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

U.S. and Russian Experts Assess Threat of Nuclear Terror

Winter 2011-2012

Researchers from the United States and Russia issued in June a joint assessment of the global threat of nuclear terrorism, warning of a persistent danger that terrorists could obtain or make a nuclear device and use it with catastrophic consequences.

The first joint threat assessment by experts from the world’s two major nuclear powers concludes: “If current approaches toward eliminating the threat are not replaced with a sense of urgency and resolve, the question will become not if but when, and on what scale, the first act of nuclear terrorism occurs.”

The study recommends measures to tighten security over existing nuclear weapons and the nuclear materials terrorists would need to make a crude nuclear bomb, along with expanded police and intelligence cooperation to interdict nuclear smuggling and stop terrorist nuclear plots. The report also calls for improved protection of nuclear facilities that might be sabotaged, and of radiological materials that might be used in a dirty bomb.

The report, titled “The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism,” released on June 6, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Moscow, resulted from a nearly year-long partnership between nuclear security experts from the Belfer Center and The Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow, a leading Russian research center.

The lead U.S. and Russian authors are Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a senior fellow in the Belfer Center and a former director of intelligence and counter-intelligence at the U.S.Department of Energy, and Pavel S.Zolotarev, a retired army general who is deputy director of Moscow’s Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and former head of the Information and Analysis Center of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

“The United States and Russia had never produced a document that could be said to represent a common understanding of the nuclear terrorism threat,” said Mowatt- Larssen. “This can now be used as a basis for driving action in both governments.”

The researchers’ joint assessment was reviewed and endorsed by a group of retired U.S. and Russian senior military and intelligenceofficers, led by General Anatoliy S. Kulikov (former Minister of Interior) and General Eugene E. Habiger (former STRATCOM commander). This “Elbe Group” was established by the Belfer Center’s Executive Director for Research Kevin Ryan in October 2010 to create an informal communication channel on security issues of concern to both the United States and Russia.

The Joint Threat Assessment was coordinated by the Kennedy School’s U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism directed by William Tobey, a senior fellow in the Belfer Center and former top official in the National Nuclear Security Administration. The assessment project was supported by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit organization in Washington that works to reduce threats from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: U.S. and Russian Experts Assess Threat of Nuclear Terror.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Winter 2011-2012).