Nonproliferation
Commentary

Innovating For Success: Stimson’s History Of Nonproliferation Pragmatism

in Program

Twenty-five years ago, the shape of modern international relations was fundamentally transformed with a wave of revolutions that swept across the Eastern bloc. Beginning in Poland that summer, and culminating with the opening of the Berlin Wall by November, and the collapse of the Soviet Union a month later, Western policymakers struggled to keep pace with a rapidly evolving security environment. Nowhere was this anxiety more evident than in efforts to manage the post-Soviet WMD complex. By the early 1990s, Russia and its former Soviet neighbors were left to deal with the legacy of massive nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs with a vastly diminished resource base. The temptation to surreptitiously divert materials from within the weapons complexes for profit led to new fears of an incipient black market in the FSU with the potential to arm states and terrorists alike with dangerous weapons.

In response, think tanks, including Stimson, played an important role in rethinking and redefining international approaches to the nonproliferation of weapons materials, technologies and know-how. A concerted move from technology denial to cooperative action was born, with the most obvious manifestation emerging in the form of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs. Inspired initially by academia, the programs have grown dramatically over the past quarter century, becoming on a dollar-for-dollar basis, the most cost effective national security investment in history. Stimson’s work to provide pragmatic fixes to this growing program identified obstacles to effective implementation, yielding efforts that were more productive, more efficient, and ultimately less costly.

Today, the international community is witnessing a similar tectonic shift that while less visible, is no less dramatic, with potentially sweeping implications for proliferation and global security more generally. Although the future is always more scary than the past, and the barrage of apocalyptic prognostications regarding proliferation has grown unabated since the dawn of the nuclear age, by the 1990s an array of powerful economic and political forces converged to revolutionize the global security environment. Globalization began pushing dual-use knowledge and equipment into more hands in more countries than ever before, expanding and accelerating the pace of trans-shipment and financial transactions. These trends were fostered by a dramatic spike in foreign direct investment, enhancements in global trade, Cold War demobilization, globalized business practices, the worldwide spread of innovation and manufacturing capacities, and the accelerated movement and volume of goods and services transiting the world. Today, proliferation can be facilitated as easily in Nigeria as in the Netherlands, and as unwittingly by Mitsubishi as by a Ministry of Energy.

What is clear from this redrawn landscape is that a new approach to containing this mutating proliferation threat is needed every bit as much today as it was in 1989. For Stimson, this has meant the pragmatic engagement of two of the much neglected, least understood, yet most important points on the global proliferation supply chain: countries of the Global South, and private industry.

There can little doubt regarding the tangible benefits of globalization to the Global South: growing life expectancy and literacy rates, improved access to health care and education, and a remarkable pace of economic development. In the last five years alone, more than half a billion people have escaped the grinding poverty associated with living on less than $1.25 per day. But while development specialists celebrate these trends, even in dual-use sectors, innovation and manufacturing is occurring in the Global South, which has traditionally represented the widest regulatory vacuum. Due to a lack of experience with dual-use industrial or innovative competences, real capacity shortfalls in enforcement, or competing national priorities, many governments in the developing world have become fertile environments for proliferation activities. As such, the locus of the attention of committed proliferators has shifted decidedly southward, as evidenced even by recent incidents of diversion and transshipment. Lacking a defined strategy or even dedicated programming for these environments, Washington and other like-minded governments will continue to struggle to remain ahead of the proliferation curve. Since 2004, triggered by revelations of the AQ Khan network, Stimson has worked globally to redefine the importance of these hard security issues in the developing world. Partnering with donor governments, other international, regional and nongovernmental organizations, and with countries from Central America and the Caribbean to Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia, Stimson pioneered an innovative dual-benefit approach that sought to meet the nonproliferation obligations of UN Member States, while addressing simultaneously the array of higher priority human security and development challenges plaguing these governments. Once attractive avenues for proliferators, new threat reduction activities, border management strategies and capacity building efforts by donors, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, INTERPOL and others are being successfully and sustainably operated.

The comparatively diminished role for developed world governments is compounded further by the expanding role of industry—wittingly or otherwise—in the global proliferation supply chain. As is often quoted, in the 1960s nearly 70 percent of all the money flowing from the United States to the Global South was Official Development Assistance. Today over 80 percent is from private sources. The expanding pervasiveness of industry in developing countries has pushed the ability to innovate, manufacture, transship, underwrite or otherwise contribute to the development, production and fielding of a weapons of mass destruction to not only southward, but into more private hands than at any other point in our atomic history.

More often than not, neither these private actors, nor many of the developing and emerging nations within which they operate, sufficiently prioritize nonproliferation—and neither should they be expected to do so. Captains of industry are held to a very different metric by their investors and shareholders, while governments in the Global South struggle against a far more immediate array of challenges in comparison to the ethereal threat of WMD terrorism. Appeals to corporate social responsibility in the face of potential bankruptcy, or to global legal nonproliferation norms in the face of catastrophic health statistics or inadequate supplies of drinking water can do little to motivate our new nonproliferation partners. This reality demonstrates that the proliferation will likely grow unabated unless and until we leverage the same degree of innovation with which we met the end of the Cold War.  Stimson has brokered a new dialogue between these potential proliferation facilitators and government, building innovative new programming that leverages industry’s core motivations while yielding a clear social dividend: heightened attention to proliferation prevention by companies in the United States and subsidiaries around the globe.

The Stimson Center’s pragmatic engagement of these two constituencies appeals to their core interests converting them from targets of our enforcement actions to partners in a common cause. While not a panacea, by thinking and acting creatively, Stimson has helped to modernize our responses to the proliferation challenge while addressing the higher priority objectives of both industry and the Global South.

Photo credit: antaldaniel via flickr

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