The Value of Multilateral Negotiations and Upholding Security Guarantees

Nuclear Security Summit 2014

More than 300 years ago the French negotiator, Melchior de Polignac, uttered ‘Nous traiterons sur vous, chez vous, sans vous’ (‘we negotiate about you, in your territory but without you’) during the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. The Treaty was significant because it helped end the religious wars and the War of the Spanish Succession and enabled a new balance of power in Europe between Spain, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Savoy and the Dutch Republic.

The Dutch lost significantly – the Southern Netherlands and its naval power to Great Britain – but gained security guarantees against possible French attacks through strategically positioned garrisons. Overall, the multilateral negotiations contributed to a more secure world.[1]

Nuclear weapons have become the contemporary security guarantees, especially against the violation of state borders. This week, the Netherlands hosted the 3rd Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), which again brought nation states together to address shared security concerns. But what have been the outcomes of these multi-lateral negotiations and how will the 2014 summit impact on international peace and security?

The topic of nuclear security was brought to the fore in 2009 at Hradcany Square in Prague, where the President of the United States (US), Barack Obama, addressed an enthusiastic crowd, reminding them of the dark past and future dangers:

‘The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. […] Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. […] Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. […] And no matter where [a nuclear weapon explodes], there is no end to what the consequences might be – for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.’

Obama’s speech sparked a new phase of international cooperation in 2010 with fresh negotiations between Russia and the US on a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, renewed support for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the first global NSS in Washington D.C, which was followed by the 2012 summit in Seoul. At this juncture, it is important to reflect on progress and to identify some the challenges to improving nuclear security by the final summit in 2016.

The impact of the NSS should not be underestimated. They are high-level events where countries, through diplomatic pressure, can demonstrate their progress and their commitment to nuclear security. Previous summits made necessary steps towards a) reducing the quantity of high-enriched nuclear material for non-military use; b) improving the security of this nuclear material; and c) improving international cooperation on this topic. The main outcomes of the 2014 NSS include:

  • All participating countries have agreed to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines on strengthening nuclear security implementation, with 35 out of the 58 countries committing to make the guidelines national legislation.[2]
  • Several countries agreed on the removal of highly enriched uranium within their borders.[3]
  • Further, trade talks and promotional activities on the sidelines of the summit have the potential to provide long-term economic benefits.

At the same time, several challenges have emerged with the content and organization of the NSS. First, only the non-military use of nuclear material (energy, industrial use and medical isotope production) is on the agenda even though it constitutes about 15 per cent of the total nuclear material used. On the one hand, the US argues that real progress can be made within the relatively short period of time by focusing on non-military nuclear material and by excluding nuclear weapons which are discussed in other fora. Support though is divided, with 15 countries at the 2014 NSS expressing their discontent with the narrow focus, arguing that only the complete elimination ‘of all nuclear weapons could offer the international community a long-standing and sustainable solution for the provision of larger security in the nuclear field’.[4]

As a second challenge, the final communiqué this week called for a ‘strong nuclear security culture’ to be established. However, this goal may prove difficult given that non-state actors have not been sufficiently included in the 3 summits so far. Civil society organizations and academia are vital contributors to the necessary safety culture and are essential in building trust at the societal level on nuclear security issues.

Moreover, the main challenge to progress that has overshadowed the 2014 agenda has been the annexation of Crimea by Russia. In 1994, Ukraine voluntarily gave up its strategic nuclear weapons arsenal (the third largest in the world) in order to access the Non-Proliferation Treaty on Nuclear Weapons. Russia, the US and United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent France and China, in return provided Ukraine (along with Kazakhstan and Belarus) security guarantees under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in the form of independence, inviolability of state borders and freedom of expression.

While the NSS focuses on non-military materials, Russia’s actions have now questioned the broader role and value of security guarantees in maintaining international peace and security. As the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, warned during the NSS:

‘the credibility of the assurances given to Ukraine […] has been seriously undermined by recent events. The implications are profound, both for regional security and the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation regime’.

The 2014 NSS proved particularly timely as it enabled the G7 to formulate The Hague Declaration, which reaffirms its support for Ukraine and condemns Russian violations of international agreements. As well as diplomatic isolation of Russia and sanctions against specific individuals of the administration, further economic sanctions will be considered if hostile acts continue.

The potential negative impacts on European economies, among other factors, are driving the scope of international action, as Russia is likely to sanction the import of goods and ban the export of gas and other commodities. As not all allied countries will be equally affected by the Russian response, negotiation on the exact nature and extent of the sanctions will be debated in the next G7 meeting in June, which has been moved from Sochi to Brussels. Meanwhile, European institutions and the IMF are preparing an US$14-18bn economic assistance package for Ukraine.

Although we continue to face one of the most serious challenges to international peace and security, the NSS and the G7 response this week together emphasize the value of maintaining multilateral negotiations and dialogue. While diplomacy on the military and non-military use of nuclear materials has become strategically separated, the 2014 NSS reminds that security guarantees are actually interdependent and complex. As the Treaty of Utrecht similarly instructs, security guarantees must respect but also enable the narrow interests and agendas of states to be transcended before we can experience stable political orders and durable peace.

[1] The negotiations also served as a model for the Congress of Vienna (1815), the Congress of Berlin (1878) and to some extent, the current model of European Union decision making

[2] The IAEA is given the substantive role of further supporting the sharing of good practices and lessons learned, providing guidance to countries and carrying out peer-reviewed missions to increase trust-building.

[3] Belgium and Italy completed the removal of their excess supplies of highly enriched uranium and plutonium so that those supplies can be eliminated. Japan announced that it will eliminate 300kg of plutonium in cooperation with the US (but keeps a stock of 9.3 tons of plutonium). Twelve other countries (Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam) have announced the elimination of the costly highly enriched uranium from within their borders by, amongst others, making their research reactors suitable for low-enriched uranium.

[4] Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Ukraine and Vietnam

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