Magazine Article - Arms Control Today

The Era Of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Cooperation

| November 2016

The social and economic chaos of the Soviet Union’s collapse engulfed its nuclear weapons complex as well, potentially putting at risk thousands of nuclear weapons and enough nuclear material to make tens of thousands more. Recognizing the danger this posed to the world, U.S. and Russian scientists in 1992 began an unprecedented two-decade-long collaboration focused on strengthening Russian nuclear safety and security, reducing proliferation risks, and advancing nuclear science. Policymakers put their jobs on the line, and committed scientists who were designing ways of obliterating one another’s countries only months earlier set aside differences to make possible this effort, known as lab-to-lab cooperation. Their story is the subject of Doomed to Cooperate: How American and Russian Scientists Joined Forces to Avert Some of the Greatest Post–Cold War Nuclear Dangers.

The two-volume set, edited by former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker, a key U.S. figure in the lab-to-lab work, is one of only a handful of sources and by far the most comprehensive in which participants offer firsthand accounts of what they did, the obstacles they encountered, the solutions they improvised, and more. The book will stand as the standard reference on their work for years to come. Unfortunately, although Hecker’s narrative effectively weaves together those accounts, there is so much raw material in the book that it is sometimes difficult to unearth its gems.

The volumes include testimonies of more than 100 Americans and Russians involved in different elements of the lab-to-lab cooperation. More than 90 articles are organized into six sections describing different aspects of the cooperation. The first volume summarizes the multiyear process of laying the groundwork for lab-to-lab cooperation and joint work involving nuclear weapons and nuclear materials safety and security. The second volume focuses on joint efforts to prevent “brain drain” within the Russian nuclear establishment and the proliferation of nuclear expertise, as well as on broader cooperation on nuclear science and stockpile stewardship.

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For Academic Citation: Roth, Nickolas. “The Era Of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Cooperation.” Arms Control Today, November 2016.