Pit stop in Istanbul on way to Nuclear Security Summit in 2014

Pit stop in Istanbul on way to Nuclear Security Summit in 2014

Officials from more than 50 nations have been gathering together in Istanbul to begin planning for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, which will be the third of its kind that will be focused on preventing nuclear terrorism.

The first summit was convened in April 2010 in Washington D.C. with the participation of the heads of state and government of 46 states and the chiefs of international organizations – the largest of such gatherings since the end of World War II. During the Washington summit, world leaders underlined the importance as well as the urgency of taking swift and effective measures against the threat posed by the possibility of transnational terrorist networks acquiring nuclear materials, namely highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium.

The success of the first summit paved the way for the second summit, which convened in Seoul in March with a record participation of 53 heads of state and government, as well as representatives of the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, European Union and Interpol.

There are a number of points particularly worth noting in terms of the Seoul summit. First of all, the summit provided important timelines for advancing nuclear security objectives, making the end of 2013 the target year for states to announce voluntary actions to minimize the use of HEU and setting 2014 as the target year for bringing the 2005 amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) into effect.

Second, the Seoul meeting reflected the need to address both the issues of nuclear security and nuclear safety in a coherent manner for the sustainable, peaceful use of nuclear energy by emphasizing the need to better secure spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Third, the summit set out specific measures to prevent radiological terrorism, an issue which was only briefly touched upon in Washington.

In addition to these, it must be noted that, when compared to the Washington summit where 32 countries made over 70 commitments on specific actions to enhance nuclear security (with nearly all of these achieved), over 100 commitments were made by the participating countries at the Seoul summit.

However, nuclear terrorism remains a serious threat that may have serious consequences in terms of loss of life, as well as damage to public and private institutions and the economy. Hence, proper institutions are necessary to be able to prevent the threat from becoming a reality. While the first two Nuclear Security Summits have gone a long way toward achieving this goal, the next summit in the Netherlands may be the last one. Hence, more and more nations should continue to focus on efforts to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable stocks of fissile material, including those that are still housed in civilian facilities, bearing in mind that the four-year goal set in Washington to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials will end in 2014.

There are no comprehensive standards for nuclear security that states must follow, nor is there any international transparency into state-based nuclear security efforts. This creates vulnerabilities that could be exploited by capable smugglers or terrorist groups. In their preparations for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, a group of committed nations should develop a gift basket wherein they collaboratively develop and commit to implement steps that will strengthen standards and oversight of nuclear material security. This would be a voluntary but critical step to filling the gaps in global nuclear security.

The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit may be the last at the level of heads of state. Thus, the representatives gathered in Istanbul should begin to think about what initiatives need to be in place to maintain high-level focus on nuclear security in order to continue to strengthen global defenses against a very real threat.

Dr Mustafa Kibaroğlu is chair of the Department of International Relations at Okan University.