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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

The Nuclear Security Summit Process

by | July 17th, 2013 | 07:00 am

North Korea’s recent proposal to the US for bilateral talks included a willingness to discuss “defusing military tensions, replacing the armistice system with peace mechanism and…the building of a ‘world without nuclear weapons’ proposed by the U.S.”

The reference to a nuclear free world was to President Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague where he proposed a three-pronged approach to the nuclear issue, two of which North Korea conveniently ignored. In addition to a reduction of nuclear arsenals the speech spelled out two other pillars: strengthening the Non-proliferation Treaty and halting proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states; and improving nuclear security, including through efforts complementary to the NPT that would break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt illicit trade in nuclear materials.

To our pleasant surprise, the so-called National Security Summit process, set in motion by the 2010 Washington and 2012 Seoul summits appears to have some legs; in 2014, a third summit will be hosted in the Hague. A new report released last week by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and Partnership for Global Security (PGS), sponsored by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS and the Fissile Materials Working Group and authored by Michelle Cann, Kelsey Davenport and Sarah Williams, provides an excellent introduction (.pdf here).

The process involves a work program in four areas: control of materials, governance, smuggling and “culture” or outreach.. The Seoul summit communiqué also included two specific hopes:  that the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) be brought into force by 2014, and that participant states commit to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) by the end of 2013.

The report walks through actions of the parties by both “basket” and country and reveals a wide-array of initiatives, from multilateral cooperation and information sharing to national legislation. The process has the expected teething problems, including lack of standard reporting requirements and efforts that do not have universal support. And of course, as with the NPT, the states that you really want to be at the table—such as North Korea and Iran—were appropriately excluded by the wise decision to shun phony universalism (Jonathan Pollack walks through the North Korean gamesmanship around the Seoul summit) Nonetheless, these growing pains are to be expected; kudos to the authors and sponsors for this useful introduction to an emerging international regime.