Richmond World Affairs Council

President Obama’s summit meeting on nuclear non-proliferation and its impact on the global community

This past week the largest international summit meeting on nuclear proliferation was held in Washington. President Obama hosted 46 world leaders in order to discuss nuclear weapons, nuclear technology, proliferation, and unsecure stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium. Emphasizing the threat of nuclear terrorism, the American president sought to illuminate this growing problem and garner international cooperation to prevent it.

President Obama is attempting to gain international support for imposing harsher sanctions on Iran. In the coming month, the United Nations Security Council will meet to vote on this matter. However, this decision necessitates obtaining Chinese agreement since up to this point China has threatened to block any action with their veto power. The Chinese are reluctant to go along with increased sanctions as it will harm their diplomatic relations with Iran and could potentially limit their Iranian oil supply. Now that Washington has promised to aid China in finding other sources of oil, the Chinese have no real reason to object to increased targeted sanctions.

The American administration has already received Russia’s agreement for targeted sanctions and has been negotiating with China in recent weeks to complete the required consensus. Both the Russian and Chinese leaders were present at the conference and appeared open to discussions regarding sanctions. Furthermore, the Chinese President Hu Jinato went further than he has to date and agreed to cooperate.

While there has already been criticism that the conference and its results were not effective, there is no denying that Obama has gone further than those before him in bringing world attention and international cooperation to this issue. He was able to get Canada, Mexico, and Ukraine to agree to turn over their enriched uranium and enact stricter security measures around nuclear facilities. By including Europe, Asia, and Latin America in the deliberations, Obama has turned nuclear security into a world problem and not just an American agenda against Iran. This gives more credibility to his call for Iranian sanctions and will hopefully result in increased support for these initiatives.

One of the issues which was stressed during this conference is the fact that the world’s stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium are largely unregulated and stored in unsecured facilities. The majority of these materials are leftover from the Cold War and are not currently in use (New York Times). These nuclear material sites pose a huge risk for international security. They leave dangerous nuclear ingredients open to theft and give countries the option to turn them into weapons. In the past, the main fear of nuclear weapons was that superpowers would use nuclear weapons against each other; this concern was minimized through mutual nuclear deterrence. However, today the fear has morphed into a much scarier and unpredictable scenario. The current concern has two main components. The first is that rogue states will sell nuclear technology and materials to terrorist organizations. The second is that the terrorist groups will simply steal these materials and construct their own weapons to use against the United States and other countries. It has been established that Al-Qaeda, along with other terrorist organizations, is searching for nuclear materials. In fact, according to a 2010 Nuclear Threat Initiative Report, there have been 18 documented cases of theft of nuclear materials (CNN).

Nuclear proliferation threatens the entire international community and more pressure needs to be applied to states who contemplate selling nuclear technology and materials. Additionally, greater precautions must be taken to protect and dispose of some of this excess material along with an increase in the transparency of the steps countries take to facilitate this. While this nuclear proliferation meeting and its results were a good start, much more must be done to bring about genuine change. These steps should be mandatory versus voluntary and international institutions should play a greater role in bringing these goals to fruition.

~ Alissa Aronovici