White House Expects Russia to Stick to Arms Treaties, Despite Ukraine Crisis

National Journal Contributing Editor James Kitfield discusses nuclear security with National Security Council staffer Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall at a Wednesday forum co-sponsored by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and National Journal LIVE.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
March 12, 2014, 10:44 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pects that Rus­sia will con­tin­ue to abide by ex­ist­ing arms-con­trol agree­ments with the United States, des­pite icy re­la­tions between Wash­ing­ton and Mo­scow over Rus­si­an mil­it­ary in­volve­ment in Ukraine, a key White House of­fi­cial said on Wed­nes­day.

“We see no reas­on that the ten­sions that ex­ist over Ukraine should in any way ob­struct the path to­ward ful­filling the com­mit­ments that we have made with the Rus­si­ans to re­duce nuc­le­ar weapons on both sides,” said Eliza­beth Sher­wood-Ran­dall, White House co­ordin­at­or for de­fense policy, coun­ter­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion and arms con­trol.

Over the week­end, the Rus­sia state news agency re­por­ted that a seni­or de­fense min­istry of­fi­cial there was threat­en­ing to sus­pend New START arms-con­trol veri­fic­a­tion in­spec­tions be­cause of the on­go­ing spat over Mo­scow’s in­cur­sion on the Crimean Pen­in­sula.

Speak­ing at a Na­tion­al Journ­al LIVE policy sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton on the fu­ture of glob­al nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity, Sher­wood-Ran­dall said the ad­min­is­tra­tion also ex­pects it will be able to con­tin­ue col­lab­or­at­ing with Mo­scow on is­sues fa­cing this month’s Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in the Neth­er­lands. The March 24-25 gath­er­ing of world lead­ers is the third of its kind, and aims to ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to lock down dan­ger­ous nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als around the world against pos­sible ter­ror­ist threats or pro­lif­er­a­tion.

“We con­tin­ue to work to­ward this sum­mit “¦ in The Hag­ue with our Rus­si­an coun­ter­parts very ef­fect­ively,” Sher­wood-Ran­dall said at the for­um, co-sponsored by the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. “They’re im­port­ant con­trib­ut­ors to this pro­cess as a coun­try that has a sig­ni­fic­ant pos­ses­sion of both ci­vil­ian and mil­it­ary nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al, and we ex­pect this to be a very con­struct­ive sum­mit in that do­main as well.”

The White House of­fi­cial ac­know­ledged, however, that there is con­cern that Rus­sia already is not abid­ing by at least one agree­ment — re­lated both to nuc­le­ar arms and to the Ukrain­i­an con­flict it­self. Un­der the 1994 Bud­apest Memor­andum on Se­cur­ity As­sur­ances, Ukraine gave up its Cold War-era So­viet Uni­on nuc­le­ar weapons in re­turn for a Rus­si­an vow to re­spect the sov­er­eignty of the former So­viet re­pub­lic.

“We are call­ing on Rus­sia to abide by that com­mit­ment and the world is quite united in its ex­pres­sion of strong dis­ap­prov­al of the Rus­si­an cur­rent oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea,” Sher­wood-Ran­dall said. “We have con­tin­ued to point out to the Rus­si­ans that they are a party to this agree­ment and have an ob­lig­a­tion to re­spect it.”

Speak­ing at the same for­um on Wed­nes­day, Har­vard Uni­versity’s Mat­thew Bunn said he feared that soured re­la­tions between the United States and Rus­sia over the Ukraine situ­ation could in­deed have neg­at­ive im­plic­a­tions for nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity is­sues on which the two na­tions col­lab­or­ate.

The Ukraine crisis could af­fect mul­ti­lat­er­al talks over Ir­an’s con­tro­ver­sial nuc­le­ar pro­gram, as well as U.S. ef­forts to com­plete nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity work it launched in­side Rus­sia at the end of the Cold War, the former ad­viser to Pres­id­ent Clin­ton said.

“I worry be­cause of the really tox­ic state of U.S.-Rus­si­an re­la­tions at the mo­ment,” Bunn said. “I think we really need to fo­cus on find­ing some ne­go­ti­ated res­ol­u­tion on the situ­ation in Ukraine be­cause, I think, oth­er­wise it will have a very pois­on­ous ef­fect on all of these oth­er im­port­ant kinds of co­oper­a­tion that we’re work­ing on.”

Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire re­por­ted last week that U.S. En­ergy De­part­ment ef­forts to se­cure nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als with­in Rus­sia had stalled, and that the delay could be ex­acer­bated by the Ukrain­i­an crisis. The work — on­go­ing since the end of the Cold War — had been con­duc­ted un­der the Co­oper­at­ive Threat Re­duc­tion um­brella agree­ment.

The ac­cord, of­ten called the “Nunn-Lugar” agree­ment be­cause of the role former Sen­at­ors Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) played in its form­a­tion, ex­pired last sum­mer, and the two coun­tries have struggled to fi­nal­ize de­tails of a re­place­ment pact.

Bunn warned against com­pla­cency over the is­sue, par­tic­u­larly in light of the Ukraine crisis.

He de­scribed “a feel­ing in both Mo­scow and Wash­ing­ton that I think is wrong, that the work is done on nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity in Rus­sia and that there’s noth­ing left to do there any­more — it’s not.”

“There’s a huge prob­lem of sus­tain­ab­il­ity, there are prob­lems of se­cur­ity cul­ture, there’s still weak­nesses in in­sider pro­tec­tion and we still need to be work­ing to­geth­er,” Bunn said. Most U.S. work on nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity in Rus­sia has been stalled “for al­most a year,” he said.

“It was just on the point of sort of get­ting mov­ing again with dis­cus­sions back and forth when the Ukraine crisis broke out,” Bunn said. “I re­main hope­ful that we will be able to get that back on even keel, and if we man­age to re­solve the Ukraine crisis and get back to some reas­on­able level of ten­sion in our re­la­tions, really put it on a new level of equal part­ner­ship.”

Sher­wood-Ran­dall was asked wheth­er the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans to make cuts to its own non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pro­grams dur­ing fisc­al 2015 could send the wrong mes­sage to oth­er na­tions head­ing in­to the up­com­ing Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit.

Un­veiled last week, the budget plan would re­duce En­ergy De­part­ment non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts by 20 per­cent, while at the same time boost­ing the agency’s spend­ing on nuc­le­ar weapons by nearly 7 per­cent. The nuc­le­ar-weapons pro­grams would re­ceive $8.3 bil­lion, while the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts would re­ceive $1.6 bil­lion.

Echo­ing an ar­gu­ment that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have made in the past, Sher­wood-Ran­dall said the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion budget in pri­or years had been “front­loaded to achieve the [nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity ob­ject­ives] that we achieved in the last four years.” She said 90 per­cent of the com­mit­ments made at the first Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in 2010 had already been im­ple­men­ted.

“To the ex­tent that we didn’t re­quire fund­ing for cer­tain pro­grams be­cause they have already got­ten their work done — that money is no longer in the budget,” the White House of­fi­cial said. “But we “¦ as­sess that there is suf­fi­cient fund­ing in the budget to achieve all of our non­pro­lif­er­a­tion goals in this time frame and to con­tin­ue the very im­port­ant work we do bi­lat­er­ally with a num­ber of coun­tries to sup­port their nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity re­gimes.”

Law­makers have raised con­cerns, however, that budget cuts are caus­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goals for se­cur­ing ra­di­olo­gic­al “dirty bomb” ma­ter­i­al to slip.

Keri Fulton, spokes­wo­man for the En­ergy De­part­ment’s semi­autonom­ous Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told GSN last week the fisc­al 2015 budget plan calls for 8,500 build­ings with “high-pri­or­ity” ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­al to be se­cured by 2044. When the fisc­al 2013 budget was draf­ted, that end date was in­ten­ded to be 2035, she said.

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