President Barack Obama’s whirlwind visit to Europe began yesterday in The Hague against the looming shadow of the Ukraine crisis. While Obama will seek to rally Western resistance to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and affirm the administration’s strong commitment to European security, the trip was initially scheduled to coincide with the third Nuclear Security Summit, which focuses on preventing nuclear terrorism.
The Nuclear Security Summits look to be one of the Obama administration’s major international security legacies. These recurring meetings of senior national leaders have sustained global attention on an issue that previously had preoccupied mostly technical experts, ad hoc events and easily dismissed fiction writers. That so many other world leaders have joined Obama at each of the three summits demonstrates that preventing terrorists and criminals from acquiring nuclear materials is a global rather than a primarily U.S. concern.
In his landmark April 2009 Prague speech, Obama called for such meetings and other measures to eliminate or secure all dangerous nuclear material within four years. Although this goal, like other aspects of the president’s nuclear agenda, remains unmet, much progress has occurred since Obama hosted the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 in Washington. Both that summit and the subsequent one, held in Seoul in 2012, ended with vague and nonbinding political declarations. But in addition to these communiques, the summits have adopted work plans with more-concrete goals and commitments.