On Friday, House Republicans put forth a “continuing resolution” (CR) to fund the government past March 4th that was filled with spending cuts. While this came as no surprise, one focus of the cuts is causing some heads to turn. House Republicans are choosing to significantly cut the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nonproliferation programs, the sole purpose of which is to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on loose nuclear weapons and materials. While Republicans have talked about the need to inflict pain in their budget, doing so in a way that increases the risk of the nuclear annihilation of an American city is perhaps taking the pledge too far.
The US programs charged with securing fissile materials and thwarting terrorists’ efforts to acquire them are among the victims of this year’s federal budget fights… Without appropriated budgets commensurate to program agendas, efforts to improve global nuclear material security will stall.
The danger of a terrorist acquiring nuclear materials is very real. A softball-sized amount of highly enriched uranium can demolish an entire city. Yet in many countries, nuclear materials remain highly insecure, leaving them susceptible to theft. For years nuclear materials have floated on the black market and it is known that Al Qaeda has sought to purchase them.
But this danger is entirely preventable. It merely requires effort and a little money. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the US set up programs to reduce the threat by locking down and eliminating insecure nuclear materials. To bring attention to the danger, President Obama convened a Nuclear Security Summit last April – the largest gathering of heads of state in the US since the founding of the United Nations. At the summit, Obama set the goal of securing all nuclear materials within four years. This goal is ambitious, but achievable. Unfortunately, however the programs necessary to achieve this goal haven’t received sufficient funding from congress.
These programs in the past have had significant bipartisan support and are the lasting legacy of Republican Senator Richard Lugar. The amount of funding required for these programs is also a drop in the bucket when compared to the current cost of the wars in Afghanistan and the total Pentagon budget. Last year Harvard’s Graham Allison wrote, “The good news is that this ultimate catastrophe is preventable. … [C]itizens must press their elected officials to adopt a clear agenda for action and then hold them accountable for following through.”