Thursday, March 29, 2012

2nd Nuclear Security Summit: Tightening Nuke Weapons Design and Programs

The two-day second Nuclear Security Summit concluded in Seoul (South Korea) on March 27. The first was held in Washington DC in April 2010 after US President Barack Obama mooted the idea in a speech in Prague in 2009. President Obama, who singled out nuclear terrorism as the most serious threat to international security in his speech, was in Seoul. Leading the Indian participation in the summit was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The gathering of 58 world leaders saw discussing the various issues surrounding nuclear security. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 appear to have spurred countries across the globe to discuss measures that are needed in the event of nuclear materials and facilities actually falling into the hands of non-state actors. Nuclear security is hence seen as a step to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Joint Communique
Seeking strong national measures and global cooperation against nuclear terrorism, world leaders have underlined the central role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in strengthening the atomic security framework and insisted that the rights of States to peaceful use of nuclear energy will not be hampered.
The leaders said: “We stress the fundamental responsibility of States, consistent with their respective national and international obligations, to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials, which includes nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons and nuclear facilities under their control.”
The communique, adopted by 53 world leaders and five multilateral organizations, also highlighted the fundamental responsibility of the States to prevent non-state actors from acquiring such materials and from obtaining information or technology required to use them for malicious purposes.
In the backdrop of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the idea of nuclear safety came to the fore at Seoul, with India underlining the need for synergy between nuclear safety and nuclear security. The Seoul communiqué too touches on this aspect. After all, the release of dangerous radioactive materials in sufficient quantities from a legitimate nuclear power plant is no less dangerous than a terrorist stealing and unleashing a dirty bomb.
At a more practical and feasible level, at the Seoul summit, India pushed the expansion of its bilateral ties with South Korea to include the purchase of civilian reactors and military hardware from it, in addition to engaging in space cooperation under which this country would launch South Korean satellites. Maritime security was discussed too between Singh and President Lee Myung-Bak, in addition to stepped up Korean investment in Indian infrastructure.
India’s Stake
Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India had made a strong pitch for membership of four exclusive nuclear clubs contending that it would help strengthen its export control systems and maintain highest international standards of its nuclear program.
He added that India had never been a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies and the country was determined to further strengthen its export control systems to keep them
At the summit, the prime minister said on par with the highest international standards. He underlined that India had already adhered to the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NBG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
Singh said: "As a like–minded country with the ability and willingness to promote global non-proliferation objectives, we believe that the next logical step is India's membership of the four export control regimes."
India is keen for membership of the NSG, MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. At the same time, Singh said an agreed multilateral framework involving all states possessing nuclear weapons was necessary to attain the goal of a nuclear weapons free world.
"This should include measures to reduce nuclear dangers by reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and by increasing universal restraints on the first use of nuclear weapons," he said.
The prime minister also announced a contribution of one million dollars to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund for the years 2012-13.
India has also made some progress, albeit slowly, on its commitment to set up a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership. It announced that the centre will have a 200 acre campus in Bahadurgarh, Haryana and comprise four different schools covering nuclear security, nuclear energy systems, and radiation safety.
On India's nuclear program, the prime minister said comprehensive reviews of nuclear safety measures have been undertaken at nuclear facilities.
Concern for Pakistan’s Arsenal
President Obama has voiced concern over safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, saying the world cannot allow non-state actors and terrorists to get their hands on the nuclear weapons and end up destroying cities.
“We can’t afford to have non-state actors and terrorists to get their hands on nuclear weapons that would end up destroying our cities or harming our citizens,” Obama told reporters alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani before the two leaders held private talks on the sidelines of the summit.
The West is concerned over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as it remains vulnerable because the atomic facilities are located in areas where “Taliban and Al-Qaeda are more than capable of launching terrorist attacks”.
In their first meeting since the killing of Osama Bin Laden in a covert US raid on Pakistani soil in May 2011, the two leaders tried to rescue a troubled anti-terror alliance which has been full of mistrust and recriminations in recent times.
North Korea and Iran Warned
The US President has warned North Korea and Iran that their options are few and their friends fewer as those nations refuse to back down from actions the world sees as menacing.
Seoul warned that it might shoot down parts of a North Korean rocket if they violate South Korean territory, as worries about what Washington calls a long-range missile test overshadowed an international nuclear security summit.
Nuclear Terrorism
The leaders at the summit reached a consensus that nuclear terrorism is among the top global security challenges and that strong nuclear material security measures are the most effective way to prevent it. This may not seem like much, but getting 47 nations to agree on any nuclear issue, however innocuous, is not always easy.
In addition, 29 of the countries present made voluntary commitments to enhance nuclear security. Country-specific steps — colloquially termed “house gifts” — were taken ahead of the summit. Thus, Chile removed all its Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) — 18 kg — in March 2010, while the Philippines joined the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Several countries, including India, announced that they would create new “centres of excellence” to promote nuclear security technologies.
The outcome Seoul summit, as much as the first one hosted by US President Barack Obama in Washington in 2010, are traceable at the level of theology to President Obama’s Prague speech of 2009. And therein lies the weakness of the enterprise. In that address, the US President had highlighted the dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands, and envisioned a world free of the atom bomb. But until such time as that happens, Obama was quite clear in his vision that the United States would stand ready with its own nuclear weapons to take care of any potential adversary.

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