It is an established fact – but not widely known – that Pakistan has been using nuclear technology for a wide range of peaceful applications for a long time. This pursuit now includes nuclear power development, industrial applications, radioactive waste management, human health, water resources, food agriculture, medicine, livestock and environmental protection.
It was not until the Indian diversion of nuclear fuel from its civilian nuclear reactor to conduct a so-called Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) in 1974 that Pakistan had to face the denial of nuclear technology from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. As a consequence of the Indian test – despite of the tripartite agreement between Canada, the IAEA and Pakistan – Canada stopped vendor support for the KANUPP. Moreover, France, under US pressure, withdrew from the reprocessing plant that was to be built prospectively in Pakistan.
The geopolitics of the nonproliferation that led the US to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with India – and also to commit that India “should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other (advanced nuclear) states” – is no secret. Checking China’s rise was a fundamental consideration in putting India in a separate league. The US took special steps to make the civil nuclear cooperation with India materialise. These included changing the US domestic laws, facilitating the IAEA safeguards agreement and additional protocol and obtaining a waiver from the NSG.
The implementation of the India-US nuclear deal required a waiver from the NSG to provide India with nuclear technology and fuel. On September 6, 2008, the NSG granted a special waiver to India. This ended India’s nuclear isolation and paved the way for it to enter into nuclear commerce with nuclear-supplier states. India –which is neither a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor part of any other substantial nonproliferation commitments/obligations – enabled the privilege of nuclear trade with US support. The US also promised to support India in obtaining membership in the NSG and has recently reiterated this under the Trump administration.
After India and Pakistan submitted formal applications to join the NSG in May 2016, an important area to ponder over – apart from the politics of the Nuclear Suppliers Group – is: why is it important for Pakistan to gain an NSG membership and what can Pakistan offer to the NSG? On one level, it can be argued that the relevance of Pakistan’s membership is based on commercial interests. This relevance relies on the inclusive nonproliferation regime that integrates the non-NPT NWS in the international nuclear order.
Firstly, from a commercial point of view, the participating governments (PGs) of the NSG should be interested because Pakistan has a civilian nuclear programme and the ability to manufacture several items on the NSG control list. It is, hence, is a potential supplier of these items. Pakistan’s private sector industry has the technical knowledge as well as the ability to produce the items on the NSG list. So there is a legitimate commercial interest of the PGs that may be undermined by keeping Pakistan out.
Although Pakistan currently exercises restraint in terms of the exports of this nature, it would like to participate in international commerce in nuclear items. As an associate member of the CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), Pakistan collaborates with the centre in areas of advanced technology and contributes effectively.
From a nonproliferation standpoint, as an advanced nuclear state, with over 40 years of experience in safe and secure nuclear power plant operation and complete nuclear fuel cycle capabilities, Pakistan’s membership will ensure that it is adhering to the export control guidelines of the group while undertaking the export of dual-use technologies. As of now, Pakistan already unilaterally adheres to these guidelines.
However, to advance both the commercial as well as the nonproliferation argument in support of its membership, Pakistan could take several additional steps. In the Nuclear Security Summit process, Pakistan proposed to provide multilateral nuclear fuel cycle services under the IAEA’s auspices. This goal can only be realised when there is a complete plan that separates the civilian nuclear fuel cycle from the military programme. This measure is cost-free and will be a step forward in realising its potential as a supplier of fuel services. In a similar vein, Pakistan should negotiate an additional protocol with the IAEA subsequent to a separation plan.
Moreover, if Pakistan declares that all future civilian nuclear facilities will be placed under the IAEA safeguards without exception, such measures will not bring any additional commitments for Pakistan. Instead, it will be considered a strong nonproliferation measure by a nuclear weapon state. Pakistan already keeps all existing civilian nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards.
The Pakistan Energy Security Plan 2050 allocates some 40,000 MWe to be produced through nuclear energy. Of the total electricity generation mix of Pakistan, nuclear energy has the potential to reach between five to eight percent by 2030. The plan to increase the share of nuclear energy in the overall energy mix of Pakistan will require the allocation of financial capital to back up the plan in realistic terms. Such measure will not only attract investment but also to give effect to the 2050 Vision for nuclear power expansion.
A plan on subsequent measures after obtaining membership in the NSG needs to be deliberated in detail. Key areas would include developing a civil nuclear liability regime to facilitate foreign investment through a nuclear power industry and carrying out a detailed consideration and internal analysis on signing of the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage.
Pakistan’s pursuit of the civilian uses of nuclear energy shouldn’t stop with obtaining the membership of the NSG. Further deliberations should include the development of an advanced space programme, which has widespread civilian applications and is hindered by the politics of multilateral regimes like the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
The writer is a senior research officer at the Centre for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad.