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Nuclear Security Summit: CRITICAL ISSUES FOR DEBATE, By Prof. Arvind Kumar, 12 March, 2014 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 12 March 2014

Nuclear Security Summit


By Prof. Arvind Kumar

(Dept. of Geopolitics & Intl Relations, Manipal Univ)


All eyes would be on the forthcoming international Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) 2014 scheduled to be held on 24-25 March at The Hague, Netherlands. Its main agenda is to discuss and explore ways and mechanism by which nuclear terrorism can be prevented. This is so as the threat perceptions emanating from the rise of non-State actors and its linkages with the probable use of nuclear material has forced a greater challenge to global peace and stability. Such threats cannot be ruled out in the emerging geopolitical environment, more so because by and large these are common across the spectrum.


The fear of nuclear terrorism has unfortunately not subsided yet. There is a nagging fear that nuclear materials can fall into the wrong hands and this would be most damaging, especially in the context of its usage. Therefore the NSS will be mainly aimed towards coming up with agreements among world leaders and organizations present on the critical issues relating to the prevention of nuclear terrorism. International cooperation in this regard would indeed be vital to the objectives and mandates of the NSS.


The challenges to the safety and security of nuclear material around the world will need to be addressed, given that nation States must reduce the stockpiles of hazardous nuclear materials. While there are a number of nations, which possess hazardous nuclear material, it has been very difficult to have a proper nuclear material protection, accounting and control because the exact quantity of the nuclear material is unknown. There is, obviously, a lack of transparency in the declaration of the amount of nuclear material possessed by each of the members of the international community.


At the same time, it is becoming a responsibility of the various nation States to have both accountability as well as control of the nuclear material so that it is kept secured. However, despite knowing it well that no nuclear material is absolutely safe and any material is vulnerable, there are hardly any mechanisms which can assure its protection and security. In fact, these issues have always been a formidable challenge for the international community, as the concepts of safety, security and safeguards are all inter-related. The safety of nuclear material assures that the material does not cause harm to the populace at large and the workers inside through an accident or improper configurations.


Further, the security of nuclear material largely means preventing it from leaving an authorized area or transferring it to some unidentified element in an implicit manner. The safeguards largely ensure that the material is accounted for and is under constant control in the facility. There is also a growing realization that weapons-usable material must be kept out of the hand of adversaries because it might prove fatal to mankind. Therefore, how does one assess the quality and quantity of the material at the facility remains a crucial question both for debate and analysis.


It goes without saying that the security measures necessary to protect nuclear material need to be improved, intensified and augmented. It can be possible only when there is a strong security culture of Personnel Reliability Programme, which instils the merits of a fundamental element of facility security and takes into account the consequences of unreliable irresponsible behaviour. Undoubtedly, nuclear security relies heavily on a well- developed integrated combination of nuclear material accountancy and physical protection.


Whether the nation States can prevent the theft or illegal purchase of fissile material forms a major part of the debate. It must be emphasized here that preventing theft is far easier than stopping terrorists from transporting and detonating a bomb. Hence, nuclear terrorism must be controlled at the source itself.


The United Sates after assessing the imminent danger took a major initiative of raising the debate on nuclear security issues among the members of international community. It was a follow up of President Obama’s speech at Prague during April 2009, where he made a categorical statement that a new international effort will be made to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within a four-year timeline. The speech also highlighted the need for having a global summit on nuclear security, which finally the US hosted in 2010. Undoubtedly, the Prague speech institutionalised the nuclear security efforts in a totally new and different way.


The first NSS was held in April 2010, in Washington DC where 47 countries participated. Since then, there is certainly a movement forward in securing hazardous nuclear material (Highly enriched Uranium and Plutonium). The second NSS held at Seoul in 2012 was intended to renew the commitments made in Washington DC and to identify further steps to strengthen nuclear security. The agenda there was expanded beyond nuclear material to encompass the interface between nuclear safety and nuclear security at nuclear facilities and the security of the radiological material, which can be used in building the radiological dispersible devices (RDD). At the ensuing third summit the major goal would be to chart out the accomplishments and propose ways and means to achieve all the objectives enshrined.


It needs to be emphasized here that the nuclear summits so far have regrettably not resulted in any binding international obligations to tackle the nuclear security challenge relating to the threats emanating from nuclear terrorism. Whether Hague will be successful in having one in place is the big question. 


There have been multiple documented cases of real theft of kilogram quantities of real weapons-usable nuclear material. The International Atomic Energy Agency has come up with a database that so far includes 20 incidents involving seizure of stolen HEU or Plutonium that have been confirmed by relevant States. One can cite the example of Russia, where 18 kilograms of HEU was stolen from one of its reactors because of a conspiracy hatched by one of its insiders. As luck would have it, Russian officials reported the incident and the conspirators were caught before the nuclear material left the facility.


It would be pertinent and worthwhile on part of the major powers and responsible players in the international system to work in tandem to address the growing concerns emanating from nuclear source. India’s credentials in terms of both non-proliferation and the security of nuclear material remain very high. As against this, the US has to change its stance and come to the reality of maintaining a consistency between rhetoric and action. It possesses a huge amount of stockpile of nuclear material and thus needs to address as well as set an example by reducing these drastically. The NSS can become meaningful only when the US takes some tough stance on these many issues or else it may end up as just rhetoric. --- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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