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International Cooperation on Preventing Nuclear Terrorism
August 2011

Editor’s Note: A new series of feature articles in think. will examine the main themes of the three issue areas on which the Stanley Foundation focuses its programming—global leadership, nuclear material security, and genocide prevention. Each article will lay out the concerns, international trends and dynamics, and underlying reasoning on which our approach and advocacy are based. We will also strive to inspire you to learn more, take action, and work with us as we push for better US and global policies that lead to a secure peace.

In the January 2011 edition of think., we laid out the real-world context for US and international cooperative action to prevent nuclear terrorism.We took a look at the US role in securing nuclear material in the March edition, and we analyzed global progress on nuclear security in the April edition. In this article, we examine current international cooperation as well as what more cooperative action is needed in the global effort to secure weapons-usable nuclear material.

Unlike many other global problems that have been recognized as needing a global solution, like climate change and biological and chemical weapons, preventing nuclear terrorism does not have an overarching convention addressing the need for countries to take unified action. However, there are a host of international conventions and agreements along with multilateral ad hoc and cooperative activities that comprise the “architecture” of nuclear material security today.

Beginning in 1980, nations recognized the need to secure nuclear material with the adoption of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The CPPNM requires signatory nations to physically protect nuclear material in transit and it has since become clear that further protection of material and the facilities in which it is stored is needed. In 2005 nations made an attempt to close those gaps with an amendment that would also require protection of facilities and materials in use or storage. However, the amendment is yet to be in force due to a minimum number of nations (including the United States) not having ratified the amendment. Having the amendment to the CPPNM come into force—or in the absence of it being in force, countries going ahead with implementing the requirements of the amendment—would contribute significantly to the state of global nuclear security.

As mentioned in the March think. article on the US role in nuclear material security, in 1991 the Nunn-Lugar Act was passed creating the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs. While initial efforts were bilateral on behalf of the US and countries in the former Soviet Union, many of these programs now offer assistance to other countries and some of the activities are funded by other countries besides the US.

In the decade since 9/11 there are a number of nonbinding (or “ad hoc”) agreements on material security that have developed as well as a UN treaty and a significant mandate from the UN Security Council. One of the ad hoc efforts is the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Global Partnership), adopted in 2002 at the G-8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada. Initially it was a ten-year effort targeted at the former Soviet republics and funded primarily by the G-8 countries. Other countries beyond G-8 have since become Global Partners and support the WMD nonproliferation efforts undertaken through the Global Partnership. At this year’s G-8 summit in Deauville, France, the G-8 agreed to indefinitely extend the Global Partnership. This has many positive implications for nuclear material security; the official summit outcome documents indicate the Global Partnership will look to take on projects related to improving countries' capacities in physical protection of nuclear material and facilities in use, storage, and transport, and detection and prevention of nuclear smuggling.

Other ad hoc initiatives include the Proliferation Security Initiative established in 2003 to interdict shipments of WMD and related goods to terrorists and countries of proliferation concern and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism created by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006 to improve capacity on a national and international level for prevention, detection, and response to a nuclear terrorist event.

Finally, the last decade brought about UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT). Passed in 2004, Resolution 1540 mandates all countries take the necessary steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical WMD by nonstate actors. ICSANT was adopted in 2005 by consensus in the UN General Assembly to encourage nations to criminalize the illicit possession or use of nuclear material or devices by nonstate actors. The US has yet to ratify this treaty, but has promised to do so as one of its commitments at last year’s Nuclear Security Summit (NSS).

The 2010 gathering of national leaders at the NSS in Washington, DC, included much talk about fulfilling obligations under these existing conventions and agreements. The resulting communiqué, work plan, and individual country commitments served to reinforce the commitments made by those 47 nations to the existing nuclear material security architecture. One year later, there had been progress on the goals leaders agreed to at the NSS, but there was still much work to be done.

While implementing and fulfilling all of the above-mentioned multilateral conventions and agreements would improve the global state of nuclear material security, it still might not be enough to ensure that long-term, sustainable security is in place. There are gaps in the policy that need to be addressed.

Time is of essence in combating nuclear terrorism. The NSS therefore must be a catalyst for creating and sustaining the political will needed for full implementation of commitments already made as well as a vital venue for hammering out how to fill policy gaps.

There is no doubt that collective action on the part of many countries is imperative to the effort to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism. Ensuring that the needed collective action is taken will be crucial in the near term. For this reason it is important for citizens and nongovernmental organizations alike to encourage their respective governments to keep nuclear material security as a top priority.

Jennifer Smyser

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