07/03/2010 - 05:38

Setback for WMD security

Fissile Materials Working Group

Fissile Materials Working Group

The Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG) brings together the experience of leading nonproliferation experts and nongovernmental organizations to...

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When the Group of Eight (G-8) last gathered in Canada in 2002, the summit meeting was an unarguable success for the future of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) security. The leaders launched a multilateral initiative, known as the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and pledged $20 billion over 10 years to help Russia destroy their WMD stockpiles. Eight years later, in June 2010--when G-8 leaders again met in Canada--there was reason to be optimistic that the Global Partnership would be renewed for an additional 10 years. Such optimism was dashed, however, when G8 leaders announced to "evaluate", rather than extend, the Global Partnership, thereby kicking the nuclear-terrorism can further down the road.

By not extending the G-8 Global Partnership, which is an effort that is specifically designed to lock down or eliminate weapons and materials of mass destruction that threaten every corner of the globe, the world's leaders opted to put global security at risk. But at what cost?

With the G-8 nations representing 44 percent of global GDP, the financial commitment they needed to make to extend the program is more than affordable, especially in terms of preventing a WMD terrorist attack. In fact, with the U.S. already covering about $1.5 billion of the annual $2 billion pledge, the rest of the G-8 nations would have only been responsible for contributing a half a billion per year collectively--or $ 5 billion over 10 years.

Lest we forget about the terror attacks in Turkey and Indonesia: The threat is global, and it is real. The international intelligence community has said there's no question that Al Qaeda is actively seeking weapons of mass destruction. And there is no question that Al Qaeda, if given the chance, would like to use these weapons against a country like the United States, or any one of the other members of the G-8: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Since 2002, the Global Partnership has addressed nonproliferation, disarmament, counterterrorism, and nuclear safety issues through cooperative projects related to the destruction of chemical weapons; the dismantlement of decommissioned nuclear submarines; the security and disposal of nuclear materials; and re-channeling employment of former weapons scientists to peaceful civilian endeavors. Though the first efforts concentrated on Russian and Eurasian states, more needs to be done to address proliferation risks around the world. Leaders need to re-focus the efforts of the Global Partnership to make them truly global in scope and address problems where they exist in myriad countries.

In April, leaders from 47 countries came together in Washington D.C. for the first Nuclear Security Summit. They agreed that nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security, and that strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals, and others from acquiring nuclear materials and weapons. The G-8 said it not only supported the Nuclear Security Summit's perspective, but also "[welcomed] the concrete achievements and measurable results" of the Global Partnership.

While we can't be sure what happened, we do know that the world's largest economies--those very economic capitals that would suffer the most extreme setback upon a terrorist's WMD attack--missed a crucial opportunity. Expanding the program for another 10 years could be the best investment the G-8 ever makes in global security. A safer world is a global effort--and the Global Partnership is a vital tool in addressing nuclear terrorism and can increase our security many times over.

Let's hope that next year, when the G-8 meets again, the leaders do not make the same mistake twice. Such a mistake may very well be a matter of life and death.

Editor's Note: Alexandra Toma and Jennifer Smyser wrote this column. Toma is co-chairperson of the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG), and program director at the Connect U.S. Fund. Smyser is a member of the FMWG steering committee, and program officer at the Stanley Foundation.