Pakistan’s nuclear security resolve

Nuclear security within a state remains a sovereign national responsibility

Waseem Qutab March 15, 2016
The writer is former Visiting Fellow at Center for Non-Proliferation Studies Monterey and Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque USA

National Command Authority (NCA) — the apex national body overseeing Pakistan’s strategic programme under stewardship of political, military and scientific leadership — held its­­ 22nd meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on February 24, 2016. Besides undertaking appraisal of the prevailing regional security environment and reaffirming determination to maintain national security at all costs, significantly, the NCA also approved in principle, Pakistan’s ratification of the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, or what is referred to in short as CPPNM Amended. It is relevant to briefly highlight what CPPNM Amended actually entails and what its ratification means for Pakistan.

The CPPNM Amended makes it legally binding upon states to ensure the security of nuclear material and facilities used for peaceful purposes, within their respective countries’  jurisdictions as well as when such material is transported in international transit. However, the Convention recognises upfront the cardinal principle that nuclear security within a state remains a sovereign national responsibility and implementation of its various obligations shall be deemed in accordance with national laws rather than through an outside or intrusive verification mechanism.

Foremostly, this ratification signifies national resolve, as a responsible and confident nuclear power, towards security of nuclear material and facilities inside its territory. It manifests that Pakistan indeed has established and is implementing an effective national nuclear security regime, which is at par with internationally followed best practices. It should therefore be reassuring for the nation that faux concerns often expressed in the western media about nuclear insecurity inside Pakistan have no sound basis. As such, Pakistan’s nuclear security regime is geared towards safeguarding national assets against a full spectrum of threats — may it be insider, outsider or cyber.

The CPPNM Amended also requires a State to establish a legislative and regulatory framework governing the national nuclear security regime. It is worth underscoring that since 2001, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) is functioning as an autonomous and independent oversight body, which is mandated to ensure that adequate physical protection measures are being implemented at civilian nuclear facilities operated by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). As legally obligated by the CPPNM Amended, a state has to have a nuclear ‘regulator’ separate  from the ‘operator’, which is unlike India where no such independent and autonomous body exists till date, although India ratified CPPNM Amended way back in 2007. Even an advanced nuclear state like Japan belatedly established its Nuclear Regulatory Authority in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident that occurred in March 2011.

The object and purpose of CPPNM Amended can only be achieved if all states have trained and educated human resource needed for establishing and maintaining national nuclear security regimes in their respective countries. During the 2nd Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) held at Seoul in 2012, Pakistan offered its state-of-the-art Center of Excellence (CoE) for Nuclear Security as regional and international hub for nuclear security education and training. Since then, several national and international courses have been organised at the CoE in collaboration with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in areas of physical protection, material control and accounting, transport security and personnel reliability. Appreciating Pakistan’s CoE during his visit in March 2014, Director General IAEA, Mr Yukiya Amano has remarked that "it is very impressive that you organise the training in a very systemic and operational manner." Pakistan’s CoE is also the cradle of a 25,000 personnel-specialised nuclear security force that is safeguarding Pakistan’s civil and military facilities at all times.

The CPPNM Amended also obligates states to prevent and respond to illicit trafficking of nuclear material. For this end, Pakistan’s national detection architecture involves installation of Radiation Portal Monitors and equipping custom and border control agencies with handheld detection devices at several entry and exit points. Pakistan has also established a Nuclear Emergency Management System to handle nuclear and radiological emergencies. A Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Support Centre (NURESC) and a National Radiation Emergency Coordination Center (NRECC) are available round the clock as part of emergency response mechanism. This mechanism covers the entire range of activities and is endowed with state-of-the-art equipment, mobile labs and technical guidance.

Pakistan’s proactive ratification of CPPNM Amended, above all, demonstrates its like-mindedness for responsible and secure nuclear trade for peaceful purposes and Pakistan’s determination to play its due role in preventing proliferation and guarding against the threat of nuclear terrorism, as a mainstream global partner. This ratification would add to Pakistan’s credentials for criteria-based access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group and other export control regimes.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2016.

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