By Alexander Stringer
Washington D.C. hosted the Nuclear Industry Summit from March 30 to April 1 to bring together the world’s industry leaders and politicians in discussing the future of nuclear industry and how to ensure nuclear materials are secure.
For all of the good intentions behind the conference, there is no way that any substantive change will come from this meeting due to two facts: one of the largest nuclear states boycotted the Summit, and the black market is alive and well.
Perhaps the most striking facet of the conference is that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who boycotted the conference more than a year ago, stayed home, according to The Guardian. While many have argued that Russia’s self-exclusion only ends up harming them, this is not truly the case. As the second largest nuclear power in the world, with some 7,300 warheads, their absence sends ripples through the security world.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, their vast nuclear warhead reserves and fissionable material was left in former Union states, equating to some 3,200 additional warheads and untold amounts of nuclear material left behind.
If the conference wants to talk about nuclear security, a state that abandoned such weapons of devastating power to be picked up by the highest bidder must be included if any sense of security is to be achieved.
While Russia today is arguably more stable than in the immediate aftermath of Christmas 1991, their ability to continuously threaten the world with “loose nukes” has yet to decrease. There have been dozens of attempts by various groups to sell and procure fissionable material since then, including a string of sales by a Russian gang to Islamic State members in late 2015.
While Russian security of nuclear material can be shoddy at best, as seen by the 2010 thwarted Moldovan smuggling deal reported by the Associated Press they as a country are a far less threatening power. Russia has held nuclear weapons since 1949 and has yet to launch one; they are stable, they are rational to a degree, and so their only threat is of faulty auditing and poor security.
The market for nuclear weapons is alive and well, with warheads up for sale in the Black Sea region. Even visiting VICE News associates were offered a price for the nuclear material. With the world growing more hostile from a myriad of new and/or newly recharged Islamic extremist groups, the ability for this market to supply one individual with the materials to detonate a nuclear weapon in a major western metropolis (like New York, Paris, Brussels) grows by the day.
In March, I argued that North Korea was not a threat to the world despite their supposed nuclear bombs, and I maintain this point, since they still have yet to prove their ability to actually successfully launch anything into the air without it falling to pieces.
This is not the case with terror groups, however. They have been able to invade and attack western nations already. It would be extremely easy for one to detonate a nuclear device in the middle of Europe once they were able to procure it.
The Nuclear Summit has noble and lofty goals and should be lauded for that. Yet they have neglected one of the most critical points in truly getting to a nuclear-secure world: having Russia around to ensure containment.
Without this massive nuclear state involved, the risk of terror-acquisition of material only increases. For there to be real security in the world, all nuclear states must take part in these summits, and all must pursue 100% security, otherwise they will remain but a farce.