A Strategy for Soft and Hard Governance

Preventing Weak Links in Nuclear Security: A Strategy for Soft and Hard Governance, Summary of October 2013 Workshop and Policy Recommendations

The Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group (NSGEG) considers the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process to be a unique opportunity for world leaders to take needed actions to strengthen today’s nuclear security system and eliminate and prevent weak links in this regime. The first two summits in Washington and Seoul succeeded in expediting the removal of dangerous nuclear materials, establishing nuclear security centers of excellence, and strengthening national legislation. However, the summits have neglected to address many of the important governance challenges that allow weak links in the international nuclear security system to exist and persist.

The third summit in The Hague in March 2014 provides an important opportunity for summit leaders to pivot toward resolving the nuclear security governance challenge in order to craft a sustainable legacy of nuclear security improvement, robustness, and adaptability. A successful strategy for eliminating and preventing weak links in nuclear security will need to couple a long-term vision with a practical step-by-step process. The goal is to create a more comprehensive and durable nuclear security regime with the dynamism to respond effectively as new challenges emerge.

Achieving this end state will require the implementation of a mix of soft and hard governance approaches over a period of time. Soft governance approaches involve voluntary measures that promote a culture of continuous improvement and incentivize new norm development without legally-binding requirements. They can maximize the effectiveness of the disparate parts of the current regime, promote communication for confidence-building, improve nuclear security performance through incentive-based and voluntary mechanisms, and utilize culturally-sensitive best practices and peer review. Hard governance approaches consist of legally-binding tools to codify norms and standards. These measures, in turn, can reduce the fragmentation of the international nuclear security framework; promote a robust regime at the international, regional, national, and facility levels; and create a platform for the regime’s continuous improvement.

Initiating progress through a combination of innovative soft and hard governance steps at the 2014 summit is critical to ensuring that the NSS process results in significant improvements to the global nuclear security regime, continued high-level attention toward nuclear security after the 2016 NSS in the United States, and the creation of an enduring legacy of effective nuclear security improvement.

The Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group (NSGEG) believes that during the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, world leaders should address five important dimensions of nuclear security governance and develop a strategy for their implementation at the 2016 summit in the United States.

Together these actions will begin to eliminate the weak links that currently exist in the global nuclear security system.

1.    Maximize and universalize the current security regime and learn from the related nuclear disciplines of safety and safeguards

2.    Promote  effective communication and expanded information-sharing to build international confidence in the implementation of nuclear security policies and practices

3.    Develop and utilize incentives-based and voluntary mechanisms to improve nuclear security practices in the short– and medium–term

4.    Expand the use of culturally-sensitive peer review and best practices in the nuclear security system at the global and regional level

5.    Pursue the benefits of a framework convention on nuclear security as a long-term approach for the continuous improvement of global nuclear security system


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