Nuclear Security Summit: Lots of talk, little action

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 03, 2016 22:26 IST
World leaders gather for a photo at the Nuclear Security Summit, Washington. (Reuters Photo)

One would think that nuclear safety is, if anything, a far greater concern today than it was when the six-year Nuclear Safety Summit process began. North Korea successfully reminds the world of how nuclear capacity is a wonderful cover for blackmail on a monthly basis.

Pakistan’s heady combination of State-sponsored Islamicist terror groups and a secretive nuclear arsenal continues to be an ever-worsening story. The revelation that the recent Islamic State-related terror in Europe included surveillance of nuclear scientists could be a warning of worse things to come. Yet the just-concluded summit is scheduled to be the last and no one has shown much interest in picking up the loose threads being left by United States President Barack Obama.

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However, the summits were not without accomplishment. They broke down the walls of secrecy maintained even among responsible nuclear governments over safety measures.

Governments regularly made unilateral announcements on nuclear safety at the summits, which helped make such action be seen as normal international behaviour. Tangibly, some 1,500 kilogrammes of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium were eliminated or recovered by summit actions.

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The summits did not address core nuclear non-proliferation issues like the test ban treaty or fissile material production. Like so much else about the Obama administration, it was a foreign policy without teeth. His policy towards Pakistan’s nuclear problems was little short of appeasement. So Mr Obama settled for the second-best: Small but partly symbolic actions by mainstream countries that had never sought to disrupt the nuclear mainstream.

The difficult task of pressing the flesh in the world’s capitals, building personal ties, using carrots and sticks to persuade others to follow your lead was too much for Mr Obama, whose focus was almost purely domestic. The summits rarely made page one headlines. They may be a sign of what international diplomacy will be like in the 21st century as the US loses interest and the new emerging powers decline the difficult task of fashioning global agreements on major issues.

Most nations will agree to take baby steps in areas that they don’t disagree on. The rest will be left to the gods.

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