White House Nonproliferation Office Created

C. I. Bosley

On Aug. 3, President George W. Bush signed into law measures designed to strengthen U.S. nuclear nonproliferation programs. Congress had approved the measures in late July as part of broader legislation aimed at implementing recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. In 2004, that panel had proposed several initiatives to bolster efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD). (See ACT, September 2004 and March 2007. )

The law establishes a nine-member bipartisan congressional advisory panel, as well as the Office of United States Coordinator for WMD Proliferation and Terrorism. Democrats have long sought to establish this office, which will have a director confirmed by the Senate. The Bush administration had earlier opposed its creation, contending it only added another layer of bureaucracy.

In addition, the legislation calls on the president to “expand and strengthen” the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led global effort to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous cargo.

The act also removes several provisions, enacted in 1993, permitting the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to disburse funds for safeguarding and destroying weapons of mass destruction to former Soviet bloc countries only if the White House deems them “committed” to disarmament and upholding human rights and in compliance with international arms control agreements. Removing this clause eliminates a long-standing potential obstacle: In 2002, several CTR programs were threatened with a freeze when Bush declined to certify Russia’s compliance with this provision. (See ACT, May 2002. ) In 2002 and in December 2005, Congress granted the president the ability to waive this requirement on grounds of national security but still maintained the underlying stipulation. (See ACT, January/February 2006. )

However, a key section aimed at combating nuclear trafficking has been deleted from the bill. When the House first passed the legislation in January, it included measures to combat the illicit transfer of nuclear materials, particularly via clandestine networks such as that of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. In fashioning a final compromise, a House-Senate conference committee struck a provision for sanctioning entities involved in transferring nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technology, which could produce material for nuclear weapons. The committee also eliminated a provision that would have made awarding of U.S. foreign aid contingent on a country’s nonproliferation record and absence of illicit nuclear trafficking. 

Capitol Hill sources told Arms Control Today that Senate negotiators declined to accept those House-passed provisions during negotiations on the final bill. These sources maintained that Senate objections had less to do with the content of the measures than ensuring quick approval of the measure.