Strategic Space

Pak's Nuclear 'Normality' through External Deals: Chasing a Chimera

22 Feb, 2016    ·   4992

Dr Manpreet Sethi says that Pakistan's own re-definition of national interest, rather than external inducement, is  essential for its nuclear posture to change

Manpreet Sethi
Manpreet Sethi
Distinguished Fellow at CAPS
Several recent writings have recommended how Pakistan could and should be accommodated into the nuclear mainstream. Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation analyst at the IISS, London, had advocated this through his Adelphi paper entitled “Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers” in 2014. More recently in 2015, Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon made a similar case in a Carnegie publication entitled "A Normal Nuclear Pakistan."

Interestingly, Pakistan’s military and diplomatic elite have been demanding the same ever since India earned itself a nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA and an exceptionalisation from the NSG. This din reached a crescendo in October 2015 just before PM Sharif was to visit Washington. US newspapers hinted at the possibility of a US-Pak nuclear deal as a means to get Pakistan to limit expansion of its nuclear arsenal. Though nothing came out of this then, Pakistan continues to voice the demand. On 12 February 2016, Pak foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, lamented that a "discriminatory approach has impacted strategic stability" and argued that as a "legitimate and normal nuclear power with legitimate needs for nuclear energy," Pakistan too was entitled to a deal with US.

 As is evident from the expressions used by Western analysts and Pakistani officials, both seem to emphasise the adjective "normal" nuclear state for Pakistan. But there is a huge difference in how they use it. While Pakistan claims that it already is one, writings from US think-tanks suggest that the country could and should be offered some external inducements to change its nuclear behaviour into becoming normal. This dichotomy in approach of both is where the dilemma lies. Pakistan believes it deserves a deal while the West contends that it is offering a favour in exchange for a set of conditions.

Dalton and Krepon have identified five conditions for such an offer. These include shifting declaratory policy from “full spectrum” to “strategic” deterrence; committing to a recessed deterrence posture and limiting production of short-range delivery vehicles and tactical nuclear weapons; lifting Pakistan’s veto on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations and reducing or stopping fissile material production; separating civilian and military nuclear facilities; and signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without waiting for India. The basic argument behind these demands is to put a halt to the Pakistani slide towards operationalisation of tactical nuclear weapons that, the West fears, would lead to a command and control nightmare, raising the dangers of nuclear terrorism, which are not lost on the US.

Keeping the above in mind, the US is protecting its national interest by trying to find ways of curtailing the expansion of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. But the questions that need to be answered from a wider perspective are whether a Pakistan that believes all is fine with its nuclear behaviour and strategy can indeed be amenable to change through external inducements in the nuclear arena? Would an offer from the West change the basic drivers of Pakistan’s nuclear policy? Is it at all possible to 'positively shape' Pakistan’s nuclear posture by offering incentives from outside?

The answer to each of these questions is in the negative because Pakistan’s nuclear posture is driven by exaggerated threat perceptions and a self-created paranoia, largely by the Army. Its nuclear strategy is premised on the projection of easy and early use of nuclear weapons, or nuclear brinksmanship or a sense of instability, including through show of battlefield use of nuclear weapons. At every opportunity, Pakistan officials do not forget to remind India and the 'concerned' West of its nuclear-armed status. All this, while Rawalpindi continues to uphold its support for terrorism beyond its own borders. Unless these drivers change, and that can only happen from within Pakistan, no influence from the outside can alter the country's nuclear posture. Therefore, to believe that offering a nuclear deal would placate Pakistan into becoming ‘normal’, is taking a rather shallow view of Pakistan’s deep-rooted security psyche.

In fact, to do so is not even desirable since it is only likely to further postpone a much needed introspection by Pakistan's strategic community of the dangers created by its self-generated threat perceptions and sponsorship of terrorism. It could well embolden Pakistan, even make it more adventurous, seeking to push the envelope of its demands even further. The inability and unwillingness of the international community to deal with Pakistan’s past proliferation and ongoing nuclear brinkmanship with a firm hand, and instead consider offering it nuclear cooperation, contributes to the impression that countries with nuclear weapons can ‘get away with’ activities that may otherwise be considered unacceptable. International security will have to bear the consequences of this in the years to come as Pakistani behaviour is copied by others to brandish nuclear weapons as a potent bargaining chip to seek political concessions.

Of course, the 'West' has the prerogative to grant or deny nuclear cooperation to a country based on its assessment of how this would serve its interest without violating own guidelines and international obligations. But to believe that such an offer could reorient Pakistan’s fast evolving force posture that boasts of a capability to build tactical nuclear weapons and refuses to allow negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, is certainly naive. Such a concession could most likely be interpreted and projected by Pakistani military elite as a victory of sorts and make them more risk prone, not less. This would only sustain the Army's predominance over its national security policy, including continued support to terror groups that in their mind serve a purpose. But as has been seen in the last few years, terrorists are quick to switch loyalties and cannot be straitjacketed into clear cut categories. The nuclear dangers, consequently, will only multiply.

The only long-term solution lies in Pakistan’s reconsideration of its own threat perceptions. This propensity for harboring terrorism and using it to feed a paranoia from India cannot be changed from the outside. Pakistan has opted for a nuclear strategy that its Army considers best suited to its national interest. Therefore, its definition of national interests must change for its nuclear posture to be different. Outside inducements cannot influence this.

To be fair, it is up to the people of Pakistan to choose their ‘normal’. It is their right and responsibility to understand the nuclear dangers they face and plan their own course correction. It has to be Pakistan’s choice to want to become a normal state, not a status that can be conferred or a condition that can be imposed from the outside by offering a nuclear deal. The West, or the rest, can only help Pakistan by offering to assist in building capacities to handle its myriad political, social and economic challenges. These are far bigger millstones around Islamabad’s neck than the imaginary phantoms that Rawalpindi conjures, essentially to sustain its own authority and influence in the domestic power structure.

Pakistan’s well-wishers, within the country and beyond, must help reorient the national security discourse toward a broader normalisation of the state and its polity. Keeping it in good humour by bestowing goodies such as the nuclear deal or more F-16s and other conventional arms is not going to be helpful, neither to the people of Pakistan and nor to its neighbours. The only beneficiaries would be the small nuclear elite within Pakistan that has a narrow, warped view of the nation and its future.

It is ironic that the country that was held out by the Harvard Development Advisory Group in the 1960s as a ‘model developing country’ with an average annual economic growth of 6 per cent has today degenerated into such a sad economic state. Much of this has to do with the country’s obsession with parity with India that leads to an over spending on defence, including on its nuclear weapons programme, while ignoring domestic economic growth and development.

If things have to change, Pakistan will have to alter, first of all, its own sense of threat perceptions. It is a bit far-fetched to assume that a state that has shown such irresponsible behaviour and that yet refuses to accept its irresponsibility, nor change its behaviour, can be made normal by inducements. It is certainly like chasing a chimera of Pakistan's nuclear normality. And 'bestowing normalcy' through external sops in the absence of change will only make the prospect of real change dimmer, not brighter.