President Obama spoke eloquently in South Korea on Monday in an initial address to world leaders gathered for the Seoul Nuclear Summit, and earlier to students at Hankun University. Sixty leaders of 54 global nations, including Russia and China, are meeting to institute a plan for securing and accounting for the entirety of the world’s nuclear material by 2014.
In speaking, the President focused first on North Korea, a hostile adversary who is launching satellites and testing missiles in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution, and ignoring a deal struck with the United States that it will not carry out nuclear or missile tests in return for food aid. Obama said, “The United States has no hostile intent toward your country and is committed to peace.” He continued, “There will be no more rewards for provocations. You can continue down the road you are on, but we know where that leads.” The president added, “It leads to more of the same — more broken dreams, more isolation, ever more distance between the people of North Korea and the dignity and opportunity they deserve.” Then Obama offered a prediction: “The Koreas, North and South, will someday be united and free.”
President Obama also mentioned Iran, “Iran must act with the seriousness and the sense of urgency that this moment demands. Iran must meet its obligations.” .
The president has long been committed to reduction of nuclear threat in the world. In Prague, in April of 2009, he presented his view that stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons, as well as tactical weapons and warheads, need be reduced. On Monday, Obama declared, “The United States has a unique responsibility to act.” And later, “We have more nuclear weapons than we need.”
The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) is a Washington-based nonproliferation group that tracks the security of world nuclear stockpiles. The NTI reported in January that currently, 32 countries have weapons grade nuclear materials. Pakistan has small stockpiles of nuclear material. Islamic militants may have access to these stockpiles, the result of alleged corruption of some Pakistani officials. The NTI ranked India among the top five nuclear security risks.
Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has played a major role in U.S. policies related to the control and disposition of weapons grade nuclear materials in the United States and the former Soviet Union. Bunn also directed a secret study for President Clinton on security for nuclear materials in Russia. He now says, “Russia has the world’s largest stockpiles, secured in the largest number of buildings and bunkers.” He mentions Russia’s corruption and weak security culture and regulations. Additionally, in Bunn’s view, “North Korea and Iran are viewed with worry because of fears that their governments could pass nuclear materials to terrorists, although neither is believed to have enough material yet to present a substantial threat of exports.”
Kenneth Luongo, co-chair of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a Washington-based coalition of nuclear security experts, surmises that at least four terror groups, including al-Qaeda and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, are working toward development of a nuclear weapon.
Owing to lack of global jurisdiction and military capacity, it is unlikely that the 2014 deadline to secure the world’s widespread nuclear material will be met. Included in the mission goal are completed weapons, bomb material, and the skills to build them.