10 years already! The European Union Strategy against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (“the Strategy”) was endorsed by the European Council in December 2003. The least one can say about this tenth anniversary is that it is proving relatively low key…

The strategy’s mindset and method is based on support for the major instruments, mechanisms, and institutions of multilateral non-proliferation through regular funding and targeted outreach activities. This is the principal approach of joint actions and Council decisions, to which can be added initiatives arising from the European Stability Mechanism (chiefly the 2009 CBRN Action Plan, and the Centres of Excellence currently under construction), the non-proliferation clause (or WMD clause) governing EU relations with third-party countries, and diplomatic action regarding the North Korean and Iranian proliferation crises.

Aside from the latter two fields of activity that employ a coercive approach, prevention within the major existing multilateral frameworks remains the by-word of the European counter-proliferation policy, a fact that can be explained by both political and historical reasons. Politically speaking, it constitutes a common denominator among EU Member States. This was the case in 2003 in the midst of the Iraqi crisis and remains so today in a 28-member Union. From an historical point of view, it is also a response to the Bush Administration’s active anti-multilateral stance at the beginning of the millennium.

Ten years later, although impact assessments are very much the order of the day, the task of evaluating a strategy based on “effective multilateralism” is not straightforward. The advantage of the European approach is grounded in a long-term desire to strengthen the collective security tools approved by the greatest possible number of States. Its weak point comprises its occasional tendency to clash with a strategic reality that is as contradictory as it is obstinate.

Benjamin Hautecouverture
EU Non-Proliferation Consortium / Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS)

December 2013 / January 2014, Issue No. 13

There are no binding international standards for the security of nuclear materials

As a sharp observer of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, Elena K. Sokova analyses the interim agreement with Iran and the prospects for the third Nuclear Security Summit (NSS, The Hague, 24 – 25 March 2014).
Elena K. Sokova is Executive Director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP). Prior to Vienna, she held a number of senior research and management positions at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Monterey, California. Her primary research topics include nuclear security, illicit trafficking in nuclear materials, fissile materials disposition and control, nuclear safeguards, international nonproliferation regimes, and nuclear disarmament.
Last 24 November 2013 the P3+3 and Iran signed a “Joint Plan of Action,” which consists of a short-term freeze of portions of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for decreased economic sanctions on Iran. What are its strengths and weaknesses?

The deal reached in Geneva last November is a major and much needed breakthrough in efforts to establish tighter controls over the nuclear program in Iran, ensure its peaceful nature, and hopefully reverse it. The interim agreement slows down Iran’s acquisition of special fissile materials—highly enriched uranium and plutonium, which are the main ingredients for a nuclear device. It puts limitations on Iran’s capacity to enrich, caps the enrichment of uranium at 5%, and eliminates half of the 20% U235 stocks. It also postpones Iran’s acquisition of plutonium by putting on hold the launch of the Arak research reactor. Most importantly, these limitations will be subject to intrusive inspections and verification measures. However, the deal is only an interim solution. It puts a break on the nuclear developments in Iran and gives the two sides time to develop trust and to hold further negotiations on a comprehensive, lasting agreement. Iran’s break-out capabilities and possible dismantlement of some facilities are likely to be the subject of future negotiations. In this regard, the effective implementation of the “Joint Plan of Action” in the next six months by both sides is critical for any follow-on deals.

The theft of radioactive materials that took place early December 2013 in Mexico poses questions on the protection of radioactive material worldwide. What do you think should be done at a regional and international level to strengthen the regime in place?

The theft of a truck with a cobalt-60 source in Mexico and its successful recovery provide many valuable lessons and point to vulnerabilities. What if the thieves were after the radioactive material and wanted to use it for terrorist purposes? Why wasn’t the truck equipped with a GPS or other tracking device and why was it left unattended by the driver? The Mexican authorities, no doubt, will be deriving their own lessons. They should be praised, however, for issuing an international alert and making this information public. They did so despite the absence of a legal instrument that requires such reporting. This incident highlights another shortcoming. There are no binding international standards for the security of nuclear materials and radioactive sources. The IAEA’s recommendations and codes of conduct are extremely valuable but still fall short when it comes to the enforcement, transparency, and universality. Hopefully, the forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague could tackle some of these issues. We need to overcome the insistence of states to treat nuclear security as a domestic issue and use national sovereignty and secrecy as a pretext for not committing to binding international obligations.

In March 2014, the first ever Nuclear Knowledge Summit (NKS), parallel to the Nuclear Security Summit, will be held in Amsterdam. What role does civil society play regarding nuclear security?

Similar symposia have already been held in parallel with the Nuclear Security Summits in Washington, DC, in 2010 and in Seoul in 2012. The NKS in Amsterdam is a continuing recognition of the role that civil society plays in setting the agenda, providing expertise, and contributing to the capacity building in the nuclear security field. Examples range from the development of draft highly enriched uranium transparency guidelines, self-assessment tools on nuclear security culture, model legislation kits, online training modules, and academic programs. The NKS is also an opportunity to generate new ideas and tackle some issues that do not find their way to the official Summit agenda, or that governments are too timid to discuss, such as non-civilian stocks of fissile materials. In addition, the NKS allows representatives from different regions to share ideas and approaches to advancing nuclear security in their respective regions and globally, chart priorities for future work, and discuss ways to promote them.

Interview conducted by Boris le Polain
Research Assistant
Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS), Paris