Missing the Forest for the Trees: US Non-Proliferation Programs in Russia

Article excerpt

The United States needs a strategic approach to non-proliferation in Russia that allows cross-program synergies, impacts, and investment opportunities to be recognized.

Despite early indications that the Bush administration's budget would deal a severe blow to nuclear threat reduction efforts in Russia, it now appears that most, if not all, U.S. non-proliferation programs in Russia will continue apace.

In its recently adopted budget resolution for fiscal year 2002, for example, Congress strongly urged the Bush administration to restore its initial cuts to programs run by the Department of Energy (DOE). Although some DOE programs need significant increases to meet their objectives in the coming year, as a first step, this congressional marker augurs well. U.S. non-proliferation programs in Russia operated by the departments of State and Defense, meanwhile, weathered the first round of Bush administration budget assessments and, for the moment, appear to be in reasonably good shape. As the new administration's National Security Council completes its formal review of these activities, reports suggest that slowly but surely the enormous value of these programs to U.S. national security is being recognized.

Still, along the way, the new team in Washington seems to have missed a unique opportunity to make the programs run better, cheaper, and smarter-supposedly the touchstone of the corporate-style Republican worldview. The problem has been the tendency to look at these programs one by one rather than together. The United States needs a strategic approach that allows cross-- program synergies, impacts, and investment opportunities to be recognized and addressed. Administered by three different departments and a major publicly held corporation, the various non-proliferation program in Russia often work without knowledge of what the others are doing and sometimes work at cross-purposes. Examples of missed opportunities and, sometimes, perverse consequences are all too frequent, making it essential that these programs be made to function together more effectively.

Implementation of a comprehensive strategic planning process was the lead recommendation of a recent blue-ribbon study and has long been urged by other observers, but it appears that the Bush administration is uninterested in this essential management tool.' There are a number of simple steps the administration should take and a number of simple tools it can use to increase greatly the return on the U.S. investment in securing Russia's nuclear arsenal.

The Zheleznogorsk Conundrum

A telling example of unrecognized synergies and impacts that cut across multiple U.S. non-proliferation programs in Russia is the situation in the closed nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk, located in Siberia. Here, in 1998, city fathers advised DOE officials from the Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI)-a program intended to accelerate the closure of Russian nuclear weapons facilities by providing non-defense jobs for displaced workers-that some 8,000 new jobs were urgently needed to employ nuclear workers who were about to lose their positions.

Why are the jobs needed? Because another U.S. program, known as the Plutonium Production Reactor Shutdown Program (formerly the "Core Conversion Program"), is seeking to end Zheleznogorsk's annual production of 50 bombs' worth of weapons-grade plutonium. This important Department of Defense (DOD) Cooperative Threat Reduction program has been working to close the city's plutonium production reactor and plutonium separation plant, the municipality's principal source of employment and revenue. Fortunately, the reactor in question is not to be shut down until an alternative source for the heat and electricity it produces can be brought online, probably a fossil-fuel-burning plant, and that is not scheduled to happen until 2006-a point the city fathers failed to note, but one that makes the challenge of finding employment for the displaced works more manageable. …