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Nuclear Security Summit Process (2010 – 2016) – What Next?

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  • April 16, 2016

    The Nuclear Security Summit has played a dynamic role in bringing high-level political attention to the possibility of terrorists gaining hold of weapons-usable nuclear materials and the need to mitigate these risks.

    Beginning 2010 and then subsequently in 2012 and 2014, the Summit successively laid out the vision for a comprehensive and effective global nuclear security system. The Summits emphasized on the possibility to undertake and implement significant steps for strengthening the global nuclear security system. Though the Summit process has been successful in effecting incremental steps towards a robust nuclear security system, there are gaps between what has been done and what more needs to be done.

    With the Nuclear Security Summit coming to an end in April 2016, the international community must garner requisite diplomacy to continue the legacy of the process. This proposal seeks to explore the existing gaps that need to be addressed for a comprehensive nuclear security system. It will focus on possible areas of cooperation especially at the regional and global levels for developing a robust nuclear security regime. Lastly, the proposal will also consider possible areas of continuing the legacy of the NSS process at the regional level within the Indian subcontinent.

    The existing nuclear security system is ridden with weak links within the larger structure. Thus, while effective steps have been taken to mitigate risks against illicit diversion of weapons-usable nuclear materials, unsecured nuclear materials still exist in the world.

    Pakistan, ahead of the 2016 NSS had ratified the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material 2005 Amendment, but it still has not adhered to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. This is a potential gap and terrorists will exploit such gaps within the security system for their malicious purposes. Furthermore, Pakistan possesses a large stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) estimated at 3.1 ± 0.4 tons and continues to produce HEU for its weapons purposes. This is an extremely dangerous situation and undermines efforts in securing nuclear materials in the region. Consequently, it heightens the threat of illicit diversion of nuclear materials globally.

    While risk factors exist, there are potential areas where India and Pakistan can potentially collaborate to eliminate weak links within the nuclear security mechanisms existing in the Indian subcontinent. India’s nuclear centre of excellence – the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) is a dedicated centre of excellence on nuclear security, with participation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other foreign partners. Its primary mission is to develop a robust nuclear security culture by building a system that is intrinsically safe, secure, sustainable, and proliferation-resistant. Collaborative programs between the Indian and Pakistani centers of excellence (CoEs) can contribute towards strengthening nuclear security not only in the subcontinent, but also worldwide. Such collaboration might help develop potential for joint efforts towards a range of research synergies to strengthen regional response against any vertical proliferation. India and Pakistan are both victims of terrorism and hence there exists a common cause for both to combine their nuclear expertise and excellence in combating nuclear security threat.

    Any regional nuclear security architecture within the Indian subcontinent cannot be complete without the effective cooperation of China. India may explore possibilities to negotiate with China and Pakistan to create a Regional Nuclear Security Summit process to prevent proliferation of weapons usable nuclear materials. Given potential nuclear security risks from terrorist organizations like the ISIS, increasing demands for nuclear energy, fissile material expansion, and tactical nuclear weapons, a trilateral nuclear security summit between India, Pakistan and China can contribute in increasing awareness of the potential nuclear security risks in the sub-continent. A regional nuclear security fund can be proposed to which member states voluntary contribute for improved nuclear security through training, disseminating expert guidance and other assistance. Such a tri-level political initiative holds the potential for building an improved and strengthened mechanism of nuclear security.

    Nuclear security risks are one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. The Nuclear Security Summit process effectively endorsed that states have a fundamental responsibility “to maintain at all times effective security of all nuclear and other radioactive materials, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons, and nuclear facilities under their control.” However, though nuclear security is a sovereign responsibility the consequences of any severe nuclear incident are transnational. Hence, international collaboration is critical in building effective nuclear security and enhancing a strong security culture. An effective nuclear security that permeates through all the agencies/departments governing nuclear security contributes in timely mitigation of the growing challenges. There is no room for complacency.

    The article was originally published in the The Dialogue.