Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.04.10

Nuclear Security Summit

The Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) was held at the Hague, the Netherlands, for two days beginning March 24. Global attention was focused on the trilateral summit of Japan, the United States and South Korea, as well as on the G7 meeting, which discussed the issue of Russia's annexation of Crimea. The Summit, however, which was attended by the heads of 53 nations, was also important.

The NSS was first held in Washington in 2010. Its main aim has been to safeguard nuclear materials from terrorist attacks. Since the 2001 World Trade Center attacks by terrorists, the United States has increased nuclear security, but terrorists have continued to target the United States. President Obama has long been deeply interested in nuclear issues, even before assuming office. In April 2009, soon after his inauguration, the President spoke in Prague, where he presented his goals for global nuclear disarmament, noting that nuclear terrorism is "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security" and proposing a Global Summit on Nuclear Security.

The largest threat to nuclear security is attacks by terrorists, but nuclear issues have an expansive scope and pose varying levels of threat. At the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, its nuclear materials, which had been dismantled from unused nuclear weapons, began to circulate in the global black market. That chaotic situation has now calmed down, but there the instances of theft of medical nuclear materials are not uncommon. According to a database for illegal nuclear materials trade that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains, a total of 2,164 incidents were reported between 1993 and 2011, of which 399 were crimes related to illegal possession of nuclear materials, while 588 were theft and loss of nuclear materials. This means that about 100 accidents occur per year. And these are just the incidents that IAEA tracks; there are many cases that go unreported.

The second NSS was held in Seoul, South Korea, in 2012. The main topic of that Summit was, once again, how to prevent terrorist attacks on nuclear materials. But, because the Summit took place just one year after the Fukushima nuclear accident, a major focus was on issues of nuclear safety, i.e., how to protect humans from the dangers of radiation. It is not easy to enhance nuclear safety while securing nuclear security. That is to say, to increase security, maintaining secrecy is the critical challenge, while, to increase safety, the disclosure of information is required. So, in some sense, the two are contradictory.

At the Seoul Summit, it was noted that due to the nexus between nuclear safety and nuclear security, sustained efforts are required to address those two issues of safety and security in a coherent manner. The Summit welcomed the efforts of the IAEA to organize meetings for developing relevant recommendations on the interface between nuclear security and nuclear safety. Experts have submitted the results of those discussions to the IAEA.

At the most recent Summit, in the Hague, the security of nuclear materials and international cooperation were the main topics, just as the two prior Summits. The topic of how to minimize the amount of dangerous nuclear materials worldwide was, however, added as one of the three major aims of the Summit.

It is obvious that minimizing the quantity of dangerous nuclear materials is the most effective way to reduce the danger that they pose. Ultimately, this could culminate in the elimination of nuclear weapons altogether. Universal common sense would suggest that the NSS is no place for debating the elimination of nuclear weapons, but it is worth noting what the Dutch government had intended by including a general reduction of dangerous nuclear materials among the topics for the Summit. The Netherlands has been very active in efforts to achieve international peace, including the establishment of the United Nations and other institutions, as symbolized by the creation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In 1996, the ICJ issued not a decision, but a recommendation, that nuclear weapons are illegal in principle. Furthermore, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) released a statement calling on leaders participating in the upcoming NSS to commence a high-level process that would achieve the global abolition of nuclear weapons. Some NGOs have expressed the same view.

In fact, in some respects, the NSS is superior to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT establishes the nuclear weapon states as the Permanent Members (P5) of the United Nations Security Council; other states that, in fact, possess nuclear weapons are not regarded as nuclear weapon states under the NPT. As such, India, Pakistan, and Israel have not joined the NPT. North Korea declared that it had withdrawn from the NPT, but the Treaty's member states have not accepted that position. The NPT's position is that the number of nuclear weapon states is fixed at those that possessed them at the time of the NPT's establishment; it does not allow for proliferation. Today's international reality, however, is different from when the NPT was first established.

In contrast, the NSS includes all nuclear states, including those that are not members of the NPT. Iran and North Korea have not attended the NSS, but that is because they have not been requested to do so. If they are invited, they are likely to attend. Unlike the NPT, the NSS has no restrictions on participation. This has led to some calls that the NSS be used more actively and that the issue of the elimination of nuclear weapons be included in it.

The Hague Summit did not directly debate such issue, but it agreed that states should reduce their stocks of nuclear materials to the minimum level (Communique No. 21). Although nuclear weapon states such as the United States do not wish to debate the elimination of nuclear weapons at the NSS, but they are concerned about their proliferation of nuclear materials, and the agreement is along these lines.

At the Hague Summit, Japan and the United States pledged to remove and dispose of all highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) in Japan. This material will be transported to the United States to be converted into less sensitive materials. This effort is targeted at furthering the two countries' mutual goal of minimizing stocks of HEU and separated plutonium worldwide. Under the pledge, the amount is only 300 kilograms - a small amount of Japan's overall nuclear stockpile (44 tons). The pledge is indirectly contributes to the reduction of dangerous nuclear materials and is, therefore, to be welcomed. The aforementioned agreement to minimize stocks of nuclear materials most concerns Japan - other than the nuclear weapons states - and, hereafter, Japan's large stockpile will continue to draw attention.