10-Year GICNT Anniversary: A Critical Time for Nuclear Security

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) is an international nuclear security partnership established in 2006. Co-chaired by Russia and the United States, the organization began with 13 states and has grown significantly to 86 partner states as of 2016. This expansion has proven to be a critical asset in improving nuclear security best practices. In addition to state partnerships, the organization also has five regulatory observers: International Atomic Energy Agency, International Criminal Police Organization, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, European Union, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. June marked the partnerships tenth anniversary. Since it’s founding, the organization has operated under the guidelines of eight principles:

  1. Securing nuclear and other radioactive materials
  2. Improving security of civilian nuclear facilities
  3. Improve nuclear and radioactive material detection capabilities
  4. Improving tracking of illicit nuclear material
  5. Prevent economic safe havens for potential nuclear terrorists
  6. Ensure capable legal infrastructure for prosecuting nuclear terrorism
  7. Enhance response, mitigation, and investigation protocols for a nuclear terrorist attack.
  8. Promote information sharing among partner countries to combat nuclear terrorism.


Through these guiding principles, GICNT has made significant steps towards securing fissile material and improving emergency preparedness for a nuclear terrorist attack. The partnership has carried out several successful training simulations including: a radiological dispersion device response simulation (Spain 2008), a tabletop exercise on combating the financing of nuclear terrorism (Kazakhstan 2010), and an inter-Arab tabletop exercise on detection, response, and regional coordination (United Arab Emirates 2016). These are only a small selection from a long series of nuclear security simulations and trainings conducted by GICNT in their first 10 years. The simulations and workshops organized by the GICNT have produced significant nuclear security best practices including the GICNT Nuclear Detection Working Group’s four volumes on building nuclear detection infrastructure.

Moving forward it is critical GICNT improve and expand its nuclear security activities. To date, GICNT exercises have primarily focused on securing fissile materials and improving emergency response practices. There is growing concern among nuclear security experts that terrorists may steal radiological material to create and use a dirty bomb. While not as deadly as a nuclear blast, a dirty bomb explosion would cause extreme public pandemonium and could even prompt an economic collapse. Recently, an independent peace and security organization, SaferGlobe, authored a report outlining ten recommendations for future GICNT activities; securing radiological material was listed as a high priority. It is important to note that unlike nuclear grade materials there is no legally binding international agreement related to the security of radioactive sources. Through significant engagement with the medical community and certain manufacturing industries, GICNT could begin taking important steps towards securing dangerous radiological material.

040117-N-0331L-023 Arabian Sea (Jan. 17, 2004) -- Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) disposal technicians from the 1st Marines 1st Battalion prepare to search the Military Sealift Command (MSC) combat stores ship USNS Saturn (T-AFS 10). The NBC team was looking for mock Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) during a mock non-compliant boarding as part of exercise Sea Saber 2004. The 5th Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) exercise of its kind, Sea Saber focuses on the interdiction of a maritime shipment of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment and materials on the high seas. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jeffrey Lehrberg. (RELEASED)

Cyber security is another pressing issue for GICNT partners, especially given that cyber-attacks don’t only threaten facility security but a cyber-attack could also weaken or disable detection, response, and mitigation capabilities.  A major step that GICNT could take in the coming years is the formal implementation of a cyber security working group. Through the guidance of experts, GICNT could establish best practices on the intersection of cyber and nuclear security.

Finally, and most importantly, it is essential for the GICNT to continue to expand membership. Expanding the GICNT nuclear security network is one of the most effective methods for enhancing nuclear security globally and hopefully preventing a nuclear terrorist attack. GICNT’s founding principles are dependent on information sharing and collaboration of the international community. New partners will only enhance GICNT capabilities.

The GICNT tenth anniversary has come at a critical time. The ending of the Nuclear Security Summits leaves GICNT with the responsibility to promote nuclear security best practices and to continue to preserve nuclear security milestones.