Enhancing security

The Third Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague has concluded with participating countries renewing their pledge to prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

While the Hague meet did not break any new ground, it drew attention to the growing threat of cyber attacks and their implications for nuclear security. The final communiqué contains agreements to prevent nuclear terrorism by reducing stockpiles of nuclear materials, making stocks more secure and enhancing international co-operation. In a bid to concretise these agreements, an initiative on the sidelines of the summit sought to push countries to convert their current voluntary commitment to enhancing nuclear security into legally binding commitments. To this end, 35 of the 53 countries participating in the summit agreed to enact legislation concretising guidelines for enhancing nuclear security. Importantly, these countries have agreed to allow periodic peer reviews of their efforts and to implement any resulting recommendations. While their signing on to concretising their commitment to nuclear security is laudable, the record of several of these signatories is hardly responsible. In the circumstances, their criticism of India for not signing on to the Hague initiative - Delhi’s reluctance may have to do with its unease over hosting intrusive reviews of its nuclear security efforts – is without merit.

At the summit, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid drew attention to an important aspect of the international community’s current approach to preventing terrorists from accessing nuclear material. It is preoccupied with non-state actors laying hands on such material, often ignoring the role that states play in supporting terrorism by non-state actors. He was, of course, referring to the Pakistani state’s ties with terrorist groups. The international community needs to consider seriously the possibility of sections in the Pakistan state facilitating a leak of nuclear material, weapons and technology to terrorists.

Hailing the achievements of the four-year-old Nuclear Security Summit process, analysts have pointed out that the number of countries possessing 1 kg or more of weapons-grade nuclear material has fallen from 32 to 25. Besides, 12 others have reduced their nuclear material holdings and enhanced security. Simply reducing the number of countries with weapons-grade nuclear material will not prevent nuclear terrorism. The approach needs to be one of total global nuclear disarmament rather than holding on to the fatally flawed non-proliferation route to security.

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