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Nuclear Security Summit, Seoul 2012

The nuclear summit includes both states and non-state actors and is designed as a collective effort to resolve issues of nuclear security and terrorism. At the heart of the Summit’s agenda is the concern relative to nuclear safety measures, its proliferation and illegal trafficking as well as efforts to reduce the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU).

 

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the world’s combined stockpile of nuclear weapons remains at a very high level: more than 19,000. Of these, some 4800 warheads are considered operational, of which nearly 2000 US and Russian warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice. The world has lived with both the threat of nuclear weapons since the Second World War as well as their expansion in the military arsenal of states as a weapon designed to ensure the national survival and security of states. However, the presence of nuclear weapons as a measure of ensuring the security of states poses a security paradox and a security dilemma. The paradox is that states possessing nuclear weapons have never used nuclear weapons (except for the United States in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in an actual theatre of war. This begets the essential question that if nuclear weapons are, or will never be, used then why they are needed in the first place? The security dilemma, on the other hand, pertains to the fact that nuclear weapons designed for the security and survival of states might in the end become the very undoing of their existence. In this sense, the use of nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to both the domestic security of states as well as global security!

The idea of a nuclear security summit was first proposed by President Barack Obama in 2009 when he singled out nuclear terrorism as the most serious threat to international security and announced his plan to lead a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world in four years. In line with President Obama’s predilection, the first Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington in 2010 and the second held in Seoul on March 26-27, 2012. The nuclear summit includes both states and non-state actors and is designed as a collective effort to resolve issues of nuclear security and terrorism. At the heart of the Summit’s agenda is the concern relative to nuclear safety measures, its proliferation and illegal trafficking as well as efforts to reduce the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU). In the recently concluded nuclear security summit, the attendees included 53 heads of state and government, as well as representatives of the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, European Union and INTERPOL. The Seoul Communique built on the first nuclear security summit by identifying 11 areas of priority and importance in nuclear security including: the global nuclear security architecture, the role of the IAEA, nuclear materials, radioactive sources, nuclear security and safety, transportation security, combating illicit trafficking, nuclear forensics, nuclear security culture, information security and international cooperation. The Seoul Summit noted with much pleasure that concrete results had indeed been achieved in the areas identified above since the Washington Summit. In particular, around 530 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from eight countries have been removed for disposal, an amount enough to produce about 21 nuclear weapons with Ukraine and Mexico accomplishing a total cleanout of all stockpiles of HEU just prior to the Seoul Summit by returning them to Russia and the US respectively.

Pakistan also attended and made its presence felt in the two-day summit. It made its adherence to the nuclear security culture a priority and assured its full cooperation with the IAEA and its regulations. Pakistan has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons with the United States expressing fear last year that Pakistani nuclear weapons might fall in the hands of terrorists. During the summit, Pakistan reiterated its commitment to nuclear safety and security by emphasizing that it possesses ‘a rigorous regulatory regime covering all matters related to nuclear safety and security including physical protection of materials and facilities, material control and accounting, transport security, prevention of illicit trafficking and border controls, as well as plans to deal with possible radiological emergencies.’ Based on its experience with nuclear technology, Pakistan, during the summit, asserted that it qualifies to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and export control regimes on a non-discriminatory basis. Moreover, Pakistan also committed itself to opening up a Nuclear Security Training Centre to act as a regional and international hub and deploying Special Nuclear Material Portals on key exit and entry points to counter the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.

Based on its experience with nuclear technology, Pakistan, during the summit, asserted that it qualifies to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and export control regimes on a non-discriminatory basis.
Though the nuclear security summit was designed to ensure nuclear security, it still does not address the critically important issues relative to nuclear disarmament or nuclear non-proliferation. Such controversial issues are deemed to have a negative impact and political fallout on the all-important critical issue of state sovereignty. This implies that far-reaching measures needed for global security are still difficult to achieve. What we have is arms control measures in which states through mutual consent establish to ensure that their nuclear weapons technology is safe and secure enough so that a regional/global nuclear war does not break out. According to the anti-nuclear weapons theorists and activists, the problem with nuclear weapons is that their existence locks states into a permanent state of conflict whereby permanent peace is never ensured. If, they argue, the presence of nuclear weapons reduces the prospects of war then they in the same instance reduce chances of peace!
By way of the nuclear security summit, President Barack Obama intended to highlight the American agenda to ensure a safe and secure world (with nuclear weapons, not without them). The United States is a close second to Russia in the list of states with the most nuclear weapons. Though exact numbers are still not known due to the propensity of states to guard their intelligence data, it is estimated by the Ploughshares Fund that Russia possesses 10,000 nuclear weapons and the United States 8,500 respectively. It is perplexing to assume why a huge stockpile of weapons is needed when even ten or at the most twenty high yield nuclear weapons could destroy the world and make it inhospitable for every single living creature. The lucky ones, in this case, will be the dead not the survivors!

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