Martin Schram / Capitol Hill Blue – 2004-09-14 12:51:04
(September 8, 2004) —
As fears of new terrorist attacks jolted Russia, President Vladimir Putin last week issued a first-time-ever order that should have been front page news everywhere.
Especially here in the United States. For it told as much about the security gap in America’s homeland security as it did about Russia’s. But no US newspaper or television network put the news anywhere where you’d see it.
Belated News Flash: Putin has just dispatched Russian military troops to guard all of his country’s far-flung, frighteningly under-secured nuclear weapons facilities. Yes, the same facilities his government always insisted were perfectly secure.
Putin was forced to drop his government’s Potemkin-false-front assurance because the latest Chechnyan terrorism in Russia (schoolhouse slaughter, subway bombing, two airline crashes) proved terrorists were capable of buying or stealing Russia’s vulnerable nuclear weapons and materials – and launching a nuclear terror attack inside Russia.
That gut-check reality apparently demanded a new level of truth-telling far beyond what was acceptable back when Russia’s vulnerable nukes were seen as just potential weapons for terrorists targeting Americans.
A threat to the Entire PlanetWhy Did Bush Halt Nuke-Protection Funding?
Bizarrely, after 9/11, when al Qaeda was clearly seeking weapons of mass destruction to use against us, President Bush froze all Nunn-Lugar funding for a year over a technicality. At the present rate, Russia’s vulnerable nuclear arsenals won’t be secured until well into the next decade. Which means that, while Russia’s new nuclear troops are on guard, America’s homeland is still at risk.
What now? In separate interviews, Nunn and Lugar, being clear-eyed visionaries, offered next-step solutions. While Putin has recognized the “extreme vulnerability” of many Russian nuclear facilities, Nunn said, both countries must respond to terrorist threats with new urgency: “We need to secure all materials.”
Lugar noted that in recent months, Russia’s Duma has been the party that has dragged its heels by delaying a ratification vote of an agreement to facilitate new funding by the world’s industrialized nations to secure Russian weapons of mass destruction. “Russia’s Duma and the Russian hierarchy felt this (effort to secure vulnerable arsenals) was interesting but not very essential,” Lugar said. “Perhaps now they should … act with urgency.”
Nunn focused upon the now crucial need to safeguard the homelands of both Russia and the United States by safeguarding small nuclear weapons — “weapons that one man can carry that can wipe out a good part of a major city.”
Neither country has been keen on sharing info with the other about these weapons, but Nunn said that must change in light of the new terrorist threats. “Both countries should have transparency to assure that small weapons that can be transported easily are secured,” he said.
Nunn proposed one more common-sense solution. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is spread over its vast land that spans 11 time zones. Dispersal was once a security precaution, assuring some survival of a U.S. attack; today it is a security problem, since some arsenal somewhere will surely be vulnerable to terrorists.
“We should offer to help Russia consolidate their nuclear weapons in a few areas,” Nunn said. “And then guard the heck out of them.”
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.