(By The Pragmatic Pundit)
During the presidential debate in 2004, President Bush and Senator John Kerry agreed that:
“The single, largest threat to American national security today is nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist network.”
The bipartisan 9/11 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.”
The Commission also found that Al-Qaeda had been trying for a decade to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
While the Cheneys blitzed the media accusing the President of making America less safe, Sarah Palin screeched that he was “paling around with terrorists”, and Republicans were chanting that he was “afraid” to say we are at war, behind the scenes, President Obama was quietly working to fulfill his goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. Limiting access to weapons-usable materials greatly reduces the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Since President Obama delivered his speech in Prague’s Hradcany Square, April 6, 2009, six countries have given up their highly enriched uranium; nuclear materials that could have been used for 120 bombs. By the end of last year, 111 pounds of highly enriched uranium were removed from three sites in Ukraine alone. Progress has been made in reducing and removing highly enriched uranium from Russia, Serbia, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Mexico.
Despite the looming threat and the success of the program, House Republicans have made brutal cuts to the national security programs designed to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation says:
“Cong. Paul Ryan is making it easier for terrorists to get nuclear weapons.” He calls the cuts “reckless.”
“Washington can cut spending without compromising our national defense…I think the biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt…it is critical that we prioritize spending and address our nation’s most pressing fiscal, economic, and security challenges.”
Something tells me he had a similar rationale when Republicans cut funding for the State Department’s security budget directly impacting the outcome in Benghazi.
The Obama Administration has continued and stepped up a “loose nukes” strategy that includes:
• Securing sites. The United States has been helping Russia since 1991 to install modern security systems at nuclear material storage sites. That job is largely finished.
• Securing nuclear material. Nuclear warheads and bomb-grade plutonium and uranium have been gradually consolidated to more secure sites in Russia.
• Reducing quantities. Through the “Megatons to Megawatts” program, Russia converts highly enriched uranium used in bombs into low-enriched fuel suitable for power reactors. It is then shipped to the USA and sold to power companies. The self-financing program has converted 287 tons of highly enriched Russian uranium into reactor fuel. An additional 265 tons will be converted and sold on the U.S. market over the next seven years.
• Border control. With U.S. help, Russia and neighboring countries have installed equipment designed to detect smuggled nuclear materials. There have been attempts to smuggle material but no known successful thefts.
• Port security. A “megaports” initiative is adding new cargo-screening devices at ports in Rotterdam, Netherlands; Piraeus, Greece; Freeport, Bahamas; and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Security initiatives allow the United States and allied governments to block shipment of nuclear materials or technology to other countries. In 2003, the program helped block a shipment of nuclear centrifuges from Malaysia to Libya. The incident led to the arrest of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan and a secret proliferation network.
At the 47-nation Nuclear Summit, several countries, including Ukraine, Mexico and Canada, declared their intention to give up highly enriched uranium. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili revealed that his government has thwarted eight attempts to sell uranium on the black market. A criminal gang was caught in a sting operation trying to sell highly enriched uranium.
The plan is to move materials from 35 countries where it is concentrated …they’ve cleared 19 countries and have 16 more to go. About a year ago, Rachel Maddow interviewed Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, about the secretive mission to capture highly enriched uranium from around the world. According to D’Agostino, they have accomplished more than 50% of the mission and expect to fulfill their commitment by the end of President Obama’s term.