Role of China as Pakistan's nuclear and missile patron
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Issue Vol 24.4 Oct-Dec2009 | Date : 15 Nov , 2010

Beijing is carefully choosing not to comment on the issue of its “hand in glove” ally Pakistans nuclear weapon arsenal safety. This is primarily aimed at deflecting attention away from the “proliferating role” it has played towards Islamabad.

The situation with regard to the Kanupp and Khushab reactors continued to remain of particular proliferation significance. A shortage of heavy water was apparently the principal obstacle in the start-up of the nearly completed, unsafeguarded Khushab reactor.

In 1985, the US Congress passed the Pressler Amendment, which required that the Administration certify at the start of each fiscal year that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. The US Administration continued to certify to the Congress that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon through the late 1980s, despite the evidence to the contrary — thus making it amply clear that the Americans were fixed to fit the policy that Pakistan was simply too important an ally to loose. The Administration got around this by saying Pakistan had not stockpiled or put together every single element for a bomb, but the justifications bordered on the absurd. “In my view, it was irrefutable evidence,” stated Richard J Kerr, who was then Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA. “The argument always came down to a political judgment and that judgment was made on the basis of not whether or not there was a weapon but whether that was a convenient time to declare that they had a weapon.”

Furthermore, a 1986 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Kahuta had enriched sufficient weapons-grade uranium and had all the parts for a device. It arrived at the conclusion that Pakistan could have a bomb within two weeks of making a decision and was only “two screwdriver turns” from assembling a weapon. Consequently, the result of Chinese help and US promiscuity led to Pakistan acquiring nuclear weapons covertly in 1987. Nuclear proliferation analyst, Gary Milhollin, has very succinctly summed up by stating, “If you subtract Chinese help, there wouldn’t be a Pakistani programme.”

In what seemingly was an effort to curb proliferation activities in this part of the world, September 1995 witnessed the US Senate passing the Brown Amendment through a one-time waiver of the Pressler Amendment. But this was not as smooth a move as was expected to be since the Brown Amendment’s primary aim of enhancing the US non-proliferation goals soon stood a litmus test.

It was merely days after President Clinton signed the Brown Amendment that in February 1996, The Washington Times reported a CIA finding that China had sold 5,000 ring magnets to Pakistan for its main plant to enrich uranium in high-speed gas centrifuges. According to the Nucleonics News, these ring magnets could enable Pakistan double its capacity to enrich uranium for weapon purposes. Obviously, both Pakistan and China denied the sale had occurred. Senator Larry Pressler was enraged when he came to know about this deal and remarked, “I am very disturbed that this illegal sale of nuclear technology was taking place at the same time that the government of Pakistan and the Clinton Administration actively were lobbying Congress to pass the Brown Amendment.”

Thus, it has become a perceptibly frustrating fact that in characteristic style of advocating one principle and pursuing something diametrically opposite, Beijing has established by its actions time and again that it has been at the core of the WMD proliferation web that has been woven within Asia — Pakistan, Iran and North Korea being the prime receivers of the said technologies. Inspite of this reality, in an article published in the China Daily, October 16, 2002, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Wang Guangya stressed upon China’s ‘non-proliferation policy and practice’ and stated: “China has consistently stood for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of all kinds of WMD and firmly against the proliferation of WMD and their delivery systems. For this, China has over the years been an active participant in international non-proliferation efforts. At the same time, we have steadfastly pursued a policy of not advocating, encouraging or assisting any other country in developing weapons of mass destruction and made our contribution with concrete deeds to the international non-proliferation process.”

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Monika Chansoria

Senior Fellow and Head of China-study Programme, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi

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