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Russian Roulette

Matt Stone
By Matt Stone
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 17, 2005
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One thing that has become readily obvious in the past week: We have reason for hope. I ended my last column with a rather open-ended plea - "It's time to get serious" - but we can be thankful that getting serious is what the world is doing, albeit at a pace that still invites destruction.

In 2001, Ted Turner and former Sen. Sam Nunn put forward a vision - a vision of a world without the fear of nuclear annihilation wrought by a single individual. They brought forward the fears no one wanted to acknowledge, but they also offered the world a future worth creating. And the world caught on: Two weeks ago, the Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, for its work in preventing nuclear proliferation.

The day before the announcement, ElBaradei could be found at the Nuclear Threat Initiative Board of Directors meeting delivering remarks that reiterated the grave threat we still face from nuclear proliferation, especially nukes in the hands of terrorists.

Not a bad coincidence, indeed.

We still need more Sam Nunns, Ted Turners and Mohamed ElBaradeis in this world. But in the meantime, we'll have to exploit every opportunity that presents itself. History has been so kind as to offer us one such opportunity right now.

In January, Russia will assume the presidency of the G-8 - a collection of the world's most vibrant and influential capitalist-democratic nations. Russia is not exactly wholly capitalist nor democratic, but its influence is always palpable.

In July, the leaders of the G-8 nations will gather in St. Petersburg, Russia, to discuss the issues of the day. In 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair chose to focus on global warming and debt relief for the world's poorest countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen to focus on energy security.

This is as golden an opportunity as they come.

For the nuclear nonproliferation regime, Russia is the critical linchpin. With the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, economic ties with Iran, historical ties with North Korea and as much to gain from the eradication of terrorism as the U.S., Russia offers the world a partner of no equal in maintaining a stable nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Expect "energy security" to move very quickly from what to do about those "outrageously" high oil prices (George, sport utility vehicle fuel efficiency standards would be good, nyet?) to ensuring that energy itself isn't manipulated for malevolent purposes.

This is a conversation we can have, because we have a track record. Under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program enacted in 1991, weapons-grade uranium from Russian nuclear weapons is "blended-down" to a non-threatening level and sold to the U.S. to be used in our civilian nuclear power plants. Today, 10 percent of all domestic electricity production in America is powered by former nuclear weapons.

Think about it: One out of every 10 lightbulbs is powered by a former Soviet nuclear weapon. Once pointed at Tucson; now powering Tucson. That's a good deal.

Know what else is a good deal? President Bush dusting off the Clinton playbook for the recent détente with North Korea. President Bush is realizing he can't afford to "lose Russia" in negotiations with North Korea or resolving the Iranian crisis. "Losing Russia" is the very thing he bashed the Clinton administration - and subsequently, Al Gore - for in the 2000 election campaign.

For the G-8 summit to be successful on the score of energy security, America needs to be ready to give up some unhealthy red lines in its negotiations.

America needs to be ready to accept the permanence of the Russian-built Bushehr reactor in Iran as long as Russia promises that all spent nuclear fuel, which is of utmost proliferation concern, is returned to Russia. America needs to be ready to renegotiate with Russia about liability concerns in disarmament arrangements. America needs to be ready to accept the IAEA and its Nobel-laureate head, Mr. ElBaradei, as a legitimate and necessary player in any final Iran and North Korea agreements.

Above all, America needs to be ready to accept that it can't do everything by its lonesome. Recent developments suggest that this is finally being understood, and that is a reason for hope indeed.

Matt Stone is a junior majoring in international studies and economics. He is covering the Nuclear Threat Initiative Board of Directors meeting in Moscow. He can be reached at

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