"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
The Global Partnership on WMD: A Work in Progress

Latest ACA Resources

Alan Heyes

The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction has recorded an impressive array of achievements since its inception at the 2002 summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries. In 2011, in Deauville, France, G-8 leaders agreed to extend the mandate of the Global Partnership for an indeterminate time but with a specific focus on reducing the global threat from nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons materials and expertise.

In 2012, under the chairmanship of the United States, the partnership took important steps to maintain the momentum of the initiative.[1] Nevertheless, this multilateral undertaking faces a number of challenges as it moves from a program largely focused on Russia to one with a global reach at a time when funding for threat reduction is declining and some partner countries still see a need to continue to support work in Russia.

There is a range of views among partnership countries on the approach that the group should take in the next decade. The description below of these views draws on interviews with senior officials during a recent evaluation of the program. According to the officials, two of the top priorities should be development of a portfolio of concrete projects that existing and potential new partners see value in supporting and continuation of efforts to convince existing and potential new partners of the benefits of participation. The partnership’s handling of these issues will be a crucial element of the United Kingdom’s 2013 chairmanship.


The September 11 terrorist attacks significantly exacerbated international concerns over the vulnerability of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological materials and expertise and the potential for their acquisition by terrorist groups seeking to launch mass-casualty attacks. At the 2002 G-8 summit at Kananaskis, Canada, the group’s leaders launched the Global Partnership, a 10-year initiative to address the threat posed by these materials and associated know-how.[2] Following the summit, more than 20 countries and the European Union[3] agreed to pledge some $20 billion to a 10-year effort to address the security and environmental threats these largely Cold War materials presented, with half of this funding coming from the United States. The initial focus of the program was the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons stocks and the dismantlement of 192 decommissioned nuclear submarines and their associated nuclear materials. The program also included substantial projects related to the disposal of fissile materials and the sustainable employment of former weapons scientists.

Although the policy framework to which the partnership members agreed at Kananaskis embraced a very broad range of activities, including nuclear disarmament, chemical weapons destruction, nuclear safety, and security of nuclear and radiological materials, it ended up focused on a fairly narrow set of objectives, with projects located in Russia and addressing specific Russian priorities. Very significant progress has been made in these areas, with the 192 decommissioned submarines dismantled and almost all of Russia’s 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons stocks expected to be destroyed in the next few years. The efforts of partnership countries also enhanced the security and safety of large quantities of nuclear and radiological material across the former Soviet Union.

A number of partnership countries also successfully provided funding and technical assistance to former Soviet countries for the retraining of roughly 90,000 former weapons scientists and the development of new business opportunities in communities where weapons production facilities formerly were the main employer. These are no mean achievements, given the very poor economic climate that existed in these communities by 2002 following the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade earlier.

Nevertheless, a 2011 evaluation of the Global Partnership led by the author argued that it had focused excessively on projects in Russia that were of marginal relevance to the most pressing security and proliferation concerns, which were global in scope.[4] A number of countries, particularly the United States, carried out a wide range of threat reduction projects in regions other than the former Soviet Union, but much of the funding available to the partnership went to projects in Russia.

After 10 years of pursuing a successful portfolio of projects focused largely but not exclusively on the former Soviet Union and spending around $22 billion,[5] the Global Partnership now is very much in a transitional phase. Its work in Russia and the other former Soviet states is seen as nearly completed by most partners, and there is strong desire by the current members of the partnership to use its framework to serve as a catalyst for encouraging others to support specific projects outside Russia and thus leverage further resources for global threat reduction.

In the partnership’s first decade, its efforts focused on a comparatively small number of large, high-cost projects that have been relatively easy to evaluate and have operated within a set legal and cultural structure. The next phase will involve a much larger portfolio of smaller, lower-cost projects, characterized in part by a wider range of legal and cultural frameworks. This transition represents a major challenge and will require an effective coordination mechanism. Many partner countries do not have the program management structure or technical expertise to support projects directly and therefore will need to piggyback on larger programs led by others. This approach was a very successful feature of a number of nuclear and chemical weapons destruction projects in Russia. The lessons learned in their management should prove invaluable in the next stage of the partnership’s work globally.

A number of countries that share a border with Russia, such as Norway and Sweden, still intend to continue supporting nuclear projects there for political and environmental reasons while supporting work further afield too. Global Partnership members certainly recognize the importance of working closely together to coordinate efforts to address regional threats from nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological materials. Because many partnership countries did not have the experience of implementing projects in the former Soviet Union, they might not have the necessary confidence to consider operating in a truly global context, even in partnership with other like-minded countries.

Officials involved with the partnership said they have seen some major achievements since 2002, particularly with regard to submarine dismantlement and chemical weapons destruction in Russia.[6] Most countries want to retain the partnership’s framework for wider threat reduction work for the coming decade. In spite of numerous rounds of meetings last year, however, the partner countries have yet to decide the precise nature of that work and the best way to coordinate its various elements.

Although the partnership remains an excellent forum for sharing lessons learned and coordinating and encouraging collaboration among the member countries, many of its projects have taken time to implement because of the need to reach agreement on the technical and legal aspects with the host country government, various state agencies, and contractors. Many threat reduction projects are complex and require careful construction to ensure their successful completion and their sustained success. Funding constraints for threat reduction work over the next few years underscore the importance of completing the analysis of key priorities for the post-2012 work program.

Post-2012 Opportunities

All the officials interviewed for this article said they believe that the Global Partnership plays a very positive role in enhancing coordination among its members on threat reduction activities. Many felt that the very fact that nonproliferation issues are addressed within several established international frameworks makes the partnership relevant as a forum to enhance coordination and collaboration among partnership countries and between the countries and international organizations.

A number of officials commented that the partnership could help prepare new UN Security Council resolutions in this area. They said they valued the 2012 decision to involve all partnership countries in all discussions rather than holding only one meeting a year in which all countries participated. Most interviewees said that it takes a considerable amount of time to implement and establish new projects and programs and that it was unrealistic to expect a rapid transition to a fully fledged and detailed program of global activities.

Because the partnership is an international group that makes decisions by consensus, it takes time to reconcile different approaches to threat reduction and different views on priorities. Some countries geographically close to Russia, such as Norway and Sweden, take the view that they will need to continue assisting Russia with its nuclear projects in northwestern Russia, while other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have now ended their substantial program of work there.

As one senior official from a G-8 country commented, in purist terms, there are no partnership projects. National and international organizations lead the projects, which are declared to the partnership members and so, to a degree, are coordinated within the partnership framework. The partnership tries to match these projects with funders and, where appropriate, technical expertise.

A few officials felt that the partnership was still trying to find a role for itself at the end of its first decade. Although they were able to articulate its value as a coordinating body, they expressed concern about how it could be made attractive to a wider membership without a clear vision of the benefits, especially as many countries already participate in key international threat reduction organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

One official even said the partnership was in a bit of an identity crisis and was “in danger of becoming just an advocacy group rather than a coordination body.” Another official questioned the value of creating new subgroups[7] aiming to address a number of threat reduction issues “when they are already in the remit of and suitably covered by well-established international bodies.” Although these might be seen as isolated comments from a few individuals, they do indicate the need to do a better job of communicating the undoubted, considerable benefits of the partnership and the challenges it faces. Yet, a number officials from international organizations welcomed a closer working relationship with the partnership.

Although strongly supporting a global approach, many emphasized that the limited resources available placed greater importance on the coordinating role of the partnership. A third official felt that it would prove difficult to pledge specific amounts of money for the next 10 years as Canada and the United States had done and as many of the partnership countries had done for the first decade, rather than making contributions on a voluntary or case-by-case basis. He said that having unilateral financial commitments could be counterproductive if the partnership wanted to attract additional partners, as some potential members might be deterred from joining if they thought they had to pledge specific amounts. A fourth official—who, like the others, is from a G-8 country—said the current stringent economic circumstances make it difficult for some partner countries to share additional resources with international organizations.

A good example here is the voluntary contributions being made to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund by a number of partner countries on top of their annual assessed contributions to the IAEA budget. Although most interviewees said the partnership should not be constrained in terms of the location of its activities, a few thought it should consider establishing some boundaries for its work, given the constraints on funding. Although a number of officials emphasized the importance of further clarifying the benefits of participation, one interviewee summed up the comments of many by highlighting the importance of having a “clear, coherent development plan.”

A few interviewees expressed disappointment that the partnership had not attracted more new members over the past few years, but most recognized that this takes time and that increased efforts had been made in 2012 under U.S. leadership. The U.S. and Canadian efforts made in 2012 are likely to lead to a number of new members, such as Mexico, participating in future projects.

A few interviewees recognized that it will be a complicated and time-consuming task to convince countries with more pressing social, economic, and environmental problems to participate, especially when they have limited resources to do so and see enhancing global security as being of little relevance to their current and long-term interests. Some officials responsible for implementing threat reduction programs said the partnership did not influence their own country’s work at all but that it was useful to find out what other countries were doing and, in particular, were planning to do in order to avoid duplication of effort.

This sentiment neatly reinforces the value of the partnership as an important coordinating framework. Indeed, most of those interviewed clearly value the partnership as a coordinating body because many of these officials also participate in various roles associated with international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the IAEA, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the World Health Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

These comments highlight the dichotomy in which the partnership finds itself at present. Although most participants believe it has been and is a very successful multilateral initiative bringing much-needed coordination to threat reduction, the road map for using the framework to address global threats has yet to be fully developed and implemented. Progress in involving new partners has been disappointing to some participating governments despite increased effort during the last year.

Despite the impatience of some, it takes a good deal of time to establish a robust and sustaining new framework for threat reduction work, especially one that has a global reach and is trying to move away from a 10-year focus on Russia. It should not be forgotten that some partner countries took three to four years to establish their programs for projects in Russia. Convincing new members of the benefits of joining takes time, especially when a fully formed project portfolio has yet to be realized and the potential new partners already are members of many of the international organizations that work on threat reduction.

This year, the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to build on the comprehensive discussion and analysis conducted by the United States in 2012 to oversee the establishment of new subgroups on chemical security and nuclear and radiological materials security. These subgroups are vital parts of the new partnership framework because they will be used to help identify project priorities and then oversee implementation of projects on the ground.

The United Kingdom must continue to communicate effectively the agreed objectives of the partnership and the benefits and achievements of its threat reduction work. It must ensure that the partnership takes advantage of opportunities to work productively with the 1540 Committee, a UN body established to assist states in implementing Security Council Resolution 1540 regarding the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).[8]

As a key part of its strategy for its chairmanship, British officials said they aimed to use the partnership to complete the analysis of priorities and match available financial and technical resources to projects that can be implemented on the ground. A number of officials emphasized the importance of the partnership in identifying concrete projects in which their countries could participate so as to make a visible statement of the new direction of the partnership. Some of these projects may be collaborative projects involving several partners, while others may require only technical assistance or funding from one partner.

The British officials indicated that the United Kingdom will follow the U.S. example of involving all partnership countries in all discussions and will continue work designed to demonstrate to potential new partners the value of their participation. A good example would be raising awareness of the importance of a robust nuclear security regime in states considering new nuclear power generation. Partner countries have a significant expertise in nuclear security; promoting best practices though future partnership training and education programs is an activity that would fit very comfortably under the partnership’s new mandate. The growing number of nuclear security training and education centers being established around the world offer considerable potential for use by the partnership to promote its expertise on nuclear security.[9]

A few partnership countries, such as the United States and Canada, as well as the European Union, which is member of the partnership in its own right, already have sizable threat reduction programs that have been established unilaterally and were working globally well before 2002. The big challenges for the partnership as it enters its second decade will be to demonstrate that its projects can strengthen the security of WMD materials and associated expertise, improve the coordination of these separate programs, and leverage further resources for threat reduction by catalyzing support for specific partnership projects with additional funding and expertise from partners who do not maintain individual programs. Maintaining the momentum created in 2012 will require considerable effort directed at persuading all existing partners to continue to support projects to meet agreed priorities and persuading new partners to join and contribute funding and technical expertise.


The interviews indicate a strong consensus among officials involved in implementing the Global Partnership that it is a hugely important coordinating framework that will remain essential as it moves to address global threats under the budget constraints facing all partners. The concerns about funding expressed by some, although understandable, do not fully take into account the change in nature and scope of future projects or the possibility that requiring unilateral financial commitments could put off new members.

The combination of a pragmatic approach, such as the one to which the partners agreed in Deauville, and a portfolio of high-quality, well-considered projects with clear objectives is much more likely to attract concrete support over the long term. Many projects are likely to have a strong training and educational focus and to be less costly than the multimillion-dollar projects that characterized the earlier work in Russia on submarine dismantlement and chemical weapons destruction. Many projects, including those supporting 1540 Committee priorities, will require access to expertise as much as direct funding. In 2012 the partnership made good progress in terms of expanding its pool of expertise by establishing closer ties with international threat reduction organizations and improving its internal coordination. No one doubts there is still a great deal to do, but the commitment of G-8 leaders to maintaining the partnership provides some confidence that the next decade should see continued effective coordination of global threat reduction work.

The key issue that remains to be addressed this year is identifying a new portfolio of projects, with the partnership acting as a catalyst for encouraging existing partnership countries and potential new ones to support specific projects and thus leverage further resources for global threat reduction. This is a major challenge that can be met, given the decision G-8 leaders already have made to extend the partnership.


Alan Heyes, a specialist in nuclear security issues, is a senior visiting research fellow at the Centre for Science and Security Studies in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Until the end of September 2008, he was a program director for the United Kingdom’s Global Threat Reduction Programme, managing projects in the former Soviet Union dealing with nuclear nonproliferation, security, and safety.





1. Kelsey Davenport, “Global Partnership Revamped in 2012,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2013.

2. Government of Canada, “Statement by G8 Leaders,” December 3, 2008, http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/g8/summit-sommet/2002/global_partnership-partenariat_mondial.aspx?lang=eng.

3. Countries and organizations that have contributed funding to Global Partnership projects since 2002 are Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a U.S. nongovernmental organization, have also contributed funding to partnership projects. The EU is a partner of the Global Partnership in its own right as a member of the Group of Eight. The EU’s substantial threat reduction programs form part of the “Instrument of Stability.” See European Parliament and European Council, Regulation No. 1717/2006 establishing the Instrument of Stability, Official Journal of the European Union, L 327/1, November 24, 2006. The EU also has supported a wide range of threat reduction work through a number of separate council actions, notably with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). See IAEA and the EU, “IAEA-EU Joint Action: Partnership in Improving Nuclear Security,” December 2011, http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/NuclearSecurity/nseu1211.pdf. For a full list of the partnership projects funded by each member country, see Global Partnership Working Group, “Consolidated Report Data 2011: Annex,” n.d., http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/183039.pdf.

4. Alan Heyes, Wyn Q. Bowen, and Hugh Chalmers, “The Global Partnership Against WMD: Success and Shortcomings of G8 Threat Reduction Since 9/11,” Whitehall Paper, No. 76 (2011).

5. “Controlling Proliferation: An Interview With Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman,” Arms Control Today, May 2012.

6. The research for this article included interviews with some 30 officials from governments and international organizations involved with the Global Partnership who agreed to provide their comments on the basis of anonymity.

7. The Global Partnership is establishing a number of subgroups to help improve coordination and establish new projects. These include subgroups on biosecurity, nuclear training and education centers, chemical security, and nuclear and radiological security. The biosecurity subgroup has already identified two important biosecurity projects, which are expected to attract funding from a number of partnership countries.

8. For the text of the resolution, see Security Council, S/RES/1540, April 28, 2004. For information on the 1540 Committee, see http://www.un.org/en/sc/1540/.

9. Alan Heyes, “An Assessment of the Nuclear Security Centres of Excellence,” Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Brief, May 2012, http://www.stanleyfoundation.org/publications/pab/AlanHeyesPAB512.pdf.