President Obama has been focused like a laser on the issue of nuclear weaponry recently. Not because it’s good politics, necessarily the Nuclear Posture Review was received with criticism and confusion, and polls show that a majority of Americans don’t support cuts to our nuclear stockpiles but because it’s one of Obama’s passions, and it also happens to be pretty damn important to national security. For the next two days, Obama is pivoting to the issue of keeping the world’s nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists during a 47-nation summit in Washington, the largest international meeting since the formation of the United Nations in 1945. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained the stakes on Meet the Press yesterday:
We often say that the threat of nuclear war, as we used to think about it during the Cold War, has actually decreased, but the threat of nuclear terrorism has increased. And by that we mean that there’s a lot of nuclear material that is not as secure. It hasn’t been destroyed. It isn’t under lock and key in many places in the world, particularly in the former Soviet Union, but not exclusively there. We know that terrorist groups, primarily al-Qaeda, persist in their efforts to obtain enough nuclear material to try to do something that would cause just such mass havoc and terror and damage and destruction that it would be devastating. And we know that a lot of countries haven’t, until relatively recently, seen the threat as we see it.
But if you’ve come to expect gatherings like this one to just produce some vague, gauzy statement, that is totally not what’s going to happen. “Our expectation is not that there’s just some vague, gauzy statement about us not wanting to see loose nuclear materials,” President Obama said. “We anticipate a communiqué that spells out very clearly, here’s how we’re going to achieve locking down all the nuclear materials over the next four years, with very specific steps in order to assure that.” Surprisingly, Obama has work to do himself: The Times notes that in Obama’s first year, “financing for better nuclear controls fell by $25 million, about 2 percent.”