Sultan M Hali
The fourth and perhaps the concluding Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is being held on March 31, 2016 in Washington, DC. The NSS process has been President Obama’s flagship initiative since his first term when he underlined security of nuclear materials as a priority of his administration in his Prague speech of April 5, 2009. President Obama opened an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the globe within four years. His ambitious goal did not see fruition by March 2014 but the NSS process can boast of some successes. Since Prague speech, three Nuclear Security Summits have taken place so far: Washington in 2010, Seoul 2012 and The Hague in 2014. This will be the fourth and perhaps final summit as President Obama completes his second term this year but he is sanguine that nuclear security will become his legacy.
Both India and Pakistan will be attending the NSS with different hopes and aspirations. The forthcoming summit will discuss the future of NSS process and will determine the roadmap to secure and build on achievements of the whole process. The milieu has become murkier with the advent of nuclear terrorism and the discussions are likely to revolve around threats and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will represent Pakistan while Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be leading the Indian delegation to the summit. In a policy statement on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the US State Department said Islamabad is well aware of its responsibilities with respect to nuclear security and has secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly but an anti-Pakistan lobby is already active in focusing attention towards Pakistan’s tactical nukes.
The prestigious Harvard Kennedy School has released a report titled ‘Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?’ on the eve of the NSS Summit. The report warns that with Pakistan moving towards tactical nuclear weapons, there is an increasingly higher risk of nuclear theft. It cautions that over the longer term, the possibilities of state collapse or extremist takeover in Pakistan cannot be entirely ruled out, though the near-term probability of such events appears to be low.
The report from the Harvard Kennedy School comes a week after a top American diplomat, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rise E Gottemoeller had raised similar concern. He had told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a Congressional hearing: “We’ve been very concerned about Pakistan’s deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons, which by their very nature, pose security threat because you’re taking battlefield nuclear weapons out to the field where, as, you know, as a necessity, they cannot be made as secure.”
The report has been gleefully carried by the Indian media, which has already lobbied in the US against Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons. India’s angst is not misplaced since its highly touted “Cold War Doctrine” has been neutralised by Pakistan developing battlefield weapons carrying nuclear warheads.
At the fourth NSS, the emergent global nuclear order being shaped is focusing on a greater role for India’s nuclear weapon status, transfer of nuclear technology and materials especially uranium, and behind the door hectic diplomatic pressure by the United States to convert India’s NSG waiver into a full-fledged membership.
In stark contrast, Pakistan is being subjected to the renewed pressure to freeze its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile capabilities in an internationally shifting political and geo-strategic alignment dividing the West and India on one side of the global polarization while Russia and China on the other.
To add insult to injury, in the recent Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) report, Pakistan has been placed at the bottom in ranking for nuclear weapon usable material. The US and Indian lobby as well as the NTI report ignore Pakistan’s stellar role in on-site physical protection, control and accounting procedure, and physical security during transportation. While no yardstick is available for empirically measuring effective material control; theft, pilferage or sabotage takes place or is reported. Not a single such incident has either occurred or ever been reported in Pakistan. Contrarily, Indian regulations for nuclear sites are inscribed as guidance rather than as binding requirements. Additionally, India lacks an independent regulatory agency even if it has vowed to establish one.
Conversely, Pakistan has played an active role in international nuclear security summits. Islamabad has accepted US president Barack Obama’s proposal for securing all vulnerable materials within four years (i.e. by 2014). Several safety and security measures have been put in place as part of this commitment. Pakistan acceded to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. But it has refused to endorse the Convention’s 2005 amendments because the original articles covered nuclear material in international transport; the amendments sought to extend it to nuclear facilities and to material in peaceful domestic use and storage.
The recent statement of NCA, that carried a reference of deep satisfaction to Pakistan’s national nuclear safety and security measures and another regarding the NSS process for which NCA members were briefed, hints toward Pakistan’s commitment to nuclear security. The statement reads; ‘NCA noted with satisfaction that Pakistan has the requisite credentials that entitle it to become part of all multi-lateral export control regimes, including the NSG, for which Pakistan seeks adoption of a non-discriminatory approach. Pakistan was considering ratification of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Amended), for which NCA gave approval in principle for its ratification’.
Simultaneously, Pakistan has repeatedly reiterated its stance that it has revisited its safety parameters, emergency preparedness and response, and operators’ training and yet again these measures should be recounted in the upcoming international platforms. However, Pakistan maintains, which it should, that nuclear security within a state is a national responsibility because then the fundamental responsibility lies at the state. It is difficult that third party can be asked to come and access them, irrespective of their national or international obligation.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.