The nuclear security summit – Part I

In looking at the Nuclear Security Summit process, four questions come to mind. What are its distinguishing characteristics? How has it evolved? For Pakistan, what have been its objectives? How have these fared?
American Presidents have often sought to add to their legacy through initiatives in the foreign policy field including in arms control mainly with the USSR in the past and now its successor Russia, in disarmament and lately non proliferation. In this field President Bush’s main achievement was the UN Security Council Resolution 1540, aiming at preventing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) falling into the hands of non state actors. Pakistan was at that time a non permanent member of the Security Council, even though it preferred the modality of treaty negotiations, but constructively went along with the resolution because of shared concerns. For President Obama in nonproliferation, his contribution has been the Nuclear Security Summit process.
While preventing terrorists and non state actors from accessing nuclear materials is  undoubtedly a major global objective worthy of support, that is not the only motivation. The aspects to remember are that first of all, it represents an effort by the US and its allies, supported by Russia, to shifts focus from their possession of and reliance on vast stocks of nuclear weapons, to nuclear materials which define their power and control. The US, its Western allies, the UK and France, have an over abundance of nuclear weapons based in the territory of NATO allies under dual use control which conflicts with the spirit of the NPT to which these countries belong. Russia too has many more nuclear weapons than it could conceivably justify for its defence.
While the START 11 Agreement between the US and Russia represents some progress, (though now perhaps shadowed by the revival of Cold War tensions), the fact is that the permanent members of the Security Council, the P5, have not lived up to their commitment as Nuclear Weapon States under the NPT, that they will work towards nuclear disarmament. That was reiterated by them in the bargain which underwrote the indefinite extension of the NPT.
For the major powers it is their status quo motivation that rules; their assessment of their own national security, not that of other countries faced with threatening security situations. For these powers, security, despite assertions to the contrary, is seen and acted upon as a zero sum game in which their own security and that of their allies trumps the security concerns of all others. This is being witnessed for some years now in the Conference of Disarmament (CD) where the US and its western allies have been pressing for negotiations to commence on a Fissile Materials Cut Off Treaty which by ignoring existing stocks seeks to preserve existing asymmetries at the cost of regional strategic stability.
This has become even more apparent in the CD now that the most important item on its agenda, nuclear disarmament, has been further supported by a Nonaligned sponsored resolution, overwhelmingly passed in the last UN General Assembly (UNGA Res.68/32). It urged the commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament, for the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer and use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.  The convention goes far beyond the FMCT which is an arms control (not disarmament) proposal. This is being resisted in the CD by the countries who voted against the UN resolution.
Secondly, the potential impact on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which has been increasingly constrained by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is causing tension outside and within the NPT itself where the primary bargain to bring Germany,  Japan and other countries in, was that in turn for giving up nuclear weapons, full access would be allowed for peaceful nuclear energy and its technology. A case in point is an NSS objective to eliminate weapons significant in highly enriched uranium (HEU) from safeguarded research reactors. These reactors are also used for producing much needed medical isotopes. The Netherlands at Seoul in 2012, had committed along with the US, France and Belgium to convert its HEU medical isotopes facility to low enriched fuel (LEU). The Dutch Mallinckrodt facility has recently acknowledged that the conversion date has been moved back a year to 2017, to ensure medical needs are met.
The Dutch Foreign office has clarified that while part funding from the US is being explored, primarily the delay is due to the technical issues involved. This bears out the contention of Pakistan and other developing countries that on this issue access is needed for conversion technology and funding to implement.
Thirdly, it is unique that so far it has been able to hold summits every two years at the highest level. This is a tremendous and impressive expenditure of political capital. However, it also reflects the priority of America and its allies. One cannot imagine that they would expend the same capital, time and energy on a summit process to move the world closer to getting rid of nuclear weapons which are for the most part under their and Russia’s control.
Fourthly, another unique aspect of the process has been the selective nature and composition of the countries invited. This is both a strength and weakness. It could be said that in the context of nuclear materials and nuclear activity, almost but not all the relevant countries were invited. This has also allowed an innovative and fast moving flexible system of intercessional meetings and negotiations. However, customary international practice is to invite all countries irrespective of national likes or dislikes. The process is usually a bit more messy but far more sustainable. At the end of the day, the agreed outcomes of the NSS are political in nature, not legally binding as would result from the alternative and traditional universal negotiating process whose objective is a binding legal instrument.
The next projected summit after the 2014 Hague summit will be in Washington in 2016. After that, the future is unclear. Whether the new American President will be willing to continue the process at the summit level, or will choose some other signature project in accordance with American nonproliferation concerns and objectives remains to be seen.
In the concluding part, I will examine how the process evolved and the context for Pakistan.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

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