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Nuclear [The Shape of the Nuclear-weapon World] Part 2: Weapons and the Disintegration of Pakistan
by Rene Wadlow
2010-05-06 08:37:38
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There is a general rule in world politics that the broader the theme of a conference, the narrower is the issue that provokes it.  Thus, 47 government leaders met in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of President Barack Obama on 12 and 13 April 2010 to reaffirm the right of some governments to hold and develop nuclear weapons and to prevent non-governmental organizations — al Qa’ida was the most cited NGO — from having access to nuclear material which might be used in bombs or in forms of nuclear blackmail.

Nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security, and strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorised actors from acquiring nuclear weapons”  the government representatives concluded in their final communiqué of 13 April.

The idea that nuclear material should be well protected and not stolen to find itself on non-governmental markets is not new.  Negotiations on the protection of nuclear material began in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in the mid-1970s when, after the first review conference of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty in 1975, it was realized that government-to-government transfer or sale of nuclear material was not the only way nuclear material might spread.  By March 1980, the “Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities” was open for signature and entered into force in February 1987.  It was signed, although with reservations of many major States, by 130 States.

After the break up of the Soviet Union with fears that nuclear material was not well safeguarded and especially after the 9/11/2001 attacks in the USA highlighting that there were terrorists in the world, the Convention was strengthened and amended in 2005. However, only 13 States have ratified the amended convention so it has not come into force.  India is the only nuclear-weapon State which has ratified the amended convention.

Thus, the safeguard of nuclear material is not high on the priority list of governments, but it is a subject on which governments can easily agree in principle. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a UN Security Council resolution encouraging States to secure nuclear material. There is also general agreement that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is already the international inspection agency should have more money to  carry out its work.  Increased funding for the IAEA was one of the measures agreed upon at the Washington Summit.

The Summit in Washington was an opportunity to highlight the dangers of terrorist use of nuclear material. Steps to improve the safeguard of nuclear material by consolidating sites where nuclear material is stored were agreed upon. There was also agreement that nuclear material could be exported to supervised sites in other countries. While there is a seven-page work plan attached to the final communiqué, there are few new ideas. What is new is to have agreed to set a four-year deadline to put these security measures into effect and to have a follow-up conference in Seoul, Korea, in two years.

However, the narrow issue that provided the motivation for the conference was not mentioned in public: the possible disintegration of Pakistan and the safeguard of its nuclear weapons.  Of the nuclear-weapon States, only Pakistan is on the edge of disintegration, the currents of division being much stronger than those wishing to keep the State together.

It is likely that a change of society will also come to North Korea, but it is more likely that the crowds that bring it about will be calling for rice rather than for access to nuclear material. The situation in Pakistan is different; division will come from the separatist agendas of the provinces and regions facing a military which has an interest in keeping the country unified.

The signs that Pakistan is coming apart have been obvious for some time but partly hidden by successive military governments and efforts of civilian government to avoid being accused of weakness and failing to safeguard ‘national unity’.

The disintegration of Pakistan comes against a background of continuing tensions between Pakistan and India and currently a Pakistan-India rivalry over influence in Afghanistan.  The first act in the disintegration of Pakistan — the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 — had provoked a short war with India.  The disintegration of Pakistan is not due to Indian action. In fact, a weak but united Pakistan is in India’s short term interest. The creation of possibly three unstable States in place of one Pakistan is something Indian policy makers would prefer not to consider.  The break up could be costly and destabilizing.

Concern with the safeguarding of nuclear weapons was raised during the disorderly shift in power from the military-led government of General Pervez Musharraf to the current weak civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari. A report in the Washington Post stated that the United States has developed contingency plans to safeguard Pakistani nuclear weapons it they risk falling into the wrong hands. The newspaper quotes an unnamed former US official as saying, if an attempt were made by the US to seize the weapons to prevent their loss, it could get very messy.

While tensions between India and Pakistan remain real, they are unlikely to increase. Safeguarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons was the basic reason for the Washington Nuclear Safety Summit although it was not mentioned publicly..

Since neither India nor Pakistan has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they will play no active role in the May NPT Review. However, their shadows will be there, and  Pakistan and Israel are the two Existential Nuclear-weapon States which are likely to be key issues in the Review.



    Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

Nuclear [The Shape of the Nuclear-weapon World] Part1, HERE!

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