On the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama concluded an important contract on the transfer of nuclear materials.

What took place in Washington on 12 and 13 April 2010 represents the largest summit convened by a United States President in the past 65 years: the heads of State or government from 47 countries took part in the event.

The dominating theme was "nuclear safety". President Obama in fact sounded the alarm: "Today’s most immediate and extreme danger is nuclear terrorism". That threat, as was emphasized in Washington, is compounded by the risk of nuclear proliferation: Iran is thereby accused, together with South Korea, of pursuing nuclear ambitions in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The fundamental proposal made by Obama at the Summit is to ensure tighter control on all quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Paradoxically, however, it is precisely the United States and the other nuclear powers attending the Washington Summit that encourage the proliferation of such weapons. In a situation where a small group of states aim to maintain their possession of nuclear weapons and continue to modernize them, it is more and more likely that others will also want to obtain them. In addition to the nine nuclear countries, at least 40 others are in a position to manufacture them.

There is no clear-cut separation between civilian and military use of nuclear energy, bearing in mind that reactors can yield the highly enriched uranium and plutonium needed for the production of nuclear arms. It is estimated that the overall available quantity would permit the production of over 100 000 nuclear arms, while more are constantly being developed in ever bigger quantities: more than 130 "civilian" nuclear reactors generate highly entriched uranium, suited for the production of nuclear weapons.

What the United States, the organizer of the Summit, is doing to ensure "nuclear security" is highlighted by the facts. On 29 March, the U.S. concluded an agreement with New Delhi by virtue of which it will supply India with "spent" nuclear fuel for recycling, by extracting uranium and plutonium. The arrangement renders operational the accord stipulated in 2008 with the Bush Administration, contemplating the provision of fissile materials and nuclear technologies to India.

In return, India promises to comply "in part" with the NPT, by opening 14 civilian nuclear sites to inspections while safeguarding 8 military others not open to scrutiny. The programmes laid out by New Delhi envisage an exponential development of the nuclear industry generating a market of more than 150 billion dollars, which the United States hope to access by selling dual-purpose reactors and technologies, civilian and military. The United States, however, is facing stiff competition from Russia which has signed a huge agreement with India involving the supply of nuclear technologies.

At the same table as the Indian Prime Minister (who met with Obama the day beore to formalize their agreement) sat his counterpart from Pakistan, a U.S. ally which has never acceded to the NPT. Like India, Pakistan possesses an arsenal of some 70-90 nuclear weapons. At present, as confirmed by the New York Times of 12 April, in the face of the Washington-New Delhi deal Pakistan is in the process of building three new sites with a view to attaining "a second generation of nuclear weapons".

Another place at the same table was occupied by Israel (represented by Dan Meridor, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy), another great U.S. ally, which has also failed to sign the NPT and refuses to officially admit to its nuclear capacity, despite possessing several hundred nuclear weapons. Under the radar, Israel has been amassing a quantity of plutonium for nuclear weapons evaluated at fifty kilos and continues to produce tens of kilos per year. Iran, however, was not invited despite its being a member of the NPT and free of nuclear weapons. Next to Israel was France, which supplied Israel with its first nuclear reactor for the production of nuclear weapons, and Germany which, together with the United States, contributed to the empowerment of Israel’s nuclear forces by delivering three Dolphin sub-marines with a nuclear-missile launch capacity.

And, so as not to offend the Arab countries, the United States signed a series of agreements for the provision of nuclear technologies and fissile material to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria.

A vast promotional campaign has been launched - in which France, Japan, Russia and China are also taking part - for the sale of "turn key" nuclear power plants in the Middle East and North Africa. In this way "civilian" technologies will be disseminated, which will in turn enable other countries to develop nuclear arms. And the whole thing in the name of "nuclear safety".

Translated by Marie-Ange Patrizio.
Source: Il Manifesto