Friends Committee on National Legislation / Washington Newsletter – 2016-07-17 19:46:35
The Real Nuclear Threat: A Dirty Bomb
Friends Committee on National Legislation / Washington Newsletter
(July 2016) — This year, violent extremists linked to the Islamic State spied on the home and office of a person involved with storing large quantities of dangerous nuclear material. The motive for the surveillance is unknown, but authorities speculate that the group might want the material to use in an attack.
The country where this surveillance happened? Belgium, in the months before the deadly March 2016 bombings. Thankfully, no nuclear material was involved in those attacks.
In the popular imagination, nuclear threats come in the form of bombs exchanged by nuclear weapons states. Intelligence agencies and national security experts are much more focused on the threat of a few pounds of nuclear material falling into the hands of a violent, non-state group like ISIS.
The US has effective programs to secure and destroy unsecured stockpiles around the world. First championed by former Sens. Sam Nunn (GA) and Richard Lugar (IN), these nonproliferation efforts have led the US to become the world’s leading expert on secure disposal of surplus uranium.
The world has no shortage of this material: It can be found in Africa, Asia, and Europe; in unsecured research reactors; 1960s-era electricity-generating plants; and the engines of decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines. But US funding for the programs to deal with it has declined in recent years.
Why would US nonproliferation programs stagnate, given the danger and need? Deteriorating relations between the US and Russia are partly to blame. It’s become more difficult for US nonproliferation experts to work in the country that contains much of the world’s loose nuclear material.
The Pentagon’s nuclear modernization plans are also behind declining nonproliferation budgets, however. As military leaders and contractors look for funding sources to improve US nuclear weapons, nonproliferation funding seems like an easy pot to pilfer.
Now, more than ever, the US needs to invest in nonproliferation.
FCNL has worked with the Obama administration and Congress to increase funding for these programs. This year, our goal is to increase nonproliferation funding beyond the president’s budget request. We have had some success: In the Senate’s Energy and Water Appropriations bill, nonproliferation programs received $20 million over the president’s request.
The parallel House bill hasn’t yet been approved, but in committee representatives added nearly $120 million in nonproliferation funding above the president’s request.
These funds go to support critical programs. They support research and development for more effective radiation detection systems at shipping docks, airports, and other high-risk areas; and efforts to secure vulnerable sites where radiological and nuclear materials are present.
Rather than spending our tax dollars to build new nuclear weapons, the US government should devote even more money to the tasks of securing and ultimately destroying unsecured stockpiles of existing nuclear weapons and materials. Groups like ISIS operate by creating as much damage, destruction, and terror as they can. A nuclear attack would serve their purposes well. The US needs to maintain and strengthen its commitment to and investment in preventing the next attack in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, or the US from being a nuclear one.
Ask The Candidates: Nuclear Disarmament
Friends Committee on National Legislation / Washington Newsletter
The decisions your senators and representative make in the next few years on nuclear weapons policy will be shaped in part by what they hear during this election year. What you do now to share your own views could make a big difference. Use these sample questions to engage with your candidates.
* President Obama has proposed a $1 trillion plan to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. This massive investment in new nuclear weapons is immoral, unnecessary, and wasteful. Would you oppose spending taxpayer dollars on new nuclear weapons?
* The Pentagon is developing a new nuclear cruise missile that former Secretary of Defense William Perry has called a “grave mistake.” This weapon could lead to a new arms race. Would you support canceling plans to build a new nuclear cruise missile?
* The most serious nuclear threat today comes not from a nuclear war with Russia, but from a small “dirty bomb” made from nuclear material acquired on the black market or from unsecured facilities. Yet US funding for nonproliferation programs has stagnated.
Civil Dialogue in an Election Year: 2016
The 2016 campaign season is in full swing. As candidates work to secure your vote, they are especially receptive to hearing your perspective.
While FCNL does not support or oppose individual candidates for public office, the policy issues debated in the lead-up to the November congressional elections will help determine what members are willing or able to do in the next Congress. In the months leading up to the election, candidates running for public office in your state and district are listening carefully to what you and other voters think.
You have an opportunity not only to share your concerns and priorities but also to help educate candidates and people in your community about how issues have changed or emerged since the last election cycle.
In our view, the way you ask these questions may be as important as the questions themselves. We encourage you to engage with candidates and with your neighbors in a way that promotes dialogue and raises the issues you care about most deeply. These conversations are an opportunity to listen and learn as well as share your point of view.
We encourage you to communicate with all candidates in your local and state races, regardless of predicted outcomes from polls and political pundits. Those who make the commitment to run for office are often leaders in the community and can influence policies even if they are not elected in November.
Your question, whether asked in your own letter to the candidates; a letter from your Quaker meeting, church or community group; a letter to the editor or at a candidate forum can be influential. Here are a few ideas:
Writing Letters to the Candidates
Write your own letters to candidates and consider organizing a collective letter from influential people in your community. While you may or may not get a response to your question, your letter will let the candidate know that people in his or her area are concerned about a particular issue and want to see it addressed.
Find out who’s running in your area, and send a letter.
Writing Letters to the Editor
Include the names of the candidates in your letter to increase the chances that they will see it. Please let us know if your letter is published! You can send a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meeting Candidates in Person
If you’re able to attend a candidate forum or speak to a candidate directly, you may have only a few minutes to ask a question.
* Check candidate websites or call their campaign offices to find out when candidates are holding public events.
* Decide ahead of time what question you want to ask. Practice saying it out loud.
* Ask a question that reaches past the rhetoric to get to a candidate’s perspective on an issue and that gives an idea of why you are concerned about this issue.
* Listen carefully to the answer the candidate gives. Remember that in some cases you may be educating the candidate about an issue just by asking the question.
* Thank the candidate for his or her response.
Using Social Media
Many candidates are active on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, and their campaigns monitor these sites closely to gauge what people are saying.
You could post a question on a candidate’s Facebook wall or tweet the question to them directly. Following candidates on social media is also a good way to find out about public events they will be attending.
As you can see, there are many different ways that you can use these questions to interact with candidates this year. When you do, you will learn about the candidates but, even more importantly, they will learn about you and what you want them to be thinking about and doing if they are elected.
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