No Nuclear Security without Transparency

Cooperation and collaboration should extend beyond the Nuclear Security Summit.

Nuclear security has improved internationally to a great extent through President Obama’s initiative of Nuclear Security Summits, but it still has a long way to go after the NSS process comes to an end. Since the first NSS summit in Washington, many bilateral and multilateral initiatives have been launched by states to guard against the menace of nuclear terrorism. One of the important successes of the NSS process is that it has helped improve the security of fissile materials present in many non–nuclear weapons states if such materials have not been totally removed. Based on international efforts and cooperation many countries have improved their nuclear security by transforming their Design Based Threat.

The NSS process has been a success primarily because it brought the agenda of nuclear security to the forefront of international policy and politically internationalized it the way more formal initiatives on nuclear and radiological security like Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and UNSCR 1540 etc. did not. However, international nuclear security regime remains uneven and weak. Nuclear security debate is not complete without the discussion on instituting transparency in both military and civilian programs. Generally in international cooperation security is perceived to be gained by sharing knowledge, not by hoarding it. However, transparency would be one of the fundamental and hardest targets in order to achieve a positive international security culture and common international standards for nuclear security.

All the international initiatives to counter the threats of nuclear terrorism underline the fact that international cooperation is indispensable to combat nuclear terrorism. Transparency and accountability are a prerequisite for deeper cooperation and sustainable support. Surprisingly, the discussion on transparency on nuclear security measures is underemphasized or practically absent. Absence of transparency blocks nuclear security agenda in three fundamental ways. It makes it impossible to assess the adequacy of current nuclear security parameters, assess vulnerabilities and fill gaps. It hinders the creation of a complete picture of the threat, based on emerging information or intelligence in different parts of the world. Lack of transparency might result in insufficient security mechanisms for states that do not share information on specifications of the threat or the measures in place to guard against the threat of nuclear theft or sabotage. It inhibits the possibility of learning international best practices, standardization and universalization of best practices.

Guarding sensitive information is a national security question and reliance on secrecy in some aspects of the program is inevitable. However, excessive secrecy does not serve the purpose of national security either. It will fuel mistrust, suspicion, exaggerated assumptions, and worst-case threat scenarios in other countries. There should be graded approach towards nuclear transparency as much as it is applied to other aspects of nuclear safety and security. Risk reduction in nuclear security has to be balanced with the incurred political and economic costs. Without optimum information sharing, there will be no clear indicators of how much risk a specific measure would reduce and how much risk a given facility would be at. For this, more intelligence cooperation and information sharing is required internationally.

Through the NSS process states presented house gifts and gift baskets. These are individual pledges of a state or a group of states to enhance nuclear security; by offering individual contributions to nuclear security, balanced by their respective national interests and capacity. The principle of individuality in contributions at the summit helped to make it more inclusive—however, it also systematically avoids standardization. Providing for nuclear security is every state’s individual sovereign prerogative, even if the effects of a nuclear safety/security disaster cannot be contained within the physical territories of a state. State sovereignty provides the right to each state to take individual measures for nuclear security and also choose not to share information.