Most U.S. policymakers support critical U.S. investments in improving security to prevent the theft of nuclear weapons and weapons usable material in Russia. A few, however, are starting to raise doubts about whether this cooperation is a good idea. Skeptics argue that, because of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the federal government needs to make a stronger case for nuclear security cooperation with Russia. They argue that the U.S. case needs to address issues like the cost of nuclear security programs, the fungibility of money given to Russia for security upgrades, and the marginal benefit of nuclear security spending in Russia. The problem with these concerns is that they do not acknowledge the purpose of nuclear security cooperation: reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently described the Islamic State (IS, referred to by the U.S. government as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and by many others as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham [ISIS]) as an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” with sophistication, funding, and military prowess “beyond anything that we’ve seen.” As yet, there is no convincing publicly available evidence that IS aspires to attain or use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons (Matthew Bunn debunked alarmist press coverage over the group’s seizure of uranium from Mosul University). But good sense demands that policy makers not discount the possibility that ISIS might pursue unconventional weapons, given the vast resources of money and weapons ISIS has amassed during its rampage across Syria and Iraq. Evaluation of the threat might be divided into two categories: the inclination to pursue CBRN weapons, and the means to manufacture or capture them, and afterwards, to plan an attack using them.
Yesterday, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released a letter signed by 26 senators asking the Obama Administration to increase funding for nonproliferation and nuclear security programs. In the letter, which was sent last week to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, the bipartisan group of senators raised concern regarding cuts to nuclear security programs over the past several years and requested that the Obama administration “seek increased funding for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs” in its upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request, expected to be released early in 2015. Read more about 26 Senators Call for Increasing Nuclear Security Funding