Getting to Know the Summit’s Key Players


Looking back at the Nuclear Security Summits since 2010, a number of key players emerge as the major actors who have helped realize the original goals of summit process. These countries, international organizations, NGOs, and industry groups are worth watching as they are again expected to play an outsized role at this year’s gathering as well.

Key Countries

Three countries in particular have played a central role in improving nuclear security protocols: the Netherlands, Republic of Korea and United States. Each nation has hosted at least one Nuclear Security Summit, and in so doing, has shaped the summit process in unique and tangible ways. 


The Netherlands hosted the most recent Nuclear Security Summit, in 2014 at The Hague, during which countries followed a summit agenda that sought to set a course from completing commitments made at the previous two summits. The Netherlands helped to spearhead a significant Joint Statement on “Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation” through which 35 countries committed to follow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) physical protection recommendations, which are otherwise voluntary. In addition, the Netherlands pioneered a scenario-based exercise for heads of state, which challenged leaders to respond to a hypothetical nuclear smuggling scenario. This exercise was well received and has inspired a similar event at the 2016 summit.

Republic of Korea

As a summit host in 2012, the Republic of Korea focused the summit agenda on three main issues: cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, protection of nuclear materials and related facilities, and prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. The 2012 summit also pioneered the concept of gift baskets – an innovative diplomatic tool that allowed summit participants to make more nuclear security commitments than ever before. A total of 13 gift baskets, presented in the form of joint statements, were presented at the summit.

United States

President Obama announced plans for the first Nuclear Security Summit during a major speech on nuclear security issues delivered in Prague in 2009. A year later, the United States hosted the first summit, drawing the largest group of heads of state together in a half-century, and this year, the United States hosts the fourth and final summit.

Since plans for the first summit took shape in 2009, the United States has played a central role in sustaining the summit process and shaping the policy discussions within it. Vital to this effort has been Laura Holgate, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Threat Reduction on the National Security Council (and NTI alum!). Holgate is the United States’ Sherpa at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit and is leading the host nation’s efforts to set a clear path forward that will sustain the momentum of the summit process in the years to come.

International Organizations

While heads of state will garner significant media attention at the 2016 summit, some of the most important players in the room will be the international organizations that are central to building a global nuclear security architecture in the years to come.

At the 2016 summit, action plans will be endorsed for the following organizations:

  • International Atomic Energy Agency
  • United Nations
  • Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism
  • Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

The action plans are designed to strengthen the organizations’ contributions to nuclear security and empower them to continue the progress that has been achieved through the summit process.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Industry

Finally, a host of nongovernmental organizations and private actors have played significant roles in the summit process, and they will continue to do so in 2016.

Since 2010, the Nuclear Energy Institute has organized the Nuclear Industry Summit, a side summit that coincides with the Nuclear Security Summit. Comprised of more than 350 members in fields involving nuclear materials, the Nuclear Energy Institute aims to promote the beneficial use of nuclear technology among policymakers. This year, the Nuclear Industry Summit will include presentations, debates and discussions about finalizing actions from previous summits and will focus on securing the use, storage and transport of nuclear and radiological materials, managing the cyber threat, and defining the global role of the nuclear industry.

In addition, the Fissile Materials Working Group will also host a side summit, Solutions for a Secure Nuclear Future. This invitation-only event is designed for non-governmental actors and is expected to draw approximately 200 attendees. The Fissile Materials Working Group is made up of 80 civil society organizations. The event is also sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As in years past, this side summit will be designed to demonstrate the roles that stakeholders have in the nuclear security process and ensure continuous progress on nuclear security. The side summit can be watched via live webcast here.