Even in an age of intense partisanship some issues rise above the fray. Preventing nuclear terrorism is one of them and for good reason.
The prospect of nuclear terrorism is at once one of the biggest threats to American security and one of the most preventable. But, like many foreign policy issues in 2012, nuclear terrorism has been overlooked. That is both unfortunate and unacceptable. Now, as focus turns to foreign policy issues, President Obama and Gov. Romney owe it to the American people to clearly articulate their vision to prevent these materials from falling into the wrong hands.
There is a clear consensus on the severity of the need to secure nuclear materials. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission that I chaired noted, The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the worlds most dangerous terrorists acquire the worlds most dangerous weapons.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned in 2008, Every senior leader, when youre asked what keeps you awake at night, its the thought of a terrorist ending up with a weapon of mass destruction, especially nuclear.
There have been more than 2,000 confirmed cases of illicit or unauthorized trafficking of nuclear and radioactive material in less then two decades according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In the security landscape of the 21st century, extremists are not deterred by nuclear weapons, they are stiffened in their resolve to acquire and use them.
American leadership has been at the forefront of these efforts. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative achieved remarkable success removing all weapons grade uranium from Serbia, Chile, Romania, Libya and Turkey since 2009. As part of the successful Megaports program, the United Arab Emirates began working with the United States to install radiation detection equipment at the ports of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah to prevent nuclear smuggling.
Dollar for dollar, these programs are some of the most effective tools to locate and lock down nuclear materials. In a time of shrinking budgets, they must not be forgotten. The threat has not diminished, nor should support for efforts whose successful track record is something all Americans can be proud of.
Obama and Romney should have a frank and honest discussion with the American people about what they will do to strengthen American defenses against nuclear terrorism.
There are real gaps that need to be addressed. For instance, there is currently no international watchdog, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, empowered to ensure that countries are living up to base-line standards of nuclear security. A nuclear material watchdog with teeth could be a key step forward in preventing nuclear terrorism, where do the candidates stand on this? How too will they work with nations around the world to ensure that vulnerable materials are secured for safekeeping?
Putting in place strict anti-terror measures requires us to marshal our domestic resources and work in collaboration with international partners to find, capture and secure vulnerable nuclear materials. It can be done. Loose nuclear material in Kazakhstan poses a direct threat to those in Miami every bit as much as those in Azerbaijan.
Preventing one of the biggest threats deserves Americas boldest thinking. There are no easy answers. The American people await the candidates ideas.
Lee Hamilton was the vice-chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States more commonly called the 9/11 Commission. He served for 34 years as a member of Congress fom Indiana. He is a member of the advisory board for Partnership for a Secure America.