The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
G8 or SCO, Which Way to Go?
Vladimir Putin made headlines in May when he declined his invitation to attend the annual Group of Eight (G8) heads of state summit, citing a need to focus on appointing new cabinet members. Rather than flying to Washington, Putin announced his first foreign visit would be to Beijing to attend the annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Despite the obvious importance of China, Putin’s choice to skip a meeting with the leaders of the largest Western economies to attend a summit with the impoverished nations of Central and South Asia immediately raised questions among observers and pundits about Russia’s future foreign policy direction. And Western press coverage of Russia’s disagreements with the United States over policy challenges such as Syria or the future of Afghanistan has only reinforced the sense of a deepening split between Russian and Western policymakers.
In the critical area of nonproliferation policy, however, both sides seem to have reached a basic consensus. This may come as a surprising assertion given Russia’s well-publicized differences with the United States over ballistic missile defense, and its refusal to discuss the large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons still located in Europe. But even as these controversies continue to grab headlines, a look at the consensus outcomes of the 2012 meetings illuminates the continued high importance of nonproliferation to Russian foreign policy.
Russia and the G8
The Group of 8 “leading industrialized countries” began as the Group of 6 in 1975, primarily as a response to the 1973 oil crisis. Its original members were France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Canada was inducted into the group in 1976, while the current composition was finalized in 1998 with the addition of Russia. The inclusion of Russia has been somewhat controversial, with some commentators asking whether its economic size qualifies it as a “leading industrialized country,” while others question Russia’s commitment to the democracy and free-market values espoused by the G8.
The G8 created a Nuclear Safety and Security Group at the 2002 summit in Kananaskis, Canada. Since then, it has issued an annual Declaration on Nonproliferation and Disarmament. This year’s declaration was significant both for its length (32 separate points, the longest ever), and for the emphasis it placed on two U.S.-initiated programs: the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). While both programs have been mentioned in past G8 declarations, this is the first time they have been highlighted within the first point of the document, which traditionally repeats a familiar call to implement and universalize the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Singling out the contributions of the Global Initiative is particularly noteworthy, as the program is co-chaired by the United States and the Russian Federation. The G8 declaration confirms the strong endorsement of the program given in a joint statement in advance of the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, where parties; the co-chairs of GICNT (Russia and the United States); the coordinator of the Implementation and Assessment Group (IAG) (Spain); and the leaders of the three IAG working groups (Morocco, the Netherlands, and Australia); all agreed to continue to work to build global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism.
Cooperative efforts, at least as represented by diplomatic statements, did not stop there. Even as President Putin continued to emphasize his disapproval of U.S. missile defense plans, at the G8 summit Russia reaffirmed a commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and joined in condemning North Korea’s missile launches, underground nuclear tests, and regime provocations. Russia’s participation in the G8 summit and the drafting of the nuclear declaration was an important national endorsement of collective concern over both countries’ nuclear programs.
Here too, small details are telling. The G8 Declaration has contained a paragraph devoted to North Korea since 2004, typically beginning with the phrase “we condemn.” The 2012 Declaration follows this pattern, but for the first time makes an explicit commitment to sanctions: “We remain united in our resolve to implement existing UN sanctions fully and we express our determination to take action accordingly in the event of a further DPRK launch using ballistic missile technology, nuclear test or other actions in violation of UNSCRs.” Russia generally opposes the use of sanctions, and has not been a strong supporter of those against North Korea. Most recently, after North Korea’s failed 13 April 2012 satellite launch, Russia joined with China to prevent any further sanctions in the United Nations, resulting in the alternate outcome of a UN Security Council Presidential Statement condemning the launch. In light of this history, Russia’s support of a joint declaration to fully implement existing sanctions may signal increasing frustration with the lack of progress in North Korean negotiations. It could also indicate Russia’s desire to highlight its own credibility in the hope of playing a more active role in a negotiations process that has been dominated by the United States and China.
The Declaration’s paragraph on Iran also points to an evolving Russian position. As opposed to North Korea, where the intent to maintain sanctions is clear, the G8’s approach to Iran is much more open to negotiation. In fact, the Declaration emphasizes “the principles of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity” and maintains the “overall objective is a negotiated solution….” Sanctions are only mentioned in the context of lifting them once Iran’s peaceful intentions are clear, and the role of the IAEA in the process is emphasized.
This language is very much in keeping with Russia’s overall approach to Iran, and matches Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s so called “step-by-step” plan, which offers sanctions concessions in return for progress on nuclear talks. Some analysts have criticized this approach as providing cover for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is scant evidence that Russia would support a nuclear armed Iran. As President Putin’s special representative for African Affairs at the G8 Summit asserted in an interview: “Nobody wants Iran to have a nuclear bomb. The only question is what means to use to avoid having Tehran appear in the club of countries possessing nuclear weapons.”
The fact that the 2012 Declaration makes a reference for the first time to the “possible military dimensions of [Iran’s] nuclear program,” may indicate some movement towards a more assertive approach by Russia. Russia has generally preferred a slow and graduated response to Iranian nuclear developments. Moscow does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but feels an armed conflict will likely end in the strengthening of militant Islamists in Iran and the loss of Russian contracts in the country. This view has translated in practical terms into Russian support for a heavy arms embargo and the cancellation of a planned surface-to-air missile delivery, but no support for serious financial sanctions. Russia had the opportunity to demonstrate the merits of the “go slow” approach at the recent P5 + 1 meeting with Iran in Moscow. According to a member of the Iranian delegation, the location was specifically chosen because “Russia does not impose unilateral sanctions with respect to Iran.”
Another area of seeming policy convergence between Russia and the other G8 members was on the subject of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs). Support for the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is routinely expressed in the Declaration, and G8 members endorsed the 2010 NPT Review Conference decision to negotiate an NWFZ in the Middle East. Concrete action on NWFZs, however, is lacking. At issue are the general NWFZ treaty requirements for negative security assurances from the nuclear weapons states. Russia publically advocates signing the assurances, while the United States has been more cautious. Russia’s advocacy has clear limits, however. On the issue of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which would appear to have the most obvious justification for Russian support, Moscow has offered bland endorsements of the principle while refraining from actively promoting its signature by the other P5 powers.
One final point in the G8 Declaration worthy of scrutiny is the subject of outer space security. The topic has special relevance for Russia given the country’s rapidly developing commercial space sector and growing share of the estimated $290 billion space industry. This is the first year the topic has been addressed in the Declaration, and the two points focus primarily on the economic aspects of space while couching security issues in general terms. Interestingly, especially in light of the condemnation of North Korea’s satellite launch and Iran’s recent highly publicized satellite activities, the Declaration strongly supports the right of all nations to the peaceful use of outer space “regardless of their level of economic, scientific, or technological development.” This language, however, is tempered by the later statement of G8 support for “outer space-related transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs).”
The inclusion of confidence building measures is important because Russia has been their primary sponsor in the United Nations since 2005, while the United States has been reluctant to embrace the Russian proposal due to its explicit linkage to a Russian-Chinese draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects. Russia has long advocated the demilitarization of space, but has pushed this agenda under the aegis of the UN Conference on Disarmament, which has enabled Russia to link progress in this area to a broader discussion on U.S. missile defense. The inclusion of the issue of TCBMs in the G8 Declaration seems to indicate some convergence between U.S. and Russian space policies, but masks the deep disagreements over missile defense and anti-satellite technology that will likely surface in July when the UN Group of Governmental Experts on TCBMs begins work under Russia’s chairmanship.
Russia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) traces its origins to the 1996 “Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions.” This agreement by the “Shanghai Five,” China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, created a mechanism to regulate border disputes and provided both Russia and China with a regional forum to discuss security, and later, economic concerns. Uzbekistan joined in 2001, and the organization changed its name to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO is unique in that its tiered membership allows for interested countries to participate in summit meetings without enjoying voting status. Pakistan, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Afghanistan have non-voting “observer” status, while Belarus, Sri Lanka, and Turkey participate in the capacity of “dialogue partners.” Even perennial isolationist Turkmenistan decided to participate in the 2012 meeting, joining the other summit partners as a “guest attendee.”
The SCO is widely regarded as a platform for Russian and, frequently, Chinese policy concerns. This was perhaps most pronounced in Russia’s bold attempts to engineer an SCO statement on withdrawing U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan in the wake of Uzbekistan’s closure of its Karshi Khanabad airbase. Russia is also rumored to have placed considerable pressure on SCO member Kyrgyzstan over the U.S. lease of the Manas airbase. Nevertheless, as a regional organization the SCO allows each member state a voice, and the Central Asian states have adeptly used the SCO to advance “multi-vector” foreign policies that attempt to balance their own interests with those of the great powers, including, in absentia, the United States.
As a result, Russia’s hold on SCO policies has lessened, as past SCO statements demonstrate. For example, SCO declarations routinely call for “strict observance” of the NPT, but problem countries are never mentioned by name. This is partly due to the SCO’s stated focus on regional issues, but it also reflects Iran’s status as an observer state. Tehran attained this status in 2006, and has also been an active player in bilateral relations with the individual Central Asian states, and most prominently Tajikistan. Typically, SCO declarations couch nuclear concerns in broad references to peaceful nuclear power and the preeminence of the United Nations in resolving international disputes.
The 2012 SCO Declaration on nonproliferation issues is therefore highly unusual. For the first time, the Declaration explicitly states members’ “deep concern over the developments surrounding Iran.” And while stating that unilateral sanctions and any attempt to resolve the issue by force are “unacceptable,” the Declaration supports “strict implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” Presumably, this would include resolutions 1747 and 1929, both of which ban the trade of military equipment and nuclear technology with Iran, and also impose global sanctions on Iran’s state-owned shipping company.
Most importantly, the 2012 Declaration also proclaims SCO support for the “P5 plus one and Iran in opening [sic] sustainable dialogue process….” Notably, the P5 + 1 process was restarted in 2011 after Iran accepted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s plan to resolve the outstanding questions over Iran’s nuclear program. Russia is very interested in maintaining the role of lead intermediary on the Iranian nuclear question, both because it enhances Russia’s credibility as a global leader, and keeps Russia firmly involved with questions related to the larger Middle East. The latter issue is a key consideration for Russia in the wake of the Arab Spring and related disturbances in Syria, because failure to demonstrate to the West that it can have a positive influence with Iran will leave Russia with little credibility for its arguments in support of the Syrian regime.
A peaceful solution to the Iran crisis is also in Russia’s interest, as the threat of a nuclear armed Iran is a major justification for planned U.S. ballistic missile defenses. Russia sees missile defense as an overriding strategic concern, and it has thus far had little success in convincing the United States to alter its plans. It is perhaps for this reason that the SCO issued this unusually strong appeal to Iran in this year’s declaration: “The member states expect Iran, as a responsible member of the international community, to play an important role in maintaining peace and prosperity.”
Russia’s foreign policy is frequently described as realist, and most of its actions in the SCO bear out this description. Yet the continual inclusion of statements about the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ) demonstrates that Russia and the SCO are not beyond symbolic initiatives to demonstrate good faith and commitment to principles, especially when said initiative allows for a stab at U.S. policy. SCO member Kazakhstan has been the champion of the CANWFZ in numerous international fora, so an annual reference to the zone in SCO declarations is not surprising. Russia’s position is more nuanced. The United States objects to the CANWFZ primarily because it would still allow Russia to transport nuclear weapons through Central Asia, or deploy them in the region in the future under the 1992 Tashkent Collective Security Treaty. Russia, of course, would prefer to gloss over this legal loophole. Regardless of the merits of either side’s arguments, Russia has not been swayed enough by the SCO (or G8) statements on NWFZs to sign the necessary assurance statements. The fact that NWFZs continue to receive Moscow’s endorsement, however, is a tacit acknowledgement that Russia perceives their overall value to the nonproliferation regime. Moreover, the inclusion is also a clear effort on Russia’s part to maintain solidarity with its increasingly valuable nuclear energy partner, Kazakhstan.
Combating the “three evils”—terrorism, separatism, and extremism—characterizes the SCO’s approach to international security, which includes the issues of nuclear terrorism and WMD proliferation. Past SCO declarations reveal that concerns over nuclear terrorism and WMD proliferation have played a small role in recent summit meetings. This is not to say that the concerns have diminished; rather, topics such as nuclear-weapon-free zones and other multilateral nonproliferation agreements are gaining importance for SCO members, thus shifting the focus from non-state actors to state proliferation. However, given Russia’s counterproliferation track record, and its strong endorsement of UNSCR 1540 and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), it is surprising that the latest SCO declaration only mentions nuclear terrorism and WMD proliferation in passing.
There are several possible explanations for this change. First, Moscow and Astana are augmenting their bilateral nuclear energy cooperation, thus Putin may have decided to downplay the pitfalls associated with increased civil nuclear development in order to emphasize the positive economic effects. Second, due to the focus the international community has placed on the Iranian nuclear program, a declaration on nuclear terrorism and WMD proliferation may have been sacrificed in order to concentrate on the more urgent issue of Iran. Third, the pending withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan means an increased need for the SCO to focus on regional stability. Perhaps members did not want to highlight the continuing problem of an unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan, since it is an SCO observer state. Last, with the growing threat of the international drug trade, the issue of nuclear terrorism and WMD smuggling might be perceived as better addressed as part of a larger and more comprehensive counter-trafficking effort.
G8 and SCO summit declarations and statements over the past five years show Russia’s nonproliferation policy has remained largely consistent, regardless of whether President Putin personally attended the annual summits. Russia remains a strong supporter of the international nonproliferation regime, and encourages global efforts to strengthen partnerships to fight WMD trafficking and illicit state proliferation efforts. Despite differences in approach, there is little evidence in Russia’s public statements to support the idea of Russia as a “spoiler” or “opponent” of traditional Western security concerns with respect to nonproliferation.
This is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the Iran case, where the G8 now voices some support for the “step-by-step” plan first advanced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Statements by Russian envoys at the G8 Summit, and Moscow’s hosting of the latest round of P5 + 1 negotiations only serve to highlight Russia’s determination to play a leading role in resolving the Iran issue. The 2012 SCO Declaration is also an important indicator of Russian concerns, as it represents the strongest call yet for international support of Lavrov’s plan, and includes a highly unusual plea for Iran to act responsibly. While there is undoubtedly an element of pure self-interest in Russia’s actions (removing a major justification for U.S. missile defense plans), Moscow’s actions in these two recent but unrelated international meetings indicate a strong and continued preference for upholding global nonproliferation norms.
Russian realism is taken for granted in discussing its foreign policy, but its continued commitment to nuclear-weapon-free zones is solid evidence for some degree of idealism. The CANWFZ has been a regular agenda item in SCO summits, and Russia has joined other members in endorsing the principle. The fact that an existing NWFZ received a separate mention in this year’s G8 Nuclear Declaration is perhaps mostly due to a desire to stimulate discussions on a Middle East NWFZ. But the fact that the Central Asian zone was singled out among all others shows the influence Russia still holds on the debate.
However, Russia’s actions with respect to WMD smuggling and nuclear terrorism send mixed signals. Russia went along with a strong endorsement of the U.S.-sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative in the G8 Declaration, and also supported text highlighting the contributions of the GICNT, which it co-chairs with the United States. Moscow’s concern about and interest in fighting WMD terrorism would seem, therefore, to be genuine. A close read of the most recent SCO Declarations, however, presents a less clear picture. The issue seems to have lost some of its prior urgency, especially considering Russia’s growing concerns with economic issues and crime. Moreover, nuclear materials are not mentioned under the SCO’s commitment to battle trafficking of illicit materials, such as arms and drugs. It is too early to tell whether this represents a policy shift, or simply reflects the greater perceived urgency of other more tangible threats.
Foreign observers have made much of SCO statements against ballistic missile defense, and disagreements over space development will clearly play out in future G8 Summit meetings. These are only two of a range of real and potentially serious differences of opinion between Russia and the West. Despite these differences, the evidence from the recent SCO and G8 meetings strongly suggests that Russia will continue to play an active, and from its perspective, positive role in shaping the global nonproliferation agenda.
 Helene Cooper and Ellen Barry, “Putin to Skip Group of 8 Session, Delaying Post-election Meeting With Obama,” The New York Times, 9 May 2012, www.nytimes.com.
 See for example Peter Apps, “Analysis: West struggles to understand Russia's Syria stance,” Reuters, www.reuters.com.
 “Profile: G8,” BBC, 15 February 2012, news.bbc.co.uk.
 U.S. Department of State, “Group of Eight Declaration on Nonproliferation and Disarmament for 2012,” www.state.gov.
 U.S. Department of State, “Joint Statement on the Contributions of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) to Enhancing Nuclear Security,” 21 March 2012, www.state.gov.
 Gleb Bryanski, Steve Gutterman, Andrew Osborn, “Putin Assails Missile Shield before Obama Meeting,” Chicago Tribune, 14 June 2012, articles.chicagotribune.com.
 “Саммит «большой восьмерки» не разочаровал Медведева [G8 summit doesn’t disappoint Medvedev],” Sakha News, 22 May 2012, www.1sn.ru.
 U.S. Department of State, “Group of Eight Declaration on Nonproliferation and Disarmament for 2012,” point 11, www.state.gov.
 Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Steve Gutterman, Gleb Bryanski, “Russia urges restraint, opposes new N.Korea sanctions,” Reuters, 13 April 2012, www.reuters.com.
 U.S. Department of State, “Group of Eight Declaration on Nonproliferation and Disarmament for 2012,” point 10, www.state.gov.
 “Lavrov Offers 'Step-by-Step' Plan on Iran,” The Moscow Times, 15 June 2011, www.themoscowtimes.com.
 For a good summary of this line of thinking, see: Gregory Feifer, “Russian Support For Iran Seen As Bargaining Chip,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 22 June 2012, www.rferl.org.
 “Бесспорная ‘восьмерка’ [The Undisputed Eight],”Российская Газета, 21 May 2012, www.rg.ru.
 “Иран назвал условия новой встречи с ‘шестеркой’ [Iran has named the conditions for a new meeting with the ‘six’],” Риа Новости, 18 June 2012, www.ria.ru.
 United Nations Office at Geneva, “Conference On Disarmament Holds Thematic Debate on Assurances for Non-Nuclear-Weapon States,” 12 June 2012, www.unog.ch.
 “2.0 The Space Economy,” The Space Report 2012, Space Foundation, www.spacefoundation.org.
 Theresa Hitchens, “Transparency and Confidence Building in Outer Space,” Federation of American Scientists, Winter 2011, www.fas.org.
 For a foretaste of the issues, see: United Nations, Sixty Fourth General Assembly, “First Committee Wraps Up Debate on Disarmament Aspects of Outer Space, Opens Discussion on Conventional Weapons, Hearing Introduction of Six Draft Texts,” GA/DIS/3394, 19 October 2009, www.un.org.
 Tom Parfitt, “Call for U.S. date to leave central Asia,” The Guardian (London), 6 July 2005, www.guardian.co.uk.
 “New accord on Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan prepared – expert,” BBC Monitoring Central Asia Unit, 11 June 2009.
 “Iran, Tajikistan to expand bilateral ties,” BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political, 28 May 2012.
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Declaration of the Heads of State of the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Building a Region of Lasting Peace and Common Prosperity,” 7 June 2012, www.fmprc.gov.cn.
 Peter Crail, “Iran Welcomes Russian Nuclear Proposal,” Arms Control Today, September 2011, www.armscontrol.org.
 We are indebted to our colleague Dr. Nikolai Sokov for helping us to better understand the Russian position with respect to CANWFZ. Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (CANWFZ): “Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (CANWFZ),” Nuclear Threat Initiative, www.nti.org.
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