Official: U.S. to Press Nuclear Summit to Institutionalize Security Practices

Road work in front of the World Forum Convention Center in The Hague, Netherlands, seen last month in advance of a Nuclear Security Summit set for March 24 and 25. A White House official this week said Washington will press there for firmer global standards in safeguarding sensitive atomic materials.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger, Global Security Newswire
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Sebastian Sprenger, Global Security Newswire
March 6, 2014, 8:43 a.m.

A White House of­fi­cial con­firmed that U.S. en­voys will push to es­tab­lish glob­al stand­ards for safe­guard­ing sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als at an up­com­ing Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit.

Wash­ing­ton is seek­ing “a core group of coun­tries” to spear­head the ad­op­tion of po­ten­tially bind­ing rules that could help pre­vent atom­ic ma­ter­i­als from pro­lif­er­at­ing or fall­ing in­to the hands of ter­ror­ists, said Laura Hol­gate, a seni­or dir­ect­or on the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil staff.

Del­eg­ates from more than 50 coun­tries are slated to gath­er for the 2014 Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in The Hag­ue in just a few weeks, and pre­par­a­tions have been on­go­ing be­hind the scenes about out­comes of the March 24-25 gath­er­ing.

The sum­mits are seen as closely tied to Pres­id­ent Obama’s ten­ure in of­fice. He con­cep­tu­al­ized and hos­ted the in­aug­ur­al such gath­er­ing in Wash­ing­ton in 2010.

Speak­ing at a March 3 event sponsored by Har­vard Uni­versity’s John F. Kennedy Jr. For­um in Cam­bridge, Mass., Hol­gate said the ef­forts to fur­ther strengthen nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity must con­tin­ue bey­ond form­al bi­en­ni­al gath­er­ings.

The core group of coun­tries en­vi­sioned by the White House would help cre­ate an “ar­chi­tec­ture” for nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity, Hol­gate said, es­sen­tially lend­ing a level of form­al­ity to what is now primar­ily a vol­un­tary un­der­tak­ing.

Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire re­por­ted last month that the United States, the Neth­er­lands and South Korea had be­gun so­li­cit­ing pledges from sum­mit par­ti­cipants aimed com­ply­ing with in­ter­na­tion­al guidelines for the pro­tec­tion of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als.

Sam­antha Pitts-Kiefer, a seni­or pro­gram of­ficer at the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive who spoke at the same event, called the time between the sum­mits of 2014 and 2016 a “win­dow of op­por­tun­ity.”

“If it closes and this work is not done, it’s go­ing to be a prob­lem be­cause there is no in­sti­tu­tion right now to pick up the slack,” Pitts-Kiefer said.

Hol­gate ac­know­ledged that work also re­mains in con­vin­cing gov­ern­ments of the “base case” for se­cur­ing their nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al — namely, that pre­vent­ing its theft is in both their in­di­vidu­al in­terest and that of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity.

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