In case you missed it amidst a rather eventful news day, the House this evening passed by voice vote H.R. 5889, the Nuclear Terrorism Conventions Implementation and Safety of Maritime Navigation Act of 2012.
This 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 (ISCANT) and the essential 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The House Judiciary Committee favorably reported the legislation on a voice vote to the full House on June 6.
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 specific offenses. There is substantial overlap between existing US anti-terrorism laws (including those implementing anti-terrorism treaties) and the crimes covered by the legislation, but some crimes are not prohibited by existing law. H.R. 5889 criminalizes certain acts relating to the possession and use of radioactive material and radiological dispersal devices and damage to nuclear facilities.
The Amendment to the CPPNM requires parties to protect nuclear facilities and material that is stored, in transit, and used domestically. ICSANT would establish a framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Swift Congressional approval is important not only to ensure U.S. laws are sufficient but also to help 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; 97 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.
If the United States, the country generally perceived as most threatened by nuclear terrorism doesn’t care enough to act, other countries are unlikely to do so. Without U.S. moral and political support, efforts to combat nuclear terrorism will likely flounder.
The final step before the President can deposit the articles of ratification for the two treaties is for the Senate to pass the legislation. One would hope that what’s good enough for House Republicans ought to be good enough for their counterparts in the Senate.