Official: DOD Improves Posture on ‘Loose Nuke’ Threat

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2012 — Though the Defense Department’s role in nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion cen­ters on dis­man­tling weapons of mass destruc­tion in for­mer Sovi­et Union states, DOD also plans, equips and trains for sce­nar­ios in which ter­ror­ists get their hands on nuclear weapons, the prin­ci­pal deputy assis­tant defense sec­re­tary for glob­al strate­gic affairs said yes­ter­day.

Ken­neth B. Han­del­man tes­ti­fied with col­leagues from the State Depart­ment, the Ener­gy Department’s Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion and the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office before the Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty and Gov­ern­men­tal Affairs Committee’s sub­com­mit­tee on over­sight of gov­ern­ment man­age­ment.

The hear­ing focused on inter­a­gency nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion efforts around the world.

For fis­cal 2013, Han­del­man said, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s bud­get request for the Nunn-Lugar Coop­er­a­tive Threat Reduc­tion Pro­gram, or CTR, is $519 mil­lion, rough­ly $130 mil­lion of which would be devot­ed to nuclear secu­ri­ty-relat­ed activ­i­ties, which he called “tru­ly a gov­ern­men­twide team effort.” CTR is an ini­tia­tive cre­at­ed in 1991 to secure and dis­man­tle weapons of mass destruc­tion and asso­ci­at­ed infra­struc­ture in for­mer Sovi­et Union states.

DOD’s con­tri­bu­tion to the nuclear secu­ri­ty effort “comes pri­mar­i­ly through CTR,” Han­del­man said.

“How­ev­er,” he added, “giv­en DOD’s over­all mis­sion to defend the nation, there’s a whole world of sep­a­rate nuclear-secu­ri­ty activ­i­ties for which my agency plans, equips and trains.”

Such activ­i­ties, he said, “cen­ter on a sce­nario none of us want to con­front; name­ly, what to do when we think the bad guys actu­al­ly have got­ten their hands on real­ly bad things.”

Plan­ning for this type of “loose-nukes” sit­u­a­tion is evolv­ing sub­stan­tial­ly, Han­del­man said, and the watch­word for DOD’s new think­ing focus­es on inte­gra­tion across DOD com­po­nents and across the gov­ern­ment.

“For instance,” he said, “the insta­bil­i­ty or col­lapse of a nuclear-armed state could quick­ly lead to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of nuclear weapons or mate­ri­als well beyond the coun­try of ori­gin and involve mul­ti­ple state and non­state actors as it moves across the globe.”

Today, Han­del­man said, the ser­vices are work­ing to improve DOD’s defen­sive pos­ture against the threat by enhanc­ing the homeland’s pro­tec­tive pos­ture, work­ing with the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty to bet­ter ana­lyze and track ter­ror­ist net­works, iden­ti­fy­ing like­ly paths to pro­lif­er­a­tion, and improv­ing the abil­i­ty to char­ac­ter­ize the source and nature of loose-nuke threats.

“Our work at DOD has focused on how U.S. mil­i­tary units would coor­di­nate with oth­er U.S. agen­cies and with allies and part­ners in the face of such a loose-nuke threat sce­nario,” Han­del­man said.

Han­del­man said the first line of defense in attain­ing glob­al nuclear secu­ri­ty is a group of activ­i­ties in which agen­cies from across the U.S. gov­ern­ment par­tic­i­pate, includ­ing DOD.

Thomas Coun­try­man, assis­tant sec­re­tary of state for inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, described for the pan­el a three-tiered U.S. strat­e­gy — site lev­el, coun­try lev­el and glob­al lev­el — to lock down or remove vul­ner­a­ble nuclear mate­ri­als.

“At the site lev­el,” he said, “we work with oth­er coun­tries to min­i­mize the civil­ian use of high­ly enriched ura­ni­um, to elim­i­nate unneed­ed weapons-usable mate­r­i­al, and to improve secu­ri­ty at spe­cif­ic sites.”

Where site-lev­el assis­tance is inap­pro­pri­ate,” Coun­try­man added, “we coop­er­ate at the coun­try lev­el with for­eign gov­ern­ments to exchange best prac­tices and to demon­strate the safe use of equip­ment.”

At the glob­al lev­el, the assis­tant sec­re­tary said, the Unit­ed States helps to devel­op glob­al ini­tia­tives through the Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Sum­mit process, the Unit­ed Nations and oth­er means to improve nuclear secu­ri­ty around the world.”

One exam­ple is U.S. engage­ment with the Glob­al Ini­tia­tive to Com­bat Nuclear Ter­ror­ism, he added, a part­ner­ship of 83 nations that con­duct activ­i­ties to strength­en plans, poli­cies and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty on the issue of nuclear ter­ror­ism.

The Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion also makes impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions at the site and nation­al lev­els, Anne Har­ring­ton said, includ­ing work­ing with part­ner coun­tries on their nuclear secu­ri­ty cen­ters of excel­lence.

“These cen­ters form an impor­tant net­work that will allow coun­tries and regions to strength­en capa­bil­i­ties to secure facil­i­ties and to deter, detect and inter­dict illic­it traf­fick­ing of nuclear and radi­o­log­i­cal mate­r­i­al,” she said.

The NNSA also holds quar­ter­ly coor­di­na­tion meet­ings with DOD col­leagues at the assis­tant-sec­re­tary lev­el, Har­ring­ton said, “to dis­cuss areas of com­mon inter­est, coor­di­nate on pro­gram ideas and do for­ward plan­ning.”

The Unit­ed States is look­ing for­ward into a glob­al nuclear econ­o­my, she added, one that, despite the inci­dents at the tsuna­mi-dam­aged Fukushi­ma nuclear plant in Japan, will con­tin­ue to expand in terms of use of nuclear pow­er and ura­ni­um com­merce.

“As long as nuclear mate­ri­als exist,” Coun­try­man told the pan­el, “we will have the same need to set the best pos­si­ble exam­ple in the Unit­ed States of secur­ing those mate­ri­als and of shar­ing that capa­bil­i­ty for pro­tec­tion with oth­er coun­tries, moti­vat­ing them to do the same.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)