Strategic Pulse

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before they Hatch

One can never be sure of what happens in the nuclear realm because in this one gamble, every stake is worth national security and national existence. The US, however, decided to make sure that an entire region feel the tremors of power when it swings in full momentum. So they took two case studies; India and Iran and made sure South Asia feels the jolt but as they say, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Benjamin Netanyahu was worried realizing how Obama administration has finally decided to seal the Iranian matter once and for all; so worried that he decided to address concerned and sympathetic individuals in the American helms of affair. With no significant pressure from such filibustering, Bibi decides it’s better to just silence for a moment and let this situation unfold prospectively. However, things are seldom what they seem to be when it comes to interstate diplomacy, particularly when it comes to nuclear diplomacy. The prime reason for Israel’s paranoia is simple; even if Iranian nuclear ambitions can be substantially reduced with success of said framework, is there a possibility that there is a clandestine agenda operating with each delaying round of talks? Another view concerns a more dire set of circumstances which entail that Iran, like Israel, might play the nuclear ambiguity card whereby reduction or agreement to reduce would only be an overt agenda to allow flexibility for development of deterrent capability in nuclear connotations.

Ali KhameneiFor Israel, connecting the dots is a simple formula; with success in enrichment process, development of a successful space capability through satellite testing, increased covertness on facilities initiating diplomatic deadlock and a complex system of offensive and defensive military behavior. One can easily misinterpret that even Iran would like to remain a part of the global non-proliferation regime whilst maintaining enough threshold to communicate itself a substantial nuclear adversary. The decision not to withdraw from the NPT framework and to allow routine inspections of IAEA inspectors at designated facilities allows enough compliance cover and indicate that Iran is acting in good faith. With Israel continuously maintaining that Iranian government is trying to buy time and is using delay tactics to allow as much enrichment as possible, they are also indicating that it is still unknown how much enriched fissile material has been diverted towards developing a military potential.

With the last round of negotiations finally reaching a landmark decision on agreement of negotiations between Iran and the remaining negotiators, there is a precedent of how things can go wrong. One must keep in mind the round of talks previously held in Moscow and Istanbul where similar landmarks were either negotiated and then abandoned or completely disregarded and an analogous set of policy frameworks have been negotiated despite certain contradictions that can introduce practical logjams. First things first, where the US and her allies indicate that UN resolution and state cooperated sanctions shall be suspended till further notice, the Iranian officials are indicative that sanctions shall be null and void demonstrating a major hurdle in approach as to how this arrangement is considered.

Iran, like Israel, might play the nuclear ambiguity card whereby reduction or agreement to reduce would only be an overt agenda to allow flexibility for development of deterrent capability in nuclear connotations.

Even if we agree that sanctions shall be lifted in a phased and timed manner keeping in due consideration the effectiveness of the mechanism as well as practical compliance by Iran, the matter regarding enrichment would propose another challenge that where both parties agree to curtail enrichment from current levels to Low Enrichment capacity at 3.67 percent, the US maintains this barrier to be at 15 years while Iran maintains that it shall be for no longer than a decade. However, even if this is largely ignored and a median between the two deadlines is hypothetically considered, the fact that the US seeks regular IAEA inspections to ensure transparency while Iran holds IAEA visits to be more of a voluntary basis with provisional effect even in the premise of the Additional Protocol that shall also be operative as long as the framework remains compliant. With most terms of approval already bearing down heavily on the idea of practical disposition of implementation, Israel’s point of view might seem plausible considering that they themselves maintain a similar nuclear dimension.

The Iranian Supreme Leader was rumored to be unwell to the extent of being on the verge to succumbing to his illness and this indicated that negotiations might be halted or at least delayed but his well-being and indication to appoint a successor are all too real for assessing that practical implementation of the framework might be hindered for natural reasons. With the June 30 deadline in place, all these issues and the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act currently providing a major economic blow to cooperation, Iran might be too skeptical if not worried for a regime change in the US scheduled 2016. With the Israeli Prime Minister lobbying through joint session addresses and declaring Iran a bigger threat than ISIS, Obama administration is likely to remain unprepared for a sound rebuttal if practical steps are delayed or otherwise deferred.

With much hue and cry over NSG waivers and UNSC permanent membership status for India, Pakistan needs to note with concern that China – a long standing strategic partner revered by every sector of Pakistan has yet to propose similar NSG authentication for Pakistan.

One more contention in this theory is right on the other side; India. With the American president visiting India to receive a traditional Indian welcome and an innovative guard of honor signifying change in Indian orthodoxy, Prime Minister Modi was all too impressed with what he had achieved. The Indus Valley is a magnificent region filled with awe and wonder; and two states at odds with each other since their formation. The most recent buzz in media community and major circles of discussion is the visit concluded by American President Barrack Obama to the Republic of India with intentions to solidify their nuclear agreements initiated in the year 2005 by the then American administration under President George W. Bush and then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The bilateral arrangement concluded under US Congressional Nuclear Regulatory Legislation specifically under Section 123 of the document, ensuring cooperation with other nations is also seen as a direct waiver to the Indian government to procure nuclear fuel and reactor oriented material which somehow, tilts the balance of deterrence maintained by Pakistan and India in Indian favor. This agreement is also seen in connection to the 2008 waiver from the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) to India in importing material and fuel for their civilian nuclear reactors.

The question that has Pakistan and its mass media baffled is ‘Why has the American President skipped meeting his most closest ally in the War on Terror and chose to visit the neighbor next door?’ and the answer is quite simple if all theories are sidelined for a moment that ‘It was not in his schedule’. Most analysts are of the opinion that keeping in view India’s past nuclear material diversion under ‘Project Smiling Buddha’, this waiver and bilateral permission would be like an open invitation for India to proliferate vertically and all that remains is to connect the dots; India acquires leverages in 123 Agreement, receives the NSG waiver, goes on to acquire Ballistic Nuclear Submarines, commissions an aircraft carrier, strikes deal to expand its air force with aircraft capable of delivering a nuclear payload, vouches for permanent position in the UNSC and eventually outguns Pakistan and upsets Minimum Credible Deterrence.

The intellectual community in Pakistan applauds the visit made by their Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to the People’s Republic of China and have marked it as a gesture to indicate renewed commitments and strategic partnership in the region. Where international analysts are of the view that Pakistan cried ‘foul’ in pursuance to the Indo US visit some are also of the opinion that Pakistan may be shifting paradigms post-Afghan Withdrawal. The key notion that almost all the analysts have tend to miss out or have bypassed either intentionally or accidently is the fact that the reason why there was a decade long delay in the fulfillment of the 123 Agreement? The basic contention for delay was American concerns over Indian reactor safety protocols regarding any nuclear accident and this chasm was seen as a reality after rehabilitation procedures during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Moreover, with investments soaring in India and competition between economically beaten Russia, market aspirant France and recession hit America, India and her plans to expand its nuclear potential from 26 reactors to almost 40, this power hungry market seems like quite an attractive investment scheme.

With the June 30 deadline in place, all these issues and the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act currently providing a major economic blow to cooperation, Iran might be too skeptical if not worried for a regime change in the US, scheduled 2016.

As far as imported uranium is concerned; the main bone of contention for this visit, the Indian reactors are swiftly being placed under IAEA safeguards and especially under Additional Protocol which would allow the IAEA to monitor clandestine nuclear activity and would record any diversion if made by India within the framework of this agreement. Pakistan sees this account with shaky trust and is skeptical about India showing honest compliance and keeps the Pokhran-I tests into its ocular horizon. However, this agreement should be seen as a double edged sword used by the US; on one instance it provides waivers and allows acquisition of nuclear fuel and material by India whose reactors are already under fueled and on the other, the Additional Protocol and like safeguards mechanisms have covered facilities that would have been easy choice for material diversion. These facilities include Nuclear Power Stations in Tarapur, Narora, Rajasthan, Kakrapar and Kundankulam that were not under Additional safeguard but noteworthy is the implementation of IAEA safeguards on Nuclear Material Stores Away From Reactors and Uranium, Oxide Plants and all civilian reactors and storage facilities as well as fuel fabrication plants not under IAEA safeguards would be covered before the actual transfer of material is put underway.

Where international analysts are of the view that Pakistan cried ‘foul’ in pursuance to the Indo US visit , some are also of the opinion that Pakistan may be shifting paradigms post-Afghan Withdrawal.

With much hue and cry over NSG waivers and UNSC permanent membership status for India, Pakistan needs to note with concern that China – a long standing strategic partner revered by every sector of Pakistan has yet to propose similar NSG authentication for Pakistan, keeping in mind that China too is a member in the NSG. Furthermore, with China reluctant to invest in nuclear domain because of unknown or undisclosed reasons and with Chashma Reactors being the only evidence of Chinese miniature investments, Pakistan should reconsider or revise their strategic partnership with the People’s Republic. Moreover, with India being a larger market and a bigger regional stakeholder both in terms of business opportunities and human resource, Pakistan should also adjust to this reality and revamp its domestic contours to offer an equitable, if not equal, opportunity to foreign investors. As far as deterrence is concerned, Pakistan also needs to remain confident because if the 123 Agreement can take an eight year delay, transfer of material to India can take much longer and where the permanent membership of India is concerned, the Chinese veto would come in quite handy. This saga of worry and perplexity from the visit would become a real danger once the deals and agreements are actualized, till then, it is what it was in 2005, a document requiring reassurances.

About the author

Muhammad Sharreh Qazi

Muhammad Sharreh Qazi

Muhammad Sharreh Qazi is an MPhil scholar of International Relations at the University of Punjab, and lecturer at University Law College, Lahore. He is also a former alumni of the SNS department of NDU and can be reached at sharreh.q@stratagem.pk

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