"Q&A with Gary Samore and Laura Holgate"
Editor: Sharon Wilke, Associate Director of Communications
The Nuclear Security Summit that brought 46 global leaders to Washington, D.C. in April was a major step by President Obama to "ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon." The Summit, intended to launch what President Obama called "a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years," was organized by Gary Samore, coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation, and terrorism, and Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction. We asked Samore and Holgate, alumni of the Belfer Center's International Security Program (ISP), to comment on the planning and successes of the Summit.
Q. You were responsible for organizing the Nuclear Security Summit that was attended by 47 nations (including the U.S.) in April. What do you see as the key successes of the Summit?
The greatest success is that President Obama persuaded 46 other countries to join the U.S. in a plan to put the world's nuclear material out of the reach of terrorists within four years. While the president has acknowledged that this won't be easy, the Summit greatly increased the global visibility and urgency of the problem. All of the countries signed onto a 12-point non-binding Communiqué and a work plan, both of which Laura and I developed with delegates ahead of the Summit.
A number of countries pledged during the Summit to take concrete steps to increase nuclear security in their countries. For example, India announced it would build a center to promote nuclear security, and Ukraine, Mexico, Chile, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and Canada agreed to dispose of hundreds of pounds of highly enriched uranium (HEU) used in civilian facilities. The biggest surprise was Ukraine's agreement to give up its HEU. Laura Holgate worked out the details for this agreement.
Q. What were some of the biggest challenges for you in planning the Summit and making sure it ran smoothly?
In the context of nuclear security, for some countries it was important to have a specific reference to the security of nuclear weapons in the Communiqué, but several countries with nuclear weapons did not want any mention of weapons. It took a lot of work to get agreement to include a statement to: "Reaffirm the fundamental responsibility of States...to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials, which includes nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons...."
Another challenge was how to reference the relationship of nuclear security to disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We see nuclear security as the essential foundation of disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses, and each of these pillars of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is bolstered by high-quality nuclear security. Some Summit participants are not NPT member states, however, so are reluctant to enshrine these principles by referencing the NPT. Others oppose any reference to disarmament that does not hew to caveats agreed to in other recent international fora. Some others suggested that progress on nuclear security be preceded by further progress on disarmament. Several states were intent on ensuring that nuclear security not be used to constrain or limit rights to peaceful use, while others wished to highlight that nuclear security is an essential enabling component of the expansion of nuclear energy and other peaceful applications. You can see for yourself how the Communiqué trod carefully to balance these various views.
Q. As you worked with nations to develop the work plan, did you find it difficult to get countries to internalize the threat of nuclear terrorism and commit to taking concrete steps following the Summit?
A. I think it is fair to say that not all nations share the same sense of urgency and reality that the U.S. places on the threats that come from the deadly intersection of vulnerable nuclear material and suicidal terrorists bent on mass killing. Some nations are defensive about the security of their own materials, some nations are skeptical about the intent or capabilities of terrorists, and some believe that as long as the U.S. is the main target of terrorists, this is not their problem. By contrast, we know that nuclear security needs to be improved in many countries, including my own. We also know that the crude design of the first U.S. bomb was considered so reliable by its designers that it was never tested before it was used, and that the principles of this design are available to experts without direct bomb-building experience. We know that al Qaeda has received fatwas from religious authorities condoning the use of weapons of mass destruction, and that the acquisition of this capability has been a consistent theme of al Qaeda leaders' statements and activities. And we know that the global effect -- economically, politically, and psychologically -- of a terrorist nuclear attack anywhere will challenge the capacity of all states to manage the consequences. We are foolish if we ignore or deny these realities.
I think the discussion among leaders during the Summit provided an opportunity to narrow some of these differences, but we still have work to do in terms of coming to a truly shared perception of the threat. As the Summit Communiqué indicates, however, all participants agreed that nuclear security is the most effective way to prevent nuclear terrorism, and nations recognize their national responsibilities and international commitments to ensure security of nuclear materials.
Q. Can you explain how the Ukraine agreement came about and why it is especially significant?
A. Ukraine is the latest of many countries to recognize that highly enriched uranium is not needed to carry out world-class science or to manufacture beneficial isotopes. Through the Global Threat Reduction Initiative and its predecessor programs, we had been working with Ukraine for several years to improve security of their facilities and to develop low enriched uranium fuels for its reactors. The combination of the maturity of these new fuel types, of the arrival of a new government in Kiev, and of the opportunity of the Summit to provide high-level recognition of another positive step taken by Ukraine in the realm of nuclear non-proliferation brought about the conditions necessary to proceed with the removal of all HEU from Ukraine in the next two years. All HEU could be used to make a nuclear weapon, so the secure removal and elimination of unneeded HEU is a significant contribution to permanently reducing nuclear threats.
Q. Are there lessons from your experiences as a fellow and staff member at the Belfer Center that you apply in your work in the National Security Council today?
A. We are both fortunate to have benefited from time spent at the Belfer Center. The Belfer Center has had a huge impact by injecting timely research and analysis directly into real-life debates and policies on international security. Whether on Middle East politics during Gary's time at the Center, or on the concept that became known as "cooperative threat reduction" during Laura's work there, or today with Matt Bunn's ongoing focus on the risks of nuclear terrorism, the knowledge, relationships, and intellectual frameworks developed within the Center have made enormous contributions to global security.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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