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Seoul Summit Fails to Make Progress on Nuclear Security

Seoul Summit Fails to Make Progress on Nuclear Security

Earlier this week, President Obama met with leaders of 53 other countries at the second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea. This summit followed the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, during which leaders began a campaign to secure vulnerable nuclear materials by the end of 2014.

Nuclear terrorism, which President Obama has acknowledged as the “most immediate and extreme threat to global security,” must be dealt with immediately. After the fall of the Soviet Union, nuclear material was not properly consolidated or contained. Experts are unsure how much nuclear material has gone missing, and unaccounted nuclear weapons material are prime targets for terrorist organizations. Graham Allison, the director of Harvard University’s international security program and former nuclear-security advisor to President Ronald Reagan, warns: “If material is loose, it may already be impossible to contain or account for…There is general agreement in national security circles that [a dirty bomb attack] is long overdue. Terrorists have known for a long time that nuclear reactors are potentially vulnerable to attack or sabotage.”

Additionally, Richard Burt, a former nuclear negotiator and the director of the U.S. chapter of the Global Zero Initiative, has suggested that further nuclear insecurity is derived from the existence of Russian bases that maintain tactical nuclear warheads facing Europe and lack adequate security.

Experts considered this week’s summit to be unsuccessful in convincing countries to declare themselves “fissile-materials free” (i.e. promising to ban the production of material required to create nuclear weapons), and the communiqué released at the culmination of the conference made vague requests to secure nuclear weapons materials and to support the “essential role” of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

However, the conference’s small victories should not be ignored. The summit highlighted the removal of all stocks of highly enriched uranium from Ukraine, a consensus to work to eliminate the smuggling of nuclear weapons material, and an agreement to work as a coalition of leaders to clean up the Kazakh Semipalatinsk testing site. Furthermore, the setting allowed for bilateral diplomatic talks first with President Dmetri Medvedev of Russia and then with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan.

Photo courtesy of Christian Science Monitor.

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