Russia Direct – OPINION
Despite good intentions, the Obama administration leaves office in January with U.S.-Russia nonproliferation cooperation in a precarious condition. Moscow’s boycott of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, suspension of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), exclusion from the Group of Eight (G8), and other developments are major, though manageable, challenges in the nuclear security domain.
Renewing U.S.-Russian nonproliferation ties is vital since both countries have large stocks of nuclear weapons, advanced civilian and military nuclear complexes, and expertise in many nuclear and terrorism-related areas. Their cooperation has been responsible for important nuclear security successes, such as removing fissile material from vulnerable former Soviet bloc nuclear facilities.
Yet, while both powers want to deny other countries nuclear weapons, they often differ in their proliferation-related threat perceptions, preferred nonproliferation tactics, and the costs they are prepared to incur to avert further nuclear proliferation. For example, U.S. officials are more willing to sanction countries that pose a proliferation risk, while Russians are more worried about regime instability.
Russia’s exclusion from the G8 has weakened that Group’s nonproliferation functions, including its management of the Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. For more than a decade, the Global Partnership has conducted billions of dollars’ worth of nonproliferation projects in Russia, but now these have been completed or frozen due to tensions between Moscow and the West.
Washington and Moscow can, however, rely more on strengthening the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). The GICNT endorses multinational training, exercises, and sharing of best practices in the prevention, detection, and response to nuclear incidents triggered by non-state actors. It also promotes use of highly enriched uranium and plutonium in civilian activities and enhancing the security of radiological sources that could be used to make dirty bombs. Importantly, while China is not a member of the G8, it is a leading player in the GICNT.