Q&A: Stay Tuned for Word on Future Nuclear Summits, U.S. Coordinator Says

U.S. Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, State Department coordinator for threat reduction programs, said she expects governments to decide in 2013 whether world leaders will join another Nuclear Security Summit after one scheduled for next year (George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs photo).
U.S. Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, State Department coordinator for threat reduction programs, said she expects governments to decide in 2013 whether world leaders will join another Nuclear Security Summit after one scheduled for next year (George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs photo).

WASHINGTON -- Obama administration officials plan to decide with international counterparts in coming months whether next year’s Nuclear Security Summit will be the last, the U.S. State Department's liaison for the meetings told Global Security Newswire.

“That’s a big question we don’t have an answer to yet,” said Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the State Department’s coordinator for threat reduction programs. “A lot has happened because of the summit [process], and the goal is to ensure whenever the summit ends, how do you ensure that the momentum is maintained afterwards?”

Next year’s summit in the Netherlands would be the third gathering of world leaders on efforts to better defend atomic material across the globe against theft or diversion, potentially for use in a makeshift nuclear weapon or radiological “dirty bomb.” Curbing reliance on bomb-usable atomic substances and implementing updates to an international nuclear material protection code are among the goals tied to next year’s summit in The Hague.

Preparations, though, have been accompanied by senior-level worries that the semiannual forums are growing irksome for participants, threatening their function of spotlighting projects such as a years-long multilateral effort to secure materials at a Cold War-era nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. The danger of “leader fatigue” from the summits would be a key consideration going forward, a top White House WMD official said in February.

Jenkins said governments will be looking at other ways “to assure each other [they] are still doing things to promote nuclear security.” She said venues for offering those “assurances” could include the International Atomic Energy Agency and the panel charged with enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, a measure designed to keep unconventional arms out of the hands of nonstate actors.

Speaking last week in Vienna, Austria, Jenkins said the future of the summit process will be a key focus of several “sherpa” meetings in which high-level experts lay the groundwork for next year’s conference. An IAEA nuclear security conference in July would help inform that debate, she added.

Officials hope to reach a decision by the end of this year, Jenkins told GSN. At least four sherpa gatherings are slated for June, October, January and the weeks prior to the March summit, her office stated by e-mail.

Experts say the world still has a long way to go in securing its nuclear materials. President Obama in 2009 set a four-year deadline for locking down all vulnerable atomic substances, and he convened the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington one year later.

The summits have aided in removing 3.5 metric tons of vulnerable highly enriched uranium and plutonium stocks from 23 nations, and they have supported the full elimination of weapon-usable uranium from as many countries, Jenkins said in a Friday statement to GSN. Other achievements include modification of 80 scientific research reactors to run on low-enriched uranium instead of bomb-sensitive material; security upgrades to 218 storage buildings with weapon-usable fissile substances; and deployment of radiation sensor gear at more than 490 border crossings, airports and seaports to catch potential nuclear contraband.

"Countries have made progress on, or completed, more than 95 percent of summit commitments," she said in e-mailed comments.

The Obama administration remained "very optimistic” it would negotiate a successor to the pact enabling U.S.-Russian collaboration under the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative, Jenkins said in an earlier interview. The existing “umbrella agreement” is set to lapse this month, threatening bilateral arrangements in place since the Cold War for helping Moscow to secure and eliminate Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction.

If the CTR terms expire, separate collaborative activities would continue under the Group of Eight nations’ Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, she said.

The senior State Department official serves as chief U.S. delegate to the latter initiative, which began 11 years ago with backing from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations. To date, the partnership has dispersed $21 billion and recruited 24 countries to help keep unconventional arms out of the hands of militants and state backers of extremism.

Jenkins served as the Defense Department’s chief counterterrorism representative to the Sept. 11 commission, and she worked as a fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She has taught at Georgetown University Law School and holds advanced degrees in international relations, law and public affairs.

Jenkins spoke to Global Security Newswire on May 1 at the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters. Edited portions of the conversation follow.

GSN: How optimistic are you that the United States and Russia will reach a successor to their CTR implementing agreement before the current arrangement expires in June?

Jenkins: We’re still very optimistic that something will be reached before the expiration date. We’re still very engaged with Russia right now in trying to come to an agreement. At this point, we’re still positive that something will happen, so our goal is to try our best and make sure something will happen before the end of the due date, and we’re actively engaged with Russia in discussing those issues. No reason not to be positive until the actual [expiration], but I think we’re working very hard on it.

GSN: Hypothetically, in the event that a new implementing agreement is not reached in that timeframe, do you expect Moscow and Washington would fall back on other mechanisms to collaborate in any of the areas now addressed by Nunn-Lugar?

Jenkins: There’s a number of potential options if in fact we get to that point, and I think we’re putting most of our attention right now on trying to make sure something is successful. There are a number of mechanisms that I think we can continue to work with Russia if something doesn’t happen, so I think we’re still very positive that we can continue a very positive relationship with Russia and we can still work with them in a positive way in the future regardless.

GSN: Could the G-8 Global Partnership offer an alternative framework for collaboration?

Jenkins: The G-8 Global Partnership is separate from that process. That process is something that’s based on agreements that were made just bilaterally with the U.S. and a lot of the DOD and DOE focus on this kind of projects.

The G-8 Global Partnership was a separate initiative that was started in 2002 to help prevent WMD terrorism globally, even though we focus most of our activities in Russia. Those are separate, and those will continue regardless, and it’s more than just the U.S. It’s a number of countries so there are a number of countries engaged with Russia like Norway and typically the Nordic countries which are still very interested in funding work in Russia.

There are a number of countries which are not interested in doing any more work in Russia, but [with] the G-8 what the U.S. does is count any activities that are actually ongoing in Russia for the U.S.

The U.S. counts its projects under the Global Partnership based on what is already going on, like with [the Defense, Energy and State departments] and any other government entity involved in WMD terrorism. So we count the financial contributions that we’re putting toward projects in those areas, so at least the U.S. portion will be affected by what happens with the agreement in terms of what we count, in terms of what we’re doing in terms of projects.

The Global Partnership is a funding mechanism. We count what the U.S. is doing across all the agencies across the board in fighting WMD terrorism, so whatever we’re doing in Russia is counted under the GP structure in terms of how much we’re putting into Russia. So in that way it is tied to what happens [with the CTR implementing agreement], but the GP isn’t not part of that negotiation process.

GSN: There have been some senior-level suggestions that next year’s Nuclear Security Summit could be the last, and one of your colleagues described a need to weigh benefits from high-level “engagement” at the meetings against accompanying “fatigue.” What are some practical means for gauging the effectiveness of these summits relative to other possible means of collaboration, and do you see a transition on the horizon for the summit process?

Jenkins: There has not been any decision made about whether there’s going to be a future summit or not after next year. The U.S. has not made a decision on that, and the participants to the Nuclear Security Summit in our meetings we’ve had to date -- we’ve had two -- also have not made a decision. The goal is to make a decision later this year as to whether there will be another one. So naturally, if the decision has not been made there’s going to be a lot of speculation about whether there will be or whether there won’t be another summit, and [fatigue is] one of the things that I’m sure people are weighing.

There are already a number of [other] ways in which countries collaborate to help ensure nuclear security. You have the IAEA, which does a lot.

The summit provides high-level attention to an important issue, and by doing that we’re hoping to facilitate faster [increases in] the security of nuclear material down the road. It’s been very successful …  in helping countries decide to, for example, get rid of highly enriched uranium, probably faster than they might have.

President Obama had suggested this in 2009. If you have high-level attention on this very important issue, you will have more movement within states in assuring nuclear material is secure so that we have less chance of nuclear terrorism.

But even before then you had the Department of Energy doing a lot of work in this area -- physical protection of nuclear material, consolidating nuclear material, getting rid of “unnecessary” nuclear material within a country and this just accelerated in that hopefully everybody in the international community is more engaged.

So there has been stuff already going on, there was stuff already going on before the summit. A lot has happened because of the summit, and the goal is to ensure whenever the summit ends, how do you ensure that the momentum is maintained afterwards? That, I think, is one of the big questions in deciding whether there’s going to be another summit or not [and] what happens afterwards.

One of the things that’s gotten a lot of attention is something called “assurances,” which is an effort to find ways to assure each other … that countries are still doing things to promote nuclear security. But you still have the IAEA, you still have bilateral agreements where countries will take action to get rid of nuclear material, you have IPPAS [International Physical Protection Advisory Service] missions which the IAEA does of a [country’s nuclear facility]. You have a lot of mechanisms out there. You have treaties out there that you ratify and you hopefully abide by that help you ensure you’re doing things to prevent nuclear terrorism. You have 1540, you have the Global Partnership, you have the GICNT [Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism], you have a lot of mechanisms out there already.

So it’s not that there’s not mechanisms. But what was good about the summit and what we want to maintain is high-level attention to help ensure that all these things continue.

GSN: In these discussions of “fatigue” with regard to the summit process, is “fatigue” defined using certain parameters? Is there a way of measuring it?

Jenkins: There actually has not been a discussion of “fatigue.” I think that was someone’s thinking about the issue. We’ve talked about it a bit amongst the summit participants, but countries haven’t yet made a decision. … In the absence of a decision, everyone’s going to talk about the pluses and minuses of going forward and I think that’s a reflection of discussion that might have taken place … about the pros and cons of that.

But fatigue is obviously just one of the variables, it’s one of the questions, it’s one of the issues that you look at in terms of whether there’s going to be future summits or not. But there hasn’t been to my knowledge, that I’ve been seeing yet, a question just on [whether] countries are tired of it.

GSN: How are the Nunn-Lugar program and the G-8 Global Partnership working to extend their reach in the developing world?

Jenkins: The Global Partnership programs are pretty much CTR-type programs. They’re programs that are reducing the threat of WMD terrorism, they’re programs that in effect help prevent nonproliferation of these weapons, and one of the ways that we’ve been trying to expand this to other regions is by trying to bring in more countries to the Global Partnership so there are more countries around the world that are actually part of it or are engaged in the initiative. Also by having more focused discussions within the Global Partnership about what kind of activities and projects partnership members can actually be engaged in.

The GP funded for the first 10 years mostly Russia, even though there were countries like the U.S. that were already doing work outside Russia since around 2006 or so. Most of the GP countries were just focused on Russia, but now increasingly, you’re seeing more and more countries doing work outside Russia. One because like I said they want to, and two because we realize this is a global problem. I think we always realized that, but we focused on Russia. This is a global problem, so we have to address these issues globally.

So in the GP for example, in our discussions we talk about what are the needs globally. You have [the U.N. Security Council 1540 Committee], which is a part of these discussions, so they talk about all the needs that they find out about though assistance requests that are made to the 1540 mechanism. Those are all countries that are supposed to be making requests and providing assistance based on 1540. You have countries like the U.S., Canada, the U.K., others who can actually come to the meetings and talk about some of the activities they’re actually funding in other regions that can use assistance. You have IAEA, who also tend to be talking about assistance needs that they’re aware of from other countries. So there’s a number of ways in which we are able to expand assistance outside the region we’ve been doing for the past 10 years to start bringing different actors who can talk about some of the needs that exist around the world, and then of course finding countries who have an interest in funding that type of needs, not just with money but in kind as well.

So this is where we are: I’d say we’re pretty much going global in terms of a lot of the work that countries are funding, and that’s the direction we’re going for.

It also helps because as we fund more types of activities -- so as we start to fund more work in biosecurity, as we fund more work in chemical security -- we start to also look at those. Not everyone has nuclear material, but everyone has a biologist, everyone has chemical facilities, and so you have to secure those and so those kinds of needs are definitely more global. Everyone has borders.

GSN: How do participants in CTR and the Global Partnership give developing nations a sense that they hold a stake in international proliferation challenges when domestic issues might appear more pressing in some cases?

Jenkins: Fortunately, I think a lot of them do understand that. I know some regions where they’re definitely challenged by that because each region has its own threat perceptions and they vary by region, and not everyone is going to think our priorities are their priorities. If you go to certain regions like Latin America or South America, they have their own issues they need to deal with like drugs and small arms. You go to Africa, they’re more concerned with small arms, human trafficking … border issues, so naturally countries are going to be more concerned about the threat that’s closest to them, not that they don’t appreciate it, but its further down in terms of what they’re concerned about.

You have to figure out how you can help them understand why what we’re working on is still important to them. Border security or biosecurity I think have decent traction because countries are concerned about their borders for a number of reasons, whether you’re worried about arms or whether you’re worried about people, whether you’re worried about drugs, [they’re] the same borders [with] the same guards.

You don’t have to train a whole new cadre of people to look out for material and be aware of material; you’ve just got to help them understand why [they] should also be concerned about material that’s being transferred because it’s not like there’s one place in the world where these things have to happen, these are global problems. They could happen anywhere, and you don’t want to be the weak link in the chain.

Depending on how you help them understand the problem, you want to help them understand it in a way they see that they have a stake involved. And these are global problems, and I think 9/11 shattered for everyone the perception that they’re safer than anyone else. You have to deal with it wherever it is, so you need to have strong borders because you don’t want the nonstate actors saying, “I can go through this border and carry this material because it’s easier over here.’ You don’t want your border to be the one, so you have to help them understand that. And it is possible.

GSN: What factors contributed to the heavy emphasis on biological threat reduction in the administration’s fiscal 2014 budget request?

Jenkins: We realized we had spent a good amount of time and energy -- never sufficient because we’re all limited by what we can do -- in the nuclear area, but there was also a realization that we need to focus on these other threats that exist. Based on studies that were done and based on the anthrax situation that happened in 2001, I think the concern and the interest in biosecurity grew, as so there was really a push to do more work in that area.

The State Department had been funding work in the bioengagement program for some time, but there weren’t a lot of other countries or other agencies doing a lot of that work. Increasingly what has happened is the Department of Defense has received authorization to start focusing more work on biosecurity outside Russia, because for a long time as I said, all they could do was in Russia. Now they’ve been getting authorization to do more work and a lot of the new work they’ve been doing has been on biosecurity. But it’s in an area that needs to get a lot more focus and a lot more attention. It really wasn’t getting enough at the time, and so that created an interest to do more work in that area.

By doing that [work] we also started to get more engaged with departments and agencies than we had before. There was a little bit of money going to [the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to do work related in the health area related to biosecurity, and increasingly we’ve been getting much more engaged with the public health and animal health side of the U.S. government and internationally as well through international organizations like [the World Health Organization] to look at things like disease surveillance and issues like that related to the whole security side of it.

You may hear more about this in the future, but it’s been interesting developing relationships with the nontraditional side of threat reduction and security. I think we’ll get more engaged in these areas that we have not before.

GSN: What projects in biosecurity does the administration want to emphasize in the coming budget year?

Jenkins: We’re going to continue to work on biosurveillance, disease detection, [preventing and] responding to biological attacks. I think you’ll see different agencies putting emphasis on different areas of “prevent-detect-respond.” We’ll still continue to do our bioengagement programs in different parts of the world, DOD will continue to do their bio-programmatic efforts. They’re doing a lot in Africa, and different parts of the region and the world, whether it’s funding security on refrigerators or building fences or helping with disease surveillance. I think all of that is going to be continuing to get emphasis in the future.

GSN: Can you provide any indication as to whether biosecurity will remain a similar budget priority in coming years?

Jenkins: Just based on what I’m seeing I’d say so. I would say it’s going to continue to be an important area. I think nuclear will continue to stay steady and I think bio will continue to be more and more important.

GSN: Do the sizable spending reductions the administration is now seeking to threat reduction programs at the State and Energy departments imply that dangers addressed by those departments are receding, at least relative to threats covered by Pentagon programs?

Jenkins: I would not say that’s the case, but I don’t know if I’m in the best position to answer that one because I’m not dealing with the actual numbers in my portfolio. Personally I would be skeptical of that as a conclusion. … I think a lot of the cuts are cuts that have to be made because they have to be made.

GSN: The administration’s fiscal 2014 Energy Department budget request references an intent to protect the world’s “most vulnerable nuclear materials,” which appears to be a step back from President Obama’s April 2009 pledge to secure “all vulnerable nuclear material” in the world within four years. Did unanticipated challenges in working with other countries to pursue this commitment prompt the administration to adjust its phrasing?

Jenkins: I hadn’t heard that change in phrasing before. I don’t know how much emphasis I would put on adding the word “most.” We’d have to talk to [the Energy Department] about it, because that’s clearly a DOE decision, because they’re the ones that handle all of that.

I hate to say that but I really don’t know what they -- I mean, I can speculate as to why they would say “most vulnerable,” since they’re all vulnerable until they’re all secure, and either way we’ve been able to secure quite a bit since 2009, when the speech was made.

GSN: A reference point in that effort falls around the end of this year. Looking ahead, what is your general sense of where the effort to secure all nuclear materials will stand at that point?

Jenkins: It depends on what they’re able to finish up. … What I do know is by the end of this year there’s been a lot done, a lot since 2009 in terms of securing, in terms of moving out HEU [highly enriched uranium] that countries don’t really need anymore, in terms of converting from HEU to [low-enriched uranium] there’s been a lot done…

It’ll be a lot less at the end of this year, [but] there’s still more to do.

GSN: Are there any other points you would like to address?

Jenkins: We’re looking forward to a successful Nuclear Security Summit next year. As you know, the Netherlands is chairing. We have a number of meetings leading up to that and President Obama will be attending the summit next year.

The decision that everyone wants to hear about [is] what the future will bring. We hope to have an answer very soon from the president on that issue and also an answer in terms of what the Security Summit participants envision for the future. But the IAEA will obviously have a big role in terms of what happens in the future, and so will some of these other initiatives that I already mentioned like the GP, obviously 1540, obviously GISCNT. … They will all just continue to do what they’re doing and be part of this larger effort to secure nuclear material or to try to prevent nuclear terrorism in their own way.

But stay tuned for that, that’s a big question we don’t have an answer to yet. And on the Global Partnership, it’ll continue to fund projects in … nuclear and chemical and [radiological] and biological areas, including biosecurity. We’re already engaged with the 1540 committee and what they’re doing. The U.K. is chairing this year, so it will continue to be an effort to fund this very, very important work globally on all these issues of securing materials, securing pathogens, securing precursors, [radiation] sources, and helping to prevent WMD terrorism.

June 7, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Obama administration officials plan to decide with international counterparts in coming months whether next year’s Nuclear Security Summit will be the last, the U.S. State Department's liaison for the meetings told Global Security Newswire.