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Deviant behaviors in non-proliferation regime

In the contemporary international environment, one of the foremost prevailing challenges to global peace, security and stability is the spread of nuclear weapons. The international mechanism to combat nuclear proliferation is becoming increasingly ‘inadequate’ not only to deal with potential proliferators, which are few yet more determined, but also undermines objectives of the Articles I, II,  IV and VI of the NPT. Article I of NPT prohibits each Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) party to the Treaty from transferring nuclear technology to Non-Nuclear Weapon State (NNWS). Under Article II, each NNWS party to the treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor. Article IV talks about the right of all the parties to the Treaty to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this treaty. Article VI calls states parties to the Treaty to pursue negotiations for cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and ultimately to nuclear disarmament. Until the 1980s, the international measures to prevent horizontal nuclear proliferation were relatively more successful, but later not only India, Israel and Pakistan became de facto nuclear weapon states but the non-nuclear weapon states (Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria) were not fully committed by the instruments of international non-proliferation regime. So far, nine states (P-5, T-3 and North Korea) have acquired nuclear weapons while more than 40 states have technological capability to acquire them.

The efforts that took place to curb the spread of nuclear weapons have reinforced the impression that under the changing dynamics of global politics and regional/national security, challenges to nuclear non-proliferation are ineffectively addressed. The NPT review conferences, which took place every five years, have often failed to achieve consensus on a final document on different issues pertaining to non-proliferation. Disagreement between NWS and NNWS on nuclear disarmament/horizontal nuclear proliferation under Article VI of the treaty, which calls upon P-5 NWS to ‘pursue negotiations’ for ‘effective measures’ within the framework of the NPT, lingers on with no consensus in sight. Similarly differences continue to persist in the interpretation and application of article IV of the NPT on peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

The institutional structure and process of the non-proliferation regime has by itself not been fairly adopted and therefore could not be successful in tackling issues like transfer of nuclear technology and fissile material from NWS to NNWS. Though Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and Nuclear Safety and Security addressed through the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) have succeeded in creating institutional frameworks to address the problems but have yet to fully achieve their objectives.

The discrimination exercised in the implementation of the non-proliferation standards and employment of the Non-Proliferation Regime (NPR) as an instrument of great-power’s foreign and strategic policies’ objectives has raised questions about the sincerity behind its creation and subsequent application. The original and revived advancement of Indo-US Nuclear Deal undermines the non-proliferation efforts as it violates Articles I and II of the NPT and defy its primary objective to prevent nuclear proliferation. Moreover, India’s potential inclusion in Nuclear Supply Group (NSG), after the India-specific exemption to NSG guidelines, is disturbing regional nuclear equilibrium and triggering Pakistan to indulge in a nuclear arm race to ensure credible deterrence which is posing serious challenges to nonproliferation regime. Likewise, the country-specific safeguards display a discriminatory institutional mechanism of the nonproliferation regime and undermine the nonproliferation endeavors.

Moreover, India and the US last year renewed an enhanced Defense Framework Agreement for the next ten years and identified four key “pathfinder projects” for joint development and production including the next generation Raven mini UAVs and specialized kits for C-130 military transport aircraft. Both countries also agreed on a Working Group to explore aircraft carrier technology besides designing and development of jet engine technology. These developments not only raises question about discriminatory nature of Nuclear Proliferation Regime, India’s speedy nuclear program but may instigate the NPT NNWS signatory states to opt out of the Treaty or violate Treaty obligations and pursue acquisition of nuclear weapons. The withdrawal clause, Article X of NPT, already accepts the rights of member states to withdraw from the treaty. India’s accumulation of uranium through deals with Australia, Canada and other countries based on NSG exemption is generating immense pressure on Pakistan to maintain strategic/deterrence equilibrium against India.

The two important elements of the nonproliferation regime, CTBT and FMCT, have never come into effect which questions the status of nonproliferation efforts. Moreover, the Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) is another critical sidelined issue on the UN disarmament and arms control agenda. The weaponization and militarization of space undermines the security of NNWS.

In this vein, among several other factors, a decrease in nuclear weapons inventories of NWS is a critical step in maintaining Global Nuclear Order. However, the ambiguity and secrecy about defining exact number of nuclear weapons by a state, creates general uncertainty, mistrust and misunderstanding. In addition, all the nations with the nuclear weapons continue to modernize or upgrade their nuclear weapons.

Recently, North Korea claimed to detonate hydrogen bomb or thermonuclear weapon, which is far more powerful than the first three North Korea tested in 2006, 2009 and 2013. Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test is taken internationally as another reminder of the seemingly intractable problem of North Korea. The country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has apparently been unstoppable. North Korea has proceeded with its weapons program despite sanctions, isolation, military threats, and attempts at engagement and reconciliation. At a time when the United States is moving toward normalizing relations with Cuba and extolling historic progress through diplomacy with Iran, U.S. relations with North Korea are increasingly anachronistic. But Pyongyang’s conventional military capability, its often-convoluted relations with its neighbors and the United States, and the ambiguous examples of other states’ paths to developing or abandoning nuclear weapons have made solving the North Korean problem a complex challenge indeed. North Korea has said it is developing (all missiles) under its nuclear program for deterrence purposes only and North Korea will continue to develop these capabilities until it balances the security structure in the Korean peninsula.

No doubt, the total number of nuclear warheads in the world is on perpetual decrease; however, the constant up-gradation and modernization of nuclear arsenals by nuclear weapon states show a disorder in Global Nuclear Order generally and NPR particularly. Despite years of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation struggles, nuclear weapons remain integral to the conception of national security of nuclear weapon states. It could be inferred that global nuclear inventories would keep on increasing and modernizing unless robust, rational and unbiased non-proliferation efforts are streamlined by major nuclear power states. Otherwise states would continue spending a major junk of their budgets on nuclear weapon program in self-defense.

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Maimuna Ashraf

Maimuna Ashraf works as a Senior Research Associate for an Islamabad-based think tank Strategic Vision Institute. She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and South Asian nuclear equation. She writes for South Asian Voices, international blogs and national dailies.

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