- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Belfer Experts Work to Strengthen Nuclear Security

| Spring 2016

With No Future Nuclear Security Summits Planned, The Project on Managing the Atom Assesses Nuclear Security Around the World

In the months and weeks before the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., Belfer experts promoted a series of ideas to strengthen measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or the essential ingre­dients to make them.

According to a recent report from the Project on Managing the Atom (MTA), “In the two years since the last nuclear security summit, security for nuclear materials has improved modestly—but the capabilities of some terrorist groups, particularly the Islamic State, have grown dramatically, sug­gesting that in the net, the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was two years ago.”

The 2016 Washington summit aimed to address that threat. Unfortunately, Russia, the country with the largest stocks of nuclear weap­ons and nuclear weapons-usable materials, did not participate in the meeting. U.S.-Russian cooper­ation on nuclear security broke down following the Ukraine crisis, effectively ending more than 20 years of productive work aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism and related dangers.

In an attempt to find common interest, Matthew Bunn, William Tobey, and Nickolas Roth travelled to Moscow in February for a Nuclear Threat Initiative-sponsored meeting with Russian experts and officials to discuss the potential for rebuilding U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation. The purpose was to identify a set of activities—like scientific exchanges, coop­eration on nuclear power, and cooperation on nuclear security—that would be in both coun­tries’ mutual interests.

The MTA project’s recent report, entitled “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?,” was released prior to the Washington summit. The report, by Bunn, Martin Malin, Roth, and Tobey, provides an assessment of nuclear secu­rity around the world and recommendations for strengthening nuclear security further.

The authors recommend action in six key areas:

  • Committing to stringent nuclear security principles;
  • Implementing effective and sustainable nuclear security ubiquitously;
  • Consolidating nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials;
  • Strengthening security culture and combating complacency;
  • Building confidence in effective nuclear security; and,
  • Continuing an effective nuclear security dialogue after the summits end.

The report authors presented their findings at a Carnegie Endowment event in Washington, D.C. on March 21. Tobey also briefed the find­ings of the report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Additionally, The New York Times published a story on the report which was picked up by other news outlets.

In addition to the “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism” report, MTA recently published an update by Senior Research Associate Hui Zhang on nuclear security efforts in China. Zhang described China’s continuing challenges with corruption in nuclear security and with a growing terrorist threat. His report also examines progress China has made in recent years in strengthening regulations, upgrad­ing physical protection and material control and accounting systems, improving cyber security for nuclear facilities, building organizational cultures around nuclear security, and strengthening inter­national confidence and cooperation. Zhang’s work, “China’s Nuclear Security: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps,” received prominent attention in the Chinese media.

Alongside the official nuclear summit was a nongovernmental “knowledge summit,” which Bunn played a key role in organizing. Bunn, Tobey, and MTA associate Trevor Findlay were each featured speakers. A delegation of MTA fellows and staff also attended the NGO summit.


Read the full report: Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?

For a compilation of Belfer Center expert analysis and commentary related to the Nuclear Security Summit, see here.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Malin, Martin B. and Roth, Nickolas. Belfer Experts Work to Strengthen Nuclear Security.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2016).