This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe on January 2, 2004.

In the recent presidential campaign, President Bush and Senator John Kerry disagreed on most foreign policy issues. However, both agreed in their second debate that the single gravest national security threat facing the United States is the prospect of a weapon of mass destruction (particularly a nuclear weapon) falling into the hands of a terrorist. As evidence of their success, the Bush administration cites several achievements — but each of these achievements are revealed to be marginal victories at best when examined more carefully.

First, the administration applauds itself for negotiating the Group of Eight Global Partnership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Under this arrangement, the United States has agreed to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to safeguard and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and related materials in the former Soviet Union, while the other seven members agreed to raise another $10 billion. However, what they don't mention is that this agreement does not obligate the United States to spend any funds beyond what it has already spent annually since the end of the Cold War. Similarly, the other G-7 nations are allowed to count the funds they had previously allocated for clean-up in the former Soviet Union as part of their $10 billion contribution. More important, most of the pledged funds have not been allocated, and in any case are woefully short of what is needed: Securing the nuclear materials of Russia (not to mention the other states of the former Soviet Union) will cost $30 billion.

The second accomplishment that the Bush administration touts is its establishment of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Under this program, more than 15 nations will work together to board ships believed to be transporting weapons of mass destruction.

Yet, the administration fails to note that it has undermined the legitimacy of the Proliferation Security Initiative by refusing to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This treaty — negotiated more than 20 years ago — has been ratified by 145 nations, including the other members of the Proliferation Security Initiative (who insist that it provides the only legitimate international framework for the initiative). Even Republican Senator Richard Lugar — chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a Bush supporter — has repeatedly criticized the administration for failing to ratify the treaty.

Finally, the administration speaks frequently of its support for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which assists the states of the former Soviet Union in safeguarding and dismantling their enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and related materials. However, the Bush administration actually requested a decrease in funding in fiscal 2005 for the three major threat reduction programs in the State, Energy, and Defense budgets. If the Bush administration receives the $919 million it has requested for fiscal year 2005, this will be a decline from fiscal 2004 of $72 million, or more than 7 percent. By way of contrast, in fiscal year 2005 the Bush administration will spend close to $100 billion on the war on Iraq, $500 billion on the Department of Defense, and more than $10 billion on missile defense alone.

While the Bush administration overstates the case for its positive contributions, it remains silent on those policies that have actually undermined the ability of the international community to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since coming into office, the Bush administration has rejected the Enforcement Protocol of the Biological Weapons Convention (which would have established a formal regime to ensure that nations were living up to their commitment to destroy and not produce, stockpile, or transfer these weapons), withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, announced its opposition to inspections and verification as part of the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty, thus killing a decades-long effort by the international community to ban the production of enriched uranium and plutonium, and refused to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification or to commit itself categorically to halting all future tests.

The Bush administration's misguided policies on an array of nuclear issues have further undermined the world's efforts to halt proliferation. The administration has begun development of two new nuclear weapons; adopted a strategy that authorizes the use of nuclear weapons in a preemptive attack against nations that are close to acquiring nuclear weapons; and increased funding for conducting research and upgrading US nuclear capabilities to $6.8 billion, twice the amount the US spent a decade ago. Its message to the rest of the world in the area of nuclear proliferation is "do as we say, not as we do."

If the president means what he said in the second debate about the gravity of this threat, he must change his policies immediately. If not, the consequences of an attack on the United States or its interests by a group armed with a weapon of mass destruction will be catastrophic=

Lawrence J. Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information and served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow