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U.S., Russian Academies Report on Nonproliferation Efforts
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Christine Kucia

Recommending the appointment of a single senior official both in the United States and in Russia “to reduce the continuing impediments to the implementation of joint nonproliferation and threat reduction programs,” the U.S. National Academies and the Russian Academy of Sciences publicly reported February 5 on the early stages of a joint project aimed at reducing the risk posed by unsecured nuclear materials in Russia.

John Holdren and Nikolai Laverov, the U.S. and Russian co-chairs of the Joint Committee on U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, created by the two quasi-governmental academies, issued the proposal in a December 4, 2002 letter. Tasked with reviewing cooperative efforts between the two countries to protect nuclear weapons and materials, especially in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the committee has completed the first phase of its work, identifying the key issues that Russia faces in securing its resources and disposing of excess materials in a safe, timely manner.

Citing obstacles in both countries to addressing the problem, the report recommends a “nonproliferation czar” in each country “who has the full-time responsibility for leading and coordinating each government’s efforts to prevent nuclear weapons, nuclear-explosive materials, and the technologies and expertise for making these from falling into the hands of terrorists or countries of proliferation concern.” These officials would have access to the leadership in their respective countries and would regularly report to the presidents on progress and difficulties in assuring the safety of nuclear materials.

“Creating this position would mean fewer unnoticed opportunities, more coordination, and more cooperation,” Holdren said in a February 25 interview. Yet, “this is the hardest recommendation for both countries to take forward” because of complications in reorganizing government agencies and shifting authority among existing positions, he explained.

The proposal for a nonproliferation czar is not a new one. A task force chaired by Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler recommended in January 2001 that a “high-level position in the White House is needed to coordinate policy and budget for threat reduction and nonproliferation programs across the U.S. Government.” According to Holdren, however, this and similar recommendations over the past several years have fallen on deaf ears in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Streamlining the agencies and decision-making process involved in the implementation of Russia’s nonproliferation programs would likely be welcomed by the governments supplying assistance to Moscow. For example, progress in securing agreements to fund programs under the Group of Eight partnership, which will provide Russia with $20 billion of funding for threat reduction programs for weapons of mass destruction over the next 10 years, has been stymied by difficulties dealing with Russian government agencies. (See ACT, November 2002.)

The joint report also recommends increased priority for safeguarding stocks of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium by consolidating storage sites; promoting greater international cooperation to expedite Russian nuclear submarine decommissioning; and improving understanding on nonproliferation efforts, including public education and training for workers in the nuclear weapons industry.

“It’s remarkable and positive that a senior and experienced group of Americans and Russians could have so readily reached an agreement on what more needs to be done on nonproliferation,” Holdren said. “It’s a message for political leaderships: we’ve come a long way in cooperating, but we still have a long way to go.”

Proposals for further work by the committee will be taken up in the next phase of the project. The committee will begin work in the next few months on a detailed study of impediments to U.S.-Russian cooperation and a study of best practices and how to propagate them globally. The studies are slated for completion in the next two years.

Posted: March 1, 2003