No ‘wrong direction’: Obama cautions India, Pak on nuclear arsenals

US President Barack Obama has flagged the Indian subcontinent as a challenge in the context of global nuclear security, saying India and Pakistan must ensure their military doctrines do not move in the “wrong direction”.

Obama made the remarks during a news conference held after the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit hosted by him. He also listed the reduction of the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia, and North Korea’s atomic programme as other key challenges.
“The other area where I think we need to see progress is Pakistan and India, that subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction,” he told the news conference at the end of the two-day summit.

Though Obama did not spell out his concerns, his remarks appeared to be a reference to the growing atomic arsenals of India and Pakistan and the nuclear doctrines of the two countries.

Pakistan is believed to have the world’s fastest growing stockpile of nuclear weapons, and US secretary of state John Kerry recently cited the example of the US and Russia--which are working to reduce their arsenals--as he nudged Islamabad to cut the number of weapons and review its nuclear policy.

While India adopted a “no first use” policy soon after its nuclear blasts in 1998, Pakistan has not put in place a similar policy. The world community has also expressed concern about Pakistan’s new policy of developing tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons to counter any possible military thrust by Indian forces.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a plenary session of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Obama said “one of the challenges” facing the US and Russia is that it is “very difficult to see huge reductions in our nuclear arsenal” unless both countries, as the largest possessors of nuclear weapons, are “prepared to lead the way”.

Referring to the tensions arising from North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests, he said, “And we have to take a look at the Korean peninsula, because...North Korea is in a whole different category and poses the most immediate set of concerns for all of us, one that we are working internationally to focus on.”

Concerns about North Korea had figured in his trilateral meeting with the leaders of Japan and Korea and were “a major topic of discussion” with China’s President Xi Jinping, he added.

More needs to be done to prevent non-state actors from obtaining nuclear materials, world leaders said in a communiqué after the summit. The meet, attended by more than 50 world leaders, described the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism as “one of the greatest challenges to international security”. The threat is “constantly evolving”, the communiqué said.

“We commit to fostering a peaceful and stable international environment by reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism and strengthening nuclear security,” it added.

Obama also warned that terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State will use nuclear weapons if they get hold of them.

“Fortunately, because of our efforts so far, no terrorist group has yet succeeded in obtaining a nuclear device or producing a dirty bomb using radioactive materials,” Obama told the summit earlier.

“There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they would certainly use it to kill as many innocent people as possible,” he said. “It would change our world.”

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