The Many Significances of Pakistan's Nuclear Tests

By A. H. Nayyar, Princeton University, USA and Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan


Let me first express my thanks to GENSUIKIN for inviting me to Japan. I feel very privileged to be here, and to participate in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Anniversary events, and to address this conference.

It is quite appropriate that the 1998 conference focuses its attention on the recent events in South Asia. The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan are very significant developments. In my remarks, I will concentrate on Pakistan and try to address the dangers created by these tests, and explain the reasons why some countries are so keen to have nuclear weapons. I will try to show how it was possible for these weapons to be built given the very limited resources available and what the lessons are that we should all learn if we are to succeed in creating our dream of a nuclear weapons free world.

1. The first and most important significance of the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan lies in the fact that nuclear arms have made a bad situation infinitely worse.

South Asia is a hot bed of deep conflicts, ready to explode at the smallest pretext. The half-century-old state of conflict between India and Pakistan has turned into war three times. Two of the wars were fought on the dispute of Kashmir, and the third one resulted in the independence of Bangladesh when India took military advantage of a deep political crisis in Pakistan. In addition, the two states have repeatedly waged covert wars against each other and have seldom missed an opportunity to inflict damage to each other. The conflict now stands at the threshold of massive destruction of the two countries because of the nuclear weapons they have acquired.

The fact that India and Pakistan share a border makes the situation even more precarious. Very soon both of them will have nuclear tipped missiles aimed at each other. The missiles will take no more than 3 to 5 minutes to reach their targets, leaving little room for a rational response. Fearing a pre-emptive strike, the two adversaries will always be sitting with their fingers on the trigger. Being the more vulnerable of the two, it is quite likely that Pakistan will launch all its weapons on the first warning it receives. Therefore, in any future crisis even the smallest incident or miscalculation has the potential of initiating a nuclear war.

2. There is another danger from the nuclear weapons in South Asia. For fifty years Pakistan has been involved in an arms race with India. Whatever India has done, every new weapon India has developed, Pakistan has followed. But this arms race has cost Pakistan far more than India, because Pakistan has a much smaller economy and fewer scientific and technical resources. Pakistan has paid to stay in the arms race by accumulating a big foreign debt, almost 90% of its GDP, by concentrating a quarter of its annual government spending on the military, and by neglecting the needs of the people for education, health, housing and jobs.

Consequently, a unique and unprecedented situation is evolving before us. Pakistan is the first nuclear weapon state which is on the verge of economic collapse. It is also unsuccessfully struggling to cope with various kinds of violent internal conflicts and its structure of governance is showing signs of collapse. The cost of keeping nuclear weapons may destroy Pakistan.

3. The third danger from nuclear weapons in South Asia is a loss of control over them. In Pakistan, it has been the radical islamist groups which have been most euphoric about nuclear weapons. They have laid claim to Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The government in Pakistan may continue to insist that the bomb is not Islamic, but the islamic groups in Pakistan and their fellow islamists in other Muslim countries and movements have already declared that the bomb should serve Islam. Many in Pakistan, including some in the most sensitive defense and nuclear establishments, also sympathise with such groups. It is therefore not a misplaced fear that, with government authority withering away in Pakistan, the state may not be able to maintain control over its nuclear weapons.

It will not be proper for the nuclear weapon states to counter this danger with excessive sanctions and penalizing restrictions or becoming even more paranoid about islamic fundamentalism. Such measures evoke defiance and a sense of persecution that can become a strong rallying point for public sympathy. What is needed is an urgent rethinking of the whole agenda of non-proliferation and disarmament. The only way to prevent nuclear weapons from getting into wrong hands is to take immediate and firm steps in the direction of complete nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapons free world.

4. It is clear from the Indian and Pakistani tests that nations opt to produce nuclear weapons because the international system continues to associate power and prestige and security with possession of nuclear weapons. The system discriminates between those who have nuclear weapons and those who do not have them. The haves are accorded greater importance in international politics than the have-nots, and the discrimination between the haves and the have-nots is preserved in international treaties.

Moreover, nuclear weapon-states demonstrate their power and contempt for the international community by resisting all attempts to achieve disarmament. The weapon-states have refused to listen to any of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions demanding complete elimination of nuclear weapons, and now disregard the opinion of the International Court of Justice. Even though they insist on a global consensus on the NPT, the nuclear weapon-states flout their commitment under Article VI to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

This behaviour creates a temptation for those states and governments who want to become more important in the world to go for nuclear option.

5. The Pakistani and Indian tests have great consequences for international arms control. The tests have shown that the arms control measures like NPT and CTBT - and the future ones like fissile material cut-off treaty - have failed to contain the spread of nuclear weapons. They have failed primarily because they are pro status quo; they are only intended to control the spread of weapons, while retaining the nuclear weapons of the nuclear weapon-states.

6. The Pakistani tests teach a very important lesson on how easy it is to build nuclear weapons. They show that nuclear weapons can be successfully produced by even those states which are (a) economically poor and (b) scientifically not very advanced in terms of either manpower or infrastructure.

Pakistan has a per capita income of about $400. It has a general literacy rate of less than 40%. There are probably not more than 300 people with Ph.Ds in physics in the whole country. With such limited resources Pakistan has built nuclear weapons.

The fact is that the only requirement for a nation to acquire nuclear weapons is a determination to do so, a modest technological capability, and allocation of sufficient resources for this purpose. It must be admitted that severe restrictions on technology transfer do not prove much of a constraint either.

7. It is important to understand how Pakistan and India built nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan started out on the nuclear route in the 1950s, at a time when nuclear industry of the US, Canada, Britain and France were being heavily patronized by their states, and by such international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency created to promote nuclear power. In those days, everything was available, on sale, often with loans to help pay for it. There was training for scientists, help with exploring for uranium, making nuclear fuel, building nuclear power plants, and even reprocessing technology. The nuclear weapons of India and Pakistan of today owe much to that nuclear commercialism.

The lesson from Pakistan and India is that civilian nuclear power program provide a convenient route for nations to acquire the skills, materials and technology needed to make nuclear weapons.

8. The last point to consider is the conditions under which India and Pakistan will give up nuclear weapons. While it is true that the nuclear race between India and Pakistan is in part a consequence of unresolved disputes between them, resolution of these disputes may not necessarily imply disappearance of nuclear weapons. It is important to remember that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, the US still has 10,000 nuclear weapons.

The tragic fact is that Pakistan will not give up nuclear weapons as along as India continues to have them. Now that it has them, India will not give up nuclear weapons as long as the other nuclear weapon states have them. Therefore nuclear weapons from South Asia cannot be eliminated unless they are eliminated from the world.


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