This is the third International security summit,
The idea is President Obama’s. In 2009 he identified the world’s burgeoning stocks of nuclear material as one of the gravest threats to world security. Since then there have ben two summits, the last will be in Washington in 2016. The process has an ambitious agenda.
The desire of terrorists to get their hands on fissile material to make a bomb has long been advertised. Tightening controls and improving security to guard those stocks is one of the principle goals of the summit process.
But this summit is overshadowed by events in Ukraine and the outbreak of rising tensions between Russia and most of the international community.
On the fringes of the summit President Obama has called an informal meeting of the G7, without Russian participation. Russia’s temporary ejection from the G8 is thought to be high on the agenda, as is the cancellation of this year’s G8 summit in Sochi.
There is too much highly enriched nuclear material in the world, and too many countries have stocks for civilian programmes that they don’t really need. That’s the firm belief of many experts in nuclear security, and it is the intention of the summit process to reduce the stocks, improve their security and develop binding global practices to deliver transparency and a uniform system for all materials, wherever they are.
Some progress has been made and on Monday Japan looked set to announce it will hand over 315 kg of highly enriched material to the US. Japan has a huge stockpile of material and has been under pressure to start dealing with it. The security at its storage sites has long been criticized. The Iranians have used the example of Japan’s stocks as reason for them to continue enrichment for what they claim are civilian programmes.
Experts worry that current US Russian tensions will threaten what has been good cooperation between the two powers over nuclear disarmament. Despite the crisis the two have maintained good relations when it comes to observing the recently signed START treaty and the Vienna Document which allows unannounced inspections of each other’s nuclear facilities. A serious escalation of the Ukrainian dispute may cast doubt on that process.
The US still holds between 150 and 200 B61 nuclear bombs in Europe. Many have called for their withdrawal as a goodwill gesture. Russia has threatened to move short range nuclear warheads closer to its western borders in response to US plans to station missile defence systems in former Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland. Worsening relations may provide the grounds for an escalation in nuclear deployment by both sides, something that would overturn all the progress made on disarmament since the Cold War ended.