G-8 Nonproliferation Program Faces Uncertain Future

(Aug. 16) -World leaders attend the 2010 Group of Eight nations summit in June. It remains unclear whether an 8-year-old G-8 nonproliferation initiative will be extended beyond 2012 (Don Emmert/Getty Images).
(Aug. 16) -World leaders attend the 2010 Group of Eight nations summit in June. It remains unclear whether an 8-year-old G-8 nonproliferation initiative will be extended beyond 2012 (Don Emmert/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- A program established by the world's leading industrial powers to keep bad actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction could be on its last legs, observers say (see GSN, June 28).

The Group of Eight's Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction has made significant strides and might go on to accomplish yet more, according to experts, but it appears to be a victim of global financial turmoil. The program's widely anticipated renewal beyond its 2012 expiration date failed to materialize in June.

This leaves supporters in the odd position of imagining a potentially bright future for an initiative that might have little future at all.

"I'm cautiously pessimistic," said Alexandra Toma, program director for the nongovernmental Connect U.S. Fund. "I hope I'm proven wrong."

"The outlook is pretty bleak," concurred Brian Finlay, a senior associate with the Henry L. Stimson Center. "That doesn't mean that good things can't happen."

The program was established in 2002 during the eight nations' summit in Kananaskis, Canada. The states pledged over the next decade to collect $20 billion to secure or eliminate unconventional weapons threats, with a focus on vulnerabilities in Russia. Half of the money would come from the United States, the rest from other contributors.

The operation had four priorities -- chemical weapons disarmament, disassembly of retired nuclear submarines, fissile material security and finding civilian employment for one-time weapons scientists. Money was spent -- though much remains unclear regarding nations' contributions -- and action taken in each area.

Eight years later, the program received the seal of approval at the Obama administration's high-profile nuclear security summit in April. The G-8 leaders two months later would gather for their first meeting in Canada since the partnership's inception. The time appeared ripe to extend the effort with billions of dollars of additional financing, experts said. Instead, the heads of state in their session declaration called on specialists to assess the program's success to date "as a point of departure for developing options for programming and financing beyond 2012."

"It's a shock," Toma told Global Security Newswire. "Maybe we were just too hopeful. Maybe we were hoping to ride this nuclear spring wave into the summer and thought that, of course, it's only a billion dollars, it's only a few billion compared to the shock that the global economy would endure [following a major WMD event]. It's just shocking that they wouldn't put that money up."

Officials from participating nations avoided saying whether their decision in June signaled an early death knell for the program. Instead, they focused on its accomplishments and reasserted their commitment to global security.

"Pending renewal of the partnership, it would be premature to discuss any specific future directions for the initiative," Canada's Foreign Affairs and International Trade department said in a prepared statement to GSN. "There is strong interest, however, and already efforts, to address global WMD challenges related to nuclear security and biological nonproliferation."

The Story So Far

The counter-WMD initiative was an opportunity for other nations to join U.S. threat-reduction efforts in the former Soviet Union. If imperfect, it has achieved tangible results in the quest to keep biological, chemical and nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations, insiders and watchers say.

The partnership has grown beyond the G-8 nations -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to encompass 23 donor states that have spent billions of dollars on nonproliferation projects in Russia and Ukraine.

Contributors provide money directly to the recipient nation or to contractors that will conduct the work.

Among the accomplishments, according to a report issued at the end of the summit in Ontario:

-- Contributions have helped fund disassembly of 181 decommissioned Russian nuclear-powered submarines;

-- The United States is supporting deployment of radiation detection technology at Russian border sites to deter the smuggling of nuclear and radiological sources, while a number of nations are assisting similar operations in Ukraine;

-- Eight nations and the European Union have provided financing for a several programs to increase security and improve inventory practices for Russian nuclear materials;

-- States provided assistance for construction of two Russian facilities that have completed elimination of the nation's chemical weapons stockpile and one that is conducting disposal operations. Two additional G-8-backed sites are expected to open this year; and

-- Partnership participants offered financial support for research projects that provide civilian-sector work for scientists with WMD expertise.

"I think it's been very successful in dealing with the nuclear problem in Russia. I don't think there's much doubt security has improved significantly," said Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security. The G-8 plan "has as its mandate nuclear, biological, chemical and scientists, and it's touched on all of those issues."

There unquestionably have been complications, analysts said. While the program made notable gains in a number of WMD safeguards issues in Russia, it showed little progress on biological security in that nation, said William Potter, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Moscow had a "choke hold" on funding, directing the lion's share of money toward its own priorities -- particularly submarine dismantlement and chemical disarmament -- while biosecurity and other projects favored in other capitals sometimes received short-shrift, according to Luongo.

The Obama administration says more than $18 billion has been allocated to date, which essentially matches the best estimate from the nonproliferation community, Finlay said. Even if that figure is accepted, significant questions remain about financing so far for the program.

The United States in 2002 pledged $10 billion for the arrangement and Russia said it would put up $2 billion. The remaining G-8 states promised $7.5 billion, while another $1.42 billion was eventually offered by the European Union and other nations, according to Stimson Center figures from 2007.

Some states are transparent about their Global Partnership spending, others less so, experts said. How much each nation actually provided and how the money was used were questions that could not be answered after nearly a month of study by analysts at the Washington think tank.

There is widespread suspicion that particular countries have not come through on their pledges. Among the allegedly delinquent nations are France and Italy, which respectively were said to pledge $893 million and $1.1 billion to the program.

"For some countries this was never a high priority. And then some bureaucracies are more dysfunctional than others," Luongo said.

An Italian official said the government has been "actively" involved in the Global Partnership and hoped to see it renewed. "There is still a commitment to it," the official said.

The French Embassy in Washington noted that Paris had supported submarine disassembly, chemical disarmament and spent fuel security efforts in Russia. France has also spent billions of dollars to disassemble its own fissile material production sites and a Pacific Ocean nuclear testing installation, it said in e-mailed responses to questions.

"For these reasons, it is completely inaccurate to state that France 'failed to deliver on its pledge of financial support for the program,'" the embassy said.

Neither Italy nor France offered a detailed accounting of their expenditures.

Assistance from the United States is believed to account for about 75 percent of the program's total expenditures. Ultimately, Washington is likely to spend more than its anticipated share of the Global Partnership fund, helping raise overall spending levels, observers said. The State Department did not respond to repeated requests for information on U.S. participation.

"I think that there's a general sense by people who follow this that $10 billion by the non-U.S. G-8 has not been spent and probably will not be spent by 2012. But maybe half of that will be," Luongo said.

Moscow has so far received slightly more than $1 billion in foreign aid for chemical weapons disarmament and another $1.1 billion for submarine disassembly, according to a government statement to GSN. The message, though, did not address the full scope of the G-8 effort, and analysts say the Kremlin often only counts funds it receives directly, not those provided to contractors operating in Russia.

The Canadian government said the partners were on target to meet their $20 billion goal and that a state-by-state accounting would be made available in coming weeks.

The global economic meltdown of recent years is likely to have reduced some nations' willingness to deliver money to the Global Partnership, according to Finlay. States might also have felt they did not have "ownership" of certain projects, reducing their sense of pride over the accomplishment and their enthusiasm for continuing their contributions, he said.

The French Embassy noted that Russia's economic situation improved around 2005, so it became less dependent on outside assistance for nonproliferation projects. Moscow also withdrew from a plutonium disposition program that had been a priority for other states, leading them to reconsider their offerings, it said.

Luongo said he believes the program's credibility suffered due to its financing issues. That might have also reduced the willingness of nations that had met their funding commitments to pursue an extension to the Global Partnership, Finlay said.

Last spring it seemed renewal was in the offing. In its statement to world leaders gathered for the April nuclear security summit in Washington, the Obama administration said it was prepared to contribute another $10 billion for a 10-year extension for the program, which could address new projects and countries that had not beforehand been eligible for partnership aid.

Canada's ambassador to the United States said in late May he expected the program to be given a boost at the June summit (see GSN, May 25). His confidence was echoed within governments and the nonproliferation community, experts said.

Those expectations, though, apparently ran into the international community's struggles to pull itself out of financial crisis -- notably the bailout of Greece and worries that other European nations would find themselves in need of similar aid.

Germany, in particular, was said to be averse to "committing additional sums of money for international activities when they just contributed to the bailout of the Greek economy," Luongo said.

"The German government continues to stand ready to contribute its share to increase global security," a government source said. "It deems it as premature, though, to decide now -- two and a half years before the completion of the Global Partnership -- on a possible renewal of the Global Partnership after 2012. There have been intensive discussions on important core questions on the envisaged fundamental transformation of the Global Partnership, but there is no agreement among the G-8 yet."

Toma and other experts acknowledged the thinking behind nations' reluctance to funnel additional money into the program at this point. However, they argued that the G-8 states failed to consider the economic ramifications of a WMD strike.

"I think it was a huge lost opportunity," Luongo said. "I don't think the issue will be ready for consideration in 2011 and it may be ready for consideration in the U.S. when it chairs in 2012. But that's going to be in the middle of an election."

What Happens Next?

At the close of the June summit, the G-8 leaders said their planned experts' study would emphasize a number of possible program areas, including biological, nuclear and radiological security; jobs for scientists; and inclusion of additional nations.

"To confront these challenges effectively, we are not certain that the approach adopted during the past eight years is the best one," according to the French Embassy. "We are open to discussions with our G-8 partners to better assess the perimeter of a new version of the Global Partnership, its concrete targets which have to be realistic and financially sustainable, and their value added for our common security."

Instead of retreating, the G-8 nations should expand the program to cover new recipient nations and additional security projects, nonproliferation proponents said.

"I anticipate that the G-8 will renew its commitment in 2012 and would hope that in the next phase greater attention is given to nonproliferation training and capacity-building in both Russia and the non-Russian successor states," Potter stated by e-mail.

Another $20 billion would maintain the momentum set over the last eight years, according to Toma.

"The leaders have agreed that nuclear terrorism is the No. 1 global security issue. Great, let's do something about it. Let's continue to work together, let's expand from Russia, let's get some more of the materials that are out there, outside of the Eurasian corridor," she said.

The G-8 states could turn their attention to Pakistan, which is possessed of nuclear weapons and is fighting an increasingly virulent insurgency. Potentially vulnerable fissile materials, though, are found all over the world, Toma noted.

Ensuring security for the growing number of nuclear power plants in Asia and the Middle East would be a worthy effort, as would protecting disease research materials in Asia from diversion for illicit purposes, Luongo said.

Money could be directed to help developing nations eyeing biotechnology as a means of growth to bring their biological security standards up to levels established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, he said. The International Atomic Energy Agency might also receive additional funds to augment its capability to safeguard the increasing number of nuclear power plants to ensure they are not used to produce weapons material.

Program managers must look beyond the "guards, guns and gates" that characterize today's nonproliferation approaches, Finlay argued. He said the program failed to adapt to the changing proliferation threat and must look to "the much less sexy, boring work" that is necessary but where the signs of success are more difficult to quantify.

"It's about engaging technology proliferators, it's about trying to find opportunities for reactor conversion, it's about engaging private industry in a way that would incent them either in the nuclear area or biological area to engage in more rigorous self-regulation," Finlay said. "It's about working with countries on outfitting and ensuring more rigorous application of export controls."

Toma and others said they would press their case for maintaining the program, with a planned study on the financial impact of nuclear terrorism as one tool to prove the Global Partnership's value. Much will depend on the state of the world economy as the program heads toward expiration.

"There's an opportunity here to regroup and start to address the challenges of the 21st century or there's an opportunity to do business as usual," Luongo said.

August 16, 2010
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WASHINGTON -- A program established by the world's leading industrial powers to keep bad actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction could be on its last legs, observers say (see GSN, June 28).