By Rob Golan-Vilella As Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington this week, the United States and China have reached an agreement that will improve nuclear security in China. The NNSA announced yesterday that the two nations have signed a memorandum of understanding that will establish a nuclear security "Center of Excellence" in China. According to the NNSA:
The Center will serve as a forum for exchanging technical information, sharing best practices, developing training courses, and promoting technical collaborations that will enhance nuclear security in China and throughout Asia.
This agreement marks an important step towards China's completion of its commitment at last year's Nuclear Security Summit to cooperate on a "nuclear security Center of Excellence." At the summit, 47 nations outlined a series of measures that they would take in order to improve nuclear security in their countries. These commitments represent important first steps towards moving President Obama's nuclear security agenda forward and achieving his goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. Yet there is one catch. As Sarah Williams and Alex Toma note in an excellent op-ed for The Hill, in its Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 budget, Congress agreed to a $320 million increase in funding for nonproliferation programs. This money, spread across programs in the Departments of Energy and Defense, funds activities that contribute directly to Obama's four-year goal. However, Congress never approved a final budget, and instead passed only a continuing resolution (CR) that funds almost all programs at the previous year's levels through March 4, 2011. As a result, the increased funding for nuclear security was lost. This is relevant to the U.S.-China situation because the proposed center of excellence would be a new line item in the FY2011 budget. Should Congress not restore the increased funding when it approves a budget for the remainder of FY2011, it is unclear how the American contribution to the new center would be funded. In order to ensure that the proposed center and other vitally important nuclear security programs are able to fulfill their missions, Congress should heed Sarah and Alex's advice and "include President Obama's $320 million request in the fiscal year 2011 budget." As they conclude:
Not doing so will slow the implementation of proven, practical, and efficient programs designed to prevent nuclear terrorism. We must be serious about our commitment to securing global stockpiles of nuclear material to make certain none falls into the wrong hands. Because not funding these essential programs is like forgetting to salt the walk before it snows, and being surprised when you slip and fall.