I’ve been meaning to write more on the new START treaty and what its significance is in of itself, and, more broadly, what Republican opposition means for U.S. international relations.  This article on Libyan nuclear disarmament shows that U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation is really the only game in town, if you want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists:

In November 2009, six years after the government of Libya first agreed to disarm its nuclear weapons program, Libyan nuclear workers wheeled the last of their country’s highly enriched uranium out in front of the Tajoura nuclear facility, just east of Tripoli. U.S. and Russian officials overseeing Libya’s disarmament began preparations to ship this final batch of weapons-grade nuclear material to Russia, where it would be treated and destroyed.

The plan was to load the uranium onto a massive Russian cargo plane, one of the few in the world specially equipped to fly nuclear materials. On November 20, the day before the plane was to leave for a nuclear facility in Russia, Libyan officials unexpectedly halted the shipment. Without explanation, they declared that the uranium would not be permitted to leave Libya. They left the seven five-ton casks out in the open and under light guard, vulnerable to theft by the al-Qaeda factions that still operate in the region or by any rogue government that learned of their presence.

For one month and one day, U.S. and Russian diplomats negotiated with Libya for the uranium to be released and flown out of the country. At the same time, engineers from both countries worked to secure the nuclear material from theft or leakage, two serious dangers that became more likely the longer the casks sat exposed. On December 21, Libya finally allowed a Russian plane to remove the casks, ending Libya’s nuclear weapons program and with it the low-grade game of nuclear blackmail they had been playing.

The month-long crisis, never revealed by the Obama administration or reported in the press, is recorded in U.S. State Department documents obtained by The Atlantic. Those documents tell the story of frantic diplomatic maneuvering as U.S. and Russian officials pushed Libyan leaders to honor their disarmament pledge. A person with access to the cables provided them to The Atlantic in order to publicize the dangers of loose nuclear materials under the control of unpredictable regimes in unstable countries.

The fact that Republicans seem to be willing to risk loose nukes due to lack of U.S. oversight and cooperation with Russia is astounding. It also shows how casual their disregard to U.S. national security interests is when their political interests differ from national ones.

Russian Interest in Bolivia’s Lithium Reserves

Russia is the latest player to show interest in the lithium fields in Bolivia. Under the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, sits the world’s largest reserves of lithium (approximately half of the world’s reserves.) Interest in lithium is based on expectations that it will become a key ingredient in electric car batteries. Russia’s team of experts is only the last group to express interest in the fields, including France’s Bolloré and Japan’s Sumitomo and Mitsubishi. But the Russian visit highlights an important aspect of international relations today: power vacuums get filled, and quickly at that.

In 2008 Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador, declaring him a persona non grata. The U.S. replied in turn by expelling the Bolivian ambassador from Washington. Bolivia officially expelled our ambassador for attempting to overthrow Evo Morales government, but was the capstone of steadily deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Bolivia throughout the Bush Administration.

With the collapse of U.S.-Bolivian relations, other players are stepping in to fill the void. During the boom years, Venezuela was a reliable patron state, and is a more unsteady one now (or until oil prices balloon again.) Russia and China have both increased diplomatic attention on Bolivia as well. The U.S. would benefit by opening up diplomatic relations again. Despite Bolivia’s continued dependence on the U.S. economy, with the Morales government’s focus on state control of resources, U.S. companies will not be able to compete with foreign firms without diplomatic support.

Update:

Today Los Tiempos is running an article on a statement from Russia’s ambassador, highlighting military assistance Moscow plans to provide Bolivia in the future.

Russian Interest in Bolivia’s Lithium Reserves