FY11 Budget and Securing Nuclear Materials

February 24, 2010 — Mr. Kenneth Luongo, President of Partnership for Global Security, and Dr. Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, joined us for a discussion on the implications of the President’s budget on the four-year goal to secure all vulnerable materials worldwide.

Dr. Bunn began the discussion by assessing the threat of nuclear terrorism.  Although it is difficult to quantify the probability of Al Qaeda or another terrorist actor acquiring a nuclear weapon and detonating it on U.S. soil, it is a palpable possibility with grave consequences. 

Securing nuclear stockpiles is the key to mitigating this threat.  While Pakistan, Russia, and highly enriched uranium (HEU) research reactors offer some of the most significant challenges to securing nuclear materials, some Western countries’ stockpiles may also be at risk.  Other at-risk areas, such as plutonium reprocessing and transports, complicate the issue further.

Dr. Bunn then addressed the question of how to enhance the security of nuclear stockpiles.  Meeting the challenge will not only require leadership and resources from the United States, but also concerted efforts by both states with nuclear materials and those involved in producing parts for nuclear reactors.  Dr. Bunn closed by discussing opportunities for Congress to promote nuclear security. 

Mr. Luongo delved into greater detail about the FY 2011 budget and its measures for promoting nuclear security relative to past budgets.  Currently, U.S. strategy is transitioning from a focus on materials in Russia and the former Soviet Union to a more global outlook.  With this goal in mind, Mr. Luongo analyzed the budgets of non-proliferation-related programs in each of the United States’ key agencies involved in nuclear security: the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.  The G8 was then discussed as an important avenue for multilateral cooperation on non-proliferation.   

While FY 2011 is better equipped to meet the administration’s target of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials than FY 2010, it alone is insufficient.  Mr. Luongo discussed several traditional tools, such as financial mechanisms and civil society, as existing platforms through which nuclear security can be enhanced, as well as the idea of a global threat and disarmament fund. 

The lively Question and Answer session produced more insights into the issue of nuclear security.  Topics included the trade of medical nuclear materials, the relative threat of outsiders versus insiders in stealing nuclear material, and how to get cooperation from foreign governments in securing nuclear stockpiles.  The planned April 2010 Global Nuclear Summit in Washington, DC, a meeting that reportedly will include over forty countries and several international organizations assessing the threat of nuclear terrorism and ultimately producing a communiqué with collective steps toward defending against it, was also mentioned as a key part of the administration’s vision to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years.  The meeting concluded with a discussion of the need for an international framework to achieve the four year goal and further analysis of the role Congress can play in promoting non-proliferation in 2010 and beyond.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].

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