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Funding the Fight Against Nuclear Terrorism March 16, 2010

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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Each Tuesday BFAD features a guest blogger- these are experts from a variety of backgrounds writing about what they know best.  This week features Kenneth Luongo, President of the Partnership for Global Security.

by Kenneth Luongo

Just about a year ago, President Obama made a very bold pledge to “secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years” in order to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack.  He then offered up a budget for 2010 that was over $200 million less than the last budget of the Bush administration, which did not support this ambition.  The Administration then did nothing to support a House bill that significantly boosted the funding for his objective and then again did nothing to oppose the actions of other congressional committees that either took the request at face value or rearranged elements of it without significantly adding to it overall.  So, in essence the Administration has lost a year in its four year quest.  As a result it is extremely unlikely that it will meet its stated four year goal.  In fact, the Administration has yet to define what it considers vulnerable nuclear material.

This year, in the State of the Union address, the President restated his four year objective and received a bipartisan standing ovation – rare for that event.  He then submitted a budget for 2011 that was $320 million over the FY10 budget for this agenda and forecast growth in the coming years for key programs run by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  But is this more robust budget adequate to meet the President’s objective?

Certainly when combining the FY11 request for all the key agencies – NNSA, the Department of Defense (DoD) Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the relevant programs in the departments of State and Homeland Security – the overall budget is much better than the current year.  But it still is not adequately constructed to meet the four year goal.

Among all of these agencies, there is just one new initiative, CTR’s Global Nuclear Lockdown program at a requested $74 million.  The remainder of the budget mainly accelerates existing activities, but it doesn’t expand their scope.

There are two key programs in NNSA that are carrying out the bulk of the four year commitment – the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMPC) program and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).

In the INMPC budget the biggest increase ($34 million) is to continue security upgrade work at Russian nuclear weapons related facilities, a mission that the Department of Energy (DoE) has been engaged in since 1994.  Today, as has historically been true, the overwhelming percentage of the nuclear material protection funding in this program’s budget (about $300 million in FY10) is directed at Russia.  There is little for other efforts around the globe.

The biggest FY11 increase is in the GTRI budget for nuclear material removals ($211 million).  This funding is in part slated to increase the removals of highly-enriched uranium in 2011 and to plan for even more accelerated removal in 2012.  This is extremely important work but perhaps not as dramatic as the President’s “global” pledge might indicate.  The handful of countries targeted for this accelerated removal, at least in 2011, have dangerous nuclear material that is better off removed. But some of these countries, while high priorities, may not be considered the highest priority nuclear dangers on the globe.

Similarly, the DoD Global Nuclear Lockdown program, which is a $74 million new initiative for CTR, supports the President’s four year objective.  But, what’s really new here is a request of $30 million for Nuclear Security Centers of Excellence.  The first of these, if approved, will likely be outside the Russia/former Soviet Union region.  But the remainder of the $44 million in this initiative is slated for activities in Russia mostly supplementing activities that NNSA and CTR have been already doing.

On top of this there are some significant cuts in the State Department budget.  The requested State Department budget to combat WMD proliferation and promote global threat reduction is down over $10 million, or by about 5 percent.  This includes a substantial $18 million cut in the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF).  This can in part be explained by the fact that the NDF was until this year the only program in this area that had “notwithstanding” authority, which meant it could spend its funding as circumstances dictated without receiving congressional approval, including funding projects implemented by other U.S. government agencies. But in the current year, the Congress granted limited notwithstanding authority to a number of threat reduction programs.  But State is a valuable partner with NNSA and DoD and at the very least its funding should match that of FY09, which would require a $34 million increase.

Also in the NNSA account, what is not made clear in the budget documents is that the radiological protection budget in particular has been sacrificed to some degree in the short term to pay for the nuclear security initiative.  It’s a little tricky to figure this out and it requires analyzing past years budgets as well as past and present out year spending projections.  But the radiological protection budget has dropped each year since 2009 and it spikes in the out years seemingly to compensate for its lower priority now.  The radiological removal budget is boosted in the FY11 request (in part to compensate for a congressional reduction in FY10) but could be higher given the plethora of sources at home and around the globe and the higher likelihood (though significantly lower impact) of a dirty bomb attack over a nuclear attack.

The nuclear detection budget in DHS is roughly steady compared to the FY10 level, despite that agency being tasked with the development of a global nuclear detection architecture.

Despite the limitations of the budget, the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee Vice Chairman, Ed Pastor (D-AZ) and Ranking member Rodney Frelinghuysen (D-NJ) have questioned the NNSA budget increase and whether it can all be spent in fiscal year 2011.  This is not an idle challenge in a tough budget year, especially since this subcommittee likely will be the first of the appropriators to act on the request, setting the tone for others.

So, the Administration could end up suffering cuts because its approach was not bold enough.  There are a number of new initiatives that the Administration could have proposed that would have both justified higher spending and improved the nuclear security effort.  Examples of these new ideas are provided in presentations by the Partnership for Global Security and Belfer Center at Harvard.

So, how should the Administration proceed in what could be an adversarial environment on Capitol Hill?  It should be more not less aggressive.  First, it should correct the FY10 budget shortfalls by proposing increases in a supplemental appropriations request of $115 million.  At the very least the FY10 cut to the GTRI program should be reversed and its funding restored at least to the FY09 level of $395 million (an addition of $62 million).  This could help boost the radiological mission at a minimum.  Similarly, the INMPC budget should be closer to $625 million (an addition of about $53 million) to allow for additional activities outside of Russia.

In addition, there is a congressional limit on nuclear security spending in Russia and the former Soviet states beginning in FY12.  This needs to be modified so that the programs can continue.  This is especially important not just because the job will not have been completed by that date, but also because security equipment installed at the start of this cooperation in the early and mid-1990s is nearing the end of its life expectancy and is becoming obsolete. Improvements on the original security measures, therefore, may be required.

And finally, the President should use the global nuclear security summit that he is hosting in April and the June meeting of the G-8 and G-20 countries to generate support for a global fund for WMD security that should total $2.5-3.0 billion per year over the next ten years.  This would underscore the need for continued multilateral involvement in this area and make clear to recipient nations that there is a renewable WMD security investment fund that they can utilize.

At the end of the day the President’s four year goal is unlikely to be met in the timeframe he has endorsed for budgetary, bureaucratic, and diplomatic reasons.  But, incrementally funding the fight against nuclear terrorism is a prescription for making it more likely rather than reducing its likelihood.  If it occurs, the cost of the response will dwarf the cost of its inadequately funded prevention.

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