Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

China-Pakistan Deal Pushes Forward Without the NSG: Is This Something to Worry About?

Posted by K.E. White on June 27, 2011

No, but others disagree.

A fellow law student, Matthew F. Ferraro, at Flashpoint (A Blog of The Diplomat Magazine) discusses two recent–and in his view troubling–nuclear moves by China.  Ferraro frets over (1) China’s pending nuclear deal with Pakistan and (2) Chinese refusal to allow India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.  While he doesn’t offer a solution to the perceived second problem, he suggests an intriguing idea for the first:  have the NSG push for a de facto waiver by lobbying China to accept a NSG declaration welcoming the deal and emphasizing that all nuclear facilities under it will be under IAEA restrictions.

While thoughtful and original piece, Ferraro’s ‘solution’ is impractical, and–if pursued–would risk dealing a fatal blow ever getting Pakistan in the nuclear fold and needlessly alienate China.

(And did I mention that pursuing this de facto waiver would futher strain America’s relationship with Pakistan?)

There are a five points to bring-up that in my view represent critical omissions/miscues on the article:

(1)  The US-India nuclear deal was a bum deal, but we’re sticking to it.  The United States actively lobbied the NSG to grant a ‘waiver’, in return for a new, strategic relationship with India.  And for what (primary) reason?  To corner China.  What did we actually get?  (1) International criticism; (2) India getting even more nuclear deals with Russia and France; (3) and India not really pinning China down.  And how do you think the United States (tacitly) got China’s approval on this waiver?  Probably a guarantee not to hold up (oh wait it can’t) complain about a nuclear deal with Pakistan.

(2)  China’s deal with Pakistan is not illegal.  Ferraro states refers to this deal as “China’s illicit sale”, but it’s not illicit.  The NSG terms are voluntary.  This is a crucial point that undermines the basis of the entire article:  China isn’t breaking its international commitments.  Yes, the NSG  could kick out China, which would then (pretty much) destroy the very reason for the NSG to exist.  But there’s an important difference between a ‘breach’ of a voluntary agreement, and violating international law.  This may seem silly semantics, but the NSG is voluntary exactly so it’s members can show the flexibility necessary to deal with nuclear commerce issues.  In fact, with an issue as sensitive as nuclear commerce, this flexibility is needed.

(3)  Is the United States really all  that upset?  Sorry to call me a skeptic, but the U.S. knew this day was coming.  Giving India a nuclear pass meant that India would get one as well.  Furthermore, at a time when U.S.-Pakistan are both vital and troubled, I think the U.S. may actually be thankful for this deal in the long-term.  Pakistan already has nukes; the United States can’t give any nuclear carrots (for domestic and external reasons); at least China can give tools, IAEA assurances, and perhaps a road to bringing Pakistan into the nuclear fold.

The critical point:  The United States can’t bring Pakistan into the nuclear fold alone; it will need China, and to get that support, the United States will have to deal with China keep Pakistan a strategic partner.

(4)  Ferraro’s solution sounds great, but spells trouble.  This isn’t the way to go.  If India was kicking and screaming about NSG approval of the U.S.-India deal, the NSG injecting itself into a bilateral agreement without China’s approval is fool-hearty at best, stupid at worst.  First, China won’t vote for it–hence, it won’t pass.  Result:  the NSG looks completely helpless, and antagonizes China.  Critical point:  China’s timing of this deal has as much to do with helping itself, as helping the other NSG members swallow the deal.  Second, it pushes Pakistan even further away from coming into the nuclear fold–like eventually signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The NSG focusing even more attention on this matter will (1) likely fail and (2)  alienate China and Pakistan.  At at time when having India and Pakistan sign the NPT (less likely) or Conventional Test Ban Treaty (more likely medium-term) is far more important than bellyaching Pakistan nuclear deal, the NSG pursuing a de facto waiver seems a dangerous waste of time.

(5)  Thank God China’s blocking India’s NSG bid!  Ferraro leaves this point in left field, mentioning it but not explaining why it’s bad.  I assume Ferraro believes bringing India into the NSG is a nonproliferation ‘win’.  But that seems a rather dubious proposition.  Opening the doors to India inevitably opens question about permitting Pakistan and Israel into a club.  Great, let’s dominant all NSG discussion over member instead of getting the current members on the same page on nuclear policy.   (If you couldn’t guess, I believe this is a bad idea.).

Conclusion:  The Deal Is Happening, and It’s a Good Thing–But What Comes Next?

Ferraro basically sees the ‘bad’ in the China-Pakistan deal, without looking to the hard realities of today’s nuclear diplomacy.  Now admittedly, perhaps I’m to quick to give China a pass-a position Ashley J. Tellis would no doubt agree with me on.  (Note:  Tellis gives more background on the China-Pakistan nuke deal’s differences from the U.S.-India deal and how China justifies the deal).

But, overall, I still believe the United States should quietly be pleased with China’s moves.  The real question wasn’t if this move was going to happen, but (1) how it was executed and (2) how it would be used in the future to mold Pakistan’s nuclear practices.  China’s actions are actually containing the fall-out from America’s past breach of nuclear norms.  Is China getting a benefit?  Sure.  But when it comes to the nonproliferation agenda, all goodies that America gets, China and Russia will get.  At least China using its nuclear card prudently, quietly, and in way that helps maintain international stability, helps American diplomacy, and–most importantly to those concerned with nuclear proliferation–generates to a new lever to pressure Pakistan on nonproliferation issues.

But the real question of how the U.S., China, and Russia can use this lever to push a nonproliferation agenda, within their already crowded priority agendas, is too early to answer.

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2 Responses to “China-Pakistan Deal Pushes Forward Without the NSG: Is This Something to Worry About?”

  1. [...] In an earlier post on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal, I pointed out China’s argument that it’s reactor sale to Pakistan should be grandfathered in since it had pre-existing contracts with Pakistan before joining the NSG. [...]

  2. nhom mua said

    nhom mua…

    [...]China-Pakistan Deal Pushes Forward Without the NSG: Is This Something to Worry About? « Proliferation Press[...]…

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