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A New International Framework for Bolstering Global Supply System Security and Resilience

Given the longstanding vulnerabilities of the global supply system, it is surprising that the counterproliferation community has not made embedding greater safeguards into transportation and logistics networks a priority. Importantly, the community has focused on discouraging non-nuclear states from seeking to develop or to acquire nuclear weapons. They have also actively worked to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons within the arsenals of nuclear powers and closely monitor and secure those that remain. However, after a rash of generally fragmented efforts led by the U.S. government in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, over the past decade there have been few meaningful efforts to prevent the unauthorized movement of nuclear materials within the global transportation and logistics system. This has been so despite the continued growth in the amount of containerized cargo shipments circulating the globe and a rising concern that some states and non-state actors are seeking access to nuclear materials and the associated technologies to develop weapons of mass destruction.

It is also surprising that containerized cargo has not been targeted by terrorist organizations in the way that passenger aviation, air cargo, mass transit, and, more recently, trucks have been. But this should not be cause for complacency. The system continues to be exploited by criminals to move every form of counterband from illicit narcotics to small arms and currency. Additionally, the stakes associated with assuring the continuity of the intermodal transportation system are enormous given that the overwhelming majority of the world’s manufactured goods move through the system. In an age of “justin- time” inventories, a major disruption to global supply chains that a major security breach is likely to generate would have worldwide consequences given the dependence of all economies and scoieties on the reliable operation of that system.

One reason for the limited progress towards developing a comprehensive approach to safeguarding the global supply system is because governments have only limited control over its operation. The transportation and logistical networks, including port and intermodal facilities and surface and maritime conveyances, are overwhelmingly owned by the private sector. Accordingly, any effort to bolster the security and resilience of the global supply system requires close partnerships within and amongst the private sector and meaningful incentives to sustain that effort.

With the generous support from the MacArthur Foundation, over the past two years principal investigator Stephen Flynn with support from John Holmes, Sean Burke, and Connor Goddard have been able to conduct interviews and convene workshops in Asia, Europe, and the United States with a wide range of senior industry representatives, nuclear security experts, and policymakers. The result has been this report that outlines a transformative international framework along with a series of recommendations that, if enacted, would significantly reduce the risk of nuclear smuggling within the intermodal transportation system. This framework leverages many of the existing programs that are now in place to try and address this challenge. Importantly, it identifies a unique opportunity to link two international regimes that are currently disconnected. UN Security Council Resolution 1540 directs all member states to ensure that their transport networks are not being exploited for the movement of nuclear materials and the resolution is supported by the 1540 Committee to advance this goal. The International Maritime organization (IMO) has enacted an International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) that is mandatory for all nations involved in international shipping. By linking these regimes, facilitated by expanded coordination amongst the IMO, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), World Customs Organization (WCO) and the major commercial port operators, there is an opportunity to dramatically enhance the security of containerized cargo shipments and significantly reduce the vulnerability of the global supply system to a nuclear event.

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