Controlling nuclear materials must be top priority
The Des Moines Register
This year will mark the first time international leaders will gather as a group for the express purpose of finding better ways to control dangerous nuclear materials. Such materials range from highly enriched uranium in nuclear power reactors and military stockpiles to radiological sources in your local hospital.
Presidents, prime ministers and senior officials from 44 nations and international organizations will meet in Washington April 12-13 to discuss and announce new international commitments in this critical area. While the nuclear security summit is a U.S. initiative, it is clear that significant progress in improving the world's ability to secure and control nuclear materials will require cooperation and coordination by many international actors.
President Barack Obama gave a major speech on nuclear issues in Prague last spring. Among key priorities, he said the United States sought a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. The upcoming summit is an important part of this process, especially given accounts that the global stockpile of nuclear materials may be large enough to build more than 120,000 nuclear bombs and that some of these materials continue to accumulate in unstable world regions.
While much needs to be done, the good news is the global effort to better control vulnerable nuclear materials can build on a solid foundation of recent practical experience. We often know what to do to improve protection and oversight. Sometimes the answers are as simple as building fences and installing surveillance cameras and sensors. U.S.-Russia cooperation in securing nuclear materials has worked surprisingly well since the 1990s, despite the fact that overall relations between the two nations have taken a considerable turn for the worse. We have a clear common interest in minimizing the nuclear terrorism threat.
Among other programs, the two countries set up regional nuclear training centers to offer assistance to facilities needing security upgrades. They worked with the G-8 group of leading nations to create the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The scope of this effort to date has been mostly Russia, but expansion to other nations makes good sense. Separately, large amounts of nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union have been sent to the United States for use in reactors or storage. Kazakhstan and Ukraine repudiated nuclear weapons in this overall context. The idea of an international nuclear fuel bank is no longer a theoretical abstraction, but a subject of increasingly serious discussion.
Indeed, there is no shortage of excellent ideas. As always, the issue is political will and sustained attention to actually deal with the problem. The April summit can provide a general framework of core principles, catalog initiatives already under way, and point the way for needed follow-through by nations and international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. A related "unofficial summit" of nongovernmental nuclear specialists and groups, organized in part by the Stanley Foundation, will support the work of the leaders' summit and emphasize the importance of periodic benchmarks and implementation follow-up. Both summits can stress that sensible progress is possible despite differing political agendas and mutual suspicions. The U.S.-Russia experience is illustrative in this regard.
This year is also important in terms of the broader nuclear arms control agenda. Apart from a probable new U.S.-Russia arms agreement, the United Nations will host the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference this May. Britain has already indicated a strong interest in including improved nuclear materials security as a major theme in those negotiations. At the same time, we must deal with the challenges posed by nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere.
Improved worldwide nuclear materials controls are a central part of the complicated, yet essential, task to reduce the nuclear terrorism threat. Sustained international and domestic actions can lower the chances of an intentional or accidental nuclear catastrophe. Major progress in securing and controlling nuclear materials requires the positive cooperation of numerous countries, international organizations, and even nongovernmental groups. The April Global Nuclear Security Summit and related "unofficial summit" can move us several big steps down this critical path.
The latest issue of Courier features an investigation of a 2007 break-in at a South African nuclear storage facility that still unnerves many officials and experts. It also considers the architecture for climate action that needs to be built ahead of this year's global gathering in Paris. Another article looks at our annual global youth conference that brings students together to discuss global issues. Finally, two teachers share how a travel award offers unique professional development.
The Stanley Foundation is looking for a dedicated, dynamic individual who has a passion for working in the field of event management and prefers a small-business atmosphere with opportunities for international travel. Read the full position announcement.
Our bimonthly newsletter looks at a Latin America network to stop mass atrocities as well as a seminar for journalists aimed at demystifying nuclear lingo. We also have a slideshow of our annual Investigation U. summer camp for students.
In the latest, you’ll find many extras—from upcoming events to multimedia resources. Sign up now
|55th Strategy for Peace Conference
The conference, brought together experts from the public and private sectors to meet in a distraction-free setting and candidly exchange ideas on pressing foreign policy challenges.
Divided into roundtable talks, the cutting-edge discussions are intended to inspire group consensus and shared recommendations to push forward the debate on the foundation’s key policy areas.
|Nuclear Security Video
The Stanley Foundation produced a 13-minute video looking at what needs to be done to stop terrorist groups from acquiring enough fissile material to make a bomb. The foundation talked with over a dozen diverse and distinguished experts from the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group and the Fissile Materials Working Group to see how today's patchwork of voluntary arrangements can be forged into a long-lasting system. Watch the video.
This Now Showing event-in-a-box toolkit Before the Killing Begins: The Politics of Mass Violence considers how early preventive strategies by governments and the international community should build much-needed capacities within countries, and make it harder for leaders to resort to violence. It aims to encourage discussion of how future efforts might better protect populations under threat, giving new resolve to the promise of never again. Sign Up.
The Stanley Foundation publishes policy briefs, analytical articles, and reports on a number of international issues.
|Watch and Learn
Stanley Foundation events, talks, video reports, and segments from our Now Showing event-in-a-box series can now be viewed on YouTube. To receive regular updates on our video posts, please subscribe today.