President Barack Obama invited 50 countries to the final Nuclear Security Summit, aiming to prevent terrorist organizations from obtaining a nuclear weapon. After terrorist attacks in Europe, the need to fight nuclear proliferation seems increasingly important, but the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, Russia, is boycotting the meeting and U.S. presidential candidates are causing international anxiety.
The Nuclear Security Summit is the cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy goals on nuclear nonproliferation. According to the Arms Control Association, the summit series has accomplished many of its goals, including the elimination or recovery of 1,500 kg of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium, updates to national laws on securing nuclear materials in most states, and dozens of new training and development centers.
With terrorism fresh in many leaders’ minds, the Nuclear Security Summit could serve an important role in preventing a serious disaster, as Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained in a call with Time.
“A terrorist attack with an improvised nuclear device would cost an enormous amount in terms of human life, and could also have profound political and economic and environmental effects on global security as well. This is a challenge that demands the type of international cooperation that we are promoting through the Nuclear Security Summit process.”
Still, the meeting in Washington is that last Nuclear Security Summit, and there are clear signs that the momentum behind nonproliferation is dying out.
For example, Russia’s decision to boycott the meeting.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained that they weren’t sending representatives because of a “shortage of mutual cooperation” on the key issues before the agenda. Russia has an estimated 7,300 nuclear weapons according to ICAN, more than any other country, including the U.S. Reuters reports that Russia’s absence is adding doubts that the summit can produce major results.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Russia is missing out on a big opportunity, and its absence illustrates the “degree to which Russia is isolated.”
The U.S. and Russia remain at odds over sanctions imposed on the Kremlin after the Ukrainian crisis.
There are also signs India and Pakistan are increasing their stockpiles of nuclear materials. Japan is enhancing its capabilities, and Donald Trump is giving them more reason to worry.
CNN reports that the real estate mogul recently said, “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea. We’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself.”
Officials met with leaders in South Korea and Japan to reaffirm the decades-old alliance weeks before the Nuclear Security Summit. Trump also said that nonproliferation is the greatest challenge facing the U.S. foreign policy, but that security arrangements in Europe and the Middle East might need to be adjusted.
Trump’s rhetoric has reminded countries that the Obama administration’s dedication to nonproliferation through multilateral talks could end completely after the 2016 elections.
Nuclear Threat Initiative, an anti-proliferation watchdog, explained, “The Nuclear Security Summits have had a positive effect, but the strategic goal of developing an effective global nuclear security system remains unachieved.”
One of the major fears at the summit is the risk of a “dirty bomb” — a conventional explosive used to disperse radioactive materials. But U.S. officials insist that there are no “explicit indications” that the Islamic State or other terrorist groups are anywhere close to developing such a weapon.
[Photo by Frank Augstein-Pool/Getty Images]