The Outliers And The Nuclear Bayonets The World Is Sitting On

Human Wrongs Watch | InDepthNews

By Jayantha Dhanapala*

‘Napoleon is said to have remarked: “Bayonets are wonderful! One can do anything with them except sit on them!”. Today’s bayonets are nuclear weapons; and we are actually sitting on them.’

WASHINGTON D.C. — One definition of an outlier, in the original field of statistics from where the term has come, is “one that appears to deviate markedly from other members of the sample in which it occurs.”

Jayantha Dhanapala

Thus, in a world where the global norm is membership of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), nuclear weapon armed states outside the NPT have been referred to as the outliers.

Some would argue that all nuclear weapon armed states are outliers. The use of the term has an undeniably pejorative implication but in modern realpolitik, where national interest and state sovereignty reign supreme, no value judgments holds way.

The NPT was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. Over its 41-year history it has gathered 5 nuclear weapon states (NWS) and 184 non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) as members pledged to abide by the three pillars of the treaty – nonproliferation, disarmament and the verifiable peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

In addition to the acknowledged five NWS within the NPT there are four others outside including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – the subject of six-nation talks aimed at getting that country back into the NPT as a NNWS.

The three countries with nuclear weapons, which have a distinct outlier status, are:

Israel – which does not declare itself to be a NWS;

India – which has been given de facto recognition through the controversial Indo-U.S. nuclear co-operation agreement and is applying to become a member of the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) with U.S. support; and

Pakistan – whose growing nuclear arsenal has been the subject of international concerns because of the notorious A.Q.Khan network for the proliferation of nuclear material and knowhow and the safe custody of its nuclear weapon arsenal amidst unstable political conditions.

The acquisition of nuclear weapon expertise and materials in every outlier case has invariably been helped, wittingly or unwittingly, by an established NWS among others. The three states are estimated to have between 250-400 nuclear warheads among them. The world seems to have abandoned hopes that they will voluntarily give up their nuclear weapons unless there is going to be the total elimination of nuclear weapons globally with a verifiable Nuclear Weapons Convention.

The implications of this tacit acceptance of the outliers for global and regional security are portentous. And yet with each of them enjoying good relations with at least one of the five NWS in the NPT, who also happen to be permanent members of the UN Security Council, their nuclear weapon arsenals have, by and large, escaped unequivocal criticism let alone condemnation.


Israel has long maintained a policy of nuclear ambiguity neither confirming nor denying its nuclear weapon possession. Some leaks have been hastily plugged and whistle-blowers like Mordechai Vanunu have been effectively silenced. The origins of the Israeli nuclear programme go back to the late 1950s and by 1970 it is reported to have crossed the nuclear threshold. France has been identified as the source of Israeli nuclear expertise and material in the early stages. By the 1980s Israel was seen as having a mature nuclear weapon programme centred around Dimona.

SIPRI estimates that Israel has 80 nuclear warheads but others have given higher estimates of between 100 to 300 deliverable through its Jericho missiles and Falcon aircraft. It is also estimated that Israel has 650 kg of military plutonium – the equivalent of about 130 nuclear warheads.

Rumours of Israel developing tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear capable sea-launched cruise missiles have not been substantiated. No doctrine on the possible use of nuclear weapons has been announced but their deterrent value has not prevented Arab-Israeli wars and persistent attacks across Israeli-held territory.

As the sixth state in the world to acquire nuclear weapons, and the very first in the Middle East, nuclear devices were never overtly tested unlike in the cases of India, Pakistan and DPRK. The Vela Incident or the South Atlantic Flash on September 22, 1979 has been identified as a test in which Israel and South Africa colluded but details have never emerged.

With a policy of nuclear opacity Israel did not sign the NPT and, unlike with other non-NPT signatories, it was not pressured to do so by the U.S. Since states, which had exploded nuclear devices before January 1, 1967 qualified to join the NPT as NWS, there is no realistic possibility of Israel joining the NPT except as a NNWS.

Israel has signed, but not ratified, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is one of the 44 countries whose ratification is required for the treaty to enter into force. It is also a member of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament with its partially fulfilled mandate as the sole multilateral negotiating forum to produce treaties on nuclear issues such as a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT).

Being the only state in the Middle East outside the NPT, Israel has been strongly criticized in multilateral forums like the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) First Committee and the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) with annual resolutions being adopted with overwhelming majorities calling on Israel to join the NPT.

A resolution calling for a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East has been adopted repeatedly without a vote. Further pressure has been added with a resolution calling for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ).

A key element in the package that was adopted without a vote at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) was a Resolution on the Middle East calling, inter alia, for a MEWMDFZ. Arab countries and others have used the failure to implement this resolution as leverage in subsequent NPT Review Conferences and the collapse of the 2005 NPT Review Conference was attributed to this.

In the 2010 Review Conference a redoubled diplomatic effort by the Egyptian-led Arab and Non-aligned group led to a consensus Final Document being adopted which called for a 2012 Conference on creating the MEWMDFZ. Slow progress in the preparations for this is likely to aggravate Arab hostility despite the distractions of the Arab Spring and the war in Libya.


For many India’s acquisition of the most destructive weapon invented is a strange contradiction of the philosophy of non-violence, famously advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, and India’s moral posturing in world affairs. At the time of Independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru placed India firmly on the path to modernization through the development of science and technology including the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

However, others in the leadership harboured ambitions of acquiring nuclear weapons for prestige and global power status while Nehru preached nuclear disarmament and a ban on nuclear testing. Thus India resisted all pressures to join the NPT carrying on a strident campaign against its discriminatory aspect. That did not prevent India from subsequently joining the equally discriminatory two-tiered Antarctic Treaty in the top tier.

In 1974 India, under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, conducted a nuclear test which was falsely described as “peaceful” but has subsequently been acknowledged as a nuclear weapon test. The alarms that the test caused were fuelled by suspicions about India’s nuclear ambitions and the fact that Canadian nuclear supplies for peaceful purposes had been diverted for this.

While Indian nuclear ambitions were further evidenced by its strong and solitary opposition to the 1996 CTBT, it led to a similarly clandestine programme in Pakistan. In 1998 India conducted five underground tests of nuclear devices and declared itself a nuclear weapon state amidst domestic jubilation citing a threat from China.

The immediate reaction of Pakistan was to follow suit and the world was suddenly faced with two more NWS outside the NPT making the goal of a nuclear weapon-free world even more distant. The strong condemnation of the UN Security Council by Resolution 1172 at the time is a strange contrast to U.S.-driven global indulgence and active encouragement of India’s nuclear weapon possession today.

India is estimated to have 80-100 nuclear weapons. A domestic debate goes on among Indian scientists as to whether more tests are needed although an Indian Prime Minister has pledged that India would not stand in the way of the entry into force of the CTBT.

Indian nuclear weapons can be delivered through its Mirage and Jaguar aircraft as well as through land and sea based missiles. India maintains a nuclear doctrine of ‘no first use’ and of having a ‘credible minimum deterrence’. That and the fact that India’s nuclear weapons are firmly under civilian control in a functioning democracy with a credible non-proliferation record has alleviated some of the concerns over an escalation of a conflict between India and Pakistan into a nuclear war.

The 2005 India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Co-operation Initiative was highly controversial and widely seen as a violation of the NPT. It was subsequently approved by the NSG with the use of heavy U.S. diplomatic pressure but the advantages for the U.S. nuclear industry through sales to India have yet to materialize.


It is widely conceded that Pakistan would not have acquired nuclear weapons if India did not. It is the equalizing weapon to counter a perceived conventional weapon imbalance. Thus Pakistan’s rationale for nuclear deterrence is India-specific especially after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led Pakistan.

The 1974 Indian test accelerated the programme. It will require India to eliminate its nuclear arsenal if Pakistan is to do so. In the case of India however, it will be necessary for there to be global disarmament. From a period of non-weaponized deterrence Pakistan, with its tests in 1998, converted to a status of an overt nuclear weapon possessor. It is widely suspected that China provided assistance to Pakistan in developing nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is estimated to have 90-110 nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium (HEU) but recent reports indicate a growing plutonium based arsenal probably larger than India’s and an increased production of plutonium as fissile material. The delivery systems are both aircraft and missiles.

The perception of inferiority in fissile material stockpiles vis-à-vis India has led to an inflexible Pakistan stance in the CD (UN Conference on Disarmament) on the issue of negotiating a FMCT. The Indo-U.S. nuclear co-operation deal has also had adverse repercussions. Chinese firms intend to build two new 340-megawatt light-water reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma Nuclear Power Plant. Ironically, this has elicited protests from the U.S.

The activities of the A.Q.Khan network and doubts over the safe custody of Pakistani nuclear weapons in a country fraught with terrorist problems and weak Governmental controls has made Pakistan a key proliferation concern.

The discovery that Osama Bin Laden had been in Pakistan, either unknown to the Pakistan authorities or with their connivance, can only enhance concerns over the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

With a bilateral history of hostile relations many see South Asia as a likely theatre for a limited nuclear war citing the tensions of the “Brasstacks” exercise in 1986/7 and the Kargil conflict of 1999. However both sides have expressed confidence in their command and control structures and systems.

All nine nuclear armed states, whether within the NPT or outliers, present a threat to global security. Napoleon is said to have remarked: “Bayonets are wonderful! One can do anything with them except sit on them!”. Today’s bayonets are nuclear weapons; and we are actually sitting on them. The potential for their use by accident or design; by the states themselves or by terrorist groups within these states is too great for the people of the world to accept.

*Jayantha Dhanapala is President, Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs. He served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and as Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA in 1990s.

Published in agreement with IDN-InDepthNews –

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