Opinion » Columns » Siddharth Varadarajan

Updated: June 11, 2010 15:19 IST

India wants ‘zero tolerance’ for nuclear traffickers

Siddharth Varadarajan
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President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the official arrivals for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Monday.
President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the official arrivals for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Monday.

With the spectre of A.Q. Khan and his clandestine smuggling ring still haunting India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told world leaders that there should be “zero tolerance for individuals and groups which engage in illegal trafficking in nuclear items.”

He was speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit convened by the United States to address international concerns that lax national attitudes towards the physical protection of nuclear material could allow terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons or ‘dirty bombs.'

But if India could not resist the opportunity of reminding the world of the failings of its neighbour, Pakistan was also true to form, equating the problem of nuclear security to one of “strategic restraint” in the subcontinent.

Forty-seven countries attended the two-day meet. The next Nuclear Security Summit will be held in South Korea in 2012, they decided.

In a national statement delivered to the summit on Tuesday, Dr. Singh said India was deeply concerned about the danger of nuclear explosives or fissile material and technical know-how falling in to the hands of non-state actors.

The primary responsibility for ensuring nuclear security rested at the national level, he said “but national responsibility must be accompanied by responsible behaviour by States. If not, it remains an empty slogan.”

Dr. Singh's words were so sharply in contrast to what Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told the summit working dinner on Monday night that they almost seemed to have been drafted in response. “Nuclear security within a state is a national responsibility,” Mr. Gilani had said.

In an implicit dig at Pakistan and those European states whose nationals were involved in the A.Q. Khan network, Prime Minister Singh said all countries should scrupulously abide by their international obligations. “It is a matter of deep regret that the global non-proliferation regime has failed to prevent nuclear proliferation. Clandestine proliferation networks have flourished and led to insecurity for all, including and especially for India. We must learn from past mistakes and institute effective measures to prevent their recurrence.”

In his remarks, Mr. Gilani said the “democratic government of Pakistan” was committed to ensuring nuclear security. Pakistan's objective is to “enhance nuclear security, in its holistic sense, and reduce nuclear risks,” said Mr. Gilani, adding that its proposals on “a strategic restraint regime in South Asia will go a long way in making our region secure and stable.” Pakistan had already worked with India on several nuclear confidence-building measures, he added. “This effort must continue. More than ever before, our two nations need to hold a sustained dialogue to address all issues.”

The Pakistani Prime Minister also made a renewed pitch for access to nuclear technology for peaceful uses “in a non-discriminatory manner.”

Though Dr. Singh dwelt at length on India's approach to nuclear security, the highlight of his remarks was the announcement of the Indian decision to set up a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership, “visualised to be a state-of-the-art facility based on international participation from the IAEA and other interested foreign partners.”

President Barack Obama responded to Dr. Singh's offer, saying “We welcome the announcement of the setting of the centre by India. This will be one more tool to establish best practices.”

Providing details of the new initiative, Dr. Singh said the centre would consist of four schools dealing with Advanced Nuclear Energy System Studies, Nuclear Security, Radiation Safety, and the application of Radioisotopes and Radiation Technology in the areas of healthcare, agriculture and food.

“The centre will conduct research and development of design systems that are intrinsically safe, secure, proliferation resistant and sustainable. We would welcome participation in this venture by your countries, the IAEA and the world to make this centre's work a success,” Dr. Singh said.

A four-page brochure prepared by the Department of Atomic Energy and distributed at the summit contained an outline of the programme modules to be offered at each of the four schools.

There are many definitions of the expression "zero tolerance". One definition says that it denotes "the policy or practice of not tolerating undesirable behavior, such as violence or illegal drug use, especially in the automatic imposition of severe penalties for first offenses". There are others with different implications available on the internet. Under these conditions use of this expression, which is not uniquely defined, in a government policy statement cannot have much value. Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman of International Human Rights Law and Policy in a letter to Mayor of Los Angeles James K. Hahn inter alia stated the following:
"Zero tolerance reduces policing to a roving paramilitary pressure force. It is the law enforcement equivalent of saturation or carpet bombing in a military operation. It entails great human and financial costs, and sweeps up many innocent victims. Also, experts agree that a huge budget and concentration of troops is necessary to reduce crime in a zero tolerance campaign."

When government leaders talk about 'Zero tolerance" to certain types of crimes,one wonders whether they realise what those two words mean in theory and practice. Will the media ever pick up enough courage to ask the Presidents and Prime Ministers of this world what exactly they mean when they talk about zero tolerance to different types of crimes.

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Apr 14, 2010 at 09:23 IST
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