The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
The US-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism seeks to increase awareness and a sense of urgency concerning the threat from terrorists conducting a nuclear attack. Recognizing the leading roles that Russia and the USA play in producing and securing nuclear materials and weapons, the initiative combines the efforts of US and Russian institutes and experts in the fields of terrorism, security, nuclear, intelligence and energy. The initiative links governmental and nongovernmental organizations in order to facilitate US-Russian cooperation across all these fields. Building on the many efforts already begun to improve security of nuclear weapons and materials, the initiative focuses on identifying the additional steps Russia and the US could take to lead global efforts in preventing nuclear terrorism.
Initiative Goal: Contribute to improved joint US-Russian assessment of the threat of nuclear terrorism and concepts, strategy, and actions to prevent a successful nuclear attack by terrorists.
- Increase awareness of the threat from nuclear terrorism.
- Create a sense of urgency within US and Russian governments to cooperate in preventing nuclear terrorism.
- Help sustain the major investment made in Russian nuclear security.
Building Blocks: The initiative builds a foundation for closer cooperation between the Russia and the US toward the important goal of preventing a nuclear terrorist attack. The "building blocks" that comprise this foundation are listed below. The list evolves as circumstances and opportunities change for cooperation.
- Joint US and Russian Research. The initiative seeks joint US and Russian papers on the threat from nuclear terrorism. Especially important is a common understanding of the terminology and facts surrounding nuclear terrorism.
- Preventing Nuclear Terrorism Website. The initiative operates a website in Russian and English that publicizes US and Russian thinking on nuclear terrorism.
- Working Group Newsletter. The initiative publishes a newsletter linking readers and providing ideas and strategies on preventing nuclear terrorism.
- Education Programs. In conjunction with US and Russian partners, the initiative conducts seminars and conferences to improve understanding of the threat and encourage joint assessments.
- Elbe Group. The initiative facilitates an open dialogue between veterans of the US and Russian intelligence, security and defense communities to discuss common approaches to the threat.
- US and Russian Leader Exchanges. The initiative provides venues that link US and Russian parliamentary and executive branch leaders in dialogue about the nuclear terrorism threat.
- Mapping the Establishments. The initiative maps the US and Russian governmental organizations with responsibilities for preventing nuclear terrorism. The evolving maps illuminate offices and their responsibilities in order to better understand policies and how they are made.
Some types of terrorist threats are more likely than an attack with a nuclear device, but none is more dangerous. In our globalized 21st century world, one nuclear bomb exploding in a large population center will not only cause terrible damage to those living in that immediate area, but would affect the broader global security environment in ways that would dwarf the changes following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The US and Russia, which possess over 95% of the world's nuclear weapons and materials, have a unique capability and responsibility to find ways to prevent even one nuclear weapon from being detonated anywhere in the world.