While celebrating Nuclear Security Index improvement, Pakistan needs to act cautiously

While celebrating Nuclear Security Index improvement, Pakistan needs to act cautiously

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The 2020 Nuclear Security Index by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) revealed that the progress on Global Nuclear Security had slowed significantly during the last two years. It also sounded an alarm on the probability of theft of nuclear, radiological material. However, it commended Pakistan’s efforts on the gradual improvement of its nuclear security regime.

On July 22, NTI reported that the "most improved among countries with materials in 2020 is Pakistan, which improved its overall score by adopting new on-site physical protection and cybersecurity regulations, improving insider threat protection measures, and more." Pakistan's score improvement for regulatory measures has been the second-largest improvement for regulations in the index since 2012. In the regional context, Pakistan ranked 19 with 47 points, while India ranked one place below with 41 points.

The NTI's reporting about Pakistan's improving nuclear security is an achievement but assigning too much credibility to the index prepared by a United States-based institute is not advisable. Pakistanis need a conscious approach to this sensitive subject. The celebrate/conscious paradox requires empirical deliberation on the subject. 

The probability of nuclear and radiological terrorism has made nuclear security a critical aspect of Pakistan’s national security policy. It has established a comprehensive and effective national nuclear security regime, which is based on an extensive legislative and regulatory framework governing the security of nuclear materials, radioactive substances, associated facilities, and activities.

Pakistanis ought to be cautious about the credibility of the American-based NTI, which could discredit the country's nuclear security repute by merely changing its research and assessment tools and benchmarks.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Pakistan firmly complied with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1540 (2004). In response to the resolution, on Sept. 23, 2004, Islamabad promulgated the Strategic Export Control Act that has strengthened export controls on sensitive and dual-use goods/technologies related to nuclear and biological weapons and their means of delivery.

On April 30, 2020, Pakistan submitted the sixth national report on the implementation of the 2004 resolution to the Security Council's committee established pursuant to the resolution. It contains an update on additional statutory and operational control measures taken since 2017.

Pakistan’s transparency and cooperative approach over nuclear security have positive outcomes. Foreign Office Arms Control and Disarmament (ACDIS) Division officers are accessible for responding to nuclear security-related queries. The feeding of correct information to foreign and national institutes like NTI is advantageous to Pakistan. Researchers working on nuclear security rely on the primary sources rather than ground their conclusions on concocted information.

The Obama administration took nuclear and radiological terrorism very seriously. It convened four nuclear security summits, contributing constructively to improving the nuclear safety and security apparatus at the national and international levels. Pakistan participated in all the summits and has been complying with their communiques. Consequently, Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security, located in the vicinity of Chakri-Rawalpindi, has transformed into an international hub for imparting training and sharing best practices in the area of nuclear security.

The NTI Index is a globally recognized assessment. NTI's reports about nuclear theft, sabotage, and radiological material have been taken very seriously by the international community.

However, while Pakistanis have lauded NTI's current report, they seemed oblivious to the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear program always has anathema for America and much of the western world. The Americans and their like-minded western nations worked ceaselessly — even when Pakistan was a close ally — to retard and reverse its nuclear and missile programs.

Pakistanis ought to be cautious about the credibility of the American-based NTI, which could discredit the country's nuclear security repute by merely changing its research and assessment tools and benchmarks. Admittedly, the institute is a nonprofit organization, but in realpolitik, national interest prevails over rules and norms. Despite Pakistan's having a better record, which has continuously been acknowledged by American think tanks since the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, Washington has not supported Pakistan’s bid for full membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Americans and their allies have been disturbed due to Pakistan’s stance on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) at the Conference on Disarmament. They pressurized Islamabad to refrain from using its veto against the start of negotiations on the treaty's draft. But the FMCT grounded on the Shannon Mandate will permanently create asymmetry in the nuclear fissile material stockpiles of nuclear-armed states.

Emerging defensive technologies, especially breakthroughs in the development of missile defense systems, increase demand for fissile material in militarily insecure nuclear-armed states. Therefore, Pakistan cannot afford to cap its fissile material production.  There are ample chances that the US could use a nuclear security index such as the one by NTI to pressurize Pakistan to halt fissile material production and development of short- and long-range nuclear-capable missiles.

In summary, Pakistan requires relentless vigilance and preparedness at various levels without any complacency to maintain nuclear security.  

- Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal

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