Illicit Nuclear Trafficking & the New Agenda

by Vladimir A. Orlov

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The Group of Eight countries (G-8) has become an increasingly important forum for discussing WMD proliferation, notably its prevention and measures aimed at cooperative threat reduction in different regions of the globe, starting with the former Soviet Union. In June 2003, the G-8 launched a Global Partnership Program Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. Since then, cooperative approaches towards proliferation prevention have demonstrated their efficiency, though much more work must be done.

The Threats of Illicit Nuclear Trafficking

The last decade of the 20th century put on the agenda new non-traditional threats to the international regime of nuclear non-proliferation. Among the most serious are illicit trafficking in nuclear material and nuclear terrorism. The emergence of these threats, which are no longer hypothetical but real, were magnified by the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

The threats are determined by similar factors. In the 1960s and later, development of nuclear explosive devices required titanic efforts of an entire State and it was a large-scale and expensive program. Nowadays it is much easier due to scientific and technological progress and more widely spread knowledge and technology.

Political shifts in the post-Cold War world also play a role. Small but ambitious States find it more difficult to achieve their foreign policy objectives, since they can not as easily play one superpower off another. Additionally, as the superpowers have loosened control over regional conflicts, belligerents have more temptation to gain added military and political trumps, e.g. with acquisition of WMD. Finally, in most cases, national governments have become less radical and, hence, some groups and political activists try to pursue their goals independently and not through established power institutions.

Other reasons for illicit nuclear trafficking and nuclear terrorism are:

The difficulties in adequately responding to such non-traditional challenges are not a headache for one State but for all States, and especially those that possess and must control nuclear weapons or complex nuclear enterprises. At the same time, it is obvious that the risk of illicit nuclear trafficking and unauthorized access to weapons-usable nuclear materials or nuclear weapons with terrorist purposes is considerably high in two States, namely the United States and Russia. They possess the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials, sensitive from the standpoint of non-proliferation, and they are engaged in a dynamic process of nuclear arms reduction.

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