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

U.S.-Russia Initiative Aims to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism

| Spring 2010

Kevin Ryan is director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism.

Terrorism is a threat that has been present throughout history, but the rise of highly effective terrorist organizations, combined with the accessibility of modern technology, has given dedicated terrorist groups an assortment of tools with which to threaten their enemies. The events of September 11 made clear that terrorists seek a new level of violence in the modern era. Some threats are more likely than others, but the most violent threat that terrorists could mount is the explosion of a nuclear device. A terrorist attack that produced a nuclear yield would impact not only those within the weapon's reach but our entire international system.

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama warned, "In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.We must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon. This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security."

In an effort to address this threat, the Belfer Center has teamed with other United States and Russian partners to form the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism. The goal of the Initiative is to contribute to improved joint U.S.-Russian assessment of the threat of nuclear terrorism and concepts, strategy, and actions to prevent a success ful nuclear attack by terrorists.

Why is the Initiative focused on the U.S. and Russia? More than any other states, Russiaand the U.S. have developed the technicalexpertise, security infrastructure, and safe practicesnecessary to exploit the peaceful use ofnuclear materials without contributing to therisk of terrorists acquiring those materials. Havingled the world in building nuclear weaponsand superpower arsenals, and maintaining 95percent of the world's nuclear weapons andmaterials, the U.S. and Russia must lead inassuring that all nuclear weapons and materialsare secure- beyond the reach of terrorists. TheInitiative's intent is to leverage that joint expertiseto assist other countries in coordinatingefforts to prevent nuclear terrorism.

How serious is the threat? The Russian Federation's Special Representative for International Cooperation in Combating Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime, Anatoliy Safonov, confided in an interview in 2007, "We have firm knowledge, which is based on evidence and facts, of steady interest and tasks assigned to terrorists to acquire in any form what is called nuclear weapons, nuclear components." Although acquiring a nuclear bomb or making a nuclear device is a difficult task for a terrorist group, it is not impossible.

The Initiative seeks to complement efforts already underway to address the problem of nuclear terrorism. Chief among existing efforts are the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the working groups within the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. The Initiative builds on those efforts by focusing attention on the difficult task of achieving President Obama's ambitious standard of preventing the explosion of even one nuclear bomb. By bringing together experts on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, security, intelligence, and terrorism, the Initiative will facilitate shared understanding of the threat and generate ideas on how to counter it. The Belfer Center's principal partners in the Initiative are the USA Canada Institute, the PIR Center, and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for World Economy and International Relations-all in Moscow-as well as the West Point Counter Terrorism Center, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the United States.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ryan, Kevin. U.S.-Russia Initiative Aims to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2010).