Former Vice President Dick Cheney says the number one threat to America is nuclear terrorism. He is right. And Joe Biden has the plan for how to prevent it.
This Sunday on ABC's This Week, Cheney said:
I think the biggest strategic threat the United States faces today is the possibility of another 9/11 with a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind, and I think Al Qaida is out there even as we meet trying to figure out how to do that.
He cited a recent Harvard study:
And I would point to a study that was released just within the last week or two up at the Kennedy School at Harvard by a gentleman -- [Rolf] Mowatt-Larssen's his name, I believe. He was CIA for 23 years, director of intelligence at the Energy Department for a long time, that looks at this whole question of weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaida and comes to the conclusion that there's a very high threat that Al Qaida is trying very hard to acquire a weapon of mass destruction and, if they're successful in acquiring it, that they will use it.
Cheney is dead right. This terrifying possibility is dramatically detailed in the new Participant Productions documentary, Countdown to Zero, that premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival (and will be distributed in US theaters by Magnolia Pictures later this year).
Mowatt-Larssen is prominently featured in the film, as is former CIA agent Valerie Plame. No question, they agree with Cheney that this is our number one threat.
Here's the catch: our best chance of preventing the terror that Cheney fears comes from following the course current Vice President Joe Biden forcefully detailed on Sunday's Meet the Press, in his January 29 Wall Street Journal oped and elsewhere.
Biden will elaborate the administration's efforts to prevent any nuclear catastrophe -- from terrorists, from new nuclear-armed states, and from use of the current 23,000 nuclear weapons -- in a speech on February 18 in Washington.
New Policy Delivering on Bipartisan Consensus
There is a bipartisan consensus that we must fight this threat with a dual-track strategy: defeat the terrorist networks and prevent terrorists from getting nuclear materials.
Biden correctly points out that the Obama administration, by shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is more successfully fighting the war against Al Qaeda. On Meet the Press, he rebutted Cheney's criticism of their efforts:
The President of the United States said in the State of the Union, "We're at war with Al Qaeda." And by the way, we're pursuing that war with a vigor like it's never been seen before. We've eliminated 12 of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We are making, we've sent them underground. They are in fact not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past. They are on the run. I don't know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it's one thing, again, to criticize. It's another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?
The Bush-Cheney administration, with broad Congressional support, continued and expanded US efforts to secure all stockpiles of nuclear weapons material and eliminate them where possible. The Obama-Biden administration is accelerating the programs -- increasing funding by $550 million to a total of $2.7 billion in the Department of Energy -- and moving them to the center of US nuclear policy.
But securing all these materials requires the cooperation of dozens of nations. You can't get that help without making preventing nuclear terrorism part of the broader agenda that other nations desire. President Obama reaffirmed at the Global Zero summit in Paris on February 2 that the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons "is one of my top priorities."
He summarized the approach he and Biden are taking:
At Prague, I committed the United States to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and to seeking a world without them. At the United Nations Security Council, we won passage of a historic resolution enshrining this as a shared commitment among nations. And I am proud that the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on a new START Treaty to dramatically reduce our nuclear arsenals.
But this is just a start. At our Nuclear Security Summit in April we will rally nations behind the goal of securing the world's vulnerable nuclear materials in four years. We will strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and work with allies and partners to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of every nation are enforced. We will seek to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. And our Nuclear Posture Review will reduce role and number of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.
The administration is not without its contradictions. Administration nuclearists are vying to mute Obama and Biden's efforts to transform US nuclear policy. And the budget lavishes over $11 billion on missile defense programs, giving our least likely nuclear threat three times the funding of the DOE nonproliferation programs.
But only the comprehensive approach championed by Joe Biden can prevent the threat Dick Cheney correctly identified but never effectively ended.