Sher Bano*March 19, 2021
Pakistan’s flag. Photo by Erum Khan101, Wikipedia Commons.
In October 2016, more than 120 countries at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) decided to ban nuclear weapons. Based on that, in July 2017 ‘TPNW’ (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) was agreed upon and opened for signature in September the same year. However, it was till the end of the year 2020 when the treaty got 50 ratifications which was a prerequisite for it to be entered into force. Since January 2021, after a 90 days completion of 50 ratifications, the treaty is now entered into force. According to the terms and conditions of the treaty the countries that had ratified the treaty are not allowed in any circumstances to test, manufacture, develop, acquire or produce any kind of nuclear weapons. Neither India and Pakistan nor the other nuclear-weapon states have signed the treaty. The occasion that was being considered a major landmark by the United Nations lacked the participation and consent of major nuclear powers of the world. Pakistan believes that it is not bound by the obligations of the TPNW as it is vital to take into account the security concerns of all the states before taking any measure on nuclear disarmament.
Soon after the treaty entered into force on 22 January 2021, Pakistan’s foreign office stated that the treaty was not within the disarmament negotiating forums established by the United Nations. Other than that, it has failed to take into account the interest of the prime stakeholders as it lacked participation from any major nuclear-weapon state including Pakistan. The foreign office also pointed out that, in 1978 during the first session of UNGA that was dedicated to nuclear disarmament, a consensus was drawn regarding the implementation of disarmament measures. According to that consensus, it was agreed that during any disarmament process, the right of security to all the states would be kept in mind. In this regard, the ultimate objective should be to limit the military forces and arms acquired by the states in a way that does not undermine its security. Pakistan is of the view that the only way to achieve this prime objective is through non-discriminatory international cooperation and by undertakings that are agreed upon universally. For the states to acquire undiminished and equal security, it is necessary to have a process that is based on consensus by all relevant stakeholders.
The treaty is not in any manner the part of international law and neither does it contribute to the formation of any new customary ‘IL’ (International Law). Moreover, the only pertinent body to address matters related to nuclear disarmament is the ‘CD’ (Conference on Disarmament). Pakistan is wholeheartedly committed to the motive of having a nuclear-weapons-free world through a non-discriminatory, comprehensive, universal, and verifiable convention on nuclear weapons. The objective of any nuclear disarmament measure must be to promote stability, peace, and security at both the global and regional levels by including the legitimate interests of all the states.
One of the reasons based on which the nuclear-weapon states are quite reluctant to adopt TPNW apparently is that for most of these states nuclear weapons ensure deterrence that is necessary to prevent a war or a conflict. The sole reason behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons by these states was to deter the enemy from attacking or to avoid any armed conflict that would result in massive destruction. Furthermore, the concept of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) is also significant in this regard. It is argued that nuclear disarmament cannot be separated from nuclear deterrence. Especially in the South Asian region, where India and Pakistan have a history of troubled relations, nuclear deterrence is believed to be a key component to maintain a strategic balance. Even for NATO, the credible deterrence is based on the mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defence capabilities. TPNW does not cater to these security concerns of ‘NWS’ (Nuclear Weapon States) for which nuclear deterrence is an important aspect of their security policy. All these states argue that nuclear weapons would continue to enhance their security even in the foreseeable future hence the treaty seems a little unrealistic. Moreover, any reduction in nuclear arsenals cannot be acquired by forcibly banning it; but can be attained through a step-by-step and a legitimate process over the course of time.
Hence having ignored the on-ground strategic and military realities, TPNW, just because of the numbers of ratification seems to put forth something that is nothing but just a moral victory. Especially, when the nuclear-weapon states both NPT and non-NPT are not even part of this treaty, its relevance for the international non-proliferation regime becomes even more indeterminate. However, the fact remains that Pakistan has always been in favor of the test bans and the only reason behind not signing the NPT was its discriminatory nature and the complex regional dynamics that compel Pakistan to maintain a credible and reliable nuclear deterrence posture. It has also proposed to sign the ‘Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ (CTBT) if India is also willing to do the same. Hence, there is a need for a non-discriminatory and unbiased international non-proliferation mechanism that would incorporate the security concerns of all states. Given the complex and ever-changing dynamics of the South Asian strategic and security environment, there are very less chances that both India and Pakistan would sign any such treaty especially at the cost of undermining the deterrence equilibrium.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan