Europeans bring own nuclear security concerns to Washington summit | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 13.04.2010
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Europeans bring own nuclear security concerns to Washington summit

European leaders and officials are among the attendees at this week's nuclear security summit in Washington. DW talked to two experts about possible topics and demands relating specifically to European nuclear security.

An atomb bomb test behind the EU's stars

Europe has its own concerns relating to nuclear security

Anthony Seaboyer, a transatlantic relations and security expert at the German Council for Foreign Relations, and Richard Gowan, a European security and defense expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, talked to Deutsche Welle about Europe's involvement at the summit.

Deutsche Welle: What issues will the Europeans be most involved with in terms of nuclear security at the Washington summit?

Seaboyer: The Europeans will obviously be interested in any discussions on Iran even though it doesn't feature on the agenda. They will also want to address the issue of dual-use goods - nuclear material with both civilian and military uses - and the freedom of movement of this material. The Europeans are much stricter than the Americans when it comes to this.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is another area where the Europeans have a lot of interest and as this summit is a precursor to the NPT conference, most of the Europeans will want to talk about the decommissioning of weapons and how you can make signatories of the NPT who are not complying to reduce their arms.

Gowan: While many European leaders are present, President Obama's real coup has been to bring together a global network of leaders to discuss nuclear security. As the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's network demonstrated, nuclear proliferation is a global problem, and the US approach reflects this fact.

What are Europe's main nuclear security concerns?

Seaboyer: Due to their proximity to the region, the cycle of prolifereation and nuclear instability in Iran and the Middle East is Europe's biggest concern, along with nuclear terrorism. But while both the EU and US have nuclear terrorism as a major threat in their security strategies, the Europeans make the distinction that it is a potential threat, while the Americans consider it a real one.

What are the main topics the Americans will want to discuss with the Europeans?

Trident Missile test firing off Cape Canaveral, Florida from HMS Vanguard.

Britain will have to consider its deterrent, as will France

Seaboyer: Obama has bypassed the Europeans in terms of where he is on proliferation. He's way ahead of even his own administration. So it's likely that he will want to know what the Europeans are going to do about reducing their own stockpiles. For the non-nuclear states, this won't be an issue but for Britain and France, this may be an uncomfortable topic. They'll be forced to think about what they're going to do with their own weapons.

Gowan: The actual topic for discussion is relatively technical: how to secure nuclear materials more effectively to keep them away from terrorists. It's something no sane leader would object to. But Obama is being clever: this relatively consensual discussion may improve the mood before next month's much more contentious review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

How close are the Europeans and Americans in their policies on nuclear proliferation and security? Are there any areas of conflict or differences in approach?

A deactivated Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile

Ridding Europe of nuclear weapons remains an issue

Seaboyer: As I mentioned before, the main case where there is a difference is the classification of the nuclear terrorism threat. But this is not an important difference. There are also changes in strategy in dealing with Russia and China which put the US and Europe on a different speed but on the main nuclear questions such as Iran and North Korea, they working very closely together.

Gowan: European governments and the US have cooperated on securing nuclear materials in the former USSR in the past. They aren't likely to disagree much in this area. But there are other concerns, like Germany's desire to have nuclear weapons removed from its territory, that may trouble US-EU and intra-NATO talks.

Similarly, some Eastern European countries have been uncomfortable with the idea that America's desire for the new START treaty with Moscow has overshadowed their concerns about Russian expansionism. President Obama recently held a dinner with Eastern European leaders in Prague to reassure them. This topic could flare up again.

What do you think will be the outcome of this summit?

Gowan: President Obama has cannily focused international attention on basic nuclear security concerns that all reasonable governments can share so there shouldn't be much conflict. He hopes that this will pave the way for agreement in trickier talks later on.

Seaboyer: As there is no agreement or treaty to sign, there is no set goal here so this summit cannot really fail. What it can achieve is to create some momentum ahead of the NPT conference. What is discussed in Washington can help make New York a success and the positions taken will make the NPT summit more effective.

Obama is very focused and using this summit as a pre-conference planning meeting ensures that leaders will come to the NPT informed and clear of its future. This summit has put this topic on the very top of the international agenda, and this is Obama's plan.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge

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