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03/20/2003

The Biggest Threat

Former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar have
devoted a large portion of their time over the past decade or so
on the paramount issue of the day, securing nuclear weapons and
materials. A few days ago the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which
Nunn and Lugar originally sponsored, issued its latest report.
It’s sobering. This is an issue I have noted from time to time in
both this space as well as my “Week in Review” column. I
thought I would share some of the findings.

[Matthew Bunn, Anthony Wier, and John P. Holdren of the John
F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
authored it, while Nunn and Lugar are responsible for the
‘forward.’ It’s all of 260 pages, incidentally.]

---

In Summary, among the key findings:

--Al Qaeda has been attempting to secure nuclear weapons or
material to make them for over a decade – “and hundreds of tons
of potential bomb materials, in hundreds of buildings around the
world, are dangerously insecure, making the possibility that they
might succeed frighteningly real.”

--The easiest way to prevent the material from being stolen in the
first place is to secure it. “In that sense, homeland security
begins abroad, wherever insecure nuclear stockpiles exist.”

--By the end of 2002, a little over 1/3 of Russia’s potentially
vulnerable nuclear material was considered secure. “Scores of
research reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium (HEU)
around the world remain dangerously insecure.”

From Nunn and Lugar:

“Today, the most likely, most immediate, most potentially
devastating threat is the terrorist use of weapons of mass
destruction. The best way to address the threat is to keep
terrorists from acquiring weapons or weapons material in the first
place. But the chain of worldwide security is only as strong as
the link at the weakest, least-protected site. The odds are
dangerously uneven. The terrorist margin for error is almost
infinite – numerous failures will not end the threat. Our margin
for error is miniscule; one failure anywhere in the world could
lead to catastrophe.”

In June 2002, the G8 announced a Global Partnership Against the
Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, pledging
$20 billion over 10 years to reduce the threats, but the effort is
not as fast-paced as Nunn, Lugar and the others feel is critical.

Back to al Qaeda, Nunn and Lugar add:

“Four times, terrorists have been caught ‘casing’ Russian nuclear
warhead storage facilities or the trains that carry these warheads.
Osama bin Laden has met with top Pakistani nuclear weapons
scientists to seek information on making nuclear weapons. And
the essential ingredients of nuclear bombs are spread around the
world in abundant and poorly secured supply

“In Russia, for example, comprehensive security and accounting
procedures must be installed for every facility that houses
nuclear material. That will take several years We are only 37%
of the way to completing our short-term goal of installing rapid
security upgrades and 17% of the way to our longer-term goal of
putting comprehensive security measures in place. That pace
must be accelerated to protect us from this deadly threat.

“We do not have the luxury of time.”

---

From authors Bunn, Wier, and Holdren:

“Hundred of tons of HEU and separated plutonium, the essential
ingredients of nuclear weapons, located in hundreds of buildings
in scores of countries around the world, are dangerously insecure
– demonstrably unprotected against the scale of outsider attack
that the terrorists have already proven their ability to mount, as
well as against the more insidious danger of insider theft. Yet
the amounts of these materials required for a bomb are measured
in kilograms, not tons – amounts small enough that unless proper
security and accounting systems are in place, a worker at a
nuclear facility could put in a briefcase or under an overcoat and
walk out.”

“If detonated in a major city, a terrorist nuclear bomb could
wreak almost unimaginable carnage. A 10-kiloton bomb
detonated at Grand Central Station on a typical workday would
likely kill some half a million people, and inflict over a trillion
dollars in direct economic damage. America and its way of life
would be changed forever.”

On leadership:

“The effort to ensure that nuclear weapons and materials around
the world are effectively secured and accounted for faces a wide
range of impediments that are slowing progress, and cannot
move forward at anything like the pace required without
sustained, day-to-day engagement from the White House. The
lesson from the history of U.S. arms control and nonproliferation
efforts is very clear: when the President is personally and
actively engaged in making the hard choices, overcoming the
obstacles that arise, and pushing forward, these efforts succeed.
When that is not the case, they fail.”

While the authors of the report don’t fault President Bush, per se,
“the level of sustained, day-to-day engagement from the highest
levels in accelerating efforts to secure nuclear warheads and
materials has been very modest (as, indeed, it was in the previous
administration, and the one before that)...”

“Currently, the United States is spending roughly $1 billion per
year for all cooperative threat reduction The total budget (for
this) represents less than 1/3 of one percent of U.S. defense
spending.” [They add that the answer, of course, is not just to
spend money but to implement other changes as well.]

Progress has been made, but, again, it is still “measured by the
fraction of potentially vulnerable nuclear warheads and materials
secured, the fraction of the excess stockpiles destroyed, or the
fraction of unneeded nuclear weapons experts and workers
provided with sustainable civilian employment, much less than
half the job has been done.”

“ If there was intensive, sustained leadership focused on this
mission from the highest levels of the U.S. government; a single
senior leader in the White House with full-time responsibility
and accountability (it would be a giant step forward).”

---

We’ll have more next week.

Brian Trumbore


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-03/20/2003-      
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03/20/2003

The Biggest Threat

Former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar have
devoted a large portion of their time over the past decade or so
on the paramount issue of the day, securing nuclear weapons and
materials. A few days ago the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which
Nunn and Lugar originally sponsored, issued its latest report.
It’s sobering. This is an issue I have noted from time to time in
both this space as well as my “Week in Review” column. I
thought I would share some of the findings.

[Matthew Bunn, Anthony Wier, and John P. Holdren of the John
F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
authored it, while Nunn and Lugar are responsible for the
‘forward.’ It’s all of 260 pages, incidentally.]

---

In Summary, among the key findings:

--Al Qaeda has been attempting to secure nuclear weapons or
material to make them for over a decade – “and hundreds of tons
of potential bomb materials, in hundreds of buildings around the
world, are dangerously insecure, making the possibility that they
might succeed frighteningly real.”

--The easiest way to prevent the material from being stolen in the
first place is to secure it. “In that sense, homeland security
begins abroad, wherever insecure nuclear stockpiles exist.”

--By the end of 2002, a little over 1/3 of Russia’s potentially
vulnerable nuclear material was considered secure. “Scores of
research reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium (HEU)
around the world remain dangerously insecure.”

From Nunn and Lugar:

“Today, the most likely, most immediate, most potentially
devastating threat is the terrorist use of weapons of mass
destruction. The best way to address the threat is to keep
terrorists from acquiring weapons or weapons material in the first
place. But the chain of worldwide security is only as strong as
the link at the weakest, least-protected site. The odds are
dangerously uneven. The terrorist margin for error is almost
infinite – numerous failures will not end the threat. Our margin
for error is miniscule; one failure anywhere in the world could
lead to catastrophe.”

In June 2002, the G8 announced a Global Partnership Against the
Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, pledging
$20 billion over 10 years to reduce the threats, but the effort is
not as fast-paced as Nunn, Lugar and the others feel is critical.

Back to al Qaeda, Nunn and Lugar add:

“Four times, terrorists have been caught ‘casing’ Russian nuclear
warhead storage facilities or the trains that carry these warheads.
Osama bin Laden has met with top Pakistani nuclear weapons
scientists to seek information on making nuclear weapons. And
the essential ingredients of nuclear bombs are spread around the
world in abundant and poorly secured supply

“In Russia, for example, comprehensive security and accounting
procedures must be installed for every facility that houses
nuclear material. That will take several years We are only 37%
of the way to completing our short-term goal of installing rapid
security upgrades and 17% of the way to our longer-term goal of
putting comprehensive security measures in place. That pace
must be accelerated to protect us from this deadly threat.

“We do not have the luxury of time.”

---

From authors Bunn, Wier, and Holdren:

“Hundred of tons of HEU and separated plutonium, the essential
ingredients of nuclear weapons, located in hundreds of buildings
in scores of countries around the world, are dangerously insecure
– demonstrably unprotected against the scale of outsider attack
that the terrorists have already proven their ability to mount, as
well as against the more insidious danger of insider theft. Yet
the amounts of these materials required for a bomb are measured
in kilograms, not tons – amounts small enough that unless proper
security and accounting systems are in place, a worker at a
nuclear facility could put in a briefcase or under an overcoat and
walk out.”

“If detonated in a major city, a terrorist nuclear bomb could
wreak almost unimaginable carnage. A 10-kiloton bomb
detonated at Grand Central Station on a typical workday would
likely kill some half a million people, and inflict over a trillion
dollars in direct economic damage. America and its way of life
would be changed forever.”

On leadership:

“The effort to ensure that nuclear weapons and materials around
the world are effectively secured and accounted for faces a wide
range of impediments that are slowing progress, and cannot
move forward at anything like the pace required without
sustained, day-to-day engagement from the White House. The
lesson from the history of U.S. arms control and nonproliferation
efforts is very clear: when the President is personally and
actively engaged in making the hard choices, overcoming the
obstacles that arise, and pushing forward, these efforts succeed.
When that is not the case, they fail.”

While the authors of the report don’t fault President Bush, per se,
“the level of sustained, day-to-day engagement from the highest
levels in accelerating efforts to secure nuclear warheads and
materials has been very modest (as, indeed, it was in the previous
administration, and the one before that)...”

“Currently, the United States is spending roughly $1 billion per
year for all cooperative threat reduction The total budget (for
this) represents less than 1/3 of one percent of U.S. defense
spending.” [They add that the answer, of course, is not just to
spend money but to implement other changes as well.]

Progress has been made, but, again, it is still “measured by the
fraction of potentially vulnerable nuclear warheads and materials
secured, the fraction of the excess stockpiles destroyed, or the
fraction of unneeded nuclear weapons experts and workers
provided with sustainable civilian employment, much less than
half the job has been done.”

“ If there was intensive, sustained leadership focused on this
mission from the highest levels of the U.S. government; a single
senior leader in the White House with full-time responsibility
and accountability (it would be a giant step forward).”

---

We’ll have more next week.

Brian Trumbore