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NTI Response to IDSA Article

Nuclear Threat Initiative

NTI Response to IDSA Article, “How Accurate is the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index?”

NTI welcomes input on the Nuclear Material Security Index, and our ultimate goal is to generate broad discussion about what is needed for effective nuclear materials security.  At the same time, the article called "How Accurate is the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index?" published on the website of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses has some inaccuracies and characterizations that require response.

The piece asserts that NTI has a “hidden agenda” regarding the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), a U.S. program which has spent billions of dollars around the world securing high-risk vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials.  NTI has been a champion of this program, but it is not included in the Index framework at all. 

The article also describes as arbitrary the decision not to include radiological materials.  We did consider this. While a real threat, radiological sources vary widely in terms of type of materials, nature of application (used by a diverse set of actors and facilities for medical, industrial and research purposes), and the consequences and impact of a dirty bomb attack. As such, they require a substantially different set of security requirements. Because the dirty bomb concern is an analytically different problem, we chose to focus on how to prevent a nuclear terrorism attack using a catastrophic nuclear yield-producing device fueled by dangerous weapons-usable nuclear materials. We would welcome others to use the NTI Index as a model for an exploration of the radiological threat.

The paper also takes issues with the Index framework and makes generalizations about “highly faulty” methodology.  While we address specific issues below—which we see as welcome inputs into the process—we wanted to give some insight into our intentions in developing the Index. 

NTI collaborated with The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) because of its global reputation and track record providing forecasting and analysis to businesses and governments worldwide. We also relied upon an independent International Panel of Experts from around the world. 

EIU’s 900+ analysts have particular expertise in the legal and regulatory structures of countries around the world. Once the international panel, EIU and NTI developed the framework, EIU analysts relied on public, open source information in the form of domestic regulations and data from the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), government sources and other credible non-governmental organizations to create the rankings. Objectivity was a paramount concern.

NTI invited governments to validate the EIU data, and over half of the 32 governments with weapons-usable nuclear materials did so. The Indian government chose not to review the data, but the invitation for engagement remains open to India and to all governments.

Looking more closely at some of the specific concerns raised in the article:

  • One-Kilogram Threshold:  The NTI Index includes an assessment of 32 countries with one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials and a separate assessment of 144 countries with less than one kilogram of or no weapons-usable nuclear materials. We differentiated the two groups by this threshold for several reasons. First, we believe even small quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials warrant stringent protection since every kilogram of nuclear materials that a non-state actor might be able to obtain could contribute to the illicit construction of a nuclear weapon. Our selection of the one kilogram threshold was not arbitrary but rather a considered decision based on IAEA guidelines (INFCIRC 225/Rev. 5) which recommend different security procedures for facilities with Category I, II and III nuclear materials. Therefore, states above the one kilogram threshold were assessed on one set of indicators, and states below the one kilogram threshold were assessed on a separate, but related, sub-set of these indicators. 
  • Country Coverage:  The article suggests that Annex 2 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) may have been a more useful guide to delineate the country categories.  Annex 2 of the CTBT captures countries that participated in the negotiation of the CTBT from 1994-1996 and that possessed nuclear power or research reactors at that time. However, not all of these countries have more than one kilogram of weapons-usable nuclear material (i.e., plutonium or highly enriched uranium) which as discussed above was the threshold for counting a country as having weapons-usable nuclear material.  So, not all of the CTBT Annex 2 countries can be counted in the group of countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials in the NTI Index. Please note, however, that Annex 2 countries not included in the NTI Index for countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials were nevertheless included as part of the group of 144 countries without weapons-usable nuclear materials.  In the end, the NTI Index evaluated all CTBT Annex 2 countries.
  • Quantities and Number of Sites: The article implies that India is unfairly penalized because of its quantity of material and number of sites. NTI explored this and zeroed out quantities of materials and number of sites indicators. In that analysis, India’s rank improves only one position from 28th to 27th overall. (See page 28 of the print/PDF report for details.) Consequently, India’s overall score is affected far more by the other indicators in the Index than its number of sites and quantities of materials.
  • World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) and Regional Centers of Excellence:  Both WINS and the regional centers are referenced in the NTI Index recommendations. However, because the regional centers are nascent (many countries have not yet stood up these centers) and the Index does not give credit for commitments until they are implemented, they are not credited in the Index. This could change in the future years.  As an organization open to all countries interested in improving security of nuclear and high-hazard radioactive materials, WINS membership was a useful indicator for the Index. WINS is the nuclear security analog to the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) which aims to achieve the highest possible standards of nuclear safety.  NTI helped found WINS and believes in its mission, and at the moment, there are no alternate organizations dedicated to promulgating nuclear materials security best practices at the facility level. WINS is an important part of the global architecture dedicated to nuclear materials security and credit should be given to countries that work to ensure they have the best nuclear materials security standards in place.
  • International Treaties:  The article says that international treaties are “treated at par” with other kinds of initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative or the G-8 Global Partnership. This is not the case.  International treaties (captured by the International Legal Commitments indicator) are given twice as much weight as much as the initiatives mentioned in the article (captured by the Voluntary Commitments indicator). 
  • Measuring Corruption:  Our international panel (which had many members from countries that suffer from fairly high levels of corruption) fully agreed that corruption has to be taken into account in evaluating a nation’s nuclear materials security conditions. As noted in the IDSA article, measuring corruption is a challenge. After lengthy discussion within the team and among our advisors, we ultimately chose to use EIU data from its long-standing and reputable Risk Briefing Service. The article also expresses concern that the corruption indicator was measured on a 0-4 scale, versus the 0-2 scale for groups interested in acquiring nuclear materials illicitly. Rather than the scoring scale, what actually affects the ranking is the weighting of these factors—done by NTI and EIU in conjunction with our international panel.

There are also two issues that merit broader discussion. 

The first is the characterization that the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index reflects a political and Western bias. NTI and the EIU actively took steps throughout the process to avoid this perception and the potential for this reality. In particular, we relied heavily on an independent panel of experts. This panel has more representation from the non-Western and developing world (e.g., Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and South Africa) than any other sector to ensure the Index reflected an international point of view. The panel provided extensive input into the framework before data was gathered to ensure its objectivity. Working with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we included people who were not just academics but also those who have real-world experience in nuclear materials security (e.g., people responsible for security at nuclear facilities). We encourage engagement with those panel members to get their perspectives about the process. Through this panel of experts and the sheer country coverage of this effort, we hope that most would conclude that the NTI Index breaks down, rather than builds up, the “North-South” divide.

Finally, we do believe that a broad and deep conversation about the role of transparency in nuclear materials security is critical.  And in the shorthand of media coverage, it is easy to overlook the nuances that the NTI Index report outlines.

The NTI Index report is very clear about calling for transparency measures that we believe will enhance public and international confidence and minimize misperceptions—without compromising national security interests. Many governments already follow practices that demonstrate that appropriate transparency is not “mutually contradictory” with nuclear materials security. The three actions NTI calls for are measures already undertaken by most states. Of course, we acknowledge that it will take some time for the governments of China, India, Israel or Pakistan to declare the inventory quantities of their weapons-usable nuclear materials as the non-disclosure of that information is tied to issues of nuclear doctrine. That said, India has a long standing record of calling for nuclear disarmament, such a step will be eventually necessary for making that vision a reality.  In the meantime, India and other states can take steps to make public its security regulations (absent sensitive information) and invite meaningful peer reviews.

We are glad that our main goal of facilitating a discussion on nuclear materials security priorities was reflected in the essay. Foremost, that is a process that should include all governments that have a stake in preventing nuclear terrorism, including India. The Index was put forward to initiate a discussion to create a global consensus on priority actions on this agenda. As we continue to work to engage and inform the Indian government, we hope they will take the opportunity to contribute to a discussion already occurring within and across other governments about what actions matter most for securing weapons-usable nuclear materials.

With the Nuclear Security Summit process creating so much positive momentum, we anticipate the NTI Index also having a positive impact for the upcoming Summit and more importantly, afterward.  Indeed, we have received overwhelmingly positive reactions from many governments as well as constructive engagement from others seeking to understand the Index in more depth.  No matter whether a country is at the top or bottom of the list, we believe all countries must do more.

NTI has shared these thoughts with IDSA and the authors of the article in the hopes of generating a broader discussion and clarifying some of the information in the article. 

For more information about the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index, visit www.ntiindex.org.