Analysis & Opinions - Financial Times

A New Era, A New Threat

| May 23, 2002

A New Era, A New Threat

by Ashton Carter and Richard Lugar

May 23, 2002
Reprinted from the Financial Times


A new era, a new threat - The US and Russia should form a coalition to stop terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons, say Richard Lugar and Ashton Carter.

The news that George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin plan to sign a pact to bring cold war arsenals down to post-cold-war levels should be welcomed. But that should not disguise the fact that the agreement belongs to a bygone era.

Until little more than a decade ago, the biggest single threat in the world was the power of mass destruction in the hands of governments. Washington's and Moscow's greatest fear was each other. Today, things have changed dramatically and Russia and the US face a common enemy: terrorist groups in possession of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Presidents Bush and Putin have worked hard to forge the beginnings of a new relationship. When they meet tomorrow in Moscow, the two leaders should use this diplomatic momentum to declare a new front in the war on terrorism, aimed at building a coalition against weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism. The goal should be the formation of a coalition to safeguard nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their component materials and technology so that they do not fall into the wrong hands.

The heaviest concentration of such materials is in Russia, where they are being systematically safeguarded and eliminated under the so-called Nunn-Lugar Co-operative Threat Reduction programme. But the coalition against WMD terrorism should be global, like the ongoing war against al-Qaeda.

Weapons-grade uranium exists in research reactors in scores of nations around the world. Allies such as Belgium and Japan, which possess no nuclear arsenals, maintain large stocks of plutonium that, if stolen by terrorists, could produce many bombs. The nuclear programmes and arsenals of Pakistan and India constitute a growing and obvious risk of leakage that must be dealt with. Although China is not a party to traditional arms control regimes, exploratory overtures should be launched to determine its willingness to join a co-operative effort aimed at "loose nukes".

The coalition members would be asked to agree on standards for safeguarding weapons-grade materials. If any party needed help in meeting those standards, it could receive assistance from the others through a global, Nunn-Lugar-like coalition threat reduction programme. This could be financed via a fund made up of contributions from the US, Europe, Russia, Japan and others. Such a fund could be used for key coalition acquisitions in the area of materiel and weapons site enhancements.

The coalition members would work together on measures to retrieve dangerous materials or bombs in the event of theft or loss. They could even agree to aid any victim of nuclear terrorism, helping to define the area contaminated and to undertake the process of cleaning up radioactive areas and making them habitable.

One vital aspect of the coalition''s duties would be to combat bio-terrorism. It would recommend standards for handling pathogens and for conducting peaceful and defensive scientific work in this field. Its members could share research results on diagnosis, prevention and treatment of likely bio-terror agents, on air filtration and other methods to stop their spread and on ways to decontaminate buildings exposed to bio-attack.

Russia has leading experts on biological warfare. Mr Putin could use the establishment of such a coalition to open up Russia's bio-weapons laboratories and, working co-operatively with the US, put such scientific expertise to work for the broader cause of global public health. A gesture along these lines would increase exponentially the opportunities for enhanced co-operation with the US and other coalition partners.

By proposing that the next phase of the war on terrorism focus on weapons of mass destruction, and by forming a coalition including Russia to combat it, Mr Bush would be tackling arguably the most important problem in international security today. By asking Russia to join as a founding member in the coalition against WMD terrorism, he would be seeking to draw Russia into a new - and vastly more influential - international role. Indeed, such a coalition could provide both leaders with a focus for the new post-cold-war relationship they have propounded but have yet to give real content. It would be a fitting replacement for the old-style bi-lateral arms control regimes whose era is drawing to a close.

Pursued creatively, the concept of a coalition could serve as a model for a new type of arms regulation for the 21st century. September 11 signalled the need. This week's summit in Moscow provides the opportunity.

Senator Lugar is a senior member on the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees. Ashton Carter is a professor at Harvard''s Kennedy School of Government and former assistant secretary of defence during the Clinton administration.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Carter, Ashton B. and Richard Lugar.“A New Era, A New Threat.” Financial Times, May 23, 2002.