National Security Network

Administration's Nuclear Agenda Keeps America Secure

Print this page
Report 14 April 2010

Non-Proliferation diplomacy NPR NPT Nuclear Security Summit START terrorism


The Obama administration is taking unprecedented action to protect America and its allies from the dual threats of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.  The United States is the only country capable of forging international consensus for taking on these threats, and by reasserting American leadership on these critical issues, the Administration has demonstrated that it can mobilize global actors to confront global threats.  This represents a welcome change from nearly a decade of unilateral foreign policy actions taken by the previous Bush administration, highlighted by a failure to advance meaningful arms control commitments.  The Administration's comprehensive actions have broad support from across the political spectrum, have generated tangible positive outcomes, and have set the stage for future progress on securing our country from the prospect of nuclear terrorism. 

Specifically, the Administration has undertaken a variety of meaningful actions this month.  First, the Administration published its Nuclear Posture Review, which sets U.S. nuclear policy for the coming years and makes strides in furthering our defenses against nuclear terrorism. Second, the President signed an historic arms control treaty - the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) - with Russia, which simultaneously reduces Russian and American nuclear arsenals, locks in a transparent nuclear relationship with Russia, and bolsters U.S. leadership in the arms control sector.  And third, the U.S. hosted the Nuclear Security Summit, which brought together heads of state from nearly 50 countries to take action against the worldwide threat posed by nuclear terrorism.  Next month, the U.S. will participate in the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York, which will allow the U.S. and international community to sharpen its response to countries such as Iran and North Korea.  National security experts agree that, taken together, the Obama administration has put the issues of combating nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation on the international agenda at a level never seen before, demonstrating its ability, through active global leadership, to protect American security.

The Nuclear Security Summit makes America safer by addressing the grave and serious threat of nuclear terrorism.  President Obama has declared that nuclear terrorism is "the single biggest threat to U.S. security." The threat is real and "experts estimate that worldwide there are roughly 2,100 tons of material that altogether could be used to make some 120,000 bombs.  A bomb's worth can fit in a suitcase," according to the New York Times.  In addition, there have been 18 documented cases of nuclear theft. Terrorist groups are among the groups that are likely to steal or seek an illicit nuclear weapon. In fact, we know that al Qaeda is continuing its quest for a nuclear device. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission wrote that "Al Qaeda has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least ten years." Similarly, the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism wrote that "There is no graver threat to U.S. national security than a WMD in the hands of terrorists." This is truly a global threat that needs international cooperation.  As President Obama said yesterday, "we recognized that even as we fulfill our national responsibilities, this threat cannot be addressed by countries working in isolation.  So we've committed ourselves to a sustained, effective program of international cooperation on national [sic] security, and we call on other nations to join us." [NY Times, 4/11/10. 9/11 Commission, 2004. Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, 12/03/08. President Obama, 4/13/10]

Obama's historic Nuclear Security Summit yields concrete results.  The outpouring of deliverables from this summit should silence those who were skeptical about whether or not this meeting would produce results.  As President Obama reminded the world leaders yesterday, "Today is an opportunity - not simply to talk, but to act. It will require a new mindset - that we summon the will, as nations and as partners, to do what this moment in history demands."  Several world leaders, sharing Obama's sense of urgency, put forth concrete commitments to curb the global threat of nuclear terrorism.

Ukraine: The country announced it will get rid of all of its stocks of highly enriched uranium by 2012.  [White House via Washington Independent, 4/12/10]

Canada:  Prime Minister Harper announced that Canada will send hundreds of kilograms of spent, highly enriched uranium to the U.S. Department of Energy so that it might be converted into a form that cannot be used for nuclear weapons.  [Yahoo News, 4/12/10]

China: The country reiterated its commitment to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran.  [New York Times, 4/13/10]

Chile: The country will transfer its remaining stockpile of highly enriched uranium to the U.S. for disposal and that it removed all highly enriched uranium (18kgs) in March 2010. [Washington Post, 4/13/10]

South Korea: The country will host the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. [White House, 4/13/10]

Mexico:  The country will work with its NAFTA partners to convert its highly enriched uranium to a lower grade, unsuitable for nuclear weapons. [CNN, 4/13/10]

Russia:  In a joint agreement with the United States, ten years in the making, both countries committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of plutonium.  Russia is also prepared to shut down its last plutonium factory.  [Washington Post, 4/13/10]

Kazakhstan:  The country is converting a highly enriched uranium research reactor and eliminating remaining highly enriched uranium. [White House, 4/11/10]

China, India, Italy and Japan announced plans to create nuclear security centers in their home countries. [White House, 4/13/10]

Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Japan and New Zealand will make financial contributions to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund. [White House, 4/13/10]

Armenia, Egypt, and Malaysia committed to passing domestic legislation to bolster their export control laws. [White House, 4/13/10]

Argentina and Pakistan will boost port security with the specific intention of stopping nuclear trafficking.

 [White House, 4/13/10]

With the nuclear security summit complete, attention turns to the crucial work of implementation. Writing for the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman highlights the important work that must be done following the summit in order to solidify its success: "‘The summit is a forcing mechanism,' said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuke expert at the New America Foundation who blogs at Arms Control Wonk. ‘It causes states to do things for a while.'"  According to Ackerman, the next-steps for after the summit are already taking shape: "States will take increasing steps to shore up their legal and regulatory frameworks to keep track of civilian or military nuclear stockpiles. And, especially, they'll shore up their export controls to ensure government officials keep track of what nuclear materials or components travel across their borders...In other words, what Lewis calls the ‘house gifts' that states showed up to the summit presenting are less important to nuclear security than the consistent enforcement of the rules in place for monitoring and controlling the establishment and movement of nuclear material," said Ackerman.  "[T]he measure of the summit's success will be in the actions that governments take to safeguard and reduce the weapons-grade material under their control."  The New York Times reported that "A second summit meeting will be held in two years in South Korea... to make sure countries are on track," and representatives from each of the 47 countries who participated in this summit will also meet between now and then to measure progress, with the first meeting already slated for December.  Looking forward to the next few months, the Times pointed to several items on the larger nuclear security agenda: "The next test for Mr. Obama will come in May at a month-long review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in New York. Iran will take part in that session, just as sanctions are on the table for what the Security Council has called repeated violations of the treaty.  That will leave Mr. Obama trying to make long-term fixes in the treaty - closing loopholes that allowed North Korea to exit the treaty seven years ago and Iran to pick and choose which questions from nuclear inspectors it wanted to answer - while dealing with the Iran sanctions." [Washington Independent, 4/13/10. NY Times, 4/13/10]

What We're Reading

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 7:49 a.m. local time in China's western Qinghai Province, killing at least 400 people, injuring 10,000 and leaving many others buried under debris.

Syria has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged, in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East's military balance and set back a major diplomatic outreach effort to Damascus by the Obama administration.

Iraqi security forces proved their ability by securing the country during its recent elections, but questions remain about the forces' loyalty.

With Russia warning that Kyrgyzstan was "on the verge of civil war," the deposed Kyrgyz president said that he would formally step down if there were guarantees of safety for him and his family -- but the country's new leader said that he might still face trial.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized the Internet group Wikileaks over its release of a video showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.

Sudan's ruling party, in an apparent bid to heal a rift over accusations of vote fraud, said it would invite opposition groups to join the government if it won elections currently in progress.

The death toll from the Mexican government's three-year war on drug cartels is far higher than previously reported -- more than 22,000, according to news reports published Tuesday that cited confidential government figures.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on 35,000 armed militias to defend his socialist revolution with their lives if necessary as he faces a test of its popularity in elections in September.

Muslim militants disguised as policemen and soldiers detonated bombs and opened fire in a series of coordinated attacks in a southern Philippine city, triggering clashes that killed at least 12 people.

Residents in the Afghan city of Kandahar have seen a surge in militant violence and fear a planned Western offensive to rout the Taliban will instead boost its presence in their city.

Commentary of the Day

Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says President Obama's policies, including his foreign policies, show he is a pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics.

Robert Wright asks whether assassinating terrorists really helps keep us safe.

The NY Times editorial board writes that President Obama made the right decision - for now - not to pick too public of a fight with China over its currency manipulation.


Follow NSN on Twitter @natsecnet. Follow Democracy Arsenal on Twitter @demarsenal.