Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nuclear Arms Control for South Asia?

In 2012 veteran nuclear strategist and arms control theorist Paul Bracken wrote a book entitled The Second Nuclear Age dealing with the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the original five nuclear states grandfathered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. He discusses in some detail the problems created by nuclear proliferation efforts by Israel, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and North Korea and the problems and complications that these introduce into international relations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia. He claims that whereas the first nuclear age was bipolar and involved the superpowers the second nuclear age is multipolar and involves several regional powers. Furthermore, instead of following chronologically after the first nuclear age, the second nuclear age overlapped with it and could be said to have several different starting points ranging from 1964 when China acquired nuclear capacity to 1974 when India did so. 

Bracken suggested that a return to nuclear arms control for the Third World might be in order. Nuclear arms control began with a number of multilateral treaties in the early 1960s that prohibited above ground nuclear testing, prohibited nuclear weapons in Antarctica, on the ocean floor and in outer space--basically in all the places where the superpowers had no interest in stationing nuclear weapons. Then after the NPT in 1968 that prohibited the spread of nuclear weapons beyond those states that already were declared nuclear powers, nuclear arms control became a bilateral process between the two superpowers in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START).

I think that nuclear arms control talks are not really feasible at present for either the Middle East or for Northeast Asia. This is for two reasons. First, there is simply too much suspicion between Iran on one hand and both Israel and the U.S. on the other for arms control talks to work. Second, with Iran not even possessing nuclear weapons yet and Israel being a mature nuclear state with an arsenal probably roughly comparable in size to the United Kingdom's there is simply too big an imbalance for arms control to work. The same is true between North Korea on one hand and Washington on the other. But what about the one other Third World region with a nuclear balance--South Asia? India and Pakistan have probably both had nuclear weapons since roughly the mid-1980s or roughly between a quarter century and thirty years. India first produced a "peaceful nuclear explosion" in 1974--what elsewhere would be known as a nuclear test. Pakistan did not test nuclear weapons until the end of May 1998--in retaliation for a series of Indian nuclear tests two weeks before. But China gave Pakistan a design for a nuclear weapon and Pakistan had enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to build a nuclear weapon sometime in the late 1980s. 

India developed its nuclear weapons in response to China going nuclear in 1964; the two countries fought a short war along their mountainous border in late 1962. India developed nuclear weapons to deter China and Pakistan began developing nuclear weapons in the early 1970s after a massive conventional defeat of Pakistan by India in December 1971. After officially becoming a nuclear weapons state in 1998 (even if not recognized as such by Washington or New York), New Delhi announced a no first use policy. In other words India would only use nuclear weapons in war after being attacked with nuclear weapons. Pakistan has not made a similar declaration because it wants its nuclear weapons to deter conventional attacks by India in the event of a conventional war over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Both nuclear powers have developed ballistic missiles and aircraft as delivery vehicles. India is also developing a nuclear submarine and submarine launched missiles so that it can deter China with a seaborne deterrent force.

What would the goal of nuclear arms control in South Asia be? One goal would be to enhance crisis stability by prohibiting or limiting weapons systems that encourage either side to strike first in the event of a war. Multiple independently-target able reentry vehicles (MIRVs) encourage one side to strike first because by attacking first one side can destroy many more of the other side's nuclear weapons then it itself uses in the attack. MIRVs were limited in the SALT process by a sub-ceiling for MIRVs in SALT II,  after the opportunity to prohibit them in SALT I was lost. The most dangerous situation is one in which both sides are encouraged to attack first out of fear that their own forces will be wiped out by the opponent's first strike. The talks might also prohibit technologies that the two countries consider to be too expensive to develop and deploy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Thomas, I've been reviewing an article I published earlier this year over at +972 Magazine entitled 'Lessons for a fruitful peace process from Northern Ireland' ( I would very much appreciate being in contact with you given the extensive research you have done in comparing the two conflicts and peace processes. I'd appreciate it if you could send me an email to so we can be in touch. I'd also appreciate if you deleted this comment once you've got my contact details as I don't want my university address to be public. Thank you.