Reappraising Nuclear Security Strategy

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Executive Summary

The danger posed by Russia's inadequatelysecured stocks of nuclear weapons and fissilematerial is a major national security concern forthe United States. Various cooperative U.S.-Russian programs aimed at securing nuclearmaterial, weapons, and design intelligence havebeen mounted since the 1990s, but clever anddetermined adversaries may be able to circumventor defeat the defenses that the United Statesand its partners are attempting to put in place.U.S. programs are by their nature reactive: theyhave long time horizons; they focus preeminentlyon the supply side of the problem; and theyface serious technological limitations. Russia'simperfect commitment to nonproliferation alsoundermines the effectiveness of U.S. nonproliferationefforts.

There are no easy ways to close the nuclearproliferation window. A proactive and intelligence-based nuclear security policy, one thatcomplements existing programs while enablingauthorities to do a better job of targeting andpreventing proliferation damage, is needed tocounter this threat. Various measures tostrengthen nuclear security policy could includethe use of "vulnerability profiles" of eachRussian facility that handles weapons-usablenuclear materials and better collaboration withRussian and other former Soviet security organizations.A comprehensive nuclear security strategymust also focus more attention and resourceson the demand side of the proliferation equation.The United States cannot conduct nonproliferationwork effectively without reference toadversaries' programs for weapons of massdestruction and procurement aims. Ideally, U.S.policy should embrace the concept of demandreduction—influencing the motivations of adversarystates and subnational groups so as to preventthe spread of nuclear weapons capability.

Rensselaer Lee

Rensselaer Lee is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and president of Global Advisory Services in McLean, Virginia. He is the author of Smuggling Armageddon: The Nuclear Black Market in the Former Soviet Union and Europe (St. Martin’s, 1998).