CNS Analysis of the Russian Government’s White Paper on WMD Nonproliferation

Nikolai Sokov
July 25, 2006

For the first time in over a decade, the Russian government has published a White Paper on Nonproliferation, which seeks to present a detailed overview of Russia’s policy and initiatives in that area. The document was prepared under the auspices of the Military-Industrial Commission and unveiled by the Chairman of the MIC, Vice-Premier and Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov on June 30, 2006. The White Paper provides a more comprehensive analysis of nonproliferation challenges and policies than earlier Russian conceptual documents on security and defense policy, including the 2005 “Principles of the Policy of the Russian Federation State in the Sphere of the Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Means of Their Delivery.” Ivanov disclosed that similar documents had been prepared annually, but were classified top-secret and had limited distribution. In contrast to this past practice, the 2006 report was not only made public, but it opens with an explicit declaration about the value of transparency for promoting cooperation and trust among states. This declaration sounds quite unconventional against the background of traditional Russian and Soviet secrecy in national security affairs.

Its publication just prior to the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg indicates Russia’s intention to make WMD nonproliferation a priority area for interaction with Western states, especially the United States. This decision probably reflects hope that cooperation in that area might offset the increasingly strong criticism of many aspects of Russian domestic and foreign policy in the West. Regardless of the motive, the release of the White Paper signals that Russia is likely to be more forthcoming and open to joint action in WMD nonproliferation in the future. Certain limits will remain-several criticisms of US attempts to use WMD nonproliferation as a pretext for pursuing its parochial agenda give a clear indication of these limits-but Moscow seems to be more willing to cooperate with the United States and its allies in forging a joint action program aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, other WMD, and delivery systems.

Although the White Paper is often repetitive and rarely goes beyond listing earlier, well-known policies and initiatives, does a useful job of providing a comprehensive, bird-eye view of the field and offers important “windows” into the Russian thinking about WMD nonproliferation that sometimes differ from views commonly accepted in the United States and the West in general.

Threats and Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime

The list of threats and challenges to the nuclear nonproliferation regime contained in the White Paper is far from exhaustive. The range of threats included in the paper gives the reader good idea of the concerns and priorities of the Russian government.

The paper makes it clear that Moscow is primarily concerned about state-driven proliferation. It notes that technological challenges, which used to be the main hurdle on the path toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, are no longer a serious impediment. For many states, adherence to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is a matter of political choice. As the nuclear nonproliferation regime weakens, their political commitment might weaken as well.

The authors of the White Paper are also concerned about the likelihood of “chain reactions.” Acquisition of nuclear weapons by one or a few states might lead many more to follow suit out of concern for their security or for political (e.g., status) reasons.

At the same time, the document explicitly states that containment and deterrence remain valid strategies of preventing sates from acquiring nuclear weapons. This view is in direct contradiction to the common opinion of the governmental and non-governmental expert community in the United States that certain types of regimes are “irrational” and are thus difficult to contain by traditional means that emphasize rational decision-making, including deterrence. In this regard, Moscow’s point of view is close to that of France.

The list of challenges contains some pointed criticisms of the United States. The report sees a serious challenge to the stability of the nonproliferation regime, for example, in its “politicization”-attempts to pursue other political agendas under the guise of nonproliferation. This is a clear reference to Russian criticisms of some aspects of recent US nonproliferation policy, such as justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) by citing WMD nonproliferation concerns, and frequent imposition of economic sanctions by the United States against Russian, Chinese, and other firms citing nonproliferation concerns.

The report takes another shot at the United States when it argues that continued deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe represents a challenge to the stability of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Although Russian opposition to this deployment is nothing new, the language used in the White Paper suggests that Moscow is apparently prepared to broaden the political onslaught on this US policy. This attitude is shared by some non-nuclear states.

The White Paper classifies nuclear terrorism as “the greatest threat,” but at the same time estimates the risk of terrorists acquiring or building a nuclear weapon as extremely low. Instead, it concludes that the greatest risk is the possibility that terrorists might acquire radioactive materials to build a radiological device (sometimes referred to as a “dirty bomb”). This ranking of the two threats directly contradicts the conventional wisdom of governmental and nongovernmental experts in the United States and Europe. US and European experts generally agree that terrorists are capable of building a primitive nuclear explosive device if they acquire enough weapons-grade fissile materials. This prioritization of nuclear terrorism threats has direct implications for policy with regard to security of nuclear weapons and fissile materials as opposed to radiation sources and probably proceeds from Moscow’s premise that the security of nuclear weapons and weapons grade materials in nuclear states (including Russia, of course) is adequate.

The document lists three main paths of proliferation, apparently in order of declining significance.

  • illicit transfer of technologies and know-how (the document sites the A.Q. Khan network as an example);
  • indigenous weapons development programs that utilize open information; and
  • leakage of technologies and other sensitive information owing to inadequate national safeguards and export controls.

This list makes it clear that Russia regards transnational networks based in states that seek nuclear capability and/or are outside the nonproliferation regime as particularly dangerous while leakage due to weakness of export control regimes is regarded as the least likely. It is possible that this view is rooted in widespread, albeit somewhat muted irritation in Russia with continuing accusations that its MPC&A and export control systems are inadequate. In contrast to that view, the White Paper consistently asserts, directly or indirectly, that Russian MPC&A and export control systems are adequate and efficient.

Threats and Challenges to Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Regimes

Proliferation of chemical and biological weapons receives little attention from the authors of the White Paper in comparison to nuclear proliferation, although the report regards their acquisition as easier than that of nuclear weapons. One possible reason for this attitude is the view that CBW are seen as of lesser interest to states (as noted above, the White Paper is primarily concerned about state-driven proliferation). Somewhat surprisingly, the White Paper considers the risk that biological weapons could be used in an interstate conflict as “real.” This view contradicts the widespread belief of the international expert community that military effectiveness of biological weapons is low and their use on battlefield is highly unlikely.

The document notes with concern that there is “no reliable evidence that [parties to the Convention on Biological and Toxin Weapons] have completely stopped research and development in the area of biological weapons.” It also criticizes the United States for blocking the development of a verification regime for the Convention. The attitude espoused in the White Paper might point at a fundamental change in the Russian attitude toward arms control: verification is apparently regarded as an integral part of a viable agreement (see also description of the Russian position on START I replacement below).

The document treats development of non-lethal chemical and biological weapons is a new proliferation risk. This statement represents one more criticism of the United States and other Western countries, which are recently devoting increasing attention to development of non-lethal weapons as potentially useful instruments in low-intensity conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Threats and Challenges to the Missile Technology Control Regime

The White Paper cites the absence of a legally binding regime as the key weakness of existing international efforts to prevent proliferation of missiles capable of delivering WMD and related technologies. The existing regimes—the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct—are regarded by the paper as insufficiently reliable. For many years Russia has sought to replace or augment them with a legally binding treaty on missile nonproliferation.

The document singles out two gaps in the existing regimes. First, it is difficult to prevent proliferant states from acquiring old-type missile systems, components, and technologies and then upgrading them for delivery of WMD. The other challenge is “secondary proliferation”-the transfer of missiles and technologies by states that acquired relevant technologies prior to the introduction of MTCR and are not parties to that regime.

This section also takes the opportunity to criticize US policy. It describes “US research plans for the creation of space weapons” as “a source of concern.” According to the White Paper, “these plans could provoke a number of states to acquire cheaper’ counterweapons, including WMD.” This statement reflects long-standing and deep-seated Russian opposition to both the ongoing deployment of missile defense systems by the United States and to the suspicion that this work will eventually lead to development of anti-satellite weapons as well as systems with the capability to strike targets on the surface of the Earth from space.

The section on missile proliferation prompted media attention and controversy by openly branding Ukraine as a “violator” of MTCR. In his public statement, Sergey Ivanov noted the sale of long-range cruise missiles to Iran and China by Ukraine, which he characterized as “the gravest violation of the missile technology control regime, of which Ukraine is a member.” The stab at Ukraine appears politically motivated and caused primarily by the poor state of the Russian-Ukrainian relations.

This accusation caused uproar in Ukraine. In a special statement on June 30 (the evening of the day when Sergey Ivanov made his presentation), the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine declared that the allegations were intended to “create an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicions toward Ukraine in the run-up to the summit of G-8 in the territory of the Russian Federation” and explained that the case did not involve officially sanctioned export operation, but involved unauthorized exports of missiles. These cases were later discovered by Ukrainian authorities, the Foreign Ministry continued, a number of the perpetrators were arrested and convicted, and subsequently Ukraine gave exhaustive explanations at a plenary meeting of MTCR.

According to official Ukrainian sources, the illegal transfer of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) took place in 2000 and 2001. The cases were discovered by the Security Service of Ukraine (Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Ukrainy, or SBU) in 2004. Details of the case were revealed by the office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine in 2005.In 2000, according to the SBU, a citizen of Russia, Oleg Orlov, using the services of a Ukrainian citizen Vladimir Yevdokimov, director general of a company UrkAviaZakaz and a former official of the SBU, transferred six ACLMs to China using forged export certificates. The certificates indicated that the transfer was intended for Russia. Orlov was detained in Czech Republic in 2004 and extradited to Ukraine. Yevdokimov, was sentenced to six year prison term by a court in Kyiv in 2005.

The other case took place in 2001. Valeri Malev, a citizen of Ukraine and a formerly director of UrkSpetsExport, together with a citizen of Australia Heider Sarfraz transferred six missiles and a set of equipment for ALCMs check-up (KNO-120) to Iran, also using forged documents. Both were subsequently killed in road accidents: Malev in 2002 and Sarfraz in 2004.

Upgrading WMD Nonproliferation Regimes

Among the White Paper’s rather traditional list of possible ways to strengthen WMD nonproliferation regimes, two proposals deserve special attention-those related to export control and international cooperation.

The White Paper regards national systems of export control as the key barrier to proliferation of WMD and delivery systems. It assesses the Russian export control system as “reliable and mature” and boasts about its achievements. In the last several years, it claims, Russian authorities have launched more than 60 criminal investigations of illicit export of controlled materials and technologies and “terminated the activities” of more than 30 foreign citizens and companies that attempted to smuggle WMD-related products and technologies from Russia. The choice of examples is rather interesting and is probably politically loaded: all examples involved illicit exports intended for the Iranian and the Pakistani nuclear and missile programs. The perpetrators in these cases were US, Pakistani, and Iranian citizens and companies. Interestingly, the White Paper is silent about attempted exports to China, even though there have been numerous recent cases involving alleged attempts to transfer sensitive technologies and equipment from Russia to China.

The White Paper offers only one path for further improvement of the Russian export control system-closer interaction with other countries, first and foremost with former Soviet states within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty (also known as Tashkent Treaty), the Eurasian Economic Community, and the Common Economic Space. These organizations have overlapping membership, but none includes the Baltic states, Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia. As noted above Ukraine is, instead, accused in the White Paper of violating the MTCR.

According to the White Paper, the first task in export control cooperation with post-Soviet states is “harmonization” of national export control legislation-setting a single standard for control lists, procedures, and sanctions for violation. The White Paper notes that Russia has recently introduced, within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community and the Common Economic Space, a prototype, or “standardized,” document that sets out key elements of national export control legislation.

Although a degree of unification of national export control systems is certainly desirable, two elements of that approach raise questions. First, it is far from obvious that the Russian system should be taken as a benchmark for the post-Soviet space. One could argue, for example, that the Kazakh system of export control is simpler, more streamlined, and business-friendly than that of Russia. Second, some post-Soviet states-as well as all developed countries-are effectively left outside this policy.

The White Paper also emphasizes that “multilateral export control regimes should not be used for the purposes gaining illegal competitive advantages or for squeezing competitors out of arms and high-technology markets.” This provision refers to the widespread perception in Russia that the United States-and sometimes also US allies-use WMD nonproliferation as a pretext to limit the access of Russian high-technology companies to international markets. The best known example of this perception is the belief that US opposition to Russian construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station in Iran was motivated not by nonproliferation concerns, but by the desire of US firms to eliminate the Russian nuclear industry from competing effectively in the international market for nuclear power reactors.

At the same time as the White Paper criticizes many aspects of US policy, it also gives a somewhat unexpectedly full endorsement to some US initiatives, hinting at readiness for full-scale cooperation with the United States. In particular, the authors of the document single out for praise the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) proposed by the United States in 2003. This positive assessment of PSI is remarkable considering the originally serious Russian reservations about the legality of intercepting illegal WMD-related transfers on the high seas and Moscow’s initial reluctance to join the initiative. The attitude toward PSI has apparently fundamentally changed, and not just in words. The White Paper hints at Russia’s desire to further expand cooperation with the United States in the implementation of PSI. According to the paper, Russia plans to employ an international interdiction force in the Black Sea (BLACKSEAFOR), which consists of regional states, and seeks to create a similar force in the Caspian Sea.

The White Paper spends considerable time discussing and promoting the January 2006 Russian proposal about international cooperation in peaceful nuclear energy, which provided for the establishment of international uranium enrichment centers under the auspices of the IAEA. The report also proclaims the need to develop tougher criteria to control the transfer of uranium enrichment technologies and positively mentions efforts in that area by the G-8. Return of Soviet-origin highly enriched uranium fuel from research reactors in countries of the former Soviet bloc was also mentioned favorably.

Disarmament (NPT Article VI) Activities

The report repeats the key provisions of the Russian position on disarmament presented at the NPT Review Conference in 2005 and at other similar fora, but two elements deserve special mention.

First, the report explicitly addresses the question of the future of the START I Treaty, which expires in December 2009. It somewhat enigmatically admits that “the US and the Russian parties have different problems related to the implementation of START I and of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty within the required timeframe; these problems require a coordinated solution.” The meaning of that statement became clearer a few days later when Vladimir Putin proposed that the United States and Russia begin negotiations on the replacement of START I with a new treaty. Clearly, the idea about replacing rather than extending START I had been discussed within the interagency framework for quite some time and reflects a common position of the military and the defense industry. One specific complaint was disclosed by Sergey Ivanov during the presentation of the White Paper: the absence of a verification system for the Moscow Treaty. Further negotiations to establish a data exchange and verification measures were expected at the time the treaty was signed, but none have been developed.

The other interesting element is the mention of reductions of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). The White Paper notes that Russia had reduced its TNW arsenal three quarters compared to the Soviet period, but fails to even mention the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs). The original Russian implementation date for PNIs was 2000; then it was extended to 2004 under the condition of adequate international assistance; more recently Russian officials changed the approach to this issue completely insisting that PNIs did not represent political obligations and thus Russia was not obligated to complete implementation by a set date. Now, it seems, PNIs are simply no longer mentioned at all.


The release of the White Paper on Nonproliferation is a new and welcome development in Russian nonproliferation policy. In spite of multiple hints at disagreements with the United States, the new publication makes it clear that the Russian government is prepared to closely work with the United States and other developed countries to prevent the spread of WMD and their delivery systems. This prospect is especially welcome in a period of crisis of the nonproliferation regime, which has to cope with multiple challenges, such as international terrorism, the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, the stalled negotiations on nuclear and biological weapons, etc. The White Paper clearly indicates many areas where the interests and policies of Russia and the West overlap, match, or even coincide. Joint work in these areas can help sustain and strengthen the international regimes that prevent proliferation of the deadliest weapons in human history.

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