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Strengthening Nuclear Security: Compliance to the Principal Legal Instruments of Nuclear Security

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  • May 29, 2015
    Fellows' Seminar
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Dr Arvind Kumar
    External Discussants: Dr Sitakanta Mishra and Dr Manish Dhabade
    Internal Discussants: Mr S Samuel C Rajiv and Ms Sourabhi Mukherji


    Nuclear security concerns during the Cold War era revolved around the concepts of nuclear deterrence and nuclear proliferation. However, in the 21st century, due to increased globalization, political instability and terrorist activities around the world, there is a greater threat of theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear or other radioactive substance. In this context the author in this paper points to the urgency of having an international consensus on building a more robust nuclear system with legal instruments which would be put in place to prevent the misuse of sensitive nuclear and radiological material by terrorists. Dr Kazi in her paper highlights the gaps in the nuclear security system where there are no substantial legal instruments that have been developed to control the transfer of these sensitive materials to miscreants. A stronger nuclear security system is also needed due the existence of nuclear weapons in domestically unstable and politically volatile regions. In such places, the nuclear facilities are susceptible to vulnerabilities like accidents, miscalculations, sabotage and pilferage. Therefore, a nuclear security system with legal instruments would allow more effective regulation and make individual states more accountable for the safety of their nuclear capabilities. Hence, the need for international cooperation to control nuclear/radioactive sources around the world is of paramount importance for the prevention of nuclear terrorism and ensuring global security.
    Dr Kazi looks at three existing critical instruments for strengthening nuclear security:

    • Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) of 1980
      • It is the only legally binding international instrument in the area of physical protection of nuclear material
      • Its primary objective is to facilitate the safe transfer of nuclear materials.
    • Amendment to the CPPNM OF 2005
      • Senior Expert Group for the Review of the IAEA’s Programme of Activities recommended that a possible revision on the CPPNM should be done to address the issues of prevention of unauthorized possession of nuclear material and access to nuclear facilities
      • 2005 CPPNM amendment emphasised the importance of sharing best practices that would be critical to developing a stringent physical protection system.
    • International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) of 2005
      • Prevention of the misuse of nuclear/radiological materials.
      • Requires State-parties to make every effort to adopt appropriate measures to ensure the protection of radioactive material, taking into account relevant recommendations and functions of the agency.

    These three legal instruments urge cooperation for the prevention, repression and elimination of terrorism in all forms and calls upon states to criminalize offences related to the misuse of nuclear/radioactive materials. However, Dr Kazi argues that despite all these efforts, the legal instruments mentioned above remain ineffective and lack universality. One of the reasons for their ineffectiveness is complacency. Since in reality no incident of this sort has taken place, there is no urgency in complying with a nuclear security system to protect nuclear/radioactive material. Second, is the lack of universality, as countries that do not have stockpiles of nuclear/radioactive material do not feel the need to implement effective controls on nuclear material. Nevertheless, the author argues that State-parties and non-state parties have the prime responsibility of generating the requisite political will for an effective implementation of these legal instruments. If need be, incremental transparency in nuclear matters can be effected to generate confidence about its security concerns which could in the future help to produce a necessary political will for making these legal instruments universal.

    Discussion and Suggestions

    • The history and evolution of terrorism and the way it has been tackled by states have to be mentioned in the context of nuclear/radioactive materials falling into the wrong hands.
    • Historical debates surrounding the legal instruments for nuclear security system should be elaborated.
    • The difference between nuclear security and nuclear safety has to be mentioned and also how the former is evolving in comparison to the latter.
    • Evolution and reforms made in the various Nuclear Security Summits have to be included to have a more comprehensive understanding of the evolution of nuclear security.
    • The politics behind non-compliance should be an integral part of the argument to highlight the lack of universality for the nuclear security system at the international level.
    • The nature of the balancing act has to be taken into consideration in the management of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
    • The human element or negligence of security of nuclear facilities domestically has to be taken into consideration.

    (Report prepared by Ms. Kuhoo Saxena, Research Intern, IDSA)