Eliminating Nuclear Threats

A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers



GARETH EVANS and YORIKO KAWAGUCHI CO-CHAIRS                    Commission Members

13. Sustaining an Effective Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Counter-Terrorism Strategy Generally

13.1     Effectively countering terrorism of any kind involves a complex mix of protection, policing, political, peacebuilding and psychological strategies, coordinated both nationally and internationally. Most immediately important in dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism outlined in Section 4 (and generating most activity internationally, as described below) are the first two strategies on this list. “Protection” strategy involves airline travel, border protection and all the rest of the familiar homeland security measures, and both at home and abroad it means measures to deny potential access by terrorists to the materials they need. “Policing” embraces everything necessary for the detection and apprehension of those planning or carrying out terrorist attacks, from intelligence gathering to, in very extreme cases, military operations.

13.2     But these strategies must be supplemented by the other three “P”s if not only the immediate manifestations but the underlying causes of terrorist behaviour are to be seriously addressed. Having a “political” strategy means paying serious attention to familiar political grievances which are a significant part of the motivations of at least some categories of terrorists: if not changing the minds of some violent extremists, at least changing the atmospherics of the communities in which they have to survive. “Peacebuilding” in this context means essentially helping states develop the capacity to prevent and deal with terrorism more effectively themselves – and certainly avoiding the emergence or continuation of failed states which can harbour or nurture terrorist groups. And having a “psychological” strategy means not only trying to change the outlook of would-be terrorists at the micro level – in the way that has been done with some success in Indonesia, for example – but creating a normative environment at the global level in which attacks on civilians anywhere, for any purpose, will come to be seen as absolutely indefensible in the 21st century as slavery and piracy became in the 19th.

13.3     The need to set very clear normative guidelines, to have the maximum possible degree of policy integration across national borders, and to continually share information and best practices, has been better recognized and followed up in the nuclear area than most others, with the two major nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia, playing a necessary and important leadership role. A good example is the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) announced by Presidents Bush and Putin in July 2006 during the G8 Summit in St Petersburg. A follow-up to the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction agreed by the G8 in 2002, it aimed essentially at kick-starting more practical action to implement agreements reached bilaterally and multilaterally over the preceding three or four years. Amongst other things, it has sought to identify shortcomings in national capabilities, legal and regulatory authorities, and partnership capacity to combat nuclear terrorism, and to develop means of covering those gaps. Thirteen countries endorsed the original statement of principles in 2006, but the initiative now has 76 state partners, with the IAEA, EU and Interpol as observers.


BOX 13-1

Priority issues for the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit

  • Ratification and early entry into force of the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

  • Early adoption of the most recent IAEA nuclear security guidelines.

  • Renewed commitment to effective implementation of Security Council Resolution 1540 on the domestic regulation of sensitive nuclear material.

  • Stronger commitment to prosecute violators of nuclear security and export control laws.

  • Achieve accelerated implementation of the cooperative threat reduction and associated programs designed to secure dangerous nuclear weapons, materials and technology worldwide.

  • Commitment to appropriate funding of nuclear security measures.

  • Commitment to greater international sharing of information and experience on nuclear security.

  • Support for an intelligence clearing house to provide a mechanism both for sharing intelligence, and assisting other states in interpreting and dealing with it.

  • Commitment to international capacity building, especially through expansion of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and G8 Global Partnership.

  • Commitment to cooperation on measures to secure, monitor, convert and dispose of fissile materials, including HEU in civil programs.


13.4     A major opportunity to take stock of progress under this initiative, and the many other international treaties and arrangements relating to nuclear security discussed below, will be the Global Summit on Nuclear Security to be hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama in April 2010. This will seek new agreement on steps towards securing all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within four years, breaking up black markets in atomic goods, detecting and intercepting materials in transit, using financial tools to disrupt illicit trade in nuclear materials, minimizing the civil use of high enriched uranium to the extent feasible, and encouraging the sharing of best practices as a practical way to strengthen nuclear security. Box 13-1 identifies some implementation-focused issues – most of which are further discussed below – that should get priority attention at this summit and in subsequent follow-up activity.

Securing Loose Weapons and Material

13.5     The problem of “loose nukes” – securing weapons and material that, by virtue of the way in which it is manufactured, transported or stored, may be vulnerable to apprehension by terrorist groups – requires a variety of solutions. Many of the general non-proliferation measures discussed elsewhere in this report are squarely relevant in this respect, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Proliferation Security Initiative (Section 10), the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (Section 12), and the development of proliferation-resistant technology (Section 14). To the extent, also, that some classes of small nuclear weapons might be capable of misuse by terrorist groups if they could ever get their hands on them, the implementation of the disarmament strategy discussed in other sections of this report would be another important contributor to nuclear security.

13.6     For present purposes, we describe below some of the more important other specific nuclear security measures that have been taken, and still need to be taken or further strengthened, in the form of binding UN resolutions, treaties, and other programs, arrangements and initiatives. International standards for nuclear security were first introduced in the 1970s, applying through guidelines developed by the IAEA and at a treaty level through the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. These measures, based on the principle of layered defence-in-depth, focused initially on protection of nuclear material, then broadened to detection of material crossing national boundaries, recovery of material in unauthorized hands, and protection of nuclear facilities.

13.7     IAEA Role. The IAEA has an important continuing role in developing recommendations and standards related to nuclear security, including threat-based risk assessment methodologies needed for member states to develop and implement effective integrated nuclear security plans. The IAEA’s Nuclear Security Guidelines (document INFCIRC/225), first issued in the 1970s, are of fundamental importance. Although not mandatory, they are adopted by most states with significant nuclear activities, and have been made a requirement through a number of bilateral agreements. The IAEA guidelines have been updated a number of times, and a further revision (number 5) is expected to be concluded in early 2010. The IAEA also operates an advisory and peer review service available to member states on request.

13.8     The IAEA’s Illicit Trafficking Database Program (ITDB), involving the voluntary notification by government authorities of illicit trafficking incidents, with some 100 member states participating, provides a valuable source of information that helps the agency and member states to better understand threats, vulnerabilities and appropriate responses. Information reported to the ITDB has shown a persistent problem with the illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials, thefts, losses and other unauthorized activities. Of the 1340 confirmed incidents as of December 2007, 303 involved unauthorized possession and related criminal activity, 390 involved theft or loss of nuclear or other radioactive materials, and 570 involved other unauthorized activities.

13.9     Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (CPPNM) (1987 on). The Convention of 1987, with 142 states party and a further 45 signatories, requires states to implement measures to prevent theft, diversion or sabotage of nuclear material while being transported internationally. A 2005 Amendment extends the scope of the Convention to material in domestic use and storage, and (reflected in a change to the Convention’s name) to protection of nuclear facilities from sabotage, but this has not yet entered into force, with 32 states (including China and Russia but not some major Western states) so far ratifying of the 95 needed. The major possible weakness in the amended CPPNM is the lack of any peer review mechanisms, as exist under the IAEA safety conventions, with Russia arguing that national security matters in issue here could not be the subject of international review.

13.10     Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs (CTR) (1993 on). At least as important as any international convention or binding UN resolutions has been this set of U.S.-backed programs – better known as “Nunn-Lugar” after the two U.S. Senators who initiated them – introduced in the wake of the Cold War to help the countries of the former Soviet Union destroy nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and associated infrastructure, for the express purpose of reducing the chance of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorist groups, or nations that sanction terrorism.

13.11     Under the programs nuclear weapons and their means of delivery continue to be dismantled under agreed procedures; bomb-making materials have been transported to central storage sites and blended down to generate electricity (including in the U.S.!); security perimeters around sensitive sites have been upgraded, and personnel reliability screening for personnel at such sites improved; and monitoring devices placed at border crossings and ports. These programs have subsequently expanded beyond the former Soviet Union, including to Pakistan, and there have also been a number of similar programs carried out by countries other than the U.S., including the EU which has developed a separate bilateral assistance program with Russia.

13.12     There are some critics of CTR: on cost-benefit grounds; on the basis that the principal remaining tasks, including disposal of plutonium, are no longer achievable because the Russians no longer appear to share the same priorities; and even on the basis that these programs are, by reducing numbers, increasing the value of the deadliest, indiscriminate weapons in the hands of extremist states and individuals. But this Commission has no doubt that these programs have made a hugely positive contribution in securing the elimination of significant quantities of nuclear materials otherwise potentially available to would-be proliferators and potential nuclear terrorists, in encouraging strong habits of international cooperation and transparency in this extremely sensitive area, and in generally reinforcing non-proliferation and disarmament norms.

13.13     UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004). This was aimed at preventing WMD and related material from entering black market networks and falling into the hands of terrorists, and followed an earlier resolution (UNSCR 1373 of 2001) adopted in the immediate wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and relating to information-sharing in the suppression of acts of terrorism generally. UNSCR 1540 (and renewing resolutions 1673 (2006) and 1810 (2008)) expressly requires that all states prevent non-state actors obtaining access to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems; adopt laws prohibiting such access; and establish other related domestic controls. It imposes strict reporting requirements on states, but few have fully met them. Technical assistance by developed states should be encouraged in this regard, and channelled through not only individual countries but also regional and sub-regional organizations. Consideration should be given to making the Committee set up by UNSCR 1540 permanent, with expanded staffing and funding, to enable it to more effectively consolidate and promote the physical protection of nuclear facilities around the world.

13.14     International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005). This was adopted by the UN in 2005, with Russia and the United States the first to sign. It followed Resolution 1540 and provides for broad areas of cooperation between states for the purpose of detecting, preventing, suppressing, and investigating acts of nuclear terrorism. It has been signed by 115 states, and 60 have ratified it to date.

13.15     Nuclear Personnel. Preventing the unauthorized transfer of nuclear expertise through the movement of trained personnel, including those in retirement, requires further international effort. There is not an insignificant risk of such personnel being recruited by terrorist groups, and not only from countries of the former Soviet Union. Possible measures to counter such efforts might include assistance in redeployment or reasonable pensions; development of a shared database of personnel known to be involved in nuclear programs in those countries; identification of their activities should they travel abroad; preventing, or at worst monitoring, any contacts between them and representatives of states or non-state groups of proliferation concern; and even possibly their interdiction or arrest should they appear to be heading for a country of proliferation concern. Some progress has been made in some of these areas, including through the work of the International Science and Technology Centre which has for fifteen years been promoting programs for alternative employment for scientists from the Russian WMD establishments, but more needs to be done. More intrusive measures will be uncomfortable, and may be unacceptable, for developed Western nuclear powers, but if support is wanted for such measures concerning the scientists of other countries, some middle ground will need to be found that shows that all nuclear scientific communities are subject to similar constraints.

13.16     Private sector engagement. Continuing attention needs to be paid to engaging the private sector in addressing the inherent security risks associated with exporting advanced technologies, equipment, and materials, to ensure that the security standards for nuclear facilities and materials are robust and that best security practices are discussed, shared in the form of codes of conduct, and implemented across the world. The World Nuclear Association has been partially engaged in this enterprise, and recently joined by the more specifically-focused World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS), founded in Vienna in 2008, which aims to share information and experience among industry nuclear security professionals, promote training and, particularly importantly, develop peer review systems.

“Dirty Bombs”: Improved Control of Radioactive Material

13.17     The use of radioactive material for terrorist purposes is proscribed at the international level by the 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, noted above, but most attention in recent times has focused on measures of a practical kind to limit the availability of the huge range of radioactive material now in medical, research and commercial use which could be misused for such purposes, as described in Section 4.

13.18     In response to a number of serious radiation accidents in earlier years resulting from high activity sources that have been lost, stolen or abandoned, there was initially developed, through the IAEA, the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources in 2000. At that time, “security” was regarded as the prevention and mitigation of thefts in ignorance of the hazard, such as persons stealing objects for scrap metal resale. High activity sources were thought to have a degree of “self-protection”, and the drafters of the Code gave no consideration to the possible deliberate acquisition of radioactive sources for malicious use. Following 9/11, and the recognition of the role that “dirty bombs” or radiological weapons could play in the hands of terrorists – even if more as “weapons of mass disruption” than mass destruction – proposals for strengthened controls which had received little support in 2000 were embraced. The 2003-revised Code, to which 95 states have so far made a commitment, includes new provisions relating to national registers of high-activity sources; the international trade in radioactive sources; strengthened security requirements; confidentiality of information; and the prompt notification to potentially affected states of incidents of loss of control of sources, or incidents with potential trans-boundary effects.

13.19     Since that time, international and national programs have concentrated on assisting states to implement the Code, with the IAEA, the United States, the European Union, Australia and others having run active programs in this regard. There have been no major accidents involving radioactive sources since the adoption of the revised Code, which may be evidence that it, and the international programs supporting its implementation, are having an impact. However, there are no grounds for complacency in this regard. Disused and abandoned – or “orphan” – sources are still being discovered in many countries, developed and developing alike. Many states are still striving to develop, implement and sustain a systematic and comprehensive regulatory system for the control, safety and security of high activity radioactive sources. But there is also a need for a commitment by users of high activity sources, by regulators and by national governments to providing appropriate resources and assigning appropriate priority to the safety and security of those sources.

13.20     Disused and orphan sources pose particular continuing challenges. International best practice requires licensees to either send disused sources back to the manufacturer or to send them to a licensed recycling or waste management facility. For states with nuclear fuel cycle facilities or facilities undergoing decommissioning, disused sources will form only a small fraction of the overall volume of waste to be managed, and their disposal should therefore not present significant problems. However, for states without nuclear fuel cycle facilities, the public acceptance, financial and technical issues related to the siting of waste disposal facilities may be significant, and requires government commitment and leadership to achieve.

13.21     Some have suggested that the Code of Conduct be converted into a legally binding Convention. But when comparing the Code with the conventions adopted under IAEA auspices in recent years – including those on Nuclear Safety, and the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material – it is apparent how much more detailed and prescriptive is the Code. This has been of great value to those charged with its implementation, and is probably not replicable in a binding convention. The Commission agrees with those professionals who say that the priority must continue to be the unglamorous work of assisting states in revising or updating their legislation and licensing practices, promoting awareness among users and other stakeholders, implementing and sustaining adequate and appropriate safety and security provisions throughout the lifecycle of radioactive materials, and engendering good safety and security culture.

Nuclear Forensics

13.22     Most governments are well aware of the risks of nuclear terrorism, and the need for effective policing at both the domestic and international levels, but there has been very variable performance in translating that basic awareness into action. Information and intelligence remains the key to effective police action, but despite the requirements of the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the willingness of states to share nuclear-related information is at best minimal. Efforts should continue to be made to establish an intelligence clearing house which would provide a mechanism by which countries might be willing not only to share their intelligence, but also provide the know-how for other countries to interpret and deal with it.

13.23     In the meantime, however, every effort should still be taken to encourage such sharing, with the Nuclear Suppliers Group possibly the best available vehicle. Annual reporting, even at a broad level, to the UN and national parliaments on the nuclear terrorist threat could be one vehicle for raising the profile of the issue. More immediately useful, however, might be the creation of a second-track process involving security officials and nuclear scientists of many countries in which the aim would be the development of a common ethos of prevention and early warning without the imposition of strict and impractical surveillance requirements.

13.24     One of the most important and encouraging recent developments in the area of police detection is the emergence of the science of nuclear forensics, still in its relative infancy but deserving encouragement from the ground up. This involves the analysis of nuclear materials recovered from either the capture of unused materials, or from the radioactive debris following a nuclear explosion, so as to identify the sources of the materials and the industrial processes used to obtain them. In the case of an explosion, nuclear forensics can also reconstruct key features of the nuclear device.

13.25     The ability to identify and trace specific nuclear materials and techniques would have a strong deterrent function both generally and in respect of nuclear terrorism. The Nuclear Smuggling International Technical Working Group should be provided with adequate resources to greatly expand the work it has been doing since 1995 to significantly improve international cooperation in both developing nuclear forensics as a science and pursuing nuclear forensic investigations. The concept of a shared international database, with relevant states contributing “fingerprints” of their nuclear materials, warrants active consideration. Individual governments also need to make the necessary effort to improve their own nuclear forensics capabilities.


Recommendations on Nuclear Security

27. All states should agree to take further measures to strengthen the security of nuclear materials and facilities, including early adoption of the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the most recent international standards, accelerated implementation of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) and associated programs worldwide, and greater commitment to international capacity building and information sharing. [13.1–16, 22–23]

28. At the Global Summit on Nuclear Security in April 2010, and in subsequent follow-up activity, priority attention should be given to the implementation-focused issues identified in Box 13-1. [13.4]

29. On the control of material useable for “dirty bombs”, further efforts need to be made to cooperatively implement the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, with assistance to states in updating legislation and licensing practice, promoting awareness among users, and generally achieving a safety and security culture. [13.17–21]

30. Efforts should continue to be made to establish an intelligence clearing house which would provide a mechanism by which countries might be willing not only to share their intelligence, but also provide the know-how for other countries to interpret and deal with it. [13.22]

31. Strong support should be given to the emerging science of nuclear forensics, designed to identify the sources of materials found in illicit trafficking or used in nuclear explosions, including through providing additional resources to the Nuclear Smuggling International Technical Working Group. [13.24–25]


Next: 14. Responsible Nuclear Energy Management