6/6 11:25 AM: Moments ago the House Judiciary Committee favorably reported the implementing legislation to the full House.
By Miles Pomper and Kingston Reif
Earlier today, at long last, Republican and Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee introduced “The Nuclear Terrorism Conventions Implementation and Safety of Maritime Navigation Act of 2012” (H.R. 5889).
The full Committee is scheduled to mark up the legislation tomorrow (June 6).
The bipartisan legislation would expand and strengthen U.S. efforts to prevent and combat nuclear terrorism by implementing key requirements of the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the essential 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.
Prompt ratification would fulfill critical commitments that the United States made at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit and accelerate international efforts to bring the treaties into force.
Despite long-standing bipartisan support, the treaties have failed to gain sufficient traction over the past several years. The George W. Bush administration submitted the treaties to the Senate in September 2007 and the Senate overwhelmingly approved them in September 2008. However, prior to U.S. ratification, the agreements require the United States to pass legislation to criminalize certain offenses, such as the possession of radioactive material other than nuclear material.
The legislation introduced today would implement certain requirements of the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) and the essential 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The Amendment to the CPPNM requires parties to protect nuclear facilities and material that is stored and used domestically. ICSANT would establish an international framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In 2010 and again last year, the Obama administration submitted draft implementing legislation for the two treaties to Congress. But concerns held by some Members of Congress regarding potential application of the death penalty and unnecessary use of wiretap authority held up the measure for over two years. It is our understanding that the bill introduced today does not included provisions expanding the scope of conduct subject to the death penalty and adding a new wiretap predicate. The bipartisan legislation introduced today is the product of months of negotiations between the House Judiciary Committee leaders and administration officials.
Republicans and Democrats agree that nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to U.S. national security, and have a long history of bipartisan cooperation on efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. However, the inability of the United States to ratify these two essential treaties has been counterproductive and self-defeating.
Quick congressional approval is important not only to ensure U.S. laws are sufficient but to prod other countries into action. At the Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul in March 2012, more than 50 countries pledged to seek the entry into force of the CPPNM Amendment by the next summit in 2014.
Reaching this goal will require a major effort as the Amendment will only enter into force after it has been ratified by two-thirds of the parties to the Convention. As of April, only 56 out of 145 states had approved the Amendment; 98 are required to do so before entry into force. Many other countries have indicated that they are waiting for the United States to complete ratification of the two treaties before moving ahead with their own ratification processes.