In West Palm Beach Florida on June 1, 2004, John Kerry explained why his highest priority as President will be leading the world to lock up and safeguard nuclear weapons material so terrorists can never acquire nuclear weapons.
Thank you and thank you all for being here.
This weekend, thousands of men and women and children lined the streets in Florida to watch the Memorial Day Parades. They waved flags. Sons and daughters sat on their fathers’ shoulders and cheered as high school marching bands and bands of brothers-and sisters-marched passed them with their heads held high.
It is a great time in America-a common scene to honor uncommon valor. Every year we gather in our cities and towns to remember. We praise our fathers and mothers. We mourn lost brothers and sisters. We miss best friends. And we thank God that we live in a country that is good as well as great.
In America, we are blessed to have World War II veterans like Debra Stern to lead us in the “Pledge of Allegiance.” We are blessed that hundreds gathered at Royal Palm Memorial Gardens to dedicate a memorial to our most recent veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. We are blessed that so many in Florida could stop and pause to remember their neighbors and friends and the 35 who have fallen Iraq.
In America, we are blessed. When you stop and think about what it takes for people to risk their lives, say good-bye to their families, and go so far away to serve their country – it is a profound gesture of honor.
It symbolizes the spirit of America – that there are men and women who are ready to do what it takes to live and lead by our values. I met so many of them when I fought in Vietnam and I have met them since from Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Their love of country is special. And we will never tire of waving a flag, saying a prayer, or laying a wreath for those who fell to lift the cause of freedom.
Their sacrifice calls us to a higher standard. In these dangerous times and in our determination to win the war on terror, we need to be clear about our purposes and our principles. When war and peace, when life and death, when democracy and terror are in the balance, we owe it to our soldiers and our country to shape and follow a coherent policy that will make America safer, stronger, and truer to our ideals.
Last week, I proposed a new national security policy guided by four imperatives: First, we must lead strong alliances for the post 9-11 world. Second, we must modernize the world’s most powerful military to meet new threats. Third, in addition to our military might, we must deploy all that is in America’s arsenal — our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, and the appeal of our values and ideas. Fourth, to secure our full independence and freedom, we must free America from its dangerous dependence on Middle East oil.
These four imperatives are a response to an inescapable reality: the world has changed and war has changed; the enemy is different – and we must think and act anew.
These imperatives must guide us as we deal with the greatest threat we face today-the possibility of al Qaeda or other terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. We know what al Qaeda and terrorists long to do. Osama bin Laden has called obtaining a weapon of mass destruction a sacred duty.
Take away politics, strip away the labels, the honest questions have to be asked. Since that dark day in September have we done everything we could to secure these dangerous weapons and bomb making materials? Have we taken every step we should to stop North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs? Have we reached out to our allies and forged an urgent global effort to ensure that nuclear weapons and materials are secured?
The honest answer, in each of these areas, is that we have done too little, often too late, and even cut back our efforts or turned away from the single greatest threat we face in the world today, a terrorist armed with nuclear weapons.
There was a time not so long ago when dealing with the possibility of nuclear war was the most important responsibility entrusted to every American President. The phrase “having your finger on the nuclear button” meant something very real to Americans, and to all the world. The Cold War may be over, the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States may have ended, but the possibility of terrorists using nuclear weapons is very real indeed. The question before us now is what shadowy figures may someday have their finger on a nuclear button if we don’t act. It is time again that we have leadership at the highest levels that treats this threat with the sense of seriousness, urgency, and purpose it demands.
I can think of no single step that will do more to head off this catastrophe than the proposal I am laying out today. And that is why I am here today to ask that America launch a new mission, that America restore and renew the leadership we once demonstrated for all the world, to prevent the world’s deadliest weapons from falling into the world’s most dangerous hands. If we secure all bomb making materials, ensure that no new materials are produced for nuclear weapons, and end nuclear weapons programs in hostile states like North Korea and Iran, we can and will dramatically reduce the possibility of nuclear terrorism.
We can’t eliminate this threat on our own. 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. Our enemy has changed and is not based within one country or one totalitarian empire. But our path to victory is still the same. We must use the might of our alliances.
When I am president, America will lead the world in a mission to lock up and safeguard nuclear weapons material so terrorists can never acquire it. To achieve this goal, we need the active support of our friends and allies around the world. We might all share the same goal: to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, but we can’t achieve it when our alliances have been shredded.
It will take new leadership-the kind of leadership that brings others to us. We can’t protect ourselves from these nuclear dangers without the world by our side.
Earlier this year, my colleague Senator Joe Biden announced the results of a challenge he issued. He asked the directors of our national laboratories whether terrorists could make a nuclear bomb. The bad news is they said “yes” – and when challenged to prove it, they constructed a nuclear bomb made entirely from commercial parts that can be bought without breaking any laws, except for obtaining the nuclear material itself. The good news is the materials-the highly enriched uranium and plutonium needed to detonate a bomb-do not occur in nature and are difficult for terrorists to produce on their own-no material, no bomb.
The weapons are only in a few countries, but the material to make a bomb exists in dozens of states around the world. Securing this material is a great challenge. But as President Truman said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
We know how to reduce this threat. We have the technology to achieve this goal – and with the right leadership, we can achieve it quickly.
As president, my number one security goal will be to prevent the terrorists from gaining weapons of mass murder, and ensure that hostile states disarm. It is a daunting goal, but an indisputable one-and we can achieve it.
I think of other great challenges this nation has set for itself. In 1960, President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon. Our imagination and sense of discovery took us there. In 1963, just months after the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly brought the world to nuclear disaster President Kennedy called for a nuclear test ban treaty. At the height of the Cold War, he challenged America and the Soviet Union to pursue a strategy “not toward .annihilation, but toward a strategy of peace.” We answered that challenge. And in time, a hotline between Moscow and Washington was established. The nuclear tests stopped. The air cleared and hope emerged on the horizon.
When America sees a great problem or great potential, it is in our collective character to set our sights on that horizon and not stop working until we reach it. In our mission to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, we should never feel helpless. We should feel empowered that the successes in our past will guide us toward a safer, more secure world.
Vulnerable nuclear material anywhere is a threat to everyone, everywhere.
We need to employ a layered strategy to keep the worst weapons from falling into the worst hands. A strategy that invokes our non-military strength early enough and effectively enough so military force doesn’t become our only option. America must lead and build an international consensus for early preventive action.
Here’s what we must do. The first step is to safeguard all bomb making material worldwide. That means making sure we know where they are, and then locking them up and securing them wherever they are. Our approach should treat all nuclear materials needed for bombs as if they were bombs.
More than a decade has passed since the Berlin Wall came down. But Russia still has nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons, and enough nuclear material to produce 50,000 more Hiroshima-sized bombs.
For most of these weapons and materials, cooperative security upgrades have not been completed – the world is relying on whatever measures Russia has taken on its own. And at the current pace, it will take 13 years to secure potential bomb material in the former Soviet Union. We cannot wait that long. I will ensure that we remove this material entirely from sites that can’t be adequately secured during my first term.
It is hard to believe that we actually secured less bomb making material in the two years after 9/11 than we had in the two years before.
At my first summit with the Russian President, I will seek an agreement to sweep aside the key obstacles slowing our efforts to secure Russia’s nuclear stockpiles. But this threat is not limited to the former Soviet Union.
Because terror at home can begin far away, we have to make sure that in every nation the stockpiles are safeguarded. If I am president, the United States will lead an alliance to establish and enforce an international standard for the safe custody of nuclear weapons and materials.
We will help states meet such standards by expanding the scope of the Nunn-Lugar program passed over a decade ago to deal with the unsecured weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union. For years, the administration has underfunded this vital program. For a fraction of what we have already spent in Iraq, we can ensure that every nuclear weapon, and every pound of potential bomb material will be secured and accounted for.
This is not just a question of resources. As president, I will make it a priority and overcome the bureaucratic walls that have caused delay and inaction in Russia so we can finish the important work of securing weapons material there and around the world.
The Administration just announced plans to remove potential bomb material from vulnerable sites outside the former Soviet Union over the next ten years. We simply can’t afford another decade of this danger. My plan will safeguard this bomb making material in four years. We can’t wait-and I won’t wait when I am president.
The second step is to prevent the creation of new materials that are being produced for nuclear weapons. America must lead an international coalition to halt, and then verifiably ban, all production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for use in nuclear weapons — permanently capping the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Despite strong international support for such a ban, this Administration is stalling, and endlessly reviewing the need for such a policy.
In addition, we must strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to close the loophole that lets countries develop nuclear weapons capabilities under the guise of a peaceful, civilian nuclear power program.
The third step is to reduce excess stocks of materials and weapons. 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?
As President, I will stop this Administration’s program to develop a whole new generation of bunker-busting nuclear bombs. This is a weapon we don’t need. And it undermines our credibility in persuading other nations. What kind of message does it send when we’re asking other countries not to develop nuclear weapons, but developing new ones ourselves?
We must work with the Russians to accelerate the “blending down” of highly enriched uranium and the disposition of Russian plutonium stocks so they can never be used in a nuclear weapon.
We don’t need a world with more usable nuclear weapons. We need a world where terrorists can’t ever use one. That should be our focus in the post 9/11 world.
Our fourth step is to end the nuclear weapons programs in states like North Korea and Iran.
This Administration has been fixated on Iraq while the nuclear dangers from North Korea have multiplied. We know that North Korea has sold ballistic missiles and technology in the past. And according to recent reports, North Korean uranium ended up in Libyan hands. The North Koreans have made it clear to the world – and to the terrorists – that they are open for business and will sell to the highest bidder.
We should have no illusions about Kim Jong II, so any agreement must have rigorous verification and lead to complete and irreversible elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. For eighteen months, we’ve essentially negotiated over the shape of the table while the North Koreans allegedly have made enough new fuel to make six to nine nuclear bombs.
We should maintain the six party talks, but we must also be prepared to talk directly with North Korea. This problem is too urgent to allow China, or others at the table, to speak for us. And we must be prepared to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that addresses the full range of issues of concern to us and our allies.
We must also meet the mounting danger on the other side of Asia. While we have been preoccupied in Iraq, next door in Iran, a nuclear program has been reportedly moving ahead. Let me say it plainly: a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable. An America, whose interest and allies could be on the target list, must no longer sit on the sidelines. It is critical that we work with our allies to resolve those issues.
This is why strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is so critical. The Iranians claim they’re simply trying to meet domestic energy needs. We should call their bluff, and organize a group of states that will offer the nuclear fuel they need for peaceful purposes and take back the spent fuel so they can’t divert it to build a weapon. If Iran does not accept this, their true motivations will be clear. The same goes for other countries possibly seeking nuclear weapons. We will oppose the construction in any new countries of any new facilities to make nuclear materials, and lead a global effort to prevent the export of the necessary technology to Iran.
We also need to strengthen enforcement and verification. We must make rigorous inspection protocols mandatory, and refocus the mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop the spread of nuclear weapons material.
Next, we must work with every country to tighten export controls, stiffen penalties, and beef up law enforcement and intelligence sharing, to make absolutely sure that a disaster like the AQ Khan black market network, which grew out of Pakistan’s nuclear program, can never happen again. We must also take steps to reduce tension between India and Pakistan and guard against the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands there.
So let it be clear: finally and fundamentally, preventing nuclear terrorism is our most urgent priority to provide for America’s long term security. That is why I will appoint a National Coordinator for Nuclear Terrorism and Counterproliferation who will work with me in the White House to marshal every effort and every ally, to combat an incalculable danger.
We have to do everything we can to stop a nuclear weapon from ever reaching our shore-and that mission begins far away. We have to secure nuclear weapons and materials at the source so that searching the containers here at the Port of Palm Beach isn’t our only line of defense-it is our last line of defense.
This is not an easy topic: it can be frightening. At this hour, stockpiles go unguarded, bomb making materials sit in forgotten facilities, and terrorists plot away. They sit in unassuming rooms all across the globe. They have their technology. They have their scientists. All they need is that material. But we can stop them. Remember. No material. No bomb. No nuclear terrorism.
We are living through days of great and unprecedented risks. But Americans have never surrendered to fear. Today, we must not avert our eyes, or pretend it’s not there-or think that we can simply wait it out. That is not our history-or our hope.
Last Saturday, I attended the dedication of the World War II memorial. I had the honor to sit next to a brave man, Joe Lesniewski who was one of the original “Band of Brothers” from the ‘Easy Company” of the 101st Airborne Division. He’s part of the Greatest Generation and jumped into enemy territory during the invasion of Normandy. Like so many other young men that day, he looked fear in the face and conquered it. June 6th-this coming Saturday-marks the anniversary of that day which saved the free world.
Sixty years ago, more than 43,000 young men were ready to storm Omaha Beach. Their landing crafts were heading for an open beach, where they averted a wall of concrete and bullets. They knew there was an overwhelming chance that they might die before their boots hit the sand.
But they jumped into the shallow waters and fought their way ashore. Because at the end of the beach, beyond the cliff was the hope of a safer world. That is what Americans do. We face a challenge-no matter how ominous-because we know that on the other side of hardship resides hope.
As president, I will not wait or waver in the face of the new threats of this new era. I will build and lead strong alliances. I will deploy every tool at our disposal. I know it will not be easy, but the greatest victories for peace and freedom never are. There are no cake-walks in the contest with terrorists and lawless states.
We have to climb this cliff together so that we, too, can reach the other side of hardship and live in a world that no longer fears the unknowable enemy and the looming mushroom cloud on the horizon.
We must lead this effort not just for our own safety, but for the good of the world. As President Truman said, “Our goal is collective security.If we can work in a spirit of understanding and mutual respect, we can fulfill this solemn obligation that rests upon us.”
Just as he led America to face the threat of communism, so too, we must now face the twin threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. This is a great challenge for our generation-and the stakes are as high as they were on D-Day and in President Truman’s time. For the sake of all the generations to come, we will meet this test and we will succeed.