Nuclear threat initiative index 2016 – Challenges and opportunities

By Huma Rehman

In post 9/11 scenario concerns regarding nuclear proliferation and terrorism became serious matter for global policy makers. States cognizant of the emerging challenges took steps to strengthen nuclear security regime. Nuclear security is defined as the prevention and detection of, and response to theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear or other radioactive substances or their associated facilities. It covers both security and safety aspects to maintain nuclear security culture. In regard to states possessing nuclear weapons use-able materials, being sovereign states, pledged to implement a nuclear security regime. It comprises abiding by tangible and intangible factors including confidentiality of information to physical protection. Because it is a national responsibility of a state and the principal shared objective is to limit the fallout resulting from any accident related to radioactive material and associated facilities.

US President Obama, addressing the world from Prague, in 2009 termed nuclear terrorism one of the greatest threats to international security. He announced the initiative of Nuclear Security Summit process. It also led to another project named the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) index. It is an effort for controlling global nuclear terrorism threats  by indexing nuclear material possessing states. It may consider an opportunity for the establishment of a culture that will emphasize responsibility and accountability among individuals involved in the management and protection of nuclear facilities and material at every stage of the organizational hierarchy, hence contributes to the security and safety of nuclear materials. But it has some technical loopholes which raise concerns for some states in complex regional security environment.

NTI Assessment

The strengths of NTI index include an idea for assessing nuclear safety and security parameters adopted by states around the world. But this objective requires common principles, assessing states, rigorous and prudent approaches, and effective communication and open, two way communications.

The layout, approach, standards and methodology of NTI Index are designed in such a manner that it serves the interests of developed states. On account of geographical and domestic considerations they enjoy a stable political situation. They continue to maintain a secure regional environment. It thus, is reflected in the higher score of the western states in the NTI Index in comparison to turbulent developing countries and their complex regional environment.

These considerations of regional complexities require attention for progress and success of initiatives such as NTI to achieve its greater goal of global nuclear security.  Because with this pattern of NTI Index it deflects focus from the significant matters of quality, safety and security of nuclear weapons and materials and adherence to the various nuclear safety and security norms. By assessing existing methodology of NTI, it appears to justify certain goals or expecting specific outcomes.

NTI Process

The NTI Index report lists and evaluates states possessing nuclear weapons use-able materials. The identified criteria by NTI categorize; quantities and sites of nuclear materials, security and control measures, global norms, domestic commitments and capacity, societal factors and sabotage ranking. Sabotage Ranking has been included in this recent third document of 2016 NTI index.

Quantitative measuring of the regulations and practices being followed by various states is a difficult task. It hence, becomes a limitation of the Index. There is paucity of publically available data, due to the sensitivity surrounding the security and safety practices of state parties. Thus, any ranking is bound to be a limited assessment of the national nuclear safety and security practices.

In terms of contribution made by the NTI is a new category of potential threats emerging from cyber sabotage. Addressing these threats will enhance nuclear security. A new “sabotage ranking” of 45 countries with certain types of nuclear facilities shows that many countries considering nuclear power plants are struggling to establish the basic measures necessary to prevent an act of sabotage that could result in a radiological release similar in scale to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Pakistan and NTI 

While assessing steps taken by Pakistan, the recent NTI Index mentioned country’s new cyber security regulations initiative but on the other hand its score still lies in bottom line. This point should be considered by NTI as defined in its index calculus.  The NTI Report also highlighted that Pakistan is improving it nuclear security ranging from on-site physical protection to new laws and regulations requiring licensees to provide physical protection to nuclear sites and on-site reviews of security. It has an excellent record of not having a single incident of nuclear facility or radiological material’s theft reported so far which is great achievement for a nuclear weapon state. Pakistan’s national organizations responsible for nuclear security and safety are confident not complacent. Pakistan will ensure its commitment to further improve its ranking in future.


It is significant to refer that nuclear security is exclusively the sovereign right of a state; but collective and mutually agreed steps by states to guarantee safety and security against the existing global threats is dire need of hour. In regard to enhance the efficacy of NTI, considerations of efforts taken by states to enhance nuclear safety and security parameters, regional security complexity and sensitivity of states regional environment are important elements to count on for indexing states.  In this way, it will also help to promote other initiatives, including Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process. In general, the NSS is a process; it should not be expected to turn into a legal binding mechanism because of its political aspects. But the global community must seek viable options for an effective and accountable global system for how nuclear materials should be secured to protect the world from dangers of nuclear terrorism; indeed it is a shared responsibility. The current global nuclear security system still has some critical gaps to be filled that prevent it from being truly comprehensive and effective.

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Huma Rehman

Huma Rehman is a former Fellow at Center for Nuclear Non-Proliferation Studies California-US.

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