Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia

By Shuja, Sharif M. | Contemporary Review, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia


Shuja, Sharif M., Contemporary Review


For the most part, the evidence of the 1990s would seem to suggest that the stability and prosperity of Asia-Pacific have flowed in part from the widespread adherence by regional countries to the non-proliferation norms and regimes, the centrepiece of which is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT dates back to 1968 when seventy states signed the NPT, which came into force in 1970. Since then, the number of states party to the NPT has increased considerably. By now, 176 states have signed the treaty and thus opted to give up nuclear power for military purposes. Some states, for example, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Romania, gave up their nuclear stockpiling programme. Algeria, after building up a large nuclear research facility with China's support, eventually joined the NPT in January 1995.

But the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in May 1998 shattered the strategic status quo on the sub-continent, fuelling global concerns that the two long-time protagonists were moving close to a nuclear confrontation. By exploding ten nuclear bombs in two weeks, India and Pakistan together have blown the nuclear non-proliferation regime to pieces and fundamentally altered the nuclear balance of power. In April, things got worse when India tested a missile capable of carrying this nuclear device. The campaign for nuclear disarmament is failing just when success seemed at hand. A Nuclear Weapons Convention based on the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention could be one way out of the imbroglio. But the harsh reality is that none of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council is contemplating the idea of dismantling its nuclear weapons. The new nuclear arms race arguably calls into question the nature and durability of the US leadership in world affairs.

The political and strategic after-shocks were felt beyond the borders of India and Pakistan. Strategic analysts, security planners and policy-makers even in Australia became worded about the balance of power implications, the consequences for the non-nuclear proliferation regime, and the spillover effects for the Asia-Pacific region. Such worries were demonstrated in a seminar entitled 'India and Pakistan: A New Nuclear Weapons Imbroglio', organised by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, held on 21 August 1998 and the US Deputy Secretary of Defence Strobe Talbot's most recent visit and talks in Islamabad over nuclear non-proliferation. This nuclear proliferation in South Asia has raised the need to re-examine the question of nuclear non-proliferation within the context of international security. This article aims to focus attention upon arguments about substance and mandate rethinking basic issues. In my discussions, I am guided by the vision of a world eventually free of all weapons of mass destruction.

Theoretical Terrain

Some international relations scholars in the Cold War period, such as Kennet Waltz, argued in 1979 (Theory of International Politics) that the countries equipped with nuclear weapons may have a stronger incentive to prevent war than the states with conventional armaments. In 1981 he published The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better, a definite stance for nuclear weaponry increase as a means of stability between the two superpowers. Others also wrote on this issue. Using the contemporary concepts of 'international systems' expounded by Gabriel Amond, Morton Kaplan, K. J. Holsti, Le Roy Graymer, Joseph Franklin, Richard Rosecrance and Julian Friedman, this author earlier in 1974 (International Systems and Problems of Stability in the Nuclear Age) attempted to establish theoretically that, 'stability or security in the present age of nuclear deterrence is most probably dependent, in the ultimate analysis, on a balanced relationship between the existing patterns of bipolarity and multipolarity'. Since 1989, the pulling down of the Berlin wall followed by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union collapse have deeply changed the geo-strategical outlook. …

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