There are a plethora of side events to attend here at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, but some of the best ones are those that discuss new approaches to dealing with nuclear security.
At a symposium titled “Fresh Ideas for the Future,” Harvard Belfer Center nuclear expert Francesca Giovannini summarized a research paper in which she calls for a collective approach to nuclear security. The gist of her six-minute summary is this: the threat of nuclear terrorism is a problem which calls for collective solutions, as opposed to unilateral solutions adopted by most countries today.
For an example, developing nations are becoming increasingly interested in developing peaceful nuclear power, a capability they are entitled to as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The problem is that as states develop their nuclear capacities and acquire large amounts of nuclear material, the chance for nuclear terrorism also increases. One nation’s peaceful quest for nuclear power thus quickly becomes a dangerous problem for surrounding nations and for the world.
Giovannini stressed that collective responses can be very successful, for instance the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program between the U.S. and Russia has enjoyed tremendous success over the years. However, this is the exception and not the rule. Collective responses are generally still considered less important than individual responses.
This is because there are three primary flaws with the individual response to nuclear security:
1) The first is logistical. There is a lack of policy coherence between states regarding export controls as well as the physical protection of nuclear materials.
2) The second is mental. States lack an effective instrument for thinking collectively about the problem of nuclear terrorism. They fail to think about how the risk of nuclear terrorism in one state actually affects other states as well. In this way, nuclear security is truly a question of weak links.
3) The third is informational. There is very little information sharing among states regarding best practices and lessons learned. The Non-Proliferation Treaty is meant to promote cooperation and trust in order to encourage information sharing, but unfortunately this is not always the case and states usually resort to confronting issues of nuclear security internally.
How do we resolve these flaws and instead promote a collective approach to nuclear security?
Giovannini declared that we need a new way of thinking in order to promote trust and confidence and enhance the capacity of states to cooperate with each other. Specifically, she offered the idea of adopting standard procedures to force states to “speak the same language” and to mandate information sharing. An excellent approach may also be to adopt the systems which bloc states already have in place for dealing with natural disasters or other national issues. The takeaway: creativity is key!
It is encouraging to note that here at the NPT review conference, there are so many speakers here with great ideas for dealing with nuclear issues. The big question remains: which ideas will states decide to implement, and how?
Action people, we need action!