The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Progress to Date

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Progress to Date

Save to My Resources

Want to dive deeper?

Visit the Education Center

Conrad Olson

Research Assistant, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


A joint statement issued after a July 6, 2009 summit meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev called for advancing the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), an effort the two governments had launched at a similar summit meeting three years earlier. [2] In a speech in Prague on April 5, 2009, Obama called for institutionalizing this Bush-era initiative, which is currently an informal grouping rather than a formal institution.[3]


The GICNT was launched by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 15, 2006. It is aimed at fostering international cooperation in order to prevent terrorists from acquiring, transporting, or using nuclear materials and radioactive substances, or carrying out hostile actions against nuclear facilities. GICNT's participants are "seeking to bring together experience and expertise from the nonproliferation, counter proliferation, and counterterrorism disciplines; integrate collective capabilities and resources to strengthen the overall global architecture to combat nuclear terrorism; and provide the opportunity for nations to share information and expertise in a legally non-binding environment." [4]

The 13 founding Global Initiative partners first met in Rabat, Morocco, on October 30-31, 2006, and agreed on a statement of principles to combat nuclear terrorism and a methodology for assessing progress in this area.[5] These principles indicated how the members aimed to build up the capacity of state parties "to combat nuclear terrorism on a determined and systematic basis, consistent with national legal authorities and obligations they have under relevant international legal frameworks",[6] notably the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism[7], the Convention on the Physical Protection of nuclear Material and its 2005 Amendment[8], and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540.[9] According to the State Department, by endorsing the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, "partners are providing their political support and commitment to strengthening and implementing the Statement of Principles." [10]

These Principles include:

  • developing and improving physical protection systems safeguarding nuclear and radioactive materials;
  • strengthening security of civilian nuclear facilities;
  • enhancing the capability to detect nuclear and radioactive materials to stop illicit trafficking of these materials;
  • preventing the establishment of terrorist safe havens and financial or economic resources to terrorists seeking to acquire or use nuclear or radioactive materials;
  • leverage response, mitigation, and investigation tools for terrorist attacks;
  • encouraging information sharing between and among partner countries pertaining to acts of nuclear terrorism;[11]

The GICNT seeks to involve partner-nations in "conducting various multilateral activities, workshops, and table-top and field exercises." These exercises are similar in concept to the exercises that are held from time to time in the United States to simulate homeland security or emergency response events. Many exercises held to date have trained responders for activities after a nuclear detonation, the so-called "post-event" response. However, Global Initiative partner nations also engage in "pre-event" activities, such as detecting illegally obtained nuclear materials that could potentially prevent execution of an attack. For example, in 2008, the partners held a field exercise in Spain, in which they sought to detect the presence of illicit nuclear materials. [12] That same year, Kazakhstan's Special Forces conducted a training exercise "Atom-Antiterror-2008" at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Ala-Tau. The scenario centered on intrusion of 12 individuals upon the Institute's territory. The individuals encountered resistance from the security forces while making their way to the Institute's reactor and took some of the Institute's staff hostage. The Special Forces stormed the building, arresting the intruders, rescuing the hostages, and alleviating danger to the reactor.[13]

GICNT partner-nations have also sought to develop a Global Nuclear Detection Architecture and a Model Guidelines Document to help states determine what is needed to carry out effective nuclear detection on their own territory.[14] The emerging Global Nuclear Detection architecture is intended to be a multilayered, international system with associated resources and infrastructure that could provide a capability to detect radiological and nuclear threats. [15] This system involves securing and accounting for nuclear and radiological materials, screening shipping from ports, border protection, coast guard/maritime inspection, and at-sea interdiction. [16] The Model Guidelines lay out the structural and technical elements needed at a national level for nuclear detection as well as related information architectures and a framework for implementing such a system. A first draft of the guidelines was circulated in November 2008, and a revised draft was prepared after a meeting in Germany in April 2009. According to U.S. officials, the proposals continue to be refined.[17]

Several other meetings of the Global Initiative have taken place since the founding meeting in Rabat:

  • A meeting in Ankara, Turkey in February, 2007 focused on deepening the cooperation between partner countries & encouraging more countries to join;
  • A meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 11-12, 2007 discussed strategies and exercises useful to the defense of nuclear facilities;
  • A meeting in Madrid, Spain on June 17, 2008 discussed the importance of cooperation between nations' private sectors, their respective federal governments, and international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency;

The latest GICNT meeting took place in The Hague on June 18, 2009 and focused on nuclear forensics and development of a "new framework to enhance operational cooperation between partners investigating illicit uses of nuclear material."[18] Global Initiative partners also agreed to continue outreach efforts to further expand participation in key regions around the world. U.S. officials have pointed especially to the need for greater participation from countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[19]

As of July 7, 2009, 76 countries had signed on to the GICNT.[20] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Union, and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) also serve as serve as official observers.[21]

Institutionalizing the Global Initiative

In his April 5, 2009 Prague speech, in which he set a goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, Obama called nuclear terrorism "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security." He said that "because this threat will be lasting, we should come together to turn efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into durable international institutions."[22] He also pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear material worldwide before the end of his first term in January 2013 and called for a global summit on nuclear security in 2010.

At the latest Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism meeting at The Hague on June 16, 2009, Assistant Secretary of State C.S Eliot Kang indicated that the United States would like the GICNT members to be significantly involved in carrying out Obama's Prague pledges, including the global nuclear security summit, now scheduled for March 2010 and the commitment to secure nuclear materials within four years.[23] According to Kang, Moscow and Washington have discussed "ways to make a more effective and enduring international institution" out of the Global Initiative. He also noted that "some ideas under consideration include clearly identifying a policy making body, having a decision making mechanism that is open to all partners, better coordinating exercise planning… facilitating capacity building, which is central to this initiative."[24]

Russian president Medvedev has recently stated that "Moscow and Washington have a special responsibility to counter WMD proliferation and terrorism."[25] At their meetings in April and July 2009, Medvedev and Obama have pointed to GICNT's importance. At a summit in London on April 1, 2009 the two leaders issued a joint statement in which they pledged to further promote the Global Initiative to new countries. Further, at the July summit in Moscow they promised to "jointly initiate practical steps, to include conducting world-wide regional nuclear security best-practices workshops, to facilitate greater international cooperation in implementing this initiative."[26] Thus, three years after its inception, the GICNT—now a 76 partner-nation tool for countering nuclear terrorism—continues its emergence as an important venue for coordinating and sharing security, response, and law enforcement best practices.


[1] CNS Researchers Miles Pomper and Anya Loukianova contributed to and edited this issue brief.
[2] "Joint Statement by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Cooperation," The White House, July 6, 2009,
[3] Obama-Medvedev Joint Statement, July 2009, op. cit.
[4] The Global Initiative To Combat Nuclear Terrorism," Department of State, July 6, 2009,
[5] Those attending the meeting included G-8 countries Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as Australia, China, Kazakhstan, Morocco, and Turkey.
[6] George Bunn, "Enforcing International Standards: Protecting Nuclear Materials From Terrorists Post-9/11," Arms Control Today, July 7, 2009,
[7] Calls for cooperation between states in investigation, prosecution, and extradition of nuclear terrorists.
[8] The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was signed at Vienna and at New York on 3 March 1980. The Convention is the only internal legally binding undertaking in the area of physical protection of nuclear material. It establishes measures related to the preventing, detection and punishment of offenses relating to nuclear material. A diplomatic Conference in July 2005 was convened to amend the Convention and strengthen its provisions. The amended Convention makes it legally binding for States Parties to protect nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage as well as transport. It also provides for expanded cooperation between and among States regarding rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offenses.
[9] In April 2004, the UN Security Council adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1540, establishing for the first time binding obligations on all UN members states under Chapter VII of the UN charter to take and enforce effective measures against the proliferation of WMD, their means of delivery and related materials. UNSCR 1540, if fully implemented, can help ensure that no State or non-State actor is a source of beneficiary of WMD proliferation.
[10] "The Global Initiative To Combat Nuclear Terrorism," Department of State, July 6, 2009,
[11] "Partner Nations Endorse Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism Statement of Principles," Department of State , November 7, 2006,
[12] "Fourth Meeting of the Global Initiative, Madrid," Department of State, July 7, 2009,
[13] "Kazakhstan: Nuclear Chronology," Nuclear Threat Initiative, July 15, 2009,
[14] Eliot Kang, "Enhancing International Partnerships," Department of State, June 16, 2009,
[15] Dana Shea, "The Global Nuclear Detection Architecture: Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, March 25, 2009,
[16] David Maurer, Acting Director Natural Resources and Environment United States Government Accountability Office, testimony to Committee on Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, July 2008,
[17] Kang, op. cit., "Model Guidelines for Nuclear Detection Architectures," presentation by Mark Mullen, Assistant Director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Department of Homeland Security at a conference sponsored by the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Moscow, March 20, 2009.
[18] See, for example, Daniel H. Chivers, Bethany F. Lyles Goldblum, Brett H. Isselhardt, and Jonathan S. Snider, "Before the Day After: Using Pre-Detonation Nuclear Forensics to Improve Fissile Material Security," Arms Control Today, July-August 2008,
[19] Kang, op. cit.
[20] The countries include Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malta, Mauritius, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, Zambia.
[21]"Global Initiative Current Partner Nations," U.S. Department of State, June 25, 2009,
[22] Remarks by President Obama in Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009,
[23] Kang, op. cit.
[24] Kang, op. cit.
[25] "Obama to Take Firm Stand on Missile Defense at U.S.-Russian Summit," Global Security Newswire, July 2, 2009,
[26] Joint Statement by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Cooperation, The White House, July 6, 2009,

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.

Sign Up

The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index


The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index

“The bottom line is that the countries and areas with the greatest responsibility for protecting the world from a catastrophic act of nuclear terrorism are derelict in their duty,” the 2023 NTI Index reports.

Tutorial on the U.S. Nuclear Budget

Teaching Tool

Tutorial on the U.S. Nuclear Budget

The U.S. nuclear budget comprises a variety of programs associated with nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear security, and legacy environmental and health costs.

Tutorial on Nuclear and Radiological Security

Teaching Tool

Tutorial on Nuclear and Radiological Security

Nuclear and radiological security aims to ensure nuclear and other radioactive materials are secure from unauthorized access and theft, and that nuclear facilities are secure from sabotage.


My Resources