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International Nuclear Security Regime – Opportunities for Strengthening


Understanding the evolution of the international framework governing the security of nuclear materials and barriers to its further reform

International collaborative efforts to secure civil nuclear materials dates back to the 1970s. Over the past forty years a wide range of legally binding Conventions, international initiatives and guidance have been introduced, with varying memberships and scope.

A recent perceived upsurge in the WMD terrorist threat combined with new and expanded nuclear energy programmes, has increased political interest in strengthening the international framework governing the security of nuclear materials. CSSS staff have explored the prospects for this, finding that significant reforms are complicated by the complexity of nuclear security as an issue area, diverging state-level threat perceptions and broader ‘nuclear politics’. As explored in the article, 'Multilateral cooperation and the prevention of nuclear terrorism: pragmatism over idealism', published in International Affairs in 2012, an incremental approach based on the solidification of the existing regime is currently the only practical away to advance the nuclear security agenda.

CSSS have worked closely with national governments during the recent Obama initiated Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process. Conducting research into relatively unexplored areas of nuclear security in support of multi-lateral statements, ‘house gifts’ and ‘gift baskets’ presented at the four Summits. This included a scoping study into the ‘intangible’ aspects of nuclear security, which fed into a Multinational Statement on Nuclear Information Security presented at the 2012 NSS. A more detailed treatment can be found in the article, 'Sensitive Nuclear Information: Challenges and Options for Control', published in Strategic Analysis in 2014, which explores the breadth of information security as an issue area in the nuclear context, before outlining the limits to existing international instruments in this area, arguing for increased focus on bottom-up initiatives designed to promote responsible self-governance. Other activities included the development of a Nuclear Security Briefing Book, which provides a history of the nuclear security regime, charting in details its evolution in response to changing threats and perceived gaps. Funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, this was presented to delegates at the 2014 and 2016 Summits as a key reference guide. This has been recently updated for the 2020 International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) and is available here.


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