by Kingston Reif
On August 4, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin described what he labeled the top eight foreign policy and national security issues facing Congress that have stalled because of the debt ceiling crisis. According to Rogin, lawmakers will take up many of these issues when they return to work after the August recess.
“Arms Control” comes in at #4 on Rogin’s list. The Senate’s ratification of the New START treaty was an important achievement, he writes, but the hard-fought battle over the treaty killed “the appetite on Capitol Hill and in the White House for another long battle over an international arms control treaty.”
While one can question this point, especially when Rogin quotes New START treaty opponent Jon Kyl to bolster his case (Kyl was tired of the treaty before it was even negotiated), Rogin might consider some nuclear risk reduction measures that Congress can act on immediately and enjoy bipartisan support.
Indeed, while Washington, DC has been riven between Democratic-Republican open warfare on the debt ceiling, below are three issues on which many in the two parties can unite that may help pave the way for action in the coming months…
Reverse reckless cuts to nuclear terrorism prevention programs
The House-passed Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2354) reduces the administration’s FY 2012 request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative by $85 million (or 17%). This is the key program in the effort to lock down and eliminate dangerous nuclear and radiological materials around the world at an accelerated rate and keep our nation safe from nuclear terrorism. The cut comes on the heels of a $123 million (or 22%) cut to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative below the FY 2011 request in the final FY 2011 Continuing Resolution.
There is an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that the greatest threat to U.S. national security is the threat of nuclear terrorism. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative is America’s first line of defense against this threat. The irresponsible House reductions to this program the last two budget years are difficult to comprehend, since they would set back efforts to counter most serious threat confronting our national security: the threat of nuclear terrorism.
The House cut would have been worse but for an amendment offered by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) to restore $35 million to the program, which the House adopted on a voice vote. Republican Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Peter Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) backed the amendment. The Senate should capitalize on their bipartisan leadership and restore full funding to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative when it takes up the Energy and Water bill in September.
Approve enabling legislation for the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ISCANT)
Signed in 2005 during the George W. Bush administration, the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material requires parties to protect nuclear facilities and material that is stored and used domestically. The provisions in the original 1980 convention only required physical protection for nuclear material during international transport. The amended Convention fills a critical gap in physical protection of nuclear material.
The International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism establishes an international framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Convention also provides a legal basis for international cooperation in the investigation, prosecution, and extradition of alleged offenders.
Both treaties were approved with strong bipartisan support in September 2008. But the U.S. can’t ratify the Conventions until both houses of Congress approve implementing legislation to criminalize certain offenses.
At the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., the Obama administration pledged to accelerate efforts to complete ratification procedures for the two treaties. The administration submitted draft implementing legislation for consideration to the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees in April 2011.
U.S. ratification of the Conventions will bolster the cooperative international effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. Congress should approve them as soon as possible.
Insist that civilian nuclear cooperation agreements contain the highest nonproliferation standards
On April 14 the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved H.R. 1280, which would amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to require Congressional approval of civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with foreign countries that do not pledge to foreswear the development of uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies.
(Yes, that word was unanimous, meaning that members of both parties came together in support of the bill.)
The legislation would also require that a recipient country has signed, ratified, and is fully implementing the Additional Protocol, which grants the International Atomic Energy Agency expanded powers to detect undeclared nuclear material and activities.
Co-sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA), the bill does not require that new civilian cooperation requirements contain a prohibition on the development of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. Rather, if a new agreement does not contain such a prohibition, a simple majority in both the House and the Senate would be required to approve the agreement.
The Obama administration has joined forces with the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Heritage Foundation in opposing the legislation. In a July 15 statement, the State Department argued that if the bill were enacted, “the United States would see a significant drop in the number of states willing to conduct nuclear cooperation with our country.”
Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Berman have said that they are willing to work with the administration and the nuclear industry to address their concerns by refining certain provisions of the bill as it moves through the legislative process. However, the core feature of the legislation asking states to forswear the development of enrichment and reprocessing technologies will help to strengthen the global norm against the spread of these technologies and U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.
Congress should follow the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s lead and work with the Obama administration to promptly approve H.R. 1280.