Decoding Summit Speak


As anyone in DC knows, policy wonks develop their own shorthand language that can be virtually unintelligible to the outside world. The Nuclear Security Summits are no exception. With sherpas and gift baskets, yaks and action plans, it’s easy to get confused.

Here are the key terms you need to know to decode “Summit speak.”

Communiqué – A communiqué is the highest profile outcome of every Nuclear Security Summit. Each communiqué outlines pledges that have been agreed to by all participating countries regarding nuclear security. These documents often are accompanied by gift baskets, house gifts, and national statements, which contain additional voluntary pledges or statements of actions taken to improve global nuclear security.

View previous summit communiqués here: 2010 (PDF), 2012 (PDF), 2014 (PDF)

Gift Baskets – Gift baskets are commitments—composed of one or more specific pledges—by multiple countries participating in a Nuclear Security Summit. Though the concept of gift baskets could be applied to other policy settings, it was first adopted during preparations for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit. Gift baskets are voluntary and allow nations to make pledges that go beyond those pledges contained within summit communiqués. The Arms Control Association releases progress reports on the commitments—with the next update on March 23rd.

House Gifts – A predecessor to gift baskets, house gifts are voluntary pledges to improve nuclear security made by single countries. Like gift baskets, house gifts allow nations to go above and beyond the pledges contained within a summit communiqué. At the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, participating countries offered 67 house gifts.

National Statements – National statements are documents issued by countries participating in a Nuclear Security Summit. These documents describe a country’s unilateral commitments to improve nuclear security and describe national actions to do so either as part of the fulfillment of summit commitments or otherwise.

Action Plans – At the 2016 summit, leaders will issue—for the first time—action plans for five international organizations and institutions: The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations, INTERPOL, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The action plans represent country commitments to support and strengthen these international institutions.

Sherpas, sous-sherpas and yaks – Months before the official start of a Nuclear Security Summit, sherpas begin the hard work of developing and drafting the policies that will be approved by world leaders during the summit. Generally speaking, sherpas are senior-level government officials who engage in outlining the broad parameters of policy. Sous-sherpas and yaks generally serve as their deputies and assistants.

Washington Work Plan – The Washington Work Plan was the result of the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. This seven-page document supports the 2010 Summit Communiqué by providing concrete national and international action steps to implement pledges contained in the communiqué. The subsequent summits have not produced similar Work Plans.

Prague Agenda – In 2009, President Barack Obama delivered a speech outlining his nuclear security agenda in Prague, Czech Republic. He pledged to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, promote passage of a global ban on testing weapons, work with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals, and address the terrorist threat posed by poorly secured nuclear materials, starting with a first Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Washington, D.C., in 2010.