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The NSS process: letter or spirit?

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The Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process has been President Obama’s brainchild since he underlined security of nuclear materials as a priority of his administration in his infamous Prague speech of April 5, 2009. Prague speech became talk of the town because of his amateurish Global Zero concept visualizing, a nuclear weapon free World. Soon after Obama back tracked from Global Zero rhetoric acknowledging that it won’t be possible to achieve it during his lifetime. Of now, only nine nuclear power plants are outside IAEA safeguards, the world over, and eight of these are in India, courtesy India-Agreement 123.

As a fallout of neo-Cold war, Russia has refused to participate in the Washington summit and has snubbed offers of collaboration over the pending conversion of about 63 Russian nuclear power plants still using Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). Russia has the largest stockpile of HEU, approximately 700 tonnes. Absence of a nation of such capability and stature is obviously a setback to furtherance of the Summit process.

Since its inception, the NSS process has covered a lot of mileage in reducing the requirement of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) through technological improvement and innovations, whereby a large number of civil usage nuclear facilities have switched over to use of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) as their fuel/input material. In 2010, 50 countries had an HEU stockpile of more than 1 kg, it is now down to half the number; and HEU has been totally removed from 13 countries. The NSS initiated an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the globe within four years. By any standard, that has been an underestimation of the task and even after six years hence, the Nuclear Security Summits shall fade into history without being able to claim that all bomb making materials have been sufficiently secured. However, the NSS process did inspired nations into action since they came with report cards in hand to showcase the highlights of all they had done at the national and regional levels towards furthering nuclear security.

Like all earlier summits, this time also, Prime Minister will lead the delegation. Pakistan’s participation at the highest level reflects its strong commitment to nuclear security. The United States has been very appreciative of Pakistan’s participation in these meetings. It has periodically recognised Pakistan’s active engagements with global community on the issue of nuclear security. In a recent policy statement the US State Department has said that Islamabad is well aware of its responsibilities with respect to nuclear security and has secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.

To further contribute towards NSS process and, in the broader context, international non-proliferation effort, Pakistan has ratified the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). On July 08, 2005, states parties to the CPPNM adopted by consensus an Amendment to the CPPNM which expands the scope of the convention to cover nuclear facilities and nuclear material in peaceful use, storage and international as well as domestic transportation. The CPPNM is a legally binding international instrument in the area of physical protection of nuclear material; it also establishes measures related to the prevention, detection and punishment of offences related to nuclear material. Ratification of the 2005 Amendment to the CPPNM is another affirmation of Pakistan’s commitment to the objective of nuclear security and reinforces Pakistan’s credentials as a responsible nuclear state. It demonstrates Pakistan’s confidence in its national nuclear security regime which is at par with the latest international standards in the field.

Earlier, in its meeting held on 24 February 2016, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, the National Command Authority (NCA) undertook a comprehensive review of the prevailing regional and international security environment. NCA took note of the growing conventional and strategic weapons’ development in the region. It expressed serious concerns over the adverse ramifications for peace and security on this account. NCA reiterated its determination to take all possible measures to make national security robust.

The NCA re-affirmed that, as a responsible nuclear State, Pakistan would continue to contribute meaningfully towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures. Pakistan has the requisite credentials that entitle it to become member of all multi-lateral strategic export control regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Pakistan seeks adoption of a non-discriminatory criteria for expansion of all regimes.

In another acknowledgment of Pakistan’s expertise in nuclear security, annual meeting of the international network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres (NSSC) was held from 14-18 March in Islamabad in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). For the first time, this meeting was held outside IAEA Headquarters. Fifty six officials representing 29 countries attended the meeting. Officials of the World Institute of Nuclear Security and IAEA also participated in the event. NSSC regularly contributes to global efforts for enhancing nuclear security capacity building through an effective and collaborative mechanism.

Pakistan, being a responsible nuclear state, has evolved effective nuclear security architecture over the years and has developed substantial capacity for nuclear security training. Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security is a state of the art institution, which imparts training in various nuclear security related disciplines to national and international participants in collaboration with its National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) and Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS).

The concluding NSS is likely to take place in a differently shaped international strategic environment. The emergent global nuclear order is focusing on a greater role for India’s nuclear weapon status, transfer of nuclear technology and materials especially massive import of Uranium. The US is engaged in hectic behind the door diplomatic pressure to upgrade India’s NSG waiver into a full-fledged membership. Pakistan is being subjected to the renewed pressure to freeze its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile capabilities. Despite acknowledgement by various assessments projecting Pakistan’s better standing in nuclear security matters, subjective speculations are being floated regarding greater chances of theft of nuclear material in Pakistan than India. Recent Harvard Kennedy School report “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?” has floated a similar sick idea.

To further this Indo-US objective, in the recent Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) report, Pakistan has been adjudged poorly for nuclear weapon usable material. This criterion ignores Pakistan’s concerted role for on-site physical protection, control and accounting procedure, and physical security during transportation. Interestingly, it is difficult to empirically measure how effective material control is unless theft, pilferage or sabotage is reported. Not a single such incident has ever occurred in Pakistan. Indian regulations for nuclear sites are written as guidance rather than as binding instructions.

Pakistan maintains that nuclear security within a state is a national responsibility because and the fundamental responsibility lies at the state level. It is difficult that any third party could access them accurately. Pakistan attaches highest significance to its nuclear safety and security and is fully meeting obligations in this regard. The DG IAEA has recently expressed his satisfaction over implementation of the agency’s safeguard measures in the country, while appreciating the nuclear safety and security record of Pakistan.

With the summit event coming to a close, there is a question about successor organization. The most popular, and likely to be accepted, idea is that of the IAEA taking over the role. In July 2013, the IAEA had organized an international conference on nuclear security that was attended by 125 states and 21 organisations. By comparison, the NSS have been attended by only about 50 odd countries and 4 organisations.

Nuclear security is a global concern. Securing nuclear materials is a perpetual journey sans an assured destination. To succeed, international nuclear regimes have to come out of biased attitudes and selective applications.

The Nation, March 27,2016.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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