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Will Refine Uranium Hexafluoride For Food

"Did you get the license plate number on that proton beam?"

Without international assistance, will Russian nuclear scientists AGAIN be reduced to sticking their heads in particle accelerators for the amusement of passers-by?

David Hoffman at ForeignPolicy.com reports that last month month, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree for the Russian government to withdraw from the International Science and Technology Center, a Moscow-based center to help Soviet cold war engineers and scientists transition from a weapons economy to civilian projects.


With the involvement of the EU, Japan, Russian and the US, and later Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyszstan, Norway, South Korea, Tajikistan and Canada, the ISTC has been one of the most successful post-Cold War programs to have helped prevent the proliferation of WMD expertise. While Medvedev gave no reason for pulling out, Hoffman observes that:

Russia may argue that nearly two decades later, it can afford to pay its own scientists without western grants, and there is some truth to this…

At the same time, I worry that Medvedev’s decree could disrupt what has been an important bridge between Russia and the other countries. Many of the laboratories and design bureaus which had developed Cold War weaponry were left adrift and vulnerable when the Soviet Union collapsed. The scientists had accumulated valuable knowledge that could not easily be converted into civilian work. The ISTC made grants to redirect them to other projects, including cooperation with Western scientists and organizations. It was a bulwark against proliferation of weapons know-how and technology.

Meanwhile, the CIA is establishing a “center” to deal with intelligence on the spread of weapons of mass destruction, separate from the National Counterproliferation Center managed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The details are so unbelievably vague as to make me wonder if they even know what they’re looking for. But then…I just keep telling myself “They’re the government, right? They know what they’re doing.”


But while I’m not as hawkish as my “Terrorists Abound! We’re All Gonna Die!” colleagues, it seems fairly obvious that whether Saddam Hussein is around to shop for yellowcake uranium and nuclear technology or not, somebody sure as hell is. And the good news? The paranoid right-wing in the United States has no idea who they are. The bad news? The paranoid right-wing in the United States has no idea who they are. In fact, the Heritage Foundation — more on them later — seems to be working on a 1992-era model of hysteria, in which rogue states buy Soviet technology.

But wait…I thought I was supposed to take off my shoes.

Much as I agree with Hoffman’s closing that:

Let’s hope that if Russia is turning out the lights on the ISTC that the former scientists of the Cold War continue to find fulfilling work on civilian projects, and get paid for it. Russia is a country of immense human capital and those minds are a terrible thing to waste.

…when it comes to Russia, “hoping for the best” is quite possibly the worst idea ever. And I’m far from convinced that my fellow Americans have the faintest understanding of that.

Case in point: The right-wing Heritage Foundation presents a laughable graph in an article two days ago asserting that the number of nuclear powers is growing quickly while the U.S. arsenal shrinks; a graph hardly seems necessary when the increase since the late ’60s is from 6 to 9, but why use logic when you can use a GRAPH? (Incidentally, the graph also completely ignores South Africa — the only non-former-Soviet nation to have ever had nuclear weapons and then voluntarily given them up), probably because everyone knows they’ve got the weapons that really matter.

It seems pretty clear what we’ll be able to expect from the American Right if Russian scientists start showing up in odd places: the more paranoid Americans get, the more money can be generated for American oligarchs through a new arms race, especially if the War on Terror and the War on Drugs are 100% privatized, not to mention disaster relief, all of which should allow us to finally get rid of all those pesky problems with military command structure, honor, discipline, training, etc. etc. etc. that always seem to put the brakes on our good-ole-boy fun.

But wait! Won’t the U.S. having way more nukes result in a secure-er globe?

Yes!! Absolutely! Because there’s nothing a man with one nuclear weapon (or, God help us all, a woman) fears more than two world powers at each others’ throats, private and essentially unregulated companies terrorizing worldwide populations, and political opportunists who half-hope somebody nukes Tel Aviv so we can start the end-times fandango. Right?

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