By Muhammad Faisal*
The fourth nuclear security summit – the biennial conclave of heads of governments from around the world – concluded recently in Washington, DC. The final summit focused on securing nuclear materials, preventing nuclear terrorism, strengthening national and international nuclear security regimes, and charting a future course of action to ensure that nuclear security is accorded highest priority by states around the world.
The idea of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) was advanced by US President Barack Obama during his 2009 Prague speech, when he termed the danger of nuclear terrorism as one of the “most immediate and extreme threats to global security.” This assessment emerged from the sharp increase in the quantity of fissile materials in the world, and potential risk of non-state actors acquiring small quantities of radioactive and weapons-usable fissile material.
The three previous NSS have focused on reaffirming nuclear security as a national responsibility, while fulfilling international obligations, securing all nuclear and radioactive materials including nuclear-weapons-usable material, accounting for HEU and reprocessed plutonium, and converting HEU to LEU, where viable. Leaders have also looked at the global nuclear security system and the international safeguards to control spread of fissile materials.
Since 2012, seven states have removed nuclear materials from their territories and more than a dozen states have taken steps to reduce their stockpiles of fissile materials and strengthen security of the materials they possess. Today, only 25 states in the world have one kilogram or more of weapons-usable fissile materials. Thus, the number of states with sensitive and dangerous nuclear materials has decreased substantially. This is significant progress since the commencement of the NSS process.
During the Prague speech, President Obama had pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials in the world within four years, but this goal has not been achieved yet. Primarily because critical international legal agreements that have the capacity to increase the security of potentially vulnerable fissile materials are not in force. The 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) has not come into force yet. In the past few weeks, state parties have ratified the amended CPPNM. At the fourth NSS, the remaining states announced their willingness to ratify it at the earliest. As of 4 April 2016, two more adherences are required for entry into force, which will contribute to the strengthening of nuclear security around the world. These processes are expected to be completed in a few weeks.
Pakistan has also been an active participant during the NSS process. Pakistani Prime Ministers have led national delegations at the first three summits. However, in the wake of the tragic terrorist attack in Lahore, days prior to fourth Summit, PM Sharif had to stay back at home. A high-level delegation from Pakistan attended the Washington Summit, which reflects the level of attention being paid to issues related to nuclear security and challenge of nuclear terrorism.
In recent years, Pakistan has been confronted with a deteriorating internal security environment due to spill over of the war in Afghanistan. Challenges to secure nuclear facilities, materials and arsenal have grown manifold. In parallel, Pakistan has also invested in a rigorous nuclear security regime to ensure maximum security of its nuclear installations and materials. Guarding its nuclear facilities, weapons and materials is the supreme national interest of Pakistan. The security of these weapons and associated infrastructure has, therefore, been the top priority of the government.
Pakistan has invested in raising specialised divisions backed by a dedicated force equipped with high-end technologies to ensure physical protection, material control and accounting, transport security, and personnel reliability. It is an all-encompassing nuclear security regime. Pakistan has also deployed Special Nuclear Material Portals on major entry and exit points to check the illicit transportation of fissile materials. A specialised Centre for Excellence (CoE) to build a nuclear security culture and maintain consistency has also been set up.
At the Seoul Summit, Pakistan offered to open its Nuclear Security Training centre for other states, which would allow it to be a regional and global centre of learning and training. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in collaboration with Pakistan, has conducted af ew expert-level training courses at Pakistan’s CoE. Pakistan has repeatedly expressed its resolve to enhance nuclear security and engage with the international community to promote nuclear safety and security.
The NSS process provided Pakistan an opportunity to engage with the international community at the highest political level. However, Pakistan maintains that institutionalising the NSS process is not advisable, as it considers nuclear security to be a national responsibility. As the 2016 NSS Summit marked the end of the NSS process, its Communique reaffirmed the “the essential responsibility and the central role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in strengthening the global nuclear security architecture…” IAEA will be the lead international organisation in implementing the Action Plans of the NSS process. Moreover, ministerial-level meetings will ensure continued “political momentum” on nuclear security.
States have also agreed to maintain an international network of experts who were part of the NSS process. It would have been prudent to institutionalise such a network with a permanent secretariat within the IAEA with the inclusion of the broader community of states. Such a secretariat would have institutionalised the NSS process at the diplomatic level for future engagements.
Pakistan, while seeking to broaden its engagement with IAEA on nuclear security, can also adopt international guidelines on nuclear security as its national law, after reviewing them according to Pakistan’s requirements. Legislation on nuclear security akin to the Strategic Export Control Act of 2004 (which also follows the NSG and other international guidelines) would go a long way towards addressing questions that are frequently raised. Nonetheless, Pakistan has engaged the international community at the highest political level to address apprehensions and to ensure the safety and security of its fissile materials at all cost. For Pakistan, nuclear security goes beyond the NSS process, and is directly linked to national security of the country.
* Muhammad Faisal
Research Fellow, Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad