By M Suleman Shahid

March 31, 2016

After 9/11, the international community has been considering non-state actors as the greatest threat to world peace and security. Loose nuclear material and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) falling into the hands of terrorists comprises one of the greatest challenges in this context. As a result, the international community has taken many initiatives in the form of treaties, UN Resolutions and agreements to strengthen security around nuclear and other WMDs installations. Currently there are many initiatives that have been taken to strengthen the security of WMDs, like the UN Security Council Resolution 1540;Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, 2005 Amendment; International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism; Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities; Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism; Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction: Statement of Principles.

Before the start of Nuclear Security Summit 2010global attention was better focused on nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament. However the Summit has shifted this focus entirely towards the security and safety paradigm. This move of the global nuclear order is due to the fact that the concept of nuclear security encompasses all relevant issues ranging from non-proliferation to safety and security of WMDs materials. Furthermore, the summit also provides the opportunity and a platform to de facto nuclear countries, i.e. Israel, India and Pakistan, to express their interests and concerns in front of an international audience. These countries are generally denied access to NPT Review Conferences as they are not signatories to the NPT, and the NSS is one of the few major platforms where they have effectively been able to put forward their perspectives on these issues.

The fourth and final summit is now due to be held in Washington on 31stMarch and 1stApril 2016, in which leaders from most invited countries will be participating. However the final Summit has lost much of its charm before it has even begun, as one of the key participants, Russia, has excused itself ahead of the event. Without Russia, this is a major power, a core player in global geopolitics and on such international forums, the final communiqué risks losing much of its strength and effectiveness. The country’s rationale for non-attendance in the final leg of the Summit series is the argument that nuclear summits are interfering in the activities of established and recognized international organizations such as the IAEA, which already tackle the issues being taken up at the summits, and that the NSS attempts to ‘impose’ the “opinions of a limited group of states” on international structures, which is “unacceptable.”Russia has stated that it will focus instead on a similar conference, also to be held in 2016, by the United Nations nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Furthermore, in the upcoming as well as in previous summits, Iran and North Korea have deliberately been kept from participating, despite their vital importance in the context of nuclear security as generally accepted nuclear players. North Korea is a nuclear weapon country, possesses delivery systems and an aggressive posture towards its neighbors in particular and world peace at large. One of the aims of the summit was to create awareness and a sense of responsibility among nations about the security and safety of nuclear material. Both North Korea and Iran have many nuclear installations and are part of the nuclear club, but the security issues surrounding their nuclear installations continue to be neglected by not having invited them to any of these four summits. The exclusion of Iran and North Korea in addition to the retraction of Russia from the Summit has put a serious question-mark on the credibility of final communiqué.

While initially the NSS was only focused on the security and safety of civilian nuclear energy installations, its scope is gradually expanding to cover the security and safety of nuclear material for military usage as well. This is because currently, approximately 83 percent of nuclear material is being used for military purposes, while only 17 percent of fissile material is being used for civilian purposes. However nuclear weapons states are resistant to this initiative as it calls for a higher level of transparency regarding their nuclear weapons programmes, and no state loves the idea of transparency where its weapons programmes are concerned.

Some stakeholders desire the continuation of the NSS as a parallel body to the IAEA, to specifically watch over the nuclear material of the world. Other countries, like Russia and Pakistan, however, consider it is a challenge to countries’ sovereignty. In this regard, both Russia and Pakistan have emphasized that civilian nuclear technologies are already being run under IAEA safeguards and instruction, and there is no need for any parallel mechanism to deal with nuclear security issues.

Obama’s initiative of these Nuclear Security Summits has also been criticized for various reasons, the first and foremost of which is that initially Obama showed willingness to ratify the CTBT, and resolve the issue of FMCT at the CD forum, but to date nothing has been achieved on either front. Obama’s statement on “Global Zero” also appears to be mere political rhetoric, as all previous efforts at international forums have either disappeared or become silent. Similarly, the Nuclear Security Summit also increasingly seems to be political rhetoric achieving little more than moral ground at international forums and reinforcing the US’ status as ‘protector of the world’, while taking no substantive actions to strengthen non-proliferation and security regimes in reality. It is also argued that given Obama’s status as the first black president of the US, he desires to associate ‘new records’ and a certain level of prestige with that status, particularly through ‘gimmicky’ breakthroughs such as the rehabilitation of relations with Cuba and Argentina, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the Global Zero Initiative.

Nonetheless, a major contribution of the Nuclear Security Summit is that it has created more awareness among world leaders regarding the safety and security of WMDs and related issues. In this context, countries have taken more progressive actions, strengthened security measures and established various training centers for the capacity building of the personnel from relevant departments.