Pakistan and India in the SCO: Regional Aspects of Nuclear Non-Proliferation

January 9, 2018

*The writer is a Chief Research Fellow, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Science (Political sciences) and can be reached at

*The writer is a Chief Research Fellow, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Science (Political sciences) and can be reached at

By Vladimir Petrovskiy

The regime of nuclear nonproliferation, unique in its universal and nature as well as its importance for international peace and security is the cornerstone of contemporary world order, a symbol of all (or nearly all) states to come to terms and cooperate for the sake of common survival.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the new stage of its development marked by the admission of new members (Pakistan and India) is facing new challenges in the sphere of nuclear nonproliferation. India and Pakistan that de facto possess nuclear weapons joined Russia and China, the “official” nuclear powers. The history of SCO has demonstrated that throughout ill existence it has been committed to enhancing strategic stability, strengthening the international regime of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and upholding order in international law. Today, the erosion of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the challenges the SCO is facing in this sphere demands a new strategy and new answers.

The SCO promoted the regional nonproliferation initiative, The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ) Treaty. This initiative is unique in many respects: it is the first non- proliferation zone in the Northern Hemisphere, in the landlocked region bordering on two nuclear powers – Russia and China; it is the first multisided agreement in the security sphere that brought together five Central Asian countries; it is the first multisided agreement in the nuclear sphere in the legion where one of the states (Kazakhstan) had nuclear weapons in its territory. The CANWFZ is the first treaty that obligated its members to conclude with the IAEA an agreement for the application of safeguards in accordance with the NPT.

Compliance with the international regimes of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction has become one of the main criteria of admittance of new members, together with their belonging to the SCO region, common borders with other SCO members, antiterrorist struggle and non-participation in military blocs, an absence of military bases and military contingents of third countries on their territories, diplomatic relationships with all SCO member-states, and observance of human rights – these criteria were exhaustively formulated in the Statute on the Order of Admission of New Members adopted by the Tashkent Summit of June 11, 2010.

Taking into consideration that strict observance of the principles of nuclear nonproliferation is one of the basic rules for the SCO member states, the fact that India and Pakistan have not joined the NPT complicated the discussion of their membership in the SCO as a full-fledged members. The situation was further complicated by the fact that India and Pakistan hold identical positions on the current nuclear nonproliferation regime: the NPT is an “unequal” treaty that consolidated the nuclear monopoly of a small group of “chosen” powers. The two countries are prepared to join the treaty only as internationally recognized nuclear powers.

The international community, however, cannot accept this; besides, Russia and China as the NPT depositaries have special responsibilities for the treaty’s strict observance and consolidation. According to Russian experts, if India and Pakistan are recognized as nuclear powers the NPT basic provisions will be devalued; the treaty and the entire nonproliferation regime based on it will be dead. The SCO has already learned that the attempts to persuade India and Pakistan to join the nonproliferation regime as non-nuclear states are fruitless. Compromises, however, are possible, which means that the SCO might find “the golden mean” in the talks with the two countries on their SCO membership: in an effort to finally acquire the official nuclear status, India and Pakistan might agree to limit their nuclear missile arsenals and slow down realization of some of their strategic programs.

They refuse to join the CTCT yet observe the bilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear tests. They do not participate in the talks on the FMCT (Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty) yet are developing national regimes of export control.

However, Delhi and Islamabad signed several agreements on confidence-building measures and that, therefore, further negotiations look promising. This process can be developed through defining a set of urgent measures intended to stabilize their relations so that to avoid a nuclear conflict. The two states could have ensured partial transparency of the nuclear forces (their structure and location up to and including a verifiable agreement on non-deployment of nuclear weapons in the border area). Mutual obligations riot to deploy nuclear weapons in the debatable territories might have reduced the risk of a nuclear conflict. The same goals can be achieved through mutual obligations to decrease the missiles’ operational readiness (that is, legalization of the current practices of storing warheads separate from missiles) and inform about changes of this status during military exercises.

In addition to the supported nuclear-weapon-free status initiative of Mongolia (one of the SCO observer states), there are other potentially useful initiatives, which Pakistan and India could also join. E.g., if the SCO Parliamentary Assembly is set up (the idea was put on the table in 2008 by the speaker of the parliament of Kyrgyzstan), it might start elaborating a Convention on Support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime based on the UN nuclear weapons model convention.

To conclude, having decided to admit India and Pakistan to the SCO, the SCO member states reconfirmed that all NPT provisions should be strictly observed, its aims and principles comprehensively balanced to further consolidate the nonproliferation regime and the process of nuclear disarmament in the conditions of equal and undivided security for all.

This means that Pakistan and India, as members of the SCO, will have to cope, in the short- and mid-term perspective, with a very complicated and non-trivial task of strengthening the nonproliferation regime at the regional level, within its responsibility zone.

In case of a success (which is not guaranteed yet not ruled out) the SCO will not only make an exceptionally important contribution to the strengthening of the regime of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons at the global level; it will upgrade its status as an important power able to maintain and support the world order and ensure peace and international security.

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