Progress and Gaps

Elbe Group Members Urge More Cooperation to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

By Brigadier General Kevin Ryan (ret.)

At a meeting 23 and 24 March in Belgrade, US and Russian members of the Elbe Group – retired general officers from the military and intelligence services – declared that the risk of terrorism, both conventional and nuclear, is growing.  They urged that special attention must be given to preventing Daesh, al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations which have declared openly their desire to gain weapons of mass destruction, from obtaining them.  

Fresh Thinking on Highly Enriched Uranium Research Reactor Conversions

By William Tobey

Last week, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine panel affirmed the goal of eliminating highly enriched uranium (HEU) from civilian use, while recommending step-wise conversion of high performance research reactors using weapon-grade uranium fuel and that the White House coordinate a 50-year national roadmap for neutron-based research. (Full disclosure:  I sat on that committee, and oversaw the NNSA reactor conversion program from 2006-9; this post, however, represents my views, not necessarily those of the committee or NNSA.)

Summary of Nonproliferation funding in Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2016 Budget Request

By Nickolas Roth

The Obama administration is proposing to boost Department of Energy nonproliferation funding to $1.94 billion—more than a $300 million increase from what Congress appropriated last year—in fiscal year 2016. But this is an increase over the very low fiscal year 2015 budget proposed by the administration and then further cut by Congress. Both Congress and the Russian government have cut back on further U.S.-funded nuclear security work in Russia, and the Obama administration has yet to develop major new initiatives that could absorb those resources.

Implementing International Mechanisms to Ensure the Security of Military Materials

Samantha Pitts-KieferBy Samantha Pitts-Kiefer

In the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit Communiqué, leaders from more than 50 countries “reaffirm[ed] the fundamental responsibility of States, in accordance with their respective obligations, to maintain at all times effective security of all nuclear and other radioactive materials, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons, and nuclear facilities under their control. This responsibility includes taking appropriate measures to prevent non-state actors from obtaining such materials – or related sensitive information or technology – which could be used for malicious purposes, and to prevent acts of terrorism and sabotage.”

Rebuilding U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation

By Matthew Bunn

As the Boston Globe reported Monday, Russia has put a stop, for now, to most U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation.  Russian, U.S., and world security will be in more danger as a result.  But some small pieces of cooperation continue – and with creativity and effort, it may be possible to rebuild a robust nuclear security dialogue of equals, rather than a donor-recipient relationship.

Belfer Experts: The End of U.S.–Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation?

NNSA photo ommemorating the completion of the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement

More than two decades of U.S.-Russian cooperation to keep potential nuclear bomb material out of terrorist hands largely came to an end last month, as The Boston Globe reported Monday.  Although the dangers have not gone away, Russia is no longer interested in working on most nuclear security projects with the United States— yet another victim of increasing tension between the two countries. The Belfer Center has been centrally involved in these efforts since their inception. Belfer Center experts Graham Allison, Matthew Bunn, and William Tobey offer their thoughts.

The United States Should Chew Gum and Walk on Nuclear Security

By Nickolas Roth

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. 

Strengthening International Cooperation on Nuclear Materials Security

By Nickolas Roth

Matthew Bunn, Will Tobey, Hui Zhang, and Nickolas Roth recently participated in a two-day roundtable discussion sponsored by the Stanley Foundation on U.S. nuclear security cooperation with Russia and China. The discussion, which involved experts from around the world, focused on overcoming challenges to nuclear security cooperation and ensuring that countries put in place effective and sustainable nuclear security measures with strong security culture. Although the roundtable was not for attribution, you can read a memo summarizing the discussion here.

A Response to Critics of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation

By Nickolas Roth

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.

The Russian Tie We Can't Cut

“I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” So said President Obama last March, weighing the danger of nuclear terrorism against that of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Yet our research shows that his administration proposes cutting the amount of money spent on an array of programs to secure nuclear bomb materials around the world and keep them out of terrorists’ hands — to $555 million next year from $700 million in fiscal 2014. And in both houses of Congress, there are efforts to legislate a suspension of nuclear security cooperation with Russia.