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Mainstream, VOL L, No 19, April 28, 2012

Seoul Nuclear Security Summit: The World Needs More

Monday 30 April 2012



The origins of the nuclear security summit can be traced to the Prague speech delivered by Barrack Obama in April 2009. The Prague speech of the US President can be treated as the preliminary roadmap of Obama’s global nuclear security policy. This was a clear policy statement of the US Administration to deal with the most vital challenge to its national interest, checking the transfer of nuclear technology in the hands of terrorists and bringing the non-NPT members to the negotiating level.

The nuclear security summit was of much importance to the global community. It was conceptualised by a nation-state, not by any inter-national organisation like the UNO, which is the normal practice in the usual course.

The Prague speech explained the factors for the start of such a meet. Barrack Obama in his speech stated that ‘’the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one.’’1 Obama concluded that “we should start by having a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year”.2

The Nuclear Posture Review was the next step in this regard by the US Administration. The Nuclear Posture Review is a document required by the US Congress, and the Secretary of Defence sends it to the Congress as it conveys the Adminis-tration’s overall view of nuclear weapons.3

THE NPR was a policy statement. This carried forward the spirit of the Prague speech, The NPR aimed ‘’for reducing nuclear dangers and pur-suing the goal of a world without nuclear wea-pons, while simultaneously advancing broader US security interests’’.4

Naturally the USA was concerned with its vital interests with regard to the spread of nuclear weapons. The US Government clearly and genui-nely emphasised that ‘’the primary objec-tive or concern of US nuclear posture is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states and to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by terrorists”.5

The Washington nuclear security summit was therefore a logical culmination of the US nuclear security policy. The USA organised the first nu-clear summit at Washington (April 12-13, 2010) in which 47 countries with 38 heads of state or government participated.

The focus of this meet was in accordance with the stated policy of the USA. The Washington summit concluded that ‘’nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security, and strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorised actors from acquiring nuclear materials, (and) to prevent non-state actors from obtaining the information or technology required to use such material for malicious purposes, (and) to support the objectives of international nuclear security instruments, including the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, as amended, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, (and) need for cooperation among States to effectively prevent and respond to incidents of illicit nuclear trafficking, the implementation of strong nuclear security practices that will not infringe upon the rights of States to develop and utilise nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and technology, measures contributing to nuclear material security have value in relation to the security of radioactive substances and encourage efforts to secure those materials as well’’.6
The summit also accepted the role of collabo-ration with the other states and the role of inter-national institutions like the IAEA and UNO in the matter of nuclear safety.

The major shortcoming of this summit was that it failed to address certain vital issues. It did not present for consideration the issue of nuclear weapons elimination, and like the previous such meets this issue remained unattended. ‘’The sum-mit concentrated on the goal of securing wea-pons-usable nuclear materials (highly enriched uranium and plutonium), and did not address nuclear weapons security issues specifically. Focusing on nuclear materials may have been in part to secure the participation of states most sensitive to discussing nuclear weapons issues. Radiological material security was also not emphasised, although many nuclear security practices relevant to weapons-usable nuclear materials are also relevant to other nuclear materials, including radiological sources in the civilian fuel cycle.’’7

THE same was the case with the Seoul nuclear security summit (March 26-27, 2012). It was attended by 53 heads of state and government besides many international bodies including UNO, EU, IAEA, INTERPOL etc.

The Seoul summit, like the Washington summit, did not result in any substantial gain for the global community. Its emphasis was on those issues which are mainly concerned with the developing countries from where there are a lot of chances of leakage of nuclear fuel, technology and illegal trafficking. The summit concentrated on ‘’eliminating and disposing of highly enriched uranium (HEU) no longer in use, minimising the use of HEU, encouraging national measures and international cooperation to prevent radiological terrorism, management of spent nuclear fuels and radio-active wastes, preventing the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, search for and detect illicitly trafficked nuclear materials (and) cooperating with the Interpol, building nuclear forensics capacity to identify the source of illicitly trafficked nuclear materials etc.’’8

The deliberations at the summit suggest that nuclear weapon states desire much from the deve-loping countries on comprehensive nuclear issues but restrain their own contribution on many such globally relevant issues. They usually leave aside those core issues which are at the root of the current problems of proliferation and nuclear security.

Even the progress made by the last Washington meet point to the same conclusion: much initiative has been taken by the developing countries but the big powers are still engaged in negotiations or in skirting the major issues. As for illustration, since the last Washington summit ‘’Ukraine and Mexico (succeeded) in removing HEU or conver-ting HEU to non-military use (whereas with res-pect to) disposing and securing plutonium, Russia and the US are working on implementing the Pluto-nium Management and Disposition Agreement signed between the two countries at the Washing-ton Summit’’.9

This progress map shows that the role of big countries is still quite limited on the security issue. Developing countries have acted faster but nuclear weapon countries are still in the process of discussion since the last two years. They look at these issues with an eye on their national interest. They are not interested in any ‘level playing field’ and have produced two standards: one for develo-ping, non-nuclear weapon nations and the other for themselves. It is like the previously presented global treaties (NPT, CTBT); the developing coun-tries are encouraged to act more vigorously whereas the powerful nations act in the peri-pheral matters, ignoring their commitment by not attending the core issues. As a result, the well-intended global efforts are lost just only in rhetoric.

In this background, many issues have become more relevant than before. These include the unequal nuclear world order (a well-established fact), issues of disarmament and nuclear trans-parency. Issues related to nuclear security cannot be delinked from these.

Nuclear security demands at the outset that disarmament should be the bedrock of the inter-national system. The US follows clever policies in this respect. It protects many countries with its nuclear weapons. It has linked the establishment of nuclear weapons outside its territory as a step towards the disarmament. This is an illogical contention. ‘’The United States is the only nuclear weapon state to deploy its nuclear weapons on foreign soil, with approximately 200 nuclear bombs at six air bases in five NATO countries Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. NATO argues that nuclear sharing is compatible with the NPT (and) the US also extends its nuclear weapons as protection to a few non-NATO countries, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea. They argue that modernisation of and investment in nuclear weapon infrastructure are necessary precursors to disarmament.’’10 This policy statement is governed solely by its vital interests.
The big powers’ flawed arguments without any substantive grain of truth are self-defeating and destabilise the basic premise of nuclear security because ‘’the rhetoric of deterrence and necessity serves only to further entrench the perception and role of nuclear weapons as instruments of power, attractive both to those who hold them and those who do not. This heightens the risk of proliferation and undermines disarmament.’’11

NUCLEAR security has a wider dimension. In fact there is persistent confusion among the non-weapon states with regard to the issue of the disarmament. This confusion prepares the basis for the insecure nuclear world. Disarmament is needed for the prevention of proliferation but the truth lies elsewhere. ‘’According to the Nuclear Material Security Index (NMSI), two classes of countries exist: those with and those without weapons-usable nuclear materials. (The index counts 32 nations with one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials and 144 nations with less than one kilogram or no weapons-usable nuclear materials.) Behind this differentiation, there is a clear message: the world needs to move from ‘with’ toward ‘without’ weapons-usable nuclear materials. In Western nations, nuclear security has often been discon-nected from discussions on disarmament and non-proliferation. However, all three are linked. In order to get buy-in from non-nuclear weapons states on nuclear security, many nations want to know that nuclear weapons states are living up to their end of the NPT.’’12

Nuclear weapon nations, particularly the USA, fail to understand that no substantial gains will be accrued by placing more pressure on the developing countries and skirting the issue of disarmament. This is so because as long as the nuclear material, weapons, technology will survive, no effort of preventing their absolute proliferation can be successful.

This argument is linked to another relevant issue which is an important component of confi-dence-building among the non-nuclear countries. The issue of nuclear transparency has not been discussed in these summits in a proper frame-work. Every relevant information with respect to the big power states on the nuclear issue is not clearly spelt out at any level. No one knows with precision as to what is the nuclear weapon status of these powers. There is a game of speculation in this matter. Therefore it is necessary that a transparent nuclear regime at the global level be constructed. In that case the issue of disarmament and nuclear security can be dealt with success-fully. There is a consistent demand over this issue at the international level. The sad truth is that the USA, China, Russia are not open on this issue in a satisfying manner. It has been expected from these states that ‘’with the March 2012 Nuclear Security Summit afoot (now over) and the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Confe-rence in sight, now is the time for nuclear weapons states to implement new transparency measures such as declaring additional information regard-ing the capabilities, size, and purpose of weapons stock-piles and fissile materials, and providing the means to verify a larger portion of those decla-rations.’’13 But this issue has not been given any importance.
In many cases these nuclear weapon states are involved in such practices in which they come in close contact with those nations which may proliferate the nuclear technology. This is a kind of double standard with respect to the issue of nuclear security; in such cases for them nuclear transparency assumes a different self-serving form. They are involved in many activities ‘’such as nuclear sharing, supplying nuclear technology and materials to non-state parties (of NPT), con-ducting subcritical nuclear tests, and modernising or refurbishing their nuclear weapons and related infrastructure’’14 but when the issue of nuclear transparency arises for a wider audience they adopt a different policy. By way of illustration, ‘’despite the promise of a more transparent future after Russia’s ratification of New START in January 2011, the international community’s ability to monitor developments in Russia’s nuclear forces has become more difficult because the Kremlin does not release full aggregate treaty numbers of the country’s strategic nuclear forces and the United States has agreed not to make the information available as it did during START I’’.15

The moot question is: when nuclear weapon states are themselves in violation of the basic norms of nuclear security, how can this issue be managed successfully at the global level?

It is unfortunate that the Seoul summit failed on these counts. Its rhetoric on many other relevant issues raised doubts on the real intention of such global summits. The Seoul summit should have broadened its functional scope on these relevant issues so that a confidence-building exercise for the non-nuclear states could have been initiated. Such an approach is a necessary ingredient for the establishment of a world free from nuclear proliferation and threats.

It is necessary that nuclear weapon states, particularly the USA, the undisputed leader of the global nuclear powers, initiate certain genuine policy efforts in which major issues are dealt with a novel approach.

The review conference of the NPT in 2015 and the next nuclear safety summit meet in Nether-lands in 2014 are not far away. Hence a new line of action to the nuclear security issue needs to be devised in which issues related to the unequal nuclear world order, disarmament and nuclear transparency should be assigned their proper value.

1. Obama’s Speech In Prague, April 5, 2009, Council On Foreign Relations (Essential Document), USA.
2. Ibid.
3. George Perkovich (Q&A), Nuclear Weapons and National Security—A New Strategy, April 7, 2010, Carnegic Endowment For International Peace, USA.
4. Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010,
5. George Perkovich (Q&A) Nuclear Weapons and National Security—A New Strategy, April 7, 2010, Carnegic Endowment For International Peace, USA.
6. Communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit, published on April 13, 2010, CFR, USA.
7. Mary Beth Nikitin, Securing Nuclear Materials: The 2010 Summit and Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, October 31, 2011,
8. Key Facts on the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, Seoul Communiqué, The Seoul Nuclear Security Summit Preparatory Secretariat, Seoul.
9. Ibid.
10. Ray Acheson, ‘Beyond the 2010 NPT Review Con-ference: What’s next for nuclear disarmament?’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December, 66(6) 77-87, 2010.
11. Ibid.
12. Rodrigo V. Alvarez, ‘Fissile Materials Working Group: Why Latin America matters at the Nuclear Security Summit’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 16, 2012.
13. James Doyle and Charles Streeper, ‘Steps toward increased nuclear transparency’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 68: 55-62, March/April 2012.
14. Ray Acheson, ‘Beyond the 2010 NPT Review Conference: What’s next for nuclear disarmament?’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66(6) 77–87, 2010.
15. Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, ‘Russian nuclear forces, 2012’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 68(2) 87–97, 2012.

Dr Vivek Kumar Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur. His e-mail is:

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