At the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12 and 13, leaders from around the world pledged to take their own steps to secure nuclear material used in bombs, civilian nuclear reactors and power plants, and to work together to enhance overall security.

Posted: April 16, 2010

President Barack Obama this week convinced 46 countries to agree on a plan to secure the world’s nuclear material from terrorists within four years, but challenges remain in the months ahead.

At the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12 and 13, leaders from around the world pledged to take their own steps to secure nuclear material used in bombs, civilian nuclear reactors and power plants, and to work together to enhance overall security.

Some of the key accomplishments from the summit included laying out specific goals to secure vulnerable nuclear material, as well as recognizing the ever-evolving threat of nuclear terrorism.

Paul Hughes, executive director of the QDR Independent Review Panel, called the summit "a success by all accounts."

"Forty-seven like-minded nations, recognizing that the occurrence of a nuclear incident anywhere in the world would forever change us all, came together to address nuclear security issues. Their commitment to themselves and each other, based on mutual trust and a desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons, is a welcomed outcome from the summit," noted Hughes, who also served as executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S.

Specifically, Hughes said, "commitments by Mexico, Ukraine, Russia and others to halt the production of, or actively secure their stockpiles of highly enriched uranium are major steps. The commitments by these states and many more clearly show that the world takes this issue quite seriously and intends to both secure these dangerous materials and make them unusable for weapons development."

Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, a Jennings Randolph Senior Visiting Scholar, noted the summit resulted in an agreement outlining specific steps to take within four years, including ways to intensify multilateral cooperation to secure nuclear materials and technology.

"Among its other achievements, the Summit addressed the need to stop the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for civilian reactors and work towards the gradual elimination of nuclear stocks; the intensification of operational information exchange among the governments and special services, and support for the underfunded International Atomic Energy Agency," Dhanapala said.

On a fundamental level, the summit also raised the profile of an issue that had largely remained on the periphery of international security discussions.

"The Nuclear Security Summit accomplished a very important goal: it focused widespread international attention, at the head of government level, on the need for urgent action to reduce the nuclear threat," said Michael Lekson, vice president for international programs at USIP’s Education and Training Center.

USIP’s Bruce MacDonald also observed, "The nuclear summit focused important attention on an important but often overlooked problem: the security of nuclear materials.  As President Obama has pointed out, while the risk of nuclear war has greatly declined, the risk of nuclear attack has gone up, because terrorist groups want to try to get a bomb."

The summit follows President Obama’s release of his administration’s Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by Russia and the U.S. this month. Learn more about the NPR and USIP’s expertise on the subject of nuclear security and about USIP’s work on Russia and arms control.

April has proven an "eventful month in which President Obama has moved swiftly and sincerely to implement his visionary Prague speech of April 5, 2009," Dhanapala commented.

Experts largely agreed that the summit fits within the administration’s NPR’s framework, including the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

At the same time, Hughes cautioned that "the road to a world without nuclear weapons will be a very long one indeed."

"The summit represents one of many steps the world must take and fits neatly with the administration’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review and the new arms control agreement with Russia, the new START," Hughes continued.

This NPR is also in line with the recommendations made by the USIP-facilitated Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S.  Read a recent op-ed in Politico.com by former Defense Secretaries William Perry and James Schlesinger, who served as co-chairs of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S.

The success of the summit, along with the NPR and the new START, will continue the momentum for nuclear security needed for next month’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review conference at the United Nations in New York, said Dhanapala, who was president of the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference.

Such renewed attention and activity will be needed for next month’s NPT Review Conference, experts say.

The conference "is facing some of the toughest challenges in the treaty’s history. The challenge everyone knows about is posed by North Korea and Iran," Lekson said.

"Previous NPT review conferences established that a key next step would be the negotiation of a treaty cutting off the production of fissile material – a promise which has not yet been kept.  Now, there is some renewed activity and commitment… This can only help to advance prospects for the fissile material cutoff talks, which are essential for keeping nuclear materials out of the wrong hands," he concluded.

As nuclear issues increasingly become a higher priority for policymakers, USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding will offer courses on nuclear weapons issues and negotiations.

Additionally, USIP’s Center of Innovation for Science, Technology and Peacebuilding has partnered with the National Academy of Sciences to study how science diplomacy can be better leveraged to promote non-proliferation. 

Read more about USIP’s partnerships on this subject.

Additional Related Resources

On the heels of the Nuclear Security Summit, USIP held a program, "Atomic Pakistan: Building a Nuclear Arsenal in a Disarming World?" on Pakistan’s nuclear program and global developments. USIP’s Alex Thier, Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution, Brigadier General (Ret) Naeem Salik of the Nuclear Studies Department at Islamabad’s National Defense University, and Pervez Hoodbhoy of Quaid-e-Azam University spoke at the April 14, 2010 event.

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