- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Belfer Center Still Building New U.S.-Russia Bridges

| Spring 2011

Since the 1950s, scientists and scholars from Harvard University have been building bridges between the United States and Russia to help prevent nuclear catastrophe. The early years focused on slowing the nuclear arms race. The last two decades have targeted the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

Carrying forward this legacy, specialists from Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs have launched three ambitious U.S.-Russian partnerships, designed to intensify action against nuclear terrorism and to safeguard the next wave of global nuclear energy expansion.

The three projects fall under the Belfer Center’s U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism, directed by senior fellow William H. Tobey, a former senior official in the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and a Kennedy School alumnus.

One major new effort is to produce the first-ever joint U.S.-Russian threat assessment of nuclear terrorism. Belfer Center specialists led by senior fellow Rolf Mowatt-Larssen have teamed with the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of USA and Canada to write the assessment, aiming to fill a gap that became apparent during preparations for the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in April 2010. Tobey said the absence of an informed consensus on the dangers of nuclear terrorism hinders the development of work plans to address the threat.

To focus high-level expert attention on this threat and related security issues, the Belfer Center initiated a second project, bringing together U.S. and Russian senior retired officers with military and intelligence backgrounds.  The project’s creator, retired Brigadier General and current Belfer Center Executive Director for Research Kevin Ryan, says: “The purpose of the ‘Elbe Group’ is to establish an open and continuous channel of communication on sensitive issues that is not hindered by the ups and downs of U.S.-Russian political relations.”

The first Elbe Group meeting took place in October 2010 in Istanbul to consider ways to improve cooperation and develop joint operational measures to track and combat nuclear terror.  It was an unprecedented gathering of three- and four- star general officer veterans from secretive agencies with acronyms including the FSB, GRU, CIA, DIA, Ministry of Defense, and Department of Defense.  Among the five former officers on the U.S. side were Lt. Gen. Mike Maples, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Mowatt-Larssen, a retired senior CIA intelligence officer. The Russian side included General of the Army Anatoliy S. Kulikov, a former interior minister, and General-Colonel Anatoliy E. Safonov, former deputy director of the FSB.

Ryan said the group’s findings and recommendations, which were made available to officials in the U.S. and Russian governments, included a call for closer cooperation between security and intelligence services of the two countries.  The “Elbe Group” will meet again in June.

In a third major initiative led by Associate Professor Matthew Bunn, one of the world’s leading nuclear proliferation experts, Belfer Center researchers from the Project on Managing the Atom and colleagues from the Russian Kurchatov Institute issued a joint report in December suggesting ways to encourage the safe growth of nuclear power around the world. Their innovative ideas include a consortium to build and manage small nuclear plants to generate power for countries that don’t want or need to run such plants themselves, thus reducing proliferation risks. They also make the case for expanded cooperation to strengthen safety, security, and proliferation resistance to allow nuclear power to grow enough to play a significant role in mitigating change.

The Belfer Center’s Russian-related work goes on in many long-term ways as well. In December, Russian generals joined a weeklong joint study program with American senior officers at the Kennedy School on security issues. Organized by retired Air Force Gen. Tad Oelstrom, director of the HKS National Security Program, this project has been meeting annually for 20 years, building knowledge and trust. This year, the officers worked together on a case study written by Simon Saradzhyan, a Belfer Center fellow with deep knowledge of U.S.-Russian security issues. The case challenged the officers to devise plans to respond to the imagined theft of a nuclear weapon by terrorists intent on smuggling it either to Russia or the United States.

These joint projects build on a tradition reaching back at least to 1957, when the Center’s founder, Paul Doty, took part in a meeting of Soviet and American scientists in a groundbreaking conference in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, that led to the founding of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize. Doty went to Moscow the following year, the first of 40 such trips he made to foster U.S.-Soviet cooperation and reduce the risk of a nuclear war.

In the early 1990s, Ashton B. Carter, then the Center’s director, picked up the mantle with Steven E. Miller, Graham Allison, Kurt Campbell, and others, launching celebrated initiatives to tackle the sudden new risk of loose nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union. Carter helped Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar draft their pioneering legislation; John P. Holdren, then chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control, built a pivotal dialogue with senior Russian counterparts starting in the early 1980s.

Allison, the current Belfer Center director, has worked to shift the world’s attention to the growing nuclear terrorist threat, not least with his 2004 book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.

Miller, director of the Center’s International Security Program, noted recently that the Belfer Center’s more than 500 alumni working on these and related initiatives form a “who’s who in the field of international security and arms control.”

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Smith, James. Belfer Center Still Building New U.S.-Russia Bridges.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2011).

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