Commentary

How much of a nuclear, chemical, or biological threat might ISIS pose? (Part I)

By Nate Sans

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.

26 Senators Call for Increasing Nuclear Security Funding

By Nickolas Roth

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.

Cutting Too Deep: Nuclear Security Budget Cuts

By Nickolas Roth

Matthew Bunn, William Tobey, and I recently published a report titled Cutting Too Deep: The Obama Administration’s Proposals for Nuclear Security Spending Reductions. The report provides a detailed description of the Obama administration’s funding for nuclear security programs during the four year effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material.

The Russian Tie We Can't Cut

By William Tobey, Matthew Bunn, and Nickolas Roth

“I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” So said President Obama last March, weighing the danger of nuclear terrorism against that of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Yet our research shows that his administration proposes cutting the amount of money spent on an array of programs to secure nuclear bomb materials around the world and keep them out of terrorists’ hands — to $555 million next year from $700 million in fiscal 2014. And in both houses of Congress, there are efforts to legislate a suspension of nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

Task Force on DOE Nuclear Nonproliferation Emphasizes Importance of Continued U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation

By Matthew Bunn

The interim report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation is just out.  It lays out a range of broad recommendations for strengthening nonproliferation efforts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) -- and in particular emphasizes that the United States still has vital national security interests in continuing nuclear security cooperation with Russia, despite Russia’s behavior in Ukraine and all the important nuclear security improvements already made there. 

IAEA Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics

By Mary Fall Wade

Two weeks ago, 330 attendees from over 86 member states and several international organizations convened for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics, a three-day meeting in Vienna, Austria. Nuclear forensics seeks to identify the history and origin of nuclear material, by looking, as the IAEA puts it, at “the properties of the nuclear or other radioactive material through physical, chemical, elemental, and isotopic analysis, including major, minor, and trace constituents.” Once a given sample of material is characterized, the information can be interpreted by comparing it with other existing or known materials elsewhere.

About That Uranium in Mosul...

By Matthew Bunn

I’ve got a new post over at The National Interest arguing that the natural or depleted uranium the Islamic State managed to get when it took over Mosul does not pose much threat – but that having an extreme terrorist group with a lot of money and a lot of fighters inviting Islamic terrorists from all over the world to join them in their seized territory may well pose a serious problem.

Don't Let Nuclear-Security Cooperation with Russia Lapse

Nickolas Roth and Robert GardBy Nickolas Roth and Robert Gard
Republicans and Democrats alike have traditionally understood that investing in nuclear security is a small price to pay compared with the devastating economic, political and social costs of nuclear terrorism. That’s why U.S. cooperation with Russia and other countries to secure vulnerable nuclear material has enjoyed bipartisan support.