Deepening Partnership, Strengthening Security:

The Honorable Sam Nunn is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).

The Honorable Sam Nunn is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). During his tenure in the Senate, he served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Along with Senator Richard Lugar, he sponsored 1991 legislation bearing his name to provide focused assistance programs to Russia and other former Soviet states to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction or WMD materials from falling into the hands of terrorists or other rogue elements. He spoke with In the National Interest editor Nikolas K. Gvosdev on the question of furthering Russo-American cooperation in this area.

Senator Nunn approvingly cited Russo-American operation to remove more than one hundred pounds of weapons-grade uranium--enough to fabricate up to three nuclear bombs--from the Vinca facility (Yugoslavia) two months ago as a welcome development. While it was good that the material was removed, he expressed hope that future joint operations designed to remove fissile materials from other such sites around the world will not require long, drawn-out negotiations between both sides in order to be executed.

Since the passage of the Nunn-Lugar legislation, he said, definite progress has been made in securing WMD components in the former Soviet Union, although he noted that, on a recent trip to a storage facility for artillery shells equipped with chemical warheads, there were still some security problems. While perimeter defenses had been upgraded, he was concerned that someone in the pay of terrorists could obtain access to the site, steal several shells, and "replace" them with dummy shells--and that the substitution could go undetected. Both the United States and Russia must continue to explore all avenues of securing any material--nuclear, biological, or chemical--which could be weaponized and deployed by terrorist forces.

He observed that Washington and Moscow need to expand and deepen their partnership in this area. This requires greater transparency on both sides, with much greater access to labs and weapons facilities. He noted that good relations exist between the two countries' respective nuclear weapons research institutes and among their military and civilian personnel, but pointed out that much work in fostering cooperation and transparency remains to be done with regard to the chemical and biological weapons facilities--in part, he concluded, because of the Cold War penchant for denying that such weapons, banned by treaties and agreements, were in fact being produced and stockpiled.

Senator Nunn was optimistic, however, about the scope and nature of future cooperation. He cited his recent visit to the former top-secret Soviet-era biological weapons laboratory "Vector" (located near Novosibirsk). Scientists who were previously employed in weaponizing smallpox are now working on smallpox medicines that can be utilized to treat persons after they have been infected with the virus. ("Vector" has also developed an advanced HIV-diagnostic kit, using former bioweapons technology.) He also noted increased American interest in Russian methods for "neutralizing" chemical weapons (rendering their compounds harmless), as opposed to simple incineration of chemical warheads, which he observed carries greater environmental risk.

Asked about whether NATO, and the new NATO-Russia Council, could play a role in furthering the Russian-American partnership in combating the threat of weapons of mass destruction, Senator Nunn indicated that, given the ongoing transformation of the alliance into a more political grouping, focusing NATO as a security agency designed to seek out, secure, and eliminate WMD capabilities throughout Europe would be a good purpose and focus for the alliance. He reiterated the need for further, practical, military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia. Joint training, war gaming, and specialized exercises are needed in order to develop rapid-response capabilities. American and Russian military forces and civilian agencies must gain greater experience working together. What would happen, he speculated, if Chechen separatists threatened to detonate a nuclear device in Moscow, or Saddam Hussein deployed agents equipped with "suitcase" bombs to urban areas in the United States? How would Washington and Moscow react, and work together, to avoid such threats and deal with the consequences?

Over the past decade, he concluded, progress has been made, and we must continue to build on that foundation in the future.