Nuclear Security Bid Trimmed Amid U.S.-Russian Discord

World leaders watered down pledges to tighten nuclear security against terrorist threats after fault lines emerged between the U.S. and other nuclear nations over what kind of information should be shared.

President Barack Obama, who founded the Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, joined leaders from 53 countries in The Hague for two days of talks that ended today. China, Russia, India and Pakistan were among the countries that abstained from subscribing to new information-sharing projects backed by the U.S. and its allies.

“We still have a lot more work to do to fulfill the ambitious goals we set for ourselves four years ago,” Obama told a news conference at the summit’s conclusion. “We need a serious and sustained global effort to deal with one of the greatest threats to security that is the specter of nuclear terrorism.”

This year’s summit took place in the shadow of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, deflecting a push by the U.S., western Europe, Japan and South Korea for more transparency and accountability to secure nuclear-bomb materials like uranium and plutonium. Group of Seven leaders met on the summit’s sidelines yesterday and suspended Russia from the G-8.

U.S. Lead

“Russia doesn’t necessarily like to be seen as agreeing to what they see as a U.S.-led effort,” Miles Pomper, a senior researcher at the Monterey, California-based Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, said in an interview today in The Hague. “They may do so at a later date.”

Belgium and Italy drew praise from Obama for eliminating highly-enriched uranium stockpiles while Japan was commended for its “major commitment” to exporting a portion of its nuclear stockpile. U.S. regulators are drawing up tougher cyber-security standards to protect nuclear power plants, Obama said.

Appearing with Obama, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the “ultimate goal is for all the Nuclear Security Summit countries to follow” the voluntary improvements being made by the U.S. and its allies.

“There is a divide between sovereign authority and sovereign responsibility,” Harvard University’s William Tobey, a former U.S. National Security Council adviser, said in an interview in The Hague. Authoritarian countries want to keep focus on their own material while others want to make nuclear security a topic of international concern, he said.

Data Sharing

Proposals to found a forensic data-sharing network for lost radioactive sources failed to attract formal Russian or Chinese backing, director of the Netherlands Forensic Institute Ed van Zalen said in an interview. They also didn’t subscribe to new pledges intended to strengthen information sharing.

“There is no doubt that information cannot be disclosed that would risk nuclear security,” said Anita Nilsson, the former nuclear security head at the International Atomic Energy Agency. “It is unreasonable to say we cannot have any sharing of information.”

This week’s summit, which was attended by thousands of diplomats, also failed to address risks between civilian and military nuclear material, according to Pomper. Military uranium and plutonium -- 85 percent of the world’s stockpile -- were off the agenda, he said.

Break-ins at military facilities housing nuclear-weapons material in Europe and the U.S. have triggered concerns, according to Tobey, who called such incidents “systemic failures.”


Days before this year’s security summit, Dutch activists broke into Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands and posted pictures online of bunkers where North Atlantic Treaty Organization nuclear weapons are stored. The incident showed how nuclear-security measures, like blurring Google satellite imagery, are inadequate protection “against Dutch euro-hippies, let alone terrorists,” wrote James Martin Center arms-control analyst Jeffrey Lewis.

“The reason we did this was to draw attention to the threat of nuclear weapons now that discussions are going on about nuclear security,” Gonnus Doeven, one of the people who broke into Volkel on March 18, said in a telephone interview. “We could get in quite easily. You can just reach it from the forest.”

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