Sandia LabNews

Cooperative Monitoring Center bridges technology, policy to address security issues for 20 years

Image of <p><span face="Cambria"><span size="3"><strong>THE GOVERNOR TOURS</strong> — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, accompanied by Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, left, and others, visits the Cooperative Monitoring Center to get a first-hand look at Sandia-developed national security technologies.</span></span></p>

THE GOVERNOR TOURS — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, accompanied by Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, left, and others, visits the Cooperative Monitoring Center to get a first-hand look at Sandia-developed national security technologies.

As the Cooperative Monitoring Center celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, the principles of cooperation and the value of technology for the success of international agreements embodied by the center endure at Sandia and in minds around the globe, say those who’ve worked to reduce global security threats since the CMC was established in 1994.

The CMC was instituted to address critical security issues by bringing together policy and technical experts from different nations; showing participants how to use technology and confidence-building measures to solve regional and global security concerns; and creating institutions to promote security in regions around the world.

 “The whole principle is that these problems can’t be solved by one country alone; they require cooperation, and technical cooperation is part of that,” says Arian Pregenzer (6800), a CMC founder and Sandia consultant.

Rodney Wilson, director of Global Security & Cooperation Center 6800, recently hosted a celebration for the CMC in Washington, D.C. “We’re celebrating 20 years and I hope there’s 20 years more to come,” he said after the event. “There are a lot of people who really believe in the CMC and they want to contribute to the idea.”

CMC created to encourage technical understanding, cooperation

After the Cold War ended, Arian became aware at chemical weapons talks in Geneva that those negotiating the treaties overpromised technology and did not fully understand its capabilities and limitations. At the same time, she observed renewed optimism, particularly in the Middle East, about resolving long-standing issues and instituting confidence-building measures. She recognized that policymakers needed to understand how technology could help.

 “There were all these regions where there seemed to be political will to move toward agreements, and those agreements would be nothing if they weren’t implemented — and that meant technology,” Arian says.

Sandia also recognized that many of the technologies developed to address security and arms control issues during the Cold War could be applied to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, says Kent Biringer, manager of International Nuclear Threat Reduction Dept. 6821.

NNSA’s predecessor provided seed money for a half dozen researchers in a portable building to get CMC started. Later, CMC moved to what is now the Sandia Science & Technology Park. Its current home is in the Center for Global Security and Cooperation in the research park.

Visitors to the CMC can use conference rooms for training, offices for research, and the CMC’s Technology, Training, and Display area for a hands-on look at technologies, Rodney says.

In the early 1990s, the CMC established trust between researchers in the US  and the former Soviet Union to facilitate lab-to-lab efforts on arms control verification, defense conversion, and the protection of nuclear and hazardous materials formerly controlled by a centralized Soviet Union.

During that same period, the CMC also worked with the Chinese on arms control and nonproliferation. Today, a specialized academy, the China Center of Excellence, is being established to train Chinese working in the civilian nuclear sector to promote nuclear security across the Asia-Pacific region. The center is a joint effort of the Chinese Atomic Energy Authority and DOE/NNSA.

CMC succeeds in idea exchanges between scholars

Over the years, ideas exchanged between visiting scholars, particularly those from countries where tensions exist, enabled them to develop proposals for their governments together, Arian says.

Scholars visiting Sandia from opposing countries might never have had contact with citizens from the other side, Kent says. “They’d come together and they might start discussing battles they had been in between the countries and realized that they might have been shooting at each other previously,” he says. “And now, they are here collaborating.” From those strained beginnings, long-term friendships and collaboration formed, he says.

Those program participants and Sandia’s early work in certain parts of the world provided entre for other Sandians to build on those connections. Rodney says members of his organization traveled to about 90 countries in FY14, visits he thinks came about as a direct result of the CMC’s work.

An early example of CMC’s success was the cooperation it fostered between Jordan and Israel in 2004 that led to explosives detection portals at the Allenby Bridge on the border with Jordan, Kent says. The technology allowed people and goods to move more rapidly across the border with fewer invasive searches, reducing tensions along the border, he and Rodney say.

The CMC also helped start a companion facility, the Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS), in Amman, Jordan. The institute focuses on the technical aspects of regional security and provides a training facility that has been used by a number of US agencies, Kent says.

Sometimes CMC’s cooperative efforts, while valuable in their own right, serve as precursors to national security agreements. An example was a project that encouraged Israel and Pakistan to share meteorological data in 1998-99, Arian says. The objectives were to teach the process of exchanging data, meeting to discuss it, and the importance of transparency, which are important principles for arms control or other political agreements, she says.

Unfortunately, the progress made by the meteorological exchange was interrupted by renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2000.

“That whole habit of cooperation might translate into other things, but you have to have an ongoing political process for that capability to flow into,” she says.

In the future, organizers hope the CMC principles will multiply the effectiveness of Sandia’s programs to reduce nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological threats worldwide.

“As I look to the future, I can’t imagine that we can sustain an agreement in Ukraine, Iran, or even Gaza unless there’s some cooperative technical engagement, allowing us to share information, collect data, and build trust between those countries,” Rodney says. “Simply having a diplomatic agreement might not be enough.”