The simplest way to combat nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism is to destroy or lock down the material that can be used to make nuclear weapons. Since April 2009, when President Obama pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, six countries have given up all such materials and enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium have been secured to make more than 120 nuclear weapons. While the Senate debated the New START agreement, and the country celebrated the holidays, two major operations secured materials in Ukraine and Serbia. Locking down materials fits with the New START signing and other 2010 achievements to bolster the momentum for global action to combat real, present threats to American security, including Iran, North Korea and nuclear terrorism.
This week Capitol Hill, the White House and national media have been largely focused on two national security issues: ratification of the New START treaty and repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. START, which has the broad support of a wide range of national security experts, is awaiting ratification in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a report this week that surveyed military personnel about on the effects of repealing DADT, finding that "the risk of repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to overall military effectiveness is low." Throughout the week, bipartisan military and national security experts as well as public polls continue to affirm the strong support for both ratification of the New START treaty and repeal of DADT.
This week in New York at the United Nations General Assemblymeetings, President Obama demonstrated his commitment to both tomultilateralism and to a national security policy that advances Americaninterests through a "whole of government" approach. In both speeches and deed, he explained how theUnited States would use all aspects of American power to advance its interests,communicated the importance of burden-sharing with our allies, and expressedconfidence in the ability of multilateral institutions to be effective partnersin fostering both diplomatic goodwill and American policy objectives. These remarks reflected the work of theadministration over the past 20 months to integrate development and diplomacymore robustly into American national security policy. In particular, at the Millennium DevelopmentGoals summit in New York, the president proposed a new framework forsustainable security based in practical development efforts that are alignedwith America's long-term interests. Thisrobust activity contrasts sharply with the lack of ideas coming from the conservatives'"Pledge to America," which failed to offer any ideas on how to handle thesepressing challenges of development, diplomacy and defense in the 21st century.
Yesterday, Secretary Clinton issued a firm challenge to the Iranian regime, inviting them to the negotiating table, while emphasizing that the U.S. would not stand by in the face of their continued intransigence.
Tomorrow, December 5, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is set to expire. START, the largest arms control agreement in history, was spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and signed by George H.W. Bush in 1991 after a decade of negotiations. Yet that has not stopped some conservatives in the Senate, like Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), from attacking the Obama administration, saying that they do not have a “bridging agreement” ready should a follow-on treaty not be in place before the expiration date. Indeed, the Administration has declined to rush the negotiations in order to make sure that our security needs are met – while conservatives have played politics with the talks.
This morning brought welcome news of progress in multilateral talks with Iran over its nuclear program – and a comprehensive reminder of how US global engagement to reduce and control the threat nuclear weapons pose can pay off in dealing with Iran, North Korea and other key regional concerns. A diplomatic deal has been struck to send Iran’s uranium to Russia to be processed and sent back to Iran as relatively harmless fuel for civilian nuclear power plants. The deal, which must still be officially confirmed by Friday by all governments, would push back the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon for a number of years. This arrangement is the latest demonstration of diplomacy paying dividends to address immediate flashpoints while also advancing the global non-proliferation agenda. It stands in stark contrast to the Bush administration’s record, which failed to both deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear program and stem the flow of dangerous weapons.
Conservatives were up in arms following the Obama administration’s decision to scrap ground-based missile defense in Europe in favor of a largely sea-based system. Yesterday, Ellen Tauscher, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, took on the opponents of this decision. She explained that the Administration will instead deploy proven missile defense systems that can defend against short and medium range missiles – the missiles that Iran actually possesses – as opposed to wasting multiple years and billions of dollars developing a Bush era ground based long-range missile defense system to counter a threat that doesn’t exist.
President Obama has put nonproliferation policy at the center of his vision of American security – and made significant advances to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons. Yesterday at the UN General Assembly, Obama not only pledged American leadership in the effort to strengthen international nonproliferation treaties, but gained Russian and Chinese support as well. Today, a meeting of the UN Security Council convened and chaired by Obama agreed to take significant steps to tackle the threat. These efforts directly relate to preventing rogue states like Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. And on this front, President Obama was able to gain Russian support for a unified international response if talks fail with Iran. The U.S. has embraced a path that meets the nuclear threat with tough negotiations, strong safeguards, and an approach that builds on the strengths of other nations, rather than excluding them.