We shouldn’t expect too much from Obama’s nuclear summit

But let’s get not too cynical.  The goal of a nuclear weapons-free world is admirable.

Questions:

1. The participation of Hu Jintao or non-attendance of Benjamin Netanyahu in summit made headlines before the event. President Barack Obama has achieved dozens of nations will participate in summit. Is it the fact of attendance of many leaders the most important point of the summit? Or it is in your opinion something very different?

2. Would you say some Obama’s rhetoric about nuclear weapons free world could materialize on the summit into anything substantial?

Answers:

Nikolai Sokov, Senior Research Associate, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies

1. Participation of China is not surprising: it is an “official” nuclear state (that is, recognized as a nuclear state in the 1967 Nonproliferation Treaty) and its participation was to be expected. Participation of Israel is highly desirable – it is a universally assumed nuclear state (although it has never admitted to having nuclear weapons) and it is important that it participated in an event that plans to address control of fissile materials. It is a pity that they decided not to participate. Obviously, the issue is highly sensitive for them – Arab states have for many years demanded creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and strong criticism of Israel on their part was to be expected. Still, they need to share responsibility for dealing with nuclear materials.

2. The upcoming summit is not so much about elimination of nuclear weapons, but rather about control of fissile materials. Hopefully, it will help establish more responsible and rigorous procedures for dealing with such materials, contribute to the strengthening of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and perhaps also to reinvigorating the Fissile Material Control talks, which are supposed to be conducted within the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Without doubt, this endeavor will also contribute to nuclear disarmament, but in a more indirect way. IN contrast, the recently signed New START treaty between the United States and Russia tackles disarmament head-on.

Douglas Shaw, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, he Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University

1. Experts consistently identify political-level leadership on nuclear security as important. The participation of world leaders is important for asserting the global priority of nuclear security and the point of a summit. However, the presence or absence of individual leaders will not constrain the potential of the summit.

2. The summit holds promise to establish an important foundation for progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons, as well as the future of international nuclear commerce. If we are not successful in securing fissile material, both of these efforts will be jeopardized.

Thomas Nichols, Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

As with all summits, symbolism is probably the most important aspect. I think it is generally positive for nations to reaffirm a commitment to reducing nuclear arms, but we should never expect too much from a summit of any kind. The hard work is usually done behind the scenes over many weeks, with many diplomats and negotiators. And while I think the goal of a nuclear-free world is admirable and something we should strive to achieve, I don’t think that any single summit will provide us with the map to that world from where are at the moment.

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