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Editorial Today – Nuclear Security Summit (The Road Not Taken)

What is Nuclear Security Summit?
The first NSS was held in Washington in 2010, at the initiative of President Obama. Forty-seven participating states, mostly represented by their leaders, committed to safeguarding nuclear materials by reducing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), enhancing security at facilities that held fissile materials, increasing state membership in international institutions and instruments such as the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), and other goals.

It is held every two years since 2010 and it is the fourth and final in a series of summits.

But the summits narrowed their focus to civilian holdings in non-nuclear weapon states. This material is already being monitored by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and, more importantly, it is a tiny fraction of actual global stockpiles.

Achievements of this summit in last six years as stated by Obama?

  • Removed or secured all the highly enriched uranium and plutonium from more than 50 facilities in 30 countries — more than 3.8 tons, which is more than enough to create 150 nuclear weapons.

But in comparison to actual stockpiles it is a tiny fraction.

  • According to International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), an independent group of arms-control and non-proliferation experts from 17 countries estimated that there is about 1,370 tons of HEU in the world, “enough for more than 76,000 simple, first-generation fission implosion weapons” with about 99 per cent of this material held by nuclear weapon states, mostly Russia and the United States.

Moreover no one at the Nuclear Security Summit talked specifically about HEU or plutonium in South Asia despite the fact that the two countries(India and Pakistan) in this region are among the four states in the world that continue to produce HEU and plutonium for weapons, the other two being Israel and (possibly) North Korea.

Many, including Mr. Obama, have recognised that plutonium is a problem. Speaking in Seoul, South Korea, in 2012, he stated, “We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis.” This is why “we simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists”

Two major obstacles to nuclear disarmament:
1) It is very difficult to see huge reductions in nuclear arsenal around the world unless the United States and Russia, two largest possessors of nuclear weapons, lead by example.
2) Nuclear weapons being used as deterrent, so countries are not willing to go for disarmament.

Present Challenges:
1) United States and Russia had about 14,700 nuclear weapons (as of 2015), and the other seven nuclear weapon states held a combined total of about 1,100 weapons.
2) Both the United States and Russia have launched massive long-term nuclear weapons “modernisation” programmes, which in the case of the United States are estimated to cost as much as $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

In South Asia both countries (India and Pakistan) are developing nuclear arsenals that are basically scaled-down versions of those created by the superpowers during the Cold War.

3) Pakistan is also seeking nuclear weapons to use on the battlefield. These pose special challenges; as “Tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for use on the battlefield… are a source of concern because they’re susceptible to theft due to their size and mode of employment… the threshold for their use is lowered” and these weapons create “the risk that a conventional conflict between India and Pakistan could escalate to include the use of nuclear weapons”.

Thus  to address the nuclear threats that actually imperil the world, the focus should be on getting states to make a clear commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons and agree to concrete and urgent plans to eliminate nuclear arsenals and the nuclear material stockpiles that make them possible.

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