The War on Nukes Stalls
Speaking in Prague near the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama promised a renewed U.S. "commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." At the end of last year, the administration achieved two of the planned steps toward that goal with the ratification of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and the hosting of a 47-nation conference on nuclear security. But progress on Obama's other major pledge, a "new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years," has been much slower going.
The United States can't account for 5,900 pounds of "weapon-usable" nuclear material that it once shipped overseas to help other countries' civilian nuclear programs, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued in September. "Theoretically, we know [where the nuclear material is kept]. But we don't have a good accounting of where it all is," one source familiar with the report told Wired.
Budget-cutting in Congress may also be hampering the U.S. effort to secure dangerous nuclear materials, according to analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. A House bill this year would have slashed the White House funding request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), a program to secure nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union, by $85 million. The GTRI funding was preserved in the Senate version of the bill, but Congress already cut $123 million from GTRI in 2011.
The threats in question are quite real. In June, six men were arrested in Moldova for trying to sell a kilogram of stolen uranium worth at least $20 million. There have been 500 cases of attempted cross-border smuggling of nuclear materials in the last 15 years, according to U.N. data. Many more likely go undetected. Meanwhile, a bill introduced in both the House and Senate in 2009 that would strengthen penalties for nuclear smuggling is still stuck in committee. Congress also shows no sign of endorsing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), an agreement signed 15 years ago by President Bill Clinton but never ratified. The administration has promised a renewed push to get CTBT passed but hasn't set a date for bringing it before the closely divided Senate.
New START may have been progress, but the finish line of a world without nuclear weapons is still a long way off.
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