Three of The Heritage Foundation’s analysts in the Asian Studies Center provided their thoughts on the upcoming Nuclear Summit in Washington DC.

Lisa Curtis:

“No one can dispute the significance and urgency of the issues to be addressed at the nuclear security summit, namely that of preventing acts of nuclear terrorism and securing vulnerable nuclear materials. But achieving these goals in practical terms will be difficult, given the complex regional security dynamics driving nuclear decision making in different parts of the world. Nowhere are these regional dynamics more complex than in South Asia.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s attendance at the summit is particularly noteworthy. The U.S.-India civil nuclear deal has enhanced transparency in Indian civilian nuclear programs and raised expectations that India will play an active role in strengthening the overall nonproliferation regime by contributing positively to initiatives like next week’s international gathering.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will also attend the summit. Because of the political turmoil and escalating terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the last couple of years, several questions have been raised about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. While the probability of Taliban militants over-running the country and gaining control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are far-fetched, the real danger lies in potential links between retired officials and nuclear scientists with access to nuclear information to Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. This is why the U.S. has invested over $100 million over the last eight years into programs aimed at improving the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs. U.S. policy should continue to focus on preventing the possible penetration of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment by individuals sympathetic to al-Qaeda goals. The best chance for success in this endeavor lies within a framework of robust U.S.-Pakistan partnership based on trust and mutual understanding.”

Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

Bruce Klingner:

“President Obama presumes North Korea and Iran would be more likely to denuclearize if the US and Russia reduced their nuclear stockpiles. But apparently Pyongyang and Tehran didn’t get the memo because both continued their long-time pursuit of nuclear weapons programs even as the US and Russia were slashing their nuclear arsenals. The lack of US nuclear testing did not prevent North Korea from testing nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

START and a quest for a nuclear free world will do nothing to curtail Pyongyang’s and Tehran’s nuclear aspirations nor prevent their proliferation. Obama’s call for eliminating nuclear weapons even provides North Korea with some political cover for maintaining its stockpile. In September 2009, Pyongyang declared that “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula [will be] in the context of a global effort to build a world free of nuclear weapons.” North Korea now ties its denuclearization to worldwide US disarmament.

If Obama’s Prague speech and quest for zero had no impact on rogue nations, they appear to have had an impact on America’s allies. Last year, South Korea pressed Washington for a specific written U.S. nuclear guarantee in the ROK-US summit statement. Yet, Seoul remains suspicious of weakened US commitment to defend the ROK, including the continued viability of the US nuclear umbrella.”

Bruce Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage

Dean Cheng:

“The problem with the administration’s approach to the nuclear question is embodied by the very different perspectives that Washington holds towards nuclear weapons than does Beijing, or for that matter, Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei.

For the latter three, key US allies in the region, nuclear weapons, in American hands, are the ultimate guarantor of security, be it against a threat from Pyongyang, or from Beijing.

For the Chinese, American nuclear weapons serve not only as a deterrent against any ambitions to use force against Taipei, but also, paradoxically, as the “cork in the bottle” against nuclear proliferation by Japan. Indeed, the entire US-Japan security alliance is seen, in Beijing, with some ambivalence, because it obviates the need for Japan to expand its own military security efforts.

Thus, far from being seen as some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, threatening the lives of innocents from Kyushu to Kashmir, nuclear weapons, including American nuclear weapons, are seen as a stabilizing force.

Whether the administration recognizes this very divergent perspective, however, is open to question.”

Dean Cheng is Research Fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.