Ambassador Holgate’s Remarks at IAEA Conference on Nuclear Security

Ambassador Holgate Remarks as Delivered at 2016 IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security

Vienna International Centre,
Vienna, Austria,
December 7, 2016

High Level Policy Session #2: International Bodies and Initiatives for Nuclear Security: Role of the IAEA in Coordinating International Efforts

Thank you for the introduction.  Thank you also to the Secretariat for organizing these High-Level Sessions. The participation in this conference by the majority of Member States, and more than 50 at the Ministerial level and 2000 experts is a clear indication of the importance and commitment of Member States to improve nuclear security globally. This is a tangible manifestation of the strong interest of Member States in nuclear security and the IAEA’s central and coordinating role.

When I was confirmed as Ambassador earlier this year, President Obama sent a letter welcoming me to Vienna and outlining potential challenges and priorities.  It was no surprise that nuclear security was high on that list.

Securing nuclear materials and facilities is a responsibility we take on as individual states, but we benefit collectively from strong international security architecture.  It’s become a cliché to say that we live in an increasingly interconnected world, but this has never been truer:  our security and our prosperity are inextricably linked, both nationally and globally.  Catastrophe can be contagious.

But in the same way that we face shared risks, we reap shared benefits from investments in international resilience to persistent and emerging threats.  Nuclear technologies and applications have advanced research, diagnosed and treated illnesses, and helped power the globe.  We have shared technologies, strategies, and expertise in pursuing atoms for peace and development, which has allowed us to take steps together toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Supporting the IAEA and its Member States in advancing the use of nuclear technology for peace and development involves acknowledging that nuclear security is a fundamentally global issue.  If a nuclear power plant is sabotaged in one country, we as its global neighbors are threatened.  If a would-be terrorist acquires nuclear material anywhere in the world, we all face potential risks. If a nuclear security incident occurs in any of our States, we will all deal with the consequences, including jeopardizing public support even for the peaceful uses of nuclear technology that we rely on in agriculture, healthcare, and energy.

The global nuclear security architecture that enables us to prevent, detect, and respond to incidents involves both binding, traditional “hard laws” and softer, quasi-legal instruments that feed into and reinforce one another:

  • At the foundation of international nuclear security infrastructure are firm, State-level laws, regulations, and guidance, as well as the regulators and teams that enforce them.
  • Building on those legally binding, national elements are informal collectives.  These include non-government organizations, professional societies, the World Institute for Nuclear Security, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, or GICNT, which recently commemorated ten years of strengthening local capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism.
  • In the spirit of these collectives, we can make stronger commitments through formal treaties and international organizations like the IAEA, INTERPOL, and the United Nations.  For example, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 establishes legally binding obligations on all UN Member States to have and enforce appropriate and effective measures to protect all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their delivery systems.  Likewise, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its Amendment, or the CPP, was signed here at the IAEA and establishes international legally binding measures related to the prevention, detection, and punishment of offenses relating to nuclear material for ratifying Member States.
  • All of these elements contribute to creating, promulgating, and maintaining international norms in nuclear security through confidence measures, peer reviews, and consistent efforts to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium.  These norms, expectations, and behaviors can, over time, transition from being so-called “soft laws” into the “hard law” of future treaties and arrangements that expand the coverage of the global nuclear security architecture and drive the enhancement of national regulations and enforcement.

All of these national and international nuclear security structures require constant, consistent investment.  In considering this continuing challenge, I am reminded of President Obama’s letter.  He wrote, “Together we have a great task before us … We must rebuild our traditional alliances and pursue new partnerships based on mutual interests and respect, so that together, we can confront key common challenges of the 21st century.”  He continued, noting that our security is “enhanced through principled and sustained engagement with those who think differently.”

The Obama administration invested perhaps most deeply in principled, sustained engagement on nuclear security across difference through the Nuclear Security Summits.  Beginning in 2010, the four biennial Summits provided high-level attention to and investment in the structures that guide and support states in implementing their sovereign responsibility to secure their nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities.  These structures include the United Nations, the IAEA, INTERPOL, and several treaties and initiatives involving officials, nuclear industry, and civil society.

The Summits brought together around 50 leaders of diverse countries, representing a range of geography, development status, nuclear experience, and political orientation.  Summit countries held over 98 percent of the world’s total weapons-usable nuclear materials — at times, this felt like one of our few similarities.  However, we also shared the priority of combatting the threat of nuclear terrorism, and our dedication to that goal allowed us to make serious investments in nuclear security through Summit communiques, national statements, and joint commitments to a set of action plans outlining the ways in which we plan to work together as member states of international institutions to further strengthen our nuclear security efforts.

The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit was the last of its kind, but this conference is evidence that the tradition of regular, high-level consideration of and commitment to making concrete progress in nuclear security carries on.

Passing the torch of ambitious cooperation on nuclear security from the Summits to the broader international community involves maintaining the tradition of delivering regular, concrete commitments, actions, and achievements in this realm.

This is why the United States participates actively conferences like this one:  on Monday, Secretary Moniz announced new commitments that we have made as part of our continuing efforts to look inward and identify ways to improve our own nuclear security. The United States announced that we will invite all Member States to join the Joint Statement on Insider Threat Mitigation and host an International Nuclear Security Advisory Service (INSServ) in 2017.

Keeping the legacy of the Summits alive — and broadening it to include similarly committed countries invested in making continuous strides in nuclear security — requires increased dedication and actions among the IAEA’s Member States and its Secretariat. Some of these actions take the form of specific Summit initiatives that have already found a home here at the Agency.  For example, at the Summits, groups of countries signed onto what were termed “gift baskets”:  joint statements committing States to make specific investments in nuclear security.  Some of these have been reopened this week for others to join, including the INFCIRC that expands the Nuclear Security Contact Group to sustain momentum on meeting Summit commitments.  Through the Contact Group, senior expert officials will continue to convene regularly, discuss a broad range of nuclear-security issues, and promote and assess the implementation of international nuclear security commitments, as well as determining next steps to support these goals. As the most active multilateral institution in and the central coordinator of international nuclear security activities, the IAEA was mentioned in every Summit communique.  During the Summit period, the IAEA’s internal nuclear security team gained status, and its funding has consistently increased.

At the same time, the IAEA faces challenges in assuming a more prominent role in the international security architecture.  New agreements like the joint commitments involve new expectations for the Agency.  Ratification of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear material and Nuclear Facilities, or CPP, has quadrupled since 2009, allowing the amendment to enter into force and increasing demands on the IAEA.  Treaties like the CPP are not static components of the global nuclear security architecture, and their universalization and implementation including the convening of a Review Conference in 2021, requires significant attention and coordination. Last week, the IAEA convened the second points of contact meeting for the Convention. The meeting provides an important venue to coordinate and provide input to the IAEA as States Parties work to give effect to the amended convention and plan the Review Conference.

There is greater demand than ever on the IAEA’s nuclear security program.  More and more countries are requesting peer reviews of their nuclear security procedures and practices through the Agency.  And countries with and without nuclear programs have vastly different needs but the same critical interest in cooperating with the IAEA to prevent nuclear security incidents worldwide. Member States have also tasked the IAEA with convening regular Information Exchange Meetings, in which representatives from all of the various nuclear security related groups discuss their work and identify opportunities for division of labor and collaboration. It is imperative that the quality and quantity of these exchanges increase. The IAEA also coordinates among the burgeoning number of Nuclear Security Support Centers and Centers of Excellence to share curricula, best practices, and training schedules. These conversations help maximize the benefits such centers can offer in building Member State capacity.

Looking forward, therefore, it is crucial that we all work with the Agency to support it in these new and ever-evolving responsibilities.

This involves ratification of, adherence to, and implementation of legal instruments like the CPP.  It involves participation in IAEA workshops, events, assessments, and implementation of guidance.  It involves committing to provide the IAEA with reliable and sufficient technical, financial, and human resources so that it can effectively support Member States in achieving their nuclear security goals.  It involves participating in cooperation and assistance activities through the International Network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centers.

And it involves investing in civil society.  The World Institute for Nuclear Security, for example, has the potential to fill gaps between governments and private-sector actors across the nuclear security field.  The U.S. will continue to support WINS in providing workshops, best-practice guides, consultations and more.  We urge others to support and take advantage of this organization’s expertise, as its role in translating and promulgating best practices constitutes a significant contribution to high-quality implementation of nuclear security rules and standards.

In Prague almost eight years ago, President Obama gave a speech that has since guided our dedication to and efforts in securing nuclear material.  He closed with a call to accept our shared international responsibility to “leave this world more prosperous and more peaceful than we found it.”  Nuclear security facilitates peaceful uses of nuclear technologies and applications, allowing us to achieve that lofty goal.

As long as nuclear materials exist, they require our collective commitment to their protection.  All countries, even those without nuclear material, have a stake in the universalization and implementation of the commitments that constitute our global nuclear security architecture.  The Nuclear Security Summits proved what is possible when 50 world leaders gather to set formidable goals and hold one another accountable in partnering to achieve them.  Together, bolstered by the IAEA as a central coordinator of these priorities, we can bring that spirit of ambitious collaboration to Vienna and carry it into our international nuclear security efforts moving forward.