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The Last Nuclear Security Summit: What Next?

March 14, 2016

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With the fourth biennial Nuclear Security Summit about to begin and no plans in place for a fifth, we consulted with Australia’s summit sherpa Dr. Robert Floyd, Director General of the Australian Safeguard & Non-Proliferation Office, about the legacy of the summit process and what happens next.

Are you concerned about the Nuclear Security Summit process coming to an end?

“I’m comfortable with the idea that it is the last summit. To have leaders meeting on such a specific topic four times is quite remarkable. … That’s not to say everything that should be done has been done. It hasn’t. But now, it needs to move into a more sustainable mode going forward.”

What’s the legacy of the summits?
“The Nuclear Security Summits have achieved a lot. We have had the focus of President Obama and, through him, more than 50 world leaders, and that has allowed for quicker action than would have happened otherwise. As an example, we’re still very hopeful that the CPPNM amendment will enter into force very soon – and we’re much closer to being there than if we didn’t have the summit process. And we have fewer states with sensitive nuclear materials such as highly enriched uranium.”

What should happen after this Summit?
“As we focus on future arrangements and sustainment, and acknowledge there is so much that still needs to be done, we have had a lot of discussion about what arrangements should be put in place. First, we don’t look for one structure which picks up on all aspects of the strength and good work that has come through the summit process. There is a need to continue to work through existing arrangements to the maximum extent possible. These arrangements include the ministerial component of the IAEA Conference on Nuclear Security; the CPPNM review conference mechanism; the drafting of the nuclear security resolution each year at the General Conference of the IAEA. We need to determine how we use those to maximum benefit.

“Secondly, there certainly is a need for senior officials in governments who see the need for further enhancement of nuclear security to get together. A contact group of government officials could provide accountability for states that have made various pledges or commitments through the Nuclear Security Summit process. It could also act like the canary in the coal mine where officials could advise leaders of a problem with nuclear security arrangements and potentially the need for leaders to reconvene.

“Thirdly, one of the really important aspects of the Nuclear Security Summit process is the strong commitment from NGOs and industry, as well as governments. That has been very useful. Beyond this summit, we need something like a ‘Global Dialogue-plus’ where industry and NGOs and governments get together for discussion on further enhancement of nuclear security arrangements.

“Finally, implementation is important. I can see value in having regional networks of countries sharing best practices and building capacity in nuclear security, and one way this could be done is with the assistance of various nuclear security Centers of Excellence and other centers. The IAEA should clearly have a very significant role in such regional networks.”

Are you optimistic about the future of these efforts?
“I feel confident that there will be greater energy and more momentum for continuing to work on strengthening global nuclear security than there would have been without the summits. I wouldn’t ever underestimate the critical value of the engagement of leaders. But even with it, there were some issues that were not able to be fully addressed and outcomes that were not fully achieved. We need to be ready to act when the opportunity arises – and, unfortunately, it will probably arise after there’s been a significant failure on nuclear security. If progress is not achieved through foresight and vision, it may come after an incident of serious concern. However, we must seek to preempt such failures and prevent them from occurring.”