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 Nuclear compromises -- connecting the dots

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PostSubject: Nuclear compromises -- connecting the dots   Wed Jun 03, 2009 12:35 am

Nuclear compromises -- connecting the dots



Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Shireen M Mazari


It has now become routine for the US to focus on Pakistan's nuclear weapons whenever there is trouble within the country. Clearly, the US has not recovered from its trauma of seeing a developing Muslim state acquire nuclear capability. Moreover, as one of the greatest proliferators since 1945 to Israel, the US has always maintained hypocrisy over its non-proliferation stance and this has now been fully exposed with its 123 nuclear agreement with India.

Nevertheless, the US has continued to be relentless in targeting Pakistan's nuclear assets in one way or another. What has been of growing concern to some of us has been the seeming weakening of the Pakistani resolve on sustaining the credibility of our nuclear deterrence through constant improvement and increase in the nuclear arsenal – especially post-9/11. If individual incidents are collated together, the dismal picture unfolds more clearly.

First there was the bizarre and totally unnecessary victimisation of Dr A Q Khan. While the Musharraf regime thought that would end the focus on our nuclear programme, many of us at the time stated the apparent – that capitulation on this count would only send the wrong signals to the US and our other nuclear detractors as they would take this as a sign of our weakness. And that is exactly what has been happening since.

The incarceration of Dr Khan was followed by our voluntary sending of old centrifuges to the IAEA – despite the fact that each nuclear power's centrifuges reveal the unique design of that country's nuclear weapon. Some of us had critiqued this decision at the time but we were told that these were old centrifuges and our designs had moved on. That was true but having the original blueprint could allow one to configure the path of these improvements. However, the real issue was why we had made this move when we were not required to under any of our international obligations. Incidentally, on the whole Dr Khan issue also, it needs to be constantly reiterated that he had not broken any of Pakistan's international treaty obligations as we are still not members of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG).

From the centrifuges issue we watched silently as the US moved towards its strategic nuclear deal with India. Despite the deal contravening US NPT and NSG commitments, we did not move diplomatically to counter this impending deal on a ridiculous assumption that the US may offer us a similar deal – despite the US having constantly reiterated that this was not going to be the case, even though American logic on this was heavily flawed given how India had nuclear agreements with Saddam's Iraq and with Iran and Indian scientists had been found at the Bushehr plant (India's detailed proliferation record has been published earlier in these columns).

Belatedly our able diplomats sought to counter US efforts for a country-specific exception for India in terms of safeguards in the IAEA and export waivers in the NSG. We tried to argue that instead there should be a criteria-based approach and, ironically, in the NSG, Israel also pushed forward a non-paper arguing the same point. When India sought its special safeguards agreement with the IAEA – which is unique in its exit loopholes for India – Pakistan's Foreign Ministry (MFA) finally began an aggressive diplomatic campaign which was getting positive results. Pakistan had already sent a letter to the IAEA Boards of Governors (BoG), asking for a vote in the BOG on this issue – something the US and India wanted to avoid at all costs. There were two valid reasons behind Pakistan's move: One, to expose those member states that had been holding forth on non-proliferation but would go along with making an exception for India; and, two, to see how many of Pakistan's Arab allies, who were members of the IAEA Board would vote. In addition to a letter from Pakistan's ambassador to Austria and the IAEA, as part of the MFA's strategy on this issue, the foreign secretary also wanted to send a letter to the NSG states asking them to adopt a criteria-based approach for sensitive technology transfers rather than country based exceptions. The third leg of the MFA strategy was to send an envoy – preferably a seasoned diplomat – to our ally China to get them to lend support to the Pakistani approach vis a vis the IAEA and the NSG.

Unfortunately, as soon as the Pakistani letter was sent to the IAEA BoG, the US got moving and contacted their Pakistani point man (story had come in The News last year) and a cable was duly sent to the MFA strongly recommending that the MFA stop all activities meant to counter India-US moves on safeguards and technology exports at the IAEA and the NSG respectively. So, all diplomatic efforts by Pakistan came to a grinding halt and the special envoy's mission had to be aborted midway.

The compromised did not end here. President Zardari unilaterally declared a no-first-use policy despite the fact that we had deliberately, like NATO kept our position on this ambivalent while India had effectively abandoned this position in its nuclear doctrine. Then we saw research and development funds being cut in the nuclear sector and President Zardari declare that we would not be producing any more nuclear weapons. Taken together this meant that our nuclear arsenal would not be kept updated and would eventually comprise of outdated weapons – thereby destroying the viability of the strategic deterrence.

Meanwhile, the centre of gravity of the war from Afghanistan was successfully transferred to Pakistan and this was accompanied by the US cacophony of how our nukes could fall into wrong hands and so on. Issues were raised about our command and control despite the fact that so far only the US has displayed a total collapse of command and control of its nukes (the B52 incident). There were rumours of the US having gained some access to our nuclear sites and security codes, especially when Obama declared that "I'm confident that we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure…." There has also been the disturbing news that Pakistan may have agreed to send its enriched uranium to the US and now we have seen India restart a campaign against our nukes, seeking US help to cap our arsenal.

Meanwhile our Strategic Plans Division continues to function under a strange logic that by giving more access to foreigners – including journalists (even Indian), analysts and one assumes foreign officials also – somehow the deep-seated anti-Muslim prejudices that underlie the anti-Pakistan-nuke stance will be mitigated. Unfortunately, the reality has proven otherwise with those granted such access writing highly negative reports on our nuclear assets. Not that that has stopped the highly public posturing of what should be a low-profile largely covert set-up. Only recently an SPD official declared that 10,000 security personnel guard our nuclear arsenal. What was the need to reveal this information? Has India or the US or even France ever made such disclosures?

Meanwhile the latest "revelation" about our nuclear programme has come from the Congressional Research Service and it has much in it to cause concern for us. The information itself could not have been acquired without some inside assistance. It bemoans our continuing development in the nuclear field although we are under no international legal obligation not to do so. It also highlights US efforts to target us on the nuclear issue by referring to the continuing focus on Dr Khan through conditionalities put into two pieces of aid legislation.

Most disturbing is the information given that our "nuclear weapons are stored unassembled, with the fissile core separated from the non-nuclear explosives. These components are stored separately from delivery vehicles." If true, this means that Pakistan has given in to US pressure that was being used even before 1998 of making us adopt "non-weaponised deterrence" – where the nuts and bolts are kept separate so that in a crisis you cannot actually have a viable nuclear device immediately – while the enemy would. We assumed our leaders had withstood the pressure. Clearly that does not seem to be the case. Perhaps the highly visible SPD should be clarifying this point rather than telling us how many security personnel guard our nukes! While our political leadership talks of outmoded and absurd military concepts of "total war" and "total victory" and keeps the military embroiled in situations where it has abdicated political responsibility, has it also moved us further down the slippery slope of total nuclear compromise?
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