Nuclear Security Summits under Review: Non-US Perspectives


2012-10-15 By Richard Weitz

After Laura Holgate presented the U.S. view, perspectives on the process and the future were provided by other national representatives.

A South Korean Perspective

Chang-Hoon Shin, Director of the Nuclear Policy & Technology Center at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in South Korea, described how South Koreans rallied behind the government’s decision to host the 2012 NSS in Seoul.

Shin saw the summits as useful for bringing countries outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (India, Israel, and Pakistan) into discussions on nuclear security.

Shin highlighted several differences between the 2012 and 2010 summits.

The Seoul summit saw a new focus on radiological security and nuclear safety (including initiatives to better secure nuclear waste and spent reactor fuel). Seven more countries were represented at Seoul. Those that had attended the Washington summit submitted national progress reports at Seoul on what they had done during the last two years.

At Seoul, countries continued to make national commitments (“house gifts”) regarding what steps they would take to improve their nuclear security, but they also joined together to offer “gift baskets” in the form of 13 joint statements regarding how they would cooperate on specific multinational programs.

For example, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the United States jointly pledged to minimize HEU use in their production of medical isotopes. In addition, Belgium, France, South Korea, and the United States committed to develop a high-density LEU fuel powder.

Both types of “gifts”—there were more than one hundred specific national commitments at Seoul— allowed the summit participants to offer more than just what was included in the consensus language of the Seoul Communique, which, unlike at Washington, was the single document that came out of the summit.

Looking forward, Shin agreed with an audience member that the summits needed an overarching framework or concept to drive the process forward.

He believed that this framework of concept had been present at Seoul, but more at the NGO and nuclear industry meetings than at the NSS itself.

A Dutch Perspective

Theo Peters, Head of the Non-proliferation, Disarmament, Arms Control and Export Control Policy Division of the Security Policy Department at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussed his government’s emerging plans for the in March 2014 summit at The Hague.

He cautioned that the first Sherpa meeting of senior experts from the participating national governments would not occur until November of this year, so anything he said reflected only Dutch thinking and was subject to change

Peters reaffirmed that the goal was still to secure all loose nuclear material by 2014, meeting President Barack Obama’s original goal announced  in his April 2009 Prague Disarmament speech.

The Dutch government was using the Washington work plan and the Seoul communique to provide clear guidance in this area.

For its part, the Netherlands still aimed to meet its main national commitment to phase out the civilian use HEU by 2015.

In terms of the goals of the 2014 summit, Peters thought The Hague summit would propose concrete measures to deal with radiological sources. He related that a team of Dutch researchers was already examining the relevant issues, such as which sources and materials to address and how.

The 2014 summit would also address nuclear forensics as well as strengthening the “nuclear security culture.”

This is a subject Peters thought would also be discussed at the NGO expert and nuclear industry summits that would convene at the time of The Hague.

The IAEA is planning an international workshop on nuclear security culture to be hosted by Finland at the end of November. The workshop will lay the groundwork for discussing this issue at the IAEA Conference on Nuclear Security to be held in Vienna in July 2013.

Are nuclear summits at a cross-roads? Do they matter? Credit Image: Bigstock

In addition, the NSS would emphasize the need for additional countries to ratify the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) as well as the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT).

The treaties, which he hoped could enter into force in 2014 following the additional ratifications, would expand existing legal protections against the loss or theft of dangerous materials and against acts of international nuclear terrorism.

Specifically, the amendment to the CPPNM requires parties to protect nuclear facilities and materials that are stored, used and transported domestically; the original treaty required physical protection of nuclear materials only when in international transit. The ICSANT provides an important international legal basis for cooperation with other parties to the treaty to investigate, prosecute and extradite alleged perpetrators of terrorist acts.

Although U.S. diplomats have urged other countries to adopt these measures, the United States has failed to ratify either of them.

Both treaties require the United States to enact legislation to criminalize certain acts not now in U.S. statutes, such as the possession of radioactive materials other than nuclear material.

The failure of the U.S. Senate to ratify these agreements is reinforcing doubts in Russia and other countries about the ability and even willingness of the United States to enter into international treaties.

The Netherlands also wants to bring attention to the International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) of the IAEA.

Following a member’s request, the IPPAS can organize a team of national experts to provide countries with peer advice on how to strengthen their national nuclear security, including by implementing international instruments and protecting nuclear and radioactive material and associated facilities. An IPPAS mission will use international guidelines (specifically INFCIRC/225/Rev.4) and widely recognized best practices to assess the hosting country’s physical protection system. The IAEA and its members can then assist countries to strengthen their physical protection regimes.

Peters also made clear that the Dutch government was still debating whether to recommend holding more nuclear security summits after 2014.

The arguments in favor are that regular summits help focus bureaucratic attention on the nuclear security issue as well as force action and ensure accountability. If dozens of the world’s leaders attend an event, much media attention will follow. And they and their governments also want to show results.

The counterargument was that the nuclear security summits were designed to be a sprint within a marathon–to impart a temporary boost to the global nuclear security architecture. From this perspective, it was time for the reinforced architecture to manage this issue.

The missions and goals have been established; now we must focus on implementation.

IN this regard, the key issue is whether the existing infrastructure has been sufficiently reinforced to make adequate progress even with the summits.

Peters thought a key issue was whether the IAEA is sufficiently strong to now lead the global effort in this area without additional nuclear security summits.

The Russian Perspective

Vladimir Kuchinov, the Russian government’s Sous-Sherpa for the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, and currently an aide to the Director-General of the State Corporation on Atomic Energy “Rosatom,” noted how, by participating in the nuclear security summits, the governments of Russia and other countries acknowledge that nuclear terrorism is one of the most serious contemporary threats to their security.

To counter this threat, Russia wants to see two key treaties (the Amendment to the 2005 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the Convention to Combat Terrorism) to enter into force and achieve universal membership.

Kuchinov pointed out that, as noted above, the amendment would expand the conventions coverage. Whereas it currently applies only to the physical protection of nuclear materials during transport between countries, the amendment would extend the convention to nuclear material and nuclear facilities within the states, which would significantly increase its value as a tool against nuclear terrorism.

Kuchinov also endorsed such core elements of the international nuclear security architecture as the Global Initiate against Nuclear Terrorism, UNSCR 1540, and the Global Partnership, which had recently moved beyond the G-8 to become a broader institution.

Russia wanted to ensure that all these nuclear security initiatives were complementary and reinforcing elements of the new global nuclear security architecture and not in conflict with one another.

For example, Kuchinov called for a single IAEA terminology to avoid confusion, which he claimed was evident at the Seoul summit.

In terms of the current and future nuclear security agenda, Kuchinov identified the following issues as key challenges for these institutions going forward:

Protecting nuclear facilities against unlawful cyber attacks, especially those designed to trigger a major accident

Helping countries develop peaceful nuclear energy program, such as through transferring technologies and expertise, while preventing their acquiring nuclear weapons

Continuing to involve the nuclear industry (especially companies with considerable experience in the operation of nuclear facilities, as well as in the production and handling of nuclear material) in the work of the nuclear security summits in order to promote a nuclear security culture

Protecting sensitive information, technologies, and practical knowledge that can be used for terrorist purposes while providing other countries with adequate information about nuclear plans and operations

Regarding the latter point, Kuchinov pointed out that states have a legitimate interest in knowing about the nuclear activities and intentions of their neighbors due to the transnational potential of any nuclear accident.

At the same time, he stressed that the sharing of sensitive information must be balanced against the need to keep such data from being misused by terrorists or for other illegal purposes.

Kuchinov insisted that Russia’s nuclear safety adhered to the highest safety and security standards; a statement that he stated was confirmed by international assessment missions of the Russian nuclear industry.

He argued that Russia could safely take some time to covert its HEU-fueled reactors to LEU and that their using even 30%-enriched uranium fuel was acceptable since it was only 80-90% HEU that could easily be used as fissile material for a bomb.

Kuchinov did not take a position on whether there should be additional nuclear security summits beyond 2014.

Russia would be a logical host for any future NSS. Moscow was supposed to have hosted the 2012 summit, but then withdrew and allowed Seoul to take its place. With their arms talks in abeyance or stalemated, making joint progress on nuclear material security and combatting nuclear terrorism seems an excellent means to refocus the Russia-U.S. relationship on what interests unite rather than divide us.