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Nuclear Security and Sustainability: Is Moscow Committed?
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By Elizabeth Zolotukhina

U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation began shortly after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Fearing the possibility of nuclear theft[1] and the chance of  diversion of former Soviet direct use nuclear materials to non-state actors, American officials originally envisioned the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program as an emergency measure to hedge against potential chaos resulting from the USSR’s collapse.[2] The Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991 authorized a cooperative program of U.S. aid to former Soviet republics, including Russia. The CTR program, which expired in June 2013, represented one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers.[3]  

After the expiration of the CTR umbrella agreement, more limited U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation continued under the auspices of a 2003 accord, the Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR), and a related protocol signed on June 14, 2013. On December 16, 2014 Russian officials announced, not unexpectedly, Moscow’s decision to terminate a large segment of nuclear security cooperation with Washington.[4]

Nevertheless, the timing remains regrettable. Vulnerabilities remain in Russia’s overly dispersed stockpiles of separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), the largest in the world.[5] These deficiencies could be exploited by corrupt insiders.[6] The cooperative programs scuttled by the December 16 decision aimed to address these vulnerabilities, as will be detailed below. The aforementioned factors render critical an assessment of Moscow’s commitment to funding nuclear security utilizing the Russian federal budget in the absence of U.S. monies.[7]

Reasons for Moscow’s decision to terminate large swaths of nuclear cooperation with Washington have been detailed elsewhere.[8] The December 16 document did not end all U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear security programs. Small projects remain, ranging from work with the Russian nuclear regulators to security improvements at a handful of small facilities, as well as repatriation of Russian-origin nuclear fuel from third countries.[9] However, initiatives between the U.S. Department of Defense and its Russian partner, the Ministry of Defense, have been terminated.[10] This has led to the cessation of U.S.-funded security upgrades at all Russian nuclear material storage facilities and weapons sites. Unfortunately, these locations still contain “substantial amounts of weapons-usable nuclear materials.”[11] Moscow’s December 16 decision also has resulted in the conclusion of U.S. assistance in safeguarding Russian stocks of HEU and fissile plutonium, as well as efforts to convert HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU) at civilian nuclear research sites.[12]

U.S. divestment from HEU-LEU conversion initiatives poses a proliferation threat for at least three reasons. First, excess fissile material (HEU and plutonium) is most vulnerable to theft by non-state actors.[13] Second, due to lower security measures at Russian civilian nuclear facilities, such as scientific research institutes and sites used to store excess fissile material,[14] HEU and plutonium from these locations is highly susceptible to terrorist seizure and use.[15] Notably, Russian research institutes house over 60 operating HEU-fueled research reactors, more than any other country.[16] Finally, HEU to LEU conversion is critical because LEU, unlike HEU, cannot be used to construct a nuclear weapon. In the absence of substitute Russian funding, American disinvestment from Russian nuclear security has the potential to create proliferation challenges. To counter the threat, Russia should be encouraged to fund these initiatives and related sustainability efforts.[17] However, Moscow’s preferred definition of sustainability and its commitment to nuclear security may influence its ability and/or willingness to fill the resultant gap by funding nuclear security and sustainability measures.

Indeed, Moscow and Washington employ different definitions of “sustainability”. American officials view sustainability as “an approach to material, protection, control, and accounting systems - including procedures and personnel - that emphasizes sustaining and continuously improving nuclear security to address evolving threats.”[18] By contrast, “in Russia, the concept of sustainability means repairing equipment, maintenance, buying spare parts, and replacement of equipment (paid for by the United States).”[19] This discrepancy necessarily hobbles attempts to encourage Moscow to fund sustainability, even if arguably leaders of both countries can be said to be equally committed to nuclear security.[20] Notwithstanding these definitional differences, the key question is whether Russia is able and/or willing to fund nuclear security initiatives (including sustainability efforts) given its repudiation of U.S. support in those spheres?

Moscow has long maintained its commitment to nuclear security and sustainability, as well as its ability to cover the associated costs.[21] This position was reiterated in the December 16 document which ended most U.S-Russian nuclear security cooperation.[22] Some have questioned these assertions, not least for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph. Moreover, the precipitous decline of the ruble beginning last year has resulted in a 10% cut to most sectors of the Russian economy, and has cast additional doubt on Moscow’s ability to fund its priorities.[23] Surely an indicator of the same, amid the economic crisis, the Russian military budget has increased by 33%, to about 3.3 trillion rubles (approximately $50 billion USD).[24] 20 trillion rubles are earmarked for new weapons between 2011-2020,[25] and the Russian military also is slated to receive more than 50 new intercontinental ballistic missiles.[26] Unsurprisingly, the Russian military modernization program has alarmed NATO, not least because the latest edition of the Russian military doctrine identifies “NATO expansion as a key risk.”[27]

Moscow’s nuclear security budget is much murkier than even its expenditures for military modernization. So much so that “no one knows whether Russia will devote the resources necessary to sustain the levels of security that are now in place.”[28] Despite this acknowledged lack of clarity, a consensus seems to exist that although Russia could fund domestic nonproliferation initiatives and nuclear security efforts, Moscow is unlikely to be willing to do so.[29] Lack of nuclear security expertise and a dearth of appreciation for the “seriousness of its stockpile of plutonium” are cited in explaining Moscow’s unwillingness to fund threat reduction and sustainability efforts in the absence of American support.[30] Russia’s explicit and public prioritization of military modernization is a reflection of Moscow’s preferences.[31] Especially in light of the country’s recent economic crisis, this aim is realized at the expense of other goals, including nuclear security and sustainability. This is very troubling, given the existing weaknesses in and threats to select components of the Russian nuclear arsenal.

For Moscow to prioritize funding nuclear security and sustainability efforts, the Russian leadership must support such initiatives. Currently, this is not the case.[32] Further, the situation is unlikely to change so long as the Ukraine crisis remains unresolved, and even then doubts are likely to remain. Regardless, all components of the Russian nuclear stockpile must be secured in accordance with accepted best practices. To do otherwise would be a risk no one is willing to take.  

 


[1] Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier, Securing the Bomb 2007. Washington: Project on Managing the Atom, Harvard University, and Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2007. 14. http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/securing-the-bomb-2007-fullreport.pdf?_=1322767524 Accessed on June 29, 2007, v.

[2] Woolf, Amy. Congressional Research Service, Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance: U.S. Programs in the Former Soviet Union. Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2008. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA476110. 6. Accessed on March 8, 2009.

[3] Adams, Gordon and Williams, Cindy. Strengthening Statecraft and Security:  Reforming U.S. Planning and Resource Allocation. Cambridge: MIT Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008. http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/WilliamsAdamsOccasionalPaper6-08.pdf. Accessed on July 8, 2008. 49-50.

[4] Bender, Bryan. “Russia ends US nuclear security alliance.” The Boston Globe. January 19, 2015. http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/01/19/after-two-decades-russia-nuclear-security-cooperation-becomes-casualty-deteriorating-relations/5nh8NbtjitUE8UqVWFIooL/story.html. Accessed on February 11, 2015. Bunn, Matthew. “The Real Nuclear Nightmare When It Comes to U.S.-Russian Ties.” The National Interest. January 24, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-real-nuclear-nightmare-when-it-comes-us-russian-ties-12102. Accessed on February 10, 2015. Ibragimova, Galiya. “Russian pundits say concerns over the country’s nukes are overblown.” Russia Direct. January 29. 2015. http://www.russia-direct.org/debates/russian-pundits-say-concerns-over-countrys-nukes-are-overblown. Accessed on February 10, 2015. Unattributed. “US Nunn-Lugar officials rebut reports of its demise as media seem to dig its grave.” The Bellona Foundation. October 11, 2012. http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/nuclear-issues-in-ex-soviet-republics/2012-10-us-nunn-lugar-officials-rebut-reports-of-its-demise-as-media-seem-to-dig-its-grave. Accessed on February 11, 2015. 

[5] The U.S. Department of Energy. “Interim Report of the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation.” August 1, 2014. http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/08/f18/SEAB%20TFNN%20Interim%20Report_August%201%202014%20with%20appendices.pdf. 19. Accessed on February 11, 2015. Regarding the extensive dispersal of Russian nuclear materials, see: Editorial Board. “Russia’s short-sighted move to end nuclear cooperation with the U.S.” The Washington Post. January 24, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/russias-short-sighted-move-to-end-nuclear-cooperation-with-the-us/2015/01/24/43284312-a333-11e4-b146-577832eafcb4_story.html. Accessed on February 10, 2015.   

[6] Ibid., 19. See also Bunn, Matthew. “The Real Nuclear Nightmare When It Comes to U.S.-Russian Ties.” The National Interest. January 24, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-real-nuclear-nightmare-when-it-comes-us-russian-ties-12102. Accessed on February 10, 2015.

[7] Russian officials indicated that Moscow is capable of funding its nuclear security in the above-mentioned December 16 document. See Bender, Bryan. “Russia ends US nuclear security alliance.” The Boston Globe. January 19, 2015. http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/01/19/after-two-decades-russia-nuclear-security-cooperation-becomes-casualty-deteriorating-relations/5nh8NbtjitUE8UqVWFIooL/story.html. Accessed on February 11, 2015.

[8] See Bunn, Matthew. “The Real Nuclear Nightmare When It Comes to U.S.-Russian Ties.” The National Interest. January 24, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-real-nuclear-nightmare-when-it-comes-us-russian-ties-12102. Accessed on February 10, 2015. Nunn, Sam; Lugar, Richard. “The United States and Russia must repair their partnership on nuclear security.” The Washington Post. January 23, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-united-states-and-russia-must-repair-their-partnership-on-nuclear-security/2015/01/23/555b9a60-a271-11e4-903f-9f2faf7cd9fe_story.html. Accessed on February 10, 2015. Krepon, Michael. “Nunn-Lugar, RIP.” Arms Control Wonk. January 27, 2015. http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/4458/nunn-lugar-r-i-p. Accessed on February 10, 2015.

[9] Bunn, Matthew. “The Real Nuclear Nightmare When It Comes to U.S.-Russian Ties.” The National Interest. January 24, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-real-nuclear-nightmare-when-it-comes-us-russian-ties-12102. Accessed on February 10, 2015.

[10] Woolf, Amy F., et. al. “Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements.” Congressional Research Service. July 21, 2014. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL33865.pdf. Accessed on February 13, 2015.

[11] Borger, Julian. “US-Russian rift threatens security of nuclear material.” The Guardian. January 25, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/2015/jan/25/us-russian-rift-threatens-security-of-nuclear-material. Accessed on February 10, 2015.

[12] Borger, Julian. “US-Russian rift threatens security of nuclear material.” The Guardian. January 25, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/2015/jan/25/us-russian-rift-threatens-security-of-nuclear-material. Accessed on February 10, 2015. Digges, Charles. “Russia discontinues cooperation with US to secure nuclear materials: Report.” The Bellona Foundation. January 20, 2015. http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/nuclear-russia/2015-01-russia-discontinues-cooperation-us-secure-nuclear-materials-report. Accessed on February 10, 2015.

[13] Bunn, Matthew; Harrell, Eben; Malin, Martin B. Progress on Securing Nuclear Weapons and Materials: The Four-Year Effort and Beyond. Cambridge: Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, March 2012. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Progress_In_The_Four_Year_Effort_web.pdf. 5. Accessed on February 9, 2013. Ellis, Jason. D. Defense by Other Means: The Politics of US-NIS Threat Reduction and Nuclear Security Cooperation. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2001. 34-35.

[14] For security weaknesses of Russian scientific research institutes see Blair, Bruce G. “Russian Control of Nuclear Weapons” in Quester, George, ed. The Nuclear Challenge in Russia and the New States of Eurasia. Vol. 6. 10 vols. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1995. 72 and III, Rensselaer W. Lee. Smuggling Armageddon: The Nuclear Black Market in the Former Soviet Union and Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 114-115. Security risks posed by Russian excess HEU and plutonium are outlined by Baker, John C. Non-Proliferation Incentives for Russia and Ukraine. Adelphi Paper 309. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1997. 63-64; Kassenova, Togzhan. From Antagonism to Partnership: The Uneasy Path of the U.S.-Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2007. 209-239.

[15] Bunn and Wier (2007), 14.

[16] As cited in Bunn, Matthew. Securing the Bomb 2010: Securing All Nuclear Materials in Four Years. Washington: Project on Managing the Atom, Harvard University, and Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2010. http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/Securing_The_Bomb_2010.pdf?_=1317159794. 37. Accessed on February 8, 2012.

[17] For recommendations on how to motivate states to prioritize nuclear security and sustainability see, Roth, Nickolas. “Strengthening International Nuclear Security Cooperation.” 55th Annual Strategy for Peace Conference. The Stanley Foundation. October 15-17, 2014. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/strengthening_nuclear_security.pdf. Accessed on February 12, 2015.

[18] Roth, Nickolas. “Strengthening International Nuclear Security Cooperation.” 55th Annual Strategy for Peace Conference. The Stanley Foundation. October 15-17, 2014. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/strengthening_nuclear_security.pdf. Accessed on February 12, 2015. 4. 

[19] Roth, Nickolas. “Strengthening International Nuclear Security Cooperation.” 55th Annual Strategy for Peace Conference. The Stanley Foundation. October 15-17, 2014. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/strengthening_nuclear_security.pdf. Accessed on February 12, 2015. 4.

[20] Some assess Russia’s contribution to sustainability efforts as insufficient and attribute this to Moscow’s disinterest in safeguarding its nuclear assets, or in nuclear security and nonproliferation, generally. For this tendency in the public policy literature see, for instance, Kane, Samuel. “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Nuclear Security, the Nonproliferation Regime, and the Threat of Terrorist Nukes.” http://globalsolutions.org/files/public/documents/Sam-Kane-Preventing-Nuclear-Terrorism.pdf. Accessed on February 7, 2013; United States, U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE’s Effort to Close Russia’s Plutonium Production Reactors Faces Challenges, and Final Shutdown is Uncertain.” (Washington: GAO, 2004). http://www.gao.gov/assets/250/242706.pdf. 28. Accessed on February 11, 2013. For the same tendency in the academic literature see Bunn (2006), 131.

[21] Digges, Charles. “Russia discontinues cooperation with US to secure nuclear materials: Report.” The Bellona Foundation. January 20, 2015. http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/nuclear-russia/2015-01-russia-discontinues-cooperation-us-secure-nuclear-materials-report. Accessed on February 10, 2015.

[22] Bender, Bryan. “Russia ends US nuclear security alliance.” The Boston Globe. January 19, 2015. http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/01/19/after-two-decades-russia-nuclear-security-cooperation-becomes-casualty-deteriorating-relations/5nh8NbtjitUE8UqVWFIooL/story.html. Accessed on February 11, 2015.

[23] Isachenkov, Vladimir. “Kremlin Pursues Military Modernization Despite Economic Woes.” The Associated Press. February 4, 2015. http://meredith.worldnow.com/story/28020849/kremlin-pursues-military-modernization-despite-economic-woes. Accessed on February 12, 2015. Interestingly, the Federal Security Service (FSB) also experienced a 10% budget cut. See Unattributed. “Russia’s Economic Crisis Forces Secret Service FSB to Downsize.” The Moscow Times. February 11, 2015. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/515756.html. Accessed on February 12, 2015.

[24] Isachenkov, Vladimir. “Kremlin Pursues Military Modernization Despite Economic Woes.” The Associated Press. February 4, 2015. http://meredith.worldnow.com/story/28020849/kremlin-pursues-military-modernization-despite-economic-woes. Accessed on February 12, 2015.

[25] Isachenkov, Vladimir. “Kremlin Pursues Military Modernization Despite Economic Woes.” The Associated Press. February 4, 2015. http://meredith.worldnow.com/story/28020849/kremlin-pursues-military-modernization-despite-economic-woes. Accessed on February 12, 2015.

[26] Croft, Adrian. “Russia’s nuclear strategy raises concerns in NATO.” The Independent. February 5, 2015. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/02/04/uk-ukraine-crisis-russia-nuclear-insight-idUKKBN0L825A20150204. Accessed on February 12, 2015.

[27] Croft, Adrian. “Russia’s nuclear strategy raises concerns in NATO.” The Independent. February 5, 2015. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/02/04/uk-ukraine-crisis-russia-nuclear-insight-idUKKBN0L825A20150204. Accessed on February 12, 2015.

[28] Bunn, Matthew. “The Real Nuclear Nightmare When It Comes to U.S.-Russian Ties.” The National Interest. January 24, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-real-nuclear-nightmare-when-it-comes-us-russian-ties-12102. Accessed on February 10, 2015. See also Borger, Julian. “US-Russian rift threatens security of nuclear material.” The Guardian. January 25, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/20

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Fri, February 05, 2016 02:32 AM (about 23712 hours ago)
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