The Nuclear Security Summit is an occasion for participants to prevent nuclear materials and facilities from reaching the hands of forces who threaten the international order, including terrorist groups. Highly enriched uranium of 1,600 tons and plutonium of 500 tons scattered around the world is enough to produce 100,000 nuclear bombs, representing a critical threat to world peace.
Nuclear security has always been a serious concern for the comity of nations. Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) makes all parties to the treaty responsible for implementing nuclear security related regimes. IAEA is the body with a legal mandate to monitor the implementation of various security related regimes. In addition, there are a number of institutionalized as well as informal mechanisms which oversee the nuclear security from various aspects; however, membership of all these entities is voluntary and their decisions have only recommendatory value. After 9/11, a genuine concern emerged about likelihood of nuclear terrorism. Concerns of nuclear security are based on chances of theft of material, sabotage, unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, insider-outsider collaboration etc. This led to adoption of UNSC resolution 1540. Subsequently, this fear has often been overplayed to use it as a political tool for selective application.
Unfortunately a twist has been give to a valid concern to achieve political objectives. The problem arises when a narrative is built that such materials are safe only when kept under the physical control of the NPT recognized Nuclear Weapons States; hence all countries must handover their fissile material to them (read America) for safe keeping. The concept tends to give strength to freezing of strategic asymmetries and perpetualizing the clubs of nuclear haves and have nots. Despite the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear security measures have been acknowledged as robust, practical and duly backed by legal instruments for their effective implementation, periodic media campaigns are launched to portray Pakistan’s nuclear programme as a nuclear security hazard. Such media campaigns are timed to coincide with important nuclear technology related events to pressurize Pakistan to cede space in matters like FMCT /FMT negotiations, or to hinder/ deny legitimate nuclear rights of Pakistan in the context of civil applications of nuclear technology, like acquisition of Chashma 3&4 power plants; even though these are under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.
IAEA’s information system, ‘Illicit Trafficking Data Base’ (ITDB), reported 56 cases related to illicit trafficking of nuclear materials during 2011, none occurred in Pakistan. Credit goes to the National Command Authority, Pakistan Nuclear Regularly Authority (PNRA) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) that at professional level even the worst enemies of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme acknowledge its impeccable security and high standards of safety. As a part of ongoing efforts to augment the security of nuclear and radioactive materials and to further strengthen export controls, Pakistan is in the process of deploying Special Nuclear Material (SNM) Portals at key exit/entry points to deter, detect and prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.
However, it does not mean that Pakistan’s nuclear programme could remain un-maligned in a run-up to the major event in Seoul. If safety and security is perfect, then speculative narratives about the volume of the programme come handy. This time, ‘International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ (ICAN) took the lead. It reported that the country has between 90-110 warheads and in 2011 it spent $2.2 billion on its strategic assets. Spokesman of the Foreign Office said in response to ICAN’s allegations that: “A report of the ‘International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ about Pakistan’s nuclear programme, was highly exaggerated and part of an insidious propaganda campaign.” He underlined that Pakistan’s strategic programme was modest, aimed at maintaining a credible minimum deterrence to ensure national security. He added that Pakistan was opposed to arms race in South Asian or in any other part of the world. President Obama convened the first nuclear security summit on 12-13, April 2010. Initiative was apparently aimed at creating safeguards around nuclear stockpiles, components and power plants.
A futuristic approach was taken to minimize dependence of nuclear applications on weapon grade fissile materials and to convert them to low enriched nuclear fuels in a phased programme. Another good step was an agreement over destruction of surplus Plutonium stocks held by the US and Russia. Beside security related issues, the overriding political objective was to ridicule Iran for its nuclear programme. Iran responded by holding its own nuclear security summit in Tehran under the banner: “Nuclear Weapons for none; Nuclear power for all”. Iran presented an alternative narrative for total nuclear disarmament as envisaged by Article VI of the NPT.
Forty three countries will be represented by their Heads of State, prime ministers, foreign ministers and senior officials at the Nuclear Summit scheduled for 26-27 March, 2012 in Seoul. The motive for venue selection is as much political as it could be professional. South Korean officials have made it clear that the Summit was not aimed at halting the proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons, but some countries were trying to bring that issue. Korean Foreign Minister recently said that “there are other international forums for that, particularly at the United Nations.” Communiqué for the Seoul summit may cover areas of management, protection and transportation of nuclear materials and radioactive sources. It could also suggest ways to enhance the link between nuclear security and safety, as well as means to prevent the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. Nuclear forensics and information security issues may also come under discussion.
Nevertheless, there are apprehensions by several nations including Pakistan, Iran and North Korea that the Summit may be used to protect the interests of selected nations while censuring the developing nations. Some leaders may attempt to deal with a broader spectrum of non-proliferation issues. Information pouring in from Seoul indicates that the UK is working on a draft that may ask attending countries to sign a pact to secure nuclear technological information. The French are working on a draft that may allow international inspectors to inspect civilian nuclear programmes of certain states. According to reports the Western states backed by their allies in East Asia are more interested to concentrate on security of nuclear materials from non-state actors while most other nations are more interested on the overall security and safety of nuclear stockpiles, nuclear power plants and establishments from accidents and natural disaster such as Japan’s tsunami.
Unfortunately, we are living in an era of nuclear proliferation. The export control regimes like NSG, Australia group, MTCR and Wenesaar group have not been able to evolve a foolproof multilateral and universally acceptable export control regimes. Generally speaking commercial interests of the member states of these regimes override no-proliferation considerations. Vast inventory of dual usage technologies, materials and machines make the foolproof control over strategic technologies a pipe dream. Pakistan should whole heatedly participate in the forthcoming Seoul summit to become a part of all professional measures that enhance the nuclear security. However, it should not offer its shoulders to others for country specific rhetoric. At the same time Pakistan must weigh the floated proposals in the context of the necessities of maturing its nascent nuclear programme to maturity and sufficiency level. At the moment, there is no need for any additional structures and protocols for enhancing nuclear security. IAEA is adequately mandated to undertake this assignment.
Pakistan needs to participate in the summit with a proactive approach to dispel misgivings about security related matters linked to its nuclear programme and reiterate its willingness to share its expertise in the domain of nuclear fuel cycle with other nations, under IAEA safeguards. Looking forward to the Summit, we expect to see an even handed and apolitical approach towards making the world a safer place.
By Air Cdre Khalid Iqbal (R)
The writer is Consultant Policy and Strategic Response, IPRI Islamabad. He is a former assistant chief of air staff of Pakistan Air Force