Written by Rohan Thomas John.

In May 1998, India and Pakistan made the leap from nuclear capable to nuclear-armed states within two weeks of each other. The tests kicked off the most dangerous border dispute in the world, shunned the international community and rejected the nuclear non-proliferation regime in one fell swoop. Since then, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and acquired the bomb in 2006.  Since last year, three major events have brought denuclearization to the fore. These were the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by the United Nations in July 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and, in 2018, the Panmunjeom Declaration along with the U.S. – North Korea Summit reinvigorated the dream of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. In light of the shift towards the long-standing NPT goal of complete nuclear disarmament, the question of the Subcontinent’s nuclear-armed neighbours comes up.

The importance of bringing India and Pakistan back into the fold cannot be overstated

Don’t Bring a Sledgehammer to Surgery

However, banning the bomb is akin to cutting an infected arm off instead of fixing the root cause of the infection. The denuclearization of India and Pakistan will require a soft touch. Lessons can be taken from the DPRK situation.  If denuclearization is to work for both India and Pakistan, then banning of the bomb, its use, possession and transfer without coming to terms with the dismantling of the bomb and its enforcement will only push an already isolated India and Pakistan further to the fringes. A thorough plan with the aid of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Weapon States, which includes the verification of the dismantlement of all the nuclear weapons in the Subcontinent, would be one of the best ways to successfully disarm both countries.

To Be or Not To Be…a Proxy

China and the United States are waging an economic proxy war through allies, trade and arms sales throughout Asia, the Subcontinent being no exception. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a great example of this strategy by China, investing over a 100 billion USD to help rapidly modernize infrastructure and upgrade its economy but also allow China access to the Gwadar Port. The port is one of Pakistan’s three deep sea ports which hold great strategic and economic significance to both Pakistan and China, especially because it connects South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan is not alone in being favoured as an ally in this proxy economic war between two superpowers, the United States is one of India’s most prolific trading partners and arms suppliers. The United States has favoured India since 2005 when it allowed India to place only their civil nuclear reactors under IAEA safeguards while leaving their military nuclear facilities untouched. They were also given an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), although India, like Pakistan, is still a non-signatory of the NPT.

This Cold War 2.0 between U.S and China has each superpower picking their prize horse in the Subcontinent to further an agenda that could escalate the nuclear standoff.

The Prodigal Children Return

The importance of bringing India and Pakistan back into the fold cannot be overstated; the Non-Proliferation Regime through the Nuclear Suppliers Group should accept both India and Pakistan as a first step. Only then can an earnest attempt at denuclearization succeed, the instruments and resources already in place with the IAEA, such as the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) and proposed Fissile Missile Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) will make disarmament an unbiased process.  There would have to be concessions on both sides for these agreements to become binding, such as any Fissile Missile Cutoff Treaty signed must include current stockpiles. Both countries would have to put all their reactors under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

The Kashmir in the Room

U.N Resolution 47 signed in 1948 stated that there was to be a plebiscite held in Kashmir and the people be allowed to choose which country to join. The plebiscite that did not happen 70 years ago could be the Indian concession that helps make denuclearization a reality.The Pakistani concession for Kashmir would be halting funding of state-sponsored terror in Kashmir and/or a joint task force between the two countries to root out the problem. Pakistan and her government must show that they are willing to step away from supporting non-state actors to carry out strikes on India for there to be trust between the two countries to be able to move forward.

William J. Perry’s words “this is my nuclear nightmare, we can hardly bear to imagine this catastrophic outcome…yet we must”, puts into context how important denuclearization is to the Subcontinent. We have already imagined the worst for Earth’s most densely populated region and now we watch with bated breath as extremist politics on both sides of the border, cross-border skirmishes and tactical nuclear weapons push us closer to a nuclear midnight.

Rohan John is an independent researcher and a graduate of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey where he studied Non-Proliferation and Terrorism Studies. Image Credit: CC by Nuclear Weapons/ Wikimedia Commons


  1. Rohan, great piece and very relevant.
    I agree with your characterization of the Indo-Pak nuclear relationship and common pitfalls. However, I am not sure India can give up its nukes with an increasingly assertive/revisionist nuclear armed China to the north.
    Also, I think it is a mischaracterization to list India as a US proxy similar to the Pakistan-China relationship. While the US does conduct a large amount of trade with India, including weapons, there is no comparison to the economically questionable investments China is making in Pakistan.
    I definitely agree with your conclusion that we should bring both countries into the fold as the only realistic means to nuclear arms control.

    Keep it coming!


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