Whose Nukes Are You Calling Loose?

On Saturday, in an article titled Russia accuses U.S. of loose weapons control, Reuters reported that “The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its web site the United States had been in breach of several arms-related treaties including the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and a treaty on conventional weapons.”

Cited in the “long list of what it called irregularities [were] a U.S. failure to provide information on ballistic missiles trials. The Foreign Ministry also alleged that some 1,500 sources of ionizing radiation were lost in the U.S. between 1996 and 2001.”

Perhaps most insulting, “The ministry also said secret information from the U.S. Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory had ended up at the hands of a drug dealing gang in 2006.”

Does this sound exactly like one of the scenarios the United States has long feared unfolding in Russia or what?

After the Soviet Union disbanded, the security of its nuclear weapons and materials became cause for concern, not only because of a new lack of centralized oversight, but because it was thought that a sudden lack of job security for those in the nuclear industry might tempt them to smuggle nuclear weapons parts and material out of facilities and sell them to the Russian mob. In 1992 Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar act, sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, which created the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program for the stated purpose of securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union states.

The results have been dramatic. Among myriad other measures, over 6,000 nuclear warheads have been dismantled. But many American conservatives think that by allowing the Americans to do the bulk of securing its nuclear weapons, Russia is thus able to spend whatever funds it might have spent on nuclear security to build advanced conventional weapons.

Whether or not this accurately describes Russian thinking or whether, in fact, they’re just grateful for the help, Russians still can’t help but be offended by constant references in the U.S. press and in national security circles to the danger of loose nukes winding up in the hands of terrorists. The Russian allegations may have been made in response to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee delaying a ratification vote on the new START. But they may also just be sick and tired of hearing the United States media and national security continually sounding the alarm over loose nukes, a term that has almost entirely come to be synonymous with Russia’s nuclear weapons program.

The implication is that Russian security forces are unable to control both the mob in their country and Islamist elements who might seek to buy nukes from the mob. Perhaps Americans should bear in mind that every reference to loose nukes is (whether they deserve it or not) a slap in the face to the Russians.