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Diplomacy in Action

Nuclear Security Summit Op-Ed

Gary Samore, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism
Op-Ed Article by
Seoul, South Korea
March 27, 2012


Two years ago in Washington, 50 world leaders gathered for the historic first Nuclear Security Summit, and pledged concrete action to lock down nuclear material, disrupt nuclear trafficking, and prevent nuclear terrorism.As the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit nears, the world will return its focus to nuclear security and bring this important issue back to the top of the political agenda.In Seoul, world leaders will highlight progress and make new pledges for action.This political commitment at the highest levels renews the momentum of Washington, and charts a course for further achievement in the coming years.

There is no greater threat of mass killing than the prospect of a nuclear weapon or nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists or criminals. That is why President Obama has made it a top priority to secure nuclear materials from terrorist organizations, traffickers, or states that fail to meet their international obligations. though some headlines may focus on other nuclear challenges, our attention to nuclear security has not wavered.Countries participating in the Summit have remained focused, and have taken steps that improve nuclear security in concrete, if not always obvious, ways.Over the next week, during the Summit, and after the Summit you will hear about these actions.It is the action that counts. Political commitments are one thing, but following through on those commitments is another.

Make no mistake about it political commitments are difficult too.Nuclear issues are a central function of national security calculations for many nations and at the same time are critical to energy objectives.Threads of debate on nuclear weapons, disarmament, peaceful nuclear energy, and unfettered access to peaceful nuclear technology tie together in ways that challenge even close allies.With more countries, these threads become even more intertwined, but fifty world leaders at the Washington Summit met that challenge.We have woven these threads together and created a sturdy security blanket.

At the Washington meeting, we observed unprecedented acknowledgement of the need for global solidarity to face a threat that has global consequences.Nations with robust nuclear infrastructures, nations just embarking on peaceful nuclear programs, nations with nuclear weapons, nations who used to have nuclear weapons, nations who never possessed nuclear weapons, and nations with no nuclear materials at all came to consensus on the importance of steps to prevent nuclear terrorism. We produced a Communiqu¤stating our views and a Work Plan for tangible actions.

Since Washington, countries have eliminated and secured material so that thieves should not have access to it, countries have built counter nuclear smuggling capacity so that traffickers are more likely to be caught with it, and countries have taken threat mitigation steps so terrorists never use it.The world is safer and more secure as a result.

But our work is not done.We must adapt to a changing threat environment while limiting the spread of these dangerous materials. World leaders also agreed in Washington that separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the raw material of nuclear weapons, require special attention.Right now, countries are reducing the amount of these materials in the world, but there are also plans to increase them.Because there can be no nuclear terrorism if terrorists do not acquire nuclear material, permanent reduction of nuclear threats demands reductions in materials.So even as we work towards a world without nuclear weapons, and even as we work towards a world where every nation has free access to the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, we need to also work towards a world where we are reducing overall quantities of separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium. In the process, we need to maintain security that is commensurate with the evolving threat.

At the Seoul Summit, you will hear about some of the actions the world has taken in the last two years and some of the pledges we will make for future actions, but some successes will go unsung.Some involve innovative new security features to lockdown materials and to announce them would undermine their efficacy.Some involve intelligence and law enforcement work to break up the black market and to announce them would reveal undercover sources.Some involve counter terrorism activities to take the fight to the field and to announce them would reveal tactics.Rest assured, however, that these actions have happened, are ongoing, and will continue to happen a motivated world united in its fight against nuclear terrorism.

The threat is real, these actions are warranted, and leaders' attention is necessary. Only by working together can we rid the world of this most dangerous threat.

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