Russian Nuclear Regionalism: Emerging Local Influences over Far Eastern Facilities

Russian Nuclear Regionalism
Emerging Local Influences over Far Eastern Facilities

by James Clay Moltz
December 1, 2000

Russia’s simultaneous political pluralization and economic decline in the past decade pose a serious risk to the many nuclear facilities located in the Far Eastern region.

The simultaneous processes of political pluralization and economic decline that have characterized Russia since the late 1980s have weakened or ended central controls over a large range of economic, political, and defense enterprises for which Moscow was once responsible. As the old system of state ownership, communist party oversight, and central planning has collapsed, a confused mixture of private, semi–private, and remaining state–owned enterprises has emerged. These actors face new and often conflicting federal, regional, and local political regulations and must also deal with the rise of local criminal organizations. For those still under the authority of the central ministries, Moscow’s failure to deliver promised support to regional sub–units means that they must find new sources of funding. This emerging environment affects both civilian and military enterprises, as well as active–duty units of the Russian military. In these conditions it is not surprising that various forms of “regionalism” have taken root, often without Moscow’s control or approval.

Within this complex picture, no area is of greater concern than the status of nuclear enterprises—both civilian and military—located in Russia’s periphery. New evidence of regionalism raises a broader set of concerns related to the center’s ability to conduct an effective foreign policy. As former Senator Sam Nunn and Adam Stulberg write in a recent Foreign Affairs article, “Unchecked regionalism and the spontaneous privatization of the Russian military jeopardize control and other security arrangements, holding them hostage to the parochial concerns of local authorities….” [1] Thus, regionalism is creating conditions where nuclear safety and even arms control arrangements may be seriously threatened. Former British diplomat Martin Nicholson characterizes the impact of these unique changes in center–periphery power relations within a nuclear weapons state by saying: “The central government cannot … implement treaties governing the destruction of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) without regional cooperation.” [2] This type of local influence over nuclear decisionmaking creates new and historically unprecedented problems. However, no systematic study exists, either positive or negative, on the possible net effects of the devolution of central authority over fissile material and nuclear–related technologies. The reason for this gap in current scholarship is that, to date, no other nuclear weapons state has suffered from the kind of economic meltdown and extreme political transformation that has characterized Russia in the past decade.

Conceptually speaking, certain types of regionalism might be expected to have a positive effect on nuclear controls (for example, local efforts…

[1] Sam Nunn and Adam Stulberg, “The Many Faces of Modern Russia,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 79, no. 2 (March/April 2000), p. 47.

[1] Martin Nicholson, “Towards a Russia of the Regions,” Adelphi Paper 330 (September 1999), p.63.