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Committed to Containing Nukes

By Richard G. Lugar
Saturday, October 23, 2004; Page A23

In a remarkable moment in the first presidential debate, both candidates agreed that the No. 1 national security threat facing the United States was the prospect that weapons of mass destruction would fall into the hands of terrorists.

Although the public consensus confirming the importance of this issue is new, it is not a new concern. Our government has been working on solutions to the problems of weapons proliferation and terrorist acquisition of loose nukes for more than a decade. In 1991 Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar Act, which has devoted U.S. money and expertise to helping the nations of the former Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle their enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems and related materials. This program has deactivated more than 6,300 nuclear warheads as well as thousands of missiles and hundreds of bombers and submarines. It has employed weapons scientists in peaceful pursuits and provided security enhancements at nuclear, biological and chemical sites.

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Today, even after more than 12 years of success, creativity and vigilance are required to ensure that the Nunn-Lugar program is not encumbered by bureaucratic obstacles or political disagreements. But as one of the authors of the program and a frequent traveler to Russia and the newly independent states on missions to accelerate the dismantling, I am gratified that both candidates have strongly endorsed the Nunn-Lugar program and associated nonproliferation initiatives.

Despite this apparent consensus, however, the Kerry campaign has accused the Bush administration of giving Nunn-Lugar and other nonproliferation issues low priority. This charge is not true. The Bush administration's record on securing weapons of mass destruction has been one of innovation and activism. Its record on securing dangerous weapons and materials is a rare case in U.S. politics where the performance of a candidate far exceeds his rhetoric on the issue. The president's campaign has reason to tout his multilateral accomplishments in this area. The Bush campaign has successfully communicated its core national security message: that the president is best equipped to carry out a comprehensive war on terrorism. It must now emphasize its substantial diplomatic achievements in the field of nonproliferation.

Chief among these successes is the rarely mentioned Group of Eight Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. Under this agreement, negotiated by the Bush administration, the United States will spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to safeguard and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and related materials in the former Soviet Union. The other members of the G-8 agreed collectively to spend another $10 billion over the same period. Our commitment of funds is primarily money that we had planned to spend anyway through the Nunn-Lugar program and associated efforts. With this agreement, the president doubled the funds committed to securing these weapons in Russia with minimal additional obligation to American taxpayers.

The Bush administration also successfully recruited more than 60 countries to participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative, a program that has enhanced our ability to interdict shipments related to weapons of mass destruction around the world. Through the Energy Department, it established the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to reduce and secure high-risk nuclear and radiological materials globally. It has facilitated the acceleration of Nunn-Lugar work at the critical chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuchye in Russia through personal intervention by the president and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. It finalized the deal with Libya that laid open that country's weapons programs. It advocated passage of the IAEA Additional Protocol, which greatly expands the International Atomic Energy Agency's ability to detect clandestine nuclear activities. It secured passage in April of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, which for the first time required states to criminalize proliferation. It also has provided constant encouragement to the promising talks between India and Pakistan that represent an important opportunity to reduce tensions on the subcontinent. The president supported, through personal communications with congressional leaders, and signed into law the Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act, which establishes new authority to use the program's funds and expertise outside the former Soviet Union. On Thursday President Bush authorized the first use of the Nunn-Lugar program outside the former Soviet Union when he directed U.S. agencies to help safeguard and destroy a chemical weapons stockpile in Albania after the Albanian government appealed to us for aid in dealing with this previously unrevealed hazard.

Sen. John Kerry has correctly sensed the mood of the public on weapons of mass destruction, but President Bush has repeatedly demonstrated his personal commitment to Nunn-Lugar and has been out in the world achieving nonproliferation goals. The administration has established relationships and expertise that are critical to the paramount objective of preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into terrorist hands. The Bush administration will not have to start from scratch in 2005.

The writer is a Republican senator from Indiana and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company