The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit is being held in Seoul. Fifty-eight world leaders from 53 states and four international organizations, including the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Union and INTERPOL, have participated in the Summit. It is the largest summit ever held in Korea and could also be the world’s largest summit on international security and nuclear affairs. After hosting the G20 summit successfully in 2010, hosting the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit again shows that South Korea has emerged as one of the leading nations in both global economic and security affairs.
The first Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington D.C. on April 12 and 13, 2010. U.S. President Obama, who proposed the Nuclear Security Summit in his April 2009 historical Prague speech, invited 47 heads of states and three representatives of international organizations. In the Prague speech, President Obama announced his vision for a ‘world without nuclear weapons’ and proposed nuclear security as one of three strategic goals for this vision together with nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. President Obama also announced a nuclear security goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years.
During the Washington summit, Korea was designated as the second summit host by Present Obama and this proposal was greeted by all participants. This decision reflects the recognition of Korea’s increasing global presence by international society.
It also reflects the international society’s growing expectations toward South Korea’s contribution to global affairs. Korea has been recognized as a model state for nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear security, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. Seoul’s nuclear nonproliferation credentials are especially notable because it faces mounting nuclear threats from North Korea.
Korea is also increasingly seen as a middle power with a capacity and will to exercise a bridging diplomacy between various conflicting interests. Korea exercised its bridging diplomacy skillfully between developed and developing countries for the benefit of the world during the G20 summit. Korea is now expected to produce a well-balanced and future-oriented agreement for a greater nuclear security at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit by coordinating differing positions between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states.
As South Korea hosts the summit, President Lee Myung-bak is responsible for chairing the two-day sessions and adopting the Seoul Communique by building a consensus. The Korean government officials have led governmental negotiations for over a year to prepare a draft Seoul Communique. After the summit, Lee will summarize the outcomes of the summit, comprising of the Seoul Communique and voluntary commitments, called “house gifts.”
At the summit, the leaders will assess the nuclear terrorism threats and nuclear security preparedness. They will also review the implementation of agreements and voluntary commitments. Then the leaders will focus on major nuclear security issues, mostly brought up at the Washington summit, such as the minimization and management of highly enriched uranium, ratification of nuclear security conventions, strengthening information and transportation security, IAEA’s role, preventing illicit nuclear trafficking, nuclear security culture, and international cooperation and assistance.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in March 2011, Korea took the initiative of adding two new issues of radiological security and nuclear security-safety interface to the agenda. The Washington summit had focused on nuclear terrorism with explosive nuclear devices, perceiving that as the biggest threat to international security.
However, the Seoul summit discusses protection against dirty bombs or the sabotage of nuclear facilities. According to the IAEA, there are over 200 cases of missing or stolen radiological material or isotopes a year. This shows the importance of radiological security. The Seoul summit also discusses the integration of nuclear security and safety. These two are complementary and synergistic, but they could also work against each other. Therefore we need to coordinate our approach to them to ensure effectiveness of both nuclear security and safety.
Some states initially opposed these two items, claiming that they would “dilute” the focus of the summit. To the contrary: Their inclusion helps make more countries willing participants in the summit since radiological terrorism or nuclear safety are more palpable threats than nuclear bomb terrorism.
As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, nuclear terrorism and accidents respect no borders. In an era of globalization, consequences of nuclear terrorism spread fast and far. Korea, one of the most open and trade-dependent states, is vulnerable to the disruption of world peace and trade by nuclear terrorism. As a new middle power, Korea is prepared to share the global responsibility of creating a world free from the threat of nuclear terrorism.
By Jun Bong-geun