Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

New York Times
November 13, 2001
Can Bush and Putin Control Russia's Arsenal?

Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

WASHINGTON -- The events of Sept. 11 shattered any illusion that America is secure from foreign attack. As horrible as that day was, future attacks could be far more deadly. If terrorists had used a nuclear weapon in lower Manhattan, hundreds of thousands might have died.

President Bush has noted the potential threat we face if Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups obtain weapons of mass destruction. These groups are seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, he told European leaders last week. If they obtain them, they will be a threat "to every nation and eventually to civilization itself."

The primary sources for these materials of destruction are weapons plants and reactors in the former Soviet Union, where thousands of tons of weapons-grade uranium, plutonium, chemicals and pathogens are stored at hundreds of sites. Some of these sites lack fences, alarms or qualified security guards. Systems to account for fissile material are rudimentary or nonexistent.

Several times in the last decade, individuals or groups have attempted to steal and then sell nuclear, chemical or biological materials from sites in Russia. We know this because we have captured them. But how many incidents have happened that we don't know about? It would only take a softball-sized lump of highly enriched uranium, or a baseball-sized lump of plutonium, along with materials readily available on the commercial market, to put together a nuclear device that could fit in an S.U.V.Terrorists are also working to perfect the delivery of deadly chemical and biological agents on a broad scale.

As President Bush meets with President Vladimir Putin of Russia this week, he should discuss devising effective ways to ensure that weapons and materials of mass destruction in and around Russia remain safe, accounted for and secure.

In 1991, Congress approved legislation that provided money to Russia and other former Soviet states to help them dismantle their nuclear arsenals and create safe storage for weapons-grade nuclear material. Under the program, named for former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar, more than 5,600 warheads have been deactivated since 1992. The United States has spent more than $2 billion to aid Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan in the destruction of their weapons, and has helped Russia safely dispose of thousands of tons of nuclear weapons and materials. Despite this effort, most Russian nuclear material is inadequately secured.

Meanwhile, the United States government has hired or helped place thousands of former weapons scientists from the Soviet Union to work in university labs, hospitals and power plants. Many more, however, remain out of work or underemployed. They are thus susceptible to selling their expertise to terrorist groups or rogue states.

Despite the success of these programs, we need a better plan to reduce the threat of these weapons one that takes into account the new realities of the world after Sept. 11.

First, we need a clear mechanism for leadership and accountability. Coordination between the dozens of federal departments, agencies and bureaus responsible for scores of nonproliferation programs must be improved. Funding for these programs must be drastically increased and not just by the United States. America's allies, and international organizations like the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, should also do their part.

Russia's partnership is vital to the success of this effort. The nonproliferation of nuclear materials as well as chemical and biological agents must become a cornerstone of Russian-American relations. Preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands is a goal we both share. Russian cooperation in neutralizing Iraq's program for weapons of mass destruction should be part of any new security arrangement between Washington and Moscow.

On Sept. 11, the unthinkable happened. Worse could be yet to come, especially if terrorists acquire and use nuclear weapons. The only real defense is an effective, long-term strategy that prevents the spread of dangerous chemical, biological and nuclear materials. The United States cannot do this alone. We need President Putin's help and he needs ours.

Back to the Top    Next Issue