Deteriorating Risk Environments Jeopardize Progress

Increases in political instability, ineffective governance, pervasiveness of corruption, and presence and capabilities of terrorist groups led to declining Risk Environment scores in almost as many countries as had improved between 2016 and 2018. Those results indicate cause for concern about the future of nuclear materials security in virtually every region of the world.

  • In 7 of the 22 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials, Risk Environment scores declined since 2016. Slight improvements to political stability and governance in 11 countries with weapons-usable materials[1] were matched or exceeded by declines in 7 other countries where social unrest, ineffective governance, pervasiveness of corruption, and terrorist risks increased.[2]
  • In one-fourth of the countries where an attack on a nuclear facility could cause a dangerous release of radiation, Risk Environment scores declined since 2016. In 12 of the 44 countries and Taiwan with nuclear facilities at risk of sabotage, risk environment factors declined. Among countries with nuclear facilities, Risk Environment scores deteriorated most significantly in Belgium, Poland, and the United States.
    • In Belgium, news reports revealed that terrorist groups targeted nuclear facilities in the country precisely at a time when growing labor tensions and strikes had exacerbated government coordination problems.[3]
    • In Poland, Risk Environment scores were adversely affected by social unrest in response to the governing party’s reform agenda and social divisions within the country. Increased political control over the selection of judges sparked protests and led to increased tensions with the European Union. Significant social unrest can affect a government’s ability to secure nuclear materials and can provide opportunities for groups seeking to acquire nuclear materials or access to nuclear facilities.
    • In the United States, Risk Environment scores declined on two indicators: political stability and effective governance. The EIU judged those indicators to be deteriorating as a result of heightened social unrest, resignations and vacancies from key government departments, and the increasingly deep polarization of political party politics (which contributes to a country’s ability to establish and sustain policies to secure nuclear materials).
  • Political instability is a heightened risk factor for countries in the Sabotage Ranking. The potential for social unrest has increased in seven countries.[4] Instability and conflict associated with a change of power have increased in two countries and may provide opportunities for groups seeking to commit acts of sabotage against nuclear facilities.[5] International tensions and disputes are expected to have destabilizing implications for nuclear security in four countries and Taiwan.[6] The potential for violent labor or civil demonstrations that could undermine government control has increased in two countries since 2016 as a result of protests against institutional reforms, security, or energy policies.[7]
    • In the Sabotage Ranking, the EIU estimates that the effectiveness of eight countries’ political systems has deteriorated since 2016.[8] In addition, ratings for effective governance (an important measure of a country’s ability to establish and sustain effective policies) have declined in eight countries in the Sabotage Ranking since 2016.[9] Although the ability of a government bureaucracy to establish and sustain policies to secure nuclear facilities improved in seven countries,[10] it declined in four.[11]
    • Although the pervasiveness of corruption declined in Argentina, China, and Egypt, it increased in Germany and Pakistan.
    • Belgium, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Russia all face a heightened risk that a capable terrorist group could commit acts of nuclear terrorism.

[1] Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, North Korea, and Russia.

[2] Belgium, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

[3] De Clercq, Geert, and Christoph Steitz. 2016. “Militant Interest in Attacking Nuclear Sites Stirs Concern in Europe,” Reuters, October 16. www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-nuclear/militant-interest-in-attacking-nuclear-sites-stirs-concern-in-europe-idUSKCN12A1PF.

[4] Chile, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States.

[5] Brazil and Iran.

[6] Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, and Switzerland. For information on Taiwan’s status and its treatment in the NTI Index, see the full EIU Methodology.

[7] Japan and Poland.

[8] Belgium, Brazil, Peru, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

[9] Belgium, Brazil, Peru, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

[10] Algeria, Australia, China, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, and Switzerland.

[11] Belgium, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain.