Partnership for Global Security

A Security System Commensurate with the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism

Kenneth C. Brill and Kenneth N. Luongo

A hot mic shouldn’t overshadow a dirty bomb. The Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul ended recently with two dominant story lines: President Obama’s “hot mic” comments to Russian President Medvedev and the 53 participating governments congratulating themselves on the summit’s outcomes. Both miss the key strategic problem that the Seoul Summit did not address: the need to unify the current patchwork, largely voluntary approach to nuclear security that is not commensurate with the risk or consequences of nuclear terrorism.

A quick reading of the Seoul summit communiqué highlights the problem. Almost every significant substantive step described in the communiqué is preceded by the words “we encourage.” So states are “encouraged” to share best practices, to safely secure and dispose of unneeded nuclear material, and to work with and support the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But there is no obligation to meet the voluntary standards and no institution, not even the IAEA, with the mandate to evaluate countries’ nuclear security performance. This underscores the fundamental failing of the current global approach to nuclear security: It is based on national voluntary actions that are unaccountable and inconsistent across borders.

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