Nuclear Chickens Come Home to Roost in South Asia

I was just reading this new report about an agreement between Pakistan and China, under which China will provide two new nuclear reactors to Pakistan over the next few years. China argues that such cooperation with Pakistan is “grandfathered in” to China’s accession to the NSG in 2004. But the other very clear undercurrent of this deal is China’s sense of freedom to act in a way that is arguably in disharmony with NSG standards, because of the 2005 U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, for which the US received a waiver from the NSG.

Critics, including myself, have decried the US-India deal as representing a hugely significant undermining of the spirit of the NPT. India, like Pakistan, possesses nuclear weapons and is not a member of the NPT.  The US-India nuclear cooperation deal effectively gives to India, which developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT, the same benefits of civilian nuclear cooperation that every Non-nuclear Weapon State member understood they had to sign the NPT, and forego a nuclear weapons program, to secure from the US and other supplier states. Giving this cooperation to India without India’s similar commitment to forego a nuclear weapons program, goes right to the heart of the grand bargain of the NPT, and makes NPT NNWS question what they are really getting in return for their NPT commitments.

Having signed this agreement with India, the US now has very little moral high ground on which to stand to criticize China’s civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. China knows this, and knows that this fact will insulate it from any meaningful criticism or compliance pressure with regard to NSG rules.

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