Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Bush’s Other Lopsided Nuclear Deal: Sokolski Slams American Nuclear Cooperation with Russia

Posted by K.E. White on February 2, 2008

As posted earlier, nuclear cooperation between the United States and Russia is ramping up. Originally a plan to purchase Russian nuclear materials to power American nuclear power plants, Russia will now be paid (billions) to temporarily store these materials and be granted testing of American nuclear fuels. 

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, points out two flaws of the deal: America’s nuclear industries get “zilch” from the deal, and Russia is rewarded while supporting Iranian nuclear aspirations and providing other military assistance. 

Sokolski tackles why the administration—through the Department of Energy (DOE)—is backing the deal: 

Backers of the deal at the Energy Department, though, are motivated to test the waters. They are especially anxious now to substitute the U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear weapons reduction programs that are nearing completion with a new set of U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear projects, projects that are only permissible if a formal nuclear cooperative agreement with Russia is put into force. These officials cynically calculate that Congress is too preoccupied with presidential-year politics to step in by the 90-day deadline.

 

The trade-off seems clear: while Russia is undermining Iran’s nuclear containment, it is more important to keep—or bride them—for their continued cooperation on nuclear matters. 

While Sokolski does paint a troublesome picture of executive dominance over America’s nuclear policies, he would have done well to briefly discuss Russo-American cooperative threat reduction (CTR) activities. 

Sokolski necessarily paints a simplified picture of American and Russian priorities. But CTR between the two countries is perhaps the most important aspect of their ‘nuclear’ relationship. CTR seeks to ensure Russian nuclear-weapons capable materials stay out of terrorist hands. 

From Richard Weitz’s April 2007 report on Russian-American Security Cooperation:

 

On a more positive note, the cooperative threat reduction process between Russia and its former Cold War adversaries remains one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers. Since major funding increases for weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related threat reduction projects in Russia are unlikely, however, both sides should consider more creative solutions to several recurring problems that have impeded further progress. For example, measures to resolve disputes over access to sensitive Russian sites could include  granting Russian representatives more opportunities  to see U.S. WMD-related sites, hiring Russian firms or personnel to help dismantle excessive WMD stocks in the United States, and supplying additional data  concerning U.S.-funded threat reduction projects in Russia in return for more detailed information about Russia’s WMD-related facilities and employees,  especially those involved in Soviet-era biological and  chemical weapons activities.

 

Opportunities for additional progress in curbing third-party WMD proliferation also exist. Chances for Russian-American collaboration on joint or multilateral threat reduction projects outside the former Soviet Union increased substantially in June 2003, when the  G-8 governments agreed that the “Global Partnership  Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction” could in principle support threat  reduction activities in countries besides Russia. Another opportunity for Russian-American collaboration on  threat reduction projects beyond Russia arose in May  2004, when U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced a Global Threat Reduction Initiative  (GTRI) to identify, secure, and dispose of stockpiles of vulnerable civilian nuclear and radiological materials and related equipment throughout the world. The GTRI involves close cooperation between the United States and Russia in securing these high-risk sources. At the July 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Presidents Bush and Putin launched a Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and opened formal negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. (pages 9-10)

 

But this consideration does not diminish this aspect of Sokolski’s argument: DOE’s sidelining of any real Congressional oversight is gravely distressing. 

Whoever enters the White House in 2009 will review and retool America’s overall security posture. Whether shifting overall troop levels or modifying our nation’s various nuclear cooperation agreements, success will depend of the President’s ability to forge a new national security consensus. Such Congressional muzzling can not only lead to bad foreign policy, but erodes the fundamental challenge our nation faces in the age of international terrorism.

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