The Global Partnership: Personal Reflections on the Life and Times of a Very Unusual, but Important, Political Institution for Security

There was also a realization that terrorists would, and could, turn their attention to more spectacular means of delivering terror and death to even more people. In short, the fear was that terrorists would be able to access and use nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon-usable materials, other radioactive materials; chemical weapons and other chemical agents as well as biological weapons.

This discussion was in fact a decade old and linked to two large developments: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-1992 and conflicts and wars in the Middle East. The disintegration of the Soviet state structures and the difficult establishment of fifteen new states led to many cases of nuclear and other radioactive materials being detected outside of facilities and in other countries. The fear was that these materials would be attractive not only for states but also for terrorist groups. The dissolution process of the Soviet Union also included wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan and civil wars in Georgia and Chechnya.  At times there were rumours that regional commanders of the former Soviet Army - now leaders of opposition parties, independence movements or terrorist groups - had kept control over tactical nuclear weapons.

In the Middle East a coalition of states under a UN mandate and US leadership invaded Iraq in January 1991 in order to liberate Kuwait from an annexation by Iraq that had occurred in August 1990. The “First Gulf War” also resulted in UN-imposed sanctions on Iraq requiring the disclosure of its massive infrastructure to produce weapons of mass destruction.

All in all, the weakened state structures in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, civil wars, conflicts and the presence and growth of terrorist groups with radical ideologies, as well as the absence of control over nuclear and other radioactive materials in some regions, led to the realisation that something very dangerous could be in the making. Nevertheless, the link between terrorism and nuclear weapons had been considered to be extremely unlikely prior to 9/11.

I started working for the Swedish nuclear regulator shortly before 9/11, in June 2001. I was responsible for the implementation of Sweden’s projects in the area of nuclear security and non-proliferation in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States and other states of the former Soviet Union. Just weeks before the events of 9/11, I was in the Ekaterinburg area in Russia with some colleagues from the United States in order to plan and implement a project in collaboration with representatives from the Russian facilities and the regional office of the Russian nuclear regulator The project concerned the establishment of a nuclear materials accounting system for various facilities in the Urals region – but only facilities that had separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium beyond 20%. At the time it was considered that HEU enriched to less than 20% and other radioactive materials would not be attractive for nuclear weapons development. Within one-two years, the mind-set had changed and a different realization had developed:  “everything nuclear and radioactive” was of concern as these materials were considered to be attractive to both states and non-state actors with malevolent intentions.

This change was a result of 9/11 but the full realization of the importance of protecting all of these materials, for those of us who worked in the sector, came with the birth of the Global Partnership in June 2002 at the G-8 Summit in Kananaskis. The Summit established a Declaration of a “Global Partnership” that would focus on assisting Russia in clearing and cleaning the enormous infrastructure related to its weapons of mass destruction programmes (particularly chemical weapons) and the materials that could be used for nuclear weapons or improvised nuclear explosive devises and radioactive dispersal devices (dirty bombs). In the nuclear sphere this would include the dismantlement of some 200 nuclear-powered submarines and the management of the nuclear fuel and other radioactive materials that resulted from the dismantlement. The entire programme was expected to last for ten years and a total of 20 million dollars had to be invested.


A couple of countries were already active in supporting the “Soviet successor states” as they were called. Sweden, France and Norway were active. So was the UK, Finland and Japan. The USA had a huge cooperation programme, particularly focused on Russia, called Cooperative Threat Reduction. Following the Declaration of Kananaskis, more programmes were established. The Declaration was novel in this field as it was open to states outside of the G8. I remember that in Autumn 2002, several delegations from the G-8 states and other members of Global Partnership came to ask us “how do you actually do it in the field.” These meetings led to a realization that it is one thing to have a map and compass in the shape of the Declaration – but it is something different to set the sails and steer the ship. Therefore, it was agreed that some of us would arrange a donor-recipient conference in Ekaterinburg the following summer. Sweden, Canada, Russia, Norway and the UK organized a conference in June 2003. It brought together all the central stakeholders in Russia with representatives from the G-8 states and a range of additional states. Some 120 people from 14 states were gathered and created an action programme with very specific projects described for implementation.

At the time of this conference, Sweden had not joined the Global Partnership but the character of the Declaration made it possible for other countries to rally around the objectives. When my colleagues and I returned to Sweden by mid-June, it took less than a week before the Swedish Government sent a letter to the French President of the G8 in 2003, requesting to join the Global Partnership.

“It’s an activity”

The Global Partnership paved the way for linking terrorism and weapons of mass destruction – and constituted itself as the measure that would fight this threat.1 This is the true character and virtue of the Partnership. An additional feature is the way the Global Partnership works. The Global Partnership is formed by a Declaration. It is not an organization. It does not have a permanent secretariat and it has no staff of its own. It works based on its members and the work that they undertake on their own, or in coordination with others or under various schemes of co-financing and in cooperation with recipient countries and organizations.

My colleagues and I were engaged in many projects in Russia. Sometimes the organic willingness to cooperate was larger than the strategic planning and I think that this was one of its strengths. Some countries had lots of funding earmarked but little capacity or experience of implementation. For Sweden it was the other way around and we soon became involved in many large projects where others were the main sponsors. There was also a large willingness to complement and compliment each other. This was the case for the work on the dismantlement of nuclear-powered submarines. Some states with large funding available committed themselves to the dismantling works at Russian shipyards. Sweden was a small actor in the context but we contributed to the physical protection systems that would be necessary for the dismantlement works and the protection of nuclear and other radioactive materials that would be released in the process. In a similar manner other partners such as the UK built storage buildings for the nuclear fuel in Murmansk so that it could be safely and securely stored before transportation to centralized storage sites. Germany focused on building a storage site for the reactor compartment from the dismantled submarines and Italy provided a vessel for the transportation of spent nuclear fuel to Murmansk.

In December 2004, there was a meeting under the auspices of the Global Partnership in Moscow. I was asked to join my colleague from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The set-up was a bit strange. The host country was Russia but the US had the Presidency of the Global Partnership. It was the US Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton who led the meeting. The style was “stern” and several people and organizations were criticized for various perceived short-comings. I asked my colleague if it would be OK if I would say something from real-life work in the Global Partnership. She said that it was probably not foreseen that non-G8 states would say anything but that we should try. I took the floor and said that I was quite surprised by much of what had been said. On the side of the Russians, red tape was being cut all the time and on trips to various provincial places in Russia there was a rapid and enthusiastic work towards the realization of the objectives in the Declaration. My comments were appreciated by most, but one person did not.

However, John Bolton was good about many things. First of all, he lifted the Global Partnership to his level and that made others take it much more seriously. Moreover, he was very adamant in pointing out what by now had become obvious namely that “the Global Partnership is not an international organization – it is an activity”. He said this later about the Proliferation Security Initiative, PSI. At the meeting in Moscow he said something similar about the Global Partnership. And this remains something that is essential – the Global Partnership is about doing things. The meetings are for taking stock and driving the next activities.

Broadened engagement

In 2005, there was much talk about the fact that Ukraine wanted to join the Global Partnership. It was at first unclear how this could be done. It was understood that Ukraine would join mainly to be a recipient of Global partnership activities, just like Russia. It was unclear whether a country could join simply by saying that it wanted to do so or whether it required endorsement by the existing members or, possibly only endorsement by G8 members. But my colleagues and I in Sweden spoke with our Ukrainian colleagues as well as our counterparts in Finland and Germany and we organized a donors’ conference in Kiev in January 2006. It was extremely cold outside but inside the climate was good and during the conference some fifty projects were formulated and later implemented. The template developed at that meeting for describing projects was later passed down to others and is virtually the same as the one used today. This is a testament to how the Global Partnership creates and recreates an epistemic community of people who are schooled and school each other towards similar targets and objectives.

Work continued primarily in Russia but also to a growing extent in Ukraine. A couple of years later in 2009, there was a Global Partnership meeting in Rome. I sat next to a delegate from a new member country and after day one, he said to me “is it really always the case that it is only the big eight who are talking. You never hear the others”. It struck me that he was right, the Global Partnership had til then been a club mainly for the G8 states and where the members outside the G8 just hung around. The interesting thing is that few probably had noted this although this should have been obvious. Maybe it was due to the way that those who were present were mainly occupied with practical issues and using the meeting for speaking with colleagues from other countries in order to get a project going. But that evening, I spoke with my Canadian colleague Troy Lulashnik. He oversaw the Canadian programme and we had done many stunts and projects together. And he suggested that for the next Presidency, which would be the Canada, there should be a Swedish presentation on Sweden’s programme with Russia.

That occasion came in October 2010 in Vancouver. I gave a presentation on Sweden’s programme in cooperation with Russia. There were several participants who noted that this was the first non-G8 member presentation to the GP. However, the presentation also revealed something else that was going to develop over the years to come: Russia was willing to cooperate and engage but there were also certain things that made it hard for Russian colleagues to be presented as the object of others’ efforts – maybe most of all, when this came from a small non-G8 state. While this sensitivity may be understandable it was (and remains) not something that was felt in the field.

From Kananaskis to Deauville

In 2011, the French Presidency was very active and focussed on producing a new Global Partnership Declaration that would replace the Kananaskis Declaration that was due to expire in 2012. The Deauville Declaration from 2011 remains in place. It is more general in nature perhaps reflecting the political issues that were developing with Russia. But it is possible to continue to read the focus on Russia, Ukraine and the problems that emanated from the break-up of the Soviet Union.

2012 was a very important year for the Global Partnership. It had a US Presidency under the leadership of Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins. Ambassador Jenkins announced that there would be five meetings during the year. This was accompanied by a strong programme for renewal – but also continuation of the existing mechanisms. At the meeting in Boston in March 2012, two renewal issues were addressed and agreed upon. One concerned the expansion of the number of members. To this effort, the Presidency established that a couple of “friends of the Presidency” would reach out to specific states and inquire about their interest in joining. This would be done between meetings and be based on wishes as concerned regions, relevant issues and states that the meetings could agree on. An additional change was established by means of the sub-groups. The Global Partnership meetings would move to having plenary sessions in the beginning and at the end of the period of the Presidency but for the rest of the time would have break-out sessions for chemical, biological and nuclear/radiological issues. While the membership outreach did not survive for more than three or four years, the break-out session model continues, and it is a measure that has radically strengthened the work and methods of the Global Partnership.

The US Presidency during 2012 was full of new initiatives. One such initiative was to have one of the five meetings in a member state outside the US. Sweden was asked and we said yes and were happy to be asked because it is good if others expect something of you. So in late August the fourth meeting of the year was in Stockholm. The meeting also led to what would be a last major collective effort as concerns the cooperation with Russia. Sweden was asked to organise a donors’ conference in Moscow in late October 2012. The conference in Moscow took stock of what had been on the agenda and achieved since the conference in 2003 in Ekaterinburg and established an agenda for the next stages of work.

In 2013, the Presidency was in the hands of the UK. The UK took on board a refined version of the “project bazar” that had been used at the donors’ conference in Moscow. The UK introduced the concept of “match-making” where partners meet to present projects and discuss these with other prospective (funding) partners. This element has become an institutionalised and indispensable part of the Global Partnership.

Russia started the next Presidency of the GP in 2014 and the first GP meeting in Russia was held in St. Petersburg. A next meeting was planned for Vladivostok. But then Russian forces occupied Crimea and annexed it, which in turn led to Russia being expelled from the G8 and the Global Partnership. The G8 was now once again the G7 as it had been prior to Russia joining in 1997. In the absence of Russia, the UK and Germany chaired the Global Partnership and the new G7 throughout 2014. However, while the Global Partnership especially in the nuclear and radiological areas had a large focus on cooperation with Russia, it was now necessary move to new recipients. The focus now moved to supporting Ukraine. The plans and projects had been in existence since 2006 and the Ukrainian stakeholders were quick in formulating additional projects and keeping the partners informed.

Into broader contexts

Within weeks after the Russian occupation of Crimea in March 2014, the second Nuclear Security Summit was held in the Hague. The Summit had some focus on the Russian aggression against Ukraine particularly as the Norwegian Prime Minister and the Swedish Foreign Minister had coordinated their speeches and stated that due to the tensions and heightened security levels in Ukraine, Sweden and Norway would work to strengthen the security and safety at Ukrainian nuclear power plants. All of this was in the framework of the Global Partnership. For the rest there was also a strong interest among the 55 heads of state at the Summit in upholding a focus on the nuclear security issues. The Global Partnership and its work had a strong place in the Declaration from the Nuclear Security Summit and this was further strengthened at the subsequent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC in 2016. Here the Global Partnership was one of the five organizations (along the UN, the IAEA, Interpol and the GICNT) that was highlighted for their respective responsibility for strengthened nuclear security after the Nuclear Security Summit process. The developments have in the years after had an increasing focus on Ukraine along with other regions of the world. For the past five years there has been a dedicated group for coordinating the project implementation in the field of nuclear and radiological security in Ukraine and this has greatly facilitated work and coordination among the countries that actively support Ukraine. It is moreover a Shakespearean piece of irony how things have developed around Russia and Ukraine. It was the Russian occupation of Crimea that led to Russia being expelled from the G8. Ukraine came instead to join the support of the Global Partnership – more or less instead of Russia.

It is important to add something about the Global Partnership and how it has fared in the context of the Nuclear Security Summits. From time to time it has been hard to achieve the broad and deep recognition of the Global Partnership – on a global scale so to speak. Many countries for instance among the G-77 and the Non-Aligned Movement have had a hard time recognizing the role and function for nuclear security in the context of the Declarations from the Nuclear Security Summits. The Global Partnership has often been viewed as another instrument for insisting on security requirements and with that making the access to peaceful uses of nuclear technologies more difficult for developing nations. Much of this has to do with a concern that security requirements are a condition or limitation on the use of nuclear technology, rather than a key method of assuring continued peaceful use – and this is due to lack of outreach and information from the G7 and the Global Partnership. This is where there is maybe a drawback from the fact that the Global Partnership is so decentralized that many individual members of the Global Partnership do too little to create a context and understanding of the importance of these issues more broadly.

It is necessary and helpful to say something about the Canadian Presidency in 2018. The best meeting of the Global Partnership that I have ever attended was the meeting in Ottawa in spring of 2018. Well, spring is an exaggeration as it was cold and there was knee-high snow everywhere. There were a couple of features about the meeting that were fantastic. First of all, the Canadian chair of the meeting opened by saying “THERE ARE NO FREE MEALS IN THE GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP. If you are here it is because you do work and implement projects around the world – or, because you want to start doing this”. It was the most outspoken call to arms that I have ever heard but it was an incredible shock therapy. During the ensuing coffee break there were delegates who called home to request funding from offices and agencies that they could commit. And some of us who were known to be into projects were approached and asked whether we could take additional partners on board. During the meeting, there was also an incredible focus by the Canadians chairs of all sub-working groups to lead the presentations and discussions to something concrete and into action lists that the delegations were asked to consider. The meeting was also instrumental in allowing for partners across funding agencies and recipient countries and stakeholders to present together. This added a new depth to what it is Partners can and should strive for.

While there should be no free lunches in the Global Partnership, there was that evening – a free dinner for those who chaired the working groups. My colleague from the Swedish MFA could not go so I was invited instead. It is - if not the Cinderella moment of my life – then my Little Red Cap and the Wolf times of my life – as we were invited to the best restaurant one can imagine. A little outside Ottawa in Quebec – the food was unbelievable and a memory for life.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought both challenges and opportunities for the Global Partnership. In 2020, I was asked to co-chair the Nuclear and Radiological Sub-Working Group (NRSWG) together with Maegon Barlow from the US Department of Energy. When the year started, we had an ambitious programme but soon we had to realize that one meeting after another had to turn to on-line mode. This was something that demanded new approaches but little by little we were able to make things turn in a good direction. In summary, the plans and ambitions for the year stayed substantially the same, yet we just implemented it differently. The positive aspect was that the number of meeting participants grew drastically and even the exchange and discussions had a good flow. However, the on-the-margins meetings and discussions were, of course, absent and that is unfortunate as it is my experience that it is in the context of the physical meetings and discussions with colleagues that we generate the best ideas for projects and progress. It remains to be seen what the future brings but I solemnly hope that at least some hybrid form of on-line and physical meetings will be available soon. I think that it is important to notice that despite the pandemic and the lack of travel, the rate of project implementation remained high in 2020. This has to do with the fact that most states with active programmes have existing partnerships with recipient stakeholders. However, in the long run it is necessary that new ties are made, and old ones reinvigorated and therefore, the Global Partnership continues to rely on physical presence and practical contacts for its continued business.

Concluding perspectives.

I have since the end of 2020 moved from the Swedish nuclear regulator to WINS, the World Institute for Nuclear security in Vienna. This gives me a new freedom to speak my mind or, on the other hand as an NGO representative, I need to be even more careful than I used to be. Either way, my perspectives on and of the Global Partnership are not revolutionary. But I do think that there are a few things that can and should be improved. And these changes are in fact small and easy to accomplish.

First of all, it would be of great advantage to the Global Partnership and the people and issues it serves if the G7 in particular but also the other member states would draw more on its achievements and highlight its purpose. The Global Partnership ought to have a large and prominent place in all the statements of the G7 members and in particular with each successive President of the G7 group. At the Nuclear Security Summit in 2014, a colleague from the GP and the NSS said that he had asked among other delegations how well the Global Partnership was known by the highest representatives in each delegation. Most of his interlocutors said that when they had briefed their ministers and others, virtually no one had heard about the Global Partnership. I think this is quite telling. And strange. Issues related to weapons of mass destruction and terrorism are high on the agenda but the knowledge of the work done through the Global Partnership does not enjoy similar appreciation – not even by those in the Partnership.

Secondly, there are many good reasons why little information comes into the realm of many decision-makers. One is that if you do not do any practical work or contribute in other manners, then there is little to report to your peers. And here we are into one of the central tenets of the Global Partnership, namely that several members are passive when it comes to investing in our common security.

There is of course a relationship in the above mentioned. It is not my intention to blame anyone as there are always reasons for why things are the way they are. But it is possible to change these in a benign direction. If G7 members and particularly the country holding the Presidency would “preach” the glory of the Partnership to their counterparts then this could change a great deal. Once this translates to funding, contributions in kind, piggy-backing2 or other practical activities, then something important has happened. Small contributions can in fact make a big difference. It keeps resounding in my ears what a British colleague said once when a group of UK, Norwegian and Swedish colleagues went to Murmansk to commission the installation of a physical protection installation on a Russian icebreaker. Our Norwegian colleague said that she was sad that Norway had only delivered a small share compared to the investment made by the UK. I said the same for Sweden. Our British colleague shook his head and said “not at all. Without the twenty percent of the costs and the project management delivered by your countries, there would have been no project at all, because we would not have been able to cover the remainder from our budgets. And by the way – you have invested a million times more than all those who have invested nothing”.

When the Global Partnership is approaching twenty years of age, it is relevant to ask about its chances of survival. This stands and falls with the necessity and efficiency of the enterprise. The need for a viable international measure that can swiftly and in a practical manner address risks from weapons of mass destruction and terrorism remains and is growing. If the Global Partnership can continue to be the good unbureaucratic measure it is today and get more traction and inspiration from its political leadership then continued success is assured.




[1] John R. Bolton, Sea Island and Beyond: Status Report on the Global Partnership Against Weapons of Mass Destruction, Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, June 15, 2004

[2] I have never understood this word and I cannot imagine what it means. I know that it is very important and useful. However, as a non-native English-speaker, I am wondering if piggy-bagging does not make more sense… 




Lars van Dassen

Executive Director

World Institute for Nuclear Security, WINS,


March 2021





Next year, it will be twenty years ago that the Global Partnership was born. And this year it is the 20 year anniversary of the events that initiated its birth. A group of Islamist suicidal terrorists flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. The date 11 September 2001 killed more than 3000 people and became known simply as “9/11”. This was the single most important reason for the establishment of this Global Partnership.

With the events of 9/11 there was confirmation, and a culmination, of something that had been discussed for some time; whether radicalized terrorists would be able to strike deeply into other countries and create numbers of casualties far beyond the numbers that had previously been killed in terror attacks.