Brian Finlay and Charles Ferguson discuss the threats of proliferation and terrorism. They call for enhanced programs to fight these threats and for the elimination of bureaucratic red tape.
After the acrimony, hand-wringing, and last-minute deal-making in Congress, President George W. Bush has signed into law legislation responding to some of the major recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. The law enacts sweeping changes to the way intelligence is collected, analyzed and reported.
But, while Congress has learned lessons from the intelligence failures that left the country unsuspecting prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, critically important recommendations of the 9/11 Commission remain overlooked. That omission leaves the United States vulnerable to an attack that could relegate 9/11 to a mere footnote in American history.
One month after the catastrophic attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., a CIA operative uncovered information suggesting that al-Qaida had successfully smuggled a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon into the United States. The ostensible target was the nation’s capital. Concern escalated when the Russian government reportedly was not able to account for a similar weapon. While the reports thankfully proved false, no one ever doubted such a scenario was plausible.
Colored by this incident and the dire warnings of experts both inside and outside government, the 9/11 Commission devoted considerable attention to the threat posed by terrorists armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction. In its final report, the commission warned that “the greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.” Emphasizing that Osama bin Laden has called for acquiring these weapons as a religious duty, the commission recommended strengthening counterproliferation efforts, expanding the Proliferation Security Initiative and enhancing the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program.
The presidential election campaign also underscored the strong bipartisan support for combating weapons of mass destruction terrorism. In the first presidential debate, both Bush and Sen. John Kerry agreed that fighting this threat is their highest priority.
The government’s deeds, however, have not matched this rhetoric. Although the Bush administration has launched some initiatives to prevent nuclear terrorism, progress has been too slow, and a cataclysmic “nuclear 9/11” can strike at any moment. In fact, more loose nuclear material was secured in the former Soviet Union in the year before the 9/11 attacks than in the year after.
Immediately after the inauguration, Bush and the 109th Congress should enact the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission addressing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction terrorism.
The president should immediately call a summit of contributing nations to overhaul the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Launched more than two years ago, this partnership set the goal of devoting $20 billion to secure and destroy weapons and materials of mass destruction. Unfortunately, contributions have yet to meet the goal, and expenditure of funds has been alarmingly slow.
At times over the past two years, bureaucratic and legal disputes have suspended some important programs in Russia designed to prevent terrorists or nations from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. During the summit, Bush should intervene directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve all implementation obstacles to these crucial programs.
Congress and the president should work together to establish a director for non-proliferation programs within the White House. With the Nunn-Lugar and related programs spread across multiple agencies, one senior official should concentrate solely on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist hands.
The president must demand, and Congress must deliver, cuts in the onerous restrictions and burdensome red tape Capitol Hill has applied to nonproliferation programs.
Congress and the president should agree to dramatically increase funds dedicated to eliminating proliferation threats. Eight months before Sept. 11, a bipartisan commission concluded that at least $3 billion a year was required to deal with the nuclear threat emanating from Russia alone. Yet more than three years later, allocated resources are just one-third that amount.
By acting urgently on this plan, Bush will be remembered as a leader who met the challenge of weapons of mass destruction terrorism and did all he could to protect the American people from this dire threat.