Within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush highlighted the menace posed by weapons of mass destruction, declaring: "We will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes and terrorists to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
That promise led to designations, such as the "axis of evil" for Iraq, Iran and North Korea; to steps, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, which allows the United States to search ships for weapons material; and to war with Iraq, based on the belief that Saddam Hussein's government was sitting on a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and working toward an atomic bomb.
But according to a critical report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, it has not helped secure vulnerable nuclear facilities, criminalized the transfer of weapons technology or meted out punishments for countries that renege on their commitment to remain nuclear-free.
"If you're really worried that terrorists are going to get nuclear materials and build a bomb, then we have to be acting a lot more aggressively and thinking more comprehensively to lock down the global nuclear complex," said Jon Wolfsthal, one of five co-authors of the Carnegie report, "Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security." The report is being released today at the start of a two-day conference here on nuclear weapons sponsored by the think tank.
More than 600 members of the arms control community are expected to attend the conference, including Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Mitchell Reiss, director of policy planning at the State Department; former senator Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative; and Hans Blix, who led the U.N. hunt for weapons in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in March 2003.
Among the toughest claims in the 95-page report, which will be the focus of today's opening session, is that the United States is undermining its own policies by continuing to build nuclear weapons and strengthening ties with nuclear states -- India, Pakistan and Israel.
The report also chides the administration's approach to Iran, a country censured on Friday by the IAEA for failing to cooperate with international inspectors. The toughly worded rebuke at the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency was written by France, Britain and Germany, which have been trying to offer Iran incentives to give up its nuclear ambitions.
The Bush administration has taken a tougher line, saying it wants to bring the issue to the U.N. Security Council in the hope of forcing Iran to back down. But officials in Washington have quietly conceded there is little they can do if Iran decides to go nuclear.
"The U.S. should more fully back the European Union leaders," the Carnegie group wrote. "Resolving the nuclear proliferation challenge should be the highest priority in relations with Iran."
On North Korea, the report recommends that Bush appoint a special envoy to negotiate with Pyongyang for the complete dismantlement of its nuclear capabilities. The United States will take part in a new round of six-party talks in Beijing this week aimed at ending a 20-month crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. But the administration has refused to talk directly to Pyongyang or reward the country before it gives up its arsenal, which U.S. intelligence now estimates to include as many as eight nuclear devices.
The Carnegie report also focuses on protecting nuclear materials, reactors and sites around the world from sabotage and theft and creating tough international measures to punish black marketeers.
"In many countries, stealing nuclear materials is no more of a crime than stealing money," the report said.
Earlier this year, a massive black market run by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, was exposed when Libya announced it was giving up its clandestine attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Khan was pardoned by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a close ally of the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks.