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India's Role in Global Nuclear Security Governance

April 10, 2016

India, which has ratified both the Conventions for nuclear security, is ready to participate in national and global nuclear governance with its institutional, legal and regulatory architecture, especially for nuclear security. The Indian nuclear establishment will have to play a more proactive role through the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership

The current format of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) ended in its fourth meeting in Washington, from March 31 to April 1, 2016. Ironically, the first NSS had also taken place in Washington in 2010. Subsequently, two more summits took place in Seoul in 2012 and The Hague in 2014. India has been a participant of the NSS process from the very first meeting. Actually, India started participating in the preparatory meetings called the ‘Sherpa meetings’ for the first NSS.

Of the four summits, India sent Prime Minister-led delegations to three summits, and only in The Hague summit, it sent a minister-level delegation. In all the meetings, Indian officials made statements and in the last three meetings, India filed its national progress reports on nuclear security. The reports have showcased the measures India undertook over the years to strengthen nuclear security in the country and abroad.

India has incrementally played a significant role in meeting the core objectives set out in the communiqués through the course of the four successive summits. It took up a number of key initiatives at both national and international level to allay the alarming threat of nuclear terrorism and reducing the risk of non-state actors and terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear weapons, fissile material and related technologies. These efforts and initiatives reveal India’s firm belief that although the primary responsibility of ensuring and strengthening nuclear security rests at the national level, international cooperation to achieve concrete results needs to be sustained and coordinated.

The first Washington summit held in 2010 saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) in India. He called for participation from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other foreign partners to make the centre a success. This announcement reflected India’s resolve to strengthen nuclear and radiological safety and security through ‘committed and coordinated’ efforts of the international security.

The GCNEP has five schools: School of Advanced Nuclear Energy System Studies (SANESS), School of Nuclear Security Studies (SNSS), School on Radiological Safety Studies (SRSS), School of Nuclear Material Characterization Studies (SNMCS), and the School for Studies on Applications of Radioisotopes and Radiation Technologies (SARRT). All these schools have state-of-the-art facilities. Later, it concluded MOUs with IAEA, the US, Russia and France. Further it gave off-campus training course on Physical Protection in November 2011 for 25 participants, including 17 foreign nationals.

The PM inaugurated the GCNEP in January 2014. Till the time the centre’s infrastructure had not been completed, off-campus training courses are being planned and conducted. The 2016 national progress report submitted by India during the summit noted: “For more than five years now, GCNEP has been steadily strengthening its portfolio of programmes and has conducted more than 30 international and regional programmes involving more than 300 participants from around 30 countries. Important and emerging nuclear security topics like insider threat, vulnerability assessment, transportation security, cyber security, detection, prevention and response to radiological threats etc have been covered in these programmes.”

As the Seoul Summit (2012) was seen to expand on the Washington communiqué and work plan, by focusing on three core areas ie cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism; protection of nuclear materials and related facilities; and prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, India too moved forward to fulfil its responsibilities. India’s active participation in the summit process was witnessed in hosting of a meeting of the Sherpas in New Delhi in January 2012.

Furthermore, India announced that a Bill for the establishment of an independent Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority had been introduced in Parliament that would work towards enhancing oversight of nuclear security and strengthen synergy between safety and security in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Moreover, India expressed its constant support for IAEA’s crucial role in facilitating national efforts to reinforce nuclear security by pledging $1 million to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund in 2012-13.

India actively contributed to the IAEA’s action plans on nuclear security, including the third plan for 2010-13. It also adopted provisions of IAEA Code of Conduct and offered assistance to the IAEA for search and recovery of orphan radioactive sources in countries that were unable to effectively control them. India made contributions to IAEA’s other nuclear security efforts, such as the Commission on Nuclear Safety Standards, Advisory Group on Nuclear Security, Nuclear Security Series documents, international and regional training courses, and the Illicit Trafficking Database.

India cooperated with INTERPOL’s Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Unit and the World Customs Organization. A new concept of ‘gift baskets’, presented as joint statements by the group of participating countries, was introduced in the 2012 summit. However, India did not participate in them at that time.

On the national legal front, India announced that it was considering amendments to the 1962 Indian Atomic Energy Act to strengthen the provisions for nuclear security measures. It had adhered fully to the NSG guidelines with respect to its interest in regime membership. During this period, India had made contributions in the area of reducing nuclear material by developing an advanced heavy water reactor based on Low Enriched Uranium and thorium with new safety and proliferation resistant features. Additionally, it was pointed out that the Highly Enriched Uranium-based fuel in the APSARA reactor was placed in a safeguard facility in December 2010 and that the fuel would be replaced by indigenous fuel, which is not HEU.

With The Hague summit held in 2014, India sought to continuously and consistently advance the efforts and initiatives made through the course of the previous two summits. India maintained its active role in global nuclear governance by fulfilling its international commitments to strengthen the global nuclear security architecture. It participated at the ministerial level in the International Conference on Nuclear Security organised by the IAEA from July 1-5, 2013. India also actively participated in the December 2012 Fukushima ministerial conference on nuclear safety.

India, along with UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, organised a 1540 Workshop on Building New Synergies on Nuclear Security in New Delhi from November 30 to December 1, 2012. As a party to Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, India participated in the working groups on nuclear, detection, nuclear forensics, and response and navigation.

Furthermore, the 2014 summit brought to light the role of industry in implementing nuclear security measures and the role of academia in creating a thriving nuclear security culture. The first industry summit was held alongside the NSS in 2014. Following suit to this, India’s External Affairs Minister called upon the need to sensitise industry and academia about the importance of maintaining highest levels of nuclear safety and security whilst harnessing the benefits of nuclear energy.

On the national front, India set up a Nuclear Controls and Planning Wing in the Department of Atomic Energy to foster fulfilment of commitments to export controls, nuclear safeguards, nuclear safety and security. Additionally, The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was amended in 2012 to incorporate offences within the realm of and as described in several treaties, including the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

India played a momentous role at the 2016 summit. Since the 2014 summit, New Delhi has taken key steps in the ambit of nuclear and radiological security and safety through a strong institutional framework, independent regulatory agency, and trained and specialised manpower. India announced the establishment of a national-level Counter Nuclear Smuggling Team in order to foster coordinated and effective response to counter threats involving smuggling of nuclear and radioactive materials for malevolent purposes. As part of the Special Nuclear Material Detection architecture, 23 Emergency Response Centres spread across India have been developed to respond to any radiological or nuclear emergency in the country.

Additionally, all major sea and air ports have been provided with detection equipment. In the realm of cyber security, India has successfully instituted robust cyber-security architecture. Likewise, India has taken a number of steps to ensure security and physical protection of radiation sources and facilities. As far as the nuclear material in the country is concerned, India is setting up a facility for medical grade ‘Moly-99’ using low enriched uranium and has been recovering Ceasium-137, a useful isotope from the high-level waste occurring from ‘reprocessing spent fuel from thermal reactors’. This is expected to help India’s need for radioisotopes for multiple applications. Further, in 2015, India made a voluntary contribution of $100,000 to the upgrade of IAEA’s Seibersdorf Laboratory, and in 2016, it has once again pledged a contribution of $1 million to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund.

India has committed to the Joint Statement on Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation circulated at the IAEA as INFCIRC 869 and also announced that it will propose a workshop on IAEA’s International Physical Protection Advisory Services (IPPAS) along with the IAEA experts during 2016. Notably, India also pledged participation in gift baskets for 2016 summit in the areas of priority, such as counter nuclear smuggling, nuclear security contact group in Vienna, sharing of best practices.

The progress report submitted by the Indian Government during the 2016 summit mentioned: “International cooperation also includes cooperation at the level of NGOs and a recent example includes a conference on India’s Role in Global Nuclear Governance organised in February 24-26, 2016, jointly by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).” Indeed in this meeting, the Department of Atomic Energy experts informed the eminent foreign experts and global public opinion makers about the robustness of the Indian nuclear security architecture, especially for physical protection. The interaction made the Indian and foreign participants realise the flaw of the Nuclear Threat Initiative indexing methodology.

Unfortunately, the 2016 summit ended on a somewhat bitter note for India. On April 1, in a press conference, US President Barack Obama remarked, “One of the challenges that we’re going to have here is that it is very difficult to see huge reductions in our nuclear arsenal unless the US and Russia, as the two largest possessors of nuclear weapons, are prepared to lead the way. The other area where I think we’d need to see progress is Pakistan and India, that subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction.”

Although the statement talked about the reduction of the US arsenals as well, yet it infuriated India, especially its strategic community. In fact, the general understanding across the world is that the US and Russia, which possess about 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile, are still slow in removing the weapons even from active deployment, leave alone eliminating it. It is bizarre to advise a new nuclear weapon country like India to reduce its arsenals. Shockingly, Obama’s statement advises a country like India to develop military doctrine in the right direction.

The spontaneous angry Indian reaction on Obama’s statement is because of the pointless hyphenation of India and Pakistan. The Indian policy community has reasons for reacting strongly. Pakistan and China have been developing nuclear weapons through a clandestine network. In his famous 2011 statement, AQ Khan claimed that the enrichment technology, which he had stolen, was used in China for improving the Chinese enrichment capability.

Moreover, the arms build-up in Asia began with the opaque development of nuclear weapons in China. Quite significantly, it was the clandestine nuclear nexus between China and Pakistan, and the resultant arms build-up which forced India to nuclearise. Unfortunately, Obama was silent on the Chinese nuclear and missile modernisation. China is qualitatively and quantitatively developing its nuclear weapons. The Chinese modernisation is going to have serious security implications for not only friends and allies of the US but also for it.

On the contrary, India has a nuclear doctrine underscoring credible minimum deterrence and no-first-use. The US and Pakistan have the doctrine of first use of nuclear weapons. For sure, both countries may need doctrinal course correction. Some argue that the message in Obama’s press conference was for Pakistan. In recent years, Pakistan has been projecting that its tactical weapons may be used in a battlefield. The basic objective of this projection is to shield terrorism sponsored by Pakistan.

If the message was for Pakistan, there was a need to deliver it directly to Pakistan. To drag India into it was totally unnecessary. It is a case of an annoying Western habit of clubbing India and Pakistan together. However, there is another explanation. Some feel Obama’s message is meant for a section of the Indian strategic community that has been demanding revision in the existing nuclear doctrine so as to send a strong signal to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. If this is the case, then Obama should be held guilty of undermining the nuclear security which is supposed to counter terrorism. Obama, in any case, should be on India’s side.

The US has to realise that the task set by Obama has not been accomplished. The US administration needs to be focused. Challenges for nuclear security have not vanished. Even if the summit process has ended, there is consensus that international efforts have to continue. India, which has ratified both the Conventions for nuclear security, is ready to participate in national and global nuclear governance with its institutional, legal and regulatory architecture, especially for nuclear security. The Indian nuclear establishment will have to play a more proactive role through the GCNEP.

The article was originally published in The Pioneer.