Book Title: The Security Imperative: Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrence and Diplomacy

Author: Zamir Akram

ISBN: 9789692109178

Publisher: Paramount Books

Year: 2023

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

In his seminal 1996 article titled “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb,” ace U.S. scholar Scott Sagan introduces readers to three fundamental causes of nuclear proliferation. The first in the three- model set happens to be what he calls the security model, according to which states go nuclear if they are threatened by a nuclear-armed adversary. In other words, to Sagan, nuclear threats by an enemy are directly proportional to the prospect of the threatened state going nuclear. Here, it is important to note that Sagan does not deny the usefulness of nuclear weapons when it comes to deterring conventional aggression. Therefore, scholars looking at nuclear proliferation are mindful of how nuclear deterrents are seen as security-maximizers. This line of thinking gets traction because of the colossal destructive capacity associated with nuclear weapons. And, among other things, this point is used by deterrence optimists to not only build a solid case for acquiring and retaining nuclear weapons but also resisting disarmament.

For those that deal with proliferation and nonproliferation issues, it is noteworthy, however, that Sagan’s argument is not merely an academic one. If anything, the linkage between augmenting security and going nuclear can be drawn by looking at the history of nuclear proliferation. The clearest causal relationship can be observed in the case of Pakistan. Bruised by India’s decisive role in its dismemberment, Pakistan refused to resort to bandwagoning while committing to buttressing its security through a nuclear deterrent of its own. Once the country’s policymakers decided to take the nuclear course, there was no turning back. All bottlenecks were circumvented and navigated, with a view to ensuring that India does not aggresse in a manner it did in 1971. This nuclear excursion has been variously analyzed by many a scholar and practitioner, with each adding something substantial and, at times, very controversial to the growing body of works on the subject. However, not many practitioners have written authoritative accounts on the country’s nuclear weapons program and the diplomacy that was conducted to sustain and protect it. Amb. Zamir Akram, a consummate Pakistani nuclear negotiator and diplomat has tried to fill this vacuum. In his recently-published, voluminous memoir “The Security Imperative: Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrence and Diplomacy,” Amb. Akram narrates a firsthand account of the events that shaped, and continue to shape, Pakistan’s nuclear story. As a longtime Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and other International Organizations in Geneva, and, by extension, to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Amb. Akram dovetails his insights with sharp analyses on regional and global issues to convincingly argue that Pakistan’s complicated security complex has driven its quest for building and maintaining a credible deterrent.

While Sagan’s framing is a product of parsimony, Amb. Akram’s account looks at Pakistan’s security through a much bigger lens. For Amb. Akram, Pakistan’s security imperative is a function of not only the country’s history and geography but also that of the “legacy of disputes and hostility with India since independence.” Explaining Pakistan’s security sensibilities and predicaments through the prisms of geography and history is a good way to help readers understand how daunting the country’s perennial security challenge has been. Such an approach also helps contextualize the value Pakistan continues to attach to its nuclear deterrent. Speaking to the urgent need for Pakistan to deal with serious, existential threats, Amb. Akram recounts how the country tried to elicit external support, and, upon getting nothing, it “was compelled to develop an indigenous matching nuclear weapons capability to ensure credible and reliable deterrence.” Shedding light on Pakistan’s initial policy responses to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Amb. Akram writes how the country was ready to support the Treaty if it were provided security guarantees against what it called the sixth nuclear power problem. These insights speak to how earnestly Pakistan tried to look for non-nuclear options to deal with its paramount security issues. If anything, one could argue that the acquisition of the weapon of last resort was the last choice Pakistan had on the table.

Amb. Akram rightly dives deeper in discussing the implications of India’s 1974 nuclear test and the international community’s somewhat muted response to that. This is primarily because that was the point at which Pakistan decided that it is on its own. Arguing about the effects of lackluster condemnation of India on part of the international community, Amb. Akram writes that “it also proved to be an additional factor in strengthening Pakistan’s determination to pursue its own nuclear weapons programme.” This piece of nuclear history is an important one not only for those who look at Pakistan’s nuclear program but also those who are perturbed about a plethora of issues that the nonproliferation regime faces today. For example, Amb. Akram cogently speaks to the role the absence of security guarantees played in pushing towards the nuclear option. Fast-forward to 2023, State Parties to the NPT are again trying to implore the nuclear haves to commit to legally-binding negative security assurances. Their continued refusal to do so, as this book suggests, may further dent the Treaty and the regime.

Another worrisome point in relation to the nonproliferation regime that Amb. Akram’s book brings to light is how geopolitical interests prevail over the nonproliferation ones. By sharing his own insights and engaging with works of nuclear historians like Rabia Akhtar, Amb. Akram weaves a story of how dexterously Pakistan used the strategic space that the Soviet invasion created for Pakistan. The author adroitly engages readers, telling how an all-hands-on-deck approach helped Pakistan negotiate better, and that too against all the odds. All this, one must stress, highlights how sovereignty concerns compel leaders to remain committed to taking difficult strategic decisions like the ones Pakistani officials took.

Further, the broader lens that Amb. Akram uses to map Pakistan’s threat perceptions greatly helps rationalize the country’s positions on the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material (Cut-off) Treaty (FMCT). They are, as the book befittingly argues, grounded in Pakistan’s security imperative, one that also directs the country’s nuclear-related developments.

In sum, Amb. Akram’s book is a compelling read, not least because it gets to the heart of Pakistan’s nuclear story: achieving and maintaining deterrence through defiant, deft diplomacy. Therefore, the book is a must-read for prospective nuclear scholars interested in working on Pakistan. Also, the book will be a useful one for those wanting to dabble in new theoretical dimensions of nuclear proliferation. Moreover, the author’s brilliant narration of Pakistan’s consistency in maintaining all aspects of its highly prized nuclear deterrent, among other things, could help scholars think about the inherent difficulties associated with nuclear reversal. The set of questions that might follow from all this will help reorient the debate on nuclear disarmament.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is Deputy Director, Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research.