Perspective: A Vision for U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Security
A Vision for U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Security
The United States and Russia have reached a new stage in their relationship, and the time is right to consider how the world’s two most powerful nuclear powers can work together to enhance global security. Cold war polarization ended more than 15 years ago. During the 1990s, attention shifted to the threat posed by the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. After September 11, 2001, the possibility of nuclear terrorism became the focus of concern. The long cooperative effort between the two countries to improve the security of nuclear materials in Russia will soon have achieved its major goals. Now Russia and the United States are in an ideal position to forge a true partnership to pursue enhanced global nuclear security with an emphasis on other countries.
The potential for nuclear proliferation, the danger of nuclear terrorism, and the challenges of the coming renaissance in nuclear energy all combine to make the nuclear security landscape of 2015 a complicated one. As United Nations (UN) Security Council members, technologically advanced nuclear weapon states, and states with deep involvement in nuclear energy, Russia and the United States are ideally positioned to provide global leadership during this crucial period. Their influence and effectiveness will be enhanced to the degree that they are able to act in consort. President Obama’s call to “reset” the relationship with Russia opens the way for the two sides to take the first steps toward building this partnership. One way to start is by outlining a vision of the world of 2015 that might be achieved if U.S. and Russian leaders commit themselves to the task. Optimists projecting themselves into 2015, will see the following.
In the ideal relationship of 2015, the two sides understand each other’s perceptions of nuclear threats (although they may not completely agree with each other’s threat perceptions), including the degree to which each feels threatened by the actions of the other. They have reached agreement on measures to prevent misunderstanding. These include improved sharing of ballistic missile warning information through the Joint Data Exchange Center and some mechanism to integrate (or at least accommodate) the U.S. ballistic missile defense system now being deployed in Europe.
Because of the extensive dialogue that has taken place since 2009, Russia and the United States view each others’ strategic forces with reduced concern. The two countries have agreed to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Treaty of Moscow with new treaties that reduce arms and ensure transparency and predictability of strategic offensive and strategic defensive forces. This mechanism has been designed to meet the political and security concerns of both sides. The two countries maintain rough parity in their nuclear forces and continue to work together to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. Because of these elements of predictability and parity, neither side is concerned with asymmetries in internal force composition, leaving each free to shape its forces as it sees fit.
Although the two countries do not completely share a common nuclear threat perception, extensive discussions have brought their views closer to one another on the threats from states such as Iran and North Korea and the existence of other potential proliferator states. In addition, working through mechanisms such as the U.S.–Russian Counter Terrorism working group, the two sides have deepened their mutual understanding of the risk of nuclear terrorism and the threat from improvised nuclear devices.
Nonproliferation. In this ideal future, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) remains in effect in its current form. The United States and Russia have a common view of the importance of its implementation including the necessity for universal adherence to the Additional Protocol, with its additional authority for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure safeguards against diversion of nuclear material from peaceful programs. They also both consistently stress the requirements of UNSCR 1540, requiring states to adopt domestic legislation to prevent proliferation. While preserving the concept of sovereignty in treaty-making, the two countries have taken the lead within the international community to make it difficult for a state to withdraw from the NPT and to preclude states from retaining the benefits such as technical assistance or the provision of nuclear fuel that they have received from nuclear cooperation under NPT Article IV should they withdraw. The two countries also actively develop innovative approaches toward countries not party to the NPT in order to limit proliferation and to move non-parties toward the implementation of NPT norms.
All plutonium and spent fuel in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been removed to Russia for reprocessing, with the cost borne equitably by all states whose security is enhanced by a nuclear weapons-free DPRK. The United States and Russia have worked jointly to play a leading role in verification of the elimination of the existing North Korean weapons program.
Iran has abandoned its plans for nuclear weapons because of consistent international pressure under joint U.S.–Russian leadership. Iran has implemented the Additional Protocol and developed commercial nuclear power under strict International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards using a fuel-leasing approach with fuel supplied by Russia and spent fuel returned to Russia.
The United States and Russia have improved their diplomatic coordination and normally take coordinated, coherent, and effective positions in international forums designed to inhibit proliferation. They consistently work together to strengthen export control mechanisms and other elements of the international regime to counter proliferation and nuclear terrorism. They have cooperated to ensure negotiation and implementation of an effective and verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty with widespread (ideally universal) application.
In 2015, the United States and Russia jointly take the lead to strengthen adherence to treaty commitments and international norms relating to nuclear security. Where states fail to comply with international non-proliferation and counterterrorism regimes, the United States and Russia work jointly in the Security Council and elsewhere to ensure adequate sanctions. They cooperate closely within the Proliferation Security Initiative and look for other innovative approaches to counter proliferation.
In this ideal future, the United States and Russia both agree that the political conditions to permit the complete abolition of nuclear weapons are unlikely to exist for the immediate future. They also recognize that the technical ability to verify such abolition does not now exist, although scientists in both countries continue to work both independently and together to improve verification techniques. The two countries (and, if possible, the other NPT nuclear weapon states) have cooperated in disseminating honest analyses that demonstrate these facts, while continuing to work to overcome the impediments to abolition. This openness, coupled with continued reductions in the total arsenals of Russia and the United States, and increased transparency concerning the size and composition of those arsenals, has significantly mitigated (although not eliminated) the pressure from non–nuclear weapon states for the nuclear weapon states to take additional action in response to Article VI of the NPT.
Nuclear power. The world of 2015 is undergoing a renaissance in nuclear power generation. This renaissance is driven in part by the recognition that nuclear energy is indispensable if the world is to meet its growing energy requirements without the unacceptable contributions to global climate change resulting from increased fossil fuel emissions. To ensure that this renaissance does not create proliferation problems, the United States and Russia support a common vision of discouraging the spread of sensitive technology associated with the fuel cycle, based on a harmonization of the current U.S., Russian, and IAEA proposals. This common vision does not enhance a sense of discrimination among the non–nuclear weapons states because it does not ask them to abandon their legal rights. Instead, it offers incentives that make it financially, technically, and politically attractive for states to take advantage of fuel supply and take-back services offered by several states in commercial competition with one another. The two countries complement this effort by working together to create an international nuclear waste management regime.
Both countries recognize that a nuclear reactor accident anywhere in the world will bring this renaissance to a halt. Because they understand that a strong regulatory regime is a prerequisite for nuclear reactor safety, they work together to assist new reactor states in establishing such regimes. They also work with existing channels such as the IAEA, the World Nuclear Association, and the World Association of Nuclear Operators to help share nuclear safety best practices throughout the world, giving special attention to states with limited experience in operating reactors.
Preventing terrorism. In 2015, both the United States and Russia have confidence that the nuclear weapons and materials in the other country are secure against theft from either terrorist attack or insider diversion. They routinely exchange best practices concerning nuclear weapons and nuclear material security and have found a mechanism to share information on security that builds confidence while not revealing specific information that would cause either state concern. Both countries make the consistent investments needed to ensure long-term maintenance of weapons and material security. Through appropriate and well–designed transparency measures, they demonstrate to the international community that their weapons remain safe and secure, thus providing leadership by example to other nuclear weapon–possessing states.
The United States and Russia actively engage other states to encourage them to ensure that the security of nuclear materials and, where appropriate, nuclear weapons in these countries matches the strong security in Russia and the United States. As part of this effort they work together to offer technical security improvements and the sharing of best practices to all states, working through the IAEA where feasible. They also work together to assist states in the effective implementation of both UNSCR 1540 and the Additional Protocol.
As part of this effort, the United States and Russia have worked—and continue to work—to eliminate the non-military use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), especially in research reactors, to complete the return of all U.S.- and Russian- origin HEU from research reactors in third countries, and to eliminate stocks of such material in all non–nuclear weapons states. To set an example for the world, Russia and the United States convert all of their own research rectors to use only low-enriched uranium.
As one element in their broad technical collaboration on security, Russia and the United States take the lead in creating an international system of nuclear attribution based on a technical nuclear forensics capability. While recognizing the practical limits of nuclear forensics, they expect this system to help identify the origin of nuclear material seized from smugglers or terrorists as well as the origin of any device actually detonated. Both Russia and the United States make it clear that if a state assists terrorists in obtaining a nuclear weapon or the materials to construct an improvised nuclear device and terrorists subsequently detonate such a device, both the United States and Russia will have a high probability of knowing where the material originated. Both states make it clear that terrorist use of nuclear weapons or improvised nuclear devices anywhere in the world will inspire universal condemnation. They also each make it clear that they will regard nuclear terrorism within their respective states as justifying a response against the supplier of the weapon or material in accordance with the inherent right of self-defense cited in Article 51 of the UN charter.
This nuclear forensics and attribution effort is part of a continuing effort in organizing and leading the global community under the auspices of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. This joint U.S.–Russian initiative has continued to grow and by 2015 is a leading vehicle for preventing nuclear and radiological terrorism.
Scientific cooperation. In 2015, the United States and Russia have expanded and deepened their science and technology coordination in order to provide new technical tools for counter-terrorism; for the verification of reductions in nuclear weapons and nuclear materials, for safeguards; for improving the detection of nuclear weapons and materials; for materials protection, control, and accounting; for reactor technology (including safety); and for spent fuel management. In the last two areas, they have built on the plan for nuclear energy cooperation they established jointly in 2006. They work together to make these new tools available to other states and urge their widespread adoption. By doing so, the two countries seek to create an international strategy of continuous improvement in nuclear safety and security.
The expanded scientific cooperation in support of nuclear security is part of a broad overall program of scientific cooperation, built around strong relationships between the various U.S. and Russian national laboratories. Russia and the United States both recognize the scientific benefits available from more extensive collaboration. As a result, while carefully protecting access to national security information, they have worked to expand overall scientific and technical cooperation, including joint projects and exchanges of personnel.
Both countries are committed to facilitating these scientific exchanges through the timely review and issuance of visas. They have explored the potential of a special visa regime for key scientists whose expertise may be needed in the event of a nuclear crisis.
Bumps in the road
Relations in the area of nuclear security will inevitably reflect the overall political relationship between the two states. Both Russia and the United States have consistently expressed a desire for close, collegial working relations based on partnership and mutual respect. Both seek to maintain and deepen their ties. Leaders of both Russia and the United States have repeatedly stated that if their two countries are not yet allies, both are determined to avoid once again becoming adversaries.
Yet it would be unrealistic to ignore the probability that significant political strains will remain in 2015. Although both countries will work to reduce current tensions, they may not be completely successful. Political conditions could improve, but they may remain the same or even deteriorate. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that in 2015 the United States will be concerned, as it is today, with an apparent Russian drift toward authoritarianism and away from pluralism. If so, Russia will regard, as it does today, U.S. pressure as an inappropriate interference in Russian internal affairs based on a failure to appreciate the special character of the Russian political system and the difficulties of Russia’s post-Soviet transition. Similarly, in 2015, Americans will continue to regard the continuation and expansion of NATO as a way to draw all European states into a 21st century international regime and will assert that Russia should not find this threatening. Russians will continue to ask who such a military alliance is aimed at and will have difficulty accepting that many European states formerly allied with (or part of) the Soviet Union seek military ties to the United States and links to its extended nuclear deterrent because they fear a future return of an expansionist Russia. Americans will continue to seek ballistic missile defenses aimed at Iran and North Korea, while Russians will fear such defenses could (and may be intended to) weaken the Russian nuclear deterrent. In 2015, Americans will continue to look askance at periodic apparent Russian nostalgia for a Soviet-era past that Americans see as marked by despotism and aggression. Russians will continue to recall the international respect they gained as one of the two superpowers more clearly than they recall the accompanying problems of that bygone era. And no amount of desire for partnership can alter the fact that two major powers with global interests will sometimes find that their national interests are in conflict.
Sound analysis and wise policy demand that the two sides not ignore these enduring tensions. Nor should they fail to recognize that political developments within Russia might make cooperation more difficult in the coming decade. But it would be a serious error of both analysis and policy to believe that either internal political developments or the existence of such tensions preclude strengthened cooperation in the area of nuclear security. Even at the height of the Cold War, when military planners on both sides thought that nuclear war was a real possibility, the United States and the then–Soviet Union cooperated to help create the international non-proliferation regime that, despite the challenges it faces today, has served humanity well. The challenge for today’s policy makers and analysts is to find those areas where cooperation is possible and build on them to strengthen the overall relationship.
Linton Brooks (firstname.lastname@example.org), an independent security consultant based in Washinton, D.C., has five decades of national security experience, including as administrator of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, assistant director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, chief U.S. negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and director of arms control on the National Security Council staff This article is an updated version of a presentation made at a November 2007 international nuclear security workshop sponsored by the U.S. National Academies and the Russian Academy of Sciences.