In April 2009, while outlining his nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda in Prague, President Obama announced that he would host a leadership-level Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). The objective was to raise awareness, at the highest political level, about the threat of nuclear terrorism and the need to strengthen global nuclear security efforts.
The first summit, which was hosted by the US in 2010 in Washington DC, issued a communique and a work plan that reflected a broad consensus on the need for all states to strengthen nuclear security efforts. Successive summit-level meetings held in Seoul (2012) and The Hague (2014) helped create greater awareness on nuclear security related issues. The final summit, planned at Washington DC from March, 2016 to April 1, 2016 would culminate the NSS process with a communique and possibly some guideline documents to identify future nuclear security efforts.
Pakistan is one of the 53 states, besides the four international observers – the UN, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Interpol and the EU – that are invited to be part of the NSS process. Pakistan’s delegation to all summits was led by the prime minister. Following past precedent, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is likely to head the Pakistani delegation at the coming summit as well.
Because nuclear security is a highly sensitive issue, Pakistan’s engagement in the NSS process was guided by the following key principles: first, the NSS should not lead to new or parallel mechanisms; rather, it should help strengthen the existing arrangements. Second, the NSS should not put any additional obligations on the participating countries.
Third, the NSS should maintain focus on the civil-nuclear fuel cycle, without venturing into weapons programmes, which remain the sovereign prerogative of all nuclear weapon states. And finally, NSS-related commitments, as agreed by participating states in the form of communiques and other outcome documents, would remain voluntary in nature and be guided by the states’ domestic and international obligations.
Pakistan has been constructively engaged in the NSS process and has made significant contributions to building a consensus and developing a common understanding on nuclear security issues. In retrospect, the confidence reposed by the global powers in Pakistan’s nuclear security efforts at such high level meetings has helped remove the misperceptions about Pakistan’s nuclear program, which continues to be the target of criticism, mainly for political reasons.
The summit also offered an opportunity for Pakistan to project its credentials in the nuclear field. In its national statement at the 2010 NSS, Pakistan introduced the main contours of its nuclear security regime, which includes: (i) a well-defined command and control system; (ii) a strict regulatory regime covering all nuclear security and safety matters; (iii) a comprehensive export control regime and; (iv) international cooperation consistent with national priorities and interests, as well as international obligations.
The 2010 national statement also elaborated measures that Pakistan has taken towards strategic export control, to align its export control guidelines with the requirements of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Both these regimes regulate global nuclear and missile trade. Pakistan hopes to join these ‘informal’ arrangements to meet its civilian nuclear needs and to benefit from dual-use technologies for its civilian space programme.
At the 2010 NSS, the prime minister also made a strong case for providing access to peaceful nuclear technology on a non-discriminatory basis to meet Pakistan’s growing energy needs. As a technologically advanced nuclear-state, Pakistan also offered its nuclear fuel cycle services, under IAEA safeguards, and conveyed the willingness to participate in any non-discriminatory nuclear fuel cycle assurances mechanism, which would be critical to achieve the target of 40,000 megawatts, as per Pakistan’s nuclear energy vision of 2050.
Pakistan’s national statement at the 2012 NSS at Seoul introduced its state of the art Centre of Excellence (CoE) on nuclear security, which is now known as the Pakistan Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security (PCENS). It conducts specialised courses on nuclear security related issues and is one of the best facilities in the region. Since its establishment, the PCENS has conducted several international and regional courses in collaboration with the IAEA. Pakistan has also offered its PCENS as a regional and international hub for nuclear security training for countries that want to benefit from Pakistan’s experience.
Another significant aspect of the 2012 statement was the establishment of the Nuclear Emergency Management System, which caters to the entire spectrum of nuclear and radiological incidents and accidents. The Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Support Centre and the National Radiation Emergency Coordination Centre are working round the clock to help provide a coordinated response in case of nuclear and radiological accidents.
The NSS process has been able to achieve the intended objective of developing a better understanding of the threat of nuclear terrorism and the need to strengthen global nuclear security efforts. This objective can be achieved by encouraging states to strengthen their respective nuclear security efforts without putting on additional obligations and creating new mechanisms.
The writer is visiting faculty at the NDU.