Nuclear security has always been a serious concern for the comity of nations. The non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) makes all parties to the treaty responsible for implementing nuclear security related regimes. The IAEA is the body with a legal mandate to monitor the implementation of various security related regimes. In addition, there are a number of institutionalised 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.
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 pressurise Pakistan to cede space in matters like FMCT/FMT negotiations, or to hinder/deny its legitimate nuclear rights in the context of civil applications of nuclear technology, like the acquisition of Chashma III and IV power plants; even though these are under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.
The 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. The credit goes to the National Command Authority, Pakistan Nuclear Regularly Authority (PNRA) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) that even the worst enemies of Pakistan acknowledge its impeccable security and high standards of safety. As a part of the ongoing efforts to augment the security of nuclear and radioactive materials and 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 its nuclear programme could remain unmaligned 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, the 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. The spokesman of the Foreign Office in response to ICAN’s allegations said:: “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. Adding: “Pakistan was opposed to arms race in South Asian or in any other part of the world.”
President Barack Obama convened the first nuclear security summit on April 12-13, 2010. The initiative was apparently aimed at creating safeguards around nuclear stockpiles, components and power plants. A futuristic approach was taken to minimise 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 the 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 at the Nuclear Summit scheduled for March 26-27, 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, but some countries were trying to bring that issue. Communiqué for the 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. 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.
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. The IAEA is adequately mandated to undertake this assignment. Pakistan needs to participate in it 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.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.