No need to be FMT-ed

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A recent conference in Islamabad on the implications for Pakistan of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty negotiations was an interesting experience. The 2-day event was held by the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) and most presentations, especially by SASSI staff and speakers from the Strategic Plans Division iterated and reiterated two points: Pakistans decision to shun the process is correct as is Islamabads insistence that if a treaty on fissile material stocks is to be negotiated, it must be called FMT (Fissile Material Treaty) rather than freeze current asymmetries by only dealing with a cut-off.

Reason: freezing current disparities in stocks would be against Pakistans security interests and the stability of the region. The basic point, as always, related to the threat from India and the fact that the Indo-US civil nuclear deal has already queered the pitch. Put simply it means that the deal would allow India to import enough uranium for its safeguarded reactors while utilising domestic stocks for increasing weapons stockpiles.

Corollary: Pakistan insists that member states adopt a criterion-based approach by taking account of existing stocks. This, Pakistan argues, would also move the issue from being a non-proliferation measure to one of disarmament.

So, is there something wrong with the Pakistani position? Not really if one were to argue that member states were interested in the idea of addressing the issue of power asymmetries or that Pakistan itself was really interested in disarmament. Neither is the case.

Pakistans position is grounded in realpolitik, as are the positions of other states. This means that everyone is playing a game to maximise their advantage. In such a scenario, for Pakistan to take a position to block negotiations on FMCT and become the outlier makes no sense. Instead of increasing its options, Pakistan has ended up with a one-point, deterministic agenda. There is irony in it because it is almost certain that India and Israel would never sign the FMCT if it were to come into being. Indeed, they are quite happy to sit quietly and let Pakistan take flak for blocking the treaty.

Sound diplomacy that? Most certainly not.

Additionally, as one American speaker noted, Pakistan has not presented a concrete plan for what exactly it means by existing stocks. How are stocks to be defined: surplus stocks; fissile material in existing warheads; fissile material in retired warheads; or all of it together?

Another problem relates to, after one has defined the term stocks, interpretation: does Pakistan want a freeze on production of fissile material after the states have declared existing stocks or is it demanding an agreed-upon across-the-board threshold which must not be crossed and states holding surplus quantities of fissile material must bring the stocks down to the treaty-mandated level?

While the position is not clear, it seems that Pakistan is demanding a mandated level. This is unlikely to happen and is an unsustainable position because the recognised NWSs will not agree to such parity with de facto NWSs. But this also means the de facto NWSs have reason to increase their stocks and would not want a treaty that obviates that prospect. This is precisely the point: if they would not want it, why should Pakistan, by standing outside the process AND alone, serve their interests?

Still another argument against Pakistans current position can be that even if the treaty were to be negotiated, Islamabad could refuse to sign it if the document went against its interests. Thats what we did with NPT and the CTBT; it can be done with the FMCT also. And this in the highly improbable event that India would sign the FMCT if and when it came into being. In fact, becoming part of the process and letting it move forward allows Pakistan to get India and Israel (even China) to start thwarting the negotiations instead of being the bad boy on the block by not allowing the process to get underway.

Given that Pakistans position is related to its threat from India and nuclear asymmetry, one also needs to raise some other questions. How does Pakistan want to configure its strategic forces and to what end? How much is deemed enough or sufficient? Have we moved from credible minimum to credible sufficient or are we saying that credible minimum at any given time would also be considered sufficient until the adversary alters the equation after which we would also redefine the minimum that is both credible and sufficient?

The problem with this position of keeping the minimum fluid to ostensibly retain its credibility is that we will constantly have to redefine it and our redefinition will be determined by what India does rather than what we need. The irony is that to justify this we present the stats on Indias force multipliers: a defence budget that now stands at USD32 billion; the fact that in the last five years India has been the biggest importer of arms; that since 2004 it stands among the top 15 spenders in the world on defence; the figure on Indias USD200 bn acquisitions wish-list etc. All of this and much else is correct. But what should the lesson be?

The lesson should be in reverse. Indias acquisitions show it has deeper pockets that are getting deeper by the day. Should Pakistan then define its minimum that is credible and sufficient on the basis of what India does? Or should we be confident that what we have is sufficient for deterrent effect? I would put my wager on the latter than the former and for a simple reason: deterrence, ultimately, is psychological. The Cuban missile crisis is a good case study in how deterrence works.

This is just an overview; the issue embeds in it much else. I have tried to confine myself to only the basics. What is important, however, is the fact that the current Pakistani position on FMCT is neither diplomatically savvy nor sustainable. The United States has already indicated that they would take the issue outside the Conference on Disarmament. That may well happen, like it did when the US got Australia to take the issue of the CTBT to the UNGA as a private nations bill and circumvented India.

If that happens, we will be left holding the baby for no reason.

The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.