Will we ever see a nuke-free world?

Published: June 22, 2014

All nine nuclear states are currently in possession of 16,300 nuclear weapons, which includes 4000 operational ones. PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite numerous calls and rhetoric to move towards global nuclear disarmament, no significant progress has been achieved to this day. Instead, all these efforts have met with a tragic end. The recent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report has shown a very dismal picture with regards to this.

All nine nuclear states are currently in possession of 16,300 nuclear weapons, which includes 4000 operational ones. P5 countries, which include the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, are upgrading their nuclear arsenal and spending a hefty amount on the development of new weaponry systems. Though, we have seen a notable reduction in the US’s and Russia’s nuclear warheads, under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the role of nuclear weapons still holds a central place in their defence policies.

Changing global trends and strategic environments have always influenced regional dynamics. In South Asia, the arms race led by India, and followed closely by Pakistan, is detrimental to the people of both these countries. According to SIPRI data, India and Pakistan continue to develop new systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and are expanding their capacities to produce fissile material for military purposes.

Massive inflow of high tech systems in the South Asian region and immense spending on nuclear arsenal have upset the fragile regional balance of power that existed between the two armed rivals a decade ago.

India’s introduction of new, limited war-fighting strategies, combined with the acquisition of the Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMD), induction of nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant,  and massive increase in its defence spending – over $40 billion against Pakistan’s little over $7 billion – will have a long lasting impact on the prevailing delicate situation in South Asia.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s entire defence budget is almost the same as the Indian Navy’s, which is the smallest service among the armed forces of India. This will surely raise red flags in Pakistan.

Pakistan is trying to maintain a minimum ratio of its budget with regards to the Indian defence, because Pakistan’s economy has already suffered huge losses due to the US war on terror and the instability in Afghanistan. Investing more money for a ‘military cause’ will not be a smart move for the country. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, the country has faced massive economic losses, amounting to over $102 billion in the last 13 years because of the war on terror.

Keeping in view the P5 nuclear states policies vis-à-vis nuclear disarmament, one can clearly notice that nuclear weapons will play a key role in their defence strategies for the foreseeable future. Complete or general disarmament will continue to be a dream and rhetoric to pacify the anxiety of non-nuclear states. Therefore, countries will keep on developing their nuclear arsenals, and eventually, Pakistan will feel obliged to follow suit and invest all its resources on increasing its nuclear assets. And if the country faces another loss due to some kind of conflict, its economy might not be able to get back on its feet.

These global trends have casted deep shadows on the security of South Asia and other regions close by. It is imperative for the P5 to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their defence strategies and security calculus. Also, to address the critical issue of nuclear disarmament, negative security and prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), the countries need to work upon and propose effective policies to handle these aspects.

Additionally, it would be prudent for the US and China to take leading roles in ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and consequently, paving the way for India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to ink the treaty. Ratification of the CTBT by nuclear states, including the US, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and DPRK will be counted as the first concrete step towards nuclear disarmament.

International peace and stability cannot be achieved unless legitimate nuclear states don’t fulfil the promises they made while formulating the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and then again in 1995, at the time of indefinite extension of NPT.

The above-mentioned steps are crucial for the strategic stability and restoration of international confidence. These issues are very grave, and it is time for the P5 countries to prioritise and address them as soon as possible, lest this nuclear arms race becomes a race for nuclear destruction around the world.

Tahir Nazir

Tahir Nazir

A research fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute. He tweets as @tahirdss (twitter.com/tahirdss)

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