FMCT: Questioning Mass Destruction as the Basis for International Order

05 Jun, 2013    ·   3971

Vijay Shankar delves into Pakistan's standpoint vis-a-vis the FMCT debate

Vijay Shankar
Vijay Shankar
Vice Admiral (Retd.)

Twenty eight years before Oppenheimer was stirred to note the significance of Krishna’s words from the Gita, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” upon watching the first nuclear test explosion; Tagore, in 1917, had expressed deep scepticism in the fortifying effect of weapons of mass destruction. He (Tagore was not a pacifist in the Gandhi mould) posited that bigger weapons invoked a proportionally more intense reaction that exposed the paradoxically weakening effect of escalating military power. His reasoning was based on the premise that a nation’s pursuit of armed might, beyond a definable threshold, actually increases the penalty of war dramatically.

Seen from this perspective, Pakistan’s FMCT debate would appear unidimensional. Pakistan’s stance is that a modest and austere equation exists between, on the one hand, its current position on the FMCT, and on the other, the sum of ‘organised hypocrisy’ of the international non-proliferation regime and India’s capability both conventional and nuclear. It is important then, to examine the coherence of its standpoint.

Rabia Akhtar in her essay “Pakistan: the FMCT debate within” has pointed out that the tri-condition that would catalyse the country’s participation in the FMCT is that “the treaty first addresses the asymmetry in fissile material stockpiles; second, reduces the existing stockpiles of nuclear materials by each party as a disarmament measure; and lastly addresses Pakistan's security concerns emanating from India's growing nuclear and conventional capabilities.” Given the India-centricity of their nuclear posture (as stated in the essay), all three conditions are, presumably, directed at India notwithstanding the suggestion in the second, which if applied would advocate an unworkable comparison and proportionality with all nuclear weapon states. If this were the intent then the consistency of the proposal is waylaid before the treaty can get underway.

The first rider proposes to bring about nuclear parity by the level pegging of fissile stockpiles which, in a sense, may be appropriate when comprehensive power equation is comparable, doctrine of intent is known, is compatible and transparent, and Controller and Custodian of the arsenal are embodied in two distinct and separate national entities. However, a No First Use (NFU) policy can find no matching urge when faced with an opaque doctrine of First Use under military control, predisposed to tactical nuclear weapons managed by indistinct decentralised control and stewardship.

There is only one riposte to this precarious state and that is to assure massive nuclear retaliation in the eventuality of the first use of nuclear weapons. Noting the imbalance in comprehensive power which is weighted so much in favour of India (GDP almost ten times that of Pakistan), the demand for equivalence does not make sense. In the same vein, India neither demands equivalence with China or the USA nor expects it. Macabre as it may seem, deterrence stability is better served by destructive assurance rather than mathematical equality in stockpiles. Under these circumstances, lowering the nuclear threshold with the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons only serves to amplify the vulnerability that Pakistan has put itself in and undermines the cause of deterrence. The Tagore Conundrum would appear to be at play here.

The third precondition is its security disquiet arising from India’s conventional and nuclear capabilities. A nation’s security concerns are a function of history, geography, developmental and economic objectives, power equations and, most importantly, driven by the aspirations of its people. The key is often the leadership’s ability to find and leverage opportunities within the international system to the larger benefit of the nation. However, in Pakistan’s case, given the omnipresence of the military, it ironically remains a security state driven in the main by military considerations and Indo-centric security paranoia both at the cost of and to the neglect of development. The very nature of such a siege outlook will demand that the India threat remains in perpetuity, so patently reflected in their stance on the FMCT.

If we are to pause and consider a situation when the military threat of war from India did not exist or was of a low probability, then by the logic of the Pakistan security paradigm the siege will lift giving way to establishing a relationship that may suggest stability; then again the same prudence will petition for civil control over the military. The current political conditions post the recent elections have, debatably, opened a glimmer of opportunity. At least the voices that we hear from across the border are ones of less tolerance of extremism, civil control over the military albeit diffident control, and an air of reconciliation; whether this translates to concrete steps only time will tell, but economic deprivation often has an earthy rationale.

The FMCT provides the elemental impulse to restrain and safeguard the spread of nuclear weapons by capping fissile stockpiles. It is a first step not towards bringing equity in nuclear arsenals but to question the basis of mass destruction as logic for international order.