Source: BASIC

Ali Mustafa

The BASIC-ICCS Nuclear Responsibilities Approach and Toolkit provides a new way to tackle the challenges posed by nuclear weapons in the modern era. It offers a transformative solution that transcends the traditional adversarial perspective: ‘we are a responsible country, our adversary is not’. Since September 2021, I have participated in various activities that explore nuclear responsibilities as a participant, and as a moderator. My experiences include participating in ‘familiarisation’ and ‘collective introspection’ sessions with other Pakistani nuclear policy experts, as well as participating in a ‘multi-stakeholder dialogue’ with participants from India, Australia, the UK, and ASEAN countries. I can safely say that the majority of Pakistani and international participants that I have interacted with have had a positive view of the Nuclear Responsibilities Approach.

One of the stronger features of the Nuclear Responsibilities Approach, as opposed to other frameworks, is its intention to ask how an actor sees its own nuclear responsibilities towards other actors, rather than informing or imposing a viewpoint on what responsible behaviour ought to be. In a post-colonial state like Pakistan, where the colonial hangover endures, the problem of ‘others’ telling us what to do is a particularly acute one. As a young nuclear possessor state, Pakistan has jealously guarded what it perceives as its national interest, therefore this inward-looking focus on responsibilities should be welcomed.

Another strength of the dialogue process set out in the Nuclear Responsibilities Toolkit is its ability to grapple with complexity emanating from the strata of actors, and not just focus narrowly on state actors. For example, the Toolkit welcomes input on what nuclear responsibilities mean for the citizens, journalists, academics, teachers, etc. alongside the conventional input of policymakers and government officials. In a globalised era where solving deeply entrenched and multifaceted issues requires transcending state-centric views alone, the Toolkit broadens the discussion on the topics of responsible nuclear behaviour which is often insular, only taking into account nuclear experts and policy wonks in Pakistan.

Another objective of the Nuclear Responsibilities Toolkit is to incorporate how states perceive their responsibilities in terms of nuclear weapons themselves. All states have communicated their sense of responsibility expressly or implicitly through policy documents, leadership statements, and diplomatic forums and Pakistan is no different in this regard. Pakistan’s policy-makers strongly believe that their behaviour regarding the country’s nuclear weapons policy and the management of its civilian nuclear energy program has been responsible. In numerous discussions and simulation exercises, an overwhelming number of Pakistani participants shared the view that the responsibility of the State of Pakistan to protect its territoriality, sovereignty, autonomy and its citizens is a foremost one. Thus, Pakistan’s nuclear policy of minimum credible deterrence is a sign of its set of nuclear responsibilities. 

The Toolkit is in many ways transformative as it navigates actors to brainstorm novel ways to look at what nuclear responsibilities ought to be, which may surpass the state-centric lens. In one of the ‘collective introspection’ exercises, the participants underscored the need to look into the state of Pakistan’s nuclear responsibility to protect disparate citizens including the poor, women and transgenders. Similarly, some opined that the government owes a normative and moral responsibility not only to protect humans but also the flora and fauna that reside on planet earth. Therefore, this responsibility requires the safety and security of nuclear and radiological materials, weapons and technologies in its territory, which Pakistan is carrying out already. 

Also, new ideas on nuclear responsibilities do not necessarily have to change the nuclear deterrence strategy and policies of Pakistan. For example, in a few of our discussions, the role of Pakistani political leaders’ use of responsible nuclear language, especially during periods of heightened tensions and crisis with India, was discussed. It was felt that further training and sensitisation of the political cadre on issues of nuclear weapons will add an element of nuclear responsibility, this may strengthen crisis signalling without leading to misunderstandings that may result in the accidental escalation of the crisis. 

However, an important issue to counter the naysayers is to look into what the Nuclear Responsibilities Toolkit does not do. It does not tell its users what to think or what policy positions to take. To elaborate, an initial apprehension felt by some participants was that this approach might be an attempt to brand old wine in new bottle (i.e. push nonproliferation and disarmament ideas on Pakistan) t, which ‘they’ (read westerners), consider responsible, thereby pushing Pakistanis to ‘do more’. There are reasonable perceptions of such feelings. Many Pakistanis working in the area of nuclear politics and international security have felt that the international think tanks’ (especially American and British) engagement with Pakistan over the last couple of decades has been heavily influenced by the geopolitical necessity of India in the region. As a result, there is a perception that Indian ‘irresponsible’ nuclear and political behaviour has been given a clean chit, while Pakistan has been pushed to do more. While debating the merits and demerits of such a perception is superfluous, the resulting suspicions would need constant engagement to taper off. Also, the Nuclear Responsibilities Programme at BASIC has regularly engaged with India to ‘do more’ if anything, for the purpose of opening up space for meaningful dialogue to explore issues on shared nuclear responsibilities. However, as mentioned earlier, the Nuclear Responsibilities Approach and Toolkit do not in any way attempt to impose an external viewpoint on what responsible behaviour is, or should be.

Finally, a limitation of the Nuclear Responsibilities Toolkit needs to be highlighted. The Toolkit recognises the need to involve state officials at the Track 1 and 1.5 levels at the ‘multi-stakeholder’ dialogue process. There can be as many Track Two’s outside Pakistan, as well as ‘collective introspection’ exercises inside Pakistan, but they may not have the desired effects. A meaningful change is only possible when personnel and institutions at the helm of affairs are involved stakeholders. As custodians of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and as its policy advisors and implementers, there is a need to engage with government officials in managing nuclear responsibilities in Pakistan.

From the government’s side, there may be reluctance. Critical arguments can be made that there is no need to engage with foreign think-tanks and NGOs. However, the counter-arguments are particularly cogent. Firstly, intellectual discussions on the nuclear responsibilities of Pakistan will continue within academic and think-tank circles and it is better for policy-makers to be a part of these inclusive discussions as key stakeholders, which affords opportunities to shape perspectives, rather than sit outside. Secondly, the world has transformed. The role of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in bringing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and subsequent award of the Nobel Peace Prize, shows the immense influence civil society, NGOs, and think tanks can have in international politics. Lastly, Pakistan has shown, time and again, responsible nuclear behaviour in terms of its nuclear diplomacy, posture, command and control, safety & security and export controls. It is best to engage, promote and discuss.

This article is also published on the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) website.

Ali Mustafa is a former Lecturer at the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University Islamabad.