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Forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit and Pakistan

By Maimuna Ashraf

The fourth and most likely the final Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) has been slated on 31 March-01 April 2016 in Washington, D.C. The NSS process has been President Obama’s flagship initiative since his first term when he underlined security of nuclear materials as a priority of his administration in Prague speech of April 5, 2009. He initiated an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the globe within four years. This ambitious goal was not fully achieved by March 2014; however, the NSS process has observed few successes. Since Prague speech, three Nuclear Security Summits have taken place so far- Washington in 2010, Seoul 2012 and The Hague in 2014. This will be fourth and concluding summit as President Obama completes his final term this year. The NSS process has survived two presidential terms and will become part of President Obama’s legacy.

The forthcoming summit meeting will discuss future of nuclear security summit process and will determine pathways to secure and build on achievements of whole process. It will continue discussions on the evolving (nuclear terrorism) threats and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism. Albeit, terrorism is an international phenomenon and the prevailing global security landscape is characterized by instability, volatility, and the reshaping of geopolitical and geostrategic order due to both traditional and other emerging challenges and threats. Terrorism that has long been evolved and recognized as a serious domestic and international security threat, is capable of instigating a systematic crisis at the global level. The contemporary trend in terrorism is towards loosely organized, self-financed, international networks of terrorists that are usually religiously or ideologically motivated. Notwithstanding several threats to international security, looming over the entire issue of international terrorism is the specter of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The concluding NSS is likely to take place in a differently characterized international strategic environment. The emergent global nuclear order being shaped is focusing on a greater role for India’s nuclear weapon status, transfer of nuclear technology and materials especially uranium, and behind the door hectic diplomatic pressure by the United States to convert India’s NSG waiver into a full-fledged membership. Government of Pakistan is being subjected to the renewed pressure to freeze its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile capabilities in an internationally shifting political and geostrategic alignment dividing the West and India on one side of the global polarization while Russia and China on the other. The unstated rationale for Pakistan’s discrimination is due to its unique position in the Muslim world facing the increasing specter of terrorism.

Correspondingly, in the recent Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) report, Pakistan has been placed at the bottom in ranking for nuclear weapon usable material. To put the records straight, this criterion ignores Pakistan’s stellar role in 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 been reported in Pakistan. Contrary, Indian regulations for nuclear sites are written as guidance rather than as binding requirements. Additionally, India lacks an independent regulatory agency even if it has vowed to establish one. Thus the report has clearly shown biases against Pakistan while India has been taken softly.

Conversely, Pakistan has played an active role in international nuclear security summits. Islamabad has accepted US president Barack Obama’s proposal for securing all vulnerable materials within four years (i.e. by 2014). Several safety and security measures have been put in place as part of this commitment. Pakistan acceded to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. But it has refused to endorse the Convention’s 2005 amendments because the original articles covered nuclear material in international transport; the amendments sought to extend it to nuclear facilities and to material in peaceful domestic use and storage. The recent statement of NCA, that carried a reference of deep satisfaction to our national nuclear safety and security measures and another regarding the NSS process for which NCA members were briefed, hints toward Pakistan’s commitment to nuclear security. The statement reads; ‘NCA noted with satisfaction that Pakistan has the requisite credentials that entitle it to become part of all multi-lateral export control regimes, including the NSG, for which Pakistan seeks adoption of a non-discriminatory approach. Pakistan was considering ratification of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Amended), for which NCA gave approval in principle for its ratification’. That is a pitch repeated in 2014 and has echoed in the NCA most recent meeting.

In the same vein, Pakistan has repeatedly reiterated its stance that we have revisited our safety parameters, emergency preparedness and response, and operators’ training and yet again these measures should be recounted in the upcoming international platforms. However, Pakistan maintains, which it should, that nuclear security within a state is a national responsibility because then the fundamental responsibility lies at the state. It is difficult that third party can be asked to come and access them, irrespective of their national or international obligation. Nonetheless Pakistan has lost nothing by joining these summits but gained, thus as a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan will continue to contribute meaningfully towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures. However, internationally, there is an urgent need to develop a mechanism that can provide a process for sustained review and improvement of the nuclear security regime beyond 2016. This is crucial in an environment where an increasing amount of nuclear material and the terrorism threat is escalating.

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Maimuna Ashraf

Maimuna Ashraf works as a Senior Research Associate for an Islamabad-based think tank Strategic Vision Institute. She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and South Asian nuclear equation. She writes for South Asian Voices, international blogs and national dailies.

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