Andy GrottoSen. Clinton's Pakistan Nukes Proposal

It’s public knowledge that the United States has helped Pakistan secure its nuclear complex in the past, but Senator Clinton’s proposal at the Democratic debate on Sunday is by far the most ambitious yet. She said she would try to get Musharraf to share the security responsibility of the nuclear weapons with a delegation from the United States and perhaps Great Britain so that there is some failsafe.

I really like how bold this proposal is, and applaud Senator Clinton for thinking outside the box. But this proposal is a bit too far outside the box.

First, there is simply no way Pakistan would ever agree to it.

Second, it would complicate both U.S.-Indian relations and deterrence on the subcontinent. My eyes cross when I begin to think about the implications of an American/British failsafe in the context of a Pakistani-Indian nuclear standoff.

Third, it would violate the NPT. Article I of the NPT requires nuclear-weapon States like America to not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons. Under the NPT, Pakistan is a non-nuclear weapon State.

As our hero Jeffrey noted in a November 2007 entry, the United States refused PALs to Pakistan because of concerns about Article I. If transfer of PALs would violate the NPT, surely Senator Clinton’s proposal for a far more intimate, intrusive nuclear relationship involving some measure of active American and British command and control would as well.

Kudos to Senator Clinton for thinking big, but this proposal is misguided.


  1. Andy (History)

    A bit of lawyering on article 1 here – if the nukes already exist, is helping to secure them really a violation?

  2. Andy Grotto (History)

    Thanks for the comment, Andy. A bit of lawyering back atcha: the fact that Pakistan has nukes is irrelevant to an Article I analysis because Pakistan is a de jure non-nuclear weapon State under the NPT. The United States is under an obligation to treat it as such.

  3. J (History)

    I agree that there is no way Pakistan would ever agree to such a proposal, but if that concern and your Point #2 were to magically disappear, I would not let concerns with the legality of U.S. security assistance measures under the NPT stop such efforts from moving forward, especially if Pakistan continues to fragment. As many folks have said, the NPT is not a suicide pact. When the State Department made the legal analysis earlier this decade, things in Pakistan were not quite as dire as they may be today.

  4. Bruno Tertrais (History)

    1) There is no legal problem with Sen. Clinton’s proposal as such. She did not mention any sharing of sensitive technology (such as PALs, which might give information about warheads designs). Her proposal to “share the security responsibility of the nuclear weapons with a delegation from the United States and perhaps Great Britain” could very well translate into external physical security assistance; the nukes themselves could be treated as a “black box”. However, it is true that politically this is a complete non-starter for the Paks.

    2) Incidentally, on the legal dimension:

    a) I’m not sure that it is correct to refer to Pakistan as a “de jure non nuclear weapon State under the NPT”. Only nuclear weapon States are defined by the NPT.

    b) The Article 1 operative sentence that renders illegal some forms of assistance to a country like Pakistan is perhaps not be the one quoted by Andy G. but rather the previous one (“undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever… control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly”).

    3) Finally, could everyone please relax and take a deep breath? Nuclear security in Pakistan may be better than in the US Air Force. And despite its troubles, the country is not “fragmenting” contrary to what J. is suggesting.

  5. Brian Merrell (History)

    Perhaps a fourth: “responsibility” means not only the responsibility to pay (our usual role), but also issuing one hell of a mea culpa when someone gets one and uses it against us or our allies. And this does not necessarily mean a Pakistani nationalist bent on destroying India, but perhaps on the other side of the country — as in a resurgent Taliban or similar group.

  6. Andy Grotto (History)

    Bruno, thanks for writing.

    As a legal matter, the NPT makes no distinction between states party and non-states party. Article IX says simply that “For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967.” Pakistan is a non-nuclear weapon State under the NPT.

    On Article I, the right clause is the one I quoted. The main legal issue presented by helping Pakistan secure its nukes is whether such activities (to paraphrase) in any way assist Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. A really strict, formalistic reading of the NPT might prohibit any security assistance, insofar as it assists Pakistan’s nuclear program. I draw the line at assistance that makes Pakistan’s weapons more deployable, which would preclude PALs and related technologies or assistance. The devil is in the details of the cooperation, but Senator Clinton’s proposal to “share” security responsibilities with the Pakistani government, as opposed to “assist,” sounds far more ambitious to me then simply helping them secure their physical facilities.

    As for the clause you cite mentioning “control,” that is actually a reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. It reflects a 1967 compromise between the two superpowers, whereby the United States and NATO dropped its ambitious plans for a multilateral nuclear force (MLF) and the Soviet Union ended its opposition to existing nuclear-sharing arrangements in NATO, such as the stationing of nuclear weapons under American command and control on the soil of otherwise non-nuclear NATO allies.

  7. James (History)

    Bruno’s point about “transferring control” is the devil in the details: if the nuclear weapons are “needed,” the British/US caretakers would be called on to surrender control of the devices to the Pakistani commanders. Regardless of who made the weapons, the US would be violating its treaty obligations by turning them over to the Pakistani military at any time. Would the US/British team allow them to be used for a first strike? I think not.

    And that’s why all of this is foolishness. If they are only for deterrent/counterstrike purposes and the Pakistanis really were willing to surrender any power over the weapons to a foreign state (read: NEVER IN HELL) then why not simply destroy them and agree to retaliate on their behalf?

  8. Bruce Roth (History)

    First, consider that Senator Clinton qualified her comments with “if elected,” and perhaps they should be viewed as mere campaign rhetoric.

    Second, regardless of which Article(s) of the NPT may be relevant to Clinton’s comments, if the U.S. is genuinely interested in observing (and preserving) the NPT, it should start with Article VI.

  9. Steven Dolley (History)

    Aside from guards and guns, most physical security and safety technology for nuclear weapons that I know of is tightly integrated into the design of the weapon itself. Thus, US & UK would need access to Pakistan weapon designs (an absolute non-starter), and the security measures would actually become part of the weapon if implemented, making them an Article I violation by definition.

    But I’ve never had a security clearance, so there may be some really cool stuff I don’t know about…