Cpl. Laura Gauna/U.S. Marine Corps

New Report Says Russia, U.S. Must Do More to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism

A new report says Russia and the United States should work together to prevent terrorists from getting access to nuclear weapons. By Rachel Oswald

Former top Russian and U.S. officials contend in a new report their countries should do more to counter feared nuclear-terrorism attacks by being willing to share sensitive technical data and to help other nations improve their fissile-material-protection standards.

The “Steps to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism” document -- released Wednesday and jointly produced by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, or ISKRAN -- has the backing of prominent retired U.S. and Russian military and intelligence officials.

The recommendations are intended to influence planning for next year’s Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, which is slated to be the second-to-last gathering of its kind and thus one of the final high-profile opportunities to secure concrete commitments by nation states to improve their nuclear security.

“As the world’s two greatest nuclear powers, the United States and Russia have the greatest experience and capabilities in securing nuclear materials and plants and, therefore, share a special responsibility to lead international efforts to prevent terrorists from seizing such materials,” the report reads.

The 34-page document recommends establishing different subgroups within the framework of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, which President Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev established in 2009 to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

The new subgroups would focus on, among other things, coordinating actions between the U.S. and Russian governments if there is an emergency involving a credible nuclear terrorist threat, and also developing guidelines for the bilateral sharing of nuclear-forensics-related information.

The report further suggests Washington and Moscow recruit other nations to join them in voluntarily making new commitments to heighten protection standards for nuclear warheads, highly-enriched uranium and plutonium.

Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert who co-authored the report, suggested any agreement on new voluntary standards could be announced at the upcoming nuclear summit.

Nations interesting in adopting these heightened nuclear security standards but lacking the resources to implement them on their own might be able to receive financial assistance from other nations participating in the nuclear security summit process, Bunn said in an interview.

The report calls for Russia and the United States, which together hold the vast majority of the world’s fissile material, to further consolidate their stockpiles of HEU material and plutonium “to the absolute minimum required to support the ongoing military and civilian uses of these stocks.”

Bunn, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University, said while improvements have been seen in recent years in the security of nuclear stockpiles held worldwide, there is still more that can be done.

“You shouldn’t think of it as something you flip a switch and it’s done, rather it’s something that requires ... continual improvement,” Bunn said.

Arms-control experts in interviews were generally supportive of the Belfer-ISKRAN report’s recommendations.

“Pretty much anything to get the U.S. and Russia working together to prevent nuclear terrorism is a good idea because it’s one of the things that the two countries agree on,” said Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, who briefly commented to Global Security Newswire on the report’s recommendations.

Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said he found the recommendations to be strong and noteworthy because of their endorsement by well-respected former military and security professionals in both nations.

The question, however, is “will the two governments actually be willing to undertake this -- particularly on issues such as forensics and inventories that require a lot of transparency and cooperation and could prove diplomatically embarrassing,” Pomper said in an e-mail.

Pomper said he was particularly appreciative of the recommendation for forming a bilateral subgroup to encourage the sharing of information related to nuclear forensics -- a field that encompasses a range of technical capabilities that can determine where a particular amount of nuclear material was produced. It is hoped that rogue actors would be deterred from carrying out a nuclear terror attack if they know the international community possesses the scientific skills to trace back the source of the bomb material.

“The forensic suggestions are excellent and hopefully spur action,” Pomper said. “But it is not clear if the Kremlin would be willing to implement them given that in the past a significant portion of smuggled HEU appears to have come from Russia and there is a lot of leeriness about providing information about forensic signatures.”

Officials endorsing the new report include retired U.S. Central Command head Army Gen. John Abizaid, former U.S. Strategic Command leader Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger and prior head of the main Russian army’s directorate of intelligence, Gen. Valentin Korabelnikov.

The recommendations were based on the findings of a 2011 U.S.-Russia joint assessment on the nuclear terror threat, also co-produced by the Belfer Center and ISKRAN.

The report’s authors were influenced in part by the results of a 2011 tabletop exercise in Moscow involving former U.S. and Russian military, police and diplomacy officials. The simulation was aimed at learning whether the United States and Russia have the ability to effectively cooperate in responding to a nuclear terrorism crisis.

The exercise found significant differences in how the Russian and American sides approached the crisis in political and practical terms.

“These differences were due to cultural factors, different perceptions of the threat of nuclear terrorism, as well as different approaches to interaction with the media and the public,” the report reads. “For example, experts from Russia initially preferred more restrained and cautious steps, whereas their American counterparts at once perceived the situation as a full-blown nuclear crisis.”

The simulation also showed that determining the origin of illicitly smuggled nuclear material that could be used in a bomb would require both nations to swap extremely sensitive information such as laboratory data on seized atomic substances. However there are no bilateral procedures in place to guide such exchanges.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erred in its description of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands; another such summit has been planned for 2016 in Washington.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.