CISAC launches new initiative to reduce nuclear risks

CISAC launches new initiative to reduce nuclear risks

William J. Perry, former secretary of defense, and Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, have joined forces to launch the Nuclear Risk Reduction initiative to address the changing nuclear threat following the end of the Cold War and the rise of international terrorism. The project is based at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), which Hecker co-directs.

"I have worked with Sig for many years, both inside and outside government," Perry said. "I am particularly pleased to have such an able collaborator on this effort, which I have said is the work to which I will dedicate the rest of my career."

Hecker said he is excited to work with Perry to reduce the global nuclear threat. "Our primary objectives will be to work toward a world with fewer weapons, to have fewer fingers on the nuclear trigger and to keep nuclear weapons and materials out of the wrong hands," he said. "Time is of the essence both because of the urgency of the threat and because of the renewed hope that major powers are willing to take serious steps to realize these goals."

Hecker and Perry, both giants in the field of nuclear defense and security, plan to bring their considerable experience and associations with the U.S. and international policy, military and scientific communities to achieve these objectives.

The Nuclear Risk Reduction initiative (NRR) builds on the work of the Preventive Defense Project (PDP) that was established at Stanford and Harvard 13 years ago under the leadership of Perry and Ashton B. Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. The two men, during their time in government, tackled some of the most important security issues following the breakup of the Soviet Union through promoting the concept of preventive defense, which seeks to diminish the possibility of potential threats escalating into actual threats and conflict. Carter is serving currently in the Obama administration as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Hecker, as director of Los Alamos, was instrumental in creating the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War environment without nuclear testing. He also helped reduce the nuclear threat posed by Russia and other republics in the chaotic years that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. At Stanford, he has expanded his activities to include work in Northeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East.

NRR's three-prong approach for making the world a safer place:

1. Working toward a world free of nuclear weapons

Perry, along with former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, launched a joint effort in 2007 to refocus world attention on the critical need to eliminate nuclear weapons, starting with practical measures to make the world a safer place. President Obama, who has embraced this vision, has begun to adopt policies that will move the United States in this direction. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed April 8, 2010, by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, reduces the number of strategic arsenals in each country to 1,550 warheads. Now Perry and Hecker, through NRR, are conducting a risk/benefit analysis of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), another critical piece of legislation linked to nuclear weapon reductions. They will also explore with Russian colleagues deeper cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals along with engaging other nuclear weapons states on such critical issues.

2. Preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons

Perry and Hecker believe the risk of using nuclear weapons increases as more countries acquire them. Much of their focus is on the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, both of which threaten international peace and stability. In addition, as more states possess nuclear weapons and materials, it will become increasingly likely that fissile materials for an improvised nuclear device could fall into the hands of sub-national groups or terrorists.

Meanwhile, if there is to be a global renaissance of nuclear power, nations must learn how to manage potential proliferation risks associated with nuclear reactors and their fuel cycles. This is particularly critical if nuclear power spreads to developing countries that have expressed interest in this form of energy, since many have neither the requisite technological basis nor political stability to guarantee security.

3. Preventing nuclear terrorism

The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. highlighted the importance of keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. As President Obama stated, "It is increasingly clear that the danger of nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security-to our collective security." Despite this, some nations view the terrorist threat with less alarm. NRR plans to engage the technical and military leadership in key countries to promote a common understanding of the dangers posed by such threats and what steps are needed to mitigate them.

President Obama also warned, "Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations." Harvard's Graham Allison stated if countries could, "Lock down all nuclear weapons and bomb-usable material as securely as gold in Fort Knox, they [could] reduce the likelihood of a nuclear 9/11 to nearly zero." During the Nuclear Summit, Obama announced a goal to "lock down" all nuclear materials by 2014. This is a laudable objective, but Perry and Hecker know it will require much more than physical security to protect nuclear sites worldwide. The two men will work toward a cooperative, global effort to help countries develop modern, comprehensive nuclear safeguard systems that can provide proper control and accounting, along with physical protection.

Hecker has experience regarding such work. In 1994, he initiated a nuclear materials protection, control and accounting program (the lab-to-lab program) with Russia's nuclear complex. Perry and Hecker, through NRR, plan to reinvigorate and broaden the scientific cooperation that existed between the United States and Russia in the 1990s. Moreover, they plan to collaborate with the technical, military and policy communities in key countries to realize NRR's ambitious agenda of making the world a safer and more secure place.