Friday, September 19th, 2014

The Obameter

Secure nuclear weapons materials in four years


"Will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years - the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Barack Obama will fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."


Updates

Impressive progress, but Russia set to quit key agreement

During the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama promised to "lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years -- the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Barack Obama will fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."

Significant progress has been made on this promise, though the future looks bleaker with Russia's expected departure from a longstanding nuclear-deactivation agreement.

Internationally, the nations participating in the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012 wrote in a communique, "We welcome the substantive progress being made on the political commitments of participating states” since the summit in Washington two years earlier. "We stress the fundamental responsibility of states, consistent with their respective national and international obligations, to maintain effective security of all nuclear material.”

Each participating state issued a progress report of activities completed since the previous summit.

In the United States, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative -- a federal office charged with converting research reactors and isotope production facilities from highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium, removing excess nuclear and radiological materials, and protecting high-priority nuclear and radiological materials from theft -- issues periodic progress updates.

The most recent, released on Nov. 7, 2012, said that the United States has "greatly accelerated its efforts to reduce nuclear and radiological threats since President Obama"s pledge in Prague in April 2009 to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.”

Since the speech, the office says, the United States has:

• Removed 1376.1 kilograms of HEU and plutonium (enough material for approximately 55 nuclear weapons).

• Removed all weapons-usable nuclear material from nine countries and areas, including: Romania, Taiwan, Libya, Turkey, Chile, Serbia, Mexico, Sweden and Ukraine.

• Completed physical protection upgrades at more than 1,000 buildings totaling more than 10,000,000 curies –  enough for approximately 10,000 dirty bombs

• Removed more than 10,000 at-risk radiological sources – enough for more than 6,500 dirty bombs.

• Converted to low enriched uranium fuel or verified the shutdown of 20 highly enriched uranium research reactors in 12 countries, including Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and the United States.

• Accelerated the establishment of a reliable supply of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 produced without the use of highly enriched uranium by establishing partnerships with South Africa, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, activity has continued on implementing the goals of a the 1991 bill authored by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. The Nunn-Lugar program provided U.S. funding and expertise to the former Soviet Union to dismantle stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

According to a running tally compiled by Lugar's office, 7,610 warheads have been deactivated -- 82 percent of the number targeted under the law. The categories in which 85 percent to 100 percent have been deactivated include intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, nuclear-equipped submarines, nuclear air-to-surface missiles, bombers, and test tunnels.

Perhaps most importantly, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are now nuclear-free.

However, this progress may not continue. On Oct. 10, 2012, Russia announced that it would not renew its cooperation in the deal for a third time when it expires in 2013. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was reported to have said that Russia could afford to carry out its own efforts and that it was interested in continuing partnerships with third countries.

Arms control experts said the planned withdrawal leaves a large question mark over the effort. "The future of the program is now in doubt,” said Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "There remains uncertainty about Russia's commitment to securing nuclear material.”

As for the portion of the promise about helping U.S. allies "detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction,” we rated a similar promise a Compromise. The Proliferation Security Initiative is an international effort designed to stop shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide. The initiative has made progress working with "flag of convenience” countries -- 32 mostly small nations often used by shipping companies as their official nation of registry -- and in signing ship-boarding agreements. But measurable benchmarks in stopping shipments have been elusive.

All told, the U.S. has led a process in which significant progress has been made on deactivating nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials. But Russia's intention of withdrawing from Nunn-Lugar, combined with the difficulty of measuring success in Obama's pledge to "detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction,” leads us to rate this promise a Compromise.

Sources:

Richard Lugar, the Nunn-Lugar Scorecard (graphic), accessed Nov. 29, 2012

National Nuclear Security Administration, "Fact Sheet: GTRI: Reducing Nuclear Threats,” Nov. 7, 2012

Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, Communique, March 26-27, 2012

Reuters, "Russia says it will not renew arms agreement with U.S.," Oct. 10, 2012

PolitiFact, "Rhetorical support for WMD-prevention program, but progress hard to document," Nov. 15, 2012

Email interview with Matthew Bunn, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Nov. 5, 2012

Email interview with Kingston Reif, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Nov. 15, 2012

Striking progress on securing nuclear materials, but premature to call it a Promise Kept

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years" and to "fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."

We found that the administration has made significant progress since our last update.

The first part of the promise -- to "lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years" -- would merit a Promise Kept on its own. Here are some of the major developments over the past year:

The Nuclear Security Summit. Obama brought leaders of 47 countries to Washington in April 2010, all of whom signed on to the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in four years. As the joint communique put it, "We welcome and join President Obama"s call to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, as we work together to enhance nuclear security." The leaders also agreed that they would meet again in Seoul, South Korea, in April 2012 to check on progress and make whatever new commitments are needed. Some leaders made separate pledges. Ukraine agreed to eliminate all highly enriched uranium -- potentially a key component of nuclear weapons -- on its soil by 2012.

Nuclear material removals. The United States has helped six countries eliminate all materials capable of making nuclear weapons, most recently, Serbia in December 2010. That same month, the U.S. helped remove 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Ukraine. The U.S. has now removed or helped dispose of 3,085 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and plutonium -- enough material to make more than 120 nuclear weapons, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Ongoing negotiations. Matthew Bunn, a nuclear policy specialist at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secured a promise from Belarus to eliminate its bomb material in late 2010, and those shipments have begun. He added that Kazakhstan has pledged to get rid of all of its potential nuclear bomb material except for a large amount of very low-grade material that has just been moved to a secure location within the country and that South Africa has just converted its production of medical isotopes to make them with low-enriched uranium that can"t be used in a bomb.

Nuclear security centers of excellence. In his fiscal year 2011 budget request, Obama proposed a new effort to help countries establish regional "centers of excellence” on nuclear security, where they could test modern nuclear security and accounting equipment, train personnel and refine best pratices. So far India, China, Japan, and South Korea are among those who have agreed to establish such centers, Bunn said. The long-term fate of this funding request is uncertain, however.

The New START treaty. The treaty, which was ratified by the Senate in December 2010 during the lame-duck session, should ease the path for additional cooperation on curbing the spread of nuclear materials. "Passing New START was the greatest achievement," said Mark Helmke, an aide to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who has taken a leadership role on nonproliferation in the Senate. "Had it failed, almost all efforts could have stopped."

What's holding this from a Promise Kept, in our view, is the second part -- to "fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."

In 2006, Lugar and Obama authored a Senate bill authorizing a program to provide assistance to foreign countries to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The bill's provisions were incorporated in a House bill that passed later that year. It was signed in January 2007.

The Lugar-Obama initiative is modeled after a 1991 bill authored by Lugar and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. The Nunn-Lugar program provided U.S. funding and expertise to the former Soviet Union to dismantle stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons

Lugar's office keeps an updated scorecard for the law, and it shows significant strides toward the 2012 goals, including 100 percent completion in four categories, such as the elimination of bombers and the sealing of nuclear test tunnels. But other categories are not yet finished. For instance, 82 percent of warheads have been deactivated, along with 73 percent of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

While the numbers in most of the 13 categories exceed 75 percent completion, we don't feel it's appropriate yet to call this portion a Promise Kept, particularly since we're still two years from the target completion date. So, despite significant accomplishments by the administration on the diplomatic and technical front, we're keeping this one at In the Works.

Sources:

National Nuclear Security Administration, "NNSA Achieves Milestone in Removal of HEU from Ukraine" (news release), Dec. 31, 2010

National Nuclear Security Administration, "NNSA Announces Removal of All Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) from Serbia" (news release), Dec. 22, 2010

White House, "Communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit," April 13, 2010

White House, "Work Plan of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit," April 13, 2010

Sen. Richard Lugar, the Nunn-Lugar Scorecard (graphic), accessed Jan. 7, 2010

E-mail interview with Cathy Gwin, director of communications for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Jan. 5, 2011
 
E-mail interview with Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, Jan 5, 2011

E-mail interview with Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Jan. 5, 2011

E-mail interview with Mark Helmke, aide to Sen. Richard Lugar, Jan. 7, 2011

Administration works toward securing nuclear weapons materials in four years

President Barack Obama has taken an interest in safeguarding nuclear materials since at least his first year in the Senate. Obama's first foreign travel as a U.S. senator was with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana in August 2005, when the two men visited nuclear weapons storage and dismantlement facilities in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

The next spring, Lugar and Obama authored a Senate bill authorizing a program to provide assistance to foreign countries to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The bill's provisions were incorporated into a House bill that passed later that year. It was signed in January 2007.

The Lugar-Obama initiative is modeled after a 1991 bill authored by Lugar and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. The Nunn-Lugar program provided U.S. funding and expertise to the former Soviet Union to dismantle stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
 
During the presidential campaign, Obama promised to "lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years -- the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb." Obama said he would "fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."
 
That effort is proceeding. According to a tally kept by Lugar's office, 81 percent of the 2012 goal for deactivating warheads has been met. Several other goals for dismantlement range from 50 percent to 100 percent completed, according to Lugar's office.
 
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has done several things to try to push these percentages higher.
 
At a July summit of the G-8 industrialized nations in L'Aquila, Italy, the leaders endorsed Obama's strategy for addressing the international nuclear threat, including an effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt illicit trade in nuclear materials. Also in L"Aquila, Obama formally announced a plan to host a Global Nuclear Security Summit in March 2010.
 
Then, in September, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 1887, which among other things supported "better security for nuclear weapons materials," including "locking down vulnerable nuclear weapons materials in four years ... minimizing the civil use of highly enriched uranium to the extent feasible, and encouraging the sharing of best practices as a practical way to strengthen nuclear security."
 
Multilateral agreements on a sensitive issue such as control of nuclear materials are inevitably difficult to manage, but the administration appears to be making advancement of this promise a high diplomatic priority. We rate this promise as In the Works.

Sources:

White House Office of the Press Secretary, " Fact Sheet on the United Nations Security Council Summit on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament UNSC Resolution 1887 ," Sept. 24, 2009
 
White House Office of the Press Secretary, " Addressing the Nuclear Threat: Fulfilling the Promise of Prague at the L"Aquila Summit ," July 8, 2009

National Nuclear Security Agency, " The President"s Nuclear Security Agenda ," Sept. 2009
 
PolitiFact.com, " Obama-Lugar measure included weapons of mass destruction ," July 15, 2008
 
E-mail interview with Cathy Gwin, director of communications for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Nov. 19, 2009
 
Interview with Henry Sokolski executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, Nov. 19, 2009
 
E-mail interview with Andy Fisher, senior adviser to Sen. Richard Lugar, Nov. 19, 2009
 
E-mail interview with Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Nov. 19, 2009