Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Russia puts positive spin on nuclear security cooperation – which is good

| Jan. 23, 2015

Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has put out a statement on the Boston Globe story on Russia calling a halt to nearly all U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation.  (See Russian stories based on the statement here and here.)  The statement, in essence, tries to avoid responsibility by saying that cooperation is continuing (citing work on returning highly enriched uranium from other countries to Russia), and to blame the United States for any interruption (citing the U.S. cutoff of nuclear energy and nuclear science cooperation as part of the sanctions over Ukraine).

But there are key elements of the Russian statement that are positive, and the statement also offers clues for how best to attempt to rebuild a robust nuclear security dialogue.

First, the positive part.  The statement starts off with a critical point that remains agreed: “Russia and the United States of America bear a special responsibility for ensuring safety and security of nuclear materials and their reliable physical protection, preventing them from falling into the hands of terrorist organizations.”  And it highlights the accomplishments of these cooperative efforts (at least as they apply to other countries).

Next, the clues on rebuilding.  Rosatom makes it clear that from their point of view nuclear energy and nuclear science cooperation should continue, and “should not depend on situational changes of political environment.”  (The same, I would argue, can be said of nuclear security cooperation.)  “We will be ready to return” to that cooperation, the statement continues, “when the American side is ready,” as long as it is “on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and respect.”   The statement also expresses a positive view about the way cooperation was managed by the U.S.-Russian working group on nuclear energy and security, which had been chaired by Rosatom chief Sergei Kirienko and former Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman.  (This was one of many working groups that were part of the U.S.-Russian Presidential Commission, which the U.S. side suspended as part of the Ukraine sanctions.) Rosatom calls the approach that group took “very efficient.”

In short, the statement acknowledges that nuclear security is very important and that Russia and the United States share important responsibilities for it, and implies that Russia might be willing to agree to an approach built “on the basis of equality” that also included nuclear energy and nuclear science cooperation. 

Rosatom is correct in saying that these kinds of cooperation should not be cut off whenever the political winds shift.  Neither side should have cut off nuclear energy, nuclear science, or nuclear security cooperation.  Unfortunately, those mistakes are not likely to be fixed without some progress on addressing the crisis in Ukraine.  The U.S. government should be working to put together a package of ideas for a new, fully equal approach to cooperation in all of these areas if and when such progress occurs. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bunn, Matthew.Russia puts positive spin on nuclear security cooperation – which is good.” Nuclear Security Matters, January 23, 2015, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/russia-puts-positive-spin-nuclear-security-cooperation-which-good.

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