Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nuke security relevance to S. Korea and Indonesia

Nuclear proliferation and attempts to curb it continue to dominate international discussion. In addition to concerns coming from vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear among state actors, potential access and use of nuclear materials and substances by non-state actors — nuclear terrorism — has been perceived as a formidable threat.

A top-level summit to discuss this issue was first initiated and held by US President Barack Obama in Washington, DC two years ago. In a few days, South Korea will host the second summit. This article elaborates on the relevance of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit to South Korea and Indonesia.

What is nuclear security? Referring to the working definition of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear security aims to reduce the risks of and manage “theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, substances and facilities”. Despite the ongoing debate on the likelihood of nuclear terrorism, the UN has adopted the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism in 2005, which has entered into force in 2007 following states ratifications.

Moving toward the same direction, the nuclear security summit aims to step up commitments of states to take stronger nuclear security measures. Multilateral response is essential in order to address the threat of nuclear terrorism effectively.

The 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit was a great success in heightening awareness of the dangers of nuclear terrorism through the adoption of the Washington Communiqué and Work Plan. The Communiqué and Work Plan laid out commitments and steps to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and facilities within four-year period, respectively. Around 30 countries made voluntary commitments to strengthen nuclear security measures, such as the elimination or return of HEU (highly enriched uranium) that can be weaponized.

Currently, it is estimated that around 1,600 tons of HEU and 500 tons of plutonium are stored in locations scattered around the world. This is enough nuclear material to fashion some 126,500 nuclear weapons. According to the Illicit Trafficking Database of IAEA, more than 2,000 cases of illegal trafficking, theft or loss of nuclear and radiological material have been reported around the world from 1993 to 2011, and of those around 60 percent have not been recovered.

It is of highest concern that nuclear materials and substances being trafficked into the wrong hands. As indicated by Albright, Brannan and Stricker in a Washington Quarterly article (2010), currently a systematic method to detect nuclear trafficking remains absent. Additionally, nuclear security measures also seek to prevent the possibility of terrorist attack to nuclear facility.

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, which will be held in Seoul from March 26 to 27 this year, is expected to be the largest summit in the security field attended by more than 50 heads of states and international organizations including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Seoul Nuclear Summit seeks to review cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, to protect nuclear materials and related facilities and to prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, the result of which will be summarized as the “Seoul Communiqué”.

Furthermore, the Seoul Nuclear Summit offers a momentum to restore confidence in the peaceful use of nuclear energy on the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in 2011. Despite the debate on the use of nuclear energy resources, it remains a viable alternative to address the rising demand for energy as well as the volatility of oil prices, especially for a vast growing economy in East Asia (Northeast and Southeast Asia). Some have also agreed that the use of nuclear energy is inevitable to address climate change. On that note, the number of nuclear reactors (443 now) may double in the next 30 years globally.

The Seoul Nuclear Summit serves as an opportunity for Korea to earn international recognition following its hosting of the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010. This Summit also provides an avenue to discuss not only the issue of nuclear security, but also its interface with nuclear safety which is highly relevant to the region and has gained renewed attention following the Fukushima accident.

Moreover, it is our sincere hope that the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit will convey a strong message by the international community on the significance of the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, which is plagued by the nuclear weapons program persistently pursued by North Korea.

Indonesia’s participation in the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit reflects the country’s continuous support to and role in the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Indonesia’s past diplomatic records have indicated that the issue of nuclear nonproliferation has been one of Indonesia’s main diplomatic agenda in the international arena.

At the regional level, Indonesia’s take toward nuclear nonproliferation is in line with the regional policy of maintaining Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ).

It is hopeful that Indonesia’s participation in this summit will emphasize that Indonesia, together with the international community, supports the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, which in turn would have a vital impact for peace and stability in ASEAN. Indonesia’s participation also reflects its recognition to the imminence of threat posed by nuclear terrorism to global and regional security.

In fact, the focus on nuclear security in this Summit will complement Indonesia’s important role in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT). Indonesia’s ratification to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) during the NPT Review in 2010 is a noteworthy example of this role.

Moreover, with Indonesia’s stern effort to combat terrorism, it is only logical that Indonesia becomes a partner in preventing the trafficking and illicit use of nuclear material by terrorist groups and other nonstate actors both domestically and regionally.

As a leading country in Southeast Asia and “Strategic Partner” of Korea, Indonesia’s participation renders continued interest to and support for the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit. By Kim Young-sun, Jakarta

The writer is Ambassador of the Republic of Korea

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