The 2016 nuclear security summit was a pivotal moment for the decades-long effort to secure nuclear material around the globe. More than 50 national leaders gathered in Washington for the last of four biennial meetings that have led to significant progress in strengthening measures to reduce the risk of nuclear theft.
These summits have played a critical role in nurturing that progress by elevating the political salience of nuclear security and providing a forum for world leaders to announce new commitments, share information, and hold one another accountable for following through on promised actions.
The international community is now entering the post-summit era, in which nuclear security will probably receive less-regular high-level political attention than it has in recent years. Yet, there is still critical work to be done to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons or the materials needed to make them could end up in the hands of a terrorist organization such as the Islamic State. Governments still do not agree on what nuclear security priorities are most pressing or how best to sustain the momentum generated by the summits. As the era of summitry recedes, will states continue improving measures to prevent nuclear theft and sabotage, or will the summits turn out to have been a high-water mark for nuclear security efforts?