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South Asia and the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation

Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr.

The recent nuclear tests in South Asia have dealt a serious blow to international efforts to prevent the further spread of weapons of mass destruction. In declaring themselves nuclear-weapon states, India and Pakistan have openly challenged the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in which the international community agreed that there should be no more nuclear-weapon states beyond the five that had tested prior to 1967: the United States, the Soviet Union (now Russia), Britain, France and China. Unless concerted actions are undertaken promptly to begin to reverse this situation, these developments could seriously undercut the nuclear non-proliferation regime. ..


The NPT Bargain

In the 1960s, it was widely predicted that there would be 25-30 declared nuclear-weapon states in the world by the end of the 1970s. Who knows how high that number might have reached by today? In an effort to had off this possibility, the world agreed in the NPT to a bargain to put a halt to the proliferation of nuclear-weapon states. In return for the pledge by the 181 non-nuclear-weapon signatories (including Taiwan) that they would never acquire nuclear weapons, the five nuclear-weapon states agreed not to help other states acquire nuclear weapons, to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology with all the parties and to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In identifying those five countries as nuclear-weapon states, the NPT does not indefinitely legitimize their nuclear arsenals. The NPT simply acknowledges the fact that when it was negotiated, nuclear proliferation had occurred in five countries. The treaty commits all 185 states-parties to prevent proliferation from occurring anywhere else. The fact that there were five nuclearweapon states before the world took action is a matter of historical circumstance, not special privilege. In balancing obligations between nuclearweapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, the NPT makes all parties equal partners in the quest to escape the threat of nuclear weapons. It establishes a regime in which states like South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia and Mexico play important roles in protecting the security of all states by actively participating in efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

Since the NPT was opened for signature on July 1, 1968, a number of states have voluntarily turned away from possession of nuclear weapons. Argentina and Brazil agreed to put aside their nuclear weapon objectives; both now have fullscope safeguards on their nuclear activities and Argentina has joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state. Political change in South Africa led to the dismantlement of that country's former nuclear weapons program. Subsequently, South Africa not only joined the NPT as a nonnuclearweapon state, but it also played a leadership role at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference in rallying the developing world behind making the treaty permanent. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, strenuous multilateral efforts and extended parliamentary consideration led Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to give up the former Soviet nuclear weapons on their territories and become non-nuclear-weapon states under the treaty. The NPT provided a means to deal with North Korea's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. And it is the NPT that provides for international inspections of nuclear activities in that country as in most of the countries of the world.

Despite these successes, three threshold states—India, Israel and Pakistan—have not signed the NPT, and operate nuclear facilities that are not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections that are required of all the non-nuclear-weapon states. But none of them had previously overtly challenged the NPT regime by claiming to be a nuclear-weapon state. While it had conducted one nuclear explosive test in 1974, India was careful to characterize it as a "peaceful nuclear explosion" and to claim it had not weaponized. Thus, despite the Indian test and the refusal of India, Israel and Pakistan to join the treaty, an international norm of behavior developed establishing that: the number of nuclear-weapon states, as defined by international agreement, would remain at five; that all other parties would be pledged to not acquire nuclear weapons; and that three states in an ambiguous status would be tolerated outside the NPT regime.

With its five nuclear weapon tests of May 11 and 13, India diverted from its great internationalist tradition and violated the global norm based on the NPT that had evolved since the treaty entered into force in 1970. Under the circumstances, the six Pakistani tests of May 28 and 30 were not surprising. They were, however, an ill omen for what may lie ahead for the NPT regime. Nuclear explosive testing by other states could well be provoked by the reckless behavior of India. For example, by damaging the international non-proliferation regime, the tests opened the door to similar action by Israel and to the pursuit of nuclear weapons capability by other states such as North Korea.

Clearly, if the decisions of India and Pakistan to become the first and second nations to declare a nuclear weapons capability in three decades are not resisted by the international community, and eventually reversed, other nations may decide to follow suit. The acquisition of nuclear weapons will be viewed as a legitimate way to increase national prestige, and the world may begin to race down the path toward widespread nuclear proliferation that was narrowly averted in the 1960s. More frightening still, in a world filled with nuclear-weapon states, keeping these weapons out of the hands of substate groups, including criminal conspiracies, terrorist organizations and nihilistic cults, will become much more difficult.

Some observers of the recent events in South Asia have been inclined to underestimate the threat the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapon programs constitute to the global norm against nuclear proliferation. It is true that India and Pakistan have been commonly understood to be on the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability for some time and that neither is a signatory to the NPT. But the NPT is a lot more than just a contract. Along with the UN Charter, the NPT, with 185 states-parties, is a central document of international law and the foundation of efforts at negotiated security in the nuclear age.

The NPT codifies a central element of the modern social contract of the community of nations. In overtly acquiring nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan have defied this international compact and endangered the security of all.


Challenging the NPT

The nuclear explosive tests by the two countries in May and their subsequent claims of acquiring nuclearweapon state status did a lot more than merely make the obvious undeniable: In demanding to be identified as nuclearweapon states, India and Pakistan directly challenge the definition of the term and thereby the NPT itself. Article IX of the NPT defines a nuclear-weapon state as follows:

For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclearweapon state is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967. [Emphasis added.]

.. This is not a semantic or marginal issue. The whole point of the NPT is that the international community agreed that the number of nuclearweapon states should be limited to the five that possessed nuclear weapons when the treaty was signed and exclude all others. The principle of international law that the NPT codifies is that the further spread of nuclear weapons (after January 1, 1967) is contrary to the interests of world peace and security. The regime requires the continued credibility of this definition. When the NPT was signed, a line was drawn by the world community that was not overtly crossed for 30 years. In 1998, that line has been crossed twice and substantially challenged. If the line goes away, the world community is unlikely to be able to draw another one soon, if at all.

The NPT regime cannot be modified to accommodate India and Pakistan as nuclear-weapon states for several reasons. Most imprtantly, if India and Pakistan were to succeed in having this status formally recognized, the NPT and the nonproliferation regime which has developed around it, which, after all, exists to limit the number of states with nuclear weapons in the world, would become moot. If there can be six or seven nuclearweapon states, why not eight or 80? If the international norm can be bent to include India and Pakistan, on what basis would the acquisition of nuclear weapons be denied to any nation? In short, formal recognition of India and Pakistan as "declared" nuclear powers would undermine the NPT and its delicate bargain between the nonnuclear and nuclearweapon states and leave all equal in their insecurity.

Even if it were desirable to accept India and Pakistan as nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT, this would require amendment of the treaty and that is practically impossible for issues of any substance. A conference of parties would have to be convened to consider the amendment. A majority of all the parties, including the five nuclear-weapon states and all 35 members of the current IAEA Board of Governors, would have to approve the amendment. Even if all the amendment conditions could be met, the amendment would only enter into force for each party after ratification by its government. The treaty itself would not be fully in force for all statesparties as amended until it was approved by all 185 governments.


Maximizing Instability

Some have suggested that nuclear weapons may stabilize relations between India and Pakistan. But there are several reasons India and Pakistan are unlikely to be able to develop a stable deterrent relationship like the one that existed between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

First, the U.S.Soviet relationship developed over time in a confrontational but not an incendiary atmosphere. At the beginning of the nuclear age, there were only a few, large atomic weapons and no missile delivery systems. The peak Cold War arsenals with longrange missiles and multiple, compact warhead systems evolved during the next four decades.

Second, the United States and the Soviet Union had been allies in World War II, immediately preceding the Cold War. India and Pakistan have fought three wars with each other since their independence in 1947 and are still in the midst of an unresolved conflict over Kashmir.

Third, the force postures of the United States and the former Soviet Union were more conducive to stability than those of India and Pakistan could ever be. Both the United States and Russia maintain massive command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) infrastructures that include a range of stabilityenhancing capabilities like satellites for early warning of an attack, hardened command posts and invulnerable secondstrike systems like nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Without any of these critical technical adjuncts to the mutual assured destruction condition, India and Pakistan now find themselves in a situation in which a missile launched by one side would almost certainly strike its target before the leadership of the other side could be made aware of the launch (assuming it was detected at all). This fact will push both sides to maintain precarious alert postures and thrust them into a dangerous "use or lose" strategy if their deployed nuclear weapons are as vulnerable as they inevitably will be.

Finally, the world has been incredibly fortunate that no unforseen circumstance led to the accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon during the Cold War. In this sense, humanity now has the chance to lessen this risk by reducing the over-armament of the Cold War. To its discredit, India has chosen to heighten this risk by starting another nuclear arms race; that humanity survived one is no reason to believe that another will pass as peacefully.


Maximizing Stability

Clearly the international community, if it wishes to preserve the nonproliferation regime as an international norm, must respond to the challenge posed by nuclear explosive testing on the subcontinent. Until a commitment is offered by India and Pakistan to adopt the stabilizing measures set forth below, sanctions must remain in force. They are important to demonstrate the international community's resolve to oppose nuclear proliferation, to show that states do not enhance their prestige by building nuclear weapons, and to show other states that there are negative consequences to following the Indian and Pakistani example.

The international community must try to convince India and Pakistan to agree to a number of stabilizing measures: not to weaponize or, as appropriate, to de-weaponize and not to deploy nuclear weapons; not to transfer nuclear technology; to cease testing and to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) without conditions; and to negotiate a cutoff in the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes. In the longer term, the international community should insist that India and Pakistan join the NPT as nonnuclearweapon states (as South Africa did) if they wish to be fully participating members of the community of nations. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was correct in insisting on CTBT signature and adherence to the NPT as important goals for U.S. policy toward both India and Pakistan.

In reality, the economic sanctions that the United States is required to impose on India and Pakistan are unlikely to be sufficient to convince them to roll back their nuclear weapons programs. Possession of nuclear weapons has overwhelming political support in both countries. If India and Pakistan are willing to pursue the statesmanlike course and agree to non-weaponization and non-deployment—and ultimately join the NPT—they must be rewarded by more than simply the lifting of sanctions. For example, if the permanent membership of the UN Security Council is expanded by the addition of states like Germany and Japan, then India, if it were to become a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, should be considered as well.

The South Asian challenge to the NPT regime will need to be met with resolve, not only to demonstrate to the offenders that nuclear proliferation has defined them as being outside of the community of responsible nations, but also to demonstrate the continued viability of the NPT regime and the disarmament process from which that regime is indistinguishable. At the same time, as the international community presses India and Pakistan to agree not to deploy, test or proliferate, the five nuclear-weapon states should recommit themselves to the fulfillment of their nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT. This would reinforce their efforts to encourage India and Pakistan to reverse their dangerous course of action.

To this end, the U.S. Senate should promptly approve the CTBT to strengthen the consensus against nuclear testing. The United States cannot insist that India and Pakistan do something that it is not prepared itself to do. Early ratification of the CTBT, which as not yet entered into force, by all the nuclear-weapon states is an important step toward reducing the exaggerated political value of nuclear weapons. U.S. leadership will be necessary to bring this about. China and Russia must also approve the CTBT, but they are clearly awaiting U.S. action.

There is, however, more that the nuclear-weapon states must do to reduce the perceived prestige and high political value of nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia should vigorously pursue the START reduction process and reduce their arsenals as soon as practicable to 1,000 total nuclear weapons each, as opposed to 3,500 strategic weapons each under START II and 2,000-2,500 contemplated under START III. Promptly thereafter, the other three nuclearweapon states, Britain France and China, should be drawn into negotiations aimed over the next 10-15 years at a residual level of 200-300 total weapons for the United States and Russia (and less for the other three) until the world has changed sufficiently for the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons to be possible. The United States should support a "no-first-use" policy with regard to nuclear weapons among the five nuclear-weapon states. Continuing the reduction process and abandoning the right to use nuclear weapons—except in response to their use by another nation—are prudent and timely objectives which will help diminish the perceived value of nuclear weapons and are essential to the long-term success of the NPT regime.

Contrary to the statements of some pundits, the national security of the United States is not based on nuclear weapons, but rather on the overwhelming superiority of U.S. conventional forces. Proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states only serves to nullify that superiority. The worst thing the United States could do at this juncture would be to turn its back on the NPT and the disarmament process as a result of recent events on the subcontinent. The world cannot allow states out of step with the times to derail the positive trends of recent years. India and Pakistan should not be allowed to dictate the national security policy of the United States or the fate of world security.


CTBT Entry Into Force

It is important that the CTBT enter into force as soon as possible to support the international community's call for a halt to further nuclear explosive testing in India and Pakistan. The world community must be prepared to proceed with treaty implementation with or without the cooperation of South Asia. Article XIV of the CTBT provides the legal mechanism for entry into force, which requires the ratification of the treaty by 44 specific states, including the five nuclear-weapon states, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, among others. However, if these 44 states have not ratified the treaty by September 24, 1999, the states that have ratified can meet in a conference to determine measures, consistent with international law, which will accelerate the ratification process and facilitate the treaty's early entry into force.

The CTBT, which was signed in 1996, is a promissory note from the nuclear-weapon states that stands in place of their fulfillment of one of the most important demands of the non-nuclear-weapon states at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. The "Principles and Objectives for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation," agreed to as an integral part of the treaty's indefinite extension, explicitly links the CTBT to the NPT regime:

The completion by the Conference on Disarmament of the negotiations on a universal and internationally and effectively verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty no later than 1996; Pending the entry into force of a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, the nuclear-weapon States should exercise utmost restraint;

Without a legally binding CTBT regime in force, the NPT will be in danger at the treaty's next review conference in 2000. If India and Pakistan refuse to sign and ratify the CTBT, the international community will be forced to respond by bringing the CTBT into force without South Asia.

A precedent exists for bringing arms control treaties into legal application without strict fulfillment of entry into force requirements. The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty was provisionally applied in July 1992 when unrelated circumstances prevented its timely ratification by three signatories. The July 1992 deadline for entry into force was considered important because of the impending breakup of the former Czechoslovakia, a CFE signatory that had ratified. The entry-into-force provision required all the then 29 signatories to ratify to bring the treaty into force. By July, 27 of the 29 signatories had ratified but two legislatures, those of Belarus and Armenia, were unable to act. Therefore, by amending the Provisional Application Protocol, which was designed to permit the signatories to agree to certain treaty housekeeping measures prior to entry into force without reference to national parliaments, the signatories brought the entire treaty into force for a period of four months without further reference to national legislatures. This was done to give the two legislatures more time to act and to permit the baseline inspections to be carried out. If more time had been required, undoubtedly provisional application would have been extended. The delegates to the potential CTBT conference in 1999 will have the benefit of this example.

At the end of the day, the signatories to and ratifiers of the CTBT are sovereign states that will act in their own best interest. If at the time of the 1999 conference, a large number of states have ratified the CTBT—including the five nuclear-weapon states, but without India, Pakistan and North Korea—the signatories nevertheless may wish to consider bringing the treaty into force.

The purpose of the conference, as the CTBT's negotiating record makes clear, is only to discuss measures to facilitate early entry into force. However, these are sovereign states and they do have the power to bring the treaty into force among themselves. They can do it one of two ways. They could agree on a protocol that brings the treaty into force notwithstanding the terms of Article XIV. This would be, in effect, an amendment to the treaty which would require submission of the document to all the relevant legislatures. Alternatively, the signatories could agree to provisionally apply the treaty among themselves without reference to legislatures simply by signing an agreement to do so. In sum, if the treaty signatories want the CTBT in force—and they should as it is essential to sustaining the NPT regime—and India, Pakistan, and North Korea are reluctant, a way can be found among sovereign states to do so.

The world must persuade India and Pakistan that the international community intends to enforce a nonproliferation norm through sanctions and isolation, if necessary. The point of sanctions is to demonstrate to India and Pakistan, and to any other nations that may be tempted to follow their example, that nuclear weapons will gain them only insecurity and opprobrium, not security and respect.

At the same time, the world must show India and Pakistan that it is prepared to help craft a nondeployment, nontesting and nonproliferation regime to stabilize the situation on the subcontinent, and to help India and Pakistan take their rightful place on the world stage as non-nuclear-weapon states. To succeed in this endeavor, the declared nuclear-weapon states must continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals and formalize the nuclear testing moratorium by bringing the CTBT into force. Clearly, the United States and the other major powers face a daunting task, but the alternatives lead to infinitely worse outcomes and diminished security for the United States and the world.


Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., former acting director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, is the president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security in Washington, DC.

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