Security Challenges Ahead after the Nuke Summit


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Ernest Corea
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) - The Nuclear Security Summit convened by President Barack Obama attracted 47 high-level participants – over 30 of them heads of state or government – who collectively agreed on several small but important steps on the path towards global safety from a “rogue” nuclear attack. This could be mounted by “non-state” sources or by a state that does not observe the rules. |P | JAPANESETEXT VERSION ]


"The agreement of 47 nations to specific steps to safeguard nuclear materials and technology has to be welcomed especially in averting the dangers of nuclear weapon proliferation and non-state actors acquiring them,” says Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, who presided over the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference. Formerly the UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament (1998-2003), he is President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and Jennings Randolph Senior Visiting Scholar, U.S. Institute of Peace.

“Norms with regard to this had already been established by the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities and its Amendment. The problem of nuclear terrorism had also been addressed by the Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Nuclear Terrorism,” Dhanapala added.

“Unfortunately,” he pointed out, “not all the 47 countries participating in the Washington Summit have signed and ratified the two conventions I have mentioned. We must also remember that the problem really lies with nuclear weapons for which there are neither wrong hands nor right hands".

The assessment that the real problem lies with the continued existence of nuclear arsenals is consistent with Obama’s view, as stated in his speech of April 2009 in Prague where he articulated a commitment “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Security from the theft or loss and use of nuclear material is but one segment of the broader search for a nuclear weapons free world to which men and women of peace aspire.


The U.S. is considered a potential target of a “rogue” terrorist attack because Al Qaeda has openly said that it considers the acquisition of material for a nuclear weapon a prime obligation.

Other countries are also vulnerable to such attacks. Imagine, for example, the extent of destruction that would have been caused had the Mumbai terrorists possessed a “suitcase nuclear bomb.”

More than 18 cases have already been recorded of highly enriched urnaium or plutonium being lost or stolen. Over 2000 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium exist in several countries, some of which have no safeguards against theft.

With those stark realities in mind, summit participants agreed that “nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security, and strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials.”
So the goal of the nuclear security summit was to start moving towards a regime in which materials that can be used to manufacture a nuclear device are protected to the fullest extent possible.

Obama told a news conference at the conclusion of the summit: “I said this morning that today would be an opportunity for our nations, both individually and collectively, to make concrete commitments and take tangible steps to secure nuclear materials so they never fall into the hands of terrorists who would surely use them.

“This evening, I can report that we have seized this opportunity, and because of the steps we’ve taken -- as individual nations and as an international community -- the American people will be safer and the world will be more secure.”

An official summary of the summit communiqué sets out its highlights. The communiqué:

- Acknowledges the need for all vulnerable nuclear material to be secured in four years;

- Proposes that focused national efforts be made to improve security and accounting of nuclear materials and that regulations concerning plutonium and highly enriched uranium be strengthened;

- Seeks to consolidate stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium and to reduce the use of highly enriched uranium,

- Promotes universality of key international treaties on nuclear security and nuclear terrorism;

- Notes the positive contributions of mechanisms like the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism to build capacity among law enforcement, industry, and technical personnel,

- Calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to receive the resources it needs to develop nuclear security guidelines and provide advice to its members on how to implement them,

- Seeks to ensure that bilateral and multilateral security assistance would be applied where it can do the most good, and

- Encourages the nuclear industry to share best practices for nuclear security, at the same time making sure that security measures do not prevent countries from enjoying the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy.

In addition to the communiqué, the summit produced a work plan, and a reference guide to the work plan.


The summit also provided participating governments with the opportunity to announce initiatives some of them had already taken, or would be taking. For instance:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an update to a 2000 agreement calling on each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by burning it as fuel in nuclear reactors. Additionally, Russian President Medvedev re-confirmed plans to close a plutonium production reactor.

Ukraine announced that it would give up its 90-kilogram stock of highly enriched uranium and convert its research reactors from highly enriched to low-enriched uranium. It intends to accomplish these goals by 2012.

Canada informed the meeting that it would be returning a large amount of spent highly enriched uranium fuel from its medical isotope production reactor to the U.S.; championing the extension of the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction; funding highly enriched uranium removals from Mexico and Vietnam; hosting and funding a World Institute of Nuclear Security best practices workshop in Ottawa; and providing $100 million in new bilateral security cooperation with Russia.

India made known its decision to establish a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership, to create and disseminate the knowledge required for nuclear security.

Chile, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam agreed to dispose of highly enriched uranium used in civilian facilities.

This is only a representative sampling. Taken together, undertakings of specific action by individual governments suggest that the momentum towards nuclear security has actually begun.


Critics will undoubtedly argue that the main outcome of the summit is merely a non-binding communique, and therefore hardly worth the drafting effort.

Others have already complained that the summit neither discussed nor agreed on action against Iran whose nuclear enrichment program they consider the greatest potential source of nuclear insecurity.

It could also be said that clandestine nuclear stockpiles, such as that said to be possessed by Israel, were not addressed and that Obama, in fact, glided away from the question when it was raised at his news conference.

The fact that participation at the summit was selective – selected by the U.S. Government – and not universal, will also be seen as having weakened the event.


These are significant issues and will continue to be raised. The fact that a non-binding communiqué came out is not really a crippling infirmity, however, because even “binding” agreements are known to be broken. Moreover, a communiqué signed by over 30 heads of state and government cannot be easily shrugged off.

On the other side of public opinion, meanwhile, there have been a number of supportive assessments such as the comment from former Senator Sam Nunn, a genuine expert on nuclear matters and for many years a supporter of nuclear disarmament: "we are now closer to cooperation than catastrophe."

Britain’s foreign secretary (minister) David Miliband, said that the summit had succesfully broken “a culture of cynicism” about matters connected with nuclear issues.

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, and Peter Crail, a Nonproliferation Analyst at the association, said "the summit was also able to point out that this risk of nuclear terrorism is a shared one and is not just a threat to the U.S.” They called on the "U.S. Congress to fully support programs aimed at enhancing nuclear security around the globe and combating illicit nuclear trafficking".

For Obama, the nuclear security summit was one more action point to be marked off on an agenda leading towards the goal of total nuclear disarmament that he set out in his Prague speech of April 2009. He reaffirmed that goal during a visit to Japan in a “Joint Statement toward a world without nuclear weapons.”

A year after that initial exuberance of a Prague Spring, the U.S. Government has sought to nurture more of that spirit. The U.S. issued a redesigned “Nuclear Posture Review” that reduces dependence on nuclear weapons while committing itself to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia that reduces the number of strategic arms on both sides; and convened the nuclear security summit. Next comes the NPT Conference in May 2010.

Two years from now, a nuclear security summit will be held in South Korea. The extent to which the promises and hopes of 2009 and 2010 – in their full dimensions -- have been fulfilled by all parties, or are approaching fulfilment by 2012, will show whether the world is ready for nuclear disarmament, including nuclear security, or whether the great hopes and initiatives of today are the great disappointments of tomorrow. (IDN-InDepthNews/15.04.2010)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is on the IDN editorial board.

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By Ernest Corea
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis