Nuke States, Outliers and Global Security
D.C. (IDN) - One definition of an outlier, in the original field of
statistics from where the term has come, is "one that appears to
deviate markedly from other members of the sample in which it
Thus, in a world where the global norm is membership of the Treaty for
the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), nuclear weapon armed
states outside the NPT have been referred to as the outliers. Some would
argue that all nuclear weapon armed states are outliers. The use of the
term has an undeniably pejorative implication but in modern realpolitik,
where national interest and state sovereignty reign supreme, no value
judgments hold sway.
The NPT was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. Over its
41-year history it has gathered 5 nuclear weapon states (NWS) and 184
non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) as members pledged to abide by the
three pillars of the treaty – nonproliferation, disarmament and the
verifiable peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
In addition to the acknowledged five NWS within the NPT there are four
others outside including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
– the subject of six-nation talks aimed at getting that country back
into the NPT as a NNWS.
The three countries with nuclear weapons, which have a distinct outlier
Israel – which does not declare itself to be a NWS;
India – which has been given de facto recognition through the
controversial Indo-U.S. nuclear co-operation agreement and is applying
to become a member of the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) with
U.S. support; and
Pakistan – whose growing nuclear arsenal has been the subject
of international concerns because of the notorious A.Q.Khan network for
the proliferation of nuclear material and knowhow and the safe custody
of its nuclear weapon arsenal amidst unstable political conditions.
The acquisition of nuclear weapon expertise and materials in every
outlier case has invariably been helped, wittingly or unwittingly, by an
established NWS among others. The three states are estimated to have
between 250-400 nuclear warheads among them. The world seems to have
abandoned hopes that they will voluntarily give up their nuclear weapons
unless there is going to be the total elimination of nuclear weapons
globally with a verifiable Nuclear Weapons Convention.
The implications of this tacit acceptance of the outliers for global and
regional security are portentous. And yet with each of them enjoying
good relations with at least one of the five NWS in the NPT, who also
happen to be permanent members of the UN Security Council, their nuclear
weapon arsenals have, by and large, escaped unequivocal criticism let
Israel has long maintained a policy of nuclear ambiguity neither
confirming nor denying its nuclear weapon possession. Some leaks have
been hastily plugged and whistle-blowers like Mordechai Vanunu have been
effectively silenced. The origins of the Israeli nuclear programme go
back to the late 1950s and by 1970 it is reported to have crossed the
nuclear threshold. France has been identified as the source of Israeli
nuclear expertise and material in the early stages. By the 1980s Israel
was seen as having a mature nuclear weapon programme centred around
SIPRI estimates that Israel has 80 nuclear warheads but others have
given higher estimates of between 100 to 300 deliverable through its
Jericho missiles and Falcon aircraft. It is also estimated that Israel
has 650 kg of military plutonium – the equivalent of about 130 nuclear
Rumours of Israel developing tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear
capable sea-launched cruise missiles have not been substantiated. No
doctrine on the possible use of nuclear weapons has been announced but
their deterrent value has not prevented Arab-Israeli wars and persistent
attacks across Israeli-held territory.
As the sixth state in the world to acquire nuclear weapons, and the very
first in the Middle East, nuclear devices were never overtly tested
unlike in the cases of India, Pakistan and DPRK. The Vela Incident or
the South Atlantic Flash on September 22, 1979 has been identified as a
test in which Israel and South Africa colluded but details have never
With a policy of nuclear opacity Israel did not sign the NPT and, unlike
with other non-NPT signatories, it was not pressured to do so by the
U.S. Since states, which had exploded nuclear devices before January 1,
1967 qualified to join the NPT as NWS, there is no realistic possibility
of Israel joining the NPT except as a NNWS.
Israel has signed, but not ratified, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT) and is one of the 44 countries whose ratification is
required for the treaty to enter into force. It is also a member of the
Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament with its partially fulfilled
mandate as the sole multilateral negotiating forum to produce treaties
on nuclear issues such as a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT).
Being the only state in the Middle East outside the NPT, Israel has been
strongly criticized in multilateral forums like the UN General
Assembly's (UNGA) First Committee and the International Atomic Agency (IAEA)
with annual resolutions being adopted with overwhelming majorities
calling on Israel to join the NPT. A resolution calling for a nuclear
weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East has been adopted repeatedly
without a vote. Further pressure has been added with a resolution
calling for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle
A key element in the package that was adopted without a vote at the 1995
NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) was a Resolution on the
Middle East calling, inter alia, for a MEWMDFZ. Arab countries and
others have used the failure to implement this resolution as leverage in
subsequent NPT Review Conferences and the collapse of the 2005 NPT
Review Conference was attributed to this.
In the 2010 Review Conference a redoubled diplomatic effort by the
Egyptian-led Arab and Non-aligned group led to a consensus Final
Document being adopted which called for a 2012 Conference on creating
the MEWMDFZ. Slow progress in the preparations for this is likely to
aggravate Arab hostility despite the distractions of the Arab Spring and
the war in Libya.
For many India's acquisition of the most destructive weapon invented is
a strange contradiction of the philosophy of non-violence, famously
advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, and India's moral posturing in world
affairs. At the time of Independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru
placed India firmly on the path to modernization through the development
of science and technology including the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
However, others in the leadership harboured ambitions of acquiring
nuclear weapons for prestige and global power status while Nehru
preached nuclear disarmament and a ban on nuclear testing. Thus India
resisted all pressures to join the NPT carrying on a strident campaign
against its discriminatory aspect. That did not prevent India from
subsequently joining the equally discriminatory two-tiered Antarctic
Treaty in the top tier.
In 1974 India, under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, conducted a nuclear
test which was falsely described as "peaceful" but has
subsequently been acknowledged as a nuclear weapon test. The alarms that
the test caused were fuelled by suspicions about India's nuclear
ambitions and the fact that Canadian nuclear supplies for peaceful
purposes had been diverted for this.
While Indian nuclear ambitions were further evidenced by its strong and
solitary opposition to the 1996 CTBT, it led to a similarly clandestine
programme in Pakistan. In 1998 India conducted five underground tests of
nuclear devices and declared itself a nuclear weapon state amidst
domestic jubilation citing a threat from China.
The immediate reaction of Pakistan was to follow suit and the world was
suddenly faced with two more NWS outside the NPT making the goal of a
nuclear weapon-free world even more distant. The strong condemnation of
the UN Security Council by Resolution 1172 at the time is a strange
contrast to U.S.-driven global indulgence and active encouragement of
India’s nuclear weapon possession today.
India is estimated to have 80-100 nuclear weapons. A domestic debate
goes on among Indian scientists as to whether more tests are needed
although an Indian Prime Minister has pledged that India would not stand
in the way of the entry into force of the CTBT.
Indian nuclear weapons can be delivered through its Mirage and Jaguar
aircraft as well as through land and sea based missiles. India maintains
a nuclear doctrine of ‘no first use’ and of having a 'credible
minimum deterrence'. That and the fact that India's nuclear weapons are
firmly under civilian control in a functioning democracy with a credible
non-proliferation record has alleviated some of the concerns over an
escalation of a conflict between India and Pakistan into a nuclear war.
The 2005 India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Co-operation Initiative was highly
controversial and widely seen as a violation of the NPT. It was
subsequently approved by the NSG with the use of heavy U.S. diplomatic
pressure but the advantages for the U.S. nuclear industry through sales
to India have yet to materialize.
It is widely conceded that Pakistan would not have acquired nuclear
weapons if India did not. It is the equalizing weapon to counter a
perceived conventional weapon imbalance. Thus Pakistan's rationale for
nuclear deterrence is India-specific especially after the 1971
Indo-Pakistan war when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led Pakistan.
The 1974 Indian test accelerated the programme. It will require India to
eliminate its nuclear arsenal if Pakistan is to do so. In the case of
India however, it will be necessary for there to be global disarmament.
From a period of non-weaponized deterrence Pakistan, with its tests in
1998, converted to a status of an overt nuclear weapon possessor. It is
widely suspected that China provided assistance to Pakistan in
developing nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is estimated to have 90-110 nuclear weapons using highly
enriched uranium (HEU) but recent reports indicate a growing plutonium
based arsenal probably larger than India's and an increased production
of plutonium as fissile material. The delivery systems are both aircraft
The perception of inferiority in fissile material stockpiles vis-ŕ-vis
India has led to an inflexible Pakistan stance in the CD (UN Conference
on Disarmament) on the issue of negotiating a FMCT. The Indo-U.S.
nuclear co-operation deal has also had adverse repercussions. Chinese
firms intend to build two new 340-megawatt light-water reactors at
Pakistan's Chashma Nuclear Power Plant. Ironically, this has elicited
protests from the U.S.
The activities of the A.Q.Khan network and doubts over the safe custody
of Pakistani nuclear weapons in a country fraught with terrorist
problems and weak Governmental controls has made Pakistan a key
The discovery that Osama Bin Laden had been in Pakistan, either unknown
to the Pakistan authorities or with their connivance, can only enhance
concerns over the safety of the country's nuclear arsenal.
With a bilateral history of hostile relations many see South Asia as a
likely theatre for a limited nuclear war citing the tensions of the
"Brasstacks" exercise in 1986/7 and the Kargil conflict of
1999. However both sides have expressed confidence in their command and
control structures and systems.
All nine nuclear armed states, whether within the NPT or outliers,
present a threat to global security. Napoleon is said to have remarked:
"Bayonets are wonderful! One can do anything with them except sit
on them!". Today's bayonets are nuclear weapons; and we are
actually sitting on them. The potential for their use by accident or
design; by the states themselves or by terrorist groups within these
states is too great for the people of the world to accept.
Dhanapala is President, Pugwash Conferences on Science & World
Affairs. He served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs
and as Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA in 1990s.
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