The Stanley Foundation
Seeking a secure peace with freedom and justice, built on global citizenship and effective global governance.

The US Role in Securing Nuclear Material
March 2011

Editor’s Note: A new series of feature articles in think. will examine the main themes of the three issue areas on which the Stanley Foundation focuses its programming—global leadership, nuclear material security, and genocide prevention. Each article will lay out the concerns, international trends and dynamics, and underlying reasoning on which our approach and advocacy are based. We will also strive to inspire you to learn more, take action, and work with us as we push for better US and global policies that lead to a secure peace.

In the January 2011 edition of think., we laid out the real world context for US and international cooperative action to prevent nuclear terrorism. In this article, we want to further explore the role of the US in the global effort to secure weapons-usable nuclear material.

We all know that the US-led Manhattan Project developed what is without question the world’s most dangerous weapon. The US was also the first, and only, country to use nuclear weapons in war with the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Then, during the Cold War, the US, as well as the Soviet Union, stockpiled large numbers of nuclear weapons as a part of a mutually assured destruction policy. After the end of the Cold War, the US was one of a handful of nuclear-weapons possessing nations and, aside from Russia, it had one of the largest stockpiles.

US leaders quickly recognized that the fall of the Soviet Union left large numbers of weapons and significant quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials widely scattered and potentially unsecure. With the birth of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, or the Nunn-Lugar Act, the US took on a global leadership role in securing the world’s nuclear materials. The efforts made over the last 20 years have without question made the world a safer place.

However, today’s world is a different place than it was at the end of the Cold War. There are more countries with nuclear weapons, which means the materials needed and the knowledge of how to build the weapons are spread even more broadly. There is an increased demand for nuclear energy, which often uses the same material used in weapons. This, too, means more material in more locations and the spread of knowledge and technology. There are also nonstate actors, especially terrorists, who desire to possess or use a nuclear weapon, which means that protecting the material (and weapons) from theft or diversion and containing the know-how of nuclear weapons development is more important than before.

These, and other reasons, are why today’s global effort to secure weapons-usable nuclear material requires strong US leadership. We’ve been using our diplomatic, technical, and other resources to lock down these materials for two decades, but today’s world demands that US (and other countries’) efforts be stepped up. It is in our national security interests to ensure that a nuclear terrorist event never occurs, especially on US soil.

The president and his administration, Congress, and the American public all have a role to play. If we are to attain effective, long-term nuclear materials security, President Obama must work to build upon his commendable efforts of last year bringing together the leaders of 46 countries to address the issue. Our own commitments from the Nuclear Security Summit need to be fulfilled before the next summit in South Korea in 2012. Our “leading by example” is crucial to our ability to leverage other countries’ actions.

Through the departments of Energy, State, and Defense, the US operates key programs that assist those nations who want and need help in securing or disposing of their nuclear material or interdicting illicit transfer or sale of nuclear materials. These programs require an investment, authorized by Congress in the US budget, that pales in comparison to the estimates of the costs of dealing with a nuclear terrorist event. The US investment in these programs, and other multilateral efforts, is a demonstration of leadership in locking down these dangerous materials.

The American public needs to understand the potential threat we face from a nuclear terrorist threat. Many don’t feel as if they have adequate knowledge about the technical aspects of nuclear weapons to understand how to combat nuclear terrorism. In reality, the most important thing for the public to understand is that despite the magnitude of impact of a nuclear terrorist attack, there are sensible, concrete steps that our government can take to reduce the risk of this ever happening. This understanding will hopefully lead to public backing for the policies that most lead to effective and sustainable nuclear material security.

Overall, US unilateral efforts to secure weapons-usable nuclear material must remain a top policy priority; however, we cannot secure the world’s nuclear material alone. Ultimately, this is an issue that must be addressed through international cooperation. In a future edition of think. we’ll examine further key multilateral efforts to secure nuclear material.

Jennifer Smyser

Share: Email Facebook Twitter
2017 International Women Authors Event 2017 International Women Authors Event
Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami, author of “The Moor’s Account,” will be the featured speaker at the 2017 International Women Authors event on November 9 in Rock Island, Illinois.

Courier Courier
As summer winds down, take a look at the new issue of Courier from the Stanley Foundation. The Summer 2017 issue delves into topics including the transition away from coal in Germany, the increased role of cities in global governance, and the crisis in Venezuela. Also in this issue, read about the increased capabilities of 3D printing, and oversight over emerging technologies. Summer 2017 PDF (1,151K) Subscribe for FREE.

Stanley Foundation Annual Conferences Stanley Foundation Annual Conferences
The Stanley Foundation holds two annual conferences, UN Issues and the Strategy for Peace Conference. These bring together experts from the public and private sectors to meet in a distraction-free setting and candidly exchange ideas on pressing foreign policy challenges.

Divided into roundtable talks, the cutting-edge discussions are intended to inspire group consensus and shared recommendations to push forward the debate on the foundation’s key policy areas.

A Climate for Conflict: Stories from Somalia A Climate for Conflict: Stories from Somalia
The Ground Truth Project, New America, and the Stanley Foundation are hosting a Screening of “A Climate for Conflict” and discussion with the creators followed by a panel discussion on Climate Security and Societal Resilience on May 30, 2017.

Somalia today is at a crossroads between a deepening crisis and a path to stability. Photographer and filmmaker Nichole Sobecki and writer Laura Heaton spent 18 months documenting personal stories of Somalia, creating a film, photography, and reporting that vividly illustrate the human consequences and security risks of a changing climate. Read more.

Follow the conversation online with #AClimateforConflict.

Stanley Foundation at 60
On December 12, 1956, the Stanley Foundation was certified as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Iowa, bringing to life an organization dedicated to creating a world in which there is a secure peace with freedom and justice. Sixty years later, the organization continues to pursue and advance that vision as a thriving nonpartisan operating foundation. Moreover, it remains an organization with a professional staff and the involvement of family members who have an ongoing role in shaping its strategy and core values. More.

Receive Materials Receive Materials
The Stanley Foundation publishes policy briefs, analytical articles, and reports on a number of international issues. To reduce our carbon footprint and cut waste, we almost exclusively, use electronic distribution for our publications. Sign up to receive our resources via e-mail.

the latest the latest
Our bimonthly newsletter is filled with resources to keep you up to date with our work at the Stanley Foundation. Each edition includes news about recent publications and stories as well as features our people and partners.

You will also find many extras, from upcoming events to multimedia resources. Sign up for the latest to stay engaged on key global issues.

Watch and Learn Watch and Learn
Stanley Foundation events, talks, video reports, and segments from our Now Showing event-in-a-box series can now be viewed on YouTube. To receive regular updates on our video posts, please subscribe today.