Laura S. H. Holgate testifies before the House International Relations Committee -- Subcommittees on Europe, International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights

Laura S. H. Holgate
Vice-President for Russia/New Independent States Programs, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee Subcommittees on Europe and International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and concerns about the gravest danger facing our world today. I appear before you as an officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)—a charitable organization committed to helping make the world safer from the threats of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Former Senator Sam Nunn and Ted Turner co-chair NTI and we are proud of the contributions we have been able to make in our two years of existence in the realms of analysis, advocacy, and indeed, action.

You asked us today to address how far we have come in reducing the threat from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and where we are heading. I would add a third key question: are we getting there fast enough? In brief, I would answer that we have come fairly far, and that we are heading mostly in the right direction, but that we’re not moving nearly as fast as we can or as fast as we must.  

Mr. Chairman, I would like to recall the words President Bush used to introduce the latest version of the U.S. National Security Strategy:  

“The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed … We will cooperate with other nations to deny, contain, and curtail our enemies’ efforts to acquire dangerous technologies.”

I have been encouraged to hear these and other Presidential statements confirm this correct assessment of the dangers we face and the need for international cooperation to mount an effective defense. The U.S. government has now enshrined those words in a six-page document entitled, “National Security Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.” But our actions, as yet, are falling far short of our words. If keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of our enemies is our number one security threat – who is in charge of this important mission? Who’s accountable? What is our plan? What, in fact, “new” is being done to deny those who intend us harm access to these weapons, weapons materials and know-how? Information is scant, but, I regret to say, I am increasingly concerned that the President’s “bureaucratic troops” do not yet display the planning, coordination, and degree of urgency this mission requires.

This is not to say that we do not have competent individuals who approach their jobs in this field with enormous determination and creativity. I know and respect many of them. They deserve your praise and the praise of the American people. But they also deserve our objectivity. Every day these individuals make a positive difference in reducing the threats that face all nations. Three former Soviet states renounced and returned the thousands of nuclear weapons on their territories, hundreds of missiles and launchers have been destroyed, tons of nuclear material has been secured or destroyed, tens of thousands of weapons scientists have been peacefully employed. But we must do much more. We must quicken the pace and expand the scope of what we seek to accomplish. For, in spite of the President’s words, keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous people is not yet a budget priority. There is still a dangerous lag between the President’s words and our expenditures. Programs at the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Department of State focused on securing vulnerable weapons and materials in Russia and states of the former Soviet Union where much of the risk resides are proceeding, at best, on a “status quo plus” basis.[1]

Russia’s nuclear weapons and weapons materials are still dangerously insecure. By the Energy Department’s own account, security upgrades work has not even begun on more than 120 metric tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Less than a quarter of Russia’s fissile material stockpile has received comprehensive upgrades, and DOE’s own plan expects a mere 6% of additional fissile material to be adequately protected by the end of the year. As we all know, it takes mere pounds to make a nuclear device with the devastating effect of the bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Moreover, we have no accounting for Russia’s non-strategic weapons and still have huge factors of uncertainty over how many they have, and how secure they are. And for reasons having to do more with political science than political foresight, we stalled out the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program for almost a full fiscal year, while Congress considered different versions of a waiver authority for the executive branch.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives has fought against providing the executive branch permanent waiver authority so that this vital work can continue without interruption. If the President concludes such a waiver serves our national security interest, he must be able to exercise that judgment in a manner that ensures the programmatic integrity of Nunn-Lugar. A gap in program administration opens an opportunity for terrorists and creates a gap in our own security. To again recall the President’s words, “Our enemies have openly declared they are seeking weapons of mass destruction and evidence indicates they are doing so with determination.” I encourage this Congress to speak and act decisively on this issue – this session. Should we ever suffer attack by terrorists with weapons obtained from unsecured stores of weapons and materials from the former Soviet Union, the American people will be unforgiving to learn that programs designed to prevent this occurrence were interrupted or weakened because the President was constrained in this ability to act in the best security interest of the United States.

At a fundamental level, we must ask ourselves whether conditions on security assistance to Russia and other former Soviet states – some of which were put in place almost a decade ago – remain relevant in light of the changed nature of the threats we face after September 11th. I don’t believe so. But at the very least, I believe the President must have unqualified authority to waive those conditions in the interest of national security as circumstances demand. The Nunn-Lugar program and its counterparts at the Departments of Energy and State served the security interest of this country well in the post-Cold War period. In the post 9-11 era, Nunn-Lugar and its counterparts are needed “now more than ever.”

At the same time, we do well to remember that unsecured nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and materials reside outside the territory of the former Soviet Union. Our near-term security focus should look beyond these borders. Twenty metric tons of highly enriched uranium were distributed to over 130 civilian reactors and other facilities in 40 countries around the world in the last 50 years, under the “Atoms for Peace” program. Much of the material remains broadly distributed throughout the globe at inadequately guarded sites. We have to get our hands around this problem and clean out the material at risk. We know of at least two-dozen circumstances requiring our immediate attention.

We at NTI are pleased to have had a role in addressing the most serious of these circumstances in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, last year. The U.S. State Department, the Department of Energy and Russia’s Minatom deserve high marks for this operation, which removed two and a half bombs worth of highly enriched uranium from a research reactor near Belgrade to a secure location where it will be blended down so it cannot be used in nuclear weapons. Yet we have only just begun to do what needs to be done to secure and eliminate these small but potentially very attractive stashes of nuclear bomb material, owing to inadequate authority, resources, leadership and vision. A “Global Cleanout” program worthy of the name and tailored to today’s threats would break apart the stovepipes that imprison the current hodge-podge of programs, and create a tiger team of talented individuals with demonstrated experience in moving quickly and creatively to eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks and remove excuses that prevent action. Congress can, and should, direct the creation of such a team, and empower it with authorities and resources so that NTI doesn’t have to bail the government out of the cracks between their programs, cracks it doesn’t even admit exist.

Unsecured nuclear bomb material anywhere is a threat to everyone, everywhere and the approach and pace of these programs is inadequate to the threat. This point comes across clearly in a report published recently by a team at Harvard University entitled “Controlling Nuclear Warheads and Materials.” This report, which was commissioned by NTI, focuses attention on the requirements for sustained Presidential leadership on these issues and on the need for an integrated, prioritized plan for blocking the terrorist pathway to the bomb. While the focus of this report is on nuclear weapons and materials, the same can be said about biological and chemical weapons.

We must fix our priorities so the greatest dangers draw our greatest investments. Admittedly, designing an effective defense against the full range of risks is a formidable challenge.[2] To succeed, we must begin with an objective, comprehensive national security estimate that assesses each risk, ranks each threat, computes every cost, and confronts the full range of dangers. From this analysis can be constructed a broad-based, common ground strategy and measured defense – one that would allow us to direct the most resources to prevent threats that are the most immediate, the most likely, and the most potentially devastating. In the absence of an infinite budget, relative risk analysis must be the beginning point in shaping our strategy and allocating our resources – to defend our citizens at home and abroad. If such an assessment exists, we have not seen it. Without it, I suggest it will be extremely difficult for the President or the Congress to get our spending and program priorities right. This is the main flaw in the recently presented “Section 1205” report, purporting to be such a plan. Instead, lacking a risk-based understanding of priorities, it resembles more of a catalog of current and intended action, with no apparent linkage of programmatic activity to the post-9/11 threats we now know we face.

President Bush has an historic opportunity to dramatically reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction within the next two years of his Administration. The good news is that he is served by a number of highly dedicated and competent appointed and career officials. They are taking important steps in reducing the dangers from weapons of mass destruction. But we need giant strides and, as I noted earlier, a much greater high-level focus and coordination of this urgent mission. For this to happen, the President must make crystal clear that what he has called his number one security priority – “keeping the world’s most destructive weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous people” – is, in words and practice, the number one priority of his Administration. If this is done, programmatic priorities will become Presidential priorities, and the money will follow.

And getting our programmatic and spending priorities right is but one piece of a larger mosaic. To counter the threat from catastrophic terrorism, we will need an unprecedented level of international security cooperation. This will require getting our diplomatic priorities right. And here, too, I am concerned that we are trying to do too many things simultaneously without sufficient focus on the closest snakes.

Threat reduction activities require the participation of the recipients to be effective. Several trends have converged to complicate relationships with recipient nations. Project areas have moved from very specific and measurable (e.g., remove all 1,400 strategic nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan) to diffuse (e.g., prevent Russian bioscientists from aiding proliferators). Projects with clear prior commitment (e.g., eliminate Russian nuclear weapons to achieve START I levels) have been joined by projects with only grudging acceptance (e.g., permanently dispose of 34 tons of weapons plutonium). Projects with built-in reciprocity (e.g., bilateral verification of START eliminations) have led to projects with unilateral inspection rights (e.g., U.S. monitoring of the Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility).

National attitudes towards the U.S. on the part of the recipients have swung from euphoric openness to annoyance to fatigue to suspicion. Security officials have reasserted themselves both in the U.S. (after the Los Alamos spy imbroglio) and in Russia (after the election of an ex-KGB president). Ever-increasing U.S. demands for accountability and access to sensitive facilities reinforce suspicions of Russian security officials, and the cancellation of site visits slows down programs. Congressional limitations on U.S. support to Russia’s top priorities (retiring officer housing, elimination of general purpose submarines, conversion of military cities and populations) make it harder to achieve U.S. priorities, which the Russians do not take as seriously (fissile material control and disposition, closure of biological weapons institutes). Efforts to condition nonproliferation cooperation on changing undesirable Russian behavior (e.g., Iranian nuclear cooperation) are ineffective, because many Russians would prefer that these programs, and the burden of U.S. cooperation, simply go away. Yet, terminating these programs would be devastating to our national security. We urgently need to transform our relationship with Russia from one of patronage to a true partnership, in which Russia meets its commitments, and where the US and Russia work together to address proliferation threats outside their borders that threaten both nations.

To extend this point, we have to make sure that every nation with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, materials or know-how accounts for what it has, secures what it has, and pledges that no other nation or group will be allowed access. That straightforwardly stated objective must be our number one diplomatic priority. As such, it is imperative that we expand the scope of successful programs such as DOD’s Cooperative Threat Reduction, the Department of Energy’s Material Protection, Control and Accounting Program, and the Department of State’s science center, export control and border security activities as well as the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund. I am confident that the lessons we have learned during the last decade in working with the Russians and other states in a cooperative effort to reduce threats can be applied in other regions of the world that face instability and the prospect of open conflict. Making the threat reduction concept global and extending its programmatic reach to other nations and to the world’s regional “hot spots” is a key step the Congress can take to deny terrorists access to weapons of mass destruction and to reduce the potential that these weapons may ever be used by states or non-state actors. I strongly endorse the efforts to extend Nunn-Lugar and related programs globally beyond the Russian Federation and other states of the former Soviet Union.

As we talk with our allies and with all nations, we must underscore the importance of working closely together to meet the threat posed by catastrophic terrorism – the kind of terrorism that has the capacity to stagger societies and destroy lives oceans away from ground zero. It is the brand of terrorism that truly threatens everyone, and so it is the brand of terrorism with the best chance to arouse a cohesive global opposition. And here again, we are taking important steps, but not yet the giant strides required.

Last summer, G8 leaders met in Canada and took a particularly important step. At that meeting, the leaders declared (and I quote): “we commit ourselves to prevent terrorists, or those that harbor them, from acquiring or developing nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological weapons; missiles; and related materials, equipment and technology.” To implement these principles, they established the “G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction,” committed $20 billion over ten years, and established a six-element program to guide their work.

The establishment of the G8 Global Partnership and the leadership pledges achieved in Kananaskis are welcome and important developments. One should recognize, however, that the G8 makes many commitments at its annual meetings. We now have to invest the diplomatic energy to make the Global Partnership real. NTI is working with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and 20 non-governmental organizations in North America, Russia, Europe and Japan to build the intellectual and political support required to strengthen the Partnership.

We need to press the G8 governments to turn those principles into a clear set of priorities, to establish a timeline to guide their work, and make sure they devote adequate resources to the work.

And we need to press the G8 governments to make the Global Partnership truly global -- to include every nation with something to safeguard or that can make a contribution to safeguarding it. Today, this G8 agreement is all but invisible – to the press, to Congress and to nations around the world. For this coalition to extend itself from eight nations to all nations, the President of the United States is going to have to promote it with the full authority of his office.

To achieve a global coalition, we will have to make this a diplomatic priority – something that leads the set of talking points whenever the President or an American diplomat of any rank up to the Secretary of State sits down to talk with officials of other nations. And why should it not be? The final section of the National Security Strategy released by the White House in September says: “The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy—whether a state or non-state actor—to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends.” That promise cannot be fulfilled without denying terrorists weapons of mass destruction, and that cannot be achieved without the very kind of international cooperation envisioned in a full scope global partnership.

Mr. Chairman, in these remarks I have tried to outline briefly a set of domestic and international initiatives for how we should go about dealing with the threats from weapons of mass destruction. I thank you, and look forward to your questions.

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May 14, 2003
About

In this testimony, Ms. Holgate discusses U.S. progress toward reducing the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, where we are heading, and whether we are getting there fast enough.

Authors
Laura Holgate

Senior Director, WMD Terrorism & Threat Reduction, National Security Council