Matthew Bunn Testifies Before Senate Committee on Nuclear Terrorism and Proliferation

May 5, 2008

Matthew Bunn, senior research associate with Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, testified Wednesday, April 30 2008 before the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Appropriations on "Next Steps to Strengthen the National Nuclear Security Administration's Efforts to Prevent Nuclear Proliferation."

Bunn recommended an increase in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration's nonproliferation programs in order to prevent nuclear terrorism and improve global security.

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE: It is an honor to be here today to talk about critical issues for U.S. and world security – nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and what more the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) can do to prevent them.

My basic message today is simple: while money is not the most important constraint on progress for most of the nation’s efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism, there are several areas where additional funds could help reduce major dangers to our national security.

NNSA’s nonproliferation programs are critical tools in our nation’s nonproliferation toolbox. There can be no doubt that America and the world face a far lower risk of nuclear terrorism today than they would have had these efforts never been begun. These programs are excellent investments in U.S. and world security, deserving strong support; Americans and the world owe a substantial debt of gratitude to the dedicated U.S., Russian, and international experts who have been carrying them out.

With this year’s budget, Congress should focus on making sure a new team has the resources and flexibility to hit the ground running in reducing proliferation threats when they take office in January. I would urge Congress to complete a budget despite the pressures of an election year; operating on continuing resolutions until many months into a new fiscal year can be crippling for fast-changing programs such as these, making it very difficult to seize
opportunities as they arise.

These programs are making substantial progress in reducing proliferation threats. But in many areas, there will still be much more to do when a new team takes office. While many of the programs in Russia are nearing completion, and their budgets will decline, efforts elsewhere around the world must expand to address the global threat, taking up the slack. Clear indicators of the global nature of the threat are everywhere – from the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, to the global attacks by al Qaeda and their repeated efforts to get the materials and expertise needed to make a bomb, to roughly 20 countries where the A.Q. Khan black-market nuclear network succeeded in operating for the more than 20 years before finally being disrupted, to the break-in at the Pelindaba site in South Africa last November, when four armed men penetrated the security fence without setting off any alarm at a site with hundreds of kilograms of weapongrade highly-enriched uranium (HEU), and spent 45 minutes inside the facility without ever being engaged by the site’s security forces.

I will not attempt to assess every element of NNSA’s nonproliferation budget. Rather, I will outline several key nonproliferation priorities, and make recommendations for further steps NNSA or other parts of DOE can take to address them. Many of the needed actions to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime must be taken by the White House or the State Department; NNSA’s critical role is in providing the technical expertise needed to back up nonproliferation initiatives, particularly in the management of nuclear weapons and materials. 1 Most of these programs are constrained more by limited cooperation (resulting from secrecy, complacency about the threat, concerns over national sovereignty, and bureaucratic impediments) than they are by limited budgets; sustained high-level leadership focused on overcoming the obstacles to cooperation is the most important requirement for success. 2 But in some cases, programs could move more quickly to seize risk reduction opportunities that already exist if their budgets were increased – and in still more cases, more money would be needed to implement a faster and broader effort if the other obstacles could be overcome.

See the full transcript of the testimony:

Image of Matthew Bunn

Matthew Bunn, senior research associate, Managing the Atom Project at Harvard Kennedy School

"With a sensible strategy, adequate resources, and sustained leadership, the risks of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation can be substantially reduced. American security demands no less."

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