May 31, 2008
By Shaun Waterman, United Press International
A new blue-ribbon commission set up by Congress has begun developing recommendations for the next administration on how to prevent nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of rogue states and terrorists.
The congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, known as the WMD commission, held its first meeting Thursday. It is chaired by former Sen. Robert Graham, Florida Democrat.
The commission was established in legislation passed by Congress after Democrats took control in January 2007, and has what Mr. Graham called "a very broad mandate" to look at policies and programs to secure nuclear and other WMD material, prevent the spread of weapons technology and protect the United States from WMD terrorism.
The commission is mandated to report within 180 days of its establishment, or by Nov. 2, and Mr. Graham said he wants the nine-member body - composed of five Democrats and four Republicans - to proceed by consensus.
"Our goal is to have a unanimous report," he said, an outcome that would be aided by the commission's forward-looking perspective.
"We will be looking at the past in order to make recommendations for the future," said Mr. Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The focus is on influencing the next administration and the next Congress."
The issue of WMD proliferation, especially to rogue regimes and terror groups - "the worst weapons in the hands of the worst people" - is seen by some, including Mr. Graham, as the most serious threat to U.S. national security. The record of the Bush administration - which has favored ad hoc efforts with allies with the Proliferation Security Initiative over statutory international institutions like the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency - will be a likely topic of debate in an election year.
Mr. Graham said that if the commission's report is ready in time, he hoped it could be published earlier than November, so its recommendations "will be part of the election-year debate" - much as the report of the Sept. 11 commission was.
"We don't know at this stage whether we will be done in time," he said.
Mr. Graham's vice chairman, former Missouri Republican Sen. James Talent, said the decision would also depend on whether the commissioners "feel that the [election year] publicity would help."
"There was an absolute consensus," said Mr. Talent, that "we don't want our report to become fodder for ... election-year craziness."
Both men said that, given the breadth of the commission's mandate and the shortness of time, the members would need to focus on a few areas for its recommendations.
"We want to make very solid recommendations of a practical character," Mr. Talent said. "If you try to do everything, you don't get to do anything the way you really need to."
"Rather than burying the reader in dozens of recommendations," Mr. Graham said, we want to focus in on a handful."