Nuclear security has outgrown the traditional definition of guards, guns, and gates. Those physical protection issues are still important, but there are a number of new security challenges in this century.
The international nuclear security system is not well structured.
In contrast with safeguards and security which rely on international agreements, the international nuclear security system is not well integrated, is opaque, and does not mandate consistent standards and implementation across nations.
The system is primarily based on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s useful recommendations, which can be voluntarily implemented or ignored, creating the opportunity for the creation and perpetuation of weak links in the global system.
In the past decade, there were four international nuclear security summits designed to strengthen the system. They made some improvements, particularly by eliminating fissile material stockpiles and promoting attention to the issue. But, that is not enough in this new environment with new realities.
“Nuclear security has morphed into something much more complex.”
– Kenneth Luongo, President of the Partnership for Global Security
For example, the cyber challenge is growing globally and evolving, mutating to all-digital infrastructure. Recent reporting indicates that a crippling cyber-attack on the U.S. could justify a nuclear weapons response. It may not be correct, but it clearly is an indication of the seriousness of the stakes posed by cyber challenges.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an emerging and uncharted field in the nuclear area that is unlikely to be a purely benign technology. AI: (a) is not going to be government controlled in democratic nations and mostly will be in the hands of the private sector; (b) will be primarily government-controlled in authoritarian nations and used to advance their political and strategic objectives; and (c), as a result of A and B, is going to require a lot more thought about how we deal with these challenges.
Non-state actors and terrorist challenges continue to cast a shadow on the nuclear landscape, and although much was accomplished throughout the four Nuclear Security Summits and after 9/11, much needs to be done as terrorist tactics mutate rapidly.
There is little in place in the international system to stop any nation from acting on geoengineering if climate change poses a direct threat to their national security and stability – including the food supply. The international security implications of actions in this area can be globally profound and uncertain.
In addition, the next phase of nuclear power will be in regions where the U.S. and western nations may not have as much influence on nuclear decision making. While we have eliminated fissile material stockpiles in many nations, newcomer nuclear nations contracting with aggressive, new nuclear suppliers, may decide that uranium enrichment and reprocessing are in their national interest.
As a result, there is considerable work to be done in nuclear security 3.0 that is very different from the analyses and considerations that have received most of the attention since 9/11. However, it is not being acted upon in a strategic manner by governments or other key players.
Kenneth Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security
Photo Credit: NASA