Authored by: Maimuna Ashraf
Edited by: S. Sadia Kazmi
Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad
Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) organized a monthly In-House seminar on the topic titled “Politics of NSG and Strategic Stability in South Asia” held on August 23, 2016 at the SVI premises. It was a closed door talk strictly based on Chatham House rules. Mr. Anton V. Khlopkov, Director Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) from Russia was the guest speaker. The discussion was chaired by Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President/Executive Director, SVI. He thanked and welcomed Mr. Anton V. Khlopkov for affording valuable time out of his busy schedule to speak on the subject. He also extended his thanks and welcomed the participants for gracing the occasion with their presence.
Dr. Cheema introduced the topic by stating that South Asian security and strategic stability is a very relevant subject and the politics of NSG has gained immense significance in the recent few months not only in South Asia but in the international corridors of power as well. The NSG is now confronted with a very critical issue of high politics where all major powers are generating tremendous pressure favoring India’s membership into the NSG. He said it is ironic since it was India whose 1974 nuclear test led to the very creation of the NSG. The basic purpose of the NSG is to provide a mechanism through which the non-proliferation goal could be achieved, but in the present scenario the group members are unanimously supporting India- a proliferator- to be part of the group. He further elaborated that this group is not a formal, institutional or governmental group but a private cartel of 48 members. Notwithstanding the question of its legitimacy; it is an important group since it deals with the dual use nuclear technology, commercial nuclear activities and nuclear exchanges between the member states.
He further elaborated that the NSG membership has also become a symbol of prestige which probably is one of the reasons why India is vehemently pursuing its membership. India is being supported by the US in this regard, irrespective of any principles or criteria on which the inclusion should be based. This can give India, a non-NPT nuclear state, a further recognition as a nuclear weapon state and an edge over other non-NPT nuclear states, such as Pakistan which is not being considered to be equated with India. This discrimination against Pakistan has a history and specifically goes back to the signing of Indio-US nuclear deal in 2008. He added that in the last two plenary meetings of NSG, few states opposed the US’ “country-specific” stance and stressed that India should only be included on the merit basis. They took a very principled stand by stating that if the NSG has to be expanded it should be based on some criteria.
He opined that India’s partnership with the US is largely viewed as an alliance. India is seen as a pivot to Asia and Asia-Pacific and is being encouraged by the US to develop its conventional capabilities and nuclear program. For this purpose the US is providing hi-tech weapon system, aircraft carriers and other nuclear technology to India. This support is not in the best interest of Pakistan because it undermines Pakistan’s security at the level of conventional military capabilities and also disturbs nuclear equilibrium in the region. He further explained that the strategic stability of South Asia is crucial for maintenance of peace around the region because the instability between the two South Asian nuclear states may also drag the great powers into regional politics, which India and Pakistan have alignments with.
Mr. Anton V. Khlopkov began with thanking Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema for inviting him to express his thoughts on the SVI’s platform. He addressed two main issues; first, Russian perspective on the NSG expansion and second, Pakistan’s stance on obligations and the future of CTBT. He also expressed that he was not representing Russian government and his views would only be represented in the personal academic capacity.
Mr. Khlopkov commenced his speech by talking about the NSG exemption given to India in 2008, he said it was not a decision based on consensus wherein Russia suggested that a criteria based approach should have been adopted. Lately, as the debate about India’s bid into NSG is going on, Russia’s support to India’s inclusion in the group does not come with an intention to block/resist the inclusion of other non-NPT members such as Israel and Pakistan. He stated that his personal perception is that the new members to the nuclear supplier cartel should be approved through criteria based approach, however the key issue would be to identify what kind of criteria should be adopted. He expressed that as a Research Scholar he is more interested in knowing Pakistani perspective in this regard and what rationale does Pakistan see/build for itself for its inclusion as a member into the NSG. He also said he would like to know what kind of criteria Pakistani scholars would suggest should be adopted, especially for the non-NPT nuclear states, if at all a criteria-based approach for new members is to be used in the future.
He also expressed apprehensions about India’s proliferation record. He reiterated that he is well familiar with the use of CIRUS (Canada-India-Reactor-United States) reactor that is being used for the plutonium production which was a violation of bilateral agreement with India. However, he added that due to geopolitical interests, countries whose record is far from perfect are being portrayed as countries with perfect record. For instance, South Korea is being presented as a country with perfect record. He also recalled that recently South Korea bought laser equipments from a Russian institute and those equipments were used in upgrading HEU production with no proper declaration to IAEA.
Mr. Khlopkov acknowledged the security driven reasons for Pakistan to join NSG. While enumerating those reasons he mentioned that if India is treated as an exemption and becomes the member of the NSG, it will create instability in the region. Another reason for Pakistan is of political nature i.e. since the decision in NSG would be based on consensus where India will be the first to get membership, it will become very difficult for Pakistan to join the group at any later stage. Another reason is socio-economic; since Pakistan has ambitious plans for the development of its nuclear energy sector, the goal which could be more easily achieved if it gets NSG membership. Yet another reason is technological; Pakistan is an advanced nuclear country which in the last few years has started producing the nuclear fuel domestically for Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) reactor. This gives a sufficient rationale for Pakistan to ask for NSG membership.
While deliberating on the question of criteria based approach and what criteria should be used, he expressed that the respective Pakistani experts believe that Pakistan meets the criteria for NSG membership except that it is not the member of NPT. However he suggested that Pakistan needs to realize that NSG cannot approve the same criteria for both the NPT members and non-NPT member states. Nonetheless it will be encouraging to engage the non-NPT nuclear states in the non-proliferation regime. But, he added, this process should not undermine the regime itself. Any exceptional treatment would raise questions because some other NPT signatories, like Iran and Egypt, are also closely observing the developments.
While talking about CTBT, he was more interested in finding out the prospects of Pakistan signing and ratifying the treaty. He expressed skepticism with regards to the prospects of CTBT and its entry into force but stated that one could stay hopeful if in case Hilary Clinton wins the election as Clinton family would be more concerned about such matters. Sharing his personal correspondence with the American experts, he said that it seems that CTBT ratification and entry into force can become domestic and foreign policy priority for United States if Hilary Clinton is elected with majority of democrats in the senate. He opined that if the US ratifies the CTBT then China will be ratifying it too. In that scenario, India and Pakistan will have to be next on the list. So here the question arises about the prospects of Pakistan signing and ratifying the treaty especially if India ratifies it too.
In the discussion and question-answer session, Dr. Cheema asked him to shed some light on the official policy of Russia on the subject. Mr. Khlopkov explained that Russia has different type of Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) contracts and agreements for the next twenty years with different countries which include Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, India, Jordan and Egypt. Similarly other than Russia there are many other players in the Indian market while at the same time India has become quite self-sufficient. Its local companies are able to construct and produce sufficiently though not as skillfully as China but the local industry is fast growing. From commercial point of view, Russia is more interested in building NPP in Iran and is ready to finance Bushehr II NPP from its own budget. In case of India’s NPP Kudankulam, the first two units were partially financed by Russia and the same is being followed for third and fourth units. In Turkey, the NPP built by Russia is based on BOO (build, own, operate) project model, which means if and when this NPP is built, Russia will run and get back money from selling the electricity. On the NSG membership, he said his understanding was that Russia is very much open to criteria based approach, the criteria that will make the regime stronger not weaker. Russia will not be the country that will block the membership of any state into the NSG if their inclusion makes the non-proliferation regime stronger.
Dr. Cheema asked his views on the state of strategic stability in South Asia and the variables which in his opinion could destabilize it. He also asked Mr. Khlopkov for his suggestions for the nuclear states in this region by keeping in view Russia’s historic experience with the US. Mr. Khlopkov expressed his appreciation for the recent initiative by Pakistani government to formalize mutual ban on nuclear test in the region. He shared his desire that both India and Pakistan should also sign and ratify CTBT which after 20 years since 1996, has now reached a critical moment. Furthermore, he expressed his concern that both states have continued with their weapon grade material production, which is causing arms race in the region. He expressed his understanding about Pakistan’s concerns towards India’s cold start doctrine and the exemption given to India in 2008 but he maintained that Pakistan too had ambitious plans to develop its nuclear program long before India’s exemption and cold start doctrine were evolved. He stated that both states are developing their respective programs which in turn are undermining the strategic stability of the whole region.
Amb. (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi, Chairman CISS, pointed out that Pakistan has a record of total commitment to non-proliferation. While giving a quick overview of the history, he shared that Pakistan was one of the first countries to accept the atom for peace program in 1953 while India was no where among the three states (Pakistan, Turkey, and Israel) that accepted this program. Since then Pakistan has embarked upon a program for peaceful uses of nuclear energy specifically throughout 50s and 60s. However it was the nuclear explosion in 1974 by India that compelled Pakistan to think about its security and to draft a plan to pursue its own nuclear weapon program. In the next fifteen years Pakistan presented two resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), one for nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) and the other for negative security assurances (NSA). Pakistan presented these resolutions every year till it had no choice but to respond to Indian nuclear weapons development. He added that while Mr. Khlopkov listed all the right reasons due to which Pakistan wants to be part of the group but the most important reason is that Pakistan is fully committed to non-proliferation and adheres to all the requirements in this regard. Thus it qualifies for the NSG membership, except for one requirement that it has not signed NPT for which there is a valid reason i.e. it is a discriminatory treaty and accepts only five states as NWS while others are not accepted as NWS. He further shared that Pakistan voted for the CTBT but did not sign it because India had not signed it either. Amb. Naqvi said that that Pakistan has a strong case for NSG membership and if the criterion is to be applied for acceptance of any country that has not signed NPT then Pakistan also deserves to be included, but if non-NPT states are not being entertained then India should also not get in.
Dr. Cheema asked what it would take to include Pakistan in the list of countries that Russia is selling nuclear technology to. Mr. Anton replied that he saw two obstacles in this, one is legal and the other is commercial issue. Even though NSG does not have legal binding on any state but Russian legislation is based on Russia’s commitment as member of NSG. The nuclear proliferation record issue is also important which is about the so called AQ network, hence one cannot fully agree that Pakistan has perfect proliferation record after that. He maintained that Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry accepted that in this high profile “AQ case” some Pakistani citizens were involved even though it did its best to prevent such developments in the future. Mr. Khlopkov suggested that mentioning about the preventive efforts that Pakistan has been employing in this regard would make its case for membership much stronger as compared to just not speaking on the issue.
Lt. Gen. (R) Asif Yasin Malik said that Pakistan’s nuclear program cannot be equated with Indian nuclear program. Primarily Pakistan’s strategic and nuclear capabilities are aimed against India because Pakistan perceives threat from India whereas India has global ambitions so both states should be seen from the level of threat perception and security concerns before considering them for NSG membership.
In response to a question about how long it would take for both India and Pakistan to get the NSG membership, Mr. Khlopkov did not give any specific timeline as he maintained that it was not just about the decision by P5 but it also involved decisions by other states and such procedures take time.
Adding to the discussion Dr. Cheema said that Pakistan is facing an acute shortage of electricity across the country and one possible way to deal with it is that Pakistan should start its own NPP that could generate electricity. He said that this major issue alone builds a sufficient rationale for Pakistan to have NPP hence what other reason should be established to convince Russia for Pakistan to have a Nuclear Power Plant? Mr. Khlopkov said that there is no single project in the peaceful use of nuclear energy which Pakistan would like to implement. He explained about energy need and installation of NPP, and said that according to him it also depends on the region which the country is located in. If the place is located close to coal fuels or gas fuels, then there are no prospects to build NPP. Last year in Russia, 18.6% nuclear energy was produced whereas almost 40% nuclear energy was produced in Central Russia. Yet in some other regions it is close to zero because other sources of energy are to be used.
Mr. Khlopkov enquired how competitive Pakistan is in producing nuclear energy as compared to other sources. Mr. Pervez Butt, Former Chairman PAEC explained that Pakistan possesses great hydro potential which Pakistan must exploit for the reason it is cheap as well. But the issue is that of its availability as it is available only for half a year, since the quantity goes down in early summers and late winters. So Pakistan cannot solely depend on hydroelectricity. He further explained that another source for generating electricity is through Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) which is almost as costly as the one generated by nuclear power. The reason to prefer nuclear energy is that Pakistan’s NPPs are graded under the capacity factor of 80-90% whereas other power plants are graded with very low capacity factor so Pakistan should have a mix of cheap hydro and nuclear (being the main generation plants) and gas based power plants. He suggested that with all the experience and the ability to manufacture parts of NPP, Pakistan should have more NPPs.
Mr. Khlopkov further asked how the Chashma II project is being financed. Dr. Ansar Pervez, Former Chairman PAEC, informed that it is partially supported, as 62% was the Chinese loan and more than one third was provided by Pakistan. He added that the capacity factor of Chashma II is 80-85% while the same is very low for KANUPP. Dr. Pervez Butt shared that the government of Pakistan gives very good return on investment in the energy sector which is much more than any other investor so there are big incentives for countries to build NPP in Pakistan.
Mr. Zafar Ali added that Pakistan sometimes faces problems to get safety equipments for its NPPs even though they are under the IAEA safeguards because many countries create hurdles in this way. He said that India’s membership to NSG will not only be a disaster to non-proliferation regime it will also disturb the strategic stability. He suggested that academicians should be emphasizing on promoting the strategic stability and countries should understand Pakistan’s security concerns as well. Although Russia has not shown any negativity to Pakistani membership but the clear support to criteria based approach by Russia has not come up.
With regards to the competition in market, Mr. Khlopkov said, he is skeptical about the comments of so called Russian political analysts who claim that the deal with Iran is not in Russian interest because Russia will not be the only player in the Iranian market but other countries will also play in. Realistically speaking Russia will not be in a position to build all the NPPs that Iran would like to build. It would be only natural if Iran looks forward to diversify its NPPs.
Talking about Russian’s position on NSG, Mr. Anton Khlopkov said that Russia will not be a spoiler for other countries interested in joining the group if it makes the regime stronger. He agreed that the 2008 exemption give to India was not a step to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.
Mr. Iftitkhar pointed out Pakistan’s credentials that qualify it to become the member of NSG and said that Pakistan fully adheres to the requirements of the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS); Pakistan possesses separate nuclear operational and nuclear regulatory authority. All NPPs of Pakistan are under IAEA safeguards whereas eight nuclear reactors of India are outside IAEA safeguards and speedily creating weapons grade uranium too. Pakistan has strong nuclear export and control measures and never has to face any issue/problem in this regard. He added that Mr. Khlopkov very rightly mentioned that Indian exemption in 2008 was a mistake so the same mistake should not be repeated now by giving India the NSG membership.
Mr. Khlopkov mentioned it is very important for Pakistan to be active if it aims to become the member of the NSG and should engage with countries that are skeptical about its nuclear credentials. He expressed that his only concern is that Pakistani experts always refer to India and do not refer to the national interest. The national interest highlighting the domestic needs should be very clearly and vocally voiced at the international fora to make the case stronger for Pakistan’s membership into the NSG.
Dr. Ansar Pervez said that currently Pakistan does not have any peaceful energy projects because there are no contractors although there is a critical need to start energy projects. He said that Russia cannot simply stop Indian membership because the political relations between the two states will not allow for that. Thus there are many other factors that influence a decision other than purely nuclear based reasons. Mr. Khlopkov agreed and stated that even in 2008 it was not a technical decision and rather was more of a political decision.
Ms. Saima Aman, an MPhil candidate at NDU said that as an independent researcher she would put socio-economic factors prior to the security because as a common person she is not concerned whether India gets the NSG membership or not, instead she is more concerned that Pakistan being technologically advanced country is still out of the non-proliferation regime. Does the international community have an incentive to bring technologically advanced nuclear weapon state like Pakistan into the regime or is it intentionally keeping them out? What would be the Russian perspective on it? She further shared her own understanding of what the criteria for inclusion should be, and said, now is the time for NSG to decide that non-proliferation should be taken as separate strand from politics, like Iran’s geopolitics was taken separately from non-proliferation. With regards to Pakistan’s membership, she said that other than safety measures there are a whole lot of efforts that are being undertaken to strengthen nuclear security which probably Pakistan has not been able to project as effectively as India, nonetheless Pakistan still has valid points to become the NSG member. Ms. Aman further asked about the criteria that the Russian government might be thinking about, whether it is only CTBT? She mentioned that Russia has commercial and strategic interests with India so could that be an impediment for Russia to talk openly about the criteria. Is the strategic relationship playing into it? Mr. Khlopkov replied that a government official may be able to provide a better understanding about what Russian government is thinking on the matter. He said that experts in Pakistan think that somebody else will develop criteria for Pakistan to be accepted in the NSG. If it is in the national interest of Pakistan to become the member, Pakistan should develop criteria on its own and submit it to the other countries and should ask them for their support. It is time to work hard, because if Pakistan has a goal it should do its best to make it happen. With regards to separating the politics from non-proliferation regime, he said, it could happen only if we were living in the perfect world but the things should be seen realistically; unfortunately the non-proliferation regime is much politicized. He said that differences and concerns should be discussed in the bilateral meetings because usually platforms having many states are not the right place to discuss the bilateral matters. Iran’s case is good example that shows we can be pragmatic.
Ms. Sobia Paracha, a research scholar at IPRI, asked Mr. Khlopkov to elaborate on how NSG is not the only platform to engage the non-NPT states and how other platforms can serve as an alternative to NSG? She said that NSG has nothing to do with the nuclear weapons program instead it is about the status that it provides to the states equivalent to very advanced nuclear weapon states, hence the membership will add to the prestige and will boost Pakistan’s image abroad. She added that Pakistan keeps on mentioning India’s membership because Pakistan’s policy, even though not appreciated abroad, is related to Indian nuclear program. If India gets the membership then the de-hyphenation, which was created after 2008 exemption, would be permanent.
Dr. Zafar Ali suggested that the predetermined criteria should be applied equally, fairly and without any discrimination and if a new criterion is to be adopted then it should be objective. Mr. Khlopkov agreed that the criteria should be objective and stressed upon the need for new criteria as the existing criteria would not be acceptable to Pakistan and India. He suggested that it is in the interest of non-proliferation regime to engage with non-NPT states.
On a lighter note Dr. Cheema remarked whether it would be provocative if he suggested that both India and Pakistan should be accepted as nuclear weapon states members of the NPT and enlarge P5 to P7? Mr. Anton Khlopkov said that the treaty does not allow that however Dr. Cheema suggested that it was just a proposal and the treaty can be amended. Mr. Khlopkov concluded by thanking Dr. Cheema for the hospitality and suggested that such dialogues should take place more often.
Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema concluded the In-House Seminar by profoundly thanking the guest speaker. The question-answer session was extremely comprehensive and educative. He said that frank conclusion is that Pakistan has to develop the criteria it is looking for. Dr. Cheema offered his thanks to the august audience and mentioned that their presence made this seminar a successful endeavor. He expressed special thanks to all the guests for actively participating and making the discussion interactive. He also extended his gratitude to the research and secretarial staff of the SVI for their hard work.