Non-proliferation shortcuts don't pay
Non-proliferation shortcuts don't pay
Op-Ed / Asia

Non-proliferation shortcuts don't pay

US double standards on nuclear proliferation are making South Asia a more dangerous place, warns Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group.

Pakistan has closed off the pipeline through which its nuclear technology ended up in the hands of Iran, Libya and North Korea. How do we know this? Because General Pervez Musharraf says so.

That may be good enough for Washington today, but such promises will not make any of us safer in the long run. The US currently needs Pakistani help in collaring al-Qaeda, so it is little wonder Washington's response to the proliferation scandal has been meek. The US has actually praised Musharraf for his role in reining in A.Q. Khan, the self-proclaimed father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, who supposedly single-handedly masterminded the sale of technology and components around the world.

Musharraf's promises will be viewed with suspicion, however, by anyone who recalls that such words come from a Pakistani leader who is juggling alliances with both the US and his country's most radical Islamist groups. This is, after all, a man who boasts that his country did whatever it took to get its hands on nuclear technology and who continues to reject the idea of any international inspections. Musharraf says he has closed down the technology sales, but the lightening speed with which he pardoned Khan and the lack of detail about who knew what and when suggests he is more concerned with damage control than with closing down proliferation.

Keen on keeping Musharraf on its side, the US has played along, making no demands for an intrusive inspection regime and no calls for unimpeded access to Khan himself. This timid response will only encourage the spread of nuclear weapons. The fact is, Pakistan is still looking to improve its missile and weapons capabilities and, as in the past, could be tempted to do that by exchanging or selling its expertise in areas such as uranium enrichment.

What is needed is a tougher, more comprehensive non-proliferation regime that looks at all countries outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty and does not turn a blind eye to US allies. Washington must summon the will to act decisively, given the threat proliferation poses.

However, even the most wisely applied unilateral measures will prove insufficient unless they are accompanied by an international consensus to punish those responsible for irresponsible nuclear behaviour. Forging an international sanctions regime against proliferation, mandated through the United Nations Security Council, requires political will. But even that international consensus will fail unless the US learns from its past mistakes. Foremost among those lessons is the need for consistency in dealing with nuclear proliferation, both in terms of the spread of weapons and the upgrading of nuclear arms, be it freelance or state-sponsored.

Inconsistent US non-proliferation policies and weak international restraint regimes have only encouraged India and Pakistan's nuclear development. US policymakers have drawn line after line in the sand, quickly rubbing them out as India and Pakistan passed successive nuclear benchmarks. Non-proliferation sanctions were imposed and, time and again, unconditionally waived.

Over time, Washington's non-proliferation policy towards South Asia has changed from its initial emphasis on elimination of India and Pakistan's nuclear weapons programs, to the rollback to these programs, to its present emphasis on freeze. Even the stated goal of freeze is mere rhetoric. Since its early years, the Bush administration appears to have accepted India and Pakistan's nuclear weapons status. What better indicators of that change of heart than the withdrawal of all nuclear-specific sanctions on both India and Pakistan and the recent US decision to lift curbs on the sale and transfer to India of dual use high technologies and goods, which could easily be converted for military use.

What is needed now is an intensive, multilateral list of targeted, substantial and sustained sanctions. Sanctions should focus on key political, military, bureaucratic, and scientific decision-makers. These should include travel restrictions and a freeze on their foreign deposits. Curbs should also be imposed on loans or grants to any organisation involved in proliferation. These smart sanctions must be linked to clearly defined and verifiable non-proliferation benchmarks. These should include accession to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s Additional Protocol, which requires signatory states to provide an expanded declaration of their nuclear activities and grants the IAEA broader access to suspected sites.

Since unilateral sanctions are limited in their effectiveness, the US should join with others to strengthen the Missile Technology Control Regime and other denial regimes. President Bush's call on major nuclear suppliers to impose tighter export controls and a ban on uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing equipment is a step in the right direction, as is his support for more stringent inspection measures. In partnership with the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the US should also retain and impose additional restrictions on the sale and transfer of dual use technologies and goods that could potentially contribute to nuclear weapons development.

Multilateral mechanisms must be devised to monitor high technology and dual use transfers to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

Without these tough measures, India is bound to move ahead with its pledge to deploy a nuclear triad - that is, weapons that can be delivered from land, sea and air. Pakistan is sure to follow, given the dual imperatives of prestige and security. The deployment of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in South Asia would greatly increase the prospects of a catastrophic nuclear exchange.

Restrictions on technology might slow down India and Pakistan's nuclear development. But without the threat of sanctions, states such as Pakistan could as easily revert to trading what it needs in the underground nuclear bazaar, encouraging new networks of proliferation to prosper. India too will be encouraged to expand its nuclear development if external supplies fill the gaps in its current capabilities.

Since a policy of carefully calibrated, consistent and strategic use of carrots and sticks works best, appropriate and conditional incentives should accompany sanctions.

There should also be zero international tolerance for sanctions busters. Above all, the US will have to give up its preferential non-proliferation policies that have only encouraged some of its allies to expand their weapons programmes and even sell their technology. Such state-driven proliferation, if unchecked, will continue to aid and abet nuclear underground networks.

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