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America's Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, we have been spending a considerable amount of time in this body debating the so-called nuclear option. Today I want to spend a little bit of time talking about an issue that poses a more significant threat to our Republic.

Throughout the last half of the 20th century, one nation more than any other on the face of the Earth, defined and shaped the threats posed to the United States. This nation, of course, was the Soviet Union and its successor state, Russia.

While many have turned their attention to China or other parts of the world, I believe the most important threat to the security of the United States continues to lie within the borders of the former Soviet Union in the form of stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and materials.

We are in a race against time to prevent these weapons from getting in the hands of international terrorist organizations or rogue states. The path to this potential disaster is easier than anyone could imagine. There are a number of potential sources of fissile material in the former Soviet Union in sites that are poorly secured. The material is compact, easy to hide, and hard to track. Weapons designs can be easily found on the Internet.

Today, some weapons experts believe that terrorist organizations will have enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb in the next 10 years--that is right, 10 years.

I rise today to instill a sense of urgency in the Senate. I rise today to ask how are we going to deal with this threat tomorrow, a year from now, a decade from now?

The President has just completed an international trip that included a visit to Russia. I commend him for taking this trip and making our relationship with Russia a priority.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union produced nearly 2,000 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for use in weapons that could destroy the world several times over. To give an idea of just how much this is, it takes only 5 to 10 kilograms of plutonium to build a nuclear weapon that could kill the entire population of St. Louis. For decades, strategic deterrence, our alliances, and the balance of power with the Soviet Union ensured the relative safety of these weapons and materials.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, all this has changed. Key institutions within the Soviet national security apparatus have crumbled, exposing dangerous gaps in the security of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and fissile material.

Regional powers felt fewer constraints to develop nuclear weapons. Rogue states accelerated weapons programs.

And while this was happening, international terrorist organizations who are aggressively seeking nuclear weapons gained strength and momentum.

Now, thanks to the leadership of former Senator Nunn and Senator Lugar in creating the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program at the Department of Defense, there is no question that we have made some great progress in securing these weapons.

These same two leaders continue to work tirelessly on this issue to this day--Senator Nunn, through the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Senator Lugar, through his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The situation in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union is drastically different than it was in 1991 or even 1996 or 2001. But, the threat is still extremely dangerous and extremely real.

In March of this year, a senior Russian commander concluded that 39 of 46 key Russian weapons facilities had serious security shortcomings. Many Russian nuclear research sites frequently have doors propped open, security sensors turned off, and guards patrolling without ammunition in their weapons.

Meanwhile, the security situation outside of Russia continues to be of grave concern. Fanatical terrorist organizations who want these weapons continue to search every corner of the Earth resorting to virtually any means necessary. The nuclear programs of nations such as Iran and North Korea threaten to destabilize key regions of the world. We are still learning about the tremendous damage caused by A.Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani weapons scientist.

Looking back over the past decade and a half, it is clear that we could and should have done more.

So as the President returns from his trip to Russia, we should be thinking--on a bipartisan basis--about the critical issues that can guide us in the future to ensure that there are no more missed opportunities.

The first question we should be thinking about is what is the future of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program? What is our plan? I believe the administration must spend more time working with Congress to chart out a roadmap and a strategic vision of the program.

There are two things the President can do to move on this issue. First, in the National Security Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction of 2002, the administration said the National Security Council would prepare a 5-year governmentwide strategy by March of 2003. To my knowledge, this has not been completed. In addition, Congress required the administration to submit an interagency coordination plan on how to more effectively deal with nonproliferation issues. This plan is due at the end of this month.

Completing these plans will help the United States better address critical day-to-day issues such as liability, resource allocation, and timetables. Having a better strategic vision will also help us work more efficiently and effectively with other international donors who have become increasingly involved and are making significant contributions to these efforts. This is very important, as the contribution of other donors can help us make up valuable lost time.

Mr. President, my second question concerns the U.S.-Russian relationship. Where is this relationship heading? Will Russia be an adversary, a partner, or something in between?

We do not ask these questions simply because we are interested in being nice and want only to get along with the Russians. We have to ask these questions because they directly impact our progress towards securing and destroying stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials.

In the last few years, we have seen some disturbing trends in Russia: the rapid deterioration of democracy and the rule of law, bizarre and troubling statements from President Putin about the fall of the Soviet Union, the abuses that have taken place in Chechnya, and Russian meddling in the former Soviet Union--from the Baltics to the Ukraine to Georgia.

The Russians must understand that their actions on some of these issues are entirely unacceptable.

At the same time, I believe we have to do a better job of working with the Russians to make sure they are moving in the right direction. This starts by being thoughtful and consistent about what we say and what we do. Tone matters.

Some of the statements by our own officials have been confusing, contradictory, and problematic. At times I have been left scratching my head about what exactly our policy is and how administration statements square with this policy.

Another issue is the level of sustained engagement with Russia. I am glad the President and Secretary of State have made several trips to Russia, but as these trips are only a few days every year or so this is only one aspect of the relationship.

An additional component, which has suffered in recent years, is our foreign assistance programs to Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. These programs are absolutely essential in maintaining our engagement with Russia. These programs are not giveaways. They are programs that advance U.S. interests by strengthening Russian democracy and civil society, enhancing economic development and dealing with international health issues--in addition to curbing the nonproliferation threat.

At a time when these programs are desperately needed, their budgets have been cut dramatically. At a time when we should be doing more to engage and shape the future of Russia, we seem to be doing the exact opposite.

The nonproliferation threat does not exist in a vacuum. The issue I just mentioned, along with other important issues such as our own strategic nuclear arsenal, must be considered as we move forward.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like my colleagues to consider how our relationship with Russia, and our efforts to secure and destroy weapons and materials inside the former Soviet Union, fits in with our broader nonproliferation goals.

Russia is a major player in the two biggest proliferation challenges we currently face--Iran and North Korea. Russia's dangerous involvement with Iran's nuclear program has been well documented, and there is no question their actions will be pivotal if the President is to successfully resolve this deteriorating situation.

The Russians are also an important voice in trying to make progress on the deteriorating situation in North Korea. The Russian city of Vladivostok is home to 590,000 people and is very close to the North Korean border, putting the Russians smack in the middle of the crisis that we need to resolve.

In addition to all this, Russia holds a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, which could consider Iranian and North Korean issues in the very near future.

Developing bilateral and multilateral strategies that deal with Russia's role in these growing crises will be extremely important, both in terms of resolving these crises, advancing our non-proliferation goals within the former Soviet Union, and our long-term relationship with Russia.

I realize that, at this time, none of us have all the answers to these extraordinarily difficult questions. But if we hope to successfully fight terror and avoid disaster before it arrives at our shores, we have to start finding these answers. We have a lot of work to do.

I believe it is worth putting in place a process, one that involves senior administration officials, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, as well as retired senior military officers and diplomats, in an effort to dramatically improve progress on these issues.

I am interested in hearing from the President about his trip. I am also interested in hearing if he believes that an idea similar to the one I put forward is worth considering.

Delay is not an option. We need to start making more progress on this issue today. I urge my colleagues to act.

Despite all the distractions we have had with the so-called nuclear option and judicial nominations, this is literally a matter of life and death. I hope we start paying more attention to it in this Senate Chamber and in the debates that are going to be coming in the coming months.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New York is recognized.

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