Global nuclear summit largely fails to make the world a safer place
Hopelessly hijacked by North Korea’s rocket launch plans, the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul failed to move beyond a symbolic solidarity against nuclear proliferation.
The biggest nuclear meeting in the world, the March 26-27 summit saw prominent heads of states representing around 80% of the world’s population and 90% of the global economy. But the high-profile attendance produced no binding requirements, focused on matters not on its agenda, and failed to address issues urgently in need of attention, analysts said.
The summit’s goal is to combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen the security of fissile material — material used in reactors and explosives to generate a chain reaction of nuclear fission. But it fell so far short of its goal that some critics warn that the 2014 summit in the Netherlands could well be the last.
Delegates politely applauded progress such as Italy’s pledge to dispose of its fissile material. But by the second day, the agenda had veered off course when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda urged the international community to demand that North Korea abandon the planned April launch of a satellite that many believe is a cover for a missile test.
Many nations supported Japan’s call, but the fact remains that North Korea’s weapons programme was off the table during the summit itself.
Noda’s decision to ignore diplomatic and summit protocol reflected Japan’s frustration with the failure of the six-party talks between the two Koreas, the US, Russia, China and Japan to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, said Professor Srikanth Kondapalli at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, in an interview with Asia360 News.
North Korea walked out of the talks three years ago after the United Nations Security Council condemned its launch of a long-range rocket. Within weeks of abandoning the talks, North Korea had conducted a nuclear test.
This type of behaviour certainly makes Pyongyang a nuclear threat, along with Iran. However, neither of these nations was invited to the summit.
The one thing the summit got right was choosing Seoul as a venue, analysts said, given the risks of nuclear proliferation in North Asia.
“Asia is the most likely region in the world to witness cascading nuclearisation in the near future,” said Robert E Kelly, an assistant professor in the political science and diplomacy department of Pusan National University in Busan.
“If North Korea does halt its nuclear programme, it would become difficult for South Korea and Japan to avoid going nuclear themselves in future. Nuclear weapons matter more in Asia than any other part of the world,” he told Asia360 News.
Pakistan, another nuclear trouble spot, was ignored by the summit.
“When the first summit in Washington was conceived, it was of everyone’s knowledge, though not stated publicly, that the idea was to keep Pakistan’s nuclear stock away from terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda,” Rajiv Nayan, senior research associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, told Asia360 News.
But, he added: “Pakistan is not even being discussed at a nuclear security summit, despite the revelation about the relationship between the Pakistani establishment and terrorists like the late Osama bin Laden.”
Nayan concluded that the US and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) nations had attempted to shield Pakistan from criticism due to its importance to their “war against terror”.
In addition to failing to confront rogue nuclear states, the summit secured only slight progress on problems outlined in its charter.
While the US and Russia have made recent progress in cutting nuclear stockpiles, India, China, Japan and South Korea remain at odds over how best to reduce their own inventories.
China has expressed a strong will to reduce its nuclear warheads. It is believed to possess at least 200 warheads although Beijing maintains it only has a “handful” of nuclear weapons.
As Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Kondapalli points out: “When countries are debating the starting point itself, how much hope can there be of reaching the destination any time soon?” AR