People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 18, 2010



Washington Nuclear Summit: To What Purpose?


THE just concluded Nuclear Security Summit in Washington comes after the resumption of the START process between US and Russia and the Nuclear Posture Review of the US. Taken together, it might appear that the US administration under Obama takes the nuclear disarmament agenda more seriously than the earlier Bush administration. However, keeping out Iran and North Korea from what is ostensibly a meet designed for protecting nuclear materials from non-state actors or terrorists, gives the game away. While talking about non-state actors, the US is really using the summit to lobby with the participating countries for enhanced sanctions on Iran. The Iran linkage is made apparent by the two-fold goals of the summit. The first objective is to protect the stockpile of existing fissile material and the second to check production of new fissile material. For the latter, justification would be built up for imposing a much harsher sanctions regime on Iran for "violating" its NPT obligations. What should concern India is that at the same time, international pressure would also be built on India and Pakistan to sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty which has hitherto been opposed here.
The NPT imposes obligations on what a signatory country can or cannot do with respect to its nuclear programme. The issue with respect to Iran is that whereas it has not violated any of the original NPT obligations, the Additional Protocol that Iran had signed but not ratified contains provisions regarding compliance with which there is a dispute. Whether this is indeed in violation of international law is a separate matter, but the crux of the issue has always been whether Iran has a right to fuel enrichment up to the energy standards permitted under the NPT. The unambiguous answer, which successive US administrations are bent upon obfuscating, is that Iran indeed has this right provided the enriched material is used solely for peaceful purposes. The US claims that Iran has lost this right by its conduct, a position that most countries are unwilling to buy.

It is also pertinent to note here that given Obama�s initiative to hold the nuclear summit for measures to prevent nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists and non-state actors, it is surprising that the United States is not party to the international agreements existing in this regard. The US has not acceded to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, amended in 2005. Neither has it ratified the Russian-sponsored International Convention on the Suppression of Nuclear Terrorism of 2005. 

While Iran has not been invited to Obama's nuclear summit, Iran is itself hosting a nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran. It is likely that this summit would have on its agenda declaring West Asia a nuclear weapons free zone, an idea proposed time and again by Iran and Arab countries of the region. But this idea has always floundered on US intransigence. The US would like the concept to be applicable to all countries in the region except Israel. For the US, Israel's nuclear weapons and related programmes are never open for discussion, even while existing or potential weapons or fissile material of all other countries can be discussed. Nuclear weapons are bad for other countries, especially those we do not like, but are absolutely essential for US and Israeli security. This is the unstated premise of US policy, notwithstanding resumption of START talks and the new Nuclear Posture Review. The issue that the US and other declared nuclear weapons states have to address is that an international security architecture premised on nuclear weapons for some and not for others will simply not hold in the long run. The technology of making weapons is becoming easier and cheaper. The only solution is a nuclear weapons free world and this is the only realistic goal for nuclear security of all countries. This is not just a desired goal but an imperative for the survival of humankind.

While the meeting in Washington was narrowly focused on ensuring the security of nuclear material, the attendance of the Indian prime minister in the summit became the occasion for the Indian media to be fixated on India�s relations with the United States and how important India is for America vis-�-vis Pakistan. It was amusing to see how the meeting President Obama had with the Indian prime minister was reported by the media in India. Obama met the Pakistani prime minister a few hours later. Yet, the corporate media worked overtime to portray the meeting with the Indian prime minister as more significant and substantive. What was clear to a dispassionate observer was that the American president was careful to deal evenly with both the Indian and the Pakistani prime ministers. Both were given pat on the back for listening to and abiding by the advice given by the Big Brother.