#9 - JRL 7204
June 1, 2003
Loose nukes are terrorist dream
Threat: President Bush should push the G-8 to join U.S. efforts to find and destroy nuclear weapons left from the U.S.S.R.'s mighty arsenal.
By Lloyd N. Cutler and Karl F. Inderfurth
Special To The Sun
Lloyd N. Cutler served as White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton and co-chairman, with Sen. Howard Baker, of the DOE Task Force on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Karl F. Inderfurth is senior adviser to the Nuclear Threat Reduction Campaign, and former assistant secretary of state.
A Group of Eight summit is often remembered more for its scenic locale and group photo opportunities than its substance.
This certainly will not be the case when the leaders of the G-8 meet in France beginning today. With bruised feelings and mutual suspicions at an all-time high, this summit will be remembered for how well the leaders of the world's seven wealthiest nations plus Russia put behind them the past months of strident disagreement over policy toward Iraq and get on with the business of working together to promote world security.
At the summit, President Bush should work especially hard to ensure that the rift in the G-8 is decreased so that there is not a further fracturing of relations among members of the group. He could find important common cause in the issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Specifically, Bush should announce bold steps to accelerate the work of the Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, which was agreed to in principle at last year's G-8 summit.
The G-8 Global Partnership committed the members to devote "up to" $20 billion over the next 10 years to ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of those who wish the world harm and provided guidelines for projects to follow to ensure that the money is spent wisely.
So far, so good. But the effort has not progressed fast enough. Moreover, the promised funding levels fall short of what will be required to address this most serious of problems.
Eight months before the tragedy of Sept. 11, the bipartisan Baker-Cutler Task Force stated that "the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is the danger that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has warned that terrorist networks are "going to get [weapons of mass destruction] at some point unless they're stopped."
Clearly, the best and cheapest way to stop them is to secure and dispose of such weapons and materials at their source.
The Baker-Cutler Task Force recommended increasing funding devoted to addressing this problem, arguing that with an investment of approximately $30 billion over eight to 10 years, the "most urgent unmet threat" could be properly addressed. The G-8 Global Partnership falls $10 billion short of this goal.
The United States devotes about $1 billion a year to threat reduction and nonproliferation programs, while other G-8 members devote a considerably smaller sum, though pledges have been made to increase this contribution considerably. When the United States is spending tens of billions of dollars on various efforts to protect the homeland against another attack that could even be worse than that of Sept. 11, the United States should also increase funding for these crucial programs.
President Bush should commit the United States to contribute $15 billion over the next 10 years to this effort, rather than the $10 billion pledged. Bush should also call upon the other G-8 members to up their contribution to $15 billion over the next 10 years. The work must be accelerated. As Sen. Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently noted, at the current rate, it will take another 27 years before some facilities are secure in Russia, where other republics have sent their share of the former Soviet arsenal.
Meanwhile, every day those facilities remain unsecured is another day that bomb-making material or small nuclear warheads could be stolen for the black market by underpaid and desperate Russian nuclear physicists or engineers or disgruntled military guards.
Since 1993 the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported 16 cases involving thefts of weapons-grade material - plutonium or enriched uranium. In all cases, the stolen material was recovered. But, as Charles Curtis of the Nuclear Threat Initiative has observed: "Sixteen cases is a disturbing number, but it also may not tell us what we really need to know: What percentage of the actual thefts do we uncover?" Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida are shopping for nuclear weapons and materials - or do they already have them?
In addition to increasing funding beyond the current pledges, the G-8 members should inject more funding into the partnership, as suggested in last year's agreement, through innovative mechanisms such as "debt-reduction-for-non-proliferation" swaps with Russia. Through such a program, a portion of Russian debt incurred during the Soviet era would be forgiven in exchange for Russia's agreement to use these funds to bolster efforts to account for and secure all of their nuclear weapons and materials. This would greatly increase Russian incentive to act.
Encouraging bipartisan steps have been taken on this front in Congress, under the leadership of Lugar and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, and Reps. John M. McHugh, a New York Republican, and Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat. Last year Bush signed into law a bill providing for a U.S.-Russia debt swap. The president should urge other G-8 members, who hold the majority of Russia's $45 billion debt, to institute similar debt swaps. This would provide another major step forward in internationalizing efforts to address the dangerous potential of Russian loose nukes getting into the hands of terrorists.
The need to increase funding and the effort devoted to the Global Partnership is made even clearer by the Treaty of Moscow, which is expected to come into force in the coming months. That treaty will require the United States and Russia to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by two-thirds over the next 10 years. That's good news, but it seriously compounds the complexity of the task of securing thousands of Russian warheads that will be removed from deployment under the treaty and disposing of the nuclear materials in those that are dismantled.
In a new book, Our Final Hour, one of Britain's leading scientists, Martin Rees, argues that the world as we know it has only a 50-50 chance of surviving the 21st century. He notes many things that might do us in, from bioterror to asteroids to global warming. He calls urgent attention to the fact that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world is awash in enough nuclear material for 70,000 bombs. While avoiding asteroids may be beyond our control, keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of those who wish us deadly harm is not.
By taking bold steps at the G-8 summit, the president could demonstrate the continued U. S. commitment to working with the world's strongest countries to ensure the safety of our own populations as well as the people of the entire world.