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The Nuclear Security Summit: The Origin Story

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 28/03/2016 Peace and Security Funders Group

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Alexandra Toma | Executive Director

Creating a global coalition to stop nuclear terrorism

The past few years have seen a spike in "origin stories." How did James Bond become 007? How did Wolverine's childhood shape who he is today? These stories are important because they remind us what it took to get us where we are. As the six-year-old Nuclear Security Summit process culminates in Washington this month, it's only appropriate that we tell its origin story.
The NSS is a global effort to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear materials. Osama bin Laden once said [] it was al Qaeda's religious duty to acquire either a nuclear weapon or the materials to build one and to detonate it in America. The effort to prevent that has succeeded so far because of an unusual partnership between policymakers and non-governmental experts.
If working together can keep nuclear terrorism at bay, what other 21st century security challenges can we not tackle?
The NSS story begins a month after President Obama's famous speech in Prague that envisioned a world without nuclear weapons. At a brown-bag lunch in a conference room on K Street in May 2009, we were two dozen nuclear security experts trying to figure out how to get it done. We knew that our silos - funders, advocates, academics and a splintered government - were hampering us from coming up with creative, high-impact solutions to stop nuclear terrorism.
We agreed there and then to set aside competition - organizational, personal and financial. We decided that with the planet's safety at stake, we would pool our resources and talents so that the whole could be greater than the sum of our parts. The result was the Fissile Materials Working Group, a global coalition of experts, civil society representatives, funders and academics that creates actionable proposals and serves as a data resource for nuclear policy-makers.
Over the past six years, the now 80-strong coalition has pushed for bolder action on nuclear security and provided the necessary political cover for policy-makers to do it. Some coalition members have helped craft legislation that closed loopholes or increased the nuclear security budget. Others have helped "un-geek-ify" nuclear security issues enough to keep average Americans engaged. Still others have conducted the research needed to support these efforts.

The working group has also played a watchdog role for the more than 50 world leaders engaged in the NSS process: the group calls them out when they're not meeting their commitments and continues to push for more.
Key to this work has been the close bipartisan collaboration of two members of Congress, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Adam Schiff (D-CA). In one important win in 2008, they established the Congressional Caucus on Nuclear Security, which keeps nuclear terrorism issues front and center and educates Congress about the issues. In another win, they helped set the stage in fiscal 2011 for House approval of an additional $190 million for key nuclear security programs, in the teeth of an overall $38.5 billion federal budget cut.
The working group then provided the two representatives with background research, ideas and support in achieving the landmark bipartisan compromise that attached important nuclear terrorism treaty language to the USA Freedom Act, overcoming almost a decade of Senate deadlock. President Obama signed it into law in June 2015.
On March 31, this collaboration among Republicans, Democrats, experts and civil society will be recognized and celebrated at the final Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Government, industry, and non-governmental experts will be given awards for their contributions to advancing nuclear security.
These leaders worked across interest sectors and party lines over the past six years to make global nuclear materials security what it is today. This successful partnership against an existential threat to the modern world, born at an ordinary office lunch among disparate people, can perhaps show the way for those involved in other tough national security challenges to create their own origin stories.
We must tackle cyber-security threats, climate change, ISIL and many more critical issues. The world is too complex to expect such issues to be solved by any one sector or party alone.
Alexandra Toma is Executive Director of the Peace and Security Funders Group, a growing network of foundations and philanthropists committed to promoting international peace and security.The views expressed above are the author's own. This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post and Carnegie Corporation of New York about issues related to the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. World leaders will gather in Washington, D.C., on March 31-April 1 to address the threat of nuclear terrorism and steps toward creating a global nuclear-security system to prevent it. To view all of the posts in the series, visit here. Join the conversation on Twitter at @CarnegieCorp, #NSS2016.

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