Nuclear Pakistan now a partner in counter-proliferation

A disturbed Pakistani nation finds itself at the heart of the third wave of proliferation the world is now witnessing. Yet there is a continuity to what we are witnessing. If the CIA chief George Tenett talks of years of proliferators’ tracking, Pakistan’s agencies too have begun to reveal some information now. According to officials Pakistan army’s leadership was first confronted with some vaguely suspicious moves linked to KRL. KRL was first raided in March 2000 by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence. Subsequently the KRL chief was called in and warned. Finally the KRL chief was not given an extension in April 2001. That is how far Pakistan’s establishment could act on the basis of its own suspicions. KRL chief’s stature, the sensitivity of the program and perhaps the fear of finding unpleasant ‘truths’ about others, prompted the State to avoid investigations and opt for tighter controls. Meanwhile the nation’s hero, the KRL chief’s retirement was made acceptable for the nation by retiring another accomplished nuclear scientist Dr Ashfaq.

On the nature of proliferation from Pakistan, according to US accounts proliferation from Pakistani sources includes transporting components of old models of centrifuges used earlier by Pakistan and crude bomb designs passed on to Libya are of 1955 vintage. No Pakistani source has exported fissile material, designs of bombs tested by Pakistan, not ready-made bombs and no sophisticated technology. By comparison after the break-up of the Soviet Union US strategists feared transportation of suitcase bombs were passed to non-state actors by Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

Fortunately proliferation from Pakistani sources has not altered the state of the nuclear world. Only the beneficiaries of the first and second wave of proliferation belong to the world’s real nuclear club of 8 as opposed to the NPT’s wishful club of 5! Hence no Pakistani source has been responsible in actually enabling a country to acquire a bomb. Also no sub-state actor has been able to acquire technology through this third unsuccessful wave of proliferation.

On the broader question of proliferation as the Indian Foreign Minister has accurately pointed out on February 10, Pakistan is not the only source of proliferation, other Asian and European countries are involved. The first wave of proliferation gave to the world the five premier nuclear powers. The second wave of the seventies, from which Pakistan too benefited left an expanded nuclear club with India, Israel and Pakistan as nuclear powers. In the second wave too India, Israel and Pakistan benefited from other proliferating nations. How these three nuclear aspirant states benefited from proliferating European and US governments and private companies was documented in Leonard Spector’s book on how the second wave of proliferation unfolded. There are other dimensions of proliferation too. For example Scott Segan in Limits to Safety (1997) writes about accidental launches and of unauthorized use of nuclear programs gravely undermining custodial controls and safety measures taken by nuclear powers. Similarly the limits to nuclear safety with reference to human instability factor are also a given factor. Imbalanced personalities leading to emotional chaos or wanton greed were formally acknowledged in the seventies. The US started the Personal Reliability Program (PRP) in the seventies which tested 2.5% of the US people handling nuclear strategic assets were declared unstable. This self-corrective measure did not however mean that the entire US Command and Control system was faulty.

However this mostly aborted and unsuccessful wave of proliferation has underscored a significant aspect of the proliferation context. That those state and non-state actors who make non-proliferation an important policy priority often focus on the supply side. Effort is made to prevent, albeit selectively, transfer of nuclear technology for defence purposes, from those who have the know how to those who require it.

The demand side of proliferation i.e. the factors that prompt states to seek nuclear technology, is often overlooked. In this the third wave of proliferation countries, Libya, Iran and North Korea heavily sanctioned and even attacked by the US sought to establish nuclear weapons. What has been one of the key lessons of US’s invasion of Iraq, that if you don’t have nuclear weapons then you are attacked. In contrast the treatment of North Korea conveys the fact that if you have weapons no one will attack you. Instead the route to negotiations will always be adopted.

These demand-compulsions notwithstanding non-proliferation and counter-proliferation will remain a high priority among responsible nuclear powers. To achieve this goal an approach of ‘constructive engagement’ is also being adopted. US’s policy towards Pakistan and the ring of proliferators is a case in point. There is now a conclusion within the US policy-making community and by extension in the IAEA on the parameters of the Pakistan-related investigation on proliferation: that the government of Pakistan, with the active cooperation of the former KRL chief, is needed as a partner in the US counter-proliferation efforts. Libya and Iran have already obliged the US and the IAEA on this score.

The international community’s accountability thrust for Pakistan is not headed in a punitive direction, instead in a cooperation-seeking direction. It is about stopping proliferation not about enforcing some nebulous notion of justice. Similarly to coherently respond to the biggest fear of nuclear technology getting into the hands of sub-state actors states need to work closely. Not take punitive action against one group of states. To tackle threat from sub-state groups you need State-to-State level cooperation.

Repeatedly senior US administration officials, US non-proliferation experts and even key men like former Under Secretary of State Strobe Talbott have all supported the Bush administration and IAEA’s using Pakistani sources to get to the "roots of the underground nuclear black-market." There is therefore a cross-party consensus in the US on this approach towards Pakistan. Those asking for punitive measures against the state of Pakistan, whose involvement in proliferation is far from proven, are not being heard in the policy circles. The international community meanwhile will remain unrelenting in seeking to track and smash the ‘Wal-Mart of nuclear technology.’ In doing so it will expect 200% cooperation from Pakistan.