UK sticks to its guns in AMEC quarrel

Publish date: January 20, 2006

Written by: Charles Digges

Despite recent flare ups over the future of the Arctic Military Environmental Co-operation (AMEC) Program, which have largely been caused by a paper presented on the organisation’s progress by the UK, the UK remains optimistic that the involved nations can come to some sort of consensus, AMEC officials there said.

This is the second in a series of articles about the future of AMEC

They were also clear, however, that if any of the involved nations wished to declare their tasks within the AMEC framework finished, then the UK would take up those projects left behind by other countries and complete them themselves. UK officials also emphasised that they would welcome cooperation from other countries under the AMEC umbrella and said countries like Canada and Sweden, had expressed interest in working with the UK.

Many observers of the programme, however, feel that the UK is forcing the hands of its constituent nations in the four way partnership―Norway, Russia, the United States, and the UK―to do things the UK way or leave, with a particular accent on Norway and the United States.

Dieter Rudolph, AMEC United States Co-Chairman noted that when AMEC first started the three original AMEC partners, Norway, Russia and the United States agreed to common procedures for project implementation. These procedures led to the successful completion of initial projects. When the UK joined AMEC in 2003 they proposed new procedures. The original partners agreed to use them on a trial basis.


What AMEC does
AMEC was originally founded as a three country consortium created by the respective defence agencies of the United States, Russia and Norway in order to address military-related environmental problems, primarily submarine dismantlement, in the fragile Arctic ecosystem of Russia’s northwest. The UK joined AMEC in 2003.

AMEC’s underlying philosophy is that it should be easier to discuss military environmental problems through a military co-operative effort than through civilian channels. The programme also emphasises the need to leave behind an infrastructure for Russia to use after US led Co-operative Threat Reduction (CTR) and Norwegian programmes have come to an end.

The UK Paper
The UK Paper opens by stating: “In the opinion of many observers, AMEC has become dysfunctional. Bureaucratic, inefficient, slow, it has proved itself incapable of rising to the challenge presented by multilateral procurement of high risk nuclear legacy projects.”

This opinion seems to be restricted to a small number of individuals, noted Rudolph. He cited a September 2004 study by the Centre for Non-proliferation Studies commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Reduction Initiative (NTI) on “Co-ordinating Submarine Dismantlement Assistance in Russia” The Centre noted AMEC’s unique role with the Russian military and recommended that AMEC‘s expansion to Russia’s Far East be encouraged.

“Bringing AMEC’s expertise and experience to that region would make the successful execution of projects there more likely, and help ensure that synergies between the two regions be discovered” the study read.

The UK paper continued that: ”Despite the overall positive context of collaboration on nuclear security, safety and other environmental issues, donor confidence and willingness to commit to AMEC activity has never been lower. Support remains for the collaborative intent set out in the AMEC Declaration, but AMEC needs to change if it is to survive.”

In its paper, the UK deflected “conflict of interest criticisms” that have been levels against the commercial RWE NUKEM as UK’s lead contractor for future AMEC projects.

“RWE NUKEM has continued to attract conflict of interest criticism and unsubstantiated charges of operating to their commercial advantage. The UK will continue to employ a contractor for project management (for all its Global Partnership related work), and has full confidence in RWE NUKEM performance to date,” read the UK paper.

Rudolph noted that the idea of having a contractor as the Project Officer, a position occupied by a government representative in Norway, Russia and the US and also as contracting agent as well as technical expert is foreign to US AMEC. Repeated requests for increased UK Government oversight have not been successful. Another AMEC observer noted that if the UK believes that NUKEM does not act in a manner to support the company bottom line and profit margin, they are fooling noone but themselves.

The UK further criticised the US and Norwegian effort for AMEC’s safety and risk management.

The UK acknowledged that “It is clear that UK requirements for project management within AMEC have caused difficulty with our donor partners. Feedback from Norwegian and American colleagues has indicated that the project management methodology and procurement strategies required by the British government and implemented by our project contract managers on our instructions are seen as laborious and inefficient.”

The paper continued that: “UK insistence on Treasury approved project management techniques, especially competitive procurement, formal risk and safety management and environmental impact assessment, has caused significant difficulty for our partners. The UK has no room to manoeuvre on these principles, and an alternative collaborative framework must be found if UK donorship is to continue. It should be emphasised that the UK approach on project management is nearly identical to most other countries supporting projects under the Global Partnership.”

Why is the UK in AMEC?
Interviews with UK officials were softer in tone than the UK paper, but nonetheless indicated that they were firm in their policies. Given its candid assessment of the work of its partner nations in its paper, many AMEC observers have asked why the UK joined the partnership in the first place. Heyes said it was to bolster the UK’s military contact with Russia via what he called “an excellent programme.”

“We joined partly because of our G-8 Global Partnership commitments and partly because of the military to military contact benefits,” said Heyes.

“We think it is a good agreement and provides good contacts with Russia and we wish to continue.”

Maj. Garris Baker, who heads the UK Ministry of Defence’s Russia, desk agreed with Heyes and told Bellona Web. “We would not have joined AMEC if we did not think it was a good organisation.”

“It supplies us with valuable Military to Military contact AMEC, but that the UK did not have prior to joining,” he said. “AMEC allows us to achieve what we wish, which would not be possible without the what the AMEC umbrella of provides in terms of a legal framework and liability.”

Other countries joining and leaving
But he also emphasised that the programme needs “common lines of practice” and that all projects must adhere to AMEC’s project management and best practice policies. He reinforced this point, saying: “If Norway and the United States withdraw, that is a national decision. But the same is not true of the UK ― we seek a bilateral solution . The UK still sees value in the AMEC process.”

The withdrawal of any of AMEC’s constituent nations would weaken the whole programme’s financial base to tackle the most pressing issues in Russia.

He added, though, that other countries are invited to take part in AMEC, and said that Canada and Sweden had expressed interest in supporting UK efforts.

Russian AMEC officials told Bellona Web that they were satisfied with any changes in the structure of AMEC so long as the funding continued to arrive.

K-60 Norway’s swan song in AMEC?
Norwegian officials have indicated that the moving and dismantlement of the derelict K-60 submarine―by all accounts one of the most un-seaworthy vessels in Russia’s Northern Fleet―will be the country’s last AMEC project. Norway has the lead on the $8.5 billion transportation and dismantlement project, but the UK is apparently fitting half the bill.

The Norwegian project will employ a heavy lift vessel to convey the sub from the semi-operational Naval base of Gremikha to a dismantling point. The heavy lift vessel has been secured by Norway for use from the Dutch firm Dockwise.

The heavy transport vessel has the ability to submerge its specially fitted deck beneath the K-60 and then blow its ballast tanks and rise again to the surface with the K-60 secured in special above-water cradles for its fragile hull. The transport vessel will then continue from Gremikha to Polyarny near Murmansk were it will be de-fueled and dismantled.

All that remains is a final detailed environmental impact study so that the western contractors and Russia can put the plan of the vessel’s removal together. Time is therefore of the essence as the Norwegian Ministry of Defence petitions the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funding the project.

There are also rumours among AMEC observers that the UK may pull its funding on the project, though these could not be independently confirmed.

Norwegian and US Positions
In her response to the UK paper, Ingjerd Kroken, co-chairperson of AMEC Norway, sounded more capitulatory than defensive of Norway’s role in AMEC.

“The UK has proposed that the participant countries work bilaterally with Russia under the AMEC umbrella,” she said. Kroken met with Russian delegations during early December and put a positive spin on the possible dissolution of AMEC. “We will all continue to help solve the issue” of radioactive waste storage in Russia.

“Because so many other donor nations to Russian nuclear remediation are now involved, AMEC may not be as necessary as it once was,” she said.

US AMEC observers, however, have taken a stronger stance, and say that the UK’s position threatens to drive a wedge among AMEC countries that will ultimately leave far too many militarily projects unfinished.

Following interviews with the principal government’s involved with AMEC, the Bellona Foundation thinks the slow progress on UK led projects can be attributed to their lack of ability to build technical consensus on technical issues. Their new proposal is a step in the wrong direction.

A former US Project Officer noted that UK Project management is bureaucratic and process driven with “reams and reams” of paper.