Nearly Three Dozen Nations Sign Hague Statement on Nuclear Security Framework

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte hands over a symbolic stick to President Obama during the closing session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Tuesday. Thirty-five countries committed to bolstering nuclear security, backing a global drive spearheaded by Obama to prevent dangerous materials falling into the hands of terrorists.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger
March 25, 2014, 10:09 a.m.

THE HAG­UE, NETH­ER­LANDS — Thirty-five na­tions par­ti­cip­at­ing in this week’s Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit here agreed to sign onto a de­clar­a­tion aimed at bring­ing the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity closer to a uni­ver­sal and leg­ally bind­ing nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity re­gime.

Spear­headed by the Neth­er­lands, the United States and South Korea, the ini­ti­at­ive by mid-morn­ing had garnered the sup­port of two-thirds of the 53 states par­ti­cip­at­ing in the bi­en­ni­al con­fab, when seni­or of­fi­cials from the three coun­tries un­veiled the joint state­ment.

The two-day sum­mit, which ended on Tues­day, in­cluded Pres­id­ent Obama in a lead­ing role and was at­ten­ded by many oth­er heads of state. All 53 na­tions sep­ar­ately is­sued a more broadly worded fi­nal com­mu­nique.

The pro­ject banks on vol­un­tary ac­tions by in­di­vidu­al coun­tries to strengthen the se­cur­ity of their nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als, a prac­tice widely seen as too weak around the globe. But some is­sue ex­perts say the new ef­fort could open the door to more-form­al ar­range­ments among the group of ini­tial par­ti­cipants in the years ahead.

Sign­ers com­prise a di­verse ar­ray of coun­tries, among them Al­ger­ia, Chile, France, Hun­gary, Kaza­kh­stan and Mo­rocco. Some key nuc­le­ar states, though — in­clud­ing Rus­sia, China, In­dia and Pakistan — are not among the ini­ti­at­ive sup­port­ers.

The evolving re­gime drew mod­est praise from is­sue ex­perts here on Tues­day.

John Bernhard, a former Dan­ish am­bas­sad­or to the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency, called the joint state­ment the most im­port­ant out­come of the sum­mit and a “good sur­prise.” He noted that ex­ist­ing in­ter­na­tion­al con­ven­tions of­ten began with a small group of vol­un­tary par­ti­cipants, who even­tu­ally shep­her­ded a cause to­ward wide­spread in­ter­na­tion­al ac­cept­ance.

In rolling out the ini­ti­at­ive, South Korean For­eign Min­is­ter Yun By­ung-se stressed that im­ple­ment­a­tion in the par­ti­cip­at­ing coun­tries would be a key test and would de­pend on states’ “ca­pa­city and de­term­in­a­tion.”

Sig­nat­or­ies pledge to “meet the in­tent” of key nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity guidelines of the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency, ad­apt­ing na­tion­al laws ac­cord­ingly, ac­cord­ing to the joint state­ment.

Sup­port­ing coun­tries should con­duct self-as­sess­ments, to in­clude host­ing peer re­views and act­ing on the re­com­mend­a­tions stem­ming from them. Na­tion­al per­son­nel de­voted to nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity should be “demon­strably com­pet­ent,” the state­ment reads.

Mem­ber coun­tries also com­mit to im­proved cy­ber­se­cur­ity re­lated to nuc­le­ar fa­cil­it­ies, and to mak­ing fin­an­cial or in-kind con­tri­bu­tions to the U.N. In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency’s Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Fund.

U.S. En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz called a com­mit­ment to the agency’s guidelines “the closest thing we have to in­ter­na­tion­al stand­ards.”

What role the U.N. agency will ul­ti­mately play as the sum­mit’s 35-coun­try ini­ti­at­ive takes its course re­mains to be seen, is­sue ex­perts said.

Bernhard said that while piggy­back­ing the gov­ernance pro­cess onto agency prac­tices might ul­ti­mately lead to uni­ver­sal ad­op­tion of nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity meas­ures, the Vi­enna-based watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion would un­likely be able to sus­tain con­tin­ued fo­cus on the is­sue.

Ken­neth Brill, a former dir­ect­or of the U.S. Na­tion­al Coun­ter­pro­lif­er­a­tion Cen­ter, called the Tues­day an­nounce­ment an “im­port­ant found­a­tion” for fu­ture work. Com­ment­ing on the ab­sence of some key nuc­le­ar-weapon states in the ini­ti­at­ive, he said: “When so many coun­tries sign up, those who don’t be­gin to stand out.”

The Fis­sile Ma­ter­i­als Work­ing Group, a col­lec­tion of world­wide is­sue ex­perts, warned in a Tues­day press state­ment that the ini­ti­at­ive’s im­pact would be weakened be­cause of the sev­er­al key coun­tries not in­cluded. In ad­di­tion, the group lamen­ted that the joint state­ment des­ig­nates nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity a na­tion­al re­spons­ib­il­ity, as op­posed to a glob­al one.

In his clos­ing speech, Obama urged fel­low heads of state to “fin­ish strong” at the fi­nal 2016 sum­mit, likely to be held in Wash­ing­ton. Obama said dis­cus­sions among lead­ers be­hind closed doors today led to an ex­pect­a­tion that the up­com­ing gath­er­ing would serve as a “trans­ition­al sum­mit,” with fol­low-on work in fu­ture years done at the min­is­teri­al level and be­low.

Mean­while, all world lead­ers par­ti­cip­at­ing in the sum­mit con­firmed on Tues­day that they were pledging to min­im­ize stocks of weapons us­able plutoni­um.

“We re­cog­nize that highly en­riched urani­um and sep­ar­ated plutoni­um re­quire spe­cial pre­cau­tions and that it is of great im­port­ance that they are ap­pro­pri­ately se­cured, con­sol­id­ated and ac­coun­ted for,” the of­fi­cial com­mu­nique reads. “We en­cour­age states to min­im­ize their stocks of HEU and to keep their stock­pile of sep­ar­ated plutoni­um to the min­im­um level, both as con­sist­ent with na­tion­al re­quire­ments.

The lan­guage drew a mixed re­ac­tion from one non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­pert.

“It’s a cred­it to the Dutch that the plutoni­um lan­guage is in there, but lan­guage on plutoni­um should be equi­val­ent to HEU — i.e. ‘min­im­iz­ing’ plutoni­um, not keep­ing plutoni­um ‘to the min­im­um level con­sist­ent with na­tion­al re­quire­ments,’” Miles Pom­per of the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies said in an email. “That’s too much wiggle room to [po­ten­tially] keep huge plutoni­um stocks.”

Plutoni­um has been one of the more dif­fi­cult is­sues to tackle dur­ing the bi­en­ni­al sum­mit pro­cess. Pre­vi­ously, the ses­sions had fo­cused largely on highly en­riched urani­um.

Douglas P. Guarino con­trib­uted to this art­icle from Wash­ing­ton.

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