Close Coordination Keeps Nuclear Weapons from Terrorists, Official Says
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 17, 2012 Continued close integration and coordination between federal agencies and their partner organizations is critical to safeguarding nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists, a senior defense official said yesterday.
Speaking to an audience at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit here, Steve Henry, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, described how integration between the Defense Department, National Nuclear Security Administration, laboratories and other federal agencies is key to preventing terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons and material.
Henry said his office’s integration with the NNSA expands efforts across issues ranging from nuclear nonproliferation, Navy reactors, emergency operations, nuclear security and counterterrorism.
The interface between agencies is part of what President Barack Obama called “looking at countering the single biggest threat to the United States’ security,” he said.
“In his words, ‘just one nuclear weapon exploded in an American city would devastate our way of life and constitute nothing less than a catastrophe for the world,’” Henry quoted. “For this reason, as the most recent nuclear posture review outlined, the series of policies reflect the gravity of this threat.
“We work closely with NNSA nuclear nonproliferation to align programs, expand efforts to improve global nuclear security and avoid redundant efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials getting into the hands of terrorist organizations,” he added.
Henry cited periodic meetings that assist in reviewing programs, the status in such areas as international engagement, and with counterterrorism and counter proliferation.
“These meetings have created several standing working groups … including technical expert groups, involving our policy counterparts and program leads,” he said. “We work together to better understand the threat and the appropriate response to a common understanding of the threat.”
Their collaboration has led to the development of a technology display at the Nuclear Security Symposium in Seoul, Korea, he said.
Henry co-chairs the Nuclear Weapons Accident and Incidents Response Steering Group with members from the Joint Staff, each military service, U.S. European Command, U.S. Northern Command, Homeland Security Department, Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department.
“We’re continuing to refine our nuclear weapons incident plans to bring the full strength of the federal resources to bear in the unlikely event that we have a nuclear accident or in the event of a lost or stolen nuclear weapon,” he said.
In 2004, Henry said, the NATO-Russia Council made a multilateral agreement that several nations, including the United States, would host a demonstration of nuclear accident response as “confidence-building measures.”
Russia hosted the first one in 2004 in Romansk, followed by the United Kingdom in 2005 in Edinburgh, he said. The Defense Department and NNSA hosted the demonstration at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in 2006, and the French hosted it in France in 2007.
They also have supported the NATO staff in having follow-on NATO-Russia Council exercises “involving how we would respond to an improvised nuclear device, and that’s happened the last two years,” he added.
Henry said it is imperative to nuclear-related organizations to stay focused on the challenge of nuclear deterrence even when there is sometimes friction between agencies.
“But that’s healthy,” he said. “I don’t think we can succeed without close integration between DOD and NNSA, as well as any of the other departments that take part in this effort.”