"Center’s Efforts Impact Nuclear Policy"
Belfer Center and Nuclear Weapons: Security in the Post–Cold War Era
Author: Steven E. Miller, Director, International Security Program; Editor-in-Chief, International Security; Co-Principal Investigator, Project on Managing the Atom
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
The abortive coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in August 1991 raised in a stark and alarming way the question of who was controlling the Soviet arsenal at a moment of extraordinary political instability. The subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union raised the equally consequential question of who would inherit the Soviet nuclear arsenal. The ensuing and ongoing political instability and economic travails in Russia raised the question of the safety and security of the Russian nuclear arsenal and nuclear empire. In view of the fact that these weapons and associated nuclear materials constitute the largest potential threat to the United States and its allies, and given the potential of Russian nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials to fuel terrorism and nuclear proliferation, this is one of the most significant security issues of the post-Cold War era. Work on the safety and security of Russian nuclear holdings soon led to concern about the adequacy of custodial arrangements for nuclear weapons and nuclear materials on a global scale. Meanwhile, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 highlighted the danger that a terrorist group might obtain nuclear weapons and inflict an even more terrible attack.
In response to the coup attempt, the Center formed a working group to analyze post-Cold War nuclear dangers and to investigate policy options for addressing them. Over the subsequent 15 years, this strand of our work resulted in numerous books (including a spinoff volume published in Japanese), a series of major conferences, and a host of associated products and activities, including testimony before Congress on a number of occasions, briefings of members of Congress as well as officials in the Executive Branch, involvement of CSIA members in drafting relevant legislation shaping U.S. policy, dozens of articles and op-eds, countless lectures and presentations in Europe, North America, Japan and the former Soviet Union, and media coverage-not to mention the recruitment of several CSIA members into government service to work on precisely this set of issues.
The efforts the Center has made in addressing the nuclear challenges of the post-Cold War era are anchored in the books that it has produced on the major dimensions of the problem. The first of these, Soviet Nuclear Fission: Control of the Nuclear Arsenal in a Disintegrating Soviet Union (1991), undertook a comprehensive analysis of the nuclear dangers that might confront American and Western interests should the Soviet Union collapse. This volume contributed directly to the passage of the original Nunn-Lugar legislation, known formally as "The Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991."
The second volume, Cooperative Denuclearization: From Pledges to Deeds (1993), tackled the challenge of ensuring that the far-flung Soviet nuclear arsenal did not give rise to multiple nuclear successor states among the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Published in January 1993, it was influential with the new Clinton Administration as it fashioned its policy toward Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union. One editorial, commenting in the context of the June 1996 G-7 summit in Lyon, France, urged President Clinton to "take plenty of copies of Harvard's study, Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy, with him on Air Force One and hand them out to his summit counterparts, demanding their undivided attention-and concerted action."
A third volume, Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy: Containing the Threat of Loose Russian Nuclear Weapons and Fissile Material (1996), focused on the security of nuclear weapons-related assets in Russia. By the mid-1990s, the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal had been consolidated within the borders of a Russia marked by political uncertainty, rampant criminality, economic distress, and social upheaval. The Center undertook to assess the state of security of Russian nuclear materials (distressingly inadequate), to identify U.S. and Western interests in the fate of these materials (the stakes are enormous), to evaluate the effectiveness of existing U.S. policies aimed at reducing the danger of nuclear leakage (current policies were and are insufficient), and to propose initiatives that will be more effective at minimizing the danger of nuclear leakage (which willequire a larger investment of political and economic resources).
Another volume resulted from a collaboration with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute for International Studies. Together we co-sponsored a conference designed to assess the Nunn-Lugar Program, particularly from the perspective of the recipient countries. The papers from this conference were published by MIT Press in the BCSIA book series under the title Dismantling the Cold War: U.S. and NIS Perspectives on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (1997).
A fifth volume sought to address in a detailed and comprehensive way the possibility of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The book, America's Achilles Heel: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack (1998), analyses the feasibility and likelihood of WMD terrorism. It concludes that WMD terrorist attacks are not easy but are feasible under a number of conceivable circumstances and that the likelihood of such attacks is low, but rising and sufficient that this threat ought to be a source of serious concern in U.S. security policy.
Starting in 2002, the Center's Project on Managing the Atom began to issue an annual monograph which examines in detail the progress made in addressing nuclear leakage issues and highlights the problems that remain to be addressed. Five such volumes have been published, the most recent of which is Securing the Bomb 2006. These monographs are regarded as indispensable guides to the issue.
In 2004, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison published the latest in the series of books, dating back to 1991, that spotlighted critical elements of the post-Cold War nuclear agenda. His Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe analyzes the threat of nuclear terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 and offers a series of recommendations for addressing this threat.
Many additional Belfer Center books and papers have contributed to nuclear policy. Miller's expanded compilation can be found on the Belfer Center website: www.belfercenter.org.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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