President Barack Obama hosted the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit this past week, which lasted two days and concluded April 1 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
Fifty-six countries attended the summit, which focused on how nations can prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of nonstate actors and terrorist organizations, and how the international community can develop effective systems to monitor nuclear security risks.
The nations collectively belong to five major organizations — the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Interpol, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.
The first summit was held in 2010 in Washington, D.C., and two subsequent conferences were held in Seoul, South Korea in 2012 and The Hague, Holland in 2014. The 2016 event marks the last planned conference.
According to a statement on the Nuclear Security Summit’s website, the goal of the conferences is to lessen the risks of nuclear terrorism by reducing, securing and eliminating stockpiles of highly enriched uranium. The statement emphasized the past successes of the previous summits in solidifying bonds between forces dedicated to nuclear security.
“Through the Summit Process, the international community has strengthened the international organizations, institutions and multilateral legal instruments that make up the nuclear security architecture, and improved coordination among them,” the statement reads.
A major victory for the process occurred in 2014, when 35 countries pledged to match their domestic nuclear safety rules to the guidelines set by the IAEA.
Russia refused to attend this year’s summit even though it is the country with the most nuclear sites.
In an opinion column for The Washington Post published March 30, Obama called on Russia to work with the United States to collectively deplete their nuclear weapon stockpiles.
“Along with our military leadership, I continue to believe that our massive Cold War nuclear arsenal is poorly suited to today’s threats,” Obama wrote. “The United States and Russia — which together hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — should negotiate to reduce our stockpiles further.”
At the closing remarks of the summit, Obama stressed the purpose of the conference — to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons.
“Just to summarize where we’ve been, in the morning session we discussed the extensive and impressive national action steps that many of us have taken, and the collective efforts that we’ve made to reduce the amount of nuclear material that might be accessible to terrorists around the world,” Obama said. “This is also an opportunity for our nations to remain united and focused on the most active terrorist network at the moment, and that is ISIL.”
The summit emphasized the importance of sustaining security improvements, fostering a peaceful international environment in which to collaborate on these issues and protecting sensitive information.
Additionally, the summit reaffirmed the central role of the IAEA in developing a nuclear security framework and supporting states’ attempts to fulfill their obligations within it.
One accomplishment of the 2016 summit included the commitment of 29 nations — including every country with a highly enriched uranium stockpile exceeding 1000 kilograms except Russia — to create a new initiative focused on nuclear cybersecurity. Each nation will also attend two workshops in 2016, and will discuss strengthening industrial controls and security at nuclear facilities.
Walsh School of Foreign Service distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy Robert Gallucci said the summit put the spotlight on a critical national security issue and that the conference process as a whole has caused significant quantities of fissile materials to be better secured.
However, Galluci added that risks of nuclear threats are heightened in today’s age.
“The magnitude of the problem is growing, not shrinking,” Galluci wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“Governments have to take the risk of a nuclear terrorist strike seriously by stopping the accumulation of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, as well as better securing the stockpiles we have. Fissile material remains ‘the long pole in the tent’ in any nuclear terror scenario: destroy the stockpiles and secure them until we do and nuclear terror is theory; fail to and we’re betting our lives unnecessarily.”
Georgetown International Relations Club chair Arnosh Keswani (SFS ’17) highlighted the importance of Russia’s decision not to attend the summit.
“I think the boycott of Russia in not attending put a little dampening effect on the event,” Keswani said. “But I also think that the fact that they are having these conversations and that they are engaging the whole international community means that we have done something and that we are successful in that regard. I think that at the same time there is a lot of work to be done, especially in the Iran deal.”
Keswani raised concerns that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, a concern that is relatively new in the world of nuclear security.
“The most pressing issue is that there is the possibility of nonstate actors such as [ISIL] or the Taliban acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Keswani said. “I think that that is a new thing that has come up and that is something that people need to be engaged about.”
Keswani also noted that following the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, regional powers in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, may feel as though they are in a precarious position regarding nuclear security issues.
“There needs to be more of a discussion especially with those American allies about how we can continue to bring them into the fold and make them partners in making sure that the region is safe,” Keswani said.
Keswani further underscored the importance of the Nuclear Security Summit to issues of all natures, not just nuclear security.
“It’s important that there should be more meetings like this since this is technically the last one of its kind,” Keswani said. “There should be more meetings where the world can come together to talk about pressing issues, have a conversation and look at what is going on and where we are in our goals and in terms of progress.”
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