Missiles The New Currency Of Power

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the most important building block of the international non-proliferation regime, has 190 members and only three India, Israel and Pakistan have opted to stay out. The three pillars of the NPT are non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and enabling technologies by any of the signatories to the treaty; the right to peaceful energy and technology for all and nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapons states. Of these, disarmament has always been the most neglected.
Contrary to expectations that the NPT would provide a “universal standard of non-proliferation”, it has only been partially successful. Since the NPT closed the gates in 1970, several states have crossed the nuclear threshold. While India and Pakistan openly announced themselves to be states with nuclear weapons in May 1998, Israel is widely suspected to be a closet nuclear power. Since 1991, several “wannabe” SNW have come tumbling out: Iraq in 1991, North Korea in 1992, Libya in 2003 and Iran in 2003. The revelations in 2003 of the proliferation Wal-Mart run by the AQ Khan network from Pakistan were the last straw that virtually broke the back of the international non-proliferation regime. 

Little concern

During the 1970s and the 1980s, emphasis in nuclear non-proliferation was normally laid on arresting horizontal proliferation by denying technology to countries outside the “London Club”. There was little concern about vertical proliferation within the five recognised Nuclear Weapons States. Serious thought was never given to Article VI of the NPT by the NWS and the world failed to move towards eventual nuclear disarmament. After the end of the Cold War, the focus shifted to protecting the fissile material stockpile of the former Soviet states from falling into the wrong hands and also on containing possible leakage of nuclear weapons technology. 

Around this time, the three major non-signatories of the NPT acquired nuclear weapons. Israel did so through the acquiescence of the Western world, India by converting its indigenous civilian programme to weapons capability and Pakistan through clandestine arrangements with other countries that shared common interests. 
Today, there are nine nuclear powers in the world, including North Korea. Iran, also an original signatory of the NPT, is a cusp state that may threaten to go nuclear and even withdraw from the NPT because of the continued perception of the extraordinary deterrence value of nuclear weapons. There has been renewed emphasis on preventing proliferation of WMDs since September 11, 2001.

In recent years, unsettling trends have been gaining momentum in the field of nuclear non-proliferation. North Korea’s withdrawal from NPT and its subsequent nuclear test without serious consequences is likely to encourage other states to also take the plunge ~ or threaten to do so. Iran’s violation of IAEA safeguards has led to further tensions in the West Asian region that is already plagued by a war in Iraq and low intensity conflict in Palestine and Lebanon. The flourishing international black market in nuclear and missile items from Russia and other post-Soviet states might put nuclear weapons-grade material and even nuclear weapons up for sale. The spread of biological and chemical weapons has increased the chances of WMD terrorism and the danger that it will inflict deep wounds on democratic societies. Despite grand policy pronouncements, China is yet to become a consistently reliable partner in the global battle against proliferation. 

The West is widely blamed for its “double-standard” approach to non-proliferation that exempts pro-Western regimes and states from criticism for their nuclear programmes and concentrates exclusively on those Third World regimes that oppose the West ideologically, politically and/or militarily. Many Western moves, such as unilateral sanctions against alleged proliferators, are seen as being intended to eliminate competition in profitable areas of international trade, e.g. nuclear energy production, rather than as steps to fight proliferation. France, UK and the US have declared their intention to use nuclear weapons against “rogue states” even if the attack is non-nuclear. Such perceptions result in widespread doubts about the desirability of following the non-proliferation policies and initiatives promoted by the West. 

The international community has other serious concerns as well. The missile development programmes of Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan pose major challenges as missiles are the new currency of power. The US is continuing to design new nuclear warheads as part of its Reliable Replacement Warhead programme. It is a hybrid design that is based on well-tested elements of older designs combined with new safety and security measures. However, computer simulation may not be adequate and actual testing may be needed to prove the efficacy of the new warhead. Abrogation of the ABM Treaty by the US is seen as a new obstacle for non-proliferation efforts. 
The deployment of a national missile defence system by the US is likely to lead to the modernisation of nuclear forces by China. China is likely to build over 100 new mobile ICBMs with MIRV-ed warheads. These will threaten not only the USA, but also Russia, India, and Japan. Consequent to this development, Japan and Taiwan may choose to exercise their nuclear option. 
However, it must be noted that there have been some positive developments and success stories as well. Iraq destroyed its nuclear weapons infrastructure post-1991 Gulf War. NPT extension and CTBT signature in 1995-96 reinforced non-proliferation norms. Russia has accepted the MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement export controls. China has finally embraced nuclear export control laws and policies consistent with the NPT and will hopefully implement them diligently. The Pakistan Army-A Q Khan nuclear Wal-Mart has been exposed though other rogue scientists in Pakistan are still to be exposed and booked. The post-test nuclear programme freeze in North Korea is a positive sign. Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Romania, and South Africa have renounced nuclear arms and accepted strict international controls. Post-Soviet Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine were denuclearised in 1996 and joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. 

Notable case

The most notable case is that of Libya. The international community, led by the US, made Libyan efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability difficult and frustrating. Increasingly painful costs were imposed on Libya for its covert nuclear weapons ambitions. Credible prospects of tangible and meaningful benefits were held out if Gaddafi turned away from pursuing his goal to acquire nuclear weapons. Threats of dire retribution were also held out. Gaddafi was eventually persuaded of the ultimate futility of acquiring nuclear weapons. The lesson that clearly emerged was that even nuclear weapon “wannabes” can be persuaded to reverse course and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

In stark contrast with Iran and North Korea, India has agreed to take steps that will bring it into the non-proliferation mainstream, including: placing its civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and monitoring; signing and implementing an Additional Protocol, which allows more extensive inspections by the IAEA; ensuring that its nuclear materials and technologies are secured and prevented from diversion, including its recent passage of a law to create a robust national export control system; refraining from transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess them and supporting efforts to limit their spread; working to conclude a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; continuing its moratorium on nuclear testing; and, adhering to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines. 
(To be concluded)

The writer is Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.