March 17, 2016

Corker: Many Argue Threat of Nuclear Conflict is Greater than Ever

Warns of Obama Administration’s Inattention to Rising Global Nuclear Threat

WASHINGTON – At a hearing to examine the Obama administration’s nuclear non-proliferation record ahead of the president’s Nuclear Security Summit (March 31 – April 1), U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned of the increasing risk of nuclear conflict around the world and the administration’s inattention to the growing threat. President Obama first proposed the Nuclear Security Summit during a speech in Prague in 2009 as an international effort to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” While Corker acknowledged progress among summit participants in securing some of the world’s nuclear material, he cited flaws in the administration’s approach to confronting countries that violate nuclear commitments and defending restrictions for the development of nuclear fuel.

“Today, many argue the threat of nuclear conflict is greater than ever,” said Corker. “Though President Obama, in his Prague speech, stated that ‘rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something…,’ I’m concerned that the track record has not always matched up with the rhetoric - particularly with respect to Russia, North Korea, and Iran.”

Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the U.S. while aggressively exercising its nuclear forces. North Korea, despite facing new sanctions by the U.N. Security Council and the U.S., has suffered no consequences for abandoning the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. And rather than securing a deal with Iran that ends the enrichment of uranium, the U.S. and other P5+1 nations allowed Tehran to retain critical infrastructure that will set the stage for massive industrialization of nuclear production when existing restrictions end in 10 years.

Corker also emphasized concerns over the administration’s civil nuclear cooperation pacts (known as “123 agreements”) with China and South Korea, because they do not prohibit reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, a proliferation risk.

“At a time when global plutonium stocks are rising with enough material to build at least 20,000 nuclear weapons, recent 123 agreements have given free passes to pursue reprocessing,” said Corker. “[T]he administration is missing the opportunity to call for a ‘plutonium timeout’ in Asia by prohibiting the reprocessing of U.S.-origin material by South Korea and China, while calling for Japan to further delay the restart of the reprocessing facility at Rokkasho.”

Witnesses at today’s hearing included Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose E. Gottemoeller and Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman with the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. A second panel featured testimony from Mr. William H. Tobey, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Ellen O'Kane Tauscher, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

For archive footage and full witness testimony visit: