|The axis of Proliferation and the art of deception|
An “evil” axis of nuclear proliferation has been sculpted very carefully by germinating an anti-India seed, the likes of which still have not been seen by the international community. We need to take notice of it and work multilaterally to prevent further strengthening of this evil axis of nuclear proliferation. These nations have proliferated nuclear weapons both horizontally and vertically even as they have been members (and otherwise) of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Each member of this axis has very beautifully and skillfully deployed the art of deception to camouflage their internationally illicit nuclear proliferation activities. Barring one, almost all the members of this evil axis had originally signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
This evil axis of nuclear proliferation can best be described by the newly coined acronym: CHI.P.NOK.I.S.S. It stands for CHIna, Pakistan, NOrth Korea, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The fountainhead of the group is the Peoples’ Republic of China that stealthily proliferated nuclear weapons technology before it finally joined the NPT in 1992. It gifted Pakistan 50 kilogrammes of heavily enriched uranium, gave 10 tonnes of UF6 (natural) and 5 tons of UF6 (3 per cent), provided it with nuclear weapons designs and let them use the Chinese nuclear testing site Lon Nor for a nuclear test before 1990. China also assisted the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in setting up UF6 plant, production reactor for plutonium and reprocessing plant. Some of these facts have recently been acknowledged by the now reviled Pakistani scientist Dr A Q Khan in a letter to his Dutch wife Henny. After having signed and acceded to the NPT rather late in the game, the non-proliferation track record of China has hardly come up to international measure. Saudi Arabia too has been funding Pakistan’s nuclear programme for the last three decades and will pay Pakistan further in hard cash for extended deterrence. It also has the ability to pay cash on the spot for ready-made nuclear weapons ordered from Pakistan.
The story does not end here. China initially proliferated to Pakistan, and then through it proliferated to other countries such as North Korea and Libya. Libya came clean to the IAEA in the last decade to prevent US intervention. Documents turned in by the Libyan government to the IAEA included Chinese nuclear weapons designs. Syria received nuclear designs from North Korea and a secret Syrian nuclear reactor under construction was bombed by Israel in 2007 without any response from Syria.
Unfortunately, the international community made a scapegoat out of AQ Khan, putting all blame of proliferation on him, but condoned the role played by China and Pakistan. In the letter to his wife, Dr A Q Khan clearly states: “You know we had cooperation with China for 15 years. We put up a centrifuge plant at Hanzhong. We sent 135 C-130 planeloads of machines, inverters, valves, flow-meters, pressure gauges. Our teams stayed there for weeks to help and their teams stayed here for weeks at a time. Late minister Liu We, VM Li Chew, vice minister Jiang Shengjie used to visit us.”
The nuclear proliferation activities of this evil axis have not stopped even now. At this critical juncture, any further leakage of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials from the CHIPNOKISS into hands of Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups must be prevented at any cost. This fascinating saga of deception has been painstakingly chronicled in three recent books, i.e. “Deception” by Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark, “The Inheritance” by David Sanger and “Peddling Peril” by David Albright. For sake of brevity we would refer the readers to these three thoroughly researched books on this dreadful story of ongoing deception.
We currently witness that Iran and North Korea are continuing to defy world opinion with uncommon belligerence owing to the protective extended umbrella provided by China. North Korea is preparing for more nuclear tests. Iran too, is angling for its first nuclear test having amassed enough heavy enriched uranium. Iran has indulged in a game of diplomacy and obfuscation since early 2003 when it engaged in the quartet talks with Europeans as a delaying tactic. As the patron state of the CHIPNOKISS, China has overzealously guarded its minions whenever they had run-ins with the international community.
Unfortunately, the PRC has usurped its position as a member of N5 of the NPT and the P5 of UNSC to deflect serious and effective action against the other members while portraying a facade of diplomacy. The six-party talks were a Chinese game-plan to frustrate the efforts by international community to contain the North Korean nuclear proliferation problem. The results were entirely opposite. Similarly, the four-plus one formula (Germany, France, UK and UN) to deal with Iran floundered because of covert support and encouragement by the PRC of the Ayatollah-cracy in Iran. While maintaining a diplomatic charade, the PRC has enabled all these rogue nations in subverting the international non-proliferation regimes presenting fait accompli to the entire world.
Of course, now that the PRC is talking about giving a civil nuclear energy deal to Pakistan, analogous to the US-India civil nuclear energy agreement. While China tried to stop this in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), it was eventually forced to support the US-India nuclear energy agreement under US pressure in the NSG. It would be utterly ludicrous and unreasonable for China to expect reciprocity from the US in the NSG. Both China and Pakistan are vertical and horizontal proliferators of both nuclear and missile technologies to rogue regimes. It is just another instance of an abrasive resurgent China using one of its “all-weather supplicant states” to make a larger point on the world stage about its present power and the universal appeasement that follows its deliberate provocations. Therefore, containment and partial denuclearisation, and not appeasement should be the strategic response of the Obama administration.
This axis of nuclear proliferation is likely to integrate Myanmar into its essential core. Myanmar is learning fast lessons from North Korea and is eyeing nuclear weapons as deterrence against any possible international intervention. Both North Korea and China are helping Myanmar to develop a secret nuclear programme. The other candidate countries for addition to this axis of evil would be Bangladesh and Sudan. Bangladesh is trying to get nuclear reactors from both Russia and China. While it is unable to exploit its natural hydrocarbon resources completely, and is unwilling to sell them to India, it does not have any dire need for nuclear energy in near future. Just like Iran, it is deceptively posturing for the civil nuclear energy façade in order to develop the nuclear weapons capability. If international community continues to let this axis grow unhindered, the world would witness nuclear blackmail as the diplomatic currency for all times to come. The civilized world would not be able to deal with the terrorism, drug-wars and criminality because of the threats of retaliation by nuclear weapons from non-state actors.
A fresh start must be made by the international community led by the IAEA in denuclearising North Korea and Pakistan. Without defanging these two unstable and dangerous nuclear nations, no further progress would be made in preventing future nuclear proliferation. Pakistan has already propounded the theory of neo-nuclear apartheid. As seductive it may be to the liberal European nations of the international community, the ground realities require internationally supervised denuclearisation of Pakistan despite Chinese and Pakistani objections. Nuclear disarmament must start with Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. Once that is achieved, continued economic pressure on Iran will prevent it from crossing the threshold. Iran must be prevented, at any cost, from crossing the nuclear Lakshman Rekha. Another unstable, theocratic Muslim country with nuclear weapons in our extended neighbourhood is not in India’s long-term geo-political interests. Certainly, India must prevent herself from being sandwiched between a nuclear Pakistan and a nuclear Bangladesh.
India has always advocated total, universal, time-bound and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons. It is not too late for the international community to adopt and implement the Rajiv Gandhi plan of 1988. Pragmatically speaking, total zero is very far away and remains a distant fuzzy dream.
Dr Adityanjee is President, the Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies).