TACKLE THE NUKE THREAT

Note: Newsweek has established that this article does not meet editorial standards. It borrows extensively from June 1, 2004 remarks by John Kerry without proper attribution. Newsweek acknowledges the error.

The G8 Summit in Sea Island, Ga., produced no new cooperation on Iraq. No surprise there. The rifts over it are deep, and though the United States has changed course, it will take time before other countries jump in. What is less excusable is that there was no real progress on a crucial issue to which the G8 pays lip service: preventing nuclear proliferation.

President George W. Bush has often said that the greatest danger we face is that "the world's most dangerous people" will get their hands on "the world's most dangerous weapons." He's right. Osama bin Laden has called it a "duty" for Al Qaeda to acquire a nuclear bomb. But the truth is that our policies to prevent nuclear terror have not changed much since 9/11.

This is particularly surprising when you consider that the problem of nuclear terrorism is actually solvable. Making a nuclear bomb requires fissile materials--weapons-grade plutonium or uranium. To produce either, you need reprocessors, reactors and enrichment facilities. These are out of the reach of even a large, well-funded terrorist organization. Terrorists can get such materials only by buying them from states. So, if all fissile material around the world were locked up and monitored and no new material were made, it would eliminate the worldwide threat of nuclear terrorism.

Obviously it's easier said than done, but it can be done. We lack not the means but a clear goal and the determination to get to it. In a recent speech John Kerry proposed setting out this objective, comparing it to putting a man on the moon. Actually it would take less time and would certainly be much less expensive.

For America, the additional cost of such an effort would run about $1 billion a year. We spend $10 billion every year on a national missile defense that doesn't work. When it does eventually work, it will guard us (sort of) against the least likely means of delivering a nuclear bomb--a missile. Why not spend 10 percent of that to thwart the most likely method of delivery--a suitcase bomb?

But this is not simply an American problem. The European Union is searching for a way to play a major role in combating terrorism different from some of the Bush administration's bellicose strategies. Fine. Here is a policy that is preventive and nonviolent, and requires broad cooperation. To work, it must have several components:

Even if North Korea and Iran prove intractable problems, the rest of these measures would safeguard 99 percent of the world's fissile material. This would not solve all our problems--bioterror is at least as scary. But it would take one of the greatest dangers the world faces off the table.

Ashton Carter, the Harvard expert who is John Kerry's adviser on this issue, argues that "our current path is unfocused and 'effort oriented.' We measure progress by how much we have spent, how many nukes we have secured, etc. Instead let's become 'goal oriented.' We know what the end zone would look like. Why don't we define it? How close are we to eliminating the danger of nuclear terror?" Right now, not very close.