This is the second of four Non-Papers from the Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities. Through the Global Dialogue, government officials, international experts and nuclear security practitioners are engaging in a collaborative process to build consensus about the need for a strengthened global nuclear security system, how it would look and what actions would be needed at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and beyond.
There is growing consensus around the need for international assurances as one component of a strengthened global nuclear security system. More work needs to be done, however, in advancing government understanding of the value of international assurances and how they can be achieved without sharing sensitive national security information. This paper proposes a definition for the concept of “international assurance,” describes their importance for governments and the public, and suggests possible examples of assurance mechanisms to further explore and develop.
Defining International Assurances
”International assurances” can be defined as:
Activities undertaken, information shared, or measures implemented voluntarily by a state or other stakeholders that provide confidence to others (the public, another government, a designated organization, etc.) of the effectiveness of nuclear security within a given state.
While some form of legally binding measures to provide assurances may ultimately be desirable, as a practical starting point, it would be helpful to define steps that could be undertaken voluntarily.
International assurance is not a new concept. “Assurance” mechanisms are widely used across many industries. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), for example, has developed more than 19,000 standards for hundreds of fields such as nuclear safety, water quality, construction, and information technology. Organizations that subscribe to ISO standards provide international assurance to each other by participating in what the ISO calls “conformity assessments.” A conformity assessment is a process used to show that a product, service, or system meets specified requirements contained in an ISO standard. Conformity assessments occur through certification, inspection, and/or testing. Such assessments can assure the public or other stakeholders of the safety, reliability, or quality of a given system.
Other industries (nuclear safety, aviation, shipping, etc.) demonstrate that providing international assurances is not only possible but is commonplace. While nuclear security provides its own set of challenges, these are not insurmountable and attempts to overcome them should be a priority to strengthen the global nuclear security system.
How Are International Assurances Important?
A strengthened global nuclear security system should facilitate a state’s ability to provide international assurances that all nuclear materials and facilities are secure. Such assurances are about building confidence in the effectiveness of the global nuclear security system rather than making a guarantee about specific behaviors. Yes, nuclear security is a sovereign responsibility, but because the economic and security consequences of a nuclear catastrophe would reverberate around the globe and shake public confidence in both nuclear industry and governments, other governments and the global public have an equity in having some insight into how well the global nuclear security system is functioning. International assurances can play a vital role in building confidence among other governments and publics, raising the level of practice among governments and industry leaders responsible for nuclear security, and ultimately, yielding important global security benefits.
Options for Providing International Assurances in the Nuclear Security Field
The following is a list of voluntary international assurance measures that states could undertake individually, bilaterally, or multilaterally. Some could be offered as gift baskets at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. As illustrated by the ideas listed below, the foundation for international assurances in the field of nuclear security already exists. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but instead is a first step in a discussion of how states can build confidence that their nuclear materials and facilities are secure. The draft concepts offered below represent a range of possible assurance mechanisms, meaning they vary in the number of parties that might participate, the number of possible recipients of the assurance, as well as the possible “depth” of the assurance provided. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and given differences (technical, political, financial, etc.) among the relevant states, it is likely that any steps would eventually comprise a variety of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral commitments and activities.