by Leonor Tomero and Alan Pearson
The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Proliferation and Terrorism released its final report today: World at Risk. The Commission was created by HR 1, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, in order to “address the grave threat that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses to our country.” The panel was chaired by former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former Republican Senator Jim Talent.
Leading experts from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation issued reactions to the Commission’s findings.
LEONOR TOMERO, DIRECTOR FOR NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION
The report is an urgent call for action and effective leadership to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, which is one of the gravest threats to U.S. security. The report highlights the urgency for the new administration and Congress to take practical steps that will most effectively reduce the risk of biological and nuclear weapons-usable materials spreading and falling into terrorist hands.
This report is all the more important as several key recommendations, such as appointing a high-level official to coordinate U.S. efforts on WMD proliferation (recommended by the 9/11 Commission), have been mandated by Congress and ignored by the Bush administration.
The report also points to several new and timely recommendations such as declaring a moratorium on reprocessing for civilian purposes, stopping the use of bomb-grade uranium for civilian purposes, extending the verification provisions of the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (which is set to expire next year), limiting the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies, and strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency’s capability to detect diversions of dual-use materials in a timely manner. It also calls for engaging other countries more deeply in these efforts as the United States will need international cooperation and buy-in to make these efforts effective.
While the report highlights the need to strengthen non-proliferation efforts and to revitalize the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by imposing automatic penalties for non-compliance and by expanding the capabilities and resources of the IAEA, the United States will likely have to make significant progress on promises it made pursuant to its Article VI NPT commitments. In this context, the report favors extending the key provisions of the START agreement.
It is likely the United States will have to begin negotiating further significant reductions and make good on other promises such as ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if it seeks further buy-in and support from non-nuclear weapon states on making progress to limit the spread of nuclear weapons material and technologies.
The actions recommended in the report are achievable in the near- to medium-term; without them, the United States will continue to dangerously fall behind in the race to prevent nuclear terrorism.
ALAN PEARSON, DIRECTOR FOR BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONTROL
The Commission correctly argues that the United States has placed too little emphasis on preventing biological attacks and limiting the proliferation of biological weapons. The new administration and the next Congress should heed the Commission’s call for greater government oversight of research laboratories working with the most dangerous pathogens, the creation of an oversight system for high-risk research, and the renewal of U.S. global engagement, which is essential for effectively reducing biological threats.
As the report argues, the United States should devote much more effort to strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention, improving infectious disease surveillance capabilities, and expanding cooperative threat reduction activities. The Commission also makes an intriguing proposal for a new initiative to bring together leading developed and developing nations to forge a global biosecurity strategy.