Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

India and the Nuclear Security Summit

  • Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
| Apr. 26, 2016

The fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit took place in Washington DC from March 31-April 01, 2016.  Despite the initial apprehension about the summits in certain parts of the world, it has been a useful process.  With more than 50 countries represented from across the world, the summits elevated the level of awareness of nuclear security. Leaders of established nuclear states began to think about nuclear security in a new way, reducing complacency about the risks of terrorism and sabotage.  This thinking took shape in national and multilateral commitments in areas including nuclear security regulation, physical protection of nuclear materials, nuclear forensics, protection against nuclear smuggling, and insider threats and nuclear terrorism.

Despite these positive attributes, the nuclear security summit process that started in 2010 has come to a formal conclusion. (In the run up to the final summit, there were a lot of rumours that one of the European countries might take the lead in continuing with the process, but nothing came of this.) 

Situated in a not-so-benign neighborhood, the issue of nuclear security has long been a worry for India, even if New Delhi has not taken a leadership role. The importance India attached to the issue can be seen from the fact that except for the Seoul summit in 2012, the Indian Prime Minister always made it a point to attend.

At this final summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to concrete steps that will push India’s nuclear security agenda to the next level.  These are important not just for the international campaign to improve nuclear security, but also specifically for India.  They signaled the continuing opening of India’s nuclear establishment and the greater confidence that India has begun to exhibit in its engagement with the global nuclear community.  Maybe the most important of these steps is India’s decision to join the initiative on strengthening nuclear security implementation.  The initiative, essentially the joint statement of the Co-Chairs of the previous three summits, has been now formalized into the IAEA document called INFCIRC/869.  INFCIRC/869, published by the IAEA in October 2014 and signed by 38 states, was a major take away from the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and aims at instituting an effective and sustainable international nuclear security regime, based on national commitments and action plans to strengthen the effectiveness of nuclear security measures in general.

Signing onto INFCIRC/869 is not just as a symbolic international commitment. It could have important security benefits for India.  India’s endorsement of this initiative demonstrates New Delhi’s support for the IAEA’s recommended “ fundamental principles” of nuclear security and its commitment to “meet the intent” of the IAEA’s nuclear security recommendations. This includes INFCIRC225/Rev. 5 on physical protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities, Nuclear Security Recommendations on Radioactive Material and Associated facilitiesCode of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sourcessecurity of nuclear and radioactive material outside regulatory control.

India’s announcement also signals the continued opening of the nuclear establishment and the greater confidence that India has begun to exhibit in its engagement with the global nuclear community. The states that become party to the INFCIRC/869 also undertake, among other measures, to “continue to improve[ing] the effectiveness” of their national nuclear security regimes as well as operators’ practices by instituting self-assessments and international peer review missions such as International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) and International Nuclear Security Advisory Service (INSServ) on a periodic basis as well as many other additional steps. 

In addition, India agreed to join ‘gift baskets’ in the area of counter-nuclear smuggling, sharing of know-how and best practices through centers of excellence such as India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), and lastly to take forward the summit process through an informal contact group in Vienna.  The GCNEP, in particular, has been a big step for India, but it has the potential to play an even larger role than it already does.  India also stated that it will be joining international efforts led by Interpol to curb nuclear smuggling.  New Delhi also plans to host a meeting of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in 2017. 

These decisions are significant. Having shied away from hosting international review processes such as the IPPAS mission in the past, New Delhi’s turn-around is a big step that will boost the world’s confidence in India’s nuclear security credentials.  India’s actions could motivate other countries such as Pakistan to further enhance its own nuclear security measures and international commitments.  But more importantly, India’s willingness to engage the global nuclear security community in a proactive manner will go a long way in improving perceptions of India’s commitment to nuclear security. 

These developments matter for at least two reasons.   First, given the kind of terrorist threats that India faces from Pakistan-based terrorist groups, New Delhi could benefit from nuclear security consultations, intelligence-exchanges, and sharing of best practices with other countries.  A greater openness and the sharing of best practices also has the added benefit of helping other countries improve their own nuclear security.  Second, these steps are also a confidence building measure, which is particularly important in the context of India’s pursuit of membership into the four export control regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group.  

But India must seek to continue the momentum in its action, particularly its outreach efforts to gain further positive response to its nuclear security policy.  India’s National Progress Report issued by the Ministry of External Affairs prior to the Nuclear Security Summit is fairly detailed, but New Delhi has a long road ahead in convincing some countries about its nuclear security credentials.  One way to keep this momentum going is for India to reintroduce the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) bill at the earliest opportunity and establish a totally independent nuclear regulator. 

On the summit process overall, there have been some major achievements, including the fact that a sufficient number of countries have now ratified the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) for it to enter into force.  This is significant as it is one of the few international legally binding mechanisms for physical protection of nuclear material.  This could provide the much needed legal cover for furthering nuclear security efforts in the future. 

The biggest concern now is how to carry this process forward that the nuclear security summit process has come to an end.  This is too critical an issue, especially in the face of increasing possible nuclear terrorist threats. But the current, informal ad hoc arrangement needs to go: states need to identify an institutional mechanism to take this process forward.  The role of the IAEA in this regard is significant, despite its weaknesses, especially in terms of financial and human resources. 

One other glaring shortfall at the Summit was the absence of Russia.  Russia, with one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear materials, should have been an active partner in these conversations.  Moscow very well understands the importance of the security of these materials and its decisions to stay out from the Summit for political reasons was unfortunate. 

Examined from that perspective, the biggest problem facing nuclear security is the lack of consensus among major powers.  Norm-setting and international institutional development require some level of agreement between the major powers.  Non-proliferation, for example, could not have become such a strong norm without key powers seeing it as a value they all agreed with.  Unfortunately, unrelated bilateral political problems are now affecting agreement on nuclear security.  Hopefully, this will not be long-lived.  

Nuclear security is a major concern for India. Endorsing INFCIRC/869 as well as joining ‘gift baskets’ brings New Delhi several benefits.  It strengthens New Delhi’s security approaches in addition to it being a confidence building measure.  It also eases the process of India’s integration into the global non-proliferation architecture.  India can be expected to sustain this momentum, which should be welcome considering the uncertain future of the Nuclear Security Summit process.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rajagopalan, Rajeswari.India and the Nuclear Security Summit .” Nuclear Security Matters, April 26, 2016,

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