x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Countries ‘must be held to pledges’ on nuclear security

Experts called for the 53 heads of state who attended the Nuclear Security Summit to maintain focus on training, security and upgrading of facilities

US President Barack Obama, seen here on the screens, addresses the closing session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014. Thirty-five countries committed to bolstering nuclear security and preventing dangerous materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. Saul Loeb/AFP
US President Barack Obama, seen here on the screens, addresses the closing session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014. Thirty-five countries committed to bolstering nuclear security and preventing dangerous materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. Saul Loeb/AFP

THE HAGUE // Political pressure is crucial in ensuring that countries live up to their pledges on nuclear security, experts say.

They called for the 53 heads of state who attended the Nuclear Security Summit this week to maintain focus on all aspects of the talks, including training, security and upgrading plants.

Nuclear security requires constant attention, they warned, and a robust regime of independent inspections should be considered.

“It’s very clear that anything countries state they will do is very valuable,” said Anita Nilsson, former director of the office of nuclear security at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We hope the communique will show that this has happened during this summit. The recognition of the IAEA guidance package and the willingness to implement them are very important.”

Ms Nilsson said whether an inspection regime should be voluntary or enforced was a point to be further discussed.

“That’s a very legitimate question to discuss and that’s what has happened here,” she said.

Paul Wilke, a senior research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said countries were not yet ready to deal with the situation after 2016, the year of the next summit.

“Much more needs to be done and if you look at the pace of development we will make another important step in 2016,” Mr Wilke said.

“But it won’t be sufficient so we need another organisation to have these talks and negotiations. At some stage we have to broaden that from 53 states. Maybe the IAEA can take up this role.”

Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington, said the main point to remember was that nuclear security was a continuing process.

“It’s not something you can take care of once,” Mr Pomper said. “It’s like aviation security. We’re going to keep having to discuss and to meet, and hopefully we’ll make progress by 2016.”

Having a political process was extremely important, Ms Nilsson said.

“I think it’s important to have the recognition that you need a mechanism to maintain attention on the highest level to these issues,” she said.

“But it’s also necessary to have a process in place to deal with these issues – security, upgrade of facilities, training – all those bits and pieces that put substance into what we’re talking about.

“And if that doesn’t work the political doesn’t either, so there needs to be good synergy and in this the IAEA plays an indispensable role.”

John Bernhard, former Danish ambassador to the IAEA, said political attention and pressure was critical to keep the work progressing.

“You have to marry the expertise of the IAEA with high political attention, which might also be moved into the agency to a higher degree than what it is now,” Mr Bernhard said.

Shin Chang-hoon, director of international law and conflict resolution in the Asan Nuclear Policy and Technology Centre in Korea, said there was a need for more inclusion.

“We’re trying to accumulate the voices from the public and civil society, and trying to deliver them to governments and international organisations,” said Mr Shin.

But a balance between transparency and the need for continued confidentiality will be required.

“There’s no doubt that lots of information within the nuclear security field is sensitive and cannot be disclosed to a broader public because that would be a security risk,” said Ms Nilsson.

“At same time, it’s not reasonable to have a situation where we can’t communicate about nuclear security.

“When it becomes more clear how the questions can be dealt with, maybe that will gain confidence with these countries that are now a bit hesitant.”

cmalek@thenational.ae