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FP: Israel and the Nuclear Security Summit

Author: Avner Cohen
April 12, 2010

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Avner Cohen recounts Israel's failure to attend Obama's April 2010 Nuclear Summit in Washinton and how this runs against Israeli interests.

The Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama is hosting this week in Washington is unprecedented. On substance, this is the first ever global summit devoted exclusively to nuclear matters, in particular addressing the issue of nuclear terrorism. The possibility of nuclear terrorism, (or the possibility that a terrorist organization acquires nuclear weapons), was defined by President Obama on the eve of the summit as "the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium term and long-term." Indeed, the Obama administration views nuclear terrorism as the most pressing, dangerous and neglected feature of our world's nuclear predicament.

On symbolism, this nuclear summit is the highest level international event ever convened by the United States since the meeting that led to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 in San Francisco. All together some 47 states are attending the meeting (represented by thirty seven heads of state) which are essentially the entire world's stake holders in nuclear affairs; that is, the eight nuclear weapons states, all the major nuclear energy states, and the major proponents of nuclear disarmament. The only nuclear players that are "loudly" missing are the two "bad" guys, Iran and North Korea.

To understand the rationale for the summit one must consider two basic shortcomings of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which constitutes the political and normative foundation of today's global nuclear order. First, the NPT, which was completed in 1968 and came into entry in 1970, views the global nuclear order in terms of relations among states. In the 1960s there was little concern for nuclear terrorism. Nuclear affairs were viewed then as exclusively states' business, or more specifically the business of states with industrial technological infrastructure. As long as nuclear material and knowledge was owned by states, there was practically little fear of nuclear terrorism--it was viewed as incompatible with a state's interest.

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