By Jennifer Engelhart
Professor and author of “Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise,” Sharon Weiner, spoke at the College on Thursday, Feb. 9 about the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the fate of its nuclear experts.
Weiner is a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. and is currently engaged with the Indian Army research program.
Weiner opened the forum by stating, “This is a serious story about a serious national security policy problem that the United States faced for 20 years.”
With the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, approximately 60,000 nuclear weapons scientists were left scattered amongst the colossal Soviet Union.
An astounding number of experts in a dangerous scientific field were out of work, a prospect that was seen to be very threatening to the U.S.’s safety. Pressure was mounted to assess the situation.
“The United States recognized that if we do not do anything, poverty stricken nuclear weapons specialists will sell their skills to other states,” Weiner explained.
With such an immense circumstance, the U.S. developed personal links with the Soviets to help find employment for these nuclear experts. The United States then proceeded to construct programs in the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the State Department to elicit work for these nuclear specialists. However, the result of such action was grim.
“Why did they fail to create jobs for these Russian scientists? After 20 years and close to a billion dollars, the number of jobs we created was less than 2,000,” she proclaimed.
The initial plan, which failed to prosper, was to create proper conversion for these scientists. This idea, theoretically a good plan, lacked triumph.
After much discussion dedicated to bureaucracy and nuclear proliferation, Weiner continued with a question and answer session for the forum attendees.
When asked about where these scientists are today she replied, “One became a butcher. A butcher shop isn’t a proper conversion project as deemed by the United States, and were therefore refused financial backing.”
Unfortunately, not all of the specialists found a life outside of nuclear weapons. Weiner explained the very strong possibility of former Soviet nuclear specialists working hand in hand with modern terrorists. It is likely that some are working with Iran now.
Weiner was asked if she is concerned with the possibility of the Russians working with terrorists. “I am not worried at all about the Russians,” she said. “However, the South Africans I find myself worried about. Pakistan concerns me and even North Korea.”