World leaders from 47 nations convene this week in Washington, D.C., for the Nuclear Security Summit, a gathering that the Obama administration hopes will raise awareness about the threats of nuclear arms getting into the hands of terrorists or "rogue" nations.
President Obama said Sunday the goal of the nuclear summit is to discuss the terrorist threat and getting countries to lock down their nuclear weapons in a specific time frame. The Obama administration itself has pledged to try to "secure all vulnerable materials" within four years and is hoping the summit will spark a case for preventive action among others.
"If there was ever a detonation in New York City or London or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically, and from a security perspective would be devastating," Obama said on the eve of the summit. "And we know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon -- a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction of using."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that the nuclear summit would be the largest of its kind hosted by a U.S. president since the U.N. conference in 1945.
But even as Obama brings the issue of nuclear security and disarmament into the spotlight -- first with the release of the new U.S. nuclear policy, and then the U.S.-Russia arms reduction agreement -- he faces significant challenges from two fronts.
Internationally, U.S. allies such as India, Pakistan and Israel have been resistant to signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, citing national security concerns. The view in many countries is that this week's treaty signing aside, if the United States and Russia -- which together account for 95 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal and material -- cannot cut their nuclear stockpile, why should they be forced to?
"No one is willing to step up and say, 'Yea, I'm part of the problem here," said former national security official Ivan Oelrich, now vice president of the Strategic Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists. The "U.S. and Russia have to lead the way in major reductions."
Participant countries will also likely be looking to the United States for accountability. Henry Sokolsi, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, argues that if the United States is going to try to persuade other countries, it needs to shift its own policy at home too.
"I just think it's disrespectful to these countries," he said. "Each country has its own problems. If we're not helping them on that, how can we expect them to not rely on them [nuclear weapons] to feel secure? We rely on them. Why should they be any different?"
Domestically, the partisan rift on Capitol Hill means possibly a tough fight ahead for Obama's nuclear agenda. Critics of the new nuclear policy released last week complain that it gives a free pass to countries such as Iran and North Korea, and Republican senators are already taking aim at the U.S.-Russia arms treaty that was signed last week, saying it hurts U.S. security interests.