Parity Syndrome and Strategic Blunder Tango: Critique of A Normal Nuclear Pakistan

Nuclear proliferation is a form of national suicide that Pakistan committed a few decades ago. It expects now to be forgiven, and treated as a normal nuclear state in response to modicum adjustments in its nuclear governance, in what will be a mockery of the nonproliferation order. If the normalization gospel is promoted, it would culminate in yet another tango of Pakistan’s India-parity syndrome with strategic blunder on the part of the United States.

A Normal Nuclear Pakistan by Michael Krepon and Toby Dalton is another enthusiastic inquisition, after Mark Fitzpatrick’s Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, on the possibility of making Pakistan a normal nuclear state, which is otherwise incorrigible, unless a miracle befalls. The authors rightly observe:

“The global nuclear order will not be strengthened by trying to accommodate a Pakistan that is greatly increasing its nuclear capabilities while rejecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Nor will Pakistan become a normal, nuclear state by competing with India or by harboring groups that could spark a war with India.”

However, their inquiry on Pakistan’s place in the global nuclear order, whether it will always be punished, and whether the nuclear mainstream will continue to elude Islamabad, is undertaken solely and erroneously within the Indo-Pak parity framework. Nuclear normalization cannot be exclusively for Pakistan, as North Korea, another proliferator of concern, has a similar threat perception and strategic scenario. Should we vouch for a normal nuclear North Korea along with Pakistan? Moreover, the rationale behind treating India as a normal nuclear country must be distinguished from the argument in case of Pakistan. In India’s case, the non-proliferation discourse had to be adjusted for “a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology”, whereas Pakistan, a breeding ground for proliferation and jihadi terrorists, needs to reform itself to be accommodated in the regime.

As for revamping the administrative-security structure of nuclear assets in Pakistan, the gains are far from secure. Recently, the adviser to the Pakistani prime minister on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said that although Pakistan has some influence over the Taliban, it has no control. George Perkovich rightly states that, in the larger context of deterrence stability, “a state cannot be a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons if it does not have sovereign control over organized perpetrators of international violence operating from its territory”.

According to Krepon and Dalton, Pakistan’s three main arguments are namely, i) “ it deserves the same treatment and status in the global nuclear order as India,” ii) “the subcontinent will grow increasingly unstable if India and Pakistan are treated differently,” and iii) “the global nuclear order will remain abnormal as long as Pakistan is excluded.” This rhetoric is infused with the parity syndrome that Pakistan is suffering since its inception. In no realistic judgment can Pakistan match India in any respect. Its futile attempts to compete with India during the last seven decades have in fact exhausted it. And the United States is to be partly blamed for fueling Pakistan’s urge to compete with India. An India-type deal with Pakistan will certainly elevate Pakistan’s India-parity syndrome to greater heights, and would be another strategic blunder by the United States. It is worth recalling that the Reagan administration “deliberately overlooked Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear activities” during the 1980s.

Hyphenating India and Pakistan during the last six decades did not help Pakistan emerge from the plunge, nor did it stabilize the subcontinent. The Indo-US partnership in the post-1998 phase gave a sense of de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan discourse in US strategic calculations. Now, the idea of normalizing Pakistan with an India-type nuclear deal would convey a sense of the United States’ Janus-faced South Asia policy. More importantly, it would convey the thriving confusion on the part of the United States as to how to fit emerging India in its scheme of the world order. As a result, though highly conjectural, India will be closer to the Chinese scheme of building an alternate world order through groupings and institutions like BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), New Development Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). China has given indications of accommodating India by bestowing equal voting rights in institutions such as the New Development Bank, even though its financial contribution to these institutions is larger than others.

The argument that the global nuclear order will remain abnormal as long as (only) Pakistan is denied a pathway to nuclear normalcy is shortsighted. What about North Korea and Israel? Are they normal? Is the non-proliferation regime not abnormal without them?

The authors succinctly support normalization of Pakistan’s nuclear status, provided that “the net result of mainstreaming would strengthen nonproliferation norms.” This vindicates the argument that no one is assured whether the idea of normalizing Pakistan is worth attempting, and if Pakistan will deliver as desired. For that matter, who will determine if mainstreaming of Pakistan will, or will not, strengthen the regime? Should India not have a major say?

The five initiatives that the authors suggest Pakistan undertake are a mix of only declaratory policy and posture shifts, with no big bargains to justify the magnitude of risk they will pose to the non-proliferation regime in particular, and the world in general. Pakistan can keep doing whatever it is doing, while proclaiming its adherence to the conditions suggested for getting a deal. Only the suggestion to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without waiting for India would be hard for Pakistan to digest. Above all, if Pakistan accepts, the process and outcome of a deal on the basis of these conditions will never be equal with India’s deal. The report suggests that Pakistan concede on its nuclear posture from “full spectrum” to “strategic” deterrence, but this will prove Pakistan’s deterrence posture feeble. Lifting its veto on Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations and stopping fissile material production will heighten Pakistan’s fear of India’s upper hand in fissile material stockpile. For Pakistan, a slight reduction or reversal of its nuclear posture vis-à-vis India would be an act of compromise. If it accepts all the conditions, the disparity between India and Pakistan will remain! There would be no end to Pakistan’s quest for high-flying parity with India unless it is forced into a soft landing.


Image: Shahzeb Younas, Flickr

Posted in , CTBT, Doctrine, Fissile Material, FMCT, India-Pakistan Relations, NSG, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Sitakanta Mishra

Dr Sitakanta Mishra is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Studies at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Cooperative Management Centre of the Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque. He was formerly a Research Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi and Associate Editor of the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, New Delhi.

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6 thoughts on “Parity Syndrome and Strategic Blunder Tango: Critique of A Normal Nuclear Pakistan

  1. Sitakanta:
    Your analysis is always worth reading.
    Here at SAV and the Stimson Center, we welcome thoughtful debate.
    Best wishes,

  2. The article shows indepth analysis of the ground realities of Pakistan and makes for an interesting read. If Pakistan is treated like a normal nuclear state then indeed it would prove to be blasphemous as it’s weak democracy is not able to control the violent elements that nourish on its soil whereas India is a thriving mature democracy and the twain in simply cannot meet. If the world and particularly USA want to avoid a repeat of 9/11 then Pakistan needs to be put on a tight reign.

  3. Hello, sir with due respect i think your analysis is based on the conclusion that you gave at the end. India is a violent nation from cricket ground to Gujraat to train incidence and list goes on. Developing democracy headed by master mind of gujrat’s killing. Sir india wants to be the ruler of South Asia that is a positive vision that every country has but time line varies. This article suggests if you want to be superior let others be poor / Dependant or deprive them. In Pakistan terrorists are declared in India they are respectable citizens, level of threat to a common person / poverty / education standards of India are much lower as compared to Pakistan. Pakistan’s needs to go nuclear as much as it can due to the necessity of obvious Indian extremist mentality including Hot and Cold start Doctrines(multiplied by zero due to Pak’s nukes) . Both the countries need to respect each others sovereignty for future of citizens, however if India thinks that nukes are only for the safety of their citizens they need to be corrected, more nukes India makes in square Pakistan makes, india needs to stop initiation of arms race in South Asia.

  4. It is drumbeat of Western apartheid nuclear policy… Pakistan is highly insecure state due to Indian conventional military, its hegemonic designs and no doubt the growing Hindu extremism with state patronage… the writer is very skeptical about Pakistan control of Taliban..Pakistan have influence for the peace process, a greater good..but they are not controlling Pakistan so that can acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan.. But in terms of India, Hindu fundamentalism is evident even Achilles heel for Indian also…Modi’s extremist India is evident in front of whole world..Democratically India is still not a true democracy with power in the hands of upper class, except for regular elections it does not even fulfill the other variable of democracy..with more than 60 secessionist movement… while Pakistan has controlled and managed its internal extremism, remaining is supported by Indians…evidence has already been provided to US and UN…

    Now come to nuclear security and fissile materiel…World at large accepted and praised Pakistan nuclear safety structures…while India is using the fissile materiel for civil nuclear energy or for military is also evident…
    West is appeasing India to counter China…how it is possible that a smaller state will not pursue its survival when threaten by big neighbor with aggressive designs and extremist ideology…CTBT signed by Pakistan without waiting India…is it realistic?
    I think extra-regional players with appertained and unrealistic policies are manipulating the balance of power in South Asia…with a larger designs to counter China at one hand and to appease India for a larger consumer market…..Realities of nuclear arsenal needs and who is extremist are reverse…and need to understand realistically……

  5. Dear Sitakanta, how do you justify yous assertion that Pakistan is “a breeding ground for proliferation”?
    Same may be accepted for Jihadis and all but Proliferation?
    Such sweeping statements reflect badly upon your otherwise excellent academic credentials and also raise questions over the integrity of such a respectable and reputable blog.

  6. These debates can continue till the cow comes home. The real issue is the unique danger a State sponsor of terrorism poses to its neighbors not just with its terror proxies which it has cultivated and sponsored but its threats to use nuclear weapons if retaliated against for repeated offenses. We are talking of a country that has earned fame and renown globally for its main export – terror. The world can preach to India the virtues of tolerance while simultaneously giving financial and military Aid thereby encouraging and rewarding this behavior. We must understand that previous Congress Governments took a very soft line against sponsored terror attacks due to its political and electoral compulsions but today the Indian citizen is simply unwilling to turn the other cheek. The world knows that it could not provide justice to India for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, based on which promise action against Pakistan was averted. Tomorrow the world knows they will not be able to influence India. No more need be said except that India will have to take care of its own interests. The concept of friendship among nations has outlived its time and utility.

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