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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Spring 98 > Article

Farewell to Arms
Using Research to Turn Mass Destruction into Vast Reduction
by Steven N. Koppes

Map of Russia and its nuclear facilities
Map key
The 15 nations of the former Soviet Union (shown in yellow and gold) threaten global security in some way. Russia's military installations pose the greatest risk, followed by Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Cassady Craft figured that a smuggler would find it fairly easy to transport supplies of weapons-grade uranium out of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. But he didn’t know how easy until he crossed the border himself last summer.

"This stuff is leaving the region or leaving Russia and going through the Caucasus," said the UGA graduate student. "It’s an open road, basically, and it’s going straight to Iran."

Craft and Dmitriy Nikonov were among five UGA graduate students from the Center for International Trade and Security (CITS) who fanned out across 10 nations of the former Soviet Union last summer to collect field data on export controls for weapons of mass destruction. Their findings add to a body of CITS research that helps governments around the globe create effective policies to control the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and related technologies.

For instance, the nation of Georgia has about 17 1/2 pounds of weapons-grade uranium that would contribute greatly to Iran’s nuclear program, and it is protected by little more than a brick wall, Craft said. And from personal experience, Craft and Nikonov can attest to the ease of crossing the border: Whenever border guards would stop them, their drivers simply bribed their way through.

"We were never removed from the car at all. We were never searched. Our luggage was never searched. The car was never searched," Craft said. "But there was money changing hands at each stop. All we had to do was pay the equivalent of about $40, and we could have smuggled anything small enough to hide in a car out of the country."

The Soviet government used to keep a firm grip on its vast nuclear arsenal and weapons industry. That all changed with the fall of the Communist government in the early 1990s.

"Everyone recognizes that we could be talking about the largest weapons proliferation in human history," said Gary Bertsch, CITS director and a UGA professor of political science.

Keeping the Soviet nuclear capability from terrorist groups or rogue nations in the face of growing economic hardship, crime, corruption and political instability in Russia and the Newly Independent States presented a hazardous proposition.

Nations throughout the former Soviet Union — including Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan — inherited nuclear weapons, research facilities and scientists. In Ukraine, the Dnipropetrovs’k missile factory alone once employed 85,000 workers. The late Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev used to brag that Dnipropetrovs’k could produce missiles like sausages in a meat factory.

Little internal demand exists today for the products of Dnipropetrovs’k and other critical facilities throughout the Newly Independent States. Many of the scientists who worked there can no longer pursue their specialties at home.

"There’s a great threat that they could use this technology to make missiles for countries like Iraq and Iran, or allow their missile know-how to be smuggled into these countries," Bertsch said.

Founded in 1987 as the Center for East-West Trade Policy, the CITS initially examined the possibility of expanding trade between the United States and Communist-bloc countries. The center later refined its mission and changed its name to reflect the new geopolitical landscape.

"It is heartening that the University of Georgia is focusing on this most critical issue — perhaps the most critical of national security challenges," U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn wrote in 1993, while serving as chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Armed Services.

Since its inception, the center has attracted more than $4 million in grants from organizations such as the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The center received its largest grant ever from the Delta Air Lines Foundation last November. The grant, received jointly with the UGA Center for Humanities and Arts, was used to establish the Delta Prize for Global Understanding.

The late Dean Rusk, former U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, provided the vision that guides the center to this day. Rusk, then a UGA law professor, advised the center to emphasize research that world governments would find useful.

For example, former Georgia Sen. Nunn and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar consulted CITS scholars, among others around the country, before updating and expanding legislation known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

The program provided incentives that, among other successes, helped dismantle 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

More recently, funds appropriated for the program enabled the United States to buy 21 MiG-29 fighter jets from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova. The trans-action last November kept the jets, 14 of which were capable of carrying nuclear weapons, out of Iranian hands.

The center also has helped establish non-governmental research institutes in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The institutes work closely with their respective governments to educate privatized enterprises about export control and encourage them to set up their own internal compliance programs.

Deregulated Defense Industry

"When the entire defense industry was state-owned, everything was centrally regulated," said Igor Khripunov, CITS associate director. "Now, a considerable chunk of the defense industry is privatized, and enterprises have a lot of freedom in finding partners and negotiating with other countries." Often these enterprises export strategic goods without government knowledge.

Similar circumstances prevail in Ukraine and Belarus. "In Ukraine, a lot of enterprises produce nuclear technology but don’t have export controls," said Victor Zaborsky, a CITS senior research associate. "It’s really a big surprise for them that exports should be controlled."

Sometimes the surprise is on the U.S. government. Shortly after Cassady Craft returned from the Caucasus, he talked with a U.S. Department of Energy official who was in charge of helping the Newly Independent States protect their nuclear materials. "One of the things I asked him was, ‘Where do you prioritize this highly enriched uranium in Georgia? I’ve been there and I know how vulnerable it is.’ He said that he didn’t know."

Soon after, the DOE was looking into providing border guards in the Caucasus with newly developed, calculator-sized radiation detectors that they could wear on their belts like beepers, Craft said.

Craft and his fellow graduate students are contributing to the center in ways that Bertsch could only imagine 10 years ago. With increased demand for cutting-edge research that few in the academy or government were prepared to provide, the center began training its own corps of researchers from the ranks of UGA students. Seven of the center’s current graduate students, including Craft, have co-written a book on non-proliferation export controls in the former Soviet Union. Titled Arms on the Market: Reducing the Risk of Proliferation, the book will be published by Routledge (New York) in June.

The book is co-edited by Bertsch and Suzette Grillot, the center’s assistant director, and includes a foreword by Sen. Nunn. Grillot, who completed a UGA doctoral degree last spring, also wrote the introduction, conclusion and the chapter on Belarus.

"You don’t see many studies on non-proliferation issues that incorporate the entire former Soviet region," Grillot said. "You really only see focus on the four nuclear inheritors — Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine."

So the students devised an original method for measuring export control development. Then they applied it to 14 nations of the former Soviet region, including several usually left out of such studies.

UGA graduate students are helping the CITS assess the proliferation of weapons-related technology in other areas of the world as well. UGA doctoral student Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, for example, has visited Cuba four times since January 1996 to launch a study of its nuclear program.

"I always get funny stares from people when I say, ‘Cuba’s nuclear program,’ but the Cubans do have an active and diversified program for, as they say, the peaceful exploitation of nuclear energy," Benjamin-Alvarado said.

Cuba’s two nuclear reactors currently under construction raise many questions: What is the ultimate purpose of the reactors? Can the Cubans safely operate them? And do they pose a threat to Southeastern United States?

Despite the lack of formal relations between the Cuban and U.S. governments, Benjamin-Alvarado has been allowed access to the construction sites and interviews with senior officials of the Cuban nuclear agency. "Cuba does have legitimate energy needs. It is a resource-poor country completely dependent upon imported oil to fuel its economy," said Benjamin-Alvarado, whose research is supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

Some observers fear that Cuba will use its nuclear reactors to develop a nuclear weapons program. But Benjamin-Alvarado has seen large sections of Havana, a city of 2 million people, shrouded in darkness, without electrical power. This problem, a chronic one in Havana, has prompted the CITS and the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, D.C., to conduct an 18-month study of Cuba’s energy options for the coming century.

"Part of the rationale for a study like this is that the notion of democracy after Fidel Castro will ring really hollow if there’s no light for people to read by, if there are no means for them to provide energy to fuel any kind of industry or manufacturing," Benjamin-Alvarado said.

Asian Proliferation

Even if Cuba isn’t gearing up a nuclear-weapons program, significant potential weapons-proliferation threats still brew in China and other parts of Asia.

"Some people think China, with its great economic and military potential, could be the most worrisome nation as we look into the 21st century," Bertsch said.

China, more than most other nations in the post-Cold War era, still veils its export controls in secrecy. This secrecy, according to a 1997 report by CITS associate director Richard Cupitt, has placed limits on U.S. and Japanese trade and investment in China, and has soured overall relations among all three nations.

Bertsch and Cupitt are working to establish teams of cooperating researchers in China like the ones the center already has in the former Soviet Union, Japan and other nations. The center’s overseas counterparts have played critical roles in helping to document what really happens inside foreign governments regarding export controls.

"It’s not a thing that most governments want to write up and put out reports telling all of the details," Bertsch said.

India, meanwhile, has become an increasingly important global player in the development and trade of weapons and technology. And although India and the United States stand as the world’s two largest democracies, they have not worked cooperatively on these issues. "The United States has been unhappy with India’s unwillingness to give up its nuclear weapons-related programs," Bertsch said.

The time for a major policy review may have ripened. CITS researchers have reviewed these issues and the potential benefits of U.S.-India cooperation in conventional-weapons production. The researchers concluded that cooperation could benefit both countries and regional stability.

"Some people would say, ‘Well, that can result in the spread of more weapons around the world," Bertsch said. "We hope not. We think that it could be done in a stabilizing way, and could reduce the dependence on nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia."

CITS researchers are especially concerned about the flow of Russian-manufactured conventional weapons into the region. India and China, which are major adversaries, account for nearly three-quarters of Russia’s weapons exports. With another grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the center is attempting to determine whether Russia is becoming overly dependent on these two markets for the survival of its defense industry.

Readily available surplus weapons in the United States as well as Russia present yet another problem. One U.S. engineer reportedly has demonstrated that he could assemble several combat helicopters from material disposed of as scrap by the U.S. Department of Defense. And Russia, which is reducing its armed forces, has set up a new department to sell its surplus weapons around the world.

"They will be sold at rock-bottom prices," Khripunov said.

Many companies around the world now specialize in upgrading inexpensive, outdated weapons to the killing capacity of modern weapons. This could lead to what Khripunov refers to as "backdoor proliferation."

One day soon, Khripunov warned, "the world may be replete in weapons that nobody really counted as threats in the past."

But CITS researchers will be among those keeping an eye on the world’s back door.

For more information, e-mail Gary Bertsch at gbertsch@uga.edu
or access http://www.uga.edu/cits/home/index.htm

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Student receives documents from Soviets