Jane VaynmanIf You Believe They Put a Man on the Moon

Imagine that you are an astronaut. Sitting (or is it floating?) in the International Space Station (ISS), you would likely be quite aware of a curious link between your escape route home (Earth sweet Earth) and Russia’s possible assistance for the Iran nuclear program.

On the whole, it appears that U.S.–Russia nonproliferation programs have not been linked to other issues, such as how upset we are about Putin curbing free press or throwing businessmen (shady or otherwise) in jail. In Bratislava in February 2005, Bush and Putin talked about democracy, and then talked about nonproliferation. Tension on the former seemed to have no impact on the talk of progress in nuclear security cooperation.

Yet Section 6 of the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA) says that the U.S. cannot pay Russia for ISS activities unless the President can verify that Russia is working to prevent nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile technology proliferation to Iran. A March 2005 CRS report provides the details:

On July 29, 1999, during markup of Section 6 by the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner explained that “Earlier this year, there were publications of the fact that entities of the Russian Space Agency were violating the MTCR. That’s why there is Section 6 in this bill.” From 1994-1998, NASA paid Russia approximately $800 million through several contracts for ISS-related activities. Those payments ended because Section 6 prohibits the U.S. Government from making payments in connection with ISS to the Russian space agency, organizations or entities under its control, or any other element of the Russian government, after January 1, 1999, unless the President makes a determination that Russia’s policy is to oppose proliferation to Iran, that Russia is demonstrating a sustained commitment to seek out and prevent the transfer of WMD and missile systems to Iran, and that neither the Russian space agency nor any entity reporting to it has made such transfers for at least one year prior to such determination.

Russia provides Soyuz space vehicles that would serve as return lifeboats for three ISS crew members in the case of an emergency. However, Russia’s obligation to provide seats for U.S. astronauts ends in April 2006. If Russia no longer provides this emergency service for free, CRS notes that “NASA either must forego having its astronauts on ISS for long-duration missions, or be permitted to pay Russia.”

At the same time, the Russian space industry is strapped for cash. When stage dancing passes for astronaut training, you know you are in trouble… blonde premadonna, Lance (of N’Sync fame, duh) was going to pay $20 million for a ride on Soyuz until the Russians thought better of it.

But back to nukes. So what’s the result of this link on the proliferation side? In 2003, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer testified that INA restrictions were having a positive effect on Russian activities with Iran:

Although it would be difficult to quantify the INA’s impact on the Russian Government’s export control policy, I assure you that the pressure applied by the INA is palpable in any dialogue with Russia on space. Mr. Yuriy Koptev, General Director of Rosaviakosmos, has been particularly active in promoting reform throughout the Russian Government, and frequently notes the constraints imposed by the INA on U.S.-Russian space cooperation.

However, it looks like getting those astronauts transported is pretty important. Congress lifted the restriction and NASA made a deal with Russia last week. At 21.8 million per astronaut, maybe the US government should have used N’Sync booking agent.