National Security Experts Cast Nuclear Safety as a Priority for Voters

Leaders in the field of nuclear security argued that the American public could play a greater role in bringing more attention to national security issues at a panel at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Monday.

The panelists included Laura Holgate, a senior director at the National Security Council, and Matthew G. Bunn, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Samantha Pitts-Kiefer, a senior program officer at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, also joined the panel virtually from Washington, D.C.

The panelists agreed that high-level politicians pay more attention to issues voters tend to focus on, such as climate change and health care, rather than nuclear security, which was too often filed away as a “technocratic problem,” Holgate said.

The event was held in anticipation of the Nuclear Security Summit 2014, which will be held in The Hague on March 24-25 and is the last such summit of President Barack Obama’s term.

Gary S. Samore, the executive director of research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the moderator of the event, also devoted a significant portion of the forum to questions from the audience.

In reference to a question about U.S. involvement in the domestic security issues of other nations, Bunn lauded the the security arrangements made recently with Russia.

“We have destroyed 20,000 bombs’ worth of Russian high-grade uranium over the course of the last 20 years,” Bunn said. “One out of ten American light bulbs was actually being powered by materials from dismantled Russian nuclear bombs.”

Peter S. S. Y. Wu ’16, who attended the event, said he thought the main takeaway from the panel was that nuclear security was a vital issue for both the domestic and the international community, although he added that national security was unlike “health care, your jobs, economic security, which are always in the back of your mind.”

Martin B. Malin, the executive director of Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center, said he thought the panelists did a good job of describing the problems of nuclear terrorism and the difficulties involved in solving them.

“We have sitting here the architects of this entire process of summit for countries focused on securing their nuclear weapons and nuclear materials,” Malin said, referring to the expertise of the panelists.

Though the panelists said that much work needed to be done in the intersection between nuclear terrorism and national security, Holgate said catastrophic terrorists will always pose a threat to our nation.

“The spread of technology and the spread of knowledge also mean that terrorists’ capability will continue to grow,” Holgate said. “The only determinant in this equation is that states have control over is the opportunity.”

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