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Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

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Posted: March 16, 2018

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

A June 22-23 plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ended inconclusively on the controversial question of parti­cipation by India and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Meeting chairman Benno Laggner of Switzerland said in a statement on June 23 that he intends to continue the discussion at an “informal meeting” in November.

The NSG, with 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that transfers do not contribute to weapons proliferation. Laggner said diplomats, meeting in Bern, Switzerland, discussed “technical, legal, and political aspects” of NSG participation by non-NPT states. China and others have objected to India’s and Pakistan’s membership bids, which were submitted last year. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has sought to reach agreement on membership criteria for non-NPT states. NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections. In 2008 the NSG agreed to exempt India from that provision, and in 2010, the United States endorsed India’s bid for NSG membership.—DARYL KIMBALL

Posted: July 10, 2017

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions


Relations between India and Pakistan may “deteriorate further in 2017” given Islamabad’s “failure to curb support to anti-India militants,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 23 in discussing the U.S. intelligence community’s worldwide threat assessment. “Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbors,” he said. Easing of tensions, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, “will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan” and progress in Pakistan’s investigation of the January 2016 cross-border attack on India’s Pathankot air base.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: May 31, 2017

India, Pakistan Escalate Missile Rivalry

Missile advances may destabilize an already dangerous region.

March 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India and Pakistan are pursuing the development of new nuclear-capable missiles that risk further escalating tensions in South Asia and increasing the chance of a nuclear exchange.

Pakistani protesters shout anti-Indian slogans during a demonstration in Peshawar on October 4, 2016, after Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across their border. (Photo credit: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)In the past several months, both countries have tested and refined systems for deployment. Although their nuclear ambitions and advancing capabilities should not be considered in isolation or solely as bilateral, there is an action-reaction dynamic between the two states that drives their advances. China is also a factor, particularly in India’s military planning, as New Delhi pursues longer-range ballistic missiles that are more relevant to deterring Beijing than Islamabad. 

This creates a complex nuclear geometry in Asia, in which developments intended to provide stability often have the opposite effect. Indeed, some of the recent developments raise serious concerns about control of nuclear missiles in the field and an increased risk of an unauthorized nuclear attack. 

Sea-Based Capabilities 

Pakistan’s Jan. 9 test-firing of a sea-launched cruise missile, the first for that missile, is one of Islamabad’s responses to India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent and advancing ballistic missile defense system. The missile was tested from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean and hit its target with “precise accuracy,” according to a statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the Pakistani military.

The nuclear-capable missile, known as the Babur-3, has an estimated range of 450 kilometers. It is a variant of the ground-launched Babur-2 cruise missile, which has an estimated range of 700 kilometers and was last tested in December 2016. The Babur-3 gives Islamabad “a credible second strike capability, augmenting deterrence,” the military statement said. 

That judgment might be premature, given that the Babur-3 was tested from an underwater mobile platform and is not likely ready for deployment on Pakistan’s diesel submarines. But Pakistan’s decision to pursue a sea-based deterrent is not a surprise. Evidence, such as Pakistan’s decision to stand up a Naval Strategic Force Command in 2012, pointed toward its pursuit of a sea-based deterrent. 

India was not cited by name as the reason for pursuing a sea-based deterrent, but the Pakistani military statement alluded to Indian developments as a motivation, saying that the missile is a “measured response to nuclear strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan’s neighborhood.” The reference likely included India’s recent deployment of a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched ballistic missile to ensure the survivability of its deterrent and complete New Delhi’s nuclear triad. 

India’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant, completed sea trials in 2016 and is widely believed to have been inducted into the Indian navy. The Arihant-class submarines can carry India’s nuclear-capable K-4 or K-15 ballistic missiles. 

In the days following the Babur-3 test, India announced it would test-fire a K-4 ballistic missile, but there has been no subsequent announcement of a test taking place. The K-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile assessed to have a range of approximately 3,500 kilometers, as opposed to the K-15, which has a range of approximately 750 kilometers. The K-15 reportedly was tested twice in March 2016 and is now in production. 

The decisions by India and Pakistan to pursue sea-based nuclear weapons systems, although presented in terms of strengthening deterrence, raises concerns about the actual impact on stability in the region. 

Both countries currently are believed to keep warheads separated from missiles. Sea-based deterrents, however, require mating the warheads and missiles prior to deployment. If India and Pakistan view their submarine forces as the survivable leg of the nuclear deterrence forces, waiting to deploy a submarine until a crisis scenario is not an attractive option.

This raises questions about the management of the nuclear warheads at sea and the reliability of the communications systems. If submarine commanders have the ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles, it could increase the chances of an unauthorized or accidental launch. 

New Land-Based Capabilities

The concern about delegating command-and-control authority also applies in the case of some ground-based systems, such as Pakistan’s short-range tactical ballistic missile, the Nasr. The Nasr has a range of approximately 60 kilometers, and the ISPR has described the system as filling a gap to “deter evolving threats,” which includes India’s conventional military superiority. 

To use the Nasr as a deterrent against conventional attacks, it may be necessary in certain situations to transfer command and control of these tactical nuclear weapons to commanders on the ground. Some experts view the development of the Nasr, with possible pre-delegation of authority, as potentially destabilizing and increasing the likelihood of use against a conventional attack by India. 

Pakistan also tested a second new system in January, a medium-range ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). The ISPR said that the Jan. 24 test was a success and that the missile, called the Ababeel, has an estimated range of about 2,000 kilometers, “the capability to engage multiple targets with high precision,” and the ability to evade radar. The missile will ensure the “survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missile defense environment.”

Pakistan conducts its first successful test firing of the nuclear-capable Babur-3 cruise missile January 9 from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean. The missile, intended for submarine deployment, was fired from an underwater, mobile platform. (Photo credit: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations)

Pakistan’s development of the Babur-3 and MIRV capability on the Ababeel comes as India makes advances with its ballistic missile defense system. The Indian Ministry of Defence announced Feb. 12 that it “successfully conducted a test wherein an incoming ballistic missile target was intercepted by an exo-atmospheric interceptor missile off the Bay of Bengal.” The statement described this as an “important milestone in building its overall capability” to defend against incoming ballistic missile threats. 

MIRV-capable and cruise missiles, however, can make it more difficult for missile defenses to intercept incoming warheads. The Babur-3 “features terrain hugging and sea skimming flight capabilities to evade hostile radars” and air defenses, the ISPR said in its statement.

India’s Missile Developments

While Pakistan is orienting its new delivery systems based on developments in India, India is considering China as it deploys new ballistic missiles. 

India’s pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles further destabilizes the region’s complicated strategic geometry. These missiles, primarily the Agni-4 and Agni-5, are clearly directed toward China. 

For example, the Agni-5, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers, is not necessary for targeting Pakistan. But it does put all major Chinese cities within India’s range. India tested the Agni-5 in December 2016 and the Agni-4 on Jan. 2. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The Agni-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that has an estimated range of 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, January/February 2012.

China often does not respond to Indian ballistic missile tests, but the most recent Agni-5 launch drew a quick, negative response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman the next day. Hua Chunying recalled a UN Security Council Resolution in 1998 that urged India and Pakistan not to pursue nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, after both countries tested nuclear devices, and said China takes the position that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries.”

During the Chinese New Year, Beijing posted a video of its new medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-16. This system, first displayed in September 2015, is assessed by the Pentagon in an annual report on China’s military in 2016 as improving China’s ability to strike at “regional targets.”

Although it is doubtful that China’s decision to display the missile again is directed at India alone, it does highlight China’s regional nuclear capabilities that likely concern India.

Posted: March 1, 2017

NSG Membership Proposal Would Undermine Nonproliferation

Six years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged his support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the nuclear technology control organization established in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapon test blast, which used plutonium produced with nuclear technology from Canada and the United States. According the official NSG website , India’s 1974 test explosion “demonstrated that peaceful nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused.” NSG membership currently requires that the state is a member in good standing with the nuclear...

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia


Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.


By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

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While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

Posted: July 27, 2016

Progress on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Inadequate to Meet Threats, New Study Finds



A new study suggests that President Obama, failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas during his second term.


For Immediate Release: July 15, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—President Barack Obama failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas over the course of his second term, but did achieve important steps to improve nuclear materials security and strengthen nonproliferation norms, namely the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a new study released by the Arms Control Association, which evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2013-2016," is the third in a series that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories over the past three years. The study evaluated the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possess nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern.

“The United States is investing enormous resources to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads and is keeping its deployed nuclear weapons on ‘launch-under-attack’ readiness posture. The lack of U.S. leadership in these areas contributes to the moribund pace of disarmament,” said Elizabeth Philipp, the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Arms Control Association, and a co-author of the report.

“Obama should use his remaining months in office to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategies and mitigate the risks of inadvertent use. Obama could consider declaring that Washington will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report.

“U.S. leadership could spur China and Russia to take positive actions and improve the prospects for further disarmament. Russia’s decision to develop a new missile in violation of its treaty commitments and Moscow’s rebuff of attempts by the United States to negotiate further nuclear reductions is very troublesome, as is the expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s steps toward increasing the alert levels of its forces,” Philipp added.

“Several states did take significant steps over the past three years to strengthen nuclear security, including action by the United States and Pakistan to ratify key nuclear security treaties,” said Davenport.

“The July 2015 nuclear deal struck between six global powers and Iran was also a significant nonproliferation breakthrough that has significantly reduced Tehran’s nuclear capacity and subjected its activities to more intrusive international monitoring and verification. While the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the deal is fully implemented, blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons negates a serious nonproliferation concern and demonstrates the consequences of flouting the international norms and obligations,” Davenport said.

“For the third time, the United Kingdom received the highest grade of all the states assessed, while North Korea remained at the bottom of the list with the lowest overall grades. North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its ballistic missile development require the next U.S. administration to pursue more robust engagement with Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities,” Philipp said.

“Our review of the record indicates that further action must be taken by all 11 states if they are to live up to their international disarmament and nonproliferation responsibilities. By tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of these states over time, we hope this report will serve as a tool to encourage policymakers to increase efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.

A country-by-country summary can be viewed here.
The full report card can be downloaded here


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Posted: July 15, 2016

2016 Report Card on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Efforts

Download the full report here.

Table of Contents

Posted: July 13, 2016

On Nuclear Security, U.S. Must Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is



The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists.


Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists. But the threat is constantly changing and may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of the Islamic State group and indications it may have nuclear and/or radiological ambitions.

Despite noteworthy achievements, however, significant work remains to be done to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear explosive device or dirty bomb. For example, even after four Nuclear Security Summits there are no comprehensive, legally-binding international standards or rules for the security of all nuclear materials. The existing global nuclear security architecture needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

It is thus puzzling that just weeks before the final summit in Washington earlier this month, the Obama administration submitted to Congress a budget that proposed significant spending reductions for key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs that lessen nuclear security and nonproliferation risks, accelerating a trend in recent years of short-sighted cuts to these programs. If implemented, these decreases will slow progress on key nuclear security initiatives, jeopardize the sustainability of those initiatives, and undermine U.S. leadership in this area.

As the Senate and House of Representatives begin their work on the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization and energy and water appropriations bills—which establish spending levels and set policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities—lawmakers should reverse these ill-advised budget cuts. Additionally, Congress should encourage the NNSA to augment its nuclear and radiological security work to help ensure the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security.

Disappointing Budget Request

If the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism isn’t on your mind, it should be. The recent Islamic State group-perpetrated terrorist attacks in Brussels offered another bloody reminder of the danger of terrorism. To make matters worse, reports indicate that two of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack had also carried out surveillance of a Belgian official with access to a facility with weapons-grade uranium and radioactive material.

A new report published on March 21 by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concludes that the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was at the time of the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 due to the slowing of nuclear security progress and the rise of the Islamic State group.

Against this concerning backdrop, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department responsible for the bulk of U.S. nuclear security work, in February requested $1.47 billion for core nuclear security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs in fiscal year 2017—a reduction of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, relative to the current fiscal year 2016 level. (Note: these figures exclude the administration’s request of $270 million to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program for excess U.S. weapons plutonium disposition.)

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which improves the security of nuclear materials around the world, secures orphaned or disused radiological sources—which could be used to make a dirty bomb—and strengthens nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. Within this program, the NNSA is seeking $7.6 million less than last year’s appropriation for radiological material security programs and roughly $270 million less for these activities over the next four years than it planned to request over the same period, last year.

Most experts agree that the probability of a terrorist exploding a dirty bomb is much higher than that of a nuclear device. This is due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of these materials, which are used for peaceful applications like cancer treatment, in thousands of locations and in almost every country around the world, many of which are poorly protected and vulnerable to theft. A new report published last month by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) noted that only 14% of International Atomic Energy Agency member states have agreed to secure their highest risk radiological sources by a specific date.

Along with reducing the budget for radiological security, the NNSA is planning to transition from a primarily protect-based approach for radiological materials to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and the promotion of alternative technologies, when feasible. While it makes sense to seek to replace these sources as opposed to securing them in perpetuity, this revised approach raises numerous questions, including whether some sources will remain vulnerable for longer than under the previous strategy. At the current planned pace, it would take another 17 years to meet the NNSA’s much-reduced target of helping to secure just under 4,400 buildings around the world with dangerous radioactive material—down from a target of roughly twice that just last year.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation. This program matures technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations. The NNSA projected a request of $430 million in fiscal year 2017 research and development funding in its fiscal year 2016 request.

The NNSA has defended some of the reductions to the nonproliferation account on the grounds that several major projects have been completed, thereby lessening resource needs, and that the impact of spending cuts can be mitigated by using unspent money left over from prior years, largely due to the suspension in late 2014 of nearly all nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But the cuts proposed for fiscal year 2017, relative to what was projected last year, are significant, especially to the radiological security and research and development programs where the NNSA does not say they will use unspent balances.

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

Similarly, Andrew Bieniawski, a former deputy assistant secretary of Energy who ran the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and who is now a vice president at NTI, said last month that the agency’s recent budget requests “do not match the growing threat and they certainly don’t match the fact that you are having a presidential nuclear security summit.”

Many members of Congress agree with these concerns. In August 2014, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. Though the 2016 request was higher than the previous year’s enacted level, it did not meet the Senators’ desire “to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed.”

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

The global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism is at a key inflection point. While the United States can’t tackle the challenge on its own, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request was a missed opportunity to advance many good ideas in this space that haven't received adequate attention and investment.

Congress has a critical role to play in this endeavor, and there are a number of steps it can take this year to sustain and strengthen U.S. and global nuclear and radiological security efforts.

First, Congress should increase fiscal year 2017 funding for NNSA radiological security and nonproliferation research and development efforts, the two programs hardest hit by the agency’s proposed budget cuts. Additional funding would allow an acceleration of efforts to secure dangerous radiological materials and ensure the United States is prepared to confront emerging security and nonproliferation challenges.

Congress should also call for a global strategy, stronger regulations, and increased funding to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable highest-risk radiological sources around the world during the first term of the next administration. This multidimensional effort should entail a number of elements, including: securing the most vulnerable sources (where needed); requiring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger regulatory requirements; supporting universal adherence to the IAEA Code of Conduct on radiological sources; mandating additional cost-sharing by industry; and, where appropriate, accelerating the development and use of alternative technologies. An accelerated international radiological security effort would be consistent with a proposal from Sen. Carper (D-Del.) requiring the administration to craft a plan for securing all high-risk low-level radiological material in the United States.

In addition, Congress should require NNSA to report on its research and development activities and identify opportunities to expand them in areas such as:

  • developing alternatives to high performance research reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU);
  • converting HEU-powered naval reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (the White House announced on March 31 that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of LEU in naval reactors); and
  • examining ways adversaries could potentially use 3D printing and other new technologies to make nuclear-weapons usable components.

Other ideas that have been put forth to augment NNSA’s (and the rest of the interagency) nuclear security and nonproliferation work worthy of Congressional backing include:

  • completing a prioritization of nuclear materials at foreign locations for return or disposition, to identify the most vulnerable material stocks to focus efforts on, and establishing a time frame for doing so;
  • developing new detection and monitoring technologies and approaches to verify future nuclear arms reductions;
  • outlining a plan for how to expand U.S. nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan and addressing obstacles to such an expansion and how they could be overcome;
  • developing approaches to rebuild nuclear security cooperation with Russia that would put both countries in equal roles;
  • building a global nuclear materials security system of effective nuclear security norms, standards, and best practices worldwide;
  • enhancing protections against nuclear sabotage; and
  • strengthening—and sharing—intelligence on nuclear and radiological terrorism threats.

In addition, Congress should seek ways to dissuade other states from pursuing programs to reprocess fuel from nuclear power plants, which lead to the separation of plutonium.

While the Nuclear Security Summit process has seen significant progress in the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian purposes, global civilian plutonium stockpiles continue to grow. East Asia in particular is on the verge of a major build up of separated plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons and poses significant security risks. Japan and China both have plans to reprocess on a large-scale, and doing so would almost certainly prompt South Korea to follow suit.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recently been more vocal in expressing its concerns about these plans. Congress should encourage the administration, and NNSA in particular, to engage in additional cooperative work with countries in East Asia on spent fuel storage options and the elimination of excess plutonium stockpiles without reprocessing.

Over the years, U.S. support for nuclear security programs at home and abroad has resulted in an enormously effective return on investment that greatly strengthens U.S. security, and will be even more important in the years ahead in absence of head of state level summit meetings.

Indeed, there is a long legacy of members of Congress from both parties working together to reduce nuclear risks. For example, in 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Twenty-five years later, the evolution of security and proliferation challenges requires similarly bold and innovative Congressional leadership.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: April 15, 2016

Burying the Hatchet: The Case for a ‘Normal’ Nuclear South Asia

Membership in global export control regimes will encourage India and Pakistan to negotiate bilateral steps toward nuclear stability, safety, and security...

March 2016

By Feroz Hassan Khan 

06_Khan.jpgThe global nonproliferation regime faces a major challenge in South Asia. India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed states locked in an intense and enduring rivalry, are investing heavily in their respective nuclear arsenals and deploying new delivery systems at an alarming rate.

At the same time, both countries are seeking entry into the club of responsible stewards of nuclear capability. Yet, the international community has been unwilling to find a pathway to confer de jure nuclear-weapon-state status on Islamabad and New Delhi, leaving the door to nuclear normalization shut.

The arms race gripping India and Pakistan is part and parcel of what some scholars describe as the second nuclear age.1 This new age is significantly different from the Cold War era referred to as the first nuclear age. It is characterized by geographically linked nuclear-armed states that are involved in varying levels of ideological rivalries and unresolved disputes, which have been exploited by violent religious extremists.2 In its current shape, the global nonproliferation regime is ill equipped to tackle the complexities of this second age wherein three regions—the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia—are subject to potential instability and home to nuclear-armed states that are in defiance of the nonproliferation regime. This article focuses on South Asia, where the potential for a sudden Indian-Pakistani military crisis is profound, conventional and nuclear force postures are evolving rapidly, and a sense of discrimination persists regarding the nuclear world order. In part, these factors are exacerbating the Indian-Pakistani rivalry and driving further noncooperation with the global nonproliferation regime.

For 40 years, Islamabad and New Delhi have refused to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and continued to build their arsenals while the international community has exhausted its diplomatic efforts and tools, including sanctions, to reverse, contain, or dampen the Indian-Pakistani arms race. This continued friction has had negative consequences for international security. It is high time for the international community to bury the hatchet by finding a pathway to bring South Asia into the global nuclear order. Doing so would temper the Indian-Pakistani arms race by creating powerful incentives for Islamabad and New Delhi to conform to the behavioral norms and legal obligations expected of nuclear powers.

This article begins by examining the global nonproliferation regime from a South Asian perspective and explains why bringing India and Pakistan into the nuclear mainstream is important. The article then evaluates three different pathways for Indian and Pakistani entry into the global nonproliferation regime: (1) developing political and technical criteria for membership into the regime; (2) engaging in bilateral negotiations with each of the two states on separate, independent tracks; and (3) partaking in multilateral negotiations and forums to reach an arrangement on strategic restraint. The end goal for these pathways, which are not mutually exclusive, is to allow the two countries to enter into export control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Membership in global export control regimes will encourage Islamabad and New Delhi to negotiate bilateral steps toward nuclear stability, safety, and security as promised in the 1999 Lahore Declaration and avail themselves of opportunities for arms control agreements in a region in dire need of nuclear stability.3

A Regional Perspective

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, offered a grand bargain to countries willing to eschew nuclear weapons acquisition by promising them access to verifiably peaceful nuclear technology and a “good faith” pledge from the nuclear-weapon states (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to reduce if not eliminate their nuclear weapons stockpiles.4 India, Pakistan, and Israel—now de facto nuclear-armed states—did not accept the treaty and are generally described as outliers from an NPT standpoint. India, for its part, decried the treaty as a form of nuclear apartheid wherein the currency of power was the preserve of the five privileged countries that wielded their veto power in the UN Security Council to jealously guard their nuclear monopoly. Proponents of this view painted the nuclear issue in populist terms—a dispute between nuclear haves and have-nots. Moreover, India aspired to be treated as a global power, as it still does. It desires to be in the elite club of haves on par with China and loathes being lumped with Pakistan as a nuclear outlier.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan saw export control regimes—the NSG, the MTCR, the Australia Group on chemical and biological weapons, and the Wassenaar Arrangement on conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies—as Western cartels aimed at denying technology to the Communist bloc and developing world alike, which deepened their perception of the NPT as a form of nuclear apartheid.

07_Khan.jpgIslamabad took particular umbrage at the NSG. Formed in the mid-1970s in response to India’s 1974 test of a nuclear device, the NSG had an immediate impact on Pakistan’s nascent nuclear program, which became a test case for the control regime’s effectiveness and heightened Islamabad’s sense of nuclear discrimination. In addition, the establishment of the NSG prompted a cat-and-mouse game between Pakistani procurement efforts and NSG efforts to block them, a dynamic that contributed to the genesis of the Abdul Qadeer Khan proliferation network.

India and Pakistan resisted the nonproliferation regime for economic reasons and out of principle, but national security imperatives also played a deterministic role. India’s security rationale for developing a nuclear weapons program stemmed from perceived threats from China, and these perceptions continue to drive India’s arms buildup to this day. Yet, India’s moves to modernize its nuclear forces with new delivery systems and ballistic missile defenses to balance against China raise red flags in Pakistan. In this context, the logic behind Islamabad’s decision to develop nuclear weapons is clear. Its program is primarily intended to offset its disparity with India in conventional forces and to prevent nuclear coercion. Islamabad’s current deterrence posture comprises compact-design warheads, short-range battlefield weapons, and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Additionally, both countries have announced plans to introduce sea-based nuclear weapons sometime soon.5

In sum, India seeks to match China at the global level, and Pakistan seeks to match India at the regional level. This has transformed security dynamics in Asia into a security “trilemma,” in which arrangements to apply strategic restraint are becoming problematic.6 In any event, the intertwined arms race in South Asia warrants a more inclusive nonproliferation regime that encourages India and Pakistan to conform to prevailing nuclear norms rather than challenge them, as both states did in the last century.

Confronting a bilateral relationship characterized by a heavily militarized border, major territorial disputes, cross-border terrorist activity, and rapid advancements in nuclear arsenals and delivery systems, the international community should make every effort to discourage arms racing. Nuclear normalization is one path that could temper the security competition between India and Pakistan. Dogmatically rigid adherence to the antiquated nonproliferation regime of five—and only five—nuclear-weapon states simply confines India and Pakistan to a perpetual “outlaw” status that opens the door to unchecked arsenal buildups. The time has come for the regime to break with the status quo in favor of a new approach characterized by flexibility and accommodation for responsible nuclear outlier states. 

Criteria-Based Model

08_Khan.jpgSeveral experts have argued for a criteria-based model for legitimizing nuclear outlier states and bringing them into the nonproliferation regime.7 The premise of a criteria-based approach is that it is inherently nondiscriminatory and thereby allows all non-NPT states a way to undertake the obligations that other members of the treaty have assumed. Such an approach would proscribe making special exceptions for commercial interests and engaging in the politics of alliances and balancing—criticisms that Pakistan frequently levies against the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal.

Another argument for a criteria-based model derives from the combined threat of global terrorism and fear of nuclear accidents such as the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. These concerns have diminished the promise of a nuclear energy renaissance and placed greater emphasis on nuclear safety and security. Bringing nuclear outlier states into the nonproliferation regime would allow them to undertake more-robust safety and security measures, pursue closer relationships with nuclear regulatory authorities, and receive better technical assistance from the West.

Attainment of these objectives requires normalization of nuclear relations with India and Pakistan as a first step. Arguably, the nuclear deal with India confers legitimacy on India’s nuclear program, but it is based on exception. India is not legally obligated to undertake the steps NPT nuclear-weapon states are required to take, such as disarmament, but the nuclear deal is nevertheless an incentive for India to conform to nuclear norms. Pakistan, in contrast, has neither nuclear legitimacy nor any nuclear deal that could entice it to follow these norms. Nuclear normalization would simply mean that each country would be treated as “normal nuclear country” if it met certain criteria.8 The two countries could be mainstreamed into the nuclear world order by making them members of the NSG and other export control regimes.9

At the time the U.S. nuclear deal with India was contemplated, there existed no established criteria for nuclear normalization. In making its argument for the lifting of international sanctions, India cited its democratic governance; its good proliferation track record, at least compared to Pakistan, whose reputation was tarnished by the A.Q. Khan scandal; and the promise of nuclear purchases from the international market. For New Delhi, a nuclear deal also was seen as a tool for bolstering India’s case for eventual membership in the NSG.

Pakistan watched the negotiation of the U.S.-Indian deal from the sidelines; it was unable to influence the outcome that led to India’s NSG exemption. Under U.S. pressure, Islamabad lifted its objections at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meetings to India’s nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States as the agreement went through the board’s approval process in 2008.10 Furthermore, as the years went by and especially after the advent of the Obama administration in 2009, Islamabad realized that, despite private assurances from the Bush administration to the contrary, the prospects for a U.S.-Pakistani nuclear deal were dim. Islamabad then broke its silence, began protesting the discriminatory nature of the U.S.-Indian deal, and vocally expressed its view that the exceptional nuclear deal with India would have a deleterious impact on Pakistani national security. Moreover, Islamabad blocked the commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), arguing that the treaty would freeze Pakistan’s nuclear stockpiles at a disadvantage relative to India. The next major development came in 2011, when Pakistan tested the Nasr, a nuclear-capable ballistic missile with a range of 60 kilometers. U.S.-Pakistani nuclear relations dipped to an all-time low.11

Today, Islamabad seeks a criteria-based approach in hopes of legitimizing its nuclear program. Because the prospects for a formal U.S.-Pakistani civilian nuclear deal remain uncertain, Islamabad seeks membership in the NSG primarily to gain legitimacy as a responsible nuclear power and wipe out the legacy of the A.Q. Khan network. Also, Islamabad would prefer to engage in nuclear commerce under the NSG framework rather than outside it. Experts have argued, however, that Islamabad lacks the money to engage in nuclear commerce and that vendors from other countries would be reluctant to invest in Pakistan given its internal security problems. Despite Pakistan’s claim of operating a robust nuclear security system, Western states remain skeptical, surmising that mounting extremism and a deteriorating domestic security environment increase the risk of sabotage.12 Yet, this has not deterred Beijing. China has provided Pakistan with civilian nuclear assistance although Pakistan, like India, is not a party to the NPT and therefore, under NSG export guidelines, would not normally be eligible to receive such assistance. China has argued that such assistance is permitted because the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal set a precedent and because Chinese-Pakistani nuclear cooperation predated China’s membership in the NSG and therefore is “grandfathered.”13

 In light of these considerations, various scholars have suggested several admission criteria to the NSG and other export control groups. The criteria fall into two categories: eligibility criteria and political acceptability for the members of the NSG and other control groups. The eligibility criteria include meeting the various bureaucratic requirements for membership into export control groups as mentioned above. For non-NPT states such as India and Pakistan, entry into the NSG, for example, would require undertaking several steps in addition to those already known for eligibility into export control regimes.14 Pierre Goldschmidt, a former head of the Department of Safeguards at the IAEA, has suggested 14 steps for non-NPT members to become full members of the NSG. In brief, these criteria would require non-NPT members to pledge those undertakings that the five NPT nuclear-weapon states have taken: placing all nonmilitary nuclear facilities under full-scope safeguards, agreeing to ratify an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements, and adhering to all the NSG decisions.15

India and Pakistan could meet most of the eligibility requirements, but may find it difficult to agree to all of the expected concessions due to the salience of nuclear weapons in their respective national security policies and the domestic political unpalatability of compromising too much of what each state might think is its “minimum credible deterrence” requirements. For example, the two states may still resist signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or ceasing production of fissile material for weapons. Furthermore, meeting the eligibility requirements alone is insufficient to attain membership in the club. Accession will require political negotiations with major powers and states that are members of the export control regimes, as each member state may have individual concerns that may preclude consensus even if India and Pakistan fulfill all the eligibility requirements. To gain international support for their formal entry into the NSG, the two countries would certainly be required to make concessions and accept restraints on their nuclear weapons programs.

 India will likely encounter fewer political hurdles because it has already passed the test once. Furthermore, India has defense and economic ties with major NSG member countries. Pakistan, in contrast, has a steep hill to climb in order to garner international support. Additionally, given Pakistan’s proliferation record and its internal instability, the West would likely seek greater concessions and restraints than it required of India, which Islamabad may find difficult to accept. Although Pakistan demands equitable treatment, most states see India in a different league as a major power and Pakistan as a regional albeit strategically important country.

On balance, India has the edge over Pakistan with respect to criteria-based NSG membership. This would be nightmarish for Pakistan because Islamabad calculates and New Delhi realizes that once India becomes a member of the NSG, the door for Pakistani entry might well be permanently shut because India could block consensus on admitting Pakistan. Sidelining Pakistan from the NSG in such a way would serve only to undermine regional stability.16 It would deepen Islamabad’s sense of indignity and strengthen the position of domestic stakeholders seeking to diversify and expand Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Accordingly, as much as a criteria-based approach makes sense from the standpoint of fairness and equality, developing political consensus for normalizing nuclear relations with India and Pakistan would require bilateral or multilateral negotiations. 

Separate, Bilateral Tracks

Another model for normalization is for the United States to engage in bilateral negotiations with Islamabad and New Delhi on separate tracks. The goal would be to extract commitments on arms control and strategic restraint from both capitals. In return, the United States would pledge full support for Indian and Pakistani membership in the NSG and other export control regimes. Although this would be a painful and uncertain process, the United States has demonstrated, in the case of India, that a bilateral nuclear deal can be struck with an outlier state through sustained diplomacy, patience, and political will.

Admittedly, the U.S. experience of negotiating with Islamabad and New Delhi on separate tracks to achieve the same outcome has not proven successful in the past. Following the 1998 Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, President Bill Clinton assigned Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to lead separate negotiations with the two countries, which then were under sanctions. The goal was to get the sanctions removed and bring relations back to normalcy. Predictably, the negotiations stalled, as neither of the two South Asian countries knew what the other had conceded or negotiated.

09_Khan.jpgDespite the false start during the Clinton years, prospects for successful bilateral negotiations today are improved, as the geopolitical environment has evolved over the past 15-plus years. Washington’s relations with New Delhi have warmed steadily, and both capitals speak of a budding U.S.-Indian “strategic partnership.”

Although the U.S.-Pakistani relationship has been turbulent in recent years, especially since 2011, it currently is on a positive trajectory, albeit with a degree of underlying suspicion and distrust.17 Since 2012, the United States has been engaged in several levels of strategic dialogue with Islamabad, including discussions on charting a path to nuclear normalization. In the fall of 2015, various U.S. media outlets reported that the Obama administration was contemplating a nuclear deal with Pakistan.18 The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers also were scheduled for official visits to the United States in this time frame. Islamabad and New Delhi reacted strongly to these press reports. The ensuing uproar over a supposed U.S.-Pakistani deal forced the Obama administration to clarify that no such agreement was on the table for Islamabad.

It also is likely that negative reactions from both capitals were influenced by the publication of two think tank reports in 2014-2015 proposing road maps to Pakistani normalization.19 New Delhi’s reaction was predictable. A nuclear deal for Pakistan would pull Islamabad out of the hole in which it found itself after the A.Q. Khan episode. Such a renewal of relations would run counter to India’s policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan.

Islamabad’s reaction to the reports was surprisingly frosty. For years, Pakistan has sought equal treatment and a nuclear deal analogous to India’s. Yet, when these reports emerged, public reaction in Islamabad was not focused on the “normalization” content but on the perception that the government was being forced to concede too much on its nuclear program. Pakistan’s skeptical reaction, however, should not come as a total surprise. U.S.-Pakistani nuclear relations soured in the mid-1970s over Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weapons and have never recovered. Although bilateral ties have ebbed and flowed since then, nuclear issues have remained a persistent irritant in the relationship.20

There were several variations of this negative reaction in Pakistan. One school of thought was based on the belief that the United States is bent on Pakistani disarmament, by force if necessary, and is applying pressure to that end. This theory has existed in Pakistan for some time, but gained traction following the 2011 U.S. commando raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. Pakistani media often portray this theory as if it were official U.S. policy.

The second, less widely held shade of opinion was that the United States had adopted an approach reminiscent of the “cap and roll back” policy of the early 1990s. At that time, Islamabad was under nuclear sanctions under U.S. nonproliferation laws. For some years, the United States sought to cap Pakistan’s production of highly enriched uranium and then roll back the country’s capacity to produce more. In other words, sanctions were being employed as leverage to persuade Pakistan to compromise on its nuclear program. Islamabad, however, was unwilling to comply after having paid the price of nuclear defiance, which included economic sanctions, denial of a modern military capability, and diplomatic opprobrium. The U.S. policy turned out to be counterproductive. Rather than reversing its nuclear program, Pakistan stepped up production of fissile material and diversified its delivery vehicles by acquiring missiles and missile technology. Although the U.S. policy ultimately failed to dissuade Islamabad, the psychological impact of that period continues to linger in some quarters in Pakistan.

The third shade of reaction was that the United States was pressuring Islamabad to weaken its deterrence posture against India. This school of thought champions Pakistani defiance against any concessions on nuclear matters and is deeply rooted in Pakistani society.

One example of this attitude came during Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington in October 2015. To dispel rumors of any nuclear concessions, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry issued a press statement justifying the rationale of Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons. This was an effort to preempt any rumor of or speculation about Pakistani concessions on its nuclear arsenal or force posture during Sharif’s visit.21

In all three cases, the voices of conspiracy were so loud that they drowned out and distracted from the central message of mainstreaming Pakistan’s nuclear program. In any event, Islamabad was seemingly ill prepared for negotiation toward normalization. It probably felt pressured from official discussions, publications, and media reports all coming together around the same time. On the basis of these, Islamabad apparently concluded that the terms of any nuclear deal with Washington would require Pakistan to compromise what it considers its vital security interests and would not be palatable domestically. Regional security experts in the United States are well aware that preserving a minimum credible nuclear deterrent posture is of utmost priority to Pakistan’s national security policymakers. Perhaps the fundamental stumbling block for any U.S.-Pakistani nuclear negotiation is that the two countries have different interpretations of what “minimum” and “credible” mean. For example, Islamabad contends that its newly minted tactical nuclear weapons are a necessary and reasonable deterrent against India’s limited-war doctrine known as Cold Start. Meanwhile, U.S. commentators have expressed concerns over the command-and-control, deterrence stability, and escalation control challenges posed by these weapons.22

Multilateral Negotiations

The third approach toward normalization is to engage in multilateral negotiations with India and Pakistan. Multiparty negotiations have seen recent success in the case of the Iran nuclear deal, but in the Indian-Pakistani case, the focus of the talks would be normalization rather than disarmament.

There are several advantages to a multilateral approach. First, it would involve all stakeholders and influential members of the international community, as was the case with the Iran deal. Second, it would not involve opaque, separate-track dialogues such as those during the Talbott negotiations that followed the 1998 tests. Third, its inclusive nature would make it more difficult for critics to allege favoritism—for example, that China is supporting Pakistan and the United States supporting India. Finally, this approach can be pursued in tandem with the criteria-based and bilateral approaches.

New Delhi, however, historically has opposed the multilateralization of what it considers to be strictly bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, such as the Kashmir dispute. For the reasons explained above, India would prefer the bilateral approach in this case. Yet, China and Russia recently set a precedent in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) regarding Indian and Pakistani membership. The two South Asian countries were observers to the SCO, but both were seeking full membership in the organization.23 China opposed Indian entry unless Pakistan was included; Russia opposed Pakistan. After years of discussions and bilateral talks, China and Russia recently agreed to the simultaneous entry of India and Pakistan into the SCO. That model could be one way to break the gridlock surrounding Indian and Pakistani membership in the NSG.

A suggested road map for a multilateral approach for simultaneous entry by India and Pakistan into the NSG could contain the following steps: 

1.   India and Pakistan are treated as normal nuclear states that possess nuclear weapons for national security reasons. Both states should formally reiterate that their nuclear capabilities are exclusively for defensive deterrence purposes.

2.   The international community recognizes that nuclear legitimacy for Islamabad and New Delhi is an important step in curtailing the Indian-Pakistani arms race. Normalization would encourage nuclear stability, security, and safety and would induce the cooperation between the two countries that was described in the 1999 Lahore memorandum of understanding.

3.   The two states agree to separate their civilian and military nuclear programs and fuel cycles cleanly and completely and to place the facilities declared as civilian under internationally agreed safeguards.

4.   The two states agree to keep nuclear weapons on their lowest alert status, with nuclear warheads separated from their delivery vehicles.

5.   The two states agree to adopt the highest global standards of nuclear security and safety and seek maximum assistance in this area from international organizations and countries with advanced nuclear programs.

6.   The two states agree to commence a sustained bilateral dialogue for peace and security with a view toward negotiating and implementing a mutually acceptable arrangement for strategic restraint.

7.   The two states agree to facilitate rather than obstruct the commencement of a global FMCT, maintain their nuclear testing moratorium, and pledge to join the CTBT.


India and Pakistan have come a long way in the nearly two decades that have followed the 1998 nuclear tests. It is time for the global nonproliferation regime to open the door to a normal nuclear South Asia and for India and Pakistan to address the international community’s legitimate concerns over their respective arms buildups.

As it is, India continues to build capabilities for power projection to match China, while Pakistan is building its capacity to balance against India. The interconnected nature of this strategic competition has the potential to create instability given the volatile nature of regional politics and probability of sudden crises that could rapidly escalate to nuclear deployment and possible use. There is a need for a global initiative that could break this gridlock and move away from international trends by incentivizing the two countries to enter into negotiations for an acceptable place in the world nuclear order.

For the reasons discussed in this article, the most promising approach is a process of multilateral negotiations that establishes criteria that India and Pakistan must meet and involves political negotiations. The goal would be to bring India and Pakistan into the global export control regimes, most notably the NSG, and eventually give the two countries “associate” membership in the NPT as de facto nuclear-weapon-possessing states. This status would not make India and Pakistan full members as NPT nuclear-weapon states, but would recognize the steps taken by an outlier country to undertake all obligations and adopt practices and polices as if it were a de jure NPT nuclear-weapon state.

A notional timeline for this process would be as follows: India and Pakistan are allowed into the NSG and other export control regimes within the next four years and thus provided with an opportunity to demonstrate responsible stewardship of nuclear capability. The 50th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force, in 2020, would be a propitious moment for the nuclear nonproliferation regime to have solved the issue of the outlier states. Although this article focused on India and Pakistan because of the intensity of their strategic competition, the principle and pathway suggested here could apply to Israeli membership as well. Bringing these outlier states into the fold of the global nonproliferation regime would significantly strengthen the regime while providing the states with incentives to undertake responsible stewardship of nuclear weapons for the benefit of international security.


1.   Paul Bracken describes the emergence of new nuclear powers in the post-Cold War period as the “second nuclear age.” Paul Bracken, The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics (New York: Times Books, 2012). See also Ashley Tellis, Abraham Denmark, and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2013-2014: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age (Washington DC: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013).

2.   Gregory D. Koblentz, “Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age,” Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report, No. 71 (November 2014).

3.   A memorandum of understanding was part of the Lahore Declaration of 1999, which was signed by Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan on February 21, 1999. This was the first bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan after the nuclear tests. The memorandum commits the two sides to discussing security doctrines, arms control, and confidence-building measures to ensure stability. See Toby Dalton, “Beyond Incrementalism: Rethinking Approaches to CBMs and Stability in South Asia,” in Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia, ed. Michael Krepon and Julia Thompson (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2013), pp. 187-208.

4.   Michael Mandelbaum, “Lessons of the Next Nuclear War,” Foreign Affairs, No. 74 (March/April 1995).

5.   For a comprehensive study of the nuclear strategies and force postures of India and Pakistan, see Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).

6.   The term “security trilemma” is attributed to Linton Brooks and Mira Rapp-Hooper. Linton Brooks and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “Extended Deterrence, Assurance, and Reassurance in the Pacific During the Second Nuclear Age,” in Strategic Asia 2013-2014: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Ashley Tellis, Abraham Denmark, and Travis Tanner (Washington DC: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013).

7.   See Pierre Goldschmidt, “NSG Membership: A Criteria-Based Approach for Non-NPT States,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), May 24, 2011, http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/05/24/nsg-membership-criteria-based-approach-for-non-npt-states; Toby Dalton, Mark Hibbs, and George Perkovich, “A Criteria-Based Approach to Nuclear Cooperation With Pakistan,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Policy Outlook, June 22, 2011, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/nsg_criteria.pdf. 

8.   Mark Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers (London: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 2014), pp. 159-164.

9.   Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon, “A Normal Nuclear Pakistan,” Stimson Center and CEIP, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/NormalNuclearPakistan.pdf.

10.   Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Ex-Envoy Sheds Light on Mystery About Failure to Block IAEA India-Specific Deal,” Dawn, December 19, 2015.

11.   Feroz Hassan Khan and Ryan W. French, “U.S.-Pakistan Nuclear Relations: A Strategic Survey,” PASCC Report, No. 2014-005 (April 2014.)

12.   The latest Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Nuclear Security Index has introduced two additional factors—sabotage and cybersecurity—in developing the index criteria. See “The 2016 NTI Nuclear Security Index: Theft and Sabotage,” n.d., http://ntiindex.org/behind-the-index/about-the-nti-index/.

13.   Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers.

14.   For a detailed discussion of this issue, see Mark Hibbs, “Toward a Nuclear Suppliers Group Policy for States Not Party to the NPT,” CEIP, February 12, 2016, http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/02/12/toward-nuclear-suppliers-group-policy-for-states-not-party-to-npt/itxg.

15.   Goldschmidt, “NSG Membership.”

16.   “Nuclear Discrimination Impacting Regional Security, Says Pakistan,” The News (Pakistan), February 13, 2016.

17.   The incidents in 2011 involved CIA contractor Raymond Davis’ killing of two Pakistani citizens in January, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May, and an accidental U.S. attack on a Pakistani military post on the Afghan border in November. For a detailed account, see Khan and French, “U.S.-Pakistan Nuclear Relations.”

18.   David Ignatius, “The U.S. Cannot Afford to Forget Afghanistan and Pakistan,” The Washington Post, October 6, 2015; David Sanger, “U.S. Exploring Deal to Limit Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal,” The New York Times, October 15, 2015.

19.   Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers; Dalton and Krepon, “Normal Nuclear Pakistan.”

20.   Khan and French, “U.S.-Pakistan Nuclear Relations.”

21.   “Pakistan Developed Tactical Nukes to ‘Deter’ India: Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry,” Press Trust of India, October 20, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/world/neighbours/pakistan-developed-tactical-nukes-to-deter-india-aizaz-chaudhry/. See also “Pakistan With ‘Tactical Nukes’ Ready to Counter Indian Aggression: Aizaz,” The International News (Pakistan), October 20, 2015.

22.   For a Pakistani perspective, see Mark Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers (citing Adil Sultan, “Pakistan’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Impact of Drivers and Technology on Nuclear Doctrine,” Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, April 17, 2012). For U.S. perspectives, see David O. Smith, “The U.S. Experience With Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Lessons for South Asia” in Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia, ed. Michael Krepon and Julia Thompson (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, 2013), pp. 65-92; David J. Carl, “Pakistan’s Evolving Nuclear Weapons Posture,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 21, Nos. 3-4 (September-December 2014): 317-336.

23.   The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a regional organization led by China and Russia and involving six Central Asian states. Its objective is to enhance economic cooperation and combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism. For details, see Asia Regional Integration Center, “Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),” n.d., https://aric.adb.org/initiative/shanghai-cooperation-organization.

Feroz Hassan Khan is a lecturer in the Department of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is a former director of arms control and disarmament in Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division and is the author of Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (2012). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not represent the position of any government.

Posted: March 3, 2016


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