Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and a sprawling military and civilian nuclear industry, has refused to take part in this week’s nuclear security summit in Washington over the lack of cooperation with partners on this issue, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on March 30 – the day before the top level meeting kicks off on March 31.
«The nuclear security issue is rather topical. At the same time Moscow considers that working on issues linked to nuclear security demands common and joint efforts and mutually taking into account interests and positions», the spokesman told reporters.
«We faced a certain lack of cooperation during the preliminary stage of working on issues and topics of the summit. That’s why in this case there is no participation of the Russian side», he explained.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said as far back as January that the summits interfered with international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, and imposed on them the «opinions of a limited group of states».
That decision followed Russia’s announcement in early 2015 formally ending its participation in the two-decade-old US-funded Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to scrap unneeded nuclear weapon systems and secure facilities where radiological material was stored.
The program included the presence of US elected officials visiting restricted or formerly closed for access research and military facilities. Russia said it needed no outside help in handling the problem.
These events take place against certain background, which provides clue to Russia’s decision to refocus its non-proliferation efforts away from the US-sponsored events. This is also the time when there has been severe deterioration of the security situation in the world.
Actually, the scope of the threat is daunting. The world’s military and civilian nuclear programs have produced some 500 metric tons of pure plutonium, amount that could fuel tens of thousands of nuclear weapons yet fit into a backyard shed.
Countries with nuclear programs continue to add roughly 2 tons to this inventory every year.
It doesn’t take much to unleash a catastrophe: a grapefruit-sized bit of plutonium is enough to build a nuclear bomb.
This is also the time when Russia and the leading powers of the West are divided by deep differences that exclude finding a consensus on the ways to counter the contemporary challenges to the non-proliferation regime.
The Middle East participants, especially Egypt, are deeply disappointed by the lack of any progress on making Israel join the NPT and on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Egypt’s position was supported by Russia.
The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) failed to produce an outcome including the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (NWFZ), as well as related delivery vehicles in the region.
Signed back in 1996, it has yet to enter into force as eight specific states, including the US, have not ratified the treaty yet.
There are also growing tensions in East Asia, including North Korea accelerating its nuclear program.
European security is weakened by Russia-NATO stand-off while the measures that might include nuclear-weapons-free zones and other steps to prevent nuclear weapons being stationed outside the borders of the nuclear-weapon states do not top the agenda. There is no accord between Russian and NATO on nuclear incidents prevention.
Another pressing issue is also not addressed at the US-organized nuclear summits – the interrelation between offensive and defensive strategic weapons, as well as the connection between nuclear weapons and new types of conventional strategic weapons (global prompt strike weapons).
Despite the obvious urgency of this problem, the US and most Europeans seem to remain indifferent to it. Multilateral disarmament process is stymied as demonstrated by many years of stagnation at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by which states agree to ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes.
Talking about arms control, it should be noted that Russia and the US differ substantially on the issue of compliance with arms control and nuclear arms reduction agreements. It is highly unlikely that the two counties would agree to further nuclear cuts below the ceilings agreed upon in the START-3 treaty. Virtually all negotiating tracks on arms control have been stalled with existing treaties eroded.
There is another problem, which evokes Russia’s concern that the summit will hardly help to tackle. The US and its NATO allies are undermining the NPT by pursuing the «nuclear sharing» policy.
As part of this policy, military personnel of allied countries without nuclear weapons of their own are taught to use nuclear weapons and participate in nuclear planning.
The Obama administration is implementing the Life Extension Program (LEP) for the B61 tactical nuclear bombs that will extend their life by 20 to 30 years at the estimated cost of $8 billion.
The first complete B61-12 (a brand new guided modification of the bomb) is scheduled for 2020. The US plans to equip all F-35s in Europe with nuclear capability by 2024.
Currently around 200 B61 bombs are deployed in underground vaults inside around 90 protective aircraft shelters at six bases in five NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey).
About half of the munitions are earmarked for delivery by the national aircraft of these non-nuclear states, although they all are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 that envisions certain obligations.
For instance, Article I of the NPT prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons from nuclear-weapons states to other states: «Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices».
Article II requires non-nuclear weapons states not to receive nuclear weapons: «Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transfer or whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices».
These bans are being fully ignored in the course of NATO’s «joint nuclear missions», as part of which pilots from the alliance’s non-nuclear member countries are learning how to manage and use nuclear weapons.
Russia is inevitably a player in most nonproliferation issues by virtue of its many roles: as one of three NPT depositary governments, a leading member of the IAEA board, a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Few nonproliferation problems can be resolved without Moscow’s active support or at least acquiescence.
It would be relevant to remember that Russia is the only reactor supplier willing to take back plutonium-bearing spent fuel to its territory, something that is good both for nonproliferation and for Rosatom’s sales pitch (because returning the spent fuel to Russia eliminates the burden of storing it for prospective customers).
Russia plays a crucial role in implementing the Iranian nuclear deal, including by accepting regular shipments of Iranian enriched uranium and leading the conversion of the Fordow uranium enrichment facility into a nuclear research center.
Moscow also has a key role in both preventing the Islamic State from acquiring mustard gas and tackling the problem of North Korea’s nuclear program.
The United States and Russia are founders and co-chairs of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, a voluntary, multilateral partnership of 86 countries dedicated to strengthening the capacity of its members to prevent, detect, and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism.
It has sponsored more than 70 multilateral activities in such areas as nuclear detection, forensics, and response and mitigation.
Without Russia, Washington nuclear summit is doomed to failure. It makes no sense to discuss the issues of global importance in absence of a country, which belongs to the key actors’ group.
No doubt, Moscow will tackle the problems of non-proliferation at other forums, like IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) conferences and UN General Assembly meetings. At that the Russian government believes it makes no sense to participate in the events staged by the United States.
PETER KORZUN | SCF