In his speech, “New Strategies to Meet New Threats,” delivered in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 1, 2004, John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President, referred to the possibility of nuclear terrorism as “the greatest threat we face today,” and offered a program to eliminate this threat based on US leadership. Kerry promised to prevent nuclear weapons or materials to create them from falling into the hands of al Qaeda or other extremist organizations. “As President,” he pledged, “my number one security goal will be to prevent the terrorists from gaining weapons of mass murder, and ensure that hostile states disarm.”
Kerry recognizes that the US cannot accomplish this task by itself and pledged to build and repair coalitions. “We can’t eliminate this threat on our own,” he stated. “We must fight this enemy in the same way we fought in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, by building and leading strong alliances.”
In order to confront nuclear terrorism, Kerry offered a four-step plan. His first step called for safeguarding all bomb-making materials worldwide. He called for an approach that would “treat all nuclear materials needed for bombs as if they were bombs,” and pledged to secure all potential bomb material in the former Soviet Union within his first term as president. “For a fraction of what we have already spent in Iraq ,” he pointed out, “we can ensure that every nuclear weapon, and every pound of potential bomb material will be secured and accounted for.”
Kerry’s second step called for US leadership to verifiably ban the creation of new materials for creating nuclear weapons, including production of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium. He pointed out that there is strong international support for such a ban, but that the Bush Administration has been “endlessly reviewing the need for such a policy.”
Kerry’s third step called for reducing excess stocks of nuclear materials and weapons. He recognized the importance of the US adopting policies consistent with what we are asking other countries to do. He asked rhetorically, “If America is asking the world to join our country in a shared mission to reduce this nuclear threat, then why would the world listen to us if our own words do not match our deeds?” In line with this commitment, Kerry promised that as president, he would “stop this administration’s program to develop a whole new generation of bunker-busting nuclear bombs.” He called the bunker-buster “a weapon we don’t need,” one that “undermines our credibility in persuading other nations.”
The fourth step in Kerry’s plan called for ending the nuclear weapons programs in other countries, such as North Korea and Iran . He called for strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, strengthening enforcement and verification through the International Atomic Energy Agency, and tightening export controls to assure no future black market activities in nuclear materials.
In order to accomplish these goals, Kerry pledged to appoint a National Coordinator for Nuclear Terrorism and Counter-Proliferation to work with him “to marshal every effort and every ally, to combat an incalculable danger.” Kerry made clear that “preventing nuclear terrorism is our most urgent priority to provide for America ‘s long term security.”
President Bush has also called for steps to prevent nuclear terrorism, but in a number of respects Kerry’s position on nuclear terrorism is stronger than that of the current administration. First, and most important, Kerry pledges to end the double standard of calling on others not to develop nuclear weapons while the US moves forward with research on new nuclear weapons, such as the bunker buster. Research on the bunker buster, as well as on lower yield, more usable nuclear weapons, has been an important aspect of the Bush Administration’s nuclear policy.
Second, Kerry pledges to gain control of the nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union at a far more rapid rate than that of the Bush Administration. Third, Kerry promises to appoint a Nuclear Terrorism Coordinator to work with him in the White House in overseeing this effort. Finally, Kerry calls for taking prompt action on a verifiable ban on the creation of new fissile materials for nuclear weapons, a step long supported by the international community and nearly all US allies, but never before acted upon by the US .
Both Bush and Kerry have called for strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but only in relation to preventing nuclear materials from civilian nuclear reactors from being converted to nuclear weapons. Neither Bush nor Kerry has set forth a plan to fulfill US obligations for nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the treaty. This is a major omission since the nuclear disarmament requirement of the treaty is a foundational element, and without US leadership to achieve this obligation it may be impossible to prevent nuclear terrorism.
“We must lead this effort not just for our own safety,” Kerry stated, “but for the good of the world.” Kerry is certainly right that the world now needs US leadership on this critical issue. This leadership must include a dramatic reduction in the size of nuclear arsenals on the way to their total elimination, as agreed to by the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in order to prevent the nuclear warheads from being available to terrorist organizations.
If any leader of the United States is truly serious about preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, he must realize that nuclear disarmament is an essential element of the equation. Kerry posited the equation: “No material. No bomb. No terrorism.” That equation must be expanded to include: “No material. No bombs – period. Not in anyone’s hands.”
There are no good or safe hands in which to place nuclear weapons. In the end, to eliminate the threat of nuclear terrorism will require more than attempting to prevent nuclear proliferation; it will require the elimination of all nuclear weapons, a goal agreed to by the United States, United Kingdom and former Soviet Union in 1968 when they signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org)