Moscow DMZ: The Story of the International Effort to Convert Russian Weapons Science to Peaceful Purposes

By Glenn E. Schweitzer | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Putting the Weaponeers to Work

U.S. Paying Millions to Russian Scientists Not to Sell A-Secrets
The Washington Post, September 24, 1994


Identifying "Dangerous" Weapons Specialists

When the ISTC concept was first put forth, some Western experts estimated that about 200 Russian specialists had the capability to design a nuclear weapon. They should constitute the primary target of the activities of the ISTC, these experts contended. The Western fear was that one or two seasoned veterans could take charge of a program in a developing country and successfully lead an effort to develop a nuclear capability. And if these experienced hands took an entire Russian team with them, the consequences could be serious indeed. 1 This was a very limited perspective of the potential proliferation problems that would confront the ISTC.

While only a handful of Russian scientists had a sufficiently broad base of experience to lead a weapons program, many developing countries already had their nuclear leaders. Highly specialized expertise that could contribute to efforts underway was of comparable, if not more, interest. Such interest greatly expanded the number of players at the international nuclear roulette tables. Also, the Western experts apparently assumed that Russian specialists would spend extended periods of time in the countries of proliferation concern since a new weapons program could not be initiated overnight. But the practical aspects of emigration to developing countries by Russians with heads full of secrets and hearts laden with extended-family ties presented formidable barriers. Also, long-term career opportunities in such far-off assignments were uncertain even by Russian standards. A few specialists might try to dodge the KGB-trained security authorities and opt for a permanent life of obscurity abroad, but such cases would be rare.

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