U.S., Russia Could Collaborate In Third Countries on Threat Reduction

Submarine ballistic missile launch tubes are dismantled under the Pentagon's Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Russia hopes to partner with the United States on CTR operations in other nations rather than remaining a client to the program, U.S. officials said this week (Defense Threat Reduction Agency photo).
Submarine ballistic missile launch tubes are dismantled under the Pentagon's Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Russia hopes to partner with the United States on CTR operations in other nations rather than remaining a client to the program, U.S. officials said this week (Defense Threat Reduction Agency photo).

WASHINGTON – The United States has broached the possibility of working jointly with Russia to secure nuclear materials in third countries during talks aimed at extending the two nations’ soon-to-expire Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, U.S. officials said this week.

For more than two decades the United States has provided financial and technical assistance through the CTR program for eliminating and securing nuclear warheads and other unconventional armaments left behind by the former Soviet Union. The umbrella agreement that authorizes the bilateral cooperation is set to expire in June, largely due to Russian concerns that the pact’s liability provisions unfairly favor the United States.

Neile Miller, acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, reaffirmed conventional wisdom that Russia is looking to reposition itself as an active participant in nuclear security efforts.

“The Russians are insisting at this point, 20 years after the end of the Cold War and many years into our cooperative work together that they’re ready to be full partners with us,” Miller said during a Tuesday appearance on Capitol Hill. “It’s important that they no longer be seen as just a recipient of U.S. aid when it comes to this area and this is something that they themselves at this point have taken into their own culture, whether it’s protection of material or training of people, accountability systems -- this is now something after many years of working with us and having learned from us that they’re prepared to carry out on their own and with us as a partner.”

Anne Harrington, deputy NNSA administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, added that U.S. officials “take this as a very positive and encouraging sign.”

“We have started to talk about where the two countries under Cooperative Threat Reduction could in fact work together in third countries, perhaps even in countries that are going to be coming for the first time into the nuclear technology age,” Harrington said. This could include countries that for the first time are “building nuclear power plants, who don’t have an idea of what security is, who don’t know how to build a security culture, who don’t know how to do the things that we have developed together as partners.”

The United States has already aimed some CTR assistance away from one-time Soviet states, supporting elimination of Albania's small chemical weapons stockpile and biosecurity efforts in Africa. Meanwhile, a growing number of states in the Middle East and elsewhere are looking to nuclear power to meet their energy needs.

Nuclear agency spokesman Robert Middaugh confirmed on Wednesday “that the possibility of U.S. and Russia threat reduction partnerships with third countries has been raised with the Russians.” He declined to provide further details, saying discussions are ongoing.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, discussed the future of the so-called Nunn-Lugar program with Russian officials during a Feb. 13-14 visit to Moscow. National Nuclear Security Administration officials said this week the results of the meeting were encouraging.

Feb. 28, 2013
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WASHINGTON – The United States has broached the possibility of working jointly with Russia to secure nuclear materials in third countries during talks aimed at extending the two nations’ soon-to-expire Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, U.S. officials said this week.