The spectre of Pakistan’s insecure nuclear arsenal has again been raised in a US State Department briefing, when Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner answered an Indian journalist’s question about the security of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons.
This is a ghost that is trotted out every now and then to raise doubts and suspicions about Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The issue has been addressed many times, and the broad international and national consensus is that our nuclear programme is well protected by multi-layered security, effective command and control and is based on proper legislation and institutional framework.
The concern raised by Mark Toner is surprising, and at odds with recent US policy pronouncements on the subject. Secretary of State John Kerry is on record as expressing “confidence in Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security and appreciation for Pakistan’s efforts to improve its strategic trade controls”. He also recognised “that Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues” (January 27 2014).
And a State Department spokesman stated early this year, ‘The United States has full confidence in nuclear security in Pakistan and appreciates Pakistan’s proactive engagement with the international community including through its hosting of IAEA training activities at its Nuclear Security Centre of Excellence and its active participation in the Nuclear Security Summits” (January 13 2015).
Over the years, Pakistan has established a robust nuclear security regime compatible with international standards and good practices by taking the following four steps:
I. Establishing a well-structured command and control system – comprising the National Command Authority, the Strategic Plans Division and the Strategic Forces Command – to exercise control over all aspects of policy, procurement, operations and most importantly, nuclear security.
II. Putting in place a rigorous regulatory regime covering all matters related to nuclear safety and security, including physical protection of materials and facilities, material control and accounting, transport security and prevention of illicit trafficking and border controls, as well as plans to deal with possible radiological emergencies.
III. A comprehensive export control regime with laws at par with the standards followed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Regime, the Wassenar Arrangement and the Australia Group.
IV. International cooperation consistent with its national policies and interests, as well as its international obligations.
Other nuclear security related activities include: the establishment of centres for training that conduct specialised courses on physical protection and personnel reliability, a detailed assessment of nuclear power plants, periodic review of safety parameters, emergency preparedness and response, operator training, the nuclear security action plan (NSAP), a radiation response mechanism, periodic revision of national export control list by Strategic Export Control Division (SECDIV), and combating illicit trafficking of nuclear material through border control mechanisms.
Being cognisant of the fact that nuclear security cannot only be a national pursuit, Pakistan has been actively engaged with the international community in this regard. It has been mindful of the fact that a desirable nuclear security system is one in which states are actively engaged, information is shared and joint action is undertaken in areas of common interest. Pakistan has been drawing upon the technical expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on matters that have international ramifications. Ever since the Nuclear Security Summit process began, Pakistan has proactively taken part in each of the summits held in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and will also do so in March-April this year. Each time, it has participated in the summits at the government level.
In the joint statement issued during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington in October 2015, it was stated: “The United States and Pakistan committed to work together to make the Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by President Obama next year a success. President Obama welcomed Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with... international forums.”
Given this background, it is quite strange that Mark Toner has expressed concern regarding Pakistan’s nuclear security. Could it be the beginning of a new campaign to put us on the mat once again, and go after our nuclear programme on this new issue of security? I say this because there is a pattern to such positions adopted by the US from time to time.
Many years ago, when I was in our embassy in Washington, the US State Department, think tanks, experts and scholars, were harping on the ‘roll back’ of our programme. This was at the time of the imposition of the Pressler Amendment. Then came the refrain of ‘freezing’ enriched uranium production. After our nuclear tests, the US began urging that we sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). More recently, the US Administration and opinion making circles in the Washington Beltway have been decrying Pakistan’s ‘hard’ stance in the Conference of Disarmament (CD) negotiations on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT).
When such demands do not bring a change in Pakistan’s policies, the US also changes tack. Since a year or two ago, there has been talk of ‘mainstreaming’ Pakistan, whereby Pakistan would be brought into the international nuclear order in return for certain steps that it would be required to take. US think-tanks, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center, brought out a monograph last year titled ‘A Normal Nuclear Pakistan’, which made the rounds of the US nuclear community. It seemed that President Obama would propose some steps for Pakistan to take in return for a civil nuclear deal akin to the one made by the US with India. Perhaps Pakistan’s public rejection of the proposal made at the Obama-Sharif meeting dissuaded the US administration from broaching the matter in the bilateral summit in October 2015.
Since this approach did not work, it is possible that the US wants to raise the issue of security to put pressure on Pakistan to accede to their demands with regard to the FMCT and CTBT. Interestingly, Toner’s reply to the Indian journalist was in answer to a question on Pakistan’s so-called tactical nuclear weapons – which he said were a cause for concern – without making any reference to India’s Cold Start doctrine, which led to the development of these short-range battlefield missiles. In any case, there is nothing wrong with our nuclear security.
The writer is the executive director of the Center for International Strategic Studies.