The fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), hosted by the US from March 31 to April 1, 2016 at Washington DC, is seen as a transition of the initiative from the leadership level to the technical level – to implement the understanding reached during the summit process in the form of communiqués and various outcome documents.
Amongst other organisations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), having the requisite expertise and mandate, is likely to be accorded a leading and central role in the implementation of the nuclear security related initiatives. The challenge for the international community would be to avoid a duplication of effort.
Except for the IAEA and the UN, other initiatives including the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the Global Partnership do not enjoy universal membership, which could make it problematic to develop solutions from these selective platforms that have universal acceptance. Likewise, Interpol, which essentially deals with criminal offences of a different nature, is still building its capacity in the field of nuclear security.
Pakistan, along with several other states, has been emphasising that instead of launching new initiatives, the NSS process should aim to strengthen existing arrangements, to avoid unnecessary duplication. Multiple initiatives moving on different trajectories can stretch states’ resources, thereby making it difficult to remain meaningfully engaged in implementing NSS-related commitments.
The NSS process has been able to develop a better understanding of nuclear security issues among participating states. Universalising this consensus would remain an uphill task, as several states that did not participate in the NSS could object to new initiatives launched without their consent from the platforms of international organisations, including the IAEA and the UN. Since these organisations are governed by their respective mandates and decision-making processes, any deviation in their existing tasks and roles is likely to be opposed by countries that were not invited to be part of the NSS process.
International institutions like the IAEA are only mandated to oversee the civil-nuclear fuel cycle services of member states. Military programmes do not fall under their purview. Any effort to broaden the scope of the IAEA’s work would undermine its credibility, and may discourage states to remain engaged with this important institution that has been projected to perform a leading and central role in implementing NSS-related commitments.
The past communiqués that came out after each successive summit endorsed the fundamental principle that nuclear security essentially remains a national responsibility, thus making it imperative for all countries to ensure that non-state actors do not gain access to nuclear or radiological material from their respective territories. Measures suggested to strengthen national nuclear security efforts, nevertheless, should not make it a cost prohibitive exercise. They should be based on a realistic assessment of the nature of the threat and the measures needed for its mitigation.
Pakistan participated in the NSS process as a willing partner, as it was intended to create awareness on the nuclear security threat, which is a global concern and not a country-specific issue. During all the previous summits, Pakistan has maintained its principled position that the goal of strengthened the global nuclear security architecture can only be achieved by encouraging states to adopt measures at the national level, without creating new and parallel mechanisms, as nuclear security essentially remains a national responsibility.
To do its part, Pakistan is working closely with the IAEA and has implemented the best international practices, as part of its Nuclear Security Action Plan since 2005. It is also a signatory to several major international conventions that deal with nuclear safety and security. More recently, Pakistan has ratified the amended Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The convention obligates all signatories to take measures that would ensure the physical protection of their civilian nuclear facilities and materials. Pakistan’s ratification of the CPPNM (amended) would help achieve the requisite number of signatories to bring the convention into force.
Amongst other contributions towards global nuclear security efforts, Pakistan has participated actively in the US-led GICNT since 2007, and has contributed to the drafting of various guideline documents. These contributions have been recognised by the US and other states. Through these engagements, Pakistan has demonstrated that as a technologically advanced nuclear state, which is willing to engage in global non-proliferation and nuclear security efforts as an equal partner, it has the appropriate credentials to become part of the mainstream non-proliferation regime.
If the NSS process is perceived as a means to achieve the end objective of comprehensive global nuclear security, this can be possible by integrating all principal stakeholders in the mainstream nuclear regime, which would provide a greater incentive for states to make meaningful contributions to strengthening the global nuclear security architecture.
The NSS process has an important lesson for the international community: Multilateral initiatives based on non-discrimination could yield better dividends, as they have helped strengthen global nuclear security efforts. Similar approaches could prove to be equally beneficial in strengthening the existing global non-proliferation regime.
The writer is visiting faculty at the NDU.