Russia's Role in Nonproliferation: Obstacles and Opportunities

We need a sober and serious assessment of what is going on and what could be done by Russia and the United States in the area of nonproliferation after the Iraq war.

We need a sober and serious assessment of what is going on and what could be done by Russia and the United States in the area of nonproliferation after the Iraq war.  What are the obstacles and what are the opportunities?

First we should look at this question, not from the view of the bilateral U.S.-Russia relationship, but from the perspective of potential possessors of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction--including some quite unexpected countries that should be carefully watched because of suspicious behavior in some areas related to nuclear weapons.

In the case of North Korea , there is no doubt that they have drawn certain conclusions from the Iraq war.  We have enough information from this strange country and its leadership.  They will never let international inspectors into their country to conduct intrusive inspections, as happened in Iraq.  They believe that such inspections would only reveal too many of their secrets and expose their vulnerabilities in case of an American attack.  Second, there is a 99 percent chance that they have made the decision to go ahead and produce nuclear weapons.  If there is even a slight chance to persuade them not to go ahead, it will require closer coordination between the United States and Russia .

In the case of Iran, among Iranian "conservatives" (the religious radicals), their mood to become a full-scale nuclear power is now much stronger than before the war.  While I do not follow Iran as closely as North Korea, I do think that there are some indications of that.

Then we come to Russian-American cooperation on this issue.

There is a basic necessity for close Russian-American cooperation on both the North Korean and Iranian cases, working with other countries as needed (China for North Korea, other European countries for Iran).  Necessity, however, does not necessarily transform into concrete action.

Indeed, some members of the Russian political class view acquisition of nuclear weapons by more states is something that is not at all bad for Russia--a perspective shared even by pro-Western politicians.  They feel that it will lead to greater deterrence against U.S. action and spread out U.S. efforts on containment.  They fear that the United States is surrounding Russia with American bases and military deployments and forcing Russia into a straightjacket.  As this mood builds in the national security establishment, it blocks any serious joint efforts to stop the appearance of new nuclear states.  This is why I believe that co-operation on proliferation--real collaboration in this sphere--is impossible without some changes in American attitudes about the situation in the post-Soviet space.

After the Iraq war, the prevailing mood in Moscow has been that North Korea is an American problem, that the United States has been trying to isolate Russia from the negotiations and that we do not have full agreement on what the outcome should be in North Korea .  We have not yet harmonized our goals with regard to North Korea --what the desired outcome is, and this is an obstacle.  North Korea should be a concern for Russia , not only of the United States .

We still have a chance to prevent nuclearization. First, we need to clearly and publicly define our goals and stress that we are concerned with nonproliferation only.  Second, we must be prepared to deal with the pressing economic issues facing North Korea , especially the shortages of energy and food.  Third, we need to pledge that we will not interfere with North Korea's domestic affairs.  While we welcome reunification, we must make it clear that this is a question that must be settled by the two Korean nations only, without outside interference from the United States , Russia or China .

If we had such a joint position, we could create a system of sticks and carrots, making it very difficult for Pyongyang to deviate. Unity is the key.  Pyongyang is still trying to maneuver between the powers.  Ultimately, Pyongyang is trying to obtain political and military guarantees from the United States .  North Korea still believes America 's objective is regime change, not nonproliferation.

We must acknowledge that North Korea is very close to becoming a nuclear power, and that the North Koreans have undertaken a complete study of the Pakistani and Indian precedents.  There is also some evidence of a close relationship between North Korea and some segments of the Pakistani foreign policy establishment.

The Indian and Pakistani precedents have also influenced other states.  Ukraine is tempted by the possibility of reserving the nuclear option for itself and has taken steps to block actions that would deny Kiev access to highly enriched uranium.  kraine is in no immediate danger of "going nuclear" but there is a problem--increasingly, Ukraine could become the source of materials used for the production of nuclear weapons.  Let us not forget that Al-Qaeda could make a nuclear device with enough materials, and Ukraine has more than enough materials in its possession.

Despite all the mutual frustrations in the U.S.-Russian relationship before and during the Iraq crisis, now that the war is over, Russia and the United States need to work even more closely now to prevent proliferation.  President Putin has indicated that we will continue to cooperate in stemming proliferation and fighting terrorism--a position he reiterated even during the Iraq war.  The dangers that we are facing are so substantial that we need to concentrate more efforts in these areas.

Andrei Kokoshin is chairman of the Duma Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States and served as first deputy minister of defense in the Yeltsin Administration.