Commentary

Public Programs, Private Opportunities in the FSU

in Program

By Alex Reed – Throughout the Cold War,
the Soviet Union pressed their best scientific minds into a massive
program to design and build nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Thousands of former Soviet scientists, engineers, and technicians with
expert knowledge of these weapons of mass destruction and their delivery
systems remain available for recruitment by terrorist groups and rogue
states. Despite the successes of the Nunn-Lugar programs aimed at
reducing the threat posed by the former Soviet weapons complex, the
“human challenge” is proving to be a growth industry as witnessed in
Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and elsewhere around the globe. In order to solve
the problem in a sustainable manner, US programs aimed at redirecting
these specialists to peaceful pursuits must be reformulated to promote
greater involvement of the private sector.

From the outset of
efforts in the mid-90s to engage weapons specialists in the FSU, US
government programming has focused on locking the target community in
place in its erstwhile weapons facilities and placing the individuals on
science welfare where their whereabouts and activities can be
monitored. Individual scientists are awarded temporary grants to conduct
research of little commercial value. When these grants finish, the
scientists return to being under- or unemployed, negating the
short-lived redirection benefits. In order to make redirection to
peaceful, civilian employment sustainable, the US needs to do more to
bring private companies in as partners to these critical national
security efforts. Many US companies have already found tremendous value
in the scientific capacities resident in the FSU, and if provided the
appropriate incentives, could serve as permanent employers of these
scientists, engineers, and technicians. Only by pulling the WMD
personnel out of their institutes and into commercial jobs can the human
element of the proliferation threat be addressed in a sustainable
fashion.

Any US program aiming to reduce the threat of
proliferating WMD expertise will have to be selective in the companies
it engages. Most US companies are unaware of government nonproliferation
programs that provide a gateway to low-cost, high-quality FSU science
and engineering, so an enhanced recruiting effort is clearly needed.
However, a flood of private companies using government funds to scope
out the available expertise in the FSU will be a waste of taxpayer
dollars. Any recruiting strategy will have to be paired with a
systematic survey of the available expertise within FSU weapons
institutes.

With a list of companies with specific, market-based
reasons for acquiring FSU expertise and an accompanying “grocery list”
of FSU expertise, US Government programs can effectively pair companies
with the requisite FSU personnel. Additional incentives such as salary
cost-sharing and protection within the still-risky FSU business
environment (as it politically infeasible to systematically import the
FSU’s best scientists) will help to persuade companies that would
otherwise remain on the fence. These changes, while complex and
time-consuming, would greatly enhance the sustainability of US redirect
programs. Getting the model right in the former Soviet Union will pay
national security dividends globally as the world is faced with a rising
tide of states and sub-state actors intent on building an offensive
weapons capacity. If the political will exists, the US Government is
capable of making improvements in the race to secure WMD expertise.

For more information, see: Frederick P. Kellett, , USIC and the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention: A Survey of Companies Doing Business in the Former Soviet Union.


Alex Reed is a Research Assistant with the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program at the Stimson Center

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