Countering Nuclear and Radiological Materials Illicit Trafficking Through Maritime Security Initiatives: Paper Tiger or Concrete Solution? A Case Study


A paper by Steve Sin, Senior Researcher, National Consortium for the study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), USA; Brecht Volders, PhD student, Research Group on International Politics, University of Antwerp, Belgium, Sylvain Fanielle, PhD student, Research Group on International Politics, University of Antwerp, Belgium

For more than a decade, the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism has been on the forefront of the international security agenda. In an increasingly globalized society, detecting and interdicting illicit trafficking of radiological and nuclear (RN) materials to prevent individuals and organizations – who are willing to perpetrate the atrocious act of WMD terrorism – from acquiring such materials is of utmost priority and import. In this context, the international community has launched various political and legal initiatives to prevent illicit trafficking of RN materials via maritime means. Indeed, given that over 58 million twenty-foot equivalent units of containers are shipped around the world over 490 maritime trade routes annually, commercial maritime shipping industry is uniquely vulnerable to exploitation by nefarious actors. Yet, are the existing initiatives implemented with efficiency and respected by those connected to the maritime industry, or is the reality far from ideal?

Employing the grounded theory approach, this paper examines ways the international maritime security initiatives (Proliferation Security Initiative, Megaports Initiative, etc.) are implemented at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium. In doing so, this paper also analyzes the impact different authorities involved in the security and operation of the port have on the implementation of such initiatives. Ultimately, this paper seeks to identify strengths and potential weaknesses of the current legal and political framework designed to curb illicit RN materials trafficking and generate a theoretical foundation and a series of hypotheses that can be tested and utilized to improve the future design of international maritime security initiatives.

Other than annually processing 80% of all U.S.-bound European maritime cargo, the Port of Antwerp is an ideal location for our study for several reasons. First, Antwerp is the second biggest port in Europe in terms of international maritime freight and constitutes a link between the world’s most used maritime routes on one hand and Europe’s centers of production and consumption on the other. Secondly, the strategic nature of the port makes it an ideal target for actors trafficking illicit goods and materials – to include RN materials – to transit their “cargo” through on their way to the final target. Finally, a closer examination of the port will provide important insights on how international initiatives are implemented in large international deep-sea container ports and will allow for more concrete future policy recommendations to enhance the prevention of RN illicit trafficking.

Please access the Full Paper by clicking on the following link: Sin – NCT CBRNe USA 2015

The Full Paper by Sin, Volders and Fanielle will be presented during NCT CBRNe USA Innovation Stream, taking place from April 29 to May 1.

Join us in NCT CBRNe USA 2015 to learn and discuss about this paper and other innovative ideas by registering now!


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