India’s strategic importance to the US | Power & Policy

India’s strategic importance to the US

Nicholas Burns

By Nicholas Burns

In my February 3 Boston Globe op-ed, “India’s Strategic Importance to the U.S.”, I argue that a close U.S.-India partnership can be of immense value to the United States in the future, particularly in preserving the influence of the democratic countries as China rises to power in Asia.

I also emphasize how difficult a partner India can be, from differences on global trade to Iran sanctions and the NATO intervention in Libya.

President Obama has continued the American efforts started by Presidents Clinton and Bush to design and build political and military ties with the Indian government that will benefit both countries.  It is now up to India to respond and to be more specific about its interest in working with the U.S.

In return, the U.S. should be more clear that our well conceived “Pivot to Asia” includes India in South Asia and not just the countries of East Asia.  Our relationship with India will grow gradually and fitfully but, if we are patient, could evolve into one of our most important in this century.

About Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for programs on the Middle East, and on India and South Asia. He served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008, leading the effort to reshape U.S. relations with India. Previously, he was U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Full bio >

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Corruption Still Imperils Afghan Future—and U.S. Interests | Power & Policy

Corruption Still Imperils Afghan Future—and U.S. Interests

Ben W. Heineman, Jr.

Ben W. Heineman, Jr.

By Ben W. Heineman, Jr.

(A version of this article first appeared on TheAtlantic.com)

In this election year, the Administration needs to blunt the Afghanistan issue by showing  that the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government can survive the American troop withdrawal in 2014.

To do so, it has staged two recent events. First, on July 7, Secretary of State Clinton announced that Afghanistan would be officially designated as a “non-NATO ally of the United States” which makes it eligible for priority delivery of military hardware and for U.S. help to buy arms and equipment.  But the U.S. has thus far failed to indicate what level and kind of  troop support—or what type of other security capabilities—will be available for Afghanistan  after the major U.S. withdrawal in 2014.

Second, on July 8,  the U.S. joined in an announcement of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework under which 70 international donors pledged $16 billion over the next four years to strengthen the Afghan government, by making up an Afghan fiscal shortfall and helping to improve institutions and services in Afghanistan, with up to 20 percent supposedly conditioned on Afghan progress in arresting corruption and creating better governance.

But the framework document—which could be Exhibit A in any catalog of vapid bureaucratese—seems to have come off some development office word processor and bears little resemblance to a nation that is designated the third most corrupt in the world (176 out of 178) in the Transparency International corruption index, is the world’s eleventh poorest (per the World Bank) and has absorbed more than $80 billion in non-military aid from the U.S. in the past 10 years with few concrete, let alone durable, gains.  (Says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “the lack of transparency and credibility has been a critical problem…particularly in the almost total lack of credibility in reporting on the impact of aid, quality and integrity of governance and presence of a functioning justice system.” )

As exercises in government puffery, neither the U.S “ally” announcement nor the donor announcement address the fundamental question with any candor: Can Afghanistan survive as a fighting force and national government after 2014?   Will ethnic rivalries among the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other groups, renewed military pressure from the Taliban, subversion by Pakistan, and weakness and corruption of the central government, lead to a civil war, a coup or a territory run by tribal leaders and local militia not government–or renewed Taliban control over much (at least) of the Southern part of the area?  Such  post-2014 developments would, most importantly, make a mockery of ten years of U.S. effort by allowing a recidivist Afghanistan again to serve as  a sanctuary for world terrorism –a true tragedy in light  of nearly 2,000 American killed, 16,000 American wounded, 12,000 Afghan civilian deaths and U.S. expenditures of $400 billion or more to date.  (See Dexter Filkin’s recent New Yorker article for an on the ground description of different Afghan futures, and see also the  excellent analysis from Center for Strategic and International Studies on total U.S. expenditures.)

The recurrent riddle of Afghanistan is that an effective Afghan Army and security effort depends on development of a legitimate Afghan state that can somehow command the allegiance of the disparate ethnic groups, develop accountable institutions and nurture an economy that does not depend on opium and can help government pay its bills without significant foreign aid.  Yet that goal seems as much a chimera today as it did ten years ago when the U.S. began its Afghan misadventure.  And a critical preserve and adverse factor preventing development of a legitimate Afghan state–given all the tribal and ethnic decentralizing forces–is the endemic and corrosive corruption which has bedeviled and baffled the Americans. (See, for example, my 2009 piece “Corruption—The Afghan Wild Card,” and subsequent commentaries here and here on the subject.)

President Hamid Karzai addresses Afghan Parliament in June 2012 about dangers of corruption. (*(AP file photo).

The litany of corruption issues in Afghanistan is daunting:  an economy that is 30-50 percent the illicit opium trade which fuels criminal and insurgent elements; recent presidential and parliamentary elections characterized by a high incidence of electoral pay-offs and fraud;  the scandal at the Bank of Kabul replete with phony loans to the Afghan elite; the  U.S. being forced to withdraw criticism of President Karzai’s failure to address corruption and Karzai’s  insistence that such efforts to pursue “malign networks” of Afghan elites be removed from U.S. and other investigators; the misappropriation of billions in U.S. aid funds which has led to enhanced corruption and, only belatedly, to attempts by U.S. officials to track expenditures more carefully.

The state of crisis is summarized in a current Foreign Affairs article by Republican Stephen Hadley and Democrat John Podesta, chairs of a bipartisan working group on the future of Afghanistan (“The Right Way Out of Afghanistan”).  The Afghan government, they say, “is deeply flawed and, should the world stop compensating  for its deficiencies, in danger of imploding….Officials often use formal state institutions to support patronage networks fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism and nepotism on the national and local levels…Karzai has failed…to advance a reform agenda…[instead opposing] measures that would have promoted greater accountability…The absence of transparent and effective systems of justice and law has provided Taliban insurgents with an opening to mobilize domestic opposition to the Afghan government.”

Yet,  what will happen in the coming years—as America exits and the American public becomes even more alienated or indifferent—to address problems  unresolved in the last ten due to intractable Afghan  issues. Wise people offer happy talk. Say Hadley and Podesta: the U.S. must not just focus on a military strategy but must  use “its influence to pressure the Karzai government to forge a legitimate Afghan state…and address the flaws in governance that have alienated ordinary Afghans…and fueled the insurgency.”   Says Secretary Clinton: “President Karzai has made a strong public commitment to stamping out corruption, implementing key reforms and building Afghanistan’s institutions.  We will support him and the government in that endeavor to enable Afghanistan to move forward toward self-reliance.”  Our influence?  Over Karzai (his strong commitment?) and the self-serving corruption among the Afghan elites and others? It is hard to believe such sensible people are saying such implausible things.

The most detailed exercise in wishful thinking is the international donors’ Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, which is clearly intended to mollify donor domestic audiences and which proceeds from the following dubious premise: “The Afghan government reaffirms its solemn commitment to strengthen governance, grounded in human rights, the rule of law and … the Constitution, and holds it as integral to sustained economic growth and development.”   The key concept in the document is the donors’ “monitoring of development and governance benchmarks in a transparent manner… [as a] powerful means to enable accountability to the Afghan people.” These  “commitments” which will be “monitored” are in five areas: elections; governance/rule of law; integrity of public finance and banking;  taxes and budgets, at both national and local level; economic growth and development.  Under each area is a set of “indicators” which are goals,  not the means of reaching those goals (e.g. “enact and enforce the legal framework for fighting corruption”).

What is missing, of course, is a candid explanation of the processes of social, political and economic change which will transform Afghanistan into the “model state” of the Accountability Framework and any assessment of the history, culture, conditions and political realities (Pakistan?) in Afghanistan which have made such change difficult if not impossible.  As with such “summit agreements” myriad key questions are finessed.  What are real timelines  (Afghan government to determine later); who decides if milestones are missed; what are the consequences;  will there be real “conditionality” tied to progress on anticorruption (measured how?).   The sentence that wins the irony of the year award is that Afghans  and donors “emphasize….that they cannot continue ‘business as usual’ but must move from promise to practice.”  We have been in Afghanistan for 10 years and are now in exit mode!!

So despite breezy governmental announcements on Afghanistan as a non-NATO ally and on a donor agreement,  the future of the Afghan government—and its impact on the Afghan Army and on avoiding coup, civil war, tribal control, Taliban resurgence, greater Pakistan influence—is as an even more fraught issue today than it has been in the past as international withdrawal looms large.  The scourge of corruption continues to  imperil a weak  government  —and creates the risk (among other factors) that a transition from Karzai (whose term ends in 2014) will not move forward but will recede back to the conflicts and uncertainty that existed 10 years ago, raising the specter that the influence of the Taliban, Pakistan and world terrorists will wax  as U.S. political interest wanes (even  if its strategic interests remain the same).

Ben Heineman is a senior fellow in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Programs on Corporate Governance  and the Legal Profession. He was GE’s Senior Vice President for Law and Public Affairs.

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Europe | Power & Policy

Tag Archives: Europe

Stand-off in Crimea: Cui Bono?

It seems there has been no Russia watcher left in the world who has not opined on Vladimir Putin’s swift and not so covert moves in the Crimea, pondering: “who’s to blame and what to do?” In times like these it is also as customary for analysts of international affairs to wonder “to whose benefit?” Yet this question remains open even though some of the Western diplomats are already calling the current standoff the biggest crisis in Europe of the 21st century. Continue reading >

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How Obama Can Win a European Free-Trade Deal

By Ben W. Heineman, Jr. (This article first appeared on TheAtlantic.com, where Ben Heineman is a frequent contributor) The contrast was striking. In his State of the Union address, President Obama buried the start of a U.S.-E.U. free trade negotiations … Continue reading >

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Why Europe Still Matters

By Nicholas Burns (This is an excerpt from my latest Boston Globe column on Friday, March 30. See that piece for a longer assessment of these challenges.) At a recent conference in Brussels sponsored by the German Marshall Fund, I heard from … Continue reading >

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The Threat from Europe

By Joseph S. Nye The recovery of the American economy has slowed, and the collapse of the Euro  — a financial crisis in Europe — could tip the United States into the feared double dip of recession. Ironically for the … Continue reading >

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Responding to Steve Walt’s Response

By Richard N. Rosecrance Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow, International Security Program; Director, Project on U.S.-China Relations, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs My colleague Steve Walt and I agree that we may need a balance of power against … Continue reading >

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The Coming Erosion of Europe?

By Richard N. Rosecrance Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow, International Security Program; Director, Project on U.S.-China Relations, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs My esteemed colleague Stephen Walt has consigned the European Union to the trash heap of history … Continue reading >

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The Plutonium Mountain Mission: Lessons | Power & Policy

The Plutonium Mountain Mission: Lessons

 

Eben Harrell

Eben Harrell

By  Eben Harrell

Associate, Belfer Center Project on Managing the Atom

This summer, The Project on Managing the Atom, at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, released “Plutonium Mountain: Inside the 17-Year Mission to Secure a Dangerous Legacy of Soviet Nuclear Testing.” In the report, I and my co-author David Hoffman tell the story of how dedicated scientists and engineers in three countries overcame suspicions, secrecy, bureaucracy, and logistical obstacles to secure more than a dozen bombs worth of plutonium that had been left behind at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although the outline of the Semipalatinsk operation had been made public before, our report filled in new details:

  • Russian weapons experts who had worked in the nuclear testing program in Kazakhstan were initially unwilling to return to secure the site. It was not until they were confronted with photographs of the scavenging efforts that they were convinced of the need to return.
  • For periods immediately before and after the 9/11 attacks, nuclear security operations at Degelen Mountain were suspended even as scavenging at the site continued while bureaucracies in both the United States and Kazakhstan dithered over funding for the project.
  • Russia’s concern with preserving secrets about its nuclear weapons left U.S. and Kazakh partners in the dark about some of the most sensitive and highest risk locations. It was not until 2005 that Russia revealed that as much as 100 kilograms of additional plutonium was still unsecured on the site.
  • Although the risk of plutonium theft has been substantially reduced, work to secure areas of the site continues and there may yet be further surprises.
Republic of Kazakhstan, Russian Federation,  and U.S. diplomats, scientists, engineers, and field workers at the dedication of the monument for the completion of the Degelen Mountain Proliferation Prevention Program, October 2012.

Republic of Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, and U.S. diplomats, scientists, engineers, and field workers at the dedication of the monument for the completion of the Degelen Mountain Proliferation Prevention Program, October 2012.

Hoffman and I also offer several “learning points” for those involved in nuclear security policy, including:

  • The legacy of Cold War superpower suspicion led to dangerous blunders and miscalculations; the culture of secrecy took years to penetrate.
  • Strong personal, unofficial relationships among U.S., Russian and Kazakh scientists were critical in breaking through these barriers.
  • The ongoing risks at Degelen Mountain and other test sites highlight the extraordinarily long-term dangers from nuclear tests for thousands of years to come; measures for addressing this threat include tightening IAEA safeguards as well as ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the U.S. and other holdouts.

The cleanup at Semipalatinsk was a big success. But there is still work to do in unraveling the messy and dangerous legacy of the Cold War.

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India | Power & Policy

Tag Archives: India

India disappoints U.S. friends with its Iran policy

By Nicholas Burns The Indian government’s ill-advised statement last week that it will continue to purchase oil from Iran is a major setback for the U.S. attempt to isolate the Iranian government over the nuclear issue.  The New York Times … Continue reading >

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The Global Future of Nuclear Power after Fukushima

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan is sending shockwaves through nuclear planning agencies around the world.   Policy makers are asking for reviews of safety regulations, publics are expressing concern, and it appears likely that some of the … Continue reading >

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Strimling | Power & Policy

Tag Archives: Strimling

Americans can help protect Tibetan rights

By Andrea Strimling Yodsampa Research Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School In a dramatic contrast to the festivities welcoming the Chinese New Year, Tibetans in Boston and across the globe have refused … Continue reading >

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The Plutonium Mountain Mission: Lessons | Power & Policy

The Plutonium Mountain Mission: Lessons

 

Eben Harrell

Eben Harrell

By  Eben Harrell

Associate, Belfer Center Project on Managing the Atom

This summer, The Project on Managing the Atom, at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, released “Plutonium Mountain: Inside the 17-Year Mission to Secure a Dangerous Legacy of Soviet Nuclear Testing.” In the report, I and my co-author David Hoffman tell the story of how dedicated scientists and engineers in three countries overcame suspicions, secrecy, bureaucracy, and logistical obstacles to secure more than a dozen bombs worth of plutonium that had been left behind at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although the outline of the Semipalatinsk operation had been made public before, our report filled in new details:

  • Russian weapons experts who had worked in the nuclear testing program in Kazakhstan were initially unwilling to return to secure the site. It was not until they were confronted with photographs of the scavenging efforts that they were convinced of the need to return.
  • For periods immediately before and after the 9/11 attacks, nuclear security operations at Degelen Mountain were suspended even as scavenging at the site continued while bureaucracies in both the United States and Kazakhstan dithered over funding for the project.
  • Russia’s concern with preserving secrets about its nuclear weapons left U.S. and Kazakh partners in the dark about some of the most sensitive and highest risk locations. It was not until 2005 that Russia revealed that as much as 100 kilograms of additional plutonium was still unsecured on the site.
  • Although the risk of plutonium theft has been substantially reduced, work to secure areas of the site continues and there may yet be further surprises.
Republic of Kazakhstan, Russian Federation,  and U.S. diplomats, scientists, engineers, and field workers at the dedication of the monument for the completion of the Degelen Mountain Proliferation Prevention Program, October 2012.

Republic of Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, and U.S. diplomats, scientists, engineers, and field workers at the dedication of the monument for the completion of the Degelen Mountain Proliferation Prevention Program, October 2012.

Hoffman and I also offer several “learning points” for those involved in nuclear security policy, including:

  • The legacy of Cold War superpower suspicion led to dangerous blunders and miscalculations; the culture of secrecy took years to penetrate.
  • Strong personal, unofficial relationships among U.S., Russian and Kazakh scientists were critical in breaking through these barriers.
  • The ongoing risks at Degelen Mountain and other test sites highlight the extraordinarily long-term dangers from nuclear tests for thousands of years to come; measures for addressing this threat include tightening IAEA safeguards as well as ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the U.S. and other holdouts.

The cleanup at Semipalatinsk was a big success. But there is still work to do in unraveling the messy and dangerous legacy of the Cold War.

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Arab Awakening, Act II | Power & Policy

Arab Awakening, Act II

Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns

By Nicholas Burns

In my Nov. 25 Boston Globe column, “Arab Awakening, Act 2”, I warn that, nearly one year since the start of reform and revolution across the Arab world, the region may turn more turbulent and violent in the months ahead.

In Syria, Bashar al Assad’s brutality has turned peaceful protestors into an incipient rebel army.  The civil war that is now unfolding has potentially grave consequences for Lebanon, Israel, Iran and the rest of the region.

The continued crises in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain add to the challenges for President Obama who has supported reformers in Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli while carefully maintaining ties to more conservative leaders in the Gulf.   This U.S. balancing act may now become more difficult in the year ahead.

About Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for programs on the Middle East, and on India and South Asia. He served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008, leading the effort to reshape U.S. relations with India. Previously, he was U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Full bio >

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The Economic Fallout from 9/11 | Power & Policy

The Economic Fallout from 9/11

The Power Problem: Second in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Linda J. Bilmes

Linda J. Bilmes

By Linda J. Bilmes

The US response to 9/11 has been a major contributor to America’s current economic malaise.

The most economically costly decision post 9/11 was not whether to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, but how to pay for the ensuing conflicts and the related increases in defense and homeland security. War costs always linger well after the last shot has been fired.  But this is especially true of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts.  The $1.6 trillion or so already spent has been financed wholly through borrowing.  Add to this a further $800 billion in defense increases that are not directly war-related and hundreds of billions in new homeland security measures. The resulting debt accounts for well over one-quarter of the increase in US national debt since 2001.

Financing wars and defense-build ups in this way is an historical aberration.  Americans have typically paid for wars through higher taxes. Ronald Reagan, no fan of bigger government, raised taxes three times to pay for the Cold War. To find a precedent for external debt financing you have to go back as far as the Revolutionary War when the colonies borrowed from France to pay for the fighting.  Even this is not an exact parallel because the Bush administration, far from raising revenues, actually cut taxes — both in 2001 when the Afghan operation was launched and again in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq.  As Robert Hormats put it in The Price of Liberty: “We are living in a post 9/11 world with a pre 9/11 fiscal policy.”

These wars will continue to be expensive even when US troops are withdrawn.  Higher casualty rates, higher survival rates, and more generous benefits for veterans means the nation already owes some $600-$900 billion in long-term medical care and disability compensation for military veterans. This number is growing daily.  As I pointed out in my recent paper, “Current and Projected Future Costs of Caring for Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars”, more than half of all returning troops have been treated at VA health care facilities. Some 600,000 new veterans have qualified to receive lifetime disability benefits. In addition, there are enormous costs for replacing military equipment and weapons which are being used up at 6-10 times the peacetime depreciation rate.  On top of all this is the recurring interest bill on all the money we have borrowed.

Army Private First Class Jordan Berghofer after an atack by insurgents on Sept. 5, 2011 in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Army Private First Class Jordan Berghofer after an atack by insurgents on Sept. 5, 2011 in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The war on terror – and the way we chose to pay for it – thus contributed substantially to the debt problem at the center of national political debate.  It also harmed the broader economy.  While the wars did not cause the financial crisis, they were certainly a significant factor in creating the conditions that led up to it.  To understand this relationship, one has to “connect the dots.”  First, the Iraq war and the resulting instability in the Gulf put upward pressure on oil prices, which rose from $25/barrel in 2003 to $140/barrel four years later.  Second, these higher oil prices depressed US economic activity, prompting the Federal Reserve to loosen monetary policy.  Finally, this additional liquidity contributed to the housing bubble and the financial collapse that followed.

The policies that were adopted after 9/11, including the decision to wage two wars with a small all-volunteer force, to rely on a large supplement of private contractors, and to pay for the entire campaign through debt, are still reverberating through our society.  The vast economic costs may ultimately be dwarfed by the social costs of the wars, which are evident in the epidemics of suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder among returning military veterans. But this much is certain: the attempt to get both guns and butter for free is an important factor in the financial mess. The fallout of this mistake will continue to burden the US economy for decades to come.

Linda J. Bilmes is Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.  She has held senior positions in government, including Assistant Secretary and Chief Financial Officer of the US Department of Commerce. Bilmes is co-author (with Joseph Stiglitz) of  The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.

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2 Responses to The Economic Fallout from 9/11

  1. humphrey2075 says:

    Interesting article, and well-written. The real question, however, is what might we have spent that $2 trillion or so on, instead of the war on terror? Would we have spent it on investments that would have strengthened the country, or would we have simply amassed less debt? What is the multiplier of the actual spending (on contractors, etc) compared with if we had not spent it, or used it otherwise?

  2. Pingback: 9/11 a Decade later (2): Flirting with Empire « Asian Security Blog

radiation | Power & Policy

Tag Archives: radiation

An experimental nuclear and particle physicist’s assessment of the Japan reactor situation

Richard Wilson is Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Harvard University. He has been an affiliate of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is … Continue reading >

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Japan’s nuclear power plant crisis: Some context

By MATTHEW BUNN Harvard Kennedy School Associate Professor Matthew Bunn, whose research topics includes nuclear proliferation risks, the future of nuclear energy and its fuel cycle, and policies to promote innovation in energy technologies, offered these observations early Monday on … Continue reading >

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A Better Way to Deal with Dirty-Bomb Threats

The Power & Policy Fellows Forum By Arnold Bogis The latest diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks are filled with descriptions of smuggled radioactive materials. Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter recently testified to the House Permanent Select Committee … Continue reading >

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