Nuclear Security: Ensuring an Effective Role for the IAEA After 2016

Project duration

The project ran from June 2016 to April 2019 and has now concluded.

Project staff

Principal investigator: Dr Trevor Findlay, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne
Research assistants: Anthony Heath, Jenna Parker, Zhongzhou Peng


John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


In April 2016 the final biennial Nuclear Security Summit in a series of four was held in Washington DC. A key question looming over the meeting was how to ensure that the gains made by the summit process were sustained. A key role was envisaged for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), notably in an Action Plan (140kb pdf) that envisaged continuing initiatives for the summit participants to strengthen the Agency’s role. The IAEA, as the paramount multilateral body involved in nuclear governance, was a prime candidate for assuming much of the summits’ mantle. There is continuing debate, however, among its members about its existing nuclear security role and some opposition, notably from Russia. The Agency itself is often reluctant to take the initiative in expanding its activities. There is therefore a role for outsiders to monitor progress in implementing the summiteers’ Action Plan for the IAEA; observe the Agency’s own activities in response to both the ending of the summit process and the Action Plan; and to propose measures to enhance the IAEA’s contribution to nuclear security.

Aim of the project

The project involved research and nuclear security community engagement designed to help ensure that the IAEA, in the post-nuclear summit era, continued to make an effective contribution to advancing and sustaining nuclear security.

Project deliverables

The main planned deliverables were three publications and associated presentations.

A policy brief for non-governmental organisations involved in nuclear security meeting prior to the final Nuclear Security Summit

The NGO Nuclear Security Summit on ‘Solutions for a Secure Nuclear Future’ was convened in Washington DC from 30-31 March 2016 just prior to the official Nuclear Security Summit. Dr Findlay gave a joint presentation, ‘Recommendations on Strengthening the Role of the IAEA’ (500kb pdf), with Dr Jennifer Mackby of the Federation of American Scientists on strengthening the role of the IAEA in nuclear security. He co-chaired the breakout group on the subject with Dr Mackby and was the rapporteur for the group to the conference plenary. The joint paper with Dr Mackby was published by the Partnership for Global Security on the conference website.

A report on the 2016 Summit outcome with ideas for follow-up action

From 5-9 December 2016 Dr Findlay attended the IAEA’s International Conference on ‘Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions’ in Vienna; he participated in a conference panel on ‘Perspectives on Implementing Obligations under International Instruments for Nuclear Security’ where he presented a paper on ‘Managing the Global Nuclear Security Architecture after the Summits’ (135kb pdf). The paper was later published in the IAEA’s conference proceedings.

A final report on the project’s findings and ideas for further action and research

Dr Trevor Findlay presented his final report on the project, ‘The IAEA and Nuclear Security Since 2016’ (260kb pdf), at the Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities, organised by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), in Paris in February 2019. The meeting was attended by government representatives, academics and non-governmental organisations and the head of the Division of Nuclear Security at the IAEA. The paper was published by NTI on its website as ‘The IAEA and Nuclear Security Since 2016’ (260kb pdf). Dr Findlay gave a final presentation (308kb pptx) on his findings at a Managing the Atom seminar at the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs at Harvard University on 24 April 2019.


For further information please email Dr Trevor Findlay.