China-Pakistan Nuclear Deal

I mentioned the other day that while China had turned down Pakistan’s request for a loan, it had agreed to sell it two nuclear reactors. Given Pakistan’s non-NPT status, you might be wondering how China can do that without approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. James Acton at Arms Control Wonk explains that it can’t, but that it really doesn’t matter:

But, realistically, all the NSG has at itsdisposal to enforce its rules is the restraint of its member states. IfChina does sell the plants to Pakistan what’s the NSG going to do? Write China a very strongly worded letter? Expel it? Because that’d be really effective.

Acton traces the decision back to the U.S.-India deal, which many observers argued would set a precedent despite the Bush administration’s insistence that it was a one-off. That might be so, but there’s something to be said for the fact that the U.S. and India stood the deal up before the IAEA and the NSG. The international community had its say on the matter and okayed it, an outcome that was far from guaranteed from the outset.

Pakistan and China have their arguments for thinking their deal is grandfathered, but it says a lot that they’re not willing to take the political risk of submitting them to the NSG. It’s both a question of respecting the institutions of global governance, in this case non-proliferation, but also the confidence the two countries have in their influence within those bodies. The U.S. and India had both, despite their deal’s unpopularity and the U.S.’s image problems these days. China and Pakistan seem to be signalling they have neither.