A Stark Warning on New START from Madrid

November 8, 2010
Ed Lyman
Director, Nuclear Power Safety

I’m here in chilly Madrid this week to attend the first International Conference on Science and International Security: Addressing the Challenges of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, organized by the Institute of Nuclear Fusion of the Madrid Polytechnic University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Among the highlights of the conference so far was Senator Richard Lugar’s keynote speech, in which he delivered a stark warning of the negative implications for nuclear security should the U.S. Senate fail to ratify the New START treaty.

Lugar fears that such a failure would jeopardize the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) or “Nunn-Lugar” program, which he and Senator Sam Nunn initiated two decades ago to lessen the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, fissile materials, and nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union. The CTR program has been heralded as one of the most successful programs to prevent nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear materials ever enacted. But the job is far from complete.

Lugar believes Russia will be reluctant in the long-term to continue to cooperate on CTR without the transparency measures of the START agreement in place. He told the meeting:

Russia and the United States have agreed, based on the Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement and the understanding between Presidents Obama and Medvedev, to continue to cooperate on Nunn-Lugar projects while ratification of the New START Treaty is pursued. But it is unlikely that Moscow would sustain cooperative efforts indefinitely without the New START Treaty coming into force. The Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement expires in 2013. The prospects for extending Nunn-Lugar work in Russia after that date would be especially complicated without New START’s transparency features that assure both countries about the nuclear capabilities of the other.

A story in today’s London Guardian, revealing yet another incident of the attempted sale of bomb-usable highly enriched uranium stolen from Russian stocks, serves as a reminder of the continuing dangers of unsecured nuclear materials in Russia. Thus a likely increase in the risk of nuclear terrorism should be added to the list of security dangers that Americans will face if the Senate does not ratify New START.

The full text of Senator Lugar’s speech can be found here.