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Council on Foreign Relations

January 13, 2005 - 9:47am

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Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Abraham

Thank you. It’s an honor to be here with you today. For over 80 years the Council has played a leading role in guiding American foreign policy. As Leslie Gelb once said, “If the Council as a body has stood for anything … it has been for American internationalism based on American interests.”

This body has not just stood for American internationalism and American interests, it has helped guarantee them. Scholars and historians have dubbed the last 100 years “the American Century,” and there can be little doubt the Council on Foreign Relations helped make it so.

As my tenure in the Bush Administration comes to a close, I wanted to discuss with you a topic which, at bottom, encompasses the most important duties entrusted to the Secretary of Energy.

The issues and challenges surrounding nuclear nonproliferation are continuously evolving. They have changed dramatically at several junctures in recent memory. We face different challenges today from those of a decade and a half ago, certainly, but also different from the ones we encountered when we took office four years ago.

Today, I’d like to take the opportunity to outline for you some of the challenges America and the world face in this arena.

And then I would like to discuss methods and strategies for constructing a workable nonproliferation regime that deals with 21st century geopolitical realities, with 21st century technologies, and with 21st century threats.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, followed just a few years later by East Germany’s Soviet parent state, it appeared that after a half-century of hair-trigger tension, America’s major security fears would ease.

The Cold War was over.

The global standoff between superpowers was at an end.

The world saw America and the West triumphant, freedom preserved, and the promises of Marx and Lenin and Stalin discredited.

The great foreign policy and national security concern of the second half of the 20th century had been resolved, and we had won out against Soviet expansionism.

This was a great – a liberating – moment for the American spirit. For the first time in most people’s lifetimes, we were truly safe.

At least, that’s how it seemed to most Americans in the early 1990s. That’s how it seemed as Americans continued to enjoy unparalleled economic prosperity.

But slowly, slowly, as we moved ahead, it began to dawn on some that our national security problems were not entirely solved with the demise of the USSR.

Indeed, other problems, of great and terrible gravity, could be seen to emerge as a result. And so an unsettling air hung over a seemingly safe United States of America.

Because even while we celebrated the fact that the breakup of the Soviet Union left a foe in tatters, it was becoming clear that it also left the Soviet nuclear arsenal vulnerable.

During the many decades leading up to the fall of Soviet Communism, we knew that the nuclear weapons aimed at us – whether from Russia or one of its satellites – were under the closely guarded control of one centralized power in the Kremlin.

But with the Soviet Union folding its tent, and the ensuing disarray and political and economic turmoil, no longer could we count on those weapons and materials being protected.

My Senate colleague, Sam Nunn, best summed up our dilemma in a 1996 speech:

The collapse of Soviet Communism and the end of the Cold War eliminated what many considered to be the gravest threat to world security. Yet, today the concerns of the Cold War have been replaced with new and far different threats. We have moved from an era of high risk, but also high stability, to an era of much lower risk, but also much less stability.

He was right. While we had reduced the possibilities of nuclear Armageddon between the Soviets and us, we were entering a different period – one where the potential for dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials was skyrocketing, while our enemies were not as plainly seen.

Simply put, despite winning what in effect was the Third World War, it turned out we were not as safe as we had thought.

Now, I think we must credit those men and women who sounded the alarm and raised the nation’s consciousness about the nonproliferation threats in the wake of the Cold War. People like Sam Nunn, Richard Lugar, Pete Domenici, and a number of people with the Council, helped frame an uncomfortable issue at a time when, frankly, I think many would have preferred to not worry about it.

Because of their persistence, the United States took steps during the 1990s to reach out to counterparts in the new Russian government on ways to address eliminating and securing nuclear materials.

Several important programs were launched to deal with a proliferation threat that was still being defined – programs aimed at securing or even destroying weapons and weapons-usable materials in the former Soviet Union … working with Russian customs to combat trafficking of illicit nuclear materials … engaging out-of-work weapons scientists … and physically downsizing Russia’s nuclear weapons complex.

These were steps in the right direction, and made a significant mark.

But I would suspect that even the authors and shepherds of these proposals would acknowledge they were not enough.

That point was made frighteningly clear on September 11, 2001.

The horror of 9/11 didn’t change the challenges we face; it shone a new light on them. It made the world fully aware of them.

And it convinced us that we had to broaden the scope of our nonproliferation efforts beyond just nuclear weapons, loose nukes, or weapons grade materials.

September 11th clarified the geopolitical situation and brought the threats posed by nuclear weapons and unsecured nuclear and radiological materials into the sort of very real focus that did not exist before.

The fact is that the concept of Cold War nuclear annihilation might have been horrifying, but it had also become something of an abstraction. Nations interested in their self-preservation were unlikely to risk certain destruction, so the idea of nuclear annihilation really wasn’t a part of average Americans’ everyday lives. There was, in reality, a perverse safety in the idea of mutually assured destruction.

The attacks on Washington and New York brought a different idea to the fore. It forced us to acknowledge that while the safety of mutually assured destruction might be the order of the day in dealing with nuclear weapons states, the immediate nonproliferation challenge facing the civilized world was altogether something else: nuclear terrorism … dirty bombs … radiological attack … from enemies not afraid to sacrifice their own lives for their cause.

It forced us to confront a different and altogether more likely scenario than that with which we were used to dealing.

And it forced us to recognize that our challenge isn’t just related to securing dangerous materials. To define it as such makes nonproliferation little more than a housekeeping exercise.

After 9/11, it became clear that the challenge before us actually involves thwarting the aims of senseless killers determined to sow terror and death, even at the cost of their own lives.

Has the Bush Administration risen to meet this challenge? On the whole, I think so, and I am very proud of our achievements.

During President Bush’s first term in office, we have taken significant steps to demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment, actions which have intensified and accelerated vital nonproliferation efforts.

Among the things we have done:

  • We have substantially increased our nonproliferation spending. DOE’s request to Congress last year sought a nonproliferation budget of $1.35 billion – a nearly 75 percent increase over the last—and largest—budget request of the previous Administration.
     
  • We have accelerated our efforts to secure 600 metric tons of weapons-usable material in Russia, and to date have upgraded security on over 50 percent of the materials at nearly 70 percent of the sites where they are found. This acceleration has cut two years off the schedule we inherited.
     
  • We have dramatically accelerated our work with the Russian Navy to secure their fuel and nuclear warhead sites. During my first trip to Moscow in 2001, I met with Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, the head of the Russian Navy. He made a personal appeal for the U.S. to assist Russia with security upgrades at Russian Navy warhead and High Enriched Uranium fuel storage sites on a faster, fuller basis. I gave my commitment that we would move aggressively, and we have. I am happy to report that we will have secured 100 percent of Russian Navy fuel and nuclear weapons storage sites by the end of next year.
     
  • In 2002, President Bush proposed – and the G-8 leaders established – the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction to bring important new resources to bear on non-proliferation, disarmament, counter-terrorism, and nuclear safety.
     
  • The following year we launched the Proliferation Security Initiative, marshalling the international community to act effectively to stop the trade in weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials. We have begun building a global network to prevent rogue states and non-state actors from acquiring WMD by interdicting shipments at sea, in the air, and on land.
     
  • Under the PSI, we exposed both the AQ Khan network and shipments for Libya’s WMD program.
     
  • We worked with Libya and the United Kingdom to dismantle Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programs. 
     
  • We supported efforts to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards system. We achieved a real increase in the IAEA’s budget for safeguards and the President gained Senate advice and consent to the U.S. Additional IAEA Safeguards Protocol. And we have focused attention on the need to limit the spread of enrichment and reprocessing facilities.
     
  • In cooperation with international partners and the IAEA, we have returned significant amounts of Russian-origin HEU to Russia from various international research reactors to be downblended and used for civil nuclear purposes. In the past two years, we have returned more than 100 kilograms from six nations.
     
  • Working with the IAEA, Russia, and many other countries, we have developed a comprehensive global effort to improve the security and controls of high-risk radiological materials that could be used in a radiological dispersal device, or “dirty bomb.” We held a very successful conference to launch this venture in 2003.
     
  • In 2003 we launched the Megaports program to begin to place radiation detection systems at the world’s major seaports. We have already completed agreements to place equipment in critical seaports in the Netherlands, Greece, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Spain, and the Bahamas, with more to come.
     
  • Finally, last year we led efforts to pass unanimously UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires states to criminalize proliferation of WMD, including by non-state actors, and to enact and enforce effective export controls, and secure proliferation-sensitive materials.

These efforts have been highly successful. They have made the world safer. Every instance in which we have worked to secure and remove dangerous materials has meant less opportunity for terrorists to acquire them.

Having said that, in my view there can be no “good enough” when it comes to these issues. Over the last several years it became apparent to us that we could – that we must – do even more. And we must do more to involve as many nations as possible.

Given the constantly evolving threat environment … given the resolve of terrorists thinking up new ways to do the unthinkable … given the need to focus not just on rogue nations but on shadowy, stateless networks … it was clear that we must find ways to further improve, further enhance, and further accelerate our nonproliferation work.

So last May, we introduced the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The Global Threat Reduction Initiative – or GTRI – contains new measures to provide international support for countries’ national programs to identify, secure, remove and/or facilitate the disposition of vulnerable nuclear and other radiological materials and equipment around the world – as quickly and expeditiously as possible – that pose a threat to the international community.

GTRI is comprised of four distinct elements.

First, we will work in partnership to repatriate all Russian-origin fresh HEU fuel by the end of this year. We will also work with Russia to accelerate and complete the repatriation of all Russian-origin spent fuel by 2010. There is roughly two metric tons of this material located at more than 20 facilities in 17 countries.   

Second, we will likewise take all steps necessary to accelerate and complete the repatriation of U.S.-origin research reactor spent fuel under our existing program from locations around the world.   There are 41 countries eligible to participate in this voluntary program.  Under the acceptance policy, about 22,700 fuel elements are eligible for return.

As we accelerate and complete these tasks, our aim is to give priority to cases involving the greatest security threats and situations in which diplomatic and cooperative opportunities present themselves.

Under the third element of GTRI, we will work to convert the cores of targeted civilian research reactors that use HEU to use low enriched uranium fuel instead.

We will do this not just in the United States – where more reactors have converted to LEU than in any other single country – but throughout the entire world. We have already converted 39 research reactors to use LEU fuel, and another 35 can convert with currently available fuels. Meanwhile we are accelerating the work to develop a new higher-density LEU fuel that will enable conversion of the remaining 31 research reactors.

The fourth and final pillar of GTRI is working to identify and secure other nuclear and radiological materials and related equipment not yet covered by existing threat reduction efforts. This includes material located at enrichment plants, conversion facilities, reprocessing plants, research reactor sites, fuel fabrication plants, and temporary storage locations. There are hundreds such facilities throughout the world, serving to demonstrate the scope of our challenge.

All the elements of GTRI, particularly this last one, have been designed to reflect a threat which is ever changing and evolving. And they have been designed to broaden the international focus of our nonproliferation efforts.

We launched GTRI last September with a very successful Partners Conference in Vienna to coincide with the IAEA annual meeting. More than 100 countries have endorsed a statement of principles affirming GTRI and laying the cornerstone for a heightened international effort.

The accomplishments I have cited, from efforts to secure the Russian Navy’s nuclear warhead sites to our multilateral labors under GTRI, represent promising developments. They are positive steps. They are needed. They will help.

But even they are still not enough.

Because, as I said, we can never settle for “good enough.”

In that vein, it is worth asking what is now required to continue building the sort of nonproliferation regime that will guarantee the safety of the American people and our fellow citizens of the world?

What is the unfinished business we must undertake?

Let me begin by outlining what I see as the most significant issues still facing us, and by us I don’t just mean the United States, but the entire international community.

One, the President has said, and I agree, that the threat of nuclear proliferation is the most serious national security challenge we face today and must be addressed as comprehensively as possible.

Second, I think we need to intensify the security of radiological materials that could be used for dirty bombs and place an even greater international focus on this issue.

Third, we need to limit access to nuclear fuel cycle technologies and associated nuclear materials.

Fourth, for the programs I have mentioned to be sustained in Russia in the future, it will take more than just American financial assistance and resolve.

Finally, it is essential that the Nonproliferation Treaty and the IAEA are strengthened to make them more effective in dealing with the new challenges presented by 21st century threats.

If we are to be ultimately successful in addressing these issues and building a nonproliferation regime that deals with 21st century realities and 21st century challenges, it seems there are four broad areas that must be addressed.

Each of these areas contains elements that will help meet those specific challenges I just mentioned. And each contains elements that are necessary to ensure our nonproliferation activities are germane in the age of terrorism.

The first deals with our own responsibilities. The United States must fund and finish those programs that we have committed to doing.

We have set ambitious timetables for a host of programs – ambitious, but by no means unattainable. The Bush Administration has already demonstrated our commitment to fund these programs.

The challenge for future Presidents, Energy Secretaries, and other top U.S. officials will be to ensure that the commitments we have made continue to be honored, and to keep up the intensity of our efforts.

A good example is Megaports. With our scientific and technological preeminence, the United States is well positioned to enhance the capabilities of our international partners to detect, deter, and interdict illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials.

The equipment, training, and technical support we provide other nations will allow them to screen container cargo as it moves through their ports. This will help screen not just cargo destined for the U.S., but cargo moving throughout the international maritime trading system.

I mentioned before that we have concluded Megaports agreements with the host nations of some of the world’s busiest ports. This is helpful, but it is not sufficient. The safety and security of the free world demands that every major port around the globe be engaged in radiation detection. There are more than 20 of these worldwide that should be covered, a process that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

If we remain vigilant, and if we continue to press this issue on the diplomatic front, then we can accomplish this goal.

The second major area deals with our counterparts in the Russian Federation. Simply, the Russian government must play an even greater leadership role in the future than it has over the last ten years. That is not to minimize the contributions they have made, but only to suggest that it is absolutely imperative that they take on a larger share of the responsibility.

This means several things.

First and foremost, it means Russia needs to increase the amount of money it devotes to financing domestic and international nonproliferation efforts. The Russian economy is improving, and the government is capable of shouldering more of the financial burden. Contributing more to the financial end would clearly demonstrate Moscow’s commitment, as well as show that these efforts are permanently sustainable.

Moreover, Russia must work harder to address vulnerabilities at their nuclear and radiological facilities. At a time when terrorists are known to be scouting undersecured locations worldwide, it is absolutely essential that we meet the accelerated 2008 deadline to complete security upgrades at Russia’s nuclear weapons complex.

We’re still working to gain access to some of the facilities in Russia that, in my judgment, need to be addressed sooner rather than later. It is imperative that the Russian Federation work together with us to quickly resolve outstanding questions about access to these sites so that we can get this job done to ensure that terrorists are cut off from these locations and materials.

Finally, Moscow also will have to work more aggressively to quickly accept Russian-origin spent fuel from foreign Russian-supplied research reactors. In particular, Russian consideration of a programmatic or at least regional approach to the environmental review prior to the return of spent fuel would greatly accelerate the process.

The third major nonproliferation need for the 21st century involves other nations doing far more than at present.

The task cannot be left up to the United States, Russia, and the IAEA.

Terrorists have struck not just Washington, New York, Moscow, and Beslan. They have also struck Bali, Madrid, Tokyo, Jakarta, Nairobi, Yemen, Turkey, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Munich, Beirut, Cairo, on the seas and oceans, and in the skies. Terrorist plots have been thwarted in Vancouver, London, Berlin, the Philippines, and countless other places.

The point is that the challenge of confronting terrorism falls to every nation.

It is not just because the opportunities to acquire nuclear and radiological materials are spread all over the globe, but because every civilized nation is a target of those who have made clear they hate modern civilization. A global threat demands global participation.

That’s why we must have a broader program addressing radiological materials which could be employed to construct dirty bombs. The universe of materials that could be used in a radiological dispersal device is very wide. It includes not only spent nuclear fuel, but low-level materials common to everyday medical and industrial uses. So as we intensify efforts to strengthen the protection of weapons-grade materials around the globe, we should anticipate that enemies will turn their focus to acquiring materials for dirty bombs.

The United States has taken big steps already to combat and raise awareness of this threat. In September 2002 the U.S. proposed an international effort in this respect, and co-chaired the aforementioned partners meeting the following March.

Since then we’ve made excellent progress, working with governments around the globe to secure at-risk radioactive sources such as Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators or equipment for food irradiation.

However, our actions cannot be enough. Given the breadth of the challenge, it is clear that guarding against the threat of RDDs simply cannot succeed without the active participation of as many nations as possible.

We must also take steps to develop a safer, more orderly way of distributing fuel for civilian nuclear plants without adding to the danger of weapons proliferation.

Last year, President Bush called on the world’s leading nuclear exporters to ensure that states have reliable access to fuel at reasonable cost for their civilian reactors, so long as they renounce enrichment and reprocessing. He called on the 40 nations that comprise the Nuclear Suppliers Group to refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.

The idea is a good one. It provides a foundation for all parties that wish to pursue the peaceful used of nuclear energy to do so without spreading the most dangerous elements of the fuel cycle. It also offers the ability to cut off what we see as the most worrisome channels employed by proliferators today. Input from other nations is required, of course, and I am confident that by working on a broad international basis we can construct a workable 21st century framework that assures nuclear fuel supply for the peaceful development and use of the atom.  

The fourth and final major step toward strengthening the 21st century nonproliferation regime requires that we ensure the IAEA and the Nonproliferation Treaty are effective vehicles for our common nonproliferation aims.

Recent years’ developments in North Korea and Iran have seemed to call the effectiveness of both the IAEA and the NPT into question.

In North Korea we have the example of a state which, under the NPT, purported to be a member of the treaty, enjoyed the benefits of membership – including automatic access to sensitive fuel cycle technologies – all the while secretly putting in place the assets needed to break out and declare itself a nuclear state.

And I think we all have the sense of something similar occurring in Iran.

So it is worth asking whether the framework for the NPT and the process by which the IAEA works are sufficient to meet the challenges of today. They were fine in dealing with the challenges that were presented in the Cold War. But how can we ensure they are capable of preventing the sort of gamesmanship that has led to the crises we face today?

Presently, we seem to have meeting after meeting after meeting on topics of serious concern … only to put matters off to the next meeting.

That must change. We must take appropriate steps to ensure that the nonproliferation tools contained in the NPT are effective, and that the Treaty’s members have the political will to ensure that no nation can exploit the Treaty to its own advantage.

For example, I personally believe we should limit the availability of fuel only to those states that have signed the Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol should be adopted by all nations, and become a new standard for states that wish to engage in nuclear commerce.  Here too, the United States has led by example.

Furthermore, we need to put in place a more efficient and effective mechanism within the IAEA Board of Governors for dealing with countries that appear to act in defiance of the treaty. There must be an expedited process that either achieves compliance with nonproliferation obligations … or leads to swift action.

The reality is that the IAEA Board of Governors must serve as an instrument for guaranteeing the safety and security of its members, not merely as a debating club, and not as a convenient protective shield for those who in reality might jeopardize the world’s safety.

Each of us has heard it said that the 20th century began with a shot fired in Sarajevo in June 1914.

That event represented the close of one era, and the beginning of another, thoroughly different one.

Thus was borne an age that would be marked by conflict, turmoil, and bloodshed on the grandest possible scale, but also by the ultimate triumph of freedom over totalitarianism.

It is sometimes hard to recognize the historical significance of activities as they occur, but I think that years from now historians will look back and say that a new era, and a new century, were inaugurated on September 11, 2001.

And they will also look to us and ask if we did all that we could to meet the new challenges of the age.

President Bush said last year in a speech at the National Defense University: “The greatest threat before humanity today is the possibility of secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons. … America and the entire civilized world will face this threat for decades to come.”

How we face that threat is the question historians will debate.

“Responsibility is the price of greatness,” argued Winston Churchill. It is now up to us whether we affirm our nation’s greatness again by once more shouldering responsibility for its protection and the safety of our whole planet.

Given the various steps I have outlined today, I am optimistic we can succeed at meeting the challenges and facing down the threats of a new era. The events of last three years since 9/11 have constituted a very positive and aggressive start in the right direction.

But as I have made very clear today, our work is far from done. There will be far more to do, requiring resolve … patience … resilience … courage … and an abiding faith in the American cause of freedom and democracy.

I know you join me in pledging our dedication to these ideals. The Council on Foreign Relations will continue to stand for American internationalism and American interests. Because of that, it will continue its work to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and, indeed, of the world.

Thank you.

Location: Washington, DC

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