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Issue Experts, Activists Decry U.S. 'Major Retreat' on Nuclear Security

By Sebastian Sprenger

Global Security Newswire

U.S. President Obama arrives for an event in March 2013 at the White House announcing the nominations of key cabinet posts. A group of 100 experts and activists last week criticized the administration for cuts in the fiscal 2015 budget for nonproliferation programs. U.S. President Obama arrives for an event in March 2013 at the White House announcing the nominations of key cabinet posts. A group of 100 experts and activists last week criticized the administration for cuts in the fiscal 2015 budget for nonproliferation programs. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A group of 100 former officials, peace advocates and issue experts criticized the White House for planning to cut nuclear security funding next year.

In a letter to President Obama, the mainly left-leaning critics argued that the fiscal 2015 budget request would signal a "major retreat" in efforts to secure nuclear materials worldwide.

Specifically, the experts lamented a planned reduction to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative of 25 percent, and cuts to the International Nuclear Materials Protection Program totaling 27 percent. Also affected: The Pentagon's Cooperative Threat Reduction budget, which is slated to be cut by 27 percent, according to the signers.

The administration has said preventing terrorists from acquiring atomic material to build nuclear weapons, even in crude form, is a key thrust in the president's national security agenda. Officials have previously defended reductions to some nonproliferation programs, arguing that objectives could still be achieved under a reduced funding profile. They also have pointed to the fact that budgets are shrinking across all government functions.

The expert's letter urges the administration to treat nonproliferation programs as a "top priority" dedicated to work "too important to be a bill payer" for other activities.

"In your closing remarks ... at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, you rightly stated that despite the progress made over the past four years, 'it is important for us not to relax, but rather accelerate our efforts ... [and] sustain momentum," the experts wrote. "The [fiscal 2015] budget request is out of sync with these objectives."

Among the letter's signatories are Kenneth Brill, a former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency; Andrew Semmel, a former top State Department nonproliferation official; and Byron Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota. They were joined by dozens of senior analysts from major think tanks and leaders of peace-advocacy organizations.

In other news, a group of current and former European politicians, government ministers, diplomats and military chiefs are calling on the world's five recognized nuclear powers -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to engage with other nations on the humanitarian consequences of atomic weapons.

The European Leadership Network issued its group statement last Thursday, as world envoys and nonproliferation advocates met in New York for a two-week Preparatory Committee session for next year's Review Conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

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