangible economic benefits to speak of. They have actually left us poorer as a country since developing nuclear weapons is an expensive venture. We are not more socially cohesive as a nation since we acquired nuclear weapons, this bizarrely being one of the stated aims of the bomb. Implementing the FMCT protocol should thus be seen as a first step to a subsequent reduction in the number of our nuclear warheads, eventually leading to complete disarmament.
We stand to draw many benefits once our nuclear program becomes dormant. There will be a substantial amount of money saved annually once the FMCT goes into effect. Pakistan is estimated to have spent $2.2 billion on the nuclear program in 2011, up from $1.8 billion in 2010. This will be a start in the right direction. Perhaps that money can be spent on building some dams so the floods aren’t as bad as in 2010 when the monsoon season comes around next time. We are a nation whose last government printed more money than all previous governments combined, where people drown in now annual floods, where people die because of dengue, where the literacy rate is 58 per cent and where poverty is 31.7 per cent. That’s our reality. Let us take note.
If we want to remain a security state armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons then we should continue to be the sole dissenter on the FMCT. But if we want to be a progressive state which values the welfare and lives of its citizens more than its nuclear warheads, then we should sign the FMCT. We should sign it right now.
FMCT — the odds are against us.