Since the 2005 Indian–U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement, a number of notable nuclear arms control analysts and scholars have called for mainstreaming Pakistan into the nuclear nonproliferation regime, meaning the de facto acceptance of Pakistan as a nuclear weapons power. Indeed, for a while the Barack Obama administration began negotiations with Pakistan to explore nuclear mainstreaming during its second term. Most of these scholars argue that the process of normalizing Pakistan’s nuclear status should proceed differently than U.S. negotiations with India, which led to only partial normalization. In India’s case, because of geopolitical and commercial considerations, Washington demanded and got few nonproliferation concessions from New Delhi. There were no nuclear arms caps, posture changes, or accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty (FMCT), all of which were longstanding U.S. demands until the George W. Bush administration decided to do away with them. The failure of the United States to drive a hard nonproliferation bargain with India, these arms control advocates argue, has undermined the nuclear nonproliferation regime, a mistake that should not be repeated with Pakistan.
But pushing the nonproliferation track for normalizing Pakistan’s nuclear status would be a mistake. Indeed, Pakistan has rejected these proposals, demanding a nuclear agreement similar to the one negotiated with India. It is thus no surprise that the negotiations with the United States during Obama’s second term quickly ended in failure. Moreover, even if successful, such bargains would have done little to reduce the mounting dangers of a nuclear catastrophe that stem from the risks of state failure in Pakistan and its grand strategy of asymmetric warfare in South Asia.
In thinking through the case for mainstreaming a nuclear Pakistan, one must not lose sight of the two key principles that underlie U.S. nonproliferation policy. Those principles are to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons in the international system and to preserve the so-called nuclear taboo. Although the United