There is a clear consensus among security experts that nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security and that strong preventative measures are needed to lock down nuclear materials around the world. Many world leaders, including Mohamed Elbaradei, Dmitri Medvedev, and Ban Ki Moon, have publicly acknowledged the dire nature of the threat. With sufficient political will and funding, nuclear terrorism is entirely preventable. However, recognition of the threat has not, until recently, spurred countries to act with the urgency required to prevent it. The global nuclear security regime is still afflicted by persistent gaps and the threat of nuclear terrorism remains all too real.
Fortunately, the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) galvanized international efforts to secure global supplies of nuclear materials. On April 13, 2010, forty-seven world leaders agreed to join President Obama’s call to “secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world” in four years by accelerating national efforts to strengthen nuclear security. The Summit effectively highlighted the danger of nuclear terrorism by placing the issue on the agenda of world leaders; and many countries have already taken concrete steps to enhance their nuclear security.
However, much work remains in order to reach the four year goal. In September 2009, the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG), a coalition of national security expert organizations committed to improving nuclear security, published its “Top Five” policy recommendations for securing all vulnerable nuclear materials. At the time, the FMWG’s coalition was composed entirely of organizations and experts based in the United States. Now, in January 2012, the FMWG is an international coalition of more than sixty organizations, twenty-nine of which are based outside of the United States. As a result, the FMWG now reflects the global nature of the nuclear security challenge, as well as many of the countries involved in the diplomatic process of the NSS.
With the next Nuclear Security Summit approaching in March 2012 in South Korea, the FMWG updated its 2009 consensus policy recommendations. While substantial progress has been made on certain aspects of nuclear security, the FWMG is advocating that much more needs to be done to ensure that all nuclear materials are secure. In addition to reiterating the policy recommendations made prior to the first summit, the group is also recommending that nations work to enhance the International Atomic Energy Agency’s role in promoting global nuclear security and to strengthen the nuclear security regime through a framework convention that institutionalizes comprehensive standards of performance and responsibility. Finally, this new document reflects the global nature of the FMWG and includes 14 International Partner perspectives addressing the following three issues:
- The perception of the threat of nuclear terrorism in their country.
- Recommendations for what policy issues the next NSS should address.
- Recommendations for commitments their country can make at the next NSS to strengthen the global nuclear security regime.
These perspectives highlight the strong international consensus among experts that nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security and that strong preventative measures are needed to ensure nuclear security. At the same time, the perspectives indicate that citizens around the globe do not perceive nuclear security as a pressing priority. Like many other threats and challenges, nuclear terrorism remains “out of sight, out of mind.” As a result, there is a lack of domestic pressure to hold governments accountable and push for stronger nuclear security measures. This is a troubling dynamic.
States must recognize that the threat of nuclear terrorism necessitates strong preventative measures that are ultimately in their best interest. The cost of a single nuclear terrorist attack—physical, economic, and psychological—would be far greater than the cost of locking down nuclear materials. Experts need to continue to communicate this to citizens and governments in order to accelerate progress in combating nuclear terrorism.
FMWG members are collectively advocating the adoption and implementation of improved policies that enhance the current nuclear security regime. The policy recommendations below represent the consensus of the group on the policy priorities that world leaders should pursue. Before revisiting the consensus recommendations of the FMWG and examining the perspectives of its International Partners, though, it is important to recount the underlying reasoning of the group.
First, there is strong support for the goal of “securing all vulnerable nuclear material” by 2014, which the 47 world leaders assembled at the 2010 NSS committed to do. There is a clear sense that this is a time-urgent goal that requires active and sustained global leadership, the rapid forging of an international consensus in support of the objective, and an implementation plan that is aggressive. The working group is willing to work with world leaders in whatever capacity is most productive to help them meet their goal.
Second, even in a time of financial constraint for many countries, funding for vital nuclear security programs must continue. Vital nuclear security programs have already faced cuts in the United States despite their proven success. Failure to adequately finance nuclear security programs will jeopardize the prospects of meeting the goal.
Third, the working group views the NSS process as critical to improving global nuclear security. The 2010 NSS helped to elevate the issue of nuclear security and resulted in countries making commitments to take action that would help to prevent nuclear terrorism. However, many gaps in the nuclear security regime remain, as the “Status Updates” included below help to illustrate. In order to ensure that the 2012 NSS is a success, countries need to follow through on their commitments from 2010, identify further nuclear security weaknesses and take concrete pledges to strengthen them, and urge countries both a part of and outside the NSS process to do the same. The 2012 NSS must go beyond what was accomplished in 2010 in order to be considered a success.