Another Blow To Nuclear Security

This news (via the Boston Globe‘s Bryan Bender) while unsurprising, is really, really bad:

In the previously undisclosed discussions [in December], the Russians informed the Americans that they were refusing any more US help protecting their largest stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from being stolen or sold on the black market. The declaration effectively ended one of the most successful areas of cooperation between the former Cold War adversaries.

“I think it greatly increases the risk of catastrophic terrorism,” said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia and an architect of the “cooperative threat reduction” programs of the 1990s.

Official word came in a terse, three-page agreement signed on Dec. 16. A copy was obtained by the Globe, and a description of the Moscow meeting was provided by three people who attended the session or were briefed on it. They declined to be identified for security reasons.

Previously the biggest blow to what has been known to Americans as the Nunn-Luger initiative was probably the Bush administration’s significant reduction in budget support for the program (ironic, given Dick Cheney’s constant use of the threat of nuclear terrorism to justify everything from torture of prisons to the invasion of Iraq), which led Ted Turner to pick up some of the slack. But the withdrawal of Russian cooperation means that international monitoring of nuclear security in Russia will depend on provisions in formal arms control treaties–and on the good will of Russia itself.

A limited amount of cooperation will continue in other countries that have highly enriched uranium that originated in Russia. The two sides also will continue working on ways to secure industrial sources of radioactive material, which could be used to make a “dirty bomb.’’ The Russian decision will not affect inspections that both sides regularly conduct of each other’s active nuclear arsenals as part of arms control treaties.

So the United States has a new–or depending on how you look at it, a very old–reason for not letting relations with Russia get any worse.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.