Wendy Sherman outlines four critical agenda items for world leaders attending the Nuclear Security Summit
What should be on the Nuclear Summit agenda: Column
Wendy R. Sherman 3:24 p.m. EDT March 31, 2016
Iran, North Korea, Russia and the threat of nuclear terrorism challenge global nuclear successes.
Beginning Thursday, President Obama will host the fourth Nuclear Security Summit, a forum he launched seven years ago with an agenda so ambitious and noble that it helped him garner the Nobel Peace Prize. Given terrorist attacks in Belgium and Pakistan there will be much discussion about current challenges and side meetings on a range of topics. But, in my view, there are four major agenda items for the leaders attending the summit, each as important and urgent as the next.
First, the world must commit to ensuring that Iran complies with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action not just this year, but forever. Implementation of the nuclear agreement has gotten off to a solid start but the proof of its effectiveness will be in actions that are durable for the long term. The International Atomic Energy Agency must have the necessary financial support to continue to monitor and verify the agreement for years to come. The international community must, in the meantime, make good on sanctions lifting related to the nuclear program while at the same time ensuring consequences for Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism, human rights abuses and development of missile technology that would be capable of carrying a nuclear weapon or threatening the region.
Second, despite the icy state of the bilateral relationship, the United States and Russia must continue leadership to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons and encourage every other country that has such weapons to follow their example. Given Russia’s traditional support for non-proliferation, Putin’s decision not to attend the summit is concerning, but that work must continue nonetheless. Part of that challenge is to ensure the security of countries who fear that the nuclear agreement with Iran increases their security risk. While an Iran with nuclear weapons would have been able to project even more power than an Iran constrained by the agreement, we still need to take the region's security anxiety seriously and ensure that no one believes the answer is to develop nuclear weapons themselves.
Third, the world must meet the challenge of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Kim Jong-Un, the current leader, has taken a very aggressive approach to the world that could easily lead to miscalculation and to war with South Korea. No doubt, with American and others' help, South Korea would win, but the war would likely be catastrophic particularly if the North makes use of nuclear weapons. The key, of course, is China's use of its economic leverage. China's vote in support of the recent U.N. Security Council Resolution putting more sanctions on the North is a good step, but China will not do what is really necessary until its concerns about a North Korean collapse are addressed. China worries about the economic impact of collapse, nuclear weapons in a reunified Korea, missile defense on the peninsula, U.S. troops permanently stationed, their geopolitical position, the nature of a peace treaty that would replace the armistice and more. There are a range of solutions for each of these, albeit perhaps not perfect from China's perspective. Quiet diplomacy is what is needed, but international solidarity at the summit will help.
Fourth, and most on the minds of leaders given the tragic events in Brussels and Pakistan, the world must secure the fissile material that terrorists have long wanted to obtain. Osama bin Laden made obtaining fissile material for a ‘dirty bomb,’ or obtaining an actual nuclear weapon, a priority. Reports of a stolen ID badge from a nuclear facility in Belgium have increased anxiety. Indeed, in the report “World At Risk,” written in December 2008, the bipartisan Congressional Commission on Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, focused on the prevention of biological and nuclear terrorism. Although many countries have reduced their stockpiles of fissile material or down blended material, the risk remains great and the summit would do well to review the 2008 report and to follow through on the recommendations laid out then. Work is needed, for example, to further strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the consequences for violations, reinforcing and monitoring stringent standards for securing nuclear materials and ensuring IAEA capabilities. The likelihood of a terrorist with a nuclear weapon may be small, but the result would be horrific and must be thwarted at all costs.
In meeting all of these core challenges, experts worry that whatever is decided at the summit, no one institution exists to ensure that work continues between summits. And, indeed, consideration should be given to either an ongoing secretariat or a central U.N.-based office that can coordinate and continue to drive an agenda currently overseen by multiple governments and institutions. President Obama was right to make nuclear security a priority. Now, all summit leaders need to do the work that will help carry this legacy forward.
Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is the former undersecretary for political affairs at the U.S. Department of State and was a member of the 2008 congressional commission that produced “World At Risk.”