New Report Calls for Fast-Paced Global Effort to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism, Grades Progress in Last Year

Contact: Moira Whelan
Phone: 617-495-5468
Contact Organization: Belfer Center
Date: May 05, 2005

While the United States and other countries laid important foundations for an accelerated effort to prevent nuclear terrorism in the last year, sustained presidential leadership will be needed to win the race to lock down the world’s nuclear stockpiles before terrorists and thieves can get to them, according to a new report released today. The report states that less Russian nuclear material received U.S.-funded security upgrades in fiscal year 2004 than in fiscal year 2003, though a substantial acceleration is planned for the current fiscal year. Cooperative comprehensive or rapid upgrades have been completed on 56 percent of buildings with potential nuclear bomb material and nearly 50 percent of the materials themselves in Russia.

Former Senator Sam Nunn and 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas H. Kean joined the authors of the new study, “Securing the Bomb 2005: The New Global Imperatives,” Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier of the Managing the Atom Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, in releasing the report at a Washington, D.C. news conference today. The report is being released on the eve of President Bush’s May 9 meeting with President Putin in Moscow.

“This work must be at the top of the global security and diplomatic agendas,” said Senator Nunn, Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), which commissioned the report. “Important steps have been taken, particularly through the leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy, but winning the race between cooperation and catastrophe will require President Bush and President Putin’s leadership and an enhanced effort to foster a true partnership to achieve this imperative security agenda.”

The 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report called for a “maximum effort” to keep nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them out of terrorist hands. " My fellow former Commissioners and I have stated time and again that a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists is the single greatest threat facing our country," said Governor Kean. “A nuclear 9/11 would be a world-changing disaster. Today’s report is another much-needed reminder of what remains to be done to protect the American people, and the world, from catastrophe. If we make a maximum effort, we can greatly reduce the risk of a nuclear nightmare.”

“If we can keep nuclear bombs and potential nuclear bomb materials out of terrorist hands, we can prevent nuclear terrorism,” said report co-author Matthew Bunn. “Hence, locking down every nuclear weapon and every kilogram of potential nuclear bomb material worldwide is absolutely critical to U.S. and world security.”

From the massacre at the Russian school at Beslan in September 2004 to Osama bin Laden’s recent request for a religious ruling authorizing the use of nuclear weapons against U.S. civilians as permissible under Islamic law, the report highlights continuing evidence that terrorists are seeking nuclear weapons and may be capable of the force and sophistication needed to get them.

Key recommendations. The new study calls for a fast-paced global partnership to secure all nuclear stockpiles worldwide to stringent standards. Meeting that objective, it says, will require “sustained leadership and political heavy lifting” from Presidents Bush and Putin and their counterparts around the world, to sweep aside the obstacles to progress. “Success will require not just occasional encouraging statements, but in-depth day-to-day engagement,” says the report.

The report outlines three essential elements of the needed global effort:

* Accelerating and strengthening the effort in Russia , where the largest stockpiles of potentially vulnerable materials still exist;
* Removing the material entirely from the world’s most vulnerable sites; and
* Building a fast-paced global coalition to improve security for the remaining nuclear stockpiles around the world.

For each of these steps, the new study offers detailed recommendations to strengthen current international efforts. The report also calls for specific steps that the G8’s Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction should take, leading up to their meeting in Scotland in July; recommendations for actions by the current Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference; and options for action by the U.S. Congress. The report urges President Bush to “appoint a senior full-time White House official, with the access needed to walk in and ask for presidential action when needed, to lead these efforts, to keep them on the front burner at the White House every day, to set priorities, to eliminate gaps and overlaps, and to seize opportunities for synergy.”

“While the Bush administration has asked for a larger budget for these efforts this year, there remain areas where more money could accelerate the effort—such as funds to help convince facilities to give up their vulnerable bomb material,” said co-author Anthony Wier. “The costs of these programs are tiny by comparison to the immense human and economic costs of a terrorist nuclear attack.”

Current Pace. During fiscal year 2004, U.S.-funded comprehensive security and accounting upgrades were completed on only four percent of the weapons-usable nuclear material in the former Soviet Union , bringing the total fraction with such upgrades completed by the end of the fiscal year to 26 percent, according to the report. (The initial upgrades steps, known as rapid upgrades, had been completed for an additional 20 percent of the material by the end of the fiscal year.). Comprehensive upgrades had been completed for six percent of this material the previous year. Similarly, comprehensive security upgrades have been completed for only about 10 percent of Russia ’s nuclear warhead sites, and the report warns that some of the potentially vulnerable warhead sites are not covered at all by current cooperative upgrade efforts.

Three key foundations for an accelerated effort were laid in the past year, with the unanimous passage UN Security Council Resolution 1540 in April 2004, requiring all states to provide effective nuclear security; the launch of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, designed to accelerate efforts to remove potential bomb materials from sites around the world, in May 2004; and the Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava in February 2005, where the two Presidents personally committed to intensified cooperation to secure nuclear stockpiles in Russia and around the world.

The fourth in an annual series prepared by Harvard’s Managing the Atom project and commissioned by NTI, “Securing the Bomb 2005” and its online companion at www.nti.org/cnwm provide the most detailed assessment of global nuclear threat reduction programs to date, both in terms of work completed and dollars spent, along with comprehensive recommendations for action. The website features in-depth program-by-program assessments and recommendations and an interactive budget database including the budgets for each U.S. nuclear threat reduction program from 1992 to the present.

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