Nuclear terrorism prevention at a crossroads

By Kenneth N. Luongo and Kenneth C. Brill
March 24, 2014

The crisis in Ukraine underscores the prescience of the international efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons and weapon-grade material there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their success lowered the danger of deadly nuclear assets falling into the wrong hands.

President Barack Obama and the more than 50 world leaders meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Monday need to show the same vision. They must seek to eliminate the persistent weak links in the global nuclear security system that can make dangerous materials vulnerable to nuclear terrorists.

There has been progress in securing nuclear materials because of the two previous nuclear summits. Removal of weapons-grade material, for example, has accelerated in 12 countries.  But, unfortunately, the earlier summits focused on what is acceptable by consensus rather than on what is needed to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Terrorist groups are actively seeking nuclear weapons or material. There are more than 100 incidents of theft or misuse of nuclear material each year.  Twenty-five countries now possess weapons-usable nuclear material and nuclear facilities are expanding into dangerous neighborhoods around the globe. Virtually every state has highly radioactive material that could be used in a dirty bomb.

This summit is actually the beginning of the end of the heads-of-state meetings. The Washington–hosted gathering in 2016 will likely be the last. So these two meetings must yield results. Together they can form a solid foundation for an effective governance system for the world’s nuclear materials and facilities, creating a springboard for new policies and action.

Many global experts and political leaders now say that five important policy improvements are needed.

The first goal is to universally implement all elements of the existing nuclear security regime. Nations can now accept or ignore the few existing international legal requirements and more numerous non-binding expert recommendations – which is one reason for today’s uneven patchwork of international controls.

Second is to increase sharing of non-sensitive information between nations, which can help build international confidence in the system’s effectiveness. Most nations shield virtually all security data, sensitive or not, from other nations — limiting the international cooperation needed to prevent a transnational threat.

Third, states should undertake new voluntary actions to improve security without waiting for new international mandates. Four, these new national actions should be reinforced by adopting a peer review and best practices system to strengthen security performance.

Five, a legally binding nuclear security framework convention must be pursued to bring together the current fragmented regime, address its weak links and allow for rapid adaptation to unforeseen future challenges.

These steps are achievable — but require political leadership. World leaders at The Hague could start by agreeing to implement current requirements and devise a comprehensive set of voluntary steps by 2020, naming a group of states to lead that process.

They also should identify a smaller group that can examine legally binding options, such as the framework convention, and report at the final summit.  This approach would help produce a plan for continued work and progress after the summits end.

The Nuclear Security Summits have created expectations that leaders will act decisively to prevent nuclear terrorism.  Results have fallen short of these hopes. In The Hague, Obama and world leaders will have the first of two remaining opportunities to establish a global control system equal to the risks and catastrophic consequences of this very real threat.

Failure to do so will only reveal a lack of imagination and seriousness.

 

PHOTO (TOP): Ukrainian specialists cut the last strategic Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber at an airbase outside the Ukrainian city of Poltava 330 km (198 miles) southeast of the capital Kiev, January 27, 2006.  REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

PHOTO (INSERT 1): A Hatf-VI (Shaheen-II) missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,242 miles) takes off during a test flight from an undisclosed location in Pakistan, April 21, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

PHOTO (INSERT 2): A Trident II, or D-5 missile, is launched from an Ohio-class submarine in this undated photo. REUTERS/Files


 

4 comments

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Something has to be done about the recklessness of nuclear nations such as the United States and Japan.

The situation with Fukushima is a very real problem that the US and Japanese companies behind it’s construction and operation have shirked-off responsibility. Clearly the USA and Japan companies along with their captains of industry and government bureaucrats involved are all held personally 100% liable for all damage done now and into the distant future…

Let’s see these so called leaders deal with the real world issues at hand before grand posturing on make believe scenarios and would-be bogey men. Meanwhile let’s start the prosecution and where necessary corporal punishment for Fukushima please.

Posted by SonyJim | Report as abusive

We have the most nuclear weapons, and thus are the biggest terrorists. I am sure the people we point our weapons at see it exactly like that. On the other hand, almost no one has a fall out shelter, and thus most people have determined that living after a nuclear war is just not worth it. Yet our crazy lying and greedy leaders would still like to frighten us with that. It took 30 years for the people to lose the fear of nuclear war and it took us ten years to lose the fear of terrorism. Perhaps we are getting faster at losing the fear that our leaders make up through their actions.

The DFL supports equal pay for women, but will never solve that because they need that vote to be elected, and they can always make it seem as if the problem with solutions is that the GOP won’t let it happen.

The GOP supports anti-abortion issues, but will never solve that because they need that vote to be elected, and they can always make it seem as if the problem with solutions is that the DFL won’t let it happen.

They both need you to be fearful, because that helps them make excuses for the conflicts that are actually economic imperialism. But you think we’re fighting terrorists.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

“We have the most nuclear weapons, and thus are the biggest terrorists.”

——–

You’re delusional. True terrorists getting hold of a nuclear weapon, is the greatest threat to the free world. If they did utilize one… people like you would no doubt, just make up some ridiculous conspiracy claim, that the government did it, or some other nonsense. It scares the crap out of you how chaotic the world can be, so you try and invent excuses to deny it. But this is reality.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

HOW AND WHERE THIS VILE STUFF IS DISPOSED OF IS A FAR BIGGER ISSUE THAN THE OTHERS. This filthy stuff is leaking all over the planet. The people who make the short sided profit’s aren’t going to clean it up, now are they? L.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive