Strategic Space

Nuclear Security: The Focus Must Not Flag

20 Aug, 2018    ·   5508

Dr Manpreet Sethi cautions that while great strides have been made in global nuclear security, steep challenges still remain

Manpreet Sethi
Manpreet Sethi
Distinguished Fellow at CAPS

The last few weeks have witnessed the release of at least three reports (1, 2, 3) on nuclear security. This is a welcome development since the import of this subject has in no way diminished since the end of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process in 2016, and the urgency of the challenge must be kept alive. In fact, nuclear security is a journey and not a destination. It is hence critical that every now and then the spotlight is placed on the issue to check whether the international community is on the right track.

 In theory, it could well be argued that a considerable distance has been travelled since the first NSS in 2010. There is indeed in place today a mosaic of institutional mechanisms, international treaties, cooperation arrangements, national efforts and even a couple of dozens of Centres of Excellence on nuclear security across the world. The NSS process did have an impact on awareness levels, and countries came to the Summits armed with reports on their actions and with new commitments contained in a gift basket. Membership of treaties accordingly went up and national legislations and regulations were tweaked to meet international benchmarks. As a follow up to the NSS process, five action plans on nuclear security today exist at the UN, the IAEA, the Global Partnership against spread of WMD, Interpol, and the Global Initiative on Countering Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). Yet, challenges remain, and these must be well understood to further nuclear security to the next level.

A preliminary challenge comes from the lack of good relations amongst big powers. If they are not on the same page in their assessment of the threat, it can prove to be a huge stumbling block when moving on issues that have global dimensions. Different countries obviously have different priorities. It is the sense of consensus amongst the big stakeholders in the international community that can bring about a sense of urgency on issues to make them a priority for all. This happened, for instance, in the 1970s in the case of the conclusion of the NPT, and then in the early 1990s regarding the extension of the NPT. It happened again in 2010-2014 when President Obama pushed for nuclear security as a common concern. But once Crimea happened and Russia became the