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Published:July 23rd, 2006 21:53 EST

New Global Initiative Will Aim to Keep Nuclear Weapons Out of Terrorist Hands

By Brad Davis

The United States and Russia are joining forces to combat what officials see as the biggest threat facing the world today: nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists.

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism during a bilateral meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia prior to the July 15-17 G8 summit. Robert Joseph, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, provided an overview of the new effort in a July 18 speech sponsored by National Defense University. “The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism is the first of its kind, one that takes a comprehensive approach to dealing with all elements of the challenge,” he said.

Since 9/11, officials say, terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida have declared their intent to acquire nuclear weapons. State sponsors of terrorism, such as North Korea and Iran, have continued to pursue covert weapons programs in violation of international nonproliferation agreements, while nonstate entities and arms dealers have worked to sell weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technologies on the international black market. The convergence of these factors, Joseph said, along with technological advances of a globalizing world “makes nuclear terrorism both the most serious international security challenge of our time, and the most urgent.” Many diplomatic efforts have coincided in recent years to curb the threat presented from different directions. These include the adoption of consensus agreements within the United Nations, such as the Nuclear Terrorism Convention and Security Council resolutions 1540 and 1373, which require members to take concrete action to prevent terrorist acquisition of WMD, intelligence-gathering initiatives that monitor terrorist financial transactions and transmissions through the internet, and installation of detection equipment throughout global shipping networks.

With the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) acting as an observer, the new initiative calls on participants to improve accounting, controls, and protection of nuclear materials and facilities, detect and suppress illicit activities involving weapons materials, respond to the consequences of acts of nuclear terrorism, promote cooperation in the development of new technologies to combat nuclear terrorism, and strengthen participants’ national legal frameworks so that, if apprehended, terrorists and other facilitators of nuclear terrorism can be prosecuted effectively and punished. “In bringing to bear all instruments of national power against this threat,” said Joseph, “the initiative will bring diplomats together with first responders, forensic and technical experts, law enforcement officers, the military, and other in the public and private sectors who shape the present and future risks of nuclear terrorism.”

The U.S. and Russia have invited several potential partner nations along with the IAEA to attend an initial meeting later in the year to further develop the initiative and to sign a statement of principles. “The Global Initiative will not only reinforce our national efforts, but it signals to all participating nations the importance of developing comprehensive approaches to combat the threat of WMD terrorism,” Joseph said.