Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Towards a New Phase in Nuclear Security Cooperation

    Author:
  • Ambassador Klaus Korhonen
| Mar. 06, 2015

The Fourth Nuclear Security Summit (NSS2016) takes place next year in the United States. The preparations by representatives of participating countries - so called Sherpas - have started. I am pleased to discuss the prospects of NSS2016 also with the readers of Nuclear Security Matters as a follow-up to a visit to Harvard University Belfer Center.

I cannot anticipate final recommendations of 53 national Sherpas, let alone the decisions of the Heads of States or Governments in the Summit. But let me offer a few initial thoughts from a Finnish perspective on what issues will be addressed and what could be some of the outcomes. Debate on these topics is going on and will continue.

The series of Nuclear Security Summits has provided a unique opportunity to promote better nuclear security worldwide. Much remains however to be done despite the remarkable progress that has been achieved. Nuclear and radiological terrorism remains a real threat. According to expert assessments almost 2000 tons of material that can be used to make a nuclear bomb is still stored at hundreds of sites in different countries. Some of those materials are not protected the way they should be.  The lack of sufficient control is even more urgent on radiological sources.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made it known that some 150 alarming incidents involving nuclear and radioactive material are reported to it every year.

 In The Hague Summit in March 2014 there was a clear understanding that the next meeting will be last in this round of summits. That is why the political will that can be mobilized through the 2016 Summit is particularly valuable.

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I would like to mention two issues that I believe at least Finland will consider to be among priorities. One old, one new.

Netherlands as the host country of the latest summit made a commendable effort to promote ratifications of a key legal instrument in this field, the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). This amendment would make the Nuclear Material Convention decisively more effective but it has not entered into force because the stipulated number of ratifications is not yet there. The ambitious Dutch goal was to get enough ratifications to bring the Amendment into force by The Hague Summit. It proved too hard to persuade countries to speed up the process and overcome the various national reasons that were holding them back. Still, a number of participating states reported significant progress in the ratification and now there is every reason to use the momentum of NSS2016 and have another try. At the moment 17 countries are needed to get the Amendment into force.

Another theme that was mentioned in the Communique of The Hague Summit but which was not elaborated in the consensus text or in the voluntary initiatives called Gift Baskets is the need to address the security of nuclear materials in military use.

To take action on this issue makes sense: It is estimated that 85 % of the almost 2000 tons of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium that is out there is not covered by any global security norms or international oversight arrangements because it falls under the category of military materials.

The host country of the next Summit, the United States, had a chapter on security of military material in its Progress Report to the Hague Summit. This was encouraging and much appreciated. Further, I am excited by new think tank plans to present analysis and recommendations on how to address this challenge. Many experts involved believe that international security standards and monitoring of non-civilian nuclear material can be established without compromising information that the possessor states deem sensitive.

There naturally remains a lot of skepticism on the benefits of such steps, especially among some holders of military materials. We who support the idea must be as concrete and accurate as possible to make a compelling case. The best way might be to take mainly a technical approach and explain what needs to be done to improve nuclear security, not more. It would not be useful to politicize the issue through making it a disarmament question. There are other international bodies for that purpose.

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It is also crucial that the momentum to improve nuclear security is retained after 2016. Hopefully the many valuable activities that have been initiated as part of the NSS process will continue. And the decisions of the four Summits should be further developed. What is the follow-up of the Nuclear Security Summits, where and how should it be conducted – these are some of the questions that the Summit in the United States will probably try to answer. Our political leaders did informally exchange views on this already in the course of the Hague Summit last year.

Nuclear Security Summits have not attempted to achieve universal participation. The host countries have mainly invited States that themselves are significant possessors or producers of nuclear or radiological materials. This of course is a limited circle. The practice of selecting countries in mobilizing political will for nuclear security is perhaps going to be reviewed in the future. Securing nuclear materials in the possessor States has been an understandable priority so far, but malicious nuclear activities can easily be moved to countries that do not have nuclear materials and nuclear programs of their own. Threats of the 21st century do not respect borders. This means that the number of actors taking part in preventive work and in response and mitigation should eventually be increased. In the next phase being inclusive rather than selective might best serve the objectives of our effort.

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As the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said in the Hague Summit, national nuclear security systems will not reach their full potential without cooperation at the international level.

There have been calls for a new and truly global nuclear security regime. It is necessary to add that if existing nuclear security instruments were fully used we would already have a regime that is much more effective than the present one.

The results of the four Summits will be there to be utilized by other international organizations. A broad understanding in the NSS community seems to be that we first explore the possibilities to continue and develop nuclear security work in existing institutions and initiatives before creating new ones. There is little enthusiasm for reinventing the wheel – although we might every once and a while need new energy to keep the wheel going.

The documents adopted in the three previous Nuclear Security Summits emphasize the importance and essential responsibility of the IAEA in this field. Political leaders have made it clear also in their national statements and informal discussions that they see the IAEA as a central actor in the follow-up of the Summit series after 2016. Further, in The Hague Summit 35 countries committed themselves to an initiative on strengthening nuclear security implementation and promised to translate IAEA guidelines into their national legislation. This is another manifestation of strong support to the Agency.

The United Nations provides the political framework for global security cooperation and has under its auspices a number of concrete activities that are important for nuclear security. This includes the program of the UN Security Council resolution 1540, which is intended to prevent weapons of mass destruction falling in the hands of terrorists.

Interpol, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons are relevant forms of international cooperation as well, and there can, of course, be others.

Current observer organizations to Nuclear Security Summits - UN, IAEA, Interpol and the European Union – have throughout the journey contributed to the results of the Summits. These actors are well informed of all aspects of NSS work and will benefit from it in promoting global nuclear security agenda.

After 2016, governments and organizations that have been involved in Nuclear Security Summits can also continue as a community whose members will each, in their own way, carry forward the NSS legacy and objectives. Nuclear Security Summits do not impose decisions on other actors and a group of 53 countries will not prejudge deliberations of institutions whose membership extends to almost 200 sovereign states. At the same time, participants have a responsibility to share the lessons learned in the NSS process and to work together with all countries to strengthen nuclear security. There is a wide international recognition of the goal of nuclear security and of NSS-process as a force that has promoted this goal to the common good. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Korhonen, Klaus.Towards a New Phase in Nuclear Security Cooperation.” Nuclear Security Matters, March 6, 2015, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/towards-new-phase-nuclear-security-cooperation.

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