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– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Anti-Nuclear Terrorism Strategies Discussed

Abby Doll

On June 11, some 38 partner states of the nearly one-year-old Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism convened for the third meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss future prospects. In a simultaneous meeting, representatives from close to 30 countries attended the initiative’s Conference on International Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement in Miami, Florida.

The anti-nuclear terrorism initiative was introduced jointly by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the summer of 2006 in an effort to combat the nuclear terrorism threat through a cooperative network of partner states. (See ACT, September 2006 .) Since then, membership has grown to more than 50 countries, and participating governments have agreed to a statement of principles and a plan of work.

The statement of principles, which was agreed on during earlier meetings in Rabat, Morocco, and Ankara, Turkey, includes a list of commitments to tackle factors that facilitate nuclear terrorism. Member states pledge to address the security of nuclear storage facilities, the illicit trafficking of sensitive radiological and nuclear material, and the development of their countries’ strategic response to nuclear or radiological terrorist attacks or threats.

In Astana, the 38 countries joined observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union to discuss the initiative’s progress in furthering these principles and developing the plan of work, which includes capacity-building activities for participating states. Japan and Australia have completed the first two capacity-building activities by hosting the Seminar on Strengthening Nuclear Security in Asian Countries and the Asia-Pacific Seminar on Combating Nuclear Terrorism, respectively.

The Miami conference, hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), sought to add meat to the bones of the initiative’s objectives by specifically supporting the principle to enhance participants’ abilities in “response, mitigation, and investigation” of nuclear terrorism activities.

For five days, more than 400 officials from law enforcement, intelligence, border control, nuclear security, and other related professions attended presentations on topics ranging from nuclear smuggling to nuclear forensics. Notable speakers included FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Case studies, tabletop exercises, and demonstrations of technical procedure also supplemented the discussions.

On the third day, two Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams from the FBI and the Miami police staged a simulated drill at the Orange Bowl to demonstrate a response to a radiological dispersion device. Delegates from 28 countries watched the team demobilize a “terrorist cell” operating inside a fictitious warehouse and then use a specialized robot from the Miami Fire Department to destroy the mock radiological device.

Emphasizing the importance of information-sharing to achieve the principle’s goal, Mueller stressed that “no one person, no one officer, no one agency can prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on its own. There are too many unlocked doors and unknown players, too many ports and porous borders.”

It remains unclear how the initiative will coordinate with other nuclear terrorism prevention measures. These include UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism as well as U.S.-led initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John C. Rood maintains that “there’s value in having some diversity of efforts” to address a common problem.

Pakistan recently endorsed the statement of principles, bringing the membership of the initiative to 51 states. Rood said that the meeting’s discussion generated a two-year work program of about 20 coordinated activities sponsored by participating governments. In September, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, and Romania will test the progress of the initiative’s capacity-development measures by running an exercise with a hypothetical radiological dispersion device or “dirty bomb.”


Statement of Principles by Participants in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, October 2006

• Develop, if necessary, and improve accounting, control and physical protection systems for nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances;

• Enhance security of civilian nuclear facilities;

• Improve the ability to detect nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances in order to prevent illicit trafficking in such materials and substances, to include cooperation in the research and development of national detection capabilities that would be interoperable;

• Improve capabilities of participants to search for, confiscate, and establish safe control over unlawfully held nuclear or other radioactive materials and substances or devices using them;

• Prevent the provision of safe haven to terrorists and financial or economic resources to terrorists seeking to acquire or use nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances;

• Ensure adequate respective national legal and regulatory frameworks sufficient to provide for the implementation of appropriate criminal and, if applicable, civil liability for terrorists and those who facilitate acts of nuclear terrorism;

• Improve capabilities of participants for response, mitigation, and investigation, in cases of terrorist attacks involving the use of nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances, including the development of technical means to identify nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances that are, or may be, involved in the incident; and

• Promote information sharing pertaining to the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism and their facilitation, taking appropriate measures consistent with their national laws and international obligations to protect the confidentiality of any information which they exchange in confidence.