Civil Nu­clear Deal: the Pros and Cons

While the U.S. continues to dither over sign­ing a civil nu­clear deal with Pak­istan, China has lent its sup­port to the use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for en­ergy gen­er­a­tion in the coun­try.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Si­jal Fawad

When a civil nu­clear deal was signed be­tween the U.S. and In­dia, all eyes au­to­mat­i­cally drifted to­wards the pos­si­bil­ity of a sim­i­lar pact be­tween the global su­per­power and Pak­istan. The ex­pec­ta­tion was only nat­u­ral, con­sid­er­ing the tra­di­tional ri­valry be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan on most po­lit­i­cal is­sues, as well as the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance of the two na­tions in the South Asian re­gion. How­ever, such an­tic­i­pa­tion does not come with­out doubts and ques­tion marks as to whether such a deal will ever see the light of day.

The civil nu­clear deal with In­dia was signed based on New Delhi’s ra­tio­nale to in­crease the nu­clear com­po­nent in the coun­try’s over­all en­ergy gen­er­a­tion mix. Pro­po­nents of a sim­i­lar agree­ment be­tween Pak­istan and the U.S. cite the same rea­son for en­cour­ag­ing a commercial

nu­clear deal with Pak­istan, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the coun­try’s strug­gle with man­ag­ing its en­ergy needs. Yet, Pak­istan’s global rep­u­ta­tion in the nu­clear arena has raised eye­brows in po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

To be­gin with, the ad­van­tages to Pak­istan – be­sides the commercial as­pect of greater use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for en­ergy gen­er­a­tion – are strate­gic and po­lit­i­cal. By sign­ing a civil-nu­clear deal with the U.S. sim­i­lar to the In­dian deal, the coun­try can es­tab­lish it­self as an equally im­por­tant mem­ber on the global po­lit­i­cal stage. It will also be help­ful in re­pair­ing Pak­istan’s tar­nished rep­u­ta­tion as far as nu­clear se­cu­rity is con­cerned if the U.S. it­self lends its sup­port to Pak­istan for us­ing nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for commercial pur­poses. In a way, it will also point to­wards the fact that the U.S. trusts Pak­istan with the use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy. It will also help build Pak­istan’s stand­ing as a re­spon­si­ble nu­clear-armed state, le­git­imiz­ing its en­tire nu­clear pro­gram.

Whether the U.S. does trust Pak­istan’s use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for en­ergy gen­er­a­tion continues to be a ma­jor bot­tle­neck in al­low­ing for an af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to­wards a civil nu­clear deal with the U.S. Pak­istan’s his­tory of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, with Dr. Ab­dul Qadeer Khan ad­mit­ting to sell­ing nu­clear tech­nol­ogy to North Korea and Iran in 2004, is not of much help. In ad­di­tion, in the wake of the ex­ist­ing se­cu­rity threats in the coun­try, the safety of nu­clear re­sources is a le­git­i­mate con­cern with Wash­ing­ton. There are spec­u­la­tions of ter­ror­ist groups in Pak­istan in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing nu­clear ma­te­ri­als il­lic­itly, hence pos­ing a se­ri­ous hin­drance to the sign­ing of any sim­i­lar deal with the U.S. At the same time, In­dia’s hos­tile re­la­tions with Pak­istan also al­low the for­mer to raise con­cerns about its own se­cu­rity if a Pak-U.S. nu­clear deal ever ma­te­ri­al­izes.

In Pak­istan’s de­fense, a re­cent study by the Nu­clear Threat Ini­tia­tive (NTI) In­dex is worth men­tion­ing in which Pak­istan has been de­clared the most im­proved state in safe­guard­ing its nu­clear weapons. It has been ranked bet­ter than In­dia in terms of nu­clear ma­te­rial se­cu­rity and stands at 22 out of 25 coun­tries, ver­sus In­dia’s 23rd rank. At the same time, many ex­perts also be­lieve that ter­ror­ist groups, such as the Tal­iban, do not have the ca­pa­bil­ity to over­take Pak­istan’s nu­clear re­sources, which are quite well safe­guarded. In spite of this, the gen­eral per­cep­tion about the na­tion as not be­ing trust­wor­thy enough when it comes to nu­clear war­fare, com­bined with the openly known high lev­els of cor­rup­tion amongst pub­lic of­fi­cials, put the coun­try at a se­vere dis­ad­van­tage.

These is­sues aside, the commercial mo­tive for greater use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for en­ergy gen­er­a­tion doesn’t have much back­ing ei­ther. Cur­rently, Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gram con­trib­utes a mea­ger 3.8 per­cent to the en­ergy mix, with other sources of en­ergy largely dom­i­nat­ing power gen­er­a­tion in the coun­try. Given the dom­i­nance of these re­sources, it is hard to con­ceive that the con­tri­bu­tion of nu­clear power to the en­ergy mix would re­ceive any sub­stan­tial boost, even fol­low­ing a pos­si­ble commercial nu­clear agree­ment be­tween Pak­istan and the U.S. But then again, In­dia’s nu­clear power con­tri­bu­tion to the to­tal en­ergy gen­er­a­tion is also in sin­gle dig­its, ren­der­ing this a weak ar­gu­ment against propos­ing a Pak-U.S. civil nu­clear deal.

This leaves mainly strate­gic and po­lit­i­cal mo­tives stand­ing in the way of such a deal. Sign­ing a civil nu­clear deal with In­dia holds more sig­nif­i­cance for the U.S. than what can be con­ceived by an or­di­nary mind. In the past, the U.S. has used In­dia to coun­ter­weight China’s grow­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions. In­dia is con­sid­ered an equal force to be reck­oned with as an emerg­ing econ­omy in the Asian re­gion, other than China. The U.S.’ sup­port for In­dia and its as­sis­tance to the lat­ter in the commercial use of re­sources is seen by many as a strat­egy to over­shadow China’s ris­ing promi­nence on the global stage.

In the wake of doubts and qualms re­gard­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a nu­clear deal with the U.S., China’s com­mit­ment to co­op­er­ate in commercial nu­clear use in Pak­istan adds an in­ter­est­ing twist to the pic­ture. While the U.S. and In­dia may raise se­cu­rity con­cerns about a Pak-China commercial nu­clear deal, the fact that China has en­dorsed the commercial use of nu­clear re­sources in Pak­istan goes to show that the lat­ter con­trols its nu­clear re­sources strictly with proper safe­guard­ing mea­sures.

Us­ing nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for commercial pur­poses is the right of a na­tion, pro­vided the safety stan­dards of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency are be­ing fol­lowed. It is en­cour­ag­ing that China is sup­port­ing Pak­istan with a more wide­spread use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for en­ergy gen­er­a­tion. While se­cu­rity con­cerns and strate­gic mo­tives should be con­sid­ered, the commercial ad­van­tages of an additional source of en­ergy can­not be down­played. More im­por­tant than de­bat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of such a deal, na­tions such as the U.S. and China should first work on help­ing a coun­try like Pak­istan strengthen its safe­guard meth­ods and tech­nol­ogy for nu­clear re­sources. This may be­come a pre­req­ui­site for sign­ing any pos­si­ble civil nu­clear deal, fol­low­ing which there should be min­i­mum qualms about help­ing Pak­istan out with a more pro­duc­tive use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy and re­sources. The writer is a post­grad­u­ate eco­nom­ics and fi­nance stu­dent at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

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