Enhanced National Security through International Research Collaborations
NATIONAL security today requires broad and effective engagement in the international arena. Many forums are available for such interaction, including formal participation in the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), diplomatic interchanges with other countries, collaborative work with Russia to secure Soviet-legacy nuclear materials, and even science and technology collaborations with regions or countries of strategic concern to the U.S.
Myriad drivers push countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and many countries where proliferation or terrorism is of concern to the U.S. are located in regions of long-standing instability or political tensions, such as the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the Caucasus. A difficult but important challenge in these regions is to establish avenues of communication between adversaries.
As we found when the first U.S.–Russia lab-to-lab interchanges were started, science and technology cooperation is an effective way to establish trust and respect. From these initial efforts has grown a $1-billion-per-year suite of collaborative U.S.–Russian activities in nuclear material protection, fissile material disposition, counter-nuclear smuggling, and weapons complex downsizing. These activities form the critical “front end” of this nation’s nonproliferation strategy.
Similarly, it is in this nation’s best interests to help defuse the tensions that destabilize regions and contribute to countries’ motivations to acquire WMD. As with Russia, science and technology cooperation is offering opportunities toward this end, and Lawrence Livermore is a key participant in these efforts. We are leveraging our acknowledged expertise in seismology and nuclear materials to address transboundary issues of critical importance to these regions of concern. As described in the article Building Networks of Trust through Collaborative Science, we are using collaborative projects on seismic safety and water resources to bring together scientists and government officials from these regions to share data, conduct joint analyses, and develop mutual response plans.
For example, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan inherited a problematic radioactive legacy from the Soviet Union—uranium mine tailings that threaten to contaminate one of the region’s main water sources and its prime agricultural resource. This region is a historically unstable and densely populated area, with high unemployment and increasing religious extremism. The Laboratory has cosponsored workshops to assess the situation and collaborated with regional experts to propose methods for securing the mine tailings and preventing catastrophic contamination. Livermore researchers are also working with large international donors to execute those plans. One remarkable achievement has been the adoption of the Laboratory’s approach by the regional and international community and its application to other Soviet uranium legacy issues in Central Asia.
Other activities are under way in the Middle East and North Africa, using cooperation in seismology and WMD terrorism prevention as a means of opening dialogue and building trust among scientists and decision makers from long-standing adversarial countries. Most recently, following Libya’s December 2003 renunciation of its WMD programs, Livermore scientists began participating in international cooperative efforts to redirect Libyan scientists to peaceful uses of their scientific and technological expertise. Livermore is also working with the IAEA to help ensure the safe and secure operation of Libya’s research reactor.
This somewhat unconventional application of the Laboratory’s science and technology capabilities in the international arena has successfully built alliances and cooperation where few previously existed. Bit by bit, these projects help reduce regional tensions, thus addressing one root cause of proliferation and terrorism. They also help to enhance our nation’s influence in critical regions of the world. By serving as a neutral interface among the scientific and policy communities, foreign and domestic organizations, and people from different countries and of diverse social status, Lawrence Livermore is making significant contributions to regional, global, and national security.