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Fallout from U.S.-India nuclear deal begins: The China-Pakistan response May 27, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Tomorrow marks the conclusion of the month-long Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference.  Squarely in the middle of it, China announced a deal to supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed NPT non-signatory struggling to maintain its sovereignty and hosting modernity’s most effective proliferator, A.Q. Khan.  Hardly a peep has been heard from the U.S. in response to this egregious NPT violation.

The reason is simple.  On March 29th, the Obama Administration inked a nearly-identical deal with India, another nuclear-armed NPT non-signatory.  Choosing to forsake policy principals – very publicly advertised in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, the Nuclear Posture Review, and the Nuclear Security Summit – stripped the U.S. of any legitimacy needed to oppose the China-Pakistan deal.

Paradoxically, in this case two wrongs somewhat make a right.  The China-Pakistan deal is more than something the U.S. must tolerate.  In the context of our deal with India, it actually improves our strategic circumstances.

India and Pakistan built their nuclear arsenals with the other in mind and have walked right to the edge of nuclear war.  Each considers the other as a threat to its very existence and, as a consequence, Pakistan’s security sector fixates on its eastern border.  Lesser attention to Al Qaeda and Taliban resistance in Pakistan’s west is a direct opportunity cost.  Our deal with India compounded Pakistan’s sense of insecurity and thus distracted it further from our counterinsurgency priority.  China’s deal with Pakistan will restore the earlier equilibrium and refund our self-imposed opportunity costs in the counterinsurgency mission.

Even better would have been to remain true to our non-proliferation policy, table the deal with India, and resist the China-Pakistan arrangement with the legitimacy of the NPT review conference at our back.  Pakistan and India remain strategically balanced and Pakistan’s attention to Al Qaeda and the Taliban remains constant, but at a uniformly increased risk of nuclear proliferation and conflict.  The fact that costs in this arrangement are not as high as they could have been doesn’t change the fact that it is all cost and no benefit.  We have undermined our own national security.

Policies have costs.  Understanding the detailed, empirical budgetary costs is important.  Equally important are opportunity costs.  The opportunity cost of our deal with India has proven radioactive in the form of the China-Pakistan response – and the fallout still may not yet be over.



1. neel123 - May 27, 2010

@ Matthew Leatherman,

The US have helped Pakistan to acquire nukes, to strategically balance India.

After trmentiong India for more than three decades through all kinds of sanctions since India’s first nuke test in 1974, now the US have nuke deal with India….but to what end ?………to buy India’s loyalty… ?

Mr Leatherman, have you and your compatriots considered a scenario when 50 years from today, India is on China’s side to counter the declining and desperate US …. and Pakistan did an Iran on the US …….. ?

2. Maverick - June 1, 2010


I feel it may be unrealistic to attempt anything to block Sino-Pak nuclear cooperation. The cooperation goes back several decades and both actors in that relationship seem to act with a model that stresses seeking “forgiveness not permission” for acts contrary to the spirit of the NPT.

I really doubt that the US can coerce China into doing anything. The US economy is collapsing and Chinese leverage is too high. India for its part is powerless to stop this cooperation without risking a severe, catastrophic escalation.

Understanding of Pakistani nuclear escalatory impulses is poor, and it is unclear what Pakistani responses to any attempt to disrupt its cooperation with China will be. It would take the Pakistani Army very little effort to ensure that a Faisal Shahzad type character succeeds. It may even be true that if Pakistan Army does not actively disrupt terrorist activities, Faisal Shahzad types will succeed by default.

It may be best to simply admit that the NPT framework has been substantively changed by Sino-Pak cooperation and that a necessary evolution of the NPT framework is long overdue.

The basics of the NPT framework may still be valid to US national security formulation, but the vast sea of NPT theology may simply have to be dispensed with.

It may simply be time to stop worshiping false Gods in the NPT pantheon and recast the faith in more meaningful and relevant terms.

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