Resolving the Deadliest Nuclear Threats

Testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Cirincione outlines a strategy for addressing nuclear threats from terrorism, fuel technology, new weapon states, and existing arsenals.

The nation’s current policy is in transition, as we learn through bitter experience that there are no easy solutions to the spread of nuclear weapons. Further innovations will come, particularly with the election next year of a new American president. But ours is not the only electoral change in the next two years.

We are entering a period of dramatic political transition. By early 2009, four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council will have new leaders. France has already made the change, the United Kingdom will follow shortly and the United States and Russia will do so by early 2009. Other key states, including Japan, Iran, and Israel, may as well. Several made the switch earlier, such as Germany and Italy. International organizations, too, will refresh their leadership, with a new secretary general now installed at the United Nations and possibly a new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in two years.

Rarely have the political stars re-aligned so dramatically. The group portrait at the 2009 G-8 summit may not have a single leader from the 2006 photo. This is a unique opportunity to advance new policies that can dramatically reduce and even eliminate many of the nuclear dangers that keep the members of this committee awake at night.

There is nothing about nuclear weapons that is easy. Not inventing them, not making them, not getting rid of them. But none of these problems are insolvable.

There are four core problems to resolve. They require forging a consensus of expert opinion, focusing the attention of senior officials, securing the necessary funding, and, above all, presidential leadership.

Problem One: Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

Problem Two: Preventing Nuclear Fuel Rods from Becoming Nuclear Bombs

Problem Three: Preventing New States

Problem Four: Reducing Existing Arsenals

None of these problems can be solved from the bottom up. The president of the United States and leaders of the other nuclear-weapon states and other key countries must be committed to working together on these core issues. If they are, then the lessons learned from the 62-year history of nuclear weapons and theories developed from that history provide us with a robust set of policy options for solving the three most difficult nuclear threats: terrorism, fuel technology, new weapon states and existing arsenals.

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