THE HAGUE, Netherlands — World leaders meeting in The Hague for the Nuclear Security Summit took important steps to strengthen nuclear security with 35 of the 53 participating states committing to fully implement international recommendations for securing nuclear and radiological materials. All states at the summit signed on to a consensus statement that built on the work done at two previous summits in Washington and Seoul. It specifies voluntary measures that countries should take to build confidence in the effectiveness of their national nuclear security systems.
The Nuclear Security Summit process was launched by President Barack Obama during a speech in Prague in 2009 where he called for “an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years.” At the closing press conference on Tuesday, President Obama touted the accomplishments of the summit process, but acknowledged that significant work remains to prevent nuclear terrorism. In 2016, the United States will host the fourth and likely final summit.
“I think it is important for us not to relax, but rather accelerate our efforts over the next two years, sustain momentum so that we finish strong in 2016,” Obama told leaders in The Hague.
The summit process is now entering the critical phase of ensuring that the nuclear security improvements that it has generated are sustainable. Despite important steps forward during the last four years, nuclear security remains a national responsibility without the kind of transparency needed to hold states accountable. Its international elements are a patchwork of limited treaties and voluntary initiatives which are unevenly implemented around the world.
The challenge for President Obama in 2016 will be to address these weak links in the international system. Doing this will require improved information sharing, increased transparency, and more innovative measures for maintaining political momentum in the absence of the summits.
A key innovation of the Nuclear Security Summit process has been its ability pressure attending leaders to pledge concrete actions to improve global security. These national and multinational commitments are more ambitious than the principles described in the summit’s consensus statement.
One such initiative, titled “Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation,” was championed by the three summit host countries, the United States, Netherlands, and South Korea. Its 35 signatories commit to fully implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recommendations for securing nuclear and radiological material. More than a dozen ways that states can demonstrate their adherence are contained in the statement.
In addition, Japan and the United States announced that Japan will transfer “hundreds of kilograms of nuclear material” to the United States. The material, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, from the Fast Critical Assembly at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency will be converted to non-weapons usable forms.
Other notable cooperative projects announced at the summit include work on nuclear transport security, Highly Enriched Uranium minimization, and counter nuclear smuggling. More than a dozen joint statements, often referred to as “gift baskets” within the summit process, were announced. Countries also issued national statements and progress reports describing nuclear security priorities and the actions that taken in support of them. Each of these individual pieces helps advance global nuclear security, but the next two years will be critical to cementing the legacy of the summit process.
Michelle Cann is is the Senior Budget and Policy Analyst at the Partnership for Global Security and Lesley McNiesh is coordinator for the Fissile Materials Working Group. They are reporting from The Hague, Netherlands.