Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

September 22, 2008 | 12:00 AM
US Capitol Room HC-7

The Security for a New Century Study Group was honored to host Mr. Matthew Rojansky, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Secure America and Mr. Brian Finlay, Senior Associate with the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program at the Henry L. Stimson Center for a discussion of the Partnership for a Secure America's report: WMD Report Card; Evaluating US Policies to Prevent Nuclear Chemical and Biological Terrorism Since 2005.

The recently released report offered a critical appraisal of US Government efforts to contain the threat of terrorist groups acquiring and using nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Partnership for a Secure America (PSA) identifies a terrorist attack with Waepons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as the greatest threat to the American people. the report echoes the findings of the original 9/11 Commission. Preventing the proliferation of WMD should be a focus of maximum effort by the US Government.

In "grading" US efforts since 9/11 to contain the terorrist WMD threat, the Partnership for a Secure America has assigned an overall mark of "C". This assessment represents an improvement from the "D" grade given to the US Government by the 2005 9/11 Public Discourse Project.

The Partnership for a Secure America has put forth several recommendations for improving this overall grade, including the appointment of a top-level administration official with government-wide authority over WMD terrorism prevention. This official would be responsible for coordinating efforts among the myriad agencies now tasked with achieving these goals. Placing responsibility for coordinating these efforts in the hands of an individual would eliminate some of the "stove-piping" problems that have been identified in previous US Government interagency efforts. The US Congress has already authorized the creation of a high-level "coordinator", but this position has yet to be crated by the Bush Administration. the Creation fo this post should be supplemented by the establishment of a coordinated "blueprint" that integrates all relevant US agencies and clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each.

PSA also calls for strengthening international cooperation with the US Government through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, regional organizations, such as the European Union and bilateral efforts such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction program with Russia. The US Government has shown a lack of willingness to engage existing international institutions in efforts to prevent terrorist acquisition of WMD. PSA has identified the importance addressing common threat perceptions in securing the cooperation of international partners in these efforts. Thes threats may be viewed differently in other states, but the ability to find common ground will improve long-term sustainability of international efforts to prevent WMD terrorism.

The expansion of the global economy can also play a role in ecnouraging these states to take the WMD threat seriously. The unwillingness of US multinational corporations to do business in high-risk areas provides an incentive for states to address internal ssues in order to open up economic opportunities with US firms.

PSA also graded US efforts at prevention within the three distinct weapon types: nuclear, biological and chemical that comprise WMD. The best overall grade, a "B-", was recorded in the prevention of chemical weapons terrorism. In assigning this grade, PSA pointed to the progress made in destroying US cemical weapon stockpiles but emphasized the need to engage Libya and Russia in order to bring about similar progress in destroying stockpiles. The overall US grade for biological terrorism prevention was a "C-". PSA cited the US disengagement from the Biological Weapons Convention as a detriment to international efforts at confidence-building. Nuclear terrorism prevention was assigned a grade of "C" by PSA.  Specific  weaknesses were found in US interagency cooperation and  the durability of international programs.

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