Pakistan outlines scope for FM(C)T intended to establish parity with India

On June 4 and 5 2014, at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, Ambassador Zamir Akram declared that Pakistan would continue to block the start of negotiations for a possible Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty because of its concerns over the expected scope of such a treaty and provided new details about the kind of FM(C)T that Pakistan seeks.

Pakistan in recent years has been blocking the start of talks on an FM(C)T by withholding support for the annual agenda of work required by the CD for negotiations to proceed -- the CD operates on the principle of consensus among its 65 member countries. A December 1993 consensus resolution of the United Nations General Assembly charged the CD to negotiate a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." Despite reaching agreement in 1995 on a negotiating mandate (known as the Shannon Mandate after Canadian Ambassador Gerald Shannon), talks have failed to start.

Speaking on 4 June, Ambassador Zamir Akram reiterated the basis for Pakistan's long standing opposition to FM(C)T talks, citing concerns that India has accumulated a larger total fissile material stockpile than Pakistan, and the decision by the United States and other key countries, including those of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), to waive three-decade old nuclear trade sanctions on India but to leave them in place for Pakistan. Ambassador Akram said: "We are opposed to negotiating a treaty that only aims at a cut-off in future production of fissile material, without addressing existing stockpiles. This is because of the asymmetry of stocks in our region that has been compounded by the discriminatory civil nuclear cooperation agreements and NSG waivers. In such a situation, an FMCT would freeze the discriminatory status quo and confront Pakistan's security with a permanent disadvantage."

Pakistan is concerned in particular about India's estimated 5 tons of unsafeguarded plutonium separated from power reactor fuel and its large stock of power reactor spent nuclear fuel awaiting reprocessing. IPFM estimates that India's stockpile of separated plutonium for weapons is about 0.57 tons while Pakistan has about 0.17 tons of plutonium for weapons. Pakistan's rate of production of plutonium is increasing, however, with its third plutonium production reaction having started operation in 2013 and construction underway on a fourth reactor.

India also is estimated to have about 2.7 tons of HEU enriched to about 30% for use as naval reactor fuel. Pakistan is estimated to have 3.1 tons of HEU enriched to weapon-grade, for use in weapons.

On 5 June, Ambassador Akram said Pakistan would continue to block negotiations at the CD unless the issue of existing stockpiles was addressed, stating that "Unless the existing stocks are explicitly included in the mandate for treaty negotiations, Pakistan would not be able join consensus on the commencement of negotiations... the issue of stocks... needs to be made explicit in the negotiation mandate upfront without any ambiguity."

Explaining Pakistan's view on what existing fissile material stockpiles should be covered by an FM(C)T, Ambassador Akram said that only "fissile material present in deployed nuclear warheads or warhead components in storage" should remain outside safeguards, with all other fissile material stocks having to be placed under safeguards to assure they are not diverted to nuclear weapons use.

Pakistan proposed the FM(C)T should put under safeguards:

  • fissile material that has not been weaponized as yet, but set aside either for new warheads or for the replacement and refurbishment of existing warheads,

  • irradiated fuel and reactor-grade separated plutonium produced from any unsafeguarded reactor - military or otherwise,

  • fissile material from retired warheads or those in the dismantlement queue, including such material already in waste disposal sites,

  • fissile material declared excess for military purposes,

  • fissile material for non-proscribed military activities like naval propulsion etc.,

  • fissile material designated for civil purposes.

Safeguards on the first category of material would leave weapon states with no reserve or working stock of fissile material for weapon purposes and thus would freeze nuclear arsenals. Safeguards on the second category are clearly intended to capture India's stockpile of unsafeguarded spent fuel and separated plutonium for its nuclear power reactors. Given that independent estimates of nuclear arsenal sizes (such as those by the Federation of Atomic Scientists) assign Pakistan and India comparable numbers of nuclear weapons (100-120 and 90-110 respectively as of 2014), this proposal would serve in effect to give Pakistan the parity it seeks with India. Taken together these proposals suggest Pakistan may intend to keep all its fissile material stockpile in the form of components in deployed warheads or as stored warhead components.

Recognizing that other nuclear weapon states may want to keep working stocks of fissile materials for weapon programs and be unwilling to place these stockpiles under safeguards, Pakistan proposes as a fall back that these stockpiles be reduced to "the lowest possible levels necessary for the safe maintenance of nuclear arsenals through mutual and balanced reductions on a regional or global basis."

Pakistan's proposal to include under the FM(C)T material from retired warheads, those awaiting dismantlement, and fissile material for naval propulsion, would require extending inspections into nuclear warhead dismantlement facilities and military naval fuel cycle facilities and naval bases. Proposals for how this might be done can be found in Global Fissile Material Report 2008: Scope and Verification of a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty.