Pakistan wants access to technology, India to stress safety-security interface, NAM for disarmament

As its title makes clear, the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) — now in its second iteration — is all about security: how to ensure that nuclear material around the world does not fall into the wrong hands.

But behind that broad agenda lie other, less consensual aims that are beginning slowly to bubble up to the surface. Some of this was evident in the run-up to the Seoul summit — at the “sherpas” meeting in New Delhi earlier this year and in the meetings which took place between 50-odd national delegations these past few days — but despite several countries seeking to steer a new course, the politics of the NSS remains surprisingly uncomplicated for things nuclear in this day and age.

For Pakistan — whose Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani spoke at the opening dinner Monday night — the summit was an occasion to flag its long-standing demand for access to civilian nuclear technology. “Last year, the IAEA Board of Governors unanimously approved the safeguards agreements of our two new civil nuclear power plants,” he said, referring to the Chashma-3 and 4 reactors supplied by China.

That approval “shows the international community's continued confidence in the safety and security standards maintained by Pakistan,” Mr. Gilani claimed, adding: “We urge the international community to give Pakistan access to nuclear technology for peaceful uses on a non-discriminatory basis.” In an implicit reference to the support extended by the U.S. and others to Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Pakistani Prime Minister said his country “qualifies to become a member of the NSG and other export control regimes.”

Though most participants in the summit regard Pakistan as a high-risk country because of the A.Q. Khan episode and the links its military has had with extremist elements, Prime Minister Gilani said the “democratic government of Pakistan” is fully committed to nuclear security. But the summit declaration is likely to adopt accounting and reporting measures that are designed to increase international confidence in the security of Pakistani materials.

Indian officials said they shared these global concerns about nuclear security in Pakistan but conceded that a balance had to be struck so that India itself — which is seen as a constructive player in the NSS process — does not end up getting unduly burdened by the same obligations.

For the Seoul summit, India has chosen to focus on what officials call the “security-safety interface”. Nuclear security, said R.B. Grover, Senior Adviser in the Department of Atomic Energy, was much more than about “guns, guards and gates”. “One has to take care of security at the plant design stage…We need to provide for zoning and install access controls.”

Dr. Grover also said countries around the world should consider — as part of the design of a nuclear plant — their vulnerability to “threats by insiders”. This was the reason why the proposed Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority in India would also be tasked with looking after security within the plant.

While the focus on nuclear safety in a meeting on nuclear security may seem logical in the post-Fukushima world, the effort by other delegations — especially South Africa and other nonaligned countries — to push the NSS in the direction of looking at disarmament issues has not found many takers.

India has taken the view that the pursuit of nuclear security is an important enough goal, something that must be pursued even if the disarmament agenda is not making much headway at the global level. U.S. President Barack Obama also sought to blunt any efforts to bring arms control into the NSS by warning about the dangers of terrorists getting hold of nuclear material — an outcome the Nuclear Security Summit is meant to prevent — while promising, at a speech to students at Hankuk University in Seoul on Monday, further cuts in the American nuclear arsenal.

While the U.S. is not averse to pursuing arms control goals like the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty outside of the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Disarmament, which is currently log-jammed, it knows the NSS is not the forum where any meaningful negotiation could take place.

Indian officials say part of the reason the NSS process has worked so far is because the usual division of states into those who have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and those, like India, who have not, is not a factor here. An attempt was made before the first summit in Washington in 2010 to bring in the NPT but this was beaten back by the US and others. Noting the constructive role New Delhi has played in the two summits, senior Indian officials say this demonstrates the stake India has in the global nuclear regime and the contribution it can make to its strengthening once others stop using the NPT stick against it.

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