Securing nuclear material is one of the biggest problems of contemporary security. All states, regardless of their nuclear status, have an interest in securing this material, providing an opportunity for joint action.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, recently launched its inaugural Nuclear Materials Security Index, in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit. Dubbed the “first of its kind,” the Index measures the nuclear security conditions in 176 countries.

The Carnegie Moscow Center hosted the Russian launch of the Index. Page Stoutland of NTI and Anatoly Dyakov of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology—the author of the Index from the Russian side—spoke about the Index. Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, provided the opening remarks and Carnegie Moscow Center’s Alexei Arbatov moderated.

Index’s Foundations of Composing

  • Categories for Thirty-Two States: Stoutland said that a total of thirty-two states possess greater than one kilogram of nuclear material. This led the authors of the Index to examined them in regards to five categories:

    • the quantity and physical location of nuclear material;
    • physical security and control measures;
    • global norms;
    • domestic commitments and capacity;
    • societal factors.
  • Categories for the Remaining 144 States: The remaining 144 states were only subject to scrutiny under the latter three categories, as the quantity of nuclear material they possessed was deemed less significant, added Stoutland.
  • Disputing the Categories: Stoultand noted that one of the categories, societal factors, has proven rather contentious. The category is mean to indicate the potential for social unrest, the pervasiveness of corruption, and the presence of illicit groups and terrorists interested in acquiring nuclear materials. Offering Russia as an example of why this category is problematic, Dyakov said that the recent political protests didn’t influence security in Russia dramatically. However, the Index gave Russia a final score of 45 out of 100 in the field of political stability, which Dyakov felt was unreasonable. Also, Dyakov voiced disagreement with the notion that possessing larger quantities of nuclear material made it more susceptible to falling into the hands of terrorist or criminal groups.

Leaders and Outsiders

  • Leaders: Topping the overall rankings was Australia, which Stoutland said benefited from small quantities of nuclear materials and high scores in the all Index’s categories. The amount of nuclear material possessed plays an important role in the ratings, he explained; the United Kingdom, for example, also has excellent scores, but was brought down in overall score by the large amount of weapons-usable material it possesses. Following Australia in the rankings are Hungary, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and in fifth place, Austria.
  • U.S. Problems: Stoutland said that the U.S. rating was weighed down because of the global norms category. In particular, it has yet to ratify two treaties deemed central to this category, the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
  • Outsiders: Rounding out the bottom of the list of the thirty-two countries are India, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea. Four of these countries are continuing to produce weapons-usable nuclear material. Vietnam proved an outlier not because it has large quantities of material, but because it lacked other important criteria, including an independent regulatory agency, strong physical security when transporting nuclear materials, and security personnel measures.

Index as a Baseline for Improving Level of Security

  • Not a Reason for Criticism: The Index should not be considered like a simple scorecard noting which countries should be praised or condemned, noted Stoutland. Dyakov proposed that each state is a unique case as different additional factors complicate the scoring. For example, some states have more experience in providing security of nuclear material.
  • A Path Forward: According to Stoutland, the Index offers a path forward for individual states which may not have placed high on the list. In addition, he stated that the feedback NTI had received so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with “one unnamed state already approaching the organization directly in order to address specific areas of deficiency.” NTI hopes that the Index will become a baseline to measure progress and help states reach a consensus on what further steps are needed for nuclear material security, Stoutland added.