Experts Pre-Game before the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit

By Alena M. James

On March 12, 2014, the “Future of Global Nuclear Security Policy Summit” was held at the Knight Broadcast Studio at the Newseum in Washington DC.  The summit was hosted by National Journal in preparation for the 2014 Nuclear Security being held in The Hague, Netherlands.  Participating in the event was White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control, Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.  Contributing editor of the National Journal, James Kittfield, moderated the event posing questions to Dr. Sherwood-Randall and to a 7 member panel of nuclear security experts.

The experts participating in the summit included Norwegian Ambassador to the US, Kåre R. Aas; Renée Jones-Bos Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands; Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Professor,  Matthew Bunn;  Congressman, Jeff Fortenberry; President and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Jane Harman; former US Senator, co-chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Sam Nunn; and William Tobey, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The Summit opened with a welcome message from the Senior Vice President of  the National Journal Group Editor, Poppy MacDonald, and was followed by opening remarks from Senator Nunn; who outlined four primary principles that leaders attending the Hague summit should focus on to continue to secure nuclear materials around the globe.

“At the top of my list are four principles.

  1. Nuclear materials security is both a sovereign responsibility and a shared obligation.  Each nation’s security—as well as global security—is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, and no single nation can present this threat alone.
  2. Accountability and assurances are essential.  It’s not sufficient to just declare, “Trust me.”
  3. Standards and best practices must be implemented by all states, and must cover all weapons-usable nuclear materials, including non-civilian.
  4. Our leaders must get serious about sustaining this focus and this effort, even if the Nuclear Summit process ends after 2016. If the IAEA is given this responsibility, it must be given the clear mandate and the resources to carry it out.”

Dr. Sherwood-Randall kicked off the summit discussion by providing keynote remarks in a moderated interview with Kittfield shortly after. During her interview, Dr. Sherwood-Randall made it clear that the purpose of the upcoming Nuclear Policy Summit would be to focus on the securing of nuclear materials and not on disarmament; where she believes there are other places for that topic to be discussed. Sherwood-Randall also acknowledged that NGOs play a critical role in providing intellectual capital and that there will be a Nuclear Knowledge Summit taking place in Amsterdam as a side event to the Nuclear Security Summit. This particular summit will be used as place to bring NGOs and nuclear security experts together. When asked about her thoughts on the role of Russia in nuclear security talks, Sherwood Randall said that she did not believe that the heightened tensions over the Ukrainian crisis would affect any of the arms control agreements held with Russia. She further noted that the US views Russia as “contributors” to the upcoming summit and is expecting “a constructive summit.”

According to Sherwood-Randall and to the members of the panel, The Nuclear Security Summit will include a variety of events to ensure the summit is constructive. These events include plenary sessions, prerecorded video speeches from leaders outlining their state’s goals, lively policy based discussions, and real-time crisis simulation. Jones-Bos and her fellow panelists believe the implementation of these events will help to actively engage all participants, more so than simply listening to long, boring speeches.

A video recording of the summit can be found here.

Photo by Alena M. James/ Caption: Nuclear Experts Panel (right to left): James Kittfield (moderator), Renée Jones-Bos, William Tobey, Ambassador Kåre R. Aas, Matthew Bunn, Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Sam Nunn, and Jane Harman.

Putin: Spotlight Seeker, Peace Keeper, Russian Defender

By Alena James

For the past several months, Russia, it seems, has been unable to avoid the spotlight.

In June 2013, we watched Russian President Vladimir Putin pass legislation prohibiting the portrayal of homosexuality—or “propaganda”—in the media.  The action sparked a backlash among LGBT Rights protesters.

In August, we witnessed Putin serve as a liaison between Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, and the rest of the international community by encouraging Assad to concede his country’s chemical weapons stock piles after the use of chemical weapons in Damascus. This action led to increased tensions between the US and Russia.

In February 2014, we saw Russia in all of its glory as they hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, even despite rumors that the games would be the target of a Chechen terrorist attack.  Now this March, we see Russia back in the spotlight for its gutsiest move of the year.

Last weekend, Russian troops (bearing no Russian insignia) invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.  The invasion came at a time when the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, created a leadership vaccum and left pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian factions to fight against each other to determine the fate of the new Ukrainian government. Until last week, Putin had remained silent on the issue, but has now announced the mobilization of troops into the region to be at the request of PresidentYanukovych; who is wanted by the interim Ukrainian government for the mass murder of at least 75 protesters. Ukrainians protesting the mobilization in Crimea are appealing to western countries for support and a NATO meeting was scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the Crimean Crisis.

In an interview, Putin announced his unwillingness to consider the intermediate leaders controlling the Ukrainian government legitimate, and said Yanukoych is still Ukraine’s president. The Russian President further declared that the mobilization of troops into the peninsula was done at the request of the Yanukoych and within his scope as Russian President in order to protect all Russians residing in Ukraine.

So, what is Putin thinking? Could his negotiations with the ousted president be another display of his own political pageantry and expression of dominance in the region? Or are his intentions genuinely within the interests of the Russian people residing in Ukraine? Is it possible that Putin really just wants to test the US to see hard it can push? Or is Putin dreaming of a newly reconstructed Soviet Union envisioning himself as the supreme leader? Perhaps, he is just tired of western powers engaging in the region?  Let us know what you think by leaving your comments below.

For a transcript of Vladimir Putin’s interview can be found from the Washington Post.

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Nepal Moves To Ratify BWC

by Alena M. James

Last week the Nepalese Government, working with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, made efforts to develop strategies for the national implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention during the Workshop on National Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). With assistance from the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, the BWC Implementation Support Unit, and with financial support from the European Union, the workshop on implementing the BWC was held in Katmandu February 20-21.

During the workshop individuals representing 12 agencies of the Nepalese Government, officials from the UNRCPD, members from the EU, and subject matter experts gathered to discuss topics which must be considered for Nepal to start the ratification process of the BWC.  Several topics discussed during the workshop included methods to enhance confidence-building measures by the state, treaty enforcement measures, the development of codes of conduct, and the establishment of biosafety and biosecurity standards. Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, an international expert on CBRNs nonproliferation, and Yasmin Balci, a legal officer from VERTIC, a non-profit organization dedicated to advising states on the national implementation of BWC, provided their insight and expertise in helping Nepal’s agency representatives to initiate an effective trajectory towards ratification of the treaty.

Currently, there are 110 Signatory States to the BWC and 168 State Parties. However, ten signatory states have yet to ratify the treaty including Syria; which some allege as possibly having a BW program. Opening for signature in 1972, the BWC was the first treaty to outlaw a specific type of WMD. The treaty was enforced in 1975 and bans the production, stockpiling, and use of biological weapons. Its purpose is to prevent the proliferation and use of such weapons by members of the international community.

Since its inception, the BWC has faced a plethora of challenges especially with regards to its verification process. Unlike the NPT and the CWC, the BWC does not have a verification regime to ensure state compliance.  As a result, the BWC holds review conferences every five years to discuss challenges facing the BWC and mechanisms for improving verification protocol.  So far, the use of confidence building measures have been the primary tools used by the treaty to prohibit these weapons. There are six measures that BWC member states must adhere to which includes the declaration of past offensive and defensive programs, the declaration of vaccine production facilities, and the active exchange of scientific information between states.  The primary goal of the measures is to encourage all states to be both open and transparent regarding state supported scientific research and development operations.

The reliance on states voluntarily complying with the confidence building measures and the work-in-progress verification system of the BWC have been attacked by many critics as the BWC’s most fundamental weakness.  Despite this criticism, one aspect of the BWC that deserves applause is the collaborative efforts of the UN, the BWC Implementation Support Unit, and the EU aiding countries to move towards national implementation of the BWC. In the absence of an authorized verification regime, this collaborative group of intergovernmental organizations has stepped up by taking an active approach in getting countries to uphold their commitments to the BWC. The collaborative group has done so by making workshops such as those held in Kathmandu possible.

The workshop held in Nepal is one of several workshops hosted by the UNODA, the Support Unit, and the EU in the past few months to generate BWC compliance. These workshops are a part of the EU’s BWC Action project which sets out to provide human resources, logistical resources, financial resources, and equipment to states in order to reach universal compliance of the BWC.  On September 3, 2013, the collaborative group orchestrated the Regional Workshop on the National Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention in South and South-East Asia.  Like the workshop held in Kathmandu, this workshop brought together a number of key individuals to discuss BWC implementation strategies.  In early December 2013, the UNODA  worked with United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) to host two national workshops in the countries of Benin and Burkina Faso facilitating open dialogue regarding the implementation of the BWC.

While critics of the BWC point to the lack of a verification body as a weakness, it seems this appears to be promoting active participation by intergovernmental organizations like the EU to encourage states who have not ratified the BWT to do so.  Such active participation and international collaboration is exactly what the global community needs in order to promote international security against the threats of such WMDs.

In August 2013, the international community witnessed the alleged use of another type of WMD prohibited by the CWC. Syria, a then non-party member of the CWC, was accused of deploying chemical weapons on its own civilians.  The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government has not yet been confirmed and speculations on the deployment of the chemical weapons by rebel forces continue to circulate. An analytical study executed by MIT professor Theodore Postol and former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd, suggests plausibility in the idea that the rebel forces fighting against the Bashar Al Assad regime may be responsible for using chemical weapons against civilians. Such a suggestion, if confirmed true, would exculpate the Syrian government.

As the international community’s investigation of chemical weapons deployment in Syria continues, there is already an important lesson that the Syrian case portrays. This lesson lies in the inability of the UN and the CWC’s verification regime, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC), in identifying the perpetrators of the attacks. This ambiguity of the origin of the chemical weapons demonstrates a futuristic challenge that the international community could experience if a state not party to the BWC (or who has not yet ratified the treaty) faced alleged uses of biological weapons.  It is for this reason that the collaborative efforts of intergovernmental organizations like UNODA and the EU, must continue to facilitate open dialogue regarding universal compliance of the BWC. The workshops held by the UNODA in states that have not yet ratified the Biological Weapons Treaty provide an active approach that pushes to make universal compliance of this 42 year old treaty a reality.

The initial coverage on the Workshop on National Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Nepal can be found at

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