Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Congress Reaffirms Support for Preventing Theft of Russian Nuclear Material

| Dec. 05, 2014

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.)

The Defense Authorization bill, which would have been the primary legislative vehicle for stopping cooperation, allows most nuclear security work with Russia to continue. Instead of setting up roadblocks, it simply includes a “Sense of Congress” stating that nonproliferation activities in Russia should be consistent with the security interests of the United States and that the Secretary of Energy should focus only on activities that support arms control obligations or will reduce the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. It also includes a provision stating that the Department of Energy’s International Material, Protection, Control, and Accounting activities in Russia need to be completed by fiscal year 2018, which is already the target for completion.

The bill’s explanatory language mentions the benefits of nuclear security cooperation with Russia. It even left open the possibility that cooperation could continue past 2018 in the form of best practices exchanges on insider threats, developments in security technology, and “other appropriate compensatory measures or other areas of mutual benefit in securing nuclear material.” Additionally, it endorsed the idea of continuing security upgrades in Russia past 2018 if the work if needed.

It’s not all good news though. The bill would bar the United States from providing Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) technology, which would help Russians protecting nuclear sites conduct force-on-force exercises. Controversy over supplying MILES equipment erupted as soon as the conflict over Ukraine began, and the administration had already canceled plans to send the equipment, so this legislative ban was expected. The NDAA also includes a constraining provision that prohibits funds for the Department of Defense (DOD) Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program from being obligated or expended for activities in Russia unless those activities are specifically authorized by subsequent legislation. That is a loss, but DOD work in Russia was already limited and winding down (especially since the replacement for the original CTR agreement does not include the Russian Ministry of Defense, DOD’s natural counterpart).

Although not perfect from the perspective of nuclear security, the Defense Authorization Bill reaffirms longstanding bipartisan support for U.S.-Russian cooperative work on reducing the risk that Russian nuclear material would be stolen. It also gives the Obama administration space to be creative in ensuring that this cooperation continues. This is important because Russia has indicated that it wants to cut off most nuclear security cooperation with the United States. It is now up to the Obama administration and Russia to agree to a nuclear security work plan based on equality, mutual benefit, and mutual respect.

Budget Allocations: Given the current budget environment in the United States, nonproliferation programs did well in the bill.  With the exception of the International Material Protection and Cooperation IMPC program, all Department of Energy nonproliferation programs would receive more money than the administration requested.   

The House Armed Services Committee recommended major cuts to IMPC in its version of the bill. The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended a moderate increase in its version. The end result was a relatively small cut to the program. It is still unclear whether that cut came from the Second Line of Defense program or programs more directly related to security of facilities with nuclear material. 

Of course, authorization is only one step in the funding process. There were two bills that put nuclear security cooperation with Russia in jeopardy. The fate of the other one, the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, is still undecided. The House version of the bill included language that would cut all funding for cooperation with Russia. The Senate version supported cooperation. How much money these programs will actually get will be determined by whatever appropriations bill or continuing resolution Congress manages to pass in the weeks to come, not by the NDAA.

Authorized Budget Allocations for 2015 (in thousands of dollars)

Program

Administration Request

Senate Armed Services Committee

House Armed Services Committee

Conference Bill

Global Threat Reduction Initiative

333,488

373,488

413,488

383,488

International Material Protection and Cooperation

305,467

375,467

129,067

294,589

Fissile Material Disposition

311,125

456,125

311,125

456,125

Nonproliferation and International Security

141,359

141,359

177,759

144,246

Research and Development

360,808

390,808

430,808

393,401

Total Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation

1,555,156

1,840,156

1,565,156

1,774,758

($100 million of this is set aside for pensions)

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Roth, Nickolas.Congress Reaffirms Support for Preventing Theft of Russian Nuclear Material.” Nuclear Security Matters, December 5, 2014, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/congress-reaffirms-support-preventing-theft-russian-nuclear-material.