Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd April 2007
Joe Cirincione — author of the new book “Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons,” and vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress — appeared last week on bloggingheads.tv, an online videocast where well known bloggers and other pundits discuss issues of the day. Cirincione was joined by regular participant and able interlocutor Jacqueline Shire (ISIS, ABC News).
Cirincione is a nuclear arms expert who has worked for the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The whole conversation between the two is valuable listening, but this statement by Cirincione really bears emphasizing. The emphases are Cirincione’s:
The key is to secure and eliminate nuclear materials. The reason is simple: as sophisticated or as wealthy as… terrorist groups might be, they can’t make a bomb from scratch. They don’t have the money or the industrial capability to build the factories like Iran is building… to enrich uranium to bomb grade levels or to make plutonium. … But if they could get these materials, particularly highly enriched uranium, they could very quickly with a minimum amount of technical expertise construct a good nuclear device and then it’s even easier to smuggle it into a country and easier still to detonate it. As Sam Nunn says, every step after they get the nuclear material is easier for the terrorists and harder for us to stop. [...]
After talking to many experts about this, if we just just tripled the funding, say, spent about $3 billion dollars a year, or what we spend every week in Iraq, we could virtually eliminate the risk of nuclear terrorism within four years, if we coupled that spending with high level presidential attention — a senior… national security advisor to the President, dedicated simply to this mission, to nuclear terrorism — we could virtually solve that problem. And I’m waiting for the candidate for President who’s going to understand that and who’s going to set that as a goal. I think it’s a winning issue.
Me too. At the risk of undermining Cirincione’s final point above, I think John Kerry was right to identify nuclear proliferation and unsecured nuclear materials as the most important national security threat facing the next president. (That is, the one in the Oval Office right now, for those of you scoring at home.) And I will favor any candidate who makes Cirincione’s plan part of his or her platform.
Cirincione and Shire talk about Iran as well; Cirincione’s take on recent revelations of extensive Iranian nuclear activity is that Iran (or elements within Iran) are trying to put “facts on the ground” regardless of the actual technical performance levels of those “facts on the ground.”
Specifically, Cirincione uses the term “Potemkin village” in discussing the massive 1300 centrifuge cascade reported by David Sanger in the New York Times last week — substantially more than had been confirmed before. (Centrifuge cascades are a way of refining highly enriched, nuclear bomb grade uranium). Jeffrey Lewis (“ArmsControlWonk.com”) seems to agree about soft-pedaling the “1300″ number, saying that the real story is what kind of monitoring arrangements the IAEA has in place now; one news story indicates Tehran’s recalcitrance at allowing inspections, while another claims “unannounced inspections” have now been agreed to.
DISCLOSURE: Joe and his wife are friends of ours.
EDIT, 4/24: Lewis link fixed, and other minor edits of that sentence.
UPDATE, 4/24: Barack Obama, Remarks to the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, 4/23/07:
The third way America must lead again is by marshalling a global effort to meet a threat that rises above all others in urgency – securing, destroying, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. As leaders from Henry Kissinger to George Shultz to Bill Perry to Sam Nunn have all warned, the actions we are taking today on this issue are simply not adequate to the danger. There are still about 50 tons of highly enriched uranium – some of it poorly secured – at civilian nuclear facilities in over forty countries around the world. In the former Soviet Union, there are still about 15,000 to 16,000 nuclear weapons and stockpiles of uranium and plutonium capable of making another 40,000 weapons scattered across 11 time zones. And people have already been caught trying to smuggle nuclear materials to sell them on the black market. We can do something about this. As President, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years – the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a bomb.