Defense and security experts down the line agree that nuclear terrorism is a major threat in the 21st century. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been more than 2000 confirmed cases of illicit or unauthorized trafficking of nuclear and radioactive material. As the 9/11 Commission Report states, “The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that inadequately secured stores of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials offer “potential source material” to terrorists.
But while nuclear terrorism is one of the biggest threats to our security, it is also one of the most preventable. Two treaties with very complicated names but very straight-forward goals will equip our security and intelligence communities with tools they need to better prevent attacks. The Convention on the 2005 Amendment to the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) will increase our ability to confront nuclear terrorism by 1) protecting domestic nuclear material and 2) promoting international cooperation in investigating, extraditing and prosecuting suspected terrorists.
In the age of globalization, word travels fast and exchanges happen quickly. The black market demand and trade of nuclear materials recognizes no state boundaries. There is a clear need for an international legal framework that promotes cooperation to effectively extinguish known threats. As of now, no such framework exists, causing fragmentation and a lack of knowledge sharing between international agencies. ICSANT would fix this. CPPNM would address the growing problem of unsecured nuclear material. Current international agreements only require physical protection of nuclear material during international transport but allow it to be stored in warehouses with only a padlock for protection the rest of the time. CPPNM would ensure nuclear material is secure at all times.
These are common-sense measures supported by our military leaders and enjoying broad bipartisan support, but their approval is in jeopardy. The treaties need implementing language approved by the House and Senate to complete ratification. The Republican House has already approved language, but Republican Sen. Grassley recently added new amendments to the Senate version of this legislation that, while well intentioned, risks killing these treaties by running out the clock during the lame duck Congress. There simply is not enough time to start over and get these changes approved this year. Sen. Grassley should drop these provisions, follow the lead of his Republican colleagues in the House and pass these already strong anti-terror treaties that are vital to keeping us safe.
Our enemies are not sitting idle, and we cannot continue to delay. Sen. Grassley should build upon his previous leadership in national security issues and pass the House version of these important treaties. Not doing so would be a missed opportunity to strengthen America’s ability to confront one of the major threats to our security in the 21st century.
Blunt commanded the 97th Army Reserve Command and has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and held the career designator of Atomic Energy Officer.