REVIEW: Article

A New Agenda for US-Russian Nuclear Leadership

Over a half-century ago, at the dawn of the atomic age, President Eisenhower outlined in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, a plain but powerful vision for cooperation among the world’s nuclear powers. In his “Atoms for Peace” address, he described a shared agenda which had essentially three parts: harnessing the power of the atom for peaceful purposes; curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and urging responsible leadership from America and Russia in managing our own nuclear arsenals. Eisenhower’s proposals led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and later to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but Cold War conflict eroded much of the promise of his ideas.

Fifty years later, the world is a much different place, and Russia and the United States have a much different relationship. We have disagreements and mutual grievances, and obvious elements of competition and rivalry in relations between us, but we are no longer enemies. We have had enough of Cold Wars and disastrous arms races, and while we may not have a strategic partnership that produces a neat coincidence of interest on every issue, we certainly can have a partnership on key strategic issues.

Never has there been a moment when the kinds of nuclear questions that Eisenhower foresaw have been more important than they are today, and never has there been a moment when America and Russia, still possessing nuclear capabilities and responsibilities that no other nations on earth can match, have had a greater opportunity to demonstrate real leadership. It would be a huge mistake, not only for the two of us but for the sake of global order, to miss that opportunity. That is exactly why President Bush and President Putin, in Kennebunkport last July, placed such emphasis on realizing the full potential of US-Russian nuclear cooperation. Their efforts are already creating a significant legacy, and much more is possible in the months and years ahead.

President Putin and President Bush have both recognized the importance of rapidly developing civilian nuclear technology, and making its benefits available to the developing world. For the first time in our history, we initialed a civilian nuclear cooperation framework agreement, commonly known as a “123 Agreement” after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, which will help to normalize our commercial nuclear relationship and open up new avenues for collaborative activities on civil nuclear energy, including possibilities for research on advanced reactors and development of innovative recycling and fuel development technologies.

If the first pillar in US-Russian nuclear leadership, as Eisenhower foresaw 50 years ago, is the development of civilian nuclear power for the benefit of the entire world, the second indispensable element is ensuring that that happens in a way that does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. For precisely that purpose, President Putin and President Bush have made similar proposals in recent years to provide nuclear fuel services to other nations under strict international supervision. As part of a future system of international fuel centers, Russia has already identified one site on its soil. President Bush has laid out an ambitious plan for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), complementary to President Putin’s initiative and aimed at developing innovative nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies and supporting the expansion of civil nuclear energy worldwide without the spread of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies. GNEP, in which Russia is a founding partner, will soon hold its ministerial meeting on the margins of the IAEA General Conference to further outline its vision and expand its membership. In Kennebunkport in July our two Presidents reaffirmed their determination to combine our efforts and outlined an approach to support the safe and environmentally-friendly expansion of civil nuclear energy worldwide. In their “Declaration on Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation: Joint Actions,” the Presidents laid out steps to develop and present an attractive offer to developing nations considering nuclear energy in a manner that strengthens the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia are cooperating on the two most immediate nuclear proliferation threats posed by other states, namely North Korea and Iran. We seek in both cases through diplomatic means to stop the spread of weapons and avoid a very dangerous threat to international stability. Working with China, Japan and South Korea in the Six Party Talks, the United States and Russia have worked together to keep the pressure on to get North Korea to fulfill its obligation to disable its nuclear weapons programs. Much hard work remains, but US-Russian diplomacy has been essential. We also are engaging Russia on Iran. While tactical differences remain over how best to achieve Iran’s nonproliferation, we share the same strategic objective. Along with China, Britain, France and Germany, we have pressed for a diplomatic solution, as laid out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime has to date refused to meet its obligations, and the United Nations Security Council must consider how best to respond. Close US-Russian diplomatic contact continues, as neither of us can afford a nuclear-armed regime in Tehran.

The risk of additional states developing nuclear weapons capabilities is compounded by the dangers of terrorists acquiring them too. There can be no doubt that, if the terrorists who killed so many innocent people in New York on a September day six years ago, or in Beslan on another September day three years ago, could get their hands on a nuclear device, they would use it to catastrophic effect. That is why UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which obligates countries to enact and enforce strong export controls and other measures to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists, is such a vital step. I’m proud that the United States and Russia were among the first two nations to sign the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

In 2006, Russia and the United States launched an extremely important, if still largely unnoticed, diplomatic initiative to build practical global cooperation to combat nuclear smuggling, harnessing the various measures which I’ve just mentioned in a concerted international campaign. At meetings in Morocco, Turkey and Kazakhstan, Russia and the United States have taken the lead in this effort. Fifty-three other countries have already joined us, and we expect even more to express their support. I can think of no better example of how crucial American and Russian leadership has become than this new global initiative against nuclear terrorism. No other two countries in the world can bring to bear the depth of experience, capability and shared interest than we can on this profoundly important problem.

The third pillar of our approach to the nuclear challenges of our times is how we manage our own remaining nuclear arsenals. Certainly this is a far different question than it was when Eisenhower spoke in New York in 1953. We have together made enormous strides in the decade and a half since the end of the Cold War to reduce our stores of nuclear weapons and safeguard those that remain. But there is more to be done, and how well we do it will have a significant impact on our ability to jointly encourage responsible behavior from the rest of the world. Strengthening existing nonproliferation regimes also means demonstrating our commitment to Article VI of the NPT.

Five and a half years ago, President Putin and President Bush made a major contribution to nuclear arms reductions by signing the Moscow Treaty. Recognizing that the levels of our nuclear forces still did not reflect current strategic realities, they agreed to cut deployed nuclear warheads by nearly two-thirds. It is hard to imagine a more substantial example of US-Russian leadership in reducing nuclear arms and diminishing the danger of nuclear conflict.

It is also important today to look ahead to the challenges and possibilities that lie beyond the expiration of the START Treaty in 2009, and the Moscow Treaty in 2012. At the direction of our Presidents, we have begun a strategic security dialogue to consider what we want in place when the START Treaty expires, what further steps to pursue, and what sort of transparency and confidence-building regime makes the most sense.

At the same time, Russians and Americans continue to take extraordinary measures to protect their remaining nuclear arsenals and stores of fissile materials. With remarkable vision, Senator Lugar and Senator Nunn took the initiative, in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, to create the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. Under CTR, Americans and Russians work together to dismantle outdated weapons and improve security for warhead and fissile material storage facilities. Senators Lugar and Nunn were in Russia in August to mark the 50th anniversary of this highly successful program, which stands alongside the Marshall Plan as an historic example of American statesmanship and farsightedness.

Senators Lugar and Nunn visited the Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility—a secure, ecologically sound installation, funded under CTR, which is now being loaded with fissile material derived from the destruction of nuclear weapons. In a ceremony at the Geodeziya Motor Burn Facility outside Moscow, also funded under CTR, the Senators and I pushed buttons which ignited the solid fuel from an SS-25 intercontinental ballistic missile motor, destroying it—the first time, we were told, that Americans had done so. The Senators also visited a CTR-funded Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility at Shchuch’ye in the Urals that, when operational by the end of 2008, will begin destruction of almost two million artillery shells filled with VX nerve agents.

Our joint efforts also have resulted in the conversion of over 300 metric tons—enough for over 12,000 nuclear weapons—of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) to be used as fuel for nuclear power plants. Much of this is accomplished under the US-Russian HEU Purchase Agreement, through which half of US commercial nuclear fuel needs and ten percent of all US electricity requirements are met. Through yet another program, tons of HEU—including Russian-origin HEU from other countries such as Poland—have been converted to LEU for use in Russian nuclear power reactors. Senators Lugar and Nunn and I visited the Luch nuclear institute outside of Moscow where this material is received and downblended. While often unnoticed, these programs offer a truly impressive record of bilateral cooperation and a significant impact in our joint threat reduction efforts.

The world has changed in ways that President Eisenhower could not have imagined, speaking before the UN, more than half a century ago. But the power of his vision of a world of nuclear possibilities, and nuclear dangers, is as profound as ever. There are no other two states on this planet which have the history, the capacity, and the common purpose that the United States and Russia can apply to this issue. It is sometimes difficult, amidst all the mutual frustration in our relationship these days, to focus on that singular reality. But an enormous amount of good can come of Russian-American leadership on the nuclear challenges of our time, whether it is the development of international fuel centers or new proliferation-resistant nuclear technology, or diplomatic solutions on North Korea and Iran. More than on any other single issue, the world depends on Russia and the United States to show responsible leadership on the nuclear question. No matter how many other frictions we may have between us, and no matter who succeeds President Bush and President Putin, that responsibility will remain with us for many years to come. Let us hope that a half century from now, when historians look back at this era just as we are looking back at Eisenhower’s plea to harness atoms for peace, they will see that we seized this moment boldly, and did all we could to shape events for the better. That is a matter not only of our deepest mutual self-interest, but of the interest of the entire world.

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United States Ambassador to Russia