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View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department

Welcome to "Ask the State Department" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to State Department officials.

Robert Joseph, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, answered questions about nuclear terrorism, and the President's newly launched initiative to combat it.

Robert Joseph, Under Secretary, Arms Control and International Security
Robert Joseph, Under Secretary, Arms Control and International Security

Miles from Washington, DC writes:

How does this initiative differ from ongoing activities?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The President of the United States has made clear that our most serious national security threat is a nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism is the first initiative that takes a comprehensive approach to dealing with all elements of nuclear terrorism risk. It also marks the first time that the United States and Russia have come together to form a growing network of partner nations that are committed to taking effective and focused measures to build a layered defense-in-depth that can continuously adapt to the changing nature of the threat.

The U.S. and Russia will invite initial partner nations to a meeting to elaborate and endorse a Statement of Principles for the Global Initiative. We will then call on other partners to endorse this Statement of Principles, and hold ourselves accountable to take specific steps to implement the principles within their own countries, including by identifying concrete performance measures and participating in multinational exercises.

Andrea from Illinois writes:

I know that our country is trying to unify peace with the Middle East and other nations, however, I will admit, I am afraid that World War 3 is about to start or has already begun. Are you sure we aren't taking on too much at once?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The President has declared that a nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is our most serious national security threat. We cannot afford to delay our efforts to combat this threat.

Mike from Buffalo, New York writes:

If the nuclear terrorism issue is so important, why do we let Russia provide the equipment needed to facilitate the problem and then sign joint statements with Putin about how we agree on the issue.

Under Secretary Joseph:

The U.S. and Russia seek to find areas of common interest, where we can work together. Nuclear terrorism is an area where we share common interests and can take specific steps with our partners to prevent terrorists from acquiring and using the world's most dangerous weapons.

Sitakanta from India writes:


China and Pakistan's proliferation records are well known. Is the recently initiated US-Russia partnership focuses on any specific country, or any specific strategy to deal with such countries? Clearly, there are two sets of countries with substantial proliferation records: the rogue states and white angels like Pakistan and China. I think, to deal with the rogues is easy since they are straight forward in defying the non-proliferation regime. But the white angels who do not defy out rightly the regime but proliferate under the carpet. Does the US-Russia partnership adopt specific strategy and approach in dealing with these two sets of proliferators?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The Global Initiative will build on the existing nuclear nonproliferation regimes, as well as counterproliferation efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, and it will seek to identify holes in our respective national capabilities, legal and regulatory authorities, and partnership capacity to combat nuclear terrorism. In doing so, we expect all partner nations will honor their obligations under existing non-proliferation regimes and take steps to encourage other partners to do the same.

Amir from Tel Aviv, Israel writes:

Are you concerned by the possibility that Iran would try to smuggle nuclear, chemical or biological warheads to the rockets and missiles held by Hizballah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad? What is the USG doing about this possibility?

Under Secretary Joseph:

As the President has said, a nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is the most serious national security threat we face. We are concerned about the risk that any nation, especially states sponsors of terrorism, may try to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction and provide it to a terrorist organization. The U.S. Government, across numerous agencies, spends billions of dollars each year on a wide variety of programs that help to mitigate this risk. However, we must work with partners to succeed. Combating the threat of illicit trafficking in WMD requires that we develop a global detection architecture that is interoperable with and open to our partners. We are also planning to strengthen our capabilities to detect the movement of funds and the growing threat posed by terrorists seeking to procure nuclear technology through cyberspace.

Debra from Dallas Texas writes:

When and where will the initial meeting of the Global Initiative take place and what countries have committed to attend?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The United States, Russia, are planning to hold the first meeting of initial partners in the Global Initiative within the next several months. We anticipate one of the initial partners other than the U.S. or Russia serving as host for that meeting.

Brad from Rhode Island writes:

Considering the possible ties of Syria to Iran, It almost seems like Iran is trying to either provoke Israel to attack the nuclear facilities in Iran. Or using the issues in the region to change the focus off of Iran. I hope that the State Department makes it a point to keep the eye on the facilities in the past and the come weeks, as well as to make it clear to Israel not to attack Iran.

Under Secretary Joseph:

The announcement of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism does not mark a change in any specific policies with respect to Syria, Iran, Israel.

Sean from Macon, Georgia writes:

Other than accounting for fissile material and prepared nuclear weaponry in the Russian Federation's current arsenal, how will this new initiative differ from Russia's obligations under the Proliferation Security Initiative?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The Global Initiative will focus on different aspects of the nuclear threat. PSI's Statement of Interdiction Principles encourage all states to take specific actions to conduct interdiction operations against all WMD - chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, their related materials, and means of delivery. The Global Initiative is focused on the threat of terrorists carrying out attacks involving nuclear facilities, nuclear material, or radioactive substances. While the PSI focuses on stopping nuclear materials, as well as other WMD and related delivery systems, the Global Initiative will focus on developing a "layered defense-in-depth" to combat nuclear terrorism. This layered defense-in-depth requires that partner nations not only improve their interdiction cooperation, but that they also enhance the security of nuclear material, develop capabilities to detect its movement, and improve national emergency response, consequence management, criminal justice, and consequence management capabilities. The Global Initiative will build our collective and individual capacity to combat nuclear terrorism on a determined and systematic basis. Such activities require extensive cooperation and interoperability with partner nations across the full range of capabilities, to include prevention, protection and response.

David from Washington writes:

How much do you anticipate the new initiative will cost the United States annually beyond what we already spend in this area and what will be the most costly elements?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The United States and Russia are currently spending billions of dollars every year to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, from our activities related to removing high risk material abroad to deploying detectors in foreign ports abroad, to developing emergency response, consequence management, and forensic capabilities. The private sector, including nuclear utilities and research facilities, is also spending millions on various forms of security to prevent nuclear terrorism.

However, let me emphasize that the amount of money spent is only one measure of success. We must be focused not only on how much money we spend, but on how well its is spend - on outputs, as well as inputs. For example, each partner nation in the Global Initiative should be measuring how much highly enriched uranium sits on its territory without adequate security protections and take specific steps to secure it. Partner nations should be measuring what percent of cargo leaving their ports and arriving in the U.S. or in ports of other partner nations is scanned for nuclear or radiological material. We all should be measuring how fast we share operational and technical information with our partners regarding potential nuclear terrorist threats as they emerge, and seeking new ways to accelerate that information flow. We should be measuring how fast our national emergency response capabilities can deploy to establish safe control over dangerous nuclear and radiological material within each of our territories, and potentially in response to calls for assistance from our neighbors.

Through the Global Initiative, the U.S., Russia, will seek to galvanize our partners to spend more resources on this threat, work with the private sector to ensure they allocate more resources to their own risk mitigation activities, and develop concrete performance measures to ensure that the money we all spend actually makes a difference.

Bernie from Texas writes:

Major powers may have more sense than to initiate an irresponsible nuclear adventure but Iran and Syria are different stories. How can this be stopped without complete annihilation? Is the US prepared to deal with this without "political correct" hamstrings?

Under Secretary Joseph:

The Global Initiative will bring together a growing network of partners to combat all aspects of the threat of nuclear terrorism. As the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction states, " One of the most difficult challenges we face is to prevent, deter, and defend against the acquisition and use of WMD by terrorist groups. The current and potential future linkages between terrorist groups and state sponsors of terrorism are particularly dangerous and require priority attention. The full range of counterproliferation, nonproliferation, and consequence management measures must be brought to bear against the WMD terrorist threat, just as they are against states of greatest proliferation concern." The Global Initiative is yet another step by the Bush Administration to implement our National Strategy.

Michael from the U.S. writes:

Preventing nuclear terrorism should be an overarching imperative. GINCT is most welcome, but is there any new funding to reduce the risks? What's new? Why not establish a well-resourced IAEA 1540 fund to help get the job done quickly? Aren't the NPT, INFCIRC/153, and the Additional Protocol important enough legal bases to mention? They all require effective control systems for nuclear material.

Under Secretary Joseph:

All the international legal instruments you mentioned are significant, and we have taken care to mention their importance in the U.S.-Russia Joint Statement and Joint Fact Sheet announcing the Global Initiative. While many of these frameworks require "effective control systems", many nations have not implemented these requirements. And others who may have implemented their requirements in national laws or regulations, lack the will or the capability to enforce those requirements within their own territories, much less cooperate in their international enforcement.

Now is a time for effective national implementation and enforcement. We must not rest with international commitments not implemented into national law and laws that are not supported by real capabilities and a will to enforce. Through the Global Initiative, the U.S. and Russia will work with other partners to ensure that the necessary national legal and regulatory authorities are in place to enforce these obligations and to build capabilities to ensure that the enforcement is effective.

Ralph from Indiana writes:

How likely is it that terrorist groups have nuclear weapons?

Under Secretary Joseph:

We know that Al Qaeda has sought to acquire nuclear weapons and have expressed a determination to carry out attacks on the U.S. should they acquire one. The Global Initiative is designed to reduce the risk that terrorists could ever obtain a nuclear weapon or carry out a nuclear attack.

Steve from Arivaca, AZ writes:

Does the U.S. have any part of the Star Wars system President Regan started during his term?

Under Secretary Joseph:

You are referring to the Strategic Defense Initiative, which has led to the development of U.S. missile defense capabilities, including with partner nations. The Global Initiative is not directly related to our missile defense capabilities, except that in both cases, the initiatives represented an effort by the U.S. to develop innovative defenses against our most dangerous adversaries.

Eric from Sante Fe, New Mexico writes:

Dear Under Secretary Joseph,

General Omar Bradley once said, "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants, we know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than about living."

Mine is a philosophical question:

At what point does the international community determine that the ethical infant's diapers need changing, as the smell of ill intent has become all too overwhelming and noxious to Humanity? Or will ethical infants like the leaders of Iran and North Korea be allowed to remain in power to "dump" on civilization at a time of their choosing?

I've noted that the diplomatic attempts at "behavior change" have only resulted in temper-tantrums, at the expense of global peace and security. But as my granddad worked with Oppenhiemer on the Manhattan project, and these issues are thus quite personal to me, I'd like to personally thank everyone involved globally seeking solutions to these problems, as well as the building of consensus among nations to address these issues in concrete terms.

Under Secretary Joseph:

As in Omar Bradley's time, the United States continues to offer the world ethical leadership, dedicated to partnerships that lead to lasting international peace and security, as well as to the development of democratic governments and the rule of law. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism will build on Secretary Rice's vision of transformational diplomacy by building consensus among partner nations regarding our most serious international security threat, and galvanize them to take concrete and sustained steps to defeat it.

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