Threshold of a Nuclear Conflict in South Asia
In recent months, the whole world has witnessed a campaign launched by the United States and its allies in South-East Asia and NATO against the DPRK because of the ‘nuclear threat from the Pyongyang.’
At the United States’ initiative, in August, the UN Security Council voted for using sanctions on North Korea. On September 12, the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2375 imposed new sanctions on the DPRK in response to the sixth nuclear test conducted by the country, elevating the sanctions regime against the DPRK to an unprecedented severity in order to deprive Pyongyang of the means to continue its nuclear program. On November 1, Democratic and Republican Senators of the US Congress reached an agreement on a bill aimed at further limiting the ability of the DPRK to carry out operations in the US banking sector through third parties. On October 28 US Defense Secretary James Mattis voiced a sharply critical statement about North Korea’s desire to become a nuclear power, stating, “Washington will never take the nuclear status of the DPRK for granted.”
Undoubtedly, the recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power puts an end to the nuclear weapons non-proliferation system, significantly undermines the authority of the United Nations and may lead to very serious consequences for the reputation of American Government and domestic policy.
However, we should not forget that it was the US’ decision to tame its opponents with aggressive militaristic policies abroad (particularly in Iraq, Libya and a number of other countries) which prompted Pyongyang’s active deployment of its nuclear program as a means of defense against the real aggressor as they consider Washington to be. Unfortunately, Washington had already used nuclear weapons once in Japan and American politicians repeatedly threatened the Soviet Union with the usage of nuclear assault, and it is unknown what would have happened in the middle of the previous century had Moscow not created its own nuclear shield from the United States that had served to defend not only the USSR, but also its allies.
One cannot ignore the dual policy of Washington regarding to whom they allow to have nuclear aspirations, and against whom they raise international dudgeon and impose sanctions. We should also remember that today, the threat of nuclear confrontation is exacerbated in five different regions, the least noticeable of which in many publications of American and Western media is South Asia.
It is generally accepted that there are, in fact, nine nuclear powers in the world today: The United States, Russia, France, Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the DPRK. There is a total of about 15,000 nuclear warheads at their disposal (according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SPRI), January 2017).
However, only those who signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968 are officially considered as nuclear powers. That is, (in the order the creation of the first atomic bomb in each nation), the USA (1945), the USSR / Russia (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960) and China (1964). The remaining four countries, although they have nuclear weapons, have not signed the NPT. North Korea previously withdrew from the treaty.
Israel never officially acknowledged the existence of nuclear weapons on its territory, but it is believed that Tel Aviv has such a weapon. In 2008, the SPRI reported that Israel has twice the number of nuclear weapons than India and Pakistan.
All opportunities, both scientific developments and production facilities, for the creation of nuclear warheads are available in Iran and South Africa.
There is also a group of ‘latent’ nuclear states capable of producing nuclear weapons but refraining from doing so because of economic and political costs. These include Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Saudi Arabia.
By actively developing tactical nuclear weapons, Pakistan has practically entered the VIP club of countries that have such weapons. At present, the Pakistani arsenal of nuclear weapons, according to the SPRI, is the sixth largest in the world. At the same time, American analysts state in a report prepared for the Carnegie Foundation that Islamabad can become the world’s third largest nuclear power after Russia and the United States if Pakistan maintains current production rates (up to 20 nuclear warheads a year). In terms of carriers, it is believed that Pakistan has quite a lot of short range missiles (for example, SRM “Abdali”, “Ghaznavi”, “Shakhin-1″ and “Shahin-1-1A”), medium-range ballistic missiles “Shakhin- 2″ and number of others. Nuclear charges are adapted for them.
In many respects, the nuclear policy of Pakistan is controlled by the United States; thereby secretly encouraging it. At the same time, there were repeated reports in the media of accusations of Pakistan by third parties for selling nuclear technologies. In particular, in the early 2000s, the head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, also known as the ‘father of the Islamic nuclear bomb,’ Abdul-Qadeer Khan himself admitted that he had been trading nuclear technology and equipment – centrifuges, handing them over to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The proposal to turn Nigeria into a nuclear power was made by General Muhammad Aziz Khan, head of the Pakistan Joint Staff Committee, at a meeting with the Nigerian Defense Minister in 2004.
Pakistan is pursuing a systematic policy of building up its nuclear potential, and this is one of the reasons why it is blocking the consideration of the draft FMCT (fissile materials cut-off treaty) in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
Periodically, the danger of a nuclear conflict in South Asia arises, in particular because of the radical public statements of individual politicians and military officials from the countries of the region.
So, after the fake information posted on December 20 on the AWD News website about Pakistan’s alleged readiness to send Sunni fighters to Syria to fight against ISIS, this statement was poorly received in Israel (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/26/fake-news-story-prompts-pakistan-to-issue-nuclear-warning-to-israel). Moshe Ya’alon (back then the head of the Israeli military department) pointed out that Pakistan’s intervention into the Syrian conflict posed a genuine threat to Israel and therefore the latter possessed the right to use nuclear weapons. In response, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif reminded the Israelis that Islamabad also possesses these types of weapon.
Because of the actions of Islamic radicals, India and Pakistan may find themselves in a situation where they will have to use nuclear weapons against each other. This can be confirmed by the recent warning issued to India by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahid Hakan Abbasi, who claimed that short-range nuclear weapons could be used against it. This will happen if the Indian troops make a sudden attack based on the ‘cold ejection’ doctrine.
In 1985, the US Congress adopted the ‘Pressler amendment’ aimed at banning the creation of atomic bombs by Pakistan. Under this amendment, Pakistan was forbidden from receiving economic and military assistance if the US president could not certify that Islamabad does not possess a nuclear device. This applied to the possible means of delivering nuclear weapons as well. However, although there was ample evidence of the development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan, the effect of this ‘amendment’ was limited while Pakistan was stepping up against the USSR in the Afghanistan War on Washington’s orders. In 1990, after the end of the aforementioned war, US sanctions on Pakistan were finally imposed, but then in March 2005, George Bush agreed to sell twenty-four F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. The military relations between Pakistan and the United States are also actively developing today, as we can see from the September visit to Washington of the new head of the Pakistani government, Abbasi, who spoke at the US Council on Foreign Relations.
In this regard, one wishes to urge the US political and military establishment to treat the problem of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by its allies in a more consistent manner, especially in the South Asian region. It is necessary oppose not only the DPRK in this sphere, but also other states that have been unwilling to join the NPT for many years, the states which Washington ‘protects’ in the hope of using them as US allies in future regional conflicts.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” .