The latest of the so-called “nuclear security summits” happened at the Hague on March 24-25 and is a joke gone too far. The forum established as a means to, ex post facto, buff up US president Barack Obama’s non-existent Nobel Peace Prize winner credentials in the wake of his April 2009 address in Prague calling for a nuclear weapons-free world—his sole foray into nuclear peace-making that fetched him the prize—has gained an unseemly life of its own. Thus, an Obama vanity vehicle, lacking any real legitimacy, is emerging as an international body dealing with security of nuclear materials and measures to thwart nuclear terrorism in competition with the United Nations Disarmament Commission. Whatever their stated aims, these two forums are in place basically to perpetuate the unfair international nuclear order and the supremacy of the five nuclear weapons powers—a status they bestowed on themselves, courtesy the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
India should be thankful that the soon to be ex-prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who showed unusual and quite unnecessary enthusiasm when attending the two earlier biennial summits, did not betake himself to the Netherlands on this occasion as well, to do what he did in the past—spout banalities conforming to the Obama line as if Indian and US interests on nuclear issues are congruent. Fortunately, he chose a local forum, but not on April Fool’s Day, to expound on the unrealistic and unrealisable notion of a No First Use Treaty as lead-up to a fully nuclear disarmed world. Minister for external affairs Salman Khurshid, a replacement for the PM at the Hague summit, more pettily tried to tighten the noose of responsibility for potential nuclear terrorism around Pakistan’s neck saying the summit’s focus on non-state actors “should in no way diminish state accountability in combating terrorism, dismantling its support structures or its linkages with weapons of mass destruction”.
Meanwhile, Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif sat next to Obama in the plenary session, his speech demanding recognition and benefits due Pakistan as a responsible nuclear weapons state being made in the context of the just released 2014 Nuclear Materials Security Index which showed Pakistan to have actually improved its ranking to 21 on the list, two positions ahead of India, as judged on five criteria—quantity of fissile material, quality of their storage sites, security and control measures, security norms, domestic commitments and capacity, and the risk environment. No surprise then that Islamabad later claimed that Pakistan’s good nuclear standing had been implicitly acknowledged at the summit.
Khurshid’s taking a shy at Pakistan was all very well, except by once again voicing India’s strong commitment to “global efforts to prevent the proliferation” of nuclear weapons and “their means of delivery”, he weakened India’s option to pay China back in the same coin for nuclear missile arming Pakistan. Mindful, however, of the coming change of government in New Delhi he did not eliminate this option altogether. Thus, India joined Russia, China and Pakistan in not signing the “pledge” accepting intrusive “peer review” (verification by other means) of their nuclear security regimes that 35 countries out of the 53 attending acquiesced in. It leaves a strong nationalist-minded potential prime minister such as Narendra Modi free, among other things, to rethink the country’s position on this issue and to consider the politico-military utility of passing on strategic armaments covertly to the many countries on China’s periphery fearful of an ambitious and aggressive Beijing who desire powerful means of their own to deter it.
The curtain raiser to the summit was the surprising but largely symbolic act by Japan to surrender 500kg of its bomb grade fissile material—330kg of plutonium and 170kg of enriched uranium, enough for as many as 70 weapons—to the care of the US. This move was, perhaps, to win brownie points with Obama who at the first such summit in Washington in 2010 had hoped that all vulnerable fissile material in the world would be secured within four years—a laughably unrealistic goal. Tokyo, however, took care to retain over nine metric tons of reprocessed plutonium that it can transform into a very large nuclear arsenal in double quick time, a fact that keeps Beijing on tenterhooks.
Moreover, the small amount of surrendered Japanese fissile material, as Sharon Squassoni of the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies noted, still leaves some 1,390 tons of highly enriched uranium and 490 tons of separated plutonium, which can be turned into more than 100,000 nuclear weapons, available mostly with the five nuclear weapons states (N-5). It highlights the futility of such summits, which end up permitting the worst transgressors to get away by doing nothing beyond a bit of political theatre. So the N-5 pushed for all the other countries to divest themselves of the offending nuclear material and any and all means of converting them into armaments, pronto! The brazen hypocrisy of it is striking enough for former Pakistan foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad to dismiss the Hague conference as a “junket” fulfilling a “global nonproliferation agenda…in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner”.
India ought not to be part of this circus. True, our politicians, like their ilk elsewhere, are fond of spouting high-sounding nonsense and striking poses in international forums. But while disarmament was useful as a morality stick to beat the great powers with in Jawaharlal Nehru’s time in the Fifties, in the second decade of the 21st century it is a shovel to dig our own grave.
Despite being victimised by it New Delhi has not caught on to the nuclear disarmament movement being yesterday’s preoccupation. At a time when the science of nuclear weapons is widely disseminated and the skills to engineer a bomb are within grasp of any country with even a small industrial base, national interest now requires India, rather than flogging the dead horse of nuclear weapons-free world, to spearhead a movement for a fair, more equitable, accord and system of nuclear management to replace the old order imposed by NPT.
[Published in the New Indian Express. Friday, April 4, 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/Obama-Nuclears-Joke/2014/04/04/article2147851.ece#.Uz3-vaiSw7s ]