Advocates of preventing nuclear terrorism received an early holiday present. Earlier in the year, two of the four Congressional committees most directly responsible for nuclear security policy had included language in bills that would have damaged the United States' ability to engage in nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But Congress has taken responsible action in supporting continued work with Russia in this area in the combined House-Senate version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act. (Here is the bill and explanatory language.) Read more about Congress Reaffirms Support for Preventing Theft of Russian Nuclear Material
Last week, the editor for the New York Times “Room for Debate” blog asked me to comment on the question, “Should Washington and Moscow continue to work together to reduce nuclear stockpiles and cooperate to secure, or eliminate, weapons and nuclear materials despite the dispute around Russian actions in Ukraine?” I wrote, “We should honor our New START commitments,” but, beyond that, “until Russia removes its troops from eastern Ukraine and ceases its military support to pro-Russian separatists there, the United States should suspend any discussion on future arms reductions or cooperation on securing Russian nuclear materials and weapons.” Four other commenters disagreed with my recommendation. Read more about Why the United States Should Suspend Nuclear Security Cooperation Inside Russia
Last weekend, the New York Times published a debate on whether, as a result of tension over Ukraine, the United States should cut off nuclear security cooperation with Russia. As the Times reported before the debate, Russia may be bringing nearly all of this cooperation to an end–but there are some in the United States saying the U.S. government should act to end it whether or not Russia is willing to continue. Given the deteriorating relationship between the two countries, this issue should be debated now. We are continuing the debate on Nuclear Security Matters and welcome readers to send us their thoughts. Read more about The United States Should Chew Gum and Walk on Nuclear Security
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article revealing that, at the end of 2014, Russia plans to reduce its cooperation with the United States on securing nuclear materials within its borders. The United States and Russia have made substantial progress in securing nuclear material over the past two decades, but more work is needed. Halting cooperation not only risks future progress on reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism, but also jeopardizes progress to date.
Most U.S. policymakers support critical U.S. investments in improving security to prevent the theft of nuclear weapons and weapons usable material in Russia. A few, however, are starting to raise doubts about whether this cooperation is a good idea. Skeptics argue that, because of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the federal government needs to make a stronger case for nuclear security cooperation with Russia. They argue that the U.S. case needs to address issues like the cost of nuclear security programs, the fungibility of money given to Russia for security upgrades, and the marginal benefit of nuclear security spending in Russia. The problem with these concerns is that they do not acknowledge the purpose of nuclear security cooperation: reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.