NEW DELHI: The existing unholy nexus among China, Turkey and Pakistan in the clandestine nuclear program is posing a serious threat to both regional and global security. What is required is that international institutions like the UN and IAEA take strong punitive measures against Beijing, Ankara and Islamabad for their illegal and clandestine activities in the nuclear weaponisation process.
Along with the Covid-19 crisis which is posing a threat to global security, another issue which is causing equal alarm and concerns in the global community is the nexus between Turkey and Pakistan, two rogue states in the field of nuclear weaponisation process. Along with these two, China and North Korea are also involved in the illicit transfer of nuclear technologies and aiding both Ankara and Islamabad. It may be recalled here that there is a blanket ban on the transfer of technology in the field of nuclear programs at the international level. At the same time, there are also strong punitive measures international nuclear regimes like International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have prescribed for any country which pursues such practices.
It may also be recalled here that role of Turkey (under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and Pakistan in promoting radicalism and providing sanctuary to terrorist groups is a well known fact. Both are indulging in such activities to promote their respective narrower geopolitical goals. Even China’s role in promoting international terrorism is now surfacing. So a natural question arises, how far are Turkey-Pakistan-China involved clandestinely in producing nuclear weapons which may pose a threat to global and regional security.
It should also be pointed out that Turkey being an ally of the West and because of its strategic location near to the border of the then Soviet Union, was under the ‘Nuclear Umbrella’ of NATO. The first deployment of nuclear weapon to deter the Warsaw Pact took place towards the end of 1960s. However, the growing spat between the US and Turkey over NATO’s role, Erdogan’s geopolitical ambitions in the West Asian region, along with its role in aiding and abetting terrorist groups is sending a strong signal to Washington and NATO to take away the ‘nuclear stockpiles’ which are located since the Cold War period at the ‘Incirlik Air Base’ as reported in the New York Times, in a report titled ‘Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast’.
Although what is sending alarm bells ringing for the global community is the desire on part of authoritarian Erdogan to acquire the same by employing dubious means. As reported in Reuters, an article titled ‘Erdogan says it’s unacceptable that Turkey can’t have nuclear weapons’ highlights the nefarious intent of Erdogan who stated “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But (they tell us) we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept.”
Analysts are perceiving Erdogan’s desire to become a new ‘Khalif’ of the Muslim nations is propelling him to acquire nuclear weapons. After moving out of the Western orbit, the Erdogan regime is trying to influence West Asian and Eurasian geopolitics. The Syrian war provided Erdogan with an opportunity to manipulate the geopolitics of the Arab world. The Erdogan regime thinks that nuclear weapons will provide an opportunity for Turkey to assume a preponderant role in the Islamic world. It is in this context that Turkey after becoming a pariah state under Erdogan started aligning with Pakistan, which is known for promoting global terrorism and is involved in clandestinely producing nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s quest for acquiring nuclear weapons is an intrigue mission marked with evil designs and is a perfect example of how clandestinely nuclear weapons are acquired by a nation. It may be underlined here that Pakistan’s role in promoting global terrorism is a well-known fact and possessing a nuclear weapon gives this rogue state traction to blackmail the global community. One may also recall here that China is one of the major allies of Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weapons along with North Korea. This ‘unholy nexus’ between China and Pakistan is contributing to a growing threat to both the regional and global security order.
As per the report of the SIPIRI Year Book 2020, Pakistan possesses ‘160 deployed warheads’. This makes the security situation grimmer for both South Asia and the global order. At the same time, jihadi extremists, terrorist groups and Army are taking an upper hand in Pakistan’s domestic politics. Along with China, North Korea has also played a vital role in propelling the uncontrolled and unregulated nuclear weapons program of Pakistan. The nexus between China and Pakistan was highlighted by various international non-proliferation bodies from time to time. As reported, China has constructed five nuclear units in Pakistan and the latest one is the Chasma nuclear power plant. The China National Nuclear Corporation has also been been actively involved in the clandestine nuclear weapon program of Pakistan, despite knowing the fact that the IAEA has time and again raised its apprehensions over Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program.
The clandestine nexus between China and Pakistan was caught red handed when in February 2020, Indian Navy intercepted a ship going to Pakistan and arriving from China with hardware believed to be used for nuclear industries as was widely reported in the Press. To substantiate the point further, in 2001 United States’ Office of the Secretary of Defense published a Report titled ‘Proliferation: Threat and Response’ where the nuclear nexus between Beijing and Islamabad was highlighted more succinctly. The report adds how China supported Pakistan’s nuclear- related activities like ‘plutonium enrichment’, ‘missile production efforts’ and ‘Enhanced Pakistan’s missile capabilities’ (p. 18). The same report also castigated Pakistan and noted that it “could sell the missiles to other states of concern”(p.13). It may be noted that the apprehensions showed by the United States office of the Secretary of Defense proves to be correct as the highly controversial nuclear scientist A Q Khan who was himself involved in many such clandestine nuclear activities for Pakistan admitted the same while giving an interview to Pakistani newspaper ‘The News’ on September 12, 2012 . Khan stated that “the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto summoned me (A Q Khan) and named the two countries which were to be assisted and issued clear directions in this regard.” This shows the nefarious intent of Pakistan’s nuclear sector and its official establishment which to a great extent is jeopardising the security and stability of South Asia in particular and Asia in general.
On the other hand, China which started demonstrating its nuclear capabilities at the beginning of 1960s is now considered as a formidable nuclear weapon power posing a major security challenge to the Indo-Pacific region along with Asia’s security. As has been observed by US Office of the Secretary of Defense in its annual report to the Congress, ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020’, “PLA to develop the capability to project power outside China’s borders and immediate periphery to secure the PRC’s growing overseas interests and advance its foreign policy goals.” A recent joint article published by the prestigious journal, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, authored by Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda titled ‘Nuclear notebook: Chinese nuclear forces’ in December 2020 also gives a glaring picture about Chinese nuclear industry. The article states that: “China has produced a stockpile of approximately 350 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 272 are for delivery by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles, and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers. The remaining 78 warheads are intended to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are in the process of being fielded”.
The above study clearly demonstrates Chinese intent and more or less confirms the US Department of Defense Report which adds that China is modernising its defence force just to achieve its grand imperial objectives rooted in its ancient strategic culture of “Middle Kingdom Complex”. However, what is more worrisome is China’s role in the illegal proliferation of both nuclear technology along with weapons, causing global concerns. China’s role in promoting nuclear weapon capabilities of its client state Pakistan is well documented and a few aspects have even been discussed above. China is also a major backer to nuclear armed North Korea, and Libya during late Col. Gaddafi’s time, as reports suggest.
A closer analysis of the conduct of three countries (China, Pakistan and Turkey) discussed above reflects four basic points that bring a sense of symmetry in their strategic behaviour. These are:
- a) Clamour to acquire nuclear weapons bypassing existing international laws and treaties.
- b) Threat to use nuclear weapons to boost their bargaining capability in the domain of international politics.
- c) The political system of all the three countries are marked by growing authoritarianism and Beijing, Ankara and Islamabad are also involved in threatening peace and security of neighbouring countries.
- d) All the three countries are directly or indirectly involved in a nexus to boost their nuclear capabilities and China is acting as a major patron to both Pakistan and Turkey for supplying nuclear technologies.
Though Turkey strongly pursues its nuclear program citing the need for energy, its real intention is to acquire nuclear weapons which can enhance its bargaining capability in both the Islamic world and the European Union where it has consistently failed to get admission. The NATO bloc has also dumped Turkey in recent years. Similarly, its relations with Russia are also not cordial. It is in this context, to beef up his image, Erdogan has resorted to acquiring nuclear weapons. Similar is the case of both Pakistan and China. In this regard, both Beijing and Islamabad are resorting to nuclear blackmail bargain strategy to achieve their nefarious strategic goals in Asia, Eurasia and, the Indo-Pacific.
Both China and Pakistan are also operating in tandem to promote Turkey’s quest for nuclear weapons. As reported in the Chinese official newspaper, People’s Daily, China is involved in the construction of “four nuclear reactors”. It may be underlined here that looking at both the Chinese and Turkish conduct over the years in the international arena it is appearing that there is something more to the projected civilian nuclear cooperation. It may also be recalled here that both China and Turkey entered into an air defense cooperation in 2013 and in 2016, both countries signed ‘Sino-Turkish Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’. The nexus among China, Turkey and North Korea in promoting nuclear weapon has also been highlighted by a recent report published by the German government in June 2020.
It may be noted that Turkey’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapon are not confined to China alone. Over the years, number of news reports have stated clearly that there is growing rapprochement between these two countries in the sphere of the nuclear weaponisation program. Both Ankara and Islamabad in recent years are also trying to build a new kind of alliance by playing the religious card. This is despite the fact that both of them are being blacklisted by West Asian countries for their nefarious activities. It can be underlined that both Turkey and Pakistan are trying to form a new kind of ‘rogue alliance’.
Pakistan and Turkey’s nuclear cooperation can be considered in the light of the overall defense cooperation between the two countries which is going on in full swing in the recent years. During the recent visit of Turkish Foreign Minister in January 2021, both countries signed the ’71 point road map’ which includes ‘defense cooperation’. The covert and overt role of Turkey and Pakistan in promoting a global nexus in the proliferation of nuclear weapon can be evident from a report prepared by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein titled “Uncovering the Nuclear Black Market: Working Toward Closing Gaps in the International Non Proliferation Regime”, prepared for Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (INMM) 45th Annual Meeting. The report adds that the so-called Khan network used Turkey as a base for exporting nuclear technologies. The notorious AQ Khan network, the report adds, started “Workshops in Turkey made the centrifuge motor …. These workshops imported subcomponents from Europe and elsewhere, and they assembled these centrifuge items in Turkey. Under false end-user certificates, these components were shipped to Dubai for repackaging and shipment to Libya.”. One may add here this illegal activity of AQ Khan in carrying out nuclear trade cannot be carried out without the active connivance of Turkish authorities.
As reported widely in media, prior to the Foreign Minister of Turkey’s visit to Pakistan, “15th round of Pakistan-Turkey High-Level Military Dialogue Group” took place in the month of December 2020. As reported in the newspapers, during the meeting both sides agreed to further the defense cooperation. There are a number of instances through which one can infer that an illegal nuclear deal is going on between both sides. Analysts are arguing that the authoritarian Erdogan regime is wooing Pakistan in the form of religious identity to get nuclear weapons.
What are the geopolitical consequences of the emerging unholy nuclear axis which is currently taking place among China, Pakistan and Turkey? In this regard, it may be recalled here that there are four major trajectories emerging from such nexus. These are:
- If Turkey acquires nuclear weapons, it may alter the existing status-quo geopolitics of both West Asia and Eurasia. This is because, Turkey although is currently maintaining friendly relations with Iran but in the long run, the former will threaten the latter. This is because of past uneasy relations between the two, as historically both Ottoman and Persian empires were rivals. Similarly, Turkey is going to pose a major challenge to the Arab world who are traditionally hostile to Ankara’s move. In Eurasia as well, Russia and Central Asian countries are also going to face a major security threat if Turkey acquires nuclear weapon clandestinely from China and Pakistan.
- In future, the relations between Russia and China will be soured because of increasing clandestine Chinese collaboration with Turkey in the field of nuclear weapons. This is because both Ankara and Moscow’s relations are at their lowest in recent years.
- European countries are also raising a lot of apprehensions over Turkey’s obsession for nuclear weapons, as Ankara might use it against them.
- The China-Pakistan-Turkey nuclear nexus is going to have a deeper repercussion on the security of both the Indo-Pacific region along with South Asia. Already another rogue state North Korea is posing a similar threat.
How does India look at these developments in the context of a nexus among China, Pakistan and Turkey? Over the years, both China and Pakistan along with Turkey under Erdogan are posing a strong threat to India’s security. It is in this context India should beef up its own nuclear defense capability to ensure a creditable nuclear deterrence against China, Turkey and Pakistan. At the same time India being a “responsible nuclear power” should also mobilise strong international public opinion through the UN and IAEA to checkmate illegal proliferation of nuclear weapons.
To sum up, one may add here that the unholy nexus among Turkey, China and Pakistan is real and poses a strong challenge to global security. The international community along with the existing nuclear regulatory regimes should take strong measures to checkmate this alliance of Beijing, Islamabad and Ankara. As China is being castigated by the international community for its involvement in the Covid-19 pandemic, a similar stand should be taken by the global community by putting China, Pakistan and Turkey under international sanctions.
The writer teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com