Asia Steps Up at Nuclear Meet
Image Credit: The White House

Asia Steps Up at Nuclear Meet


Although nuclear material security has traditionally been seen as a transatlantic obsession, last week’s Nuclear Security Summit saw Asian countries assume a prominent role on numerous issues. And, with Seoul now designated as the host city for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, the need for their leadership is becoming even clearer.

US-led efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials began in the mid-1990s with the Nunn-Lugar legislation and other Cooperative Threat Reduction efforts designed to eliminate surplus Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ensure that any WMD-related materials and technologies were stored more safely and securely. The G-8 countries then launched the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Mass Destruction at their 2002 annual summit in Kananaskis, Canada. Yet although the G-8 includes Japan, European countries and the United States have so far been the main financers of the Global Partnership, which has pledged almost $20 billion over 10 years to support WMD-related security projects. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism was also originally a G-8 creation, but has since expanded its membership to include many more countries than those involved in either the Global Partnership or the Nuclear Security Summit.

The main objective of the 47 national governments attending last week’s summit, held in Washington, was to prevent non-state actors such as terrorists or criminals from acquiring dangerous nuclear materials. US President Barack Obama, who established the goal of eliminating or securing all dangerous nuclear material within four years in his Prague speech last April, decided to organize the summit to support this goal. The Obama administration stressed that the summit would focus on enhancing the security of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium and would allow other institutions and meetings to address the related issues of nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Even so, the attendees, especially in the less formal meetings that occurred on the summit sidelines, also discussed how to reduce existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons as well as prevent additional countries from acquiring them.

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The summit was notable for the presence of Asia’s leading nuclear powers, including China, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and South Korea. Each brought distinct national interests to the table, reflecting their diverse nuclear statuses. China is recognized as a nuclear weapons state by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), while India and Pakistan, along with Israel and North Korea are the only countries outside the NPT framework (as well as having known or suspected nuclear weapons). Japan has an enormous civil nuclear industry, with the potential to rapidly develop nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan and South Korea are emerging civil nuclear powers with ambitions to assume positions of global leadership in this industry.

Obama held less than a dozen formal bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Washington Summit. These included sessions with several Asian leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, among others.

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