Cooperation against Proliferation: How the United States and Russia Can Stem Future Nuclear Threats

By Zarate, Robert | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Cooperation against Proliferation: How the United States and Russia Can Stem Future Nuclear Threats


Zarate, Robert, The Brown Journal of World Affairs


Arms control has emerged as a key element in President Obama's effort to "reset" nuclear relations with Russia. By the end of 2009 Washington hopes to conclude talks with Moscow for a new treaty thatwill oblige further reductions to U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Yet, regardless of whether the Obama Administration meets this negotiating deadline, the United States and Russia will continue find themselves at odds, or at least on different pages, when it comes to other important nuclear issues. Most notably, on how to rein in Iran's pursuit of the capability to produce bomb-usable nuclear material on short notice in defiance of numerous UN Security Council Resolutions.

Given that new efforts in nuclear arms control may not suffice to enlarge the community of interests between Washington and Moscow, this essay argues that the United States should adopt a different and complementary approach to redefining bilateral nuclear relations with Russia and cumulatively realigning each country's interests. It calls for both countries to shift their so-called "nuclear threat reduction and nonproliferation" (NTR/N) agenda-which has historically focused on securing and stabilizing the Soviet-built nuclear establishment-towards cooperative programs to stem the spread of civil nuclear energy's military potential to conflict-ridden regions like the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. Indeed, these are the regions where the next waves of nuclear threats are likely to emerge.

The remainder of this essay proceeds in two parts. The first part summarizes the origins of U.S.-Russian nuclear threat reduction and nonproliferation, and then describes the status of major bilateral NTR/N programs. Part two sketches how Washington and Moscow might redirect the NTR/N agenda towards new efforts to discourage rivals in war-prone regions from cultivating the civil nuclear energy's military potential as a security hedge.

Progress in Sstemming U.Ss.-RruUssian NnuUclear Rrisks

"Nuclear threat reduction and nonproliferation" refers to the range of government-to-government programs by which the United States has assisted Russia in securing, stabilizing, and shrinking the vast Soviet-built nuclear weapons complex left over after the Cold War. NTR/N activities initially focused on preventing the misuse of, or theft from, the post-Soviet nuclear establishment. The rationale for these activities, however, expanded in the late 1990s and after 9/11 to include-and even to emphasize-efforts to deny nuclear terrorists access to former Soviet nuclear weapons, materials and equipment. Today, NTR/N programs are implemented on the U.S. side principally by the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State. Since 1992, the United States has invested as much as $15 billion (adjusted for inflation) on such projects in the former Soviet Union.1

In general, U.S.-Russian NTR/N programs have performed well. However, while some of these programs still have substantive work to complete in the former Soviet Union, the analysis below suggests that many programs have attained, or are close to attaining, their planned objectives.

Defense Department's Cooperative Tthreat RredDucCtion

The Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency is currently leading the implementation of a NTR/N program called "Cooperative Threat Reduction" (CTR)-known also as the "Nunn-Lugar" program after the Senators who helped to create it in the early 1990s. The Congressional Research Service reports that Congress authorized roughly $426 million for CTR activities in fiscal year 2008.2

The scope, composition, and objectives of Cooperative Threat Reduction projects have evolved over the years, sometimes dramatically. Although CTR now also deals with dangers posed by biological and chemical weapons, it still largely focuses on limiting and managing nuclear weapons-related risks in the former Soviet Union. In particular, CTR activities have sought to dismantle and destroy Soviet-era nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, partly in support of arms control agreements like the so-called Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a landmark 1991 agreement for significant cuts to U.

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