"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne,
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative

Swiss Indict Family for Nuclear Smuggling

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Peter Crail

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Friedrich Tinner and his sons Urs and Marco have been accused of providing gas centrifuge components for the nuclear trafficking network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network was initially used to provide Pakistan with nuclear weapons, but later was aimed at assisting the nuclear weapons programs of several other countries, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, a process that can produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.

The Tinner case has suffered from major political complications stemming from the family’s suspected assistance to the CIA in shutting down the Khan network in 2003. Although Swiss law prohibits such cooperation with a foreign intelligence agency, in 2007 the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s highest executive body, canceled an investigation into the Tinners’ work with the CIA. Also in 2007, the council destroyed key evidence related to the Tinners’ participation in the Khan network, ostensibly to prevent the further spread of sensitive nuclear weapons-related information. (See ACT, July/August 2008.) In 2009 the Swiss parliament published a report describing U.S. pressure on the Swiss government to destroy the documentation, which included nuclear warhead designs.

According to prosecutors, the Tinners have agreed to plead guilty to the smuggling charges as part of an expedited legal procedure that would avoid publicly airing sensitive evidence, the Associated Press reported Dec. 13. The procedure, however, cannot result in a prison term of more than five years. The Tinners all have served several years in prison awaiting trial.

Letter to the Editor: Pakistan’s Conditions for an FMCT

Zamir Akram’s comments in his interview with Arms Control Today (“The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram,” December 2011) signal a potentially important shift in Pakistan’s position on allowing negotiations leading to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Zamir Akram’s comments in his interview with Arms Control Today (“The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram,” December 2011) signal a potentially important shift in Pakistan’s position on allowing negotiations leading to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

For many years, Pakistan has prevented the consensus decision required to start these talks at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, citing its concerns that the mandate for the FMCT talks did not explicitly address asymmetries in existing stockpiles of fissile materials and emphasizing that India had a larger stockpile than Pakistan. In 2008, Pakistan added to its list of objections the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to exempt India from NSG restrictions on the sale of nuclear technology and material to countries outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Pakistan also had argued that instead of focusing just on an FMCT, the CD needed to take up other long-standing important issues such as treaties on negative security assurances, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

In the interview, Akram made clear that the NSG waiver is now the most important issue preventing Pakistan from letting FMCT talks begin. Asked directly “if Pakistan had an NSG waiver like India, Pakistan would be willing to enter negotiations on an FMCT?” Akram said, simply, “Yes.” If this indeed is now the sole condition for Pakistan to stop obstructing FMCT negotiations, Islamabad has put a very high price on its cooperation. The negotiations are then likely to remain stalled for quite some time.

On the other hand, the interview does not suggest that an NSG waiver for Pakistan will be a sufficient inducement for Pakistan to limit or end its fissile material production during FMCT talks. Akram said, “In the time that we can, we need to enhance our own capabilities so that we have sufficient fissile material for what we would then feel is a credible second-strike capability, or credible deterrence capability.” This could mean Pakistan will seek to slow down any FMCT talks to give itself as much time as possible to build its fissile materials stocks and might not even sign an FMCT whenever it is agreed.

Pakistan’s new position of setting an NSG waiver as the price for letting FMCT talks begin may have unintended consequences. Until now, Pakistan has enjoyed the quiet support of a number of countries that also believed that an FMCT needs to include provisions on accounting for and reducing fissile material stocks and wanted the CD to take up discussions on negative security assurances, preventing an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament. After declaring that its opposition to FMCT negotiations would melt away if it is given an NSG waiver, Pakistan may lose the broad support it has enjoyed until now and may find itself completely isolated in the CD.


A. H. Nayyar is a visiting professor of physics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan and a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram

As the Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, Zamir Akram serves as Islamabad’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He has been a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1978. From 2007 to 2008, he was additional foreign secretary for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As the Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, Zamir Akram serves as Islamabad’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He has been a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1978. From 2007 to 2008, he was additional foreign secretary for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Arms Control Today spoke with Akram on October 18 at the Stimson Center in Washington after Akram’s presentation,  “Deterrence and Regional Stability in South Asia.” (In the interview, there are several references to that presentation.) The interview focused on the stalled negotiations at the CD on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and Pakistan’s position that it lags behind India in fissile material production and cannot agree to a production halt until it has closed the gap.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Pakistan has expressed its opposition to fissile material cutoff talks at the CD. Pakistan’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar, said in an October 11 speech at the UN that an FMCT “should deal clearly and comprehensively with the issue of asymmetry of existing fissile material stocks.” However, independent estimates suggest that India and Pakistan currently have roughly similar stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material.

Can you be more specific about how Pakistan views the fissile material balance and how Pakistan believes the issue can be “clearly and comprehensively addressed” in an FMCT?

Akram: An FMCT as currently being envisaged is a treaty that will only ban future production and not existing stocks. Now whatever the count may be—and the count varies as to how much fissile material Pakistan has or India has or other countries have—the game changer in this environment has been the NSG [Nuclear Suppliers Group] waiver for India, which was spearheaded by the United States.[1]

As a result of this NSG waiver, India has signed several nuclear cooperation agreements, with the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Canada, and several other countries. Through these agreements, India will be receiving an unknown but obviously high quantity of fissile material, ostensibly for its civilian nuclear program. This would mean that its existing stocks of fissile material, its indigenous stocks, can be quite easily converted to weapons use because it will have the imported material to use in the civilian facilities. At the moment, what India has to do is to divide it up, between civilian and weapons programs. So it will give India a free hand to enhance its weapons capabilities.

That is what we have to look for.

ACT: If Pakistan believes that India has a greater fissile material production potential today, why is it not in Pakistan’s interest to freeze the size of current stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material by agreeing to a halt in the further production of fissile material for weapons purposes?

Akram: In the time that we can, we need to enhance our own capabilities so that we have sufficient fissile material for what we would then feel is a credible second-strike capability, or credible deterrence capability. So that’s one reason—that if we were to conclude such an agreement, that would deny us the possibility of ensuring that there is no gap between us and India. That’s the first thing.

The other thing is that, with these agreements that have been signed under the NSG with India and with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], the monitoring of civilian nuclear cooperation and the use of civilian nuclear fuel, or fuel meant for civilian purposes, by India is not adequate. There is no real guarantee that material from this particular area will not be diverted for weapons use.

These are some of the factors that cause concern for us that an FMCT concluded now would leave us vulnerable because there would be ways of getting around an FMCT through the civilian nuclear track.

ACT: Accepting for the sake of argument that India is somewhat ahead of Pakistan at this point­—because India’s civilian program is significantly bigger than Pakistan’s and if your concern is the implications of the civil nuclear deal, wouldn’t that mean the gap between the two countries would get larger and larger? Even if there’s a relatively small gap now, wouldn’t it be strategically in your interest to hold that gap as it is rather than allow it to expand as it could if this scenario you’re describing materializes?

Akram: No, as I said, with the program that we have, we are working toward ensuring that we have sufficient fissile material that would give us a more credible assurance of deterrence. So we need to build up to a point that we are assured of that number. Now, what the number is, I can’t tell you because we don’t know how many and what the Indians will be doing. Even if we have an idea where both of us are today, with the fact that they will now get access to very large amounts of fissile material, and how they will use that fissile material, we need to compensate for that now. We need to start working on that possibility now so that even if there is a gap, it’s not a huge, big gap, and that despite the gap, our second-strike, or our deterrence, capability is credible.

ACT: As you said in your [Stimson Center] talk, if a minimum credible deterrent depends to a certain extent on what the other side has, that number is only going to go up in the future as both sides continue to build. As India’s goes up, if it takes advantage of this situation that you’re describing, then yours will have to go up as well, will it not?

Akram: As I said, there are two things. One is potential: their potential for increasing their stocks will go up as a result of the NSG agreements. That’s number one. Number two, we cannot discount the possibility of diversion from civilian to military. So taking these into account, we have to build our own capacity to a point where we feel comfortable with our deterrent.

ACT: Why can’t the issue of existing stocks be addressed once negotiations on an FMCT are under way at the CD? Even if Pakistan itself would not be prepared to join an FMCT in the coming years, once the treaty is negotiated, why prevent other countries from reaching agreement on such an accord by blocking consensus on the agenda?

Akram: Those are two questions. As for the second one, we’re not blocking—okay, we’re blocking in the CD, but they can take it out and negotiate it outside if they want to. The countries that have already declared a moratorium on production of fissile material for weapons, they can convert that moratorium into an international treaty among themselves—the five nuclear-weapon states, or if the Indians want to join them, so much the better. Fine.

As for the other question, we are concerned that the negotiations that are being envisaged right now will be concluded in a way that the major powers want. The major powers have themselves, in informal meetings, very clearly stated, “We are not ready to include stocks.” If you permit me to say, this so-called Shannon mandate is an eyewash. It’s basically what we call constructive ambiguity in the UN. It’s a means of getting around a difficult issue and fudging the problem. That’s what constructive ambiguity is.

That’s not good enough for us at this point. In 1998, 1999, when this issue of an FMCT came up and the Canadians came up with this idea of what was then being called the Shannon mandate, that could work then. But now you have—as I say, the NSG waiver is a game changer. At least for us, it has made a big difference. So now we can’t deal with ambiguity. If we’re going to deal with stocks, it has to be up front. It has to be accepted that, yes, we’re going to negotiate reductions of stocks and a ban on future production. That’s our position.

ACT: Why not start that process, where you can make those points, rather than prevent the process from moving ahead?

Akram: As I say, this process will not take long to complete because they are ready with their commitments. They are ready with what they want. I don’t see this going to be a long, drawn-out process.

But anyway, what you’re saying is, why can’t we talk about it, right? Fine, in the CD they can talk about it. We don’t have to say we are negotiating it, but we can talk about it. And we’ve done this for many years, talked about different things. We talked for several years about chemical weapons before we actually negotiated the Chemical Weapons Convention.

ACT: Some countries have suggested that if the CD cannot begin talks on an FMCT soon, they will seek action in the UN General Assembly on an FMCT. Others, including the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council— China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States], are holding discussions outside the CD to help sort through the issues that are blocking negotiation of an FMCT. What is Pakistan’s view of any role for the General Assembly in negotiating such a treaty? Why wouldn’t Pakistan welcome the chance to discuss its views on fissile material with the P5 and other states, including possibly India?

Akram: As for our position on the UN’s role, of course, the UN can set up a group of governmental experts to negotiate anything. There’s no way we can oppose that; that’s fine. But it’s not mandatory for anyone to be there, so whoever wants to be there can be there. Fine. On the role of the UN, there is no problem, they can do what they want; the UN can take a decision on this.

As regards the participation by some of these countries in informal talks, like the scientific- and technical-level talks, I was all for scientific- and technical-level talks if they are in the CD, to elaborate ideas about verification, about scope, about definition, all those things. We can talk about these in the CD, we never opposed it. In fact, I told Japan and Australia, the two of them who were spearheading this, that it’s better to do it in the CD than outside the CD. If you’re doing it outside the CD, the CD is not bound by it, so what is the value addition?

As for the P5-plus, the problem is on several levels. First of all, the P5 is not a recognized group in the CD. The P5 can have its own say on whatever it wants to say. But the idea that the five nuclear-weapon states and the three new nuclear-weapon states[2] can get together and decide this issue for the rest of the world is something which we find is a bit presumptuous. This is not the way that we need to proceed with an international treaty. You can’t have five or eight countries decide and basically come and tell [the other countries], “This is it; sign onto it.” That’s not the right kind of approach. If we want to have a discussion on what the issues are, we’re ready for that. We do engage with all of them in an informal setting in the CD itself or outside the CD; we do that. But to have a process called a P5-plus-N3 process on an FMCT, I don’t think the nuclear- weapon states have the authority to do this.

ACT: Given Pakistan’s concern about the further expansion of India’s fissile material stockpiles, has Islamabad raised the issue directly with New Delhi? Is it possible for the two countries to engage in bilateral arms control efforts to slow the current arms race?

Akram: I mentioned in the talk today what we call the “strategic restraint regime.” The strategic restraint regime had three parts—has three parts, because it’s still on the table. One is strategic: that deals with a bilateral commitment not to test nuclear weapons, a commitment not to deploy new technologies such as ballistic missile defense systems or submarine launch systems, those kinds of destabilizing things. On the conventional side, we’ve offered discussions on balanced reduction of forces, conventional forces. And on the third, political side, we’ve advocated dialogue to resolve outstanding issues like Kashmir.

So, there is a comprehensive proposal out there. So far, what we have succeeded in is identifying and agreeing on some confidence-building measures such as early warning about missile tests, prior warning about military exercises, these kinds of small things. But we have not ventured into the critical areas.

This proposal was made in 1998-1999; now we’re more than 10 years after. In that time, a major shift has taken place, what I call the game changer. As a result of this U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and as a result of the NSG waiver and India’s arrangements, agreements with the United States, with Israel, with Russia on conventional arms buildup, plus transfer of ballistic missile technology, transfer of space technology, which can help build intercontinental ballistic missiles, and which also involves now leased Russian nuclear-powered submarines with submarine-launched missiles—all these are developments that have radically altered the strategic environment in South Asia and, at least from our perspective, encouraged a greater degree of belligerence on the part of the Indians.

[In the Stimson Center talk,] I mentioned Cold Start.[3] This has obviously raised concerns in Pakistan about our security vis-à-vis India. We’ve had to respond. We’ve taken measures that would ensure that we continue to maintain a credible deterrent. But we’re ready to talk to the Indians as well.

Unfortunately, of course, the Indians look at this discussion on strategic issues as something that does not involve only Pakistan. They say that, well, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is India specific, which it is. But they say that our nuclear capability is not Pakistan specific.

ACT: “Our” being India’s?

Akram: India’s. The Indians say that Indian nuclear capabilities are not Pakistan specific, so we’re not going to discuss it only with you.

ACT: Meaning it’s also China specific?

Akram: They don’t say that, but they imply it.

So now here too, I’m going back in time, in the early 1990s, before either side had tested in 1998, in the early 1990s when we were making all kinds of efforts to make progress on these things, we had actually convinced China to become a part of the 5-plus-2 discussion, which included the P5 plus India and Pakistan, in a dialogue to address these issues of nuclear buildup and security. That again was not acceptable to the Indians. So these things have been tried. Effort has been made for a dialogue, but you need a partner.

ACT: Some analysts have expressed concern that Pakistan’s development of smaller nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield, potentially in response to an Indian conventional attack, raises the risk of a nuclear war in South Asia. What proposals, if any, has your country recently discussed with or offered to India to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange?

Akram: I think the most important approach here is to find ways to resolve our differences and reduce the existing tensions. That’s the most effective way of progressing on this front.

As long as that is not something that has been achieved, we need to have efficient, reliable confidence-building systems and measures, like a hotline, which we have, like advance notification of flights and other things, that we have. These are processes that are there. We can improve them, fine-tune them, increase their reliability and all these things, but we also need to be able to use them. Sometimes, situations have arisen where the hotline has never been used. These are very important things that we need to do, but overall, deterrence has to be made credible. That’s the only real way of ensuring, in the absence of anything else, a credible deterrent, which is the only way that we can preserve stability, peace, and security. This is what I said in that five-point plan that I mentioned [in the Stimson Center talk]; it’s just the first thing.

ACT: Part of the concern here is that developing these kinds of weapons potentially lowers the threshold for nuclear use and that it makes it easier for a conflict to escalate to the nuclear level. How do you factor that into the equation?

Akram: It does. But then, you see, we have to look at it from an action-reaction kind of process. What is it that we are trying to do here? We are trying to ensure that our deterrent remains credible. Why are we doing this? Because the situation has changed dramatically over the last five to 10 years, especially as a result of the kind of agreements and understandings that have been reached between the United States and India and some other countries that I mentioned.

This has brought a lot of qualitative change. It’s not just the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement; the nuclear cooperation is just part of a broader strategic engagement that involves transfer of a huge amount of advanced technology including [ballistic missile defense] technology. It involves opportunities for India to purchase the latest versions of fighter aircraft and other kinds of military equipment from the United States, Russia, Israel, and others.

We have to deal with capabilities. Any country will look at its opponent’s capabilities and then will have to assess how it is going to respond to these capabilities in order to ensure that its security is not compromised. This is the way we find is the most cost-effective way to do it. We can’t afford to be involved in a race with India tank for tank, aircraft for aircraft, submarine for submarine. We can look at other ways of trying to find the same solutions.

Yes, it causes a dangerous environment. It does. But both sides have to recognize that there is a shared interest in avoiding such a situation. That’s why I said that confidence-building measures—the best confidence building, of course, is to resolve your problems, so you don’t have any reason to be concerned. But short of that, you need to find ways to ensure that both sides are assured that nothing is happening that can cause alarm, and that requires effective confidence-building measures.

ACT: You already mentioned Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear tests in 1998. Subsequently, each country pledged not to be the first to resume testing. Has your government discussed how this mutual test moratorium might evolve into a legally binding, verifiable ban on nuclear test explosions? For instance, is Islamabad willing to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if New Delhi does so?

Akram: Yes, we have said so. If India does, we will too.

ACT:  Is there any discussion about moving that ahead?

Akram: Between India and Pakistan? No, unfortunately we have not had a discussion on this, whether or not to move forward, on how to move forward. I think there is no real incentive for the Indians to move forward, actually. If you have been reading some of the work that’s coming out, George Perkovich [of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] actually wrote that, with the kind of deal that’s been given to it, the NSG and the other things, the incentive for India to move toward the CTBT is even less.

ACT: What kind of incentives would be required, do you think, to move India to that position?

Akram: Not giving them more fissile material through preferential treatment. What more can I say? Our position is very clear.

ACT: Pakistan has linked its position on FMCT negotiations to its receipt of a waiver from the NSG so it can participate in global nuclear commerce, as India now can. How would the waiver address Pakistan’s concerns about the fissile material imbalance it sees?

Akram: It would give us access to civilian-use fissile material that we would be able to use for our civilian technology and for producing energy and whatever we need it for. But more important than the nuts and bolts of it is the principle of it, that Pakistan needs to be treated as a country which has as much of a legitimate right as India does to have a nuclear capability.

ACT: So it’s not on the substance of the fissile material issue, because the issue of your concern is fissile material for weapons. This wouldn’t address that, certainly not directly. Even indirectly, as we discussed earlier, it wouldn’t help Pakistan in the same way it helps India because India has a much larger program, and I don’t think you have the same shortfall of uranium that India does. It wouldn’t seem that this would have the same impact on Pakistan’s ability to produce fissile material for weapons as it would, under your scenario, for India.

Akram: But it would place us on a par. More than that, it would give us access to civilian nuclear technology that is being denied to us under these restrictions, allow us to engage in nuclear cooperation with other countries, and there is a whole host of things. If that requires us to be able to be a part of these negotiations on an FMCT, we are willing to pay the price to start these negotiations. There has to be some kind of a trade-off. We’ve been cut out of this whole business, even though Pakistan was not the one that started this nuclear race in South Asia in the first place.

So we are ready to be a part of this process if we are given equivalence, if we are treated on par with India.

ACT:  Just to clarify, if Pakistan had an NSG waiver like India, Pakistan would be willing to enter negotiations on an FMCT?

Akram: Yes.

ACT: Even with ambiguity about the mandate?

Akram: Yes. I mean, we would like to have a clearer mandate, but with the kind of situation that exists now, I don’t think that is something that is likely to happen.

ACT: How much support is there, do you think, within the NSG for such a Pakistan waiver?

Akram: I think there are very few countries—the thing is that it just takes one country to block in the NSG, because it’s by consensus. We feel that a case needs to be made in Pakistan’s favor just as a case was made by the United States in India’s favor. The argument that India has a better nonproliferation record than Pakistan was one of the issues that was cited. But I can show you statement after statement after statement, and sanctions after sanctions imposed on India by the United States itself for nonproliferation misdemeanors.

That’s not the argument. One of these Indian journalists was saying, “Well, what about [Abdul Qadeer] Khan?” I said the issue of A.Q. Khan is something which has been used again and again to deny us this kind of status. There are several examples of proliferation activities by India which were basically brushed under the carpet when it was decided to give the Indians this deal. So that is what is needed; you need basically a political decision that we have to move on and we have to change the game now. That’s what is required.

ACT: Is there a country in the NSG that is willing to do for Pakistan what the United States did for India? Do you have someone who is willing to make the case for you within the NSG?

Akram: I can’t speak for any other country. All I will say is that we have civilian nuclear cooperation with China. And that’s under IAEA safeguards; these nuclear reactors at Chashma, Chashma-1 and -2, are in operation; now we are working on [Chashma-]3 and -4. We do have nuclear cooperation. This is under a grandfather clause that the Chinese used when they joined the NSG.[4]

But we need to move beyond this. There are three countries that are not parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but have nuclear capability. You’ve given only one of them a special dispensation. There needs to be a criteria-based approach that would make all three eligible, if they want to engage in this thing. This is something that you can’t roll back. It’s like toothpaste out of a tube. What can you do? You have to deal with this reality.

ACT: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much; we appreciate it.



1. In 2008, the NSG agreed to exempt India from the group’s general rules by allowing India to receive nuclear exports from NSG members although New Delhi does not apply so-called full-scope safeguards, that is, does not open all its nuclear facilities to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. See Wade Boese, “NSG, Congress Approve Nuclear Trade With India,” Arms Control Today, October 2008.


2. The five countries recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Because those are the same countries that make up the P5, the term “P5” often is used to refer to those countries in their role as NPT nuclear-weapon states.) Three additional countries—India, Israel, and Pakistan—have never joined the NPT and operate nuclear programs that are unsafeguarded.

3. “Cold Start” is an Indian military doctrine that involves quick, limited strikes in Pakistani territory in response to incursions from Pakistan into India.

4. When China joined the NSG in 2004, the other members of the group agreed that certain Chinese projects in Pakistan could be “grandfathered,” that is, China could continue with those existing projects although Pakistan does not accept full-scope safeguards. China reportedly has argued that Chashma-3 and -4 are covered by that agreement. See “The NSG in a Time of Change: An Interview With NSG Chairman Piet de Klerk,” Arms Control Today, October 2011; Daniel Horner, “China, Pakistan Set Reactor Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

P5 Struggles to Unblock FMCT Talks

Fulfilling a commitment made at the United Nations in July, the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states met in Geneva on Aug. 30 to discuss ways to break the logjam at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a proposed treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for weapons. However, the states, known as the P5 because they also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, did not agree to pursue negotiations outside the CD, where Pakistan remains opposed to treaty talks.

Tom Z. Collina

Fulfilling a commitment made at the United Nations in July, the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states met in Geneva on Aug. 30 to discuss ways to break the logjam at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a proposed treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for weapons. However, the states, known as the P5 because they also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, did not agree to pursue negotiations outside the CD, where Pakistan remains opposed to treaty talks.

The P5 position to keep the fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) talks in the CD means that because of the forum’s consensus rule for decision-making, Pakistan’s concerns eventually will have to be addressed if the CD is going to make progress. Negotiations on an FMCT have been held up for years by Islamabad, which is blocking the needed consensus. (See ACT, September 2011.) As one CD representative put it in a recent interview, “Pakistan needs more time to produce more material, and they are happy to wait.”

Zamir Akram, the Pakistani ambassador to the CD, said in an Aug. 30 interview that Islamabad has a “growing window of vulnerability” in relation to India on fissile material stockpiles and that the window “needs to be closed.” According to Akram, the 2008 U.S.-Indian nuclear deal changed the strategic dynamics in South Asia by allowing New Delhi to divert its domestic fissile material production to weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

Akram said that Pakistan is open to dialogue and wants a “level playing field.” One way to achieve that, he said, is by giving Pakistan a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver like the one India received in 2008, exempting it from the group’s general policy of requiring that recipients of member states’ nuclear exports place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. (See ACT, October 2008.)

Another approach, Akram said, is to address New Delhi’s fissile material stockpiles in FMCT negotiations. The P5 members are opposed to reducing existing stocks through FMCT talks, however, saying they support the so-called Shannon mandate, which would leave that issue to be resolved during the negotiations.

Pakistan wants clarity and cannot accept “ambiguity” in the talks, Akram said. He has said that Pakistan is “ready to stand in splendid isolation” at the CD.

It is not clear how much support exists in the NSG for a Pakistani waiver. Pakistan also is reportedly seeking a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Islamabad later this year. An earlier trip had been planned, but U.S.-Pakistani relations took a dive after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert raid by the U.S. military in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2.

Among the five nuclear-weapon states, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States all have publicly renounced fissile material production for weapons. China is believed to have stopped such production.

India, Israel, and Pakistan, the three countries that never have joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), are the only states other than the P5 not legally prohibited from producing fissile materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) for nuclear weapons. Only India and Pakistan are believed to be currently producing such materials.

After their meeting, the P5 issued a joint statement supporting the negotiation of an FMCT “at the earliest possible date in the CD” and declaring that it would meet again “with other relevant parties” during the UN General Assembly First Committee’s session in October.

In recent interviews, representatives in Geneva said the statement’s phrase “in the CD” was a concession by the United States, which wants to pursue treaty negotiations outside the 65-nation body to avoid Pakistan’s veto. The Obama administration has said repeatedly over the last year that if the CD could not start negotiations, then “other options” would need to be considered. China and Russia, on the other hand, want the talks to stay in the CD and do not support other venues, in which the consensus rule might not apply.

The P5 did agree to discuss strategy for moving the talks forward in the CD. Such discussions may also include “other relevant parties” such as India, Israel, and Pakistan, which could be asked to join, according to officials.

Other countries, such as Canada and Mexico, are seeking to start FMCT negotiations in the UN General Assembly, according to the Geneva representatives. These delegations say that the rule of consensus in the CD is outdated and needs to be changed. If there is no consensus, they say, the issue should be brought to the UN where nations can take a vote. Canada, along with others, said in a Sept. 21 statement that it would introduce a resolution along these lines at the UN General Assembly in October.

India, Pakistan Resume Security Dialogue

The foreign ministers of nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan met July 27 in New Delhi, resuming their high-level dialogue on security and confidence-building measures for the first time since the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Kristina Popova

The foreign ministers of nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan met July 27 in New Delhi, resuming their high-level dialogue on security and confidence-building measures for the first time since the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. A key focus of the discussions was the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The bilateral relationship “should not be held hostage to the past,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. “It is our desire to make the dialogue process uninterrupted and uninterruptible,” she said.

Khar’s Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, expressed confidence that relations between the two countries are “on the right track,” but he cautioned that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A joint statement, released after the official talks, characterized the atmosphere as “candid, cordial and constructive” and announced that the two sides had agreed on new arrangements to increase travel and trade across the disputed Line of Control.

The ministers also committed to convening meetings of expert groups in Islamabad in September on confidence-building measures relating to nuclear and conventional weapons, which would constitute the first information-sharing initiative in years on nuclear issues between the two states. The most recent development in this field was a 2005 agreement on prenotification of ballistic missile tests.

The bilateral discussions have taken on a new urgency in the wake of Pakistan’s efforts to expand the production of fissile material for weapons. Islamabad’s current arsenal is estimated to include between 90 and 110 warheads. India is believed to have enough separated fissile material for an arsenal of more than 100 nuclear warheads. In April, Pakistan tested the Hatf-9 short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile. (See ACT, May 2011.)

P5 to Take Up Fissile Material Cutoff

The five original nuclear-weapon states have agreed to discuss ways to begin negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for weapons, which is currently being blocked by Pakistan at the UN Conference on Disarmament.

Peter Crail

As part of efforts to start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states have agreed to hold discussions on the matter outside the deadlocked Conference on Disarmament (CD). The move follows increasing frustration with the inability of the CD to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) because of Pakistan’s refusal to agree to a consensus work program. (See ACT, March 2011.)

The five nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—also known as the P5 for their status as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, said in a joint statement to a special meeting of the UN General Assembly on the UN disarmament bodies July 27, “[I]n order to sustain the potential of negotiations [on an FMCT] in the CD, the P5 will, prior to the next [UN General Assembly], renew their efforts with other relevant partners to promote such negotiations.” The next session of the General Assembly opens Sept. 13. The special meeting on July 27–28 was a follow-up to a high-level General Assembly meeting on disarmament held last September, where the stalled FMCT process was also addressed. (See ACT, October 2010.)

The P5 effort on an FMCT came out of a June 30–July 1 meeting in Paris on steps to implement the decisions of last year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

The countries that make up the P5 are the only NPT members allowed to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. All except China pledged during the 1990s to halt such production for weapons, and China is widely believed to have stopped around the same time. India, Israel, and Pakistan, the only countries never to have joined the NPT, are the only other countries that are not legally prohibited from producing fissile material for weapons, although only India and Pakistan are believed to continue to do so.

In 2006 the Bush administration proposed a draft FMCT text that would have entered into force once all P5 countries ratified the accord. The proposed treaty did not include verification measures, which all CD members had previously agreed needed to be part of such a treaty, and it failed to win support.

Diplomats from P5 countries said last month that the reference to “relevant partners” in their July 27 statement refers to other countries that possess uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technology, which can be used to produce fissile material. White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore said in an April 7 interview with Arms Control Today that such countries “have something to bring to the negotiations” and would be directly affected by any additional verification requirements for fissile material production.

The P5 members all have expressed their preference for holding FMCT negotiations in the 65-member CD, the United Nations’ multilateral negotiating forum on arms control issues. That body, which operates on a consensus basis, has been unable to begin substantive work for more than a decade. The CD briefly agreed on a work program that would have initiated FMCT negotiations in 2009, but Pakistan broke the consensus before such work could begin.

Islamabad insists on a treaty that takes into account existing stocks of fissile material, a position supported by many countries in the developing world but opposed by the P5, which prefers prohibiting only future production. Wary that its preference would not be incorporated into any eventual treaty, Pakistan has used the CD’s consensus rule to prevent negotiations from starting.

Among the P5 countries, the United States in particular has insisted on the need to consider alternative venues for negotiating an FMCT if the CD remains unable to act. Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the CD Jan. 27 that if the body could not find a way to start negotiations, “then we will need to consider other options.”

A Department of State official said Aug. 17 that “the CD remains our preference” for negotiating an FMCT, “but we remain committed to a P5-led process outside the CD that, albeit not now, could open the door down the road to a negotiating process.”

Earlier this year, the United States supported an initiative by Australia and Japan to host expert-level side meetings at the CD to discuss technical issues in preparation for future negotiations. Gottemoeller told the General Assembly July 27 that the discussions “proved to be productive, substantive, and collegial,” but said, “[W]e are no closer to FMCT negotiations today than we were two years ago.” The State Department official said such side meetings could continue, but are insufficient to make progress because key countries such as China and Pakistan have not participated.

The official also noted that Beijing was particularly wary of joining any P5 initiative on the treaty. China has insisted on FMCT negotiations at the CD and called into question the utility of other negotiating forums. On July 28, Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Wang Min told the General Assembly, “Any idea or practice of resorting to another framework is obviously not conducive to the work of the CD, nor will it produce a satisfactory FMCT.”

In addition to the P5 effort, some countries, as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have suggested the possibility that the General Assembly take up the FMCT issue. In his July 27 remarks to the assembly, Ban said, “If the CD remains deadlocked, the General Assembly has a responsibility to step in.”

Similarly, in a statement on behalf of the 10-country Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative, Australian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gary Quinlan said that if the CD is unable to begin FMCT negotiations during its August-September session, the group would ask the next General Assembly to address the issue and consider ways to begin negotiations. The 10 states in the group include developed and developing countries from several different regions.

Washington, however, says it sees problems with the General Assembly taking up the treaty. The State Department official said that “basic principles like consensus might be endangered” in such a venue.

The official added that the CD is the more appropriate multilateral forum, and if the CD cannot work, it is better to consider a process centered on the P5 because of its members’ fissile material production capacities.

International Day Against Nuclear Tests: Translating Words Into Action

By Daryl G. Kimball August 29, 2011 is the second official International Day Against Nuclear Tests . It coincides with the 20th anniversary of the historic events that led to the closure of the former Soviet nuclear test site of Semipalatinsk, where more than 456 explosions contaminated the land and its inhabitants. Citizens of the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan protest nuclear weapons testing at the Soviet nuclear testing site near Semipalatinsk in August, 1989. Photo by Yuri Kuidin. The courageous efforts of the Kazakh people and their allies forced Moscow's communist regime to halt...

Indian Membership in the NSG? A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Not Come

By Daryl G. Kimball Global efforts to prevent the spread of the world's most deadly weapons depend on universal compliance with rules that constrain the sale of nuclear technology. Too often, however, powerful states try to make exceptions from these rules, or simply ignore them, in order to help powerful commercial nuclear interests score profits or to curry favor with key allies, or both. The latest example is the Obama administration's proposal to create a process for India to join the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)–the nuclear technology control organization established in 1975...

Germany Opposes United States on China-Pakistan Nuclear Deal

By Oliver Meier in Berlin The German government believes that Chinese plans to export two nuclear reactors to Pakistan are covered by the existing policies and understandings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and that the 46-nation export control organization should not even discuss the deal at its meeting this week in the Netherlands. In response to a set of questions asked by opposition Social Democrat members of the German Bundestag on Germany's nuclear export control policies, the government explained that it views the planned export of the Chashma 3 and 4 nuclear reactors to Pakistan...

Banking on an Outsider: Implications for Escalation Control in South Asia

Since acquiring nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan have relied on the United States to de-escalate crises. This approach is inherently risky and must be changed.

Moeed Yusuf

The potential for confrontation between India and Pakistan continues to worry many around the world. The two nuclear powers are highly crisis prone; they have been embroiled in at least three major crises since they declared their nuclear weapons capabilities to the world in 1998. Over the past decade, terrorism on Indian soil has become the number one trigger for Indian-Pakistani crises. The threat still remains clear and present. Prior crises were initiated due to provocative posturing (1987) and even confusion and misperception (1990). These also remain plausible drivers of the next crisis.[1]

Each Indian-Pakistani crisis implies increased tensions, tit-for-tat brinkmanship, and an inherent risk of escalation. This bodes ill for peace in the region because the most likely scenario leading to a nuclear war is an Indian-Pakistani military escalation caused by a crisis-triggering event. Crisis behavior in the past has tended to bring out the most dangerous elements of the Indian-Pakistani nuclear equation. Concerns emanate from the lack of transparency in nuclear postures and strategies, ambiguous red lines, lack of early-warning capabilities, concerns about the safety and security of the arsenals, structural realities such as geographical proximity, and, not least, a tendency to look to a third party—the United States—to avoid uncontrolled escalation.

This last aspect, namely the expected role of the third party as the principal agent for de-escalation in a nuclear environment, is destabilizing in that it attaches expectations that this outsider may be unable to fulfill. Moreover, it leads the principal parties to avoid institutionalizing bilateral mechanisms for escalation control. An absence of these mechanisms, in turn, makes the third party, in this case the United States, eager to mediate, not only because of its fears of uncontrolled escalation but also because of its important interests in the region. During the Kargil conflict of 1999 and the 2001-2002 military standoff—the two most serious crises since the 1998 nuclear tests—the third-party role was prominent. A significant proportion of the signaling also was routed through third parties. This was most obvious in the 2001-2002 crisis when both sides actively looked to the United States to weigh in on their side and force the other to pull back. In essence, escalation control was “contracted out.”

This model of escalation control is especially dangerous in the South Asian context, not only because future crises are believed to be highly likely but also because there is a strong belief among decision-makers on both sides that U.S. diplomatic intervention will be able to keep a lid on escalation. Even more worrisome, they wish for the United States to intervene in support of their position; they want cessation of hostilities, but on their terms. Such a belief has implications, both for escalation control in South Asia and for U.S. policy and actions during future crises. Will the United States be in a position to play the role each side envisages? Even more fundamentally, is its intervention likely to be stabilizing, or will it end up inducing further instability into the equation?

Behavior in Past Crises

The only two nuclear crises since the end of the Cold War that saw active mobilization of military forces on both sides were between India and Pakistan. In 1999, just a year after Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, Pakistan-backed operatives infiltrated Indian Kashmir and captured strategic heights at Kargil. Fears of escalation to the nuclear level were raised in many global capitals almost instantly. Even though the scope of this confrontation and the use of nuclear signals were limited,[2] two aspects of the crisis did have implications for future behavior.

The first was the third party’s role: rather than looking to resolve the conflict bilaterally, Pakistan sought external help. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reached out to China directly, and subsequently to U.S. President Bill Clinton, to seek assistance in stopping the fighting and pushing India to resolve the dispute over Kashmir.

Second, even if this was not one of Pakistan’s original objectives, the Kargil episode ended up indicating the possibility of limited conflict below the nuclear threshold. Pakistan, having the conventionally weaker military, could now potentially use space at the lower end of the conflict spectrum with relative impunity. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent could prevent all-out war—this amounted to a neutralization of India’s conventional superiority—while emboldening the use of limited war, either through regular troops or asymmetric means.[3] Glenn Snyder’s “stability-instability paradox” was in play, to Pakistan’s advantage.[4]

The 2001-2002 crisis, set off as it was by an attack on the Indian parliament by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, was more obviously and explicitly a “nuclear crisis.” Nuclear signaling took place openly; both sides made a number of statements as well as veiled and blunt nuclear threats aimed at establishing the credibility of their resolve not to back down. Perhaps the most alarming aspect was that not one of these signals was conveyed through direct contact.[5] All verbal signals were transmitted through open sources or third parties. A significant proportion was addressed directly to the international community and the United States. Indeed, it was obvious that both sides were actively goading the United States to intervene diplomatically to back their respective cases.[6]

In the 2001-2002 crisis, India had mobilized its forces and threatened an all-out attack against Pakistan as part of a “compellence” strategy. New Delhi demanded that Pakistan sincerely tackle militant proxies, which it traditionally had used against India in a bid to raise New Delhi’s costs in Kashmir. By taking this position, India was attempting to reverse the perception generated during the Kargil episode that Pakistan’s nuclear capability had taken away India’s space to “punish” Pakistan through a conventional response.[7] In the final outcome, Islamabad walked away more satisfied because India, despite continuously threatening war, could not launch an attack. Furthermore, although the Pakistani state did commit to tackling anti-India militancy—this was India’s key objective—and undertook certain steps, it did not achieve irreversible progress in pacifying the militant groups targeting India.

The most recent crisis was triggered in November 2008 when Lashkar-e-Taiba, a prominent Pakistan-based militant group, attacked the city of Mumbai, killing 164 people. By the time that attack occurred, India already had assumed the role of the principal U.S. ally in South Asia. Thus, even though there was a greater effort from India and Pakistan to reach out bilaterally this time around, New Delhi tried to use its newfound stature in global politics to call on the international community to judge Pakistan; parallels were drawn between the Mumbai and September 11 attacks. Moreover, although India refrained from an immediate military mobilization, it did put its air force on high alert. In fact, two weeks after the attack, Indian air force jets entered Pakistani airspace, forcing Pakistani interceptors to scramble.

For Pakistan, the situation was much like it was during the 2001-2002 standoff: Islamabad was embarrassed, squarely on the back foot, and seeking to escape unharmed. It managed to do so by successfully distancing the state from the terrorist attack and promising to investigate the episode and take the perpetrators to task.[8] Indeed, for the second crisis in a row, the outcome favored Pakistan. India did not respond militarily, and the international community asked for little more than serious investigations. New Delhi was left seething with discontent.

The U.S. Role

In all three crises, the foremost U.S. objective was to reduce tensions before escalation dynamics set in. It did so by playing two roles: as a balancer and as a face-saving channel.

During the Kargil conflict, the United States had few pressing interests in South Asia. Pakistan, on the other hand, was seen universally as the aggressor whose reckless behavior had caused the crisis in the first place. Washington satisfied its objective of achieving de-escalation by urging Pakistan to withdraw while pleading with India not to undertake an open-ended military response that could lead to expansion of the conflict. India responded favorably while Sharif, in the face of multiple tactical losses on the battlefront, traveled to Washington to seek an end to the conflict. Clinton, while demanding Pakistan’s unequivocal withdrawal, did not agree to an immediate diplomatic intervention on the Kashmir issue as the Pakistani delegation had hoped.[9] By doing so, he came out in de facto support of the Indian position. Yet, by agreeing to mediate and impress on India the need to cease hostilities once Pakistan announced the withdrawal, he provided the Pakistani side with a face-saver. Pakistan could claim, as it did, that it had achieved a negotiated end to the conflict and internationalized the Kashmir issue. For India, the Kargil episode proved to be a fresh beginning with the United States. Years of sour relations were turned around shortly after the confrontation.

The 2001-2002 episode saw a much more elaborate U.S. role. By that time, both Pakistan and India had become critical to U.S. interests for different reasons. In fact, signaling from both sides during the crisis reflected a recognition of their importance for Washington. Interestingly enough, their behavior suggested that each believed it was more important and could sway the United States to its side. Nonetheless, the aim of ensuring a swift end to tensions meant that the United States could not side with either party overtly. Doing so could have emboldened the particular actor toward which Washington was leaning, thus raising the possibility of provocation. Commendably, the United States managed to keep its eyes on its ultimate objective and retain impartiality; its role was a textbook example of a “preponderant pivot” working to mitigate conflict.[10] It issued statements in India’s favor at times and in Pakistan’s at others. It requested that India back off and pressured Pakistan to deal with militants seriously as a quid pro quo. It also selectively shared intelligence, which helped to avoid misunderstandings at crucial moments.[11]

For India, the outcome was not exactly what it had hoped. However, as Pakistan had managed to do during the Kargil conflict, New Delhi did use the United States as a face-saver. By getting the United States to condemn militancy publicly and call on Pakistan, harshly on occasion, to curb militancy emanating from its territory, India could argue that it had achieved its aim of getting Pakistan to agree to change its policy. Yet, realizing that the outcome actually had gone in Pakistan’s favor—India’s effort at compellence had essentially failed—the United States offered India long-term benefits. Indeed, the years following the standoff saw significant U.S. concessions to India, which helped persuade New Delhi that it could repose its trust in Washington’s intentions. Between 2003 and 2008, military-to-military contacts were revived, and India became the recipient of multiple defense deals, a unique civil nuclear deal, and a much enhanced economic relationship with the United States.

The Mumbai crisis saw a repeat performance by Washington in terms of working to alleviate tensions, although in circumstances in which the Indian-U.S. warmth might have raised false expectations in New Delhi. The United States once again injected itself immediately. It came in with a message of calm, conducting diplomacy to ensure that neither side exercised the option to use force. Public statements from the very beginning showed extreme sympathy to India, but also called for restraint on its part.[12] At the same time, perhaps realizing that efforts in the Indian media at the time to link the Pakistani “state” to the attack might be used to legitimize an attack, Washington issued official statements affirming that there was no evidence that the Pakistani state was complicit in the attacks.[13] The face-saver for India once again was the U.S. condemnation of the attack and demands that Pakistan seriously investigate the matter in collaboration with Indian authorities. Unlike the 2001-2002 crisis, however, the post-Mumbai period did not see any fresh overtures from Washington to reward India for its restrained behavior. Promises of long-term counterterrorism support are frequently rehearsed, but even there, Pakistan’s vital role in Afghanistan has not allowed Washington to satisfy New Delhi entirely.

Will the Next Crisis Be the Same?

U.S. involvement in the nuclear crises discussed above proved instrumental in preventing uncontrolled escalation, but it did not satisfy both sides. In the Kargil conflict, India was the more satisfied party. In the next two crises, however, India left the scene discontented. In fact, the reasons for Indian disgruntlement with the United States’ role are structural in nature and would likely exist in future crises as well unless the original contracted-out arrangement is altered. Indeed, the Mumbai episode may well prove to be a watershed in terms of the approach India takes to the next crisis.

To begin with, India has suffered tremendous “reputational” costs in the past two crises.[14] The general perception is that Pakistani nuclear weapons have neutralized India’s conventional superiority and made it impotent in the face of terrorist attacks. This reputational concern strikes at the heart of the credibility of the Indian nuclear deterrent. If India cannot deter violence at the lower end of the spectrum and, at the same time, cannot follow up on its threats of military response, the effectiveness of its deterrent becomes questionable. At the same time, India’s inability to launch an attack strengthens the credibility of the Pakistani deterrent, which is meant to do exactly that: neutralize India’s ability to utilize its superior conventional capability. Additionally, New Delhi’s experience during the 2001-2002 standoff and the Mumbai crisis established that a compellence strategy aimed at fundamentally altering the landscape of anti-India militants in Pakistan does not deliver, not least because the Pakistani state is no longer in a position to control all activities of these groups.

India also has walked away from the last two crises with lessons on U.S. involvement in South Asian crises. The U.S. role in encouraging restraint after India is struck by a terrorist attack has given Pakistan an upper hand in the crises. Although New Delhi could not have completely overlooked Pakistan’s importance, Indian opinion makers did expect greater tangible support from the United States, especially during the Mumbai crisis. That was not forthcoming. The lesson, as drawn in New Delhi, was that no amount of warmth with Washington would prompt it to “gang up” against Pakistan during a crisis. Washington’s postcrisis utility is also limited, especially because Pakistan is likely to remain important to the United States for its own reasons for the foreseeable future.

All this has led to a shift in the sentiment in New Delhi. As a result of this shift, Indian restraint no longer can be taken for granted. In fact, many believe that an Indian retaliation to the next terrorist attack is all but inevitable.[15] This could take the form of the swift, surgical air strikes that seemed to have been contemplated during the Mumbai crisis. India even could put its Pakistan-specific “Cold Start” doctrine, which aims to conduct limited operations on Pakistani territory, to the test.[16] In terms of third-party presence, this implies an alteration in the contracted-out arrangement. Rather than being amenable to U.S. intervention to support its stance at the very onset of a crisis, New Delhi would aim to undertake limited use of force before Washington could step in. Only when it had completed its initial offensive would it look toward Washington to pacify Pakistan. This would make the U.S. task of ensuring escalation control much more challenging.

Let us play the scenario out. Assume that the next crisis is triggered by another Mumbai-type attack on Indian soil. The attack actually may have come from a Pakistan-based group, or Indian decision-makers may simply rush to conclude so either on the basis of past occurrences or due to faulty intelligence. Let us assume that, in the wake of the attack, India has decided to conduct a limited strike against militant targets in Pakistan. De-escalation now would require the United States to shift its focus to persuading Pakistan to show restraint. There have been suggestions that if the United States could not prevent India from striking, it might be able to convince it to strike relatively low-profile targets in Pakistan such that the strikes would not trigger a Pakistani response.[17] Although theoretically attractive from a deterrence point of view—it would satisfy India’s reputational concerns without causing uncontrolled escalation—such a view ignores the psyche of Pakistan’s military planners as well as the importance of public sentiment in today’s Pakistan. The author’s conversations with members of Pakistan’s strategic enclave suggest conclusively that even a minor Indian strike would elicit a response in kind. The Pakistani intelligence chief recently acknowledged during a hearing before the Pakistani parliament that the military already had identified and even rehearsed strikes that Islamabad could make on targets in India in response to any Indian surgical strikes.[18] The need to keep denying India the confidence that it could aggress militarily at any level remains the cornerstone of Pakistan’s deterrence calculus.

As soon as Pakistan reacts to an Indian strike, the deterrence equation will be back to square one from India’s perspective. The Indian effort to prove that its military option has not been foreclosed by the Pakistani nuclear deterrent and that it could compel Pakistan to act against anti-India militants present on its soil would stand neutralized. In fact, the credibility of the deterrent would have taken a greater hit than in the previous crises as Pakistan would have demonstrated that it had the upper hand even in a “one-shot” confrontation. As a result, Indian threats of a surgical strike in the next crisis ring hollow unless decision-makers in New Delhi are willing to escalate the crisis further. Indeed, India may well feel the need to set the record straight by exercising direct brinkmanship, upping the ante and threatening to escalate further.

From here on, the South Asian powers would be in uncharted territory. Neither India nor Pakistan would want uncontrolled escalation, but they would face the classic brinkmanship challenge: on whose terms will the conflict end? For India, an extra shot would have to be fired, so to speak, for it to walk away satisfied. Pakistan, on the other hand, would want to exit immediately after it has responded to India’s initial aggression.

The United States would find itself in a serious dilemma. By the time an Indian response and Pakistani counteraction has taken place, the U.S. interlocutors may have lost control over the pace of escalation. The U.S. message of restraint against the temptation to escalate further is much less likely to be heeded by India at this point. This is especially true because, as in the Mumbai crisis, it is difficult to imagine the United States being able to offer an attractive enough reward to India to back off. The United States also would not be able to punish Pakistan tangibly and instantly to India’s satisfaction, not least because doing so would undermine the Pakistani-U.S. relationship, fuel further anti-American sentiment in the country, destabilize it to an even greater extent internally, and strengthen the ultraright nationalists. On the other hand, although global opinion is on India’s side already, the option of the United States supporting India outright would be extremely risky. It would embolden India to consider overwhelming punishment, and in Pakistan, it would be seen as a “gang up”; the present sentiment in Pakistan indicates that such a move would quickly be viewed as an Indian-U.S. effort to disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons.[19] It likely would cause panic and might lead Pakistan to act even more provocatively to raise the stakes and prompt the United States to seek immediate de-escalation.[20]

In any case, if the crisis fails to wind down after each side has fired one shot, escalation dynamics may generate a momentum of their own. In the South Asian context, this not only implies belligerence and propensity for risk taking among Indian and Pakistani decision-makers, but also brings in the risk of miscalculations and inadvertent use. India and Pakistan use delivery systems that can be employed for conventional as well as nuclear weapons; in the absence of advanced early-warning capabilities, this has a destabilizing effect. Any incoming aircraft or missile could be perceived as an attempt at pre-emption. Moreover, the vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear decision-making chain of command—the entire hierarchy is housed within a 50-mile stretch in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and therefore could potentially be neutralized in a pre-emptive strike—may prompt the Pakistanis to consider dispersal of the high command or to delegate launch authority in advance. Pakistan’s lack of geographical depth provides an additional incentive for this latter step.

Delegation in advance also becomes likely if either side introduces tactical nuclear weapons for battlefield use. Pakistan recently signaled its intent to do so by conducting a flight test of the Nasr, a nuclear-capable ballistic missile with a range of 60 kilometers.[21] Pakistan’s move is reportedly a response to the Indian Cold Start doctrine. Next, although both countries claim robust command and control structures, very few details are available, especially for the Indian program. In an escalated crisis, if either side contemplated mating warheads with delivery vehicles and then deploying them, the other likely would follow suit. Each side would have to transport its arsenal, disperse it, and make ground preparations for deployment, a process that easily could be misconstrued by the adversary as an imminent attack. The likelihood of this misperception (and others) is enhanced greatly by the acute trust deficit between the two sides; traditionally, each party has been inclined to expect the worst from the other.[22]

Way Forward for U.S. Policy

The original contracted-out model of escalation control was hardly one that instilled confidence in neutral observers, and even that may have run its course in South Asia, only to be replaced by a more tenuous one. With India seeking to exercise greater autonomy, the third party would have much less control over how a future crisis unfolds. A further complication is that India does not necessarily want the United States to detach itself completely; rather, it wants Washington to intervene at a slightly later stage in the crisis. Pakistan remains wedded to its belief that the United States will intervene right at the onset and restrain India. These misaligned expectations not only put the United States in a virtually impossible position, but also increase the likelihood of a miscalculation. Depending on how the United States approaches a specific crisis, at least one of the two sides is certain to view things as not going according to plan.

Addressing the conundrum requires the United States to provide a reality check to both sides. Washington should be forthcoming in explaining that it is in no position to guarantee a positive role in future Indian-Pakistani crises and that to expect it to be able to support one side or the other would be delusional. Indeed, to time an intervention perfectly in a fast-moving crisis and to be able to convince both parties to act against their inclinations would have to depend more on luck than any thought-out strategy in Washington.

Challenging India’s and Pakistan’s beliefs that the United States will show up and “save” them may well nudge the two sides toward greater efforts at institutionalizing bilateral escalation control. This would have several positive effects.

For starters, direct communication and signaling during crises must be encouraged. In the past, contacts either have been suspended or used extremely sparingly.[23] This urgently needs to be corrected. Hotlines between Indian and Pakistani political leaders, diplomats, and militaries must remain operational and be utilized to their full potential. The United States should play a proactive role in ensuring that the two sides use these channels during crises. It even may consider facilitating a binding protocol that requires all direct communication channels to remain operational in periods of tension.

Next, Washington should avoid raising false expectations. For instance, promising to punish a particular group on Pakistani soil after a terrorist attack in India is unfeasible at this point given the repercussions for the Pakistani-U.S. relationship and for Pakistan’s internal stability. Similarly, offers of additional support, such as for counterterrorism, to India as a reward should be made only if Washington believes that these can be delivered tangibly. Lack of follow-up has implications for the United States’ reputation in future crises; the implications go beyond the South Asian crises that are the subject of this article. U.S. allies elsewhere also observe this behavior and draw lessons for their own interactions with Washington.

Nevertheless, U.S. interlocutors should not shy away from pointing out misperceptions that either side may have, especially when these misperceptions undermine escalation control. For instance, it would be prudent to point out to the Pakistani authorities that impatience in Washington with their inability to tackle militancy may make it untenable sooner or later for any U.S. administration to continue with the current policy of engagement. The harsh rhetoric emanating from Washington and the virtual breakdown of the bilateral military relationship in the wake of the recent U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan underscores this possibility. By the same token, the United States should work to dispel any belief in New Delhi that the international community will accept Indian aggression after a terrorist attack, irrespective of its escalatory effects.

More broadly, there is also a need to address the instability-inducing elements in the nuclear calculus that make escalation more likely. These include complete lack of transparency on command and control procedures and nuclear postures, mismatched views on what qualifies as “limited” war (what India views as limited, Pakistan may consider an all-out attack given the proximity of some of Pakistan’s major cities to the international border), use of dual-use missiles, absence of any agreements to bar pre-emption of each other’s arsenal or chain of command, and absence of nuclear risk reduction centers.

It is also pertinent to highlight the link between escalation control and broader U.S. policies for South Asia. From Pakistan’s perspective, the Indian-U.S. alliance has tilted the South Asian regional balance decisively in India’s favor. This growing asymmetry may lead Pakistan to bank more heavily on its nuclear capability; even its nuclear posture may become more aggressive if, at some point in the future, Pakistan believes the disparity to have become overwhelming. In fact, Pakistan’s efforts to stall any forward movement on negotiations for a fissile material cutoff treaty, its recent test of the Nasr short-range nuclear-capable missile, and the swift pace at which it is expanding its nuclear arsenal already are beginning to reflect this mind-set. Washington needs to reassure Pakistan through a long-term military-to-military relationship and by impressing on New Delhi the need to reconsider limited-war doctrines such as Cold Start and some of its Pakistan-specific deployments.

Finally, efforts toward crisis prevention are critical. The most prudent yet challenging way to avoid escalation is to address the underlying causes that unleash crises in the Indian-Pakistani context: anti-India terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil and the motivations for such attacks in the first place.

Addressing terrorism requires Pakistani political will and enhanced capacity to tackle groups known to have designs against India. Simultaneously, the two sides will have to show resolve to work together in defeating this menace. The existing “joint terrorism mechanism” provides the most obvious channel to do so. Moreover, a dialogue between the two sides’ intelligence services aimed at sharing information about potential dangers and at addressing complaints and removing misunderstandings generated from false intelligence also ought to be considered.

As for the motivations for anti-India terrorism, all of them directly or indirectly link up to the dissatisfaction of Pakistan-based militant groups with the status quo in Kashmir. Indeed, both India and Pakistan acknowledge the centrality of Kashmir to crisis prevention. The two countries made significant progress toward resolution during the bilateral peace process before the Mumbai attacks stalled their efforts. This, in addition to many previous ones, was a moment at which a proactive U.S. role could have been pivotal in preventing a breakdown of negotiations on Kashmir. In the future, a more proactive role in facilitating an uninterrupted Indian-Pakistani dialogue on the dispute must be viewed as a direct U.S. national interest in South Asia.

The contracted-out model of escalation control in South Asia is inherently risky. It attributes to the United States a task that would be made impossible by the likely actions of India and Pakistan in the next crisis. This situation could help trigger or deepen an Indian-Pakistani crisis. It must be changed.

Moeed Yusuf is South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where he manages the institute’s Pakistan program. Previously, he was a research fellow at the Mossavar-RahmaniCenter at HarvardUniversity’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a fellow at the FrederickS.PardeeCenter at BostonUniversity.


1. Chari, Cheema, and Cohen conclude that tensions in 1987 were a result of Indian hawkish posturing with unclear motives while the 1990 crisis was unintended and accidental. See P.R. Chari, ParvaizI. Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2007), pp. 39-117, 204-205.

2. For an analysis of the nuclear dimension of the Kargil conflict, see Timothy D. Hoyt, “Kargil: The Nuclear Dimension,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 144-170.

3. Rajesh M. Basrur, “Coercive Diplomacy in a Nuclear Environment: The December 13 Crisis,” in Prospects for Peace in South Asia, eds. Rafiq Dossani and Henry S. Rowen (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 2005), pp. 302-304.

4. The stability-instability paradox holds that although nuclear weapons may induce stability at the higher end of the conflict spectrum, they simultaneously introduce instability at the lower end by increasing the likelihood of limited conflicts below the nuclear threshold. See Glenn Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in The Balance of Power, ed. Paul Seabury (San Francisco: Chandler, 1964), pp.184-201.

5. The author has identified a total of 65 verbal nuclear signals, conveyed through open sources or third parties.

6. For a complete list of signals conveyed during the crisis, see Moeed Yusuf, “Nuclear Signaling Between India and Pakistan: An Evaluation of the 2001-02 Crisis,” 2008 (on file with the author).

7. The need to reverse the perception was prevalent in India’s strategic enclave at the time the standoff began. The sentiment was captured most aptly by noted analyst Raja Mohan in a newspaper column: “[T]here is a growing belief in New Delhi that the time has come to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. If it does not, India places itself in permanent vulnerability to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.” C. Raja Mohan, “Between War and Peace,” The Hindu, December 20, 2001.

8. For more than five weeks, Pakistan denied that any of the attackers were Pakistani citizens. When the national security adviser, Gen. Mahmud Durrani, acknowledged the nationality of the lone surviving attacker in the Mumbai carnage, Durrani was sacked for not having cleared his comment with the prime minister. From the very beginning of the crisis, however, Pakistan emphasized that the “state” had no prior knowledge of or connection to the attacks. “Spoke Too Soon on Kasab, Pak NSA Durrani Sacked,” CNN-IBN, January 8, 2009.

9. For a firsthand account of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington and the negotiations, see Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 130-143.

10. Timothy Crawford uses the term for a third party that exercises overwhelming superiority in terms of relative power over the two principal actors in any confrontation and thus holds significant sway over the situation. Timothy W. Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace (Ithaca, NY: CornellUniversity Press, 2003).

11. For a discussion of the U.S. role in the 2001-2002 crisis, see Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, pp. 161-171.

12. “Rice Flies to India to Ease Tension With Pakistan,” Reuters, December 3, 2008; K. Alan Kronstadt, “Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests,” CRS Report for Congress, R40087, December 19, 2008, pp. 2-3.

13. Anwar Iqbal, “U.S. Trusts Pakistan, Says White House,” Dawn, December 2, 2008.

14. The “reputation” of actors is considered a key determinant of bargaining behavior. Fred Iklé said, “[R]eputation can serve as a commitment to your negotiation position; and the more you enjoy a reputation of always remaining firm, the more convincing is this commitment to the opponent.” Fred C. Iklé, How Nations Negotiate (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), p. 83. Daryl Press takes this concept one step further in what he calls the “past actions theory”: a state’s track record on keeping its commitments is used to determine whether it is likely to carry out its threats in any present and future scenario. See Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: CornellUniversity Press, 2005), pp. 11-20.

15. Leaked diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks reveal Indian officials categorically stating to U.S. officials that India will not have a choice but to respond to another Mumbai-like attack through force. For a statement by Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram, see “India Warned of Response to Pakistan Attack: Wikileaks,” Dawn, May 20, 2011.

16. India officially has retracted its position on Cold Start, arguing that the doctrine was never considered for operationalization. Independent opinions, however, suggest that not only has the doctrine been considered but efforts were being made to operationalize the plan as far back as 2005-2006. For an excellent analysis, see Walter C. Ladwig III, “A Cold Start for Hot Wars? The Indian Army’s New Limited War Doctrine,” International Security, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Winter 2007/08): 158-190.

The author has also been part of policy conferences and simulations dedicated to Cold Start in which Indian participants discussed the rationale for and progress toward operationalization of the doctrine fairly candidly.

17. Daniel Markey, “Terrorism and Indo-Pakistani Escalation,” Contingency Planning Memorandum, No. 6 (January 2010), p. 7, http://i.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/CPA_contingencymemo_6.pdf.

18. “If India Strikes, We Will Give Befitting Response, ISI Chief Tells Parliament,” India TV News, May 15, 2011.

19. In the Pakistani public narrative, there is, as one major Pakistani newspaper’s recent editorial put it, a “‘universalized’ belief…that America actually wants to ‘take out’ Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” “Pakistan, U.S.—Different Wavelengths,” The Express Tribune, April 14, 2011.

20. Ganguly and Wagner argue that Pakistan’s ability to use provocativeness to its advantage holds in every crisis. See Sumit Ganguly and R. Harrison Wagner, “India and Pakistan: Bargaining in the Shadow of Nuclear War,” The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3 (September 2004): 499-501.

21. “Pakistan Successfully Test-Fires Nuclear Capable Hatf-9,” The Express Tribune, April 20, 2011.

22. See Moeed Yusuf, “Stability in the Nuclear Context: Making South Asians Safe,” Policy Brief, February 2011, www.jinnah-institute.org/images/ji_policybrief_nuclear_security_jan-25-2011.pdf.

23. Direct communication channels were used sparingly in 1999 and were completely suspended during the 2001-2002 standoff. In 2008 the two prime ministers did converse immediately after the attack, but the exchange backfired. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani offered to send Pakistan’s spy chief to India for discussions, but later withdrew the offer under pressure from the military. The incident added to the mistrust and further inflamed Indian public sentiment. See “Pak Backtracks, to Send ISI Rep Now and Not the Chief,” Express India¸ November 28, 2008.



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