What Obama Must Achieve at Nuclear Security Summit

An ambitious agenda at the largest U.S.-convened gathering of heads of state since the UN founding

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President Obama is just one of nearly fifty heads of state gathering in Washington, D.C. this week for the nuclear security summit. The comprehensive multilateral talks--the largest U.S.-hosted gathering of world leaders since the 1945 founding of the United Nations in San Francisco--will address the role of nuclear weapons in the world. Following his nuclear posture review, which sets the America agenda on nukes, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, Obama is ramping up efforts to reduce the threat of such weapons. Here's what he'll be looking to accomplish in pursuit of that goal.

  • Keep Nukes 'Out of Terrorist Hands'  The Associated Press' Steven Hurst and Anne Gearan emphasize Obama's "plan to keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands. Confronting what he calls the 'single biggest threat to U.S. security,' Obama is looking for global help in his goal of ensuring all nuclear materials worldwide are secured from theft or diversion within four years."
  • ...That's His Direst Challenge  The New York Times bemoans a long-term lack of action on the terrorism front. "Far too little has been done since to head that off," they write. "The vulnerabilities run from thousands of poorly secured short-range nuclear weapons in Russia to poorly guarded nuclear reactors or fuel storage sites in far too many states. There are no mandatory, international security standards for nuclear facilities or for hospitals whose radioactive waste could be used in dirty bombs."
  • ...But He Left A Gaping Loophole  The Washington Times' Eli Lake writes, "But the meeting will not address a long-stalled treaty to control fissile material, the key ingredient for nuclear weapons. ... The Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) is a proposed international agreement that would require adherents to forgo any future enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels. Despite its focus on securing "vulnerable nuclear material," the summit will not focus on limiting the production of fissile material."
  • Will India Come Around?  The Hindu Times' R. Rajaraman says Indian officials must "rise to the occasion and behave as an active partner in international efforts to reduce nuclear dangers. It must adopt a statesmanlike posture, as befits a responsible nuclear power, confident of taking initiatives in this regard." India is the largest of the three nuclear states that refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. (They are joined by Israel and Pakistan.)
  • Address the Pakistan Threat  The New York Times' David Sanger reports, "While Pakistan struggles to make sure its weapons and nuclear labs are not vulnerable to attack by Al Qaeda, the country is getting ready to greatly expand its production of weapons-grade fuel. The Pakistanis insist that they have no choice" in the wake of India's build-up. Sanger sighs, "The problem that India and Pakistan represent, though, is deliberately not on the agenda."
  • Denuclearize North Korea  The Washington Post urges Obama to exploit the "unprecedented instability" within the regime. They insist on Obama's "recognition that in the long run only a change in the nature of North Korea's government is likely to solve this problem."
  • Why He Won't Achieve Any Of This  Time's Massimo Calabresi brings the pessimism. "But even the most idealistic internationalists know that the number of nuclear-armed states is likely to grow rather than shrink in coming years, weakening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and increasing the production of dangerous materials around the globe. So, a more accurate definition of the summit's purpose may be that it is, at best, a small step toward slowing the decline of international cooperation on nuclear issues. The gathering will produce more paper than progress."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.