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Dr. Victor E. Alessi

President and CEO, United States Industry Coalition

Dr. Victor E. Alessi is Chief Executive Officer and President of the United States Industry Coalition, an organization dedicated to facilitating the commercialization of technologies of the New Independent States through cooperation with its members. Previously, he was President of DynMeridian, a subsidiary of DynCorp, specializing in arms control, nonproliferation, and international security affairs. Before joining DynMeridian in 1996, Dr. Alessi was the Executive Assistant to the Director, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Dr. Alessi served as Director of the Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation in the Department of Energy prior to his work at ACDA.

Nonproliferation: The Role of the National Labs and the Initiative for Proliferation Prevention

"The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the largest proliferation threat ever faced by our country," Dr. Victor Alessi, President and CEO of the United States Industry Coalition (USIC), told his PNNL, Richland audience during a June 15th speech. "We used to be afraid of a strong Soviet Union," he explained in his presentation on the role of U.S. National Labs in the nonproliferation process, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security (PNWCGS). "Now we're afraid of a weak Russia."

As the head of the USIC, Dr. Alessi, former President of DynMeridian, and Executive Assistant to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), works with U.S. businesses, consortiums and universities aiding Newly Independent States (NIS) to find peaceful, commercial applications for advanced weapons technologies.

Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War, the threat to U.S. and global security increased due to the decrease in the security of nuclear materials and knowledge. The NIS was left with nuclear facilities they lacked both the funds and expertise to safely maintain. "We were hearing about Russian (weapons) scientists who couldn't put food on the table," said Alessi. This was attracting employment offers from countries like Iran. Also, Russia's early-warning defense system was deteriorating due to the inability to replace monitoring satellites, resulting in a 1995 false alarm that came close to triggering nuclear retaliation. In order to address the nuclear threat, "we did so much arms control it made our heads spin," said Alessi. He listed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, Threshold Ban Treaty and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, as examples, and explained that START II only took one week to negotiate, whereas START I took nine years.

Over the last six years, $153 million of taxpayer money has been spent on the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program (IPP), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The main goals are to reduce the risk of weapons exports; to improve transparency in the accounting process, "so that we can have confidence that the Russians have what they say they have;" and, ultimately, to help Russia downsize its nuclear weapons complex by finding peaceful applications for its weapons knowledge.

According to Alessi, the U.S. national labs' participation in the process has "created a positive legacy." The national labs help to convert research and development into commercial products, building up a market demand for the talents of former weapons scientists, which helps them to remain in Russia, rather than seeking employment in "dangerous countries." The national labs also help the NIS to attract industrial partners, reduce the financial and technical risks of pursuing new technologies, by providing expert assistance, and enable cost sharing. Furthermore, collaboration between U.S. and NIS labs and scientists accomplishes much that governments cannot. For example, it permits laboratory counterparts to form the close relationships, which Alessi calls "key to the success" of undertakings such as the Nuclear Cities Initiative, which helps former Soviet nuclear cities move into the commercial sector and away from weapons production.

The long-term goals of the IPP program are converting research and development into commercial products, attracting industrial partners, and reducing financial and technical risks. Alessi stressed the importance of finding private sector money to match government funds in order to maintain support for the program on Capitol Hill. "If you want to succeed here are the rules…," Alessi told his audience, " …you must know how to delegate and coordinate between agencies, progress and efforts must be verifiable, and endeavors must be in the U.S.' interest if you're going to use taxpayer money."

Identifying challenges to the IPP program, Alessi named the future relationship between Russia and the United States as one of the greatest unknowns. He also stated that in spite of current rhetoric, he believes the program will continue, citing several commercial successes to support this belief, as well as the program's ability to move products quickly from inception to the market. "There is no exit strategy (for success) unless you can commercialize," he stated, acknowledging another of the program's challenges. "It's tiring (at times), frustrating… you just go on because you know it's the right thing to do."

Center for Global Security

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