Outcomes from the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit

  • photo courtesy of IAEA Imagebank http://www.flickr.com/photos/iaea_imagebank/13420740943/
    Mar 25, 2014

    The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit wrapped up in The Hague this week in the midst of political turmoil over Russias annexation of Crimea.  The last summit will be held in the United States in 2016.  What happened at The Hague summit and whats next?

    Q1: What did the Dutch nuclear security summit accomplish?

    A1: This is the third of four summits devoted specifically to improving nuclear security and reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism.  The two most notable successes were Japans decision to ship out 500 kilograms (kg) of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium to their countries of origin (the United States and United Kingdom), and an initiative signed by 35 countries to help institutionalize progress going forward.

    The removal of 500 kg of weapons-grade material (about 330 kg of plutonium and the rest in HEU) from Japan is important because:

    • it is the largest single removal of material since the summit process started;
    • it is the equivalent of 50 to 70 bombs worth of material;
    • it had been the subject of recent criticism from China;
    • it expands, significantly, the impact of the summit process into the plutonium realm and therefore, into the civilian nuclear power sector.

    While the 330 kg of plutonium at the Tokai facility are small compared to the 9 metric tons of separated plutonium that now sit in Japan, it is a start toward more significant focus on plutonium as a security risk.

    The second big achievement in The Hague was a gift basket on Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation signed by 35 states (although not Russia, China, India, or Pakistan).  The United States, South Korea and the Netherlands used this approach to obtain explicit commitments to the security standards recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Of note, countries have declared they will host periodic peer reviews (IPPAS missions) and implement resulting recommendations.  Even though this entire system is still voluntary, collaborating countries have made a public commitment from which it is harder to diverge.

    Q2: What did the summit fail to achieve?

    A2: The first summit communiqué in 2010 called for securing all vulnerable material in four years.  That deadline obviously has not been met, although countries still disagree on what is vulnerable.  This is a problem that will plague the nuclear security regime as long as states insist on their absolute sovereignty in keeping nuclear materials secure. 

    Even if states could agree on an objective measure of vulnerability or security, the fact remains that there is a lot of sensitive nuclear material out there in the world: 1390 tons of HEU and 490 tons of separated plutonium.  85% of this is in the military sector, and there is increasing recognition of the need to address military stocks, including in one of the joint statements issued at the Dutch summit.

    Q3: What are the next steps?

    President Obama, in his closing remarks at the summit, outlined next steps ahead of the final summit in 2016.  First, he suggested that countries compile a list of actionable items that can be accomplished so we can finish strong in 2016.  Second, he argued for setting up a more sustainable model for strengthening nuclear security, which would probably not involve heads of state, but ministers and technical specialists.  Specifically, President Obama suggested putting in place an architecture that would link the nuclear security summit process with existing institutions.

    Its hard to argue with the two items on the presidents to do list but U.S. officials should not underestimate the power of the process they set in motion four years ago.  President Obama embarked on these costly and time-consuming summits because he hoped to energize other leaders about a threat that many considered improbable  nuclear terrorism.  Even so, it took three summits for these heads of state to talk about the threat: the Dutch took the innovative approach this time of arranging for leaders to participate in a scenario-based exercise.  In the previous two summits, threat was not on the agenda.

    The summit process has worked (although there is still a lot more to do) because it kept up the pressure on states to perform: to share information, to organize, educate, and review their progress, and to measure their performance against international standards, however hazily defined.  The ultimate architecture envisioned for nuclear security after 2016 will have to do more than just link up existing institutions.  It will have to be more than just a voluntary regime.  It will have to promote, encourage, or even demand attention, cooperation, commitment and review.  Otherwise, the gains of the nuclear security summit process will be fleeting.

    Sharon Squassoni is director and senior fellow with the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. 

    Critical Questions
    is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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