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Bush Seeks Cuts in Pentagon Threat Reduction Programs
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Philipp C. Bleek

The Bush administration is seeking reduced funding for Pentagon programs that assist former Soviet states in dismantling and securing weapons of mass destruction. The Bush proposal would cut some programs while expanding others, but senior officials emphasized that the administration may alter its request once an ongoing White House review of all threat reduction efforts wraps up.

In the amended defense budget it submitted to Congress in late June, the administration asked for $403 million to pay for the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) efforts in the former Soviet Union for the fiscal year beginning in October. That figure is 9 percent below this year’s $443 million allocation.

The modest overall reduction is largely a function of year-to-year fluctuations in funding requirements rather than an effort to reduce funding across the board, as appeared to be the case with cuts the administration has sought for Energy Department non-proliferation programs. (See ACT, May 2001.) Annual appropriations for Cooperative Threat Reduction have fluctuated between about $300 million and almost $600 million since 1994, due in part to budgeting procedures and varying program needs.

The administration has requested substantial cuts for some programs, notably several strategic weapons-related efforts in Russia. A senior Pentagon official explained in an August 8 interview that funds for strategic arms elimination had been ramped up in recent years as Russia worked to meet START I levels by the December 2001 deadline but that less money is needed now that the program has “caught up.”

Another initiative intended to help Russia package fissile material from dismantled weapons was scrapped after the two sides failed to reach agreement on technical issues. Additionally, the administration is requesting no 2002 funding for the fissile material storage facility in Mayak because construction is 70 percent complete and funds already appropriated are deemed sufficient to finish the project next year, the senior official indicated.

The White House has also requested that some programs be dramatically expanded. The administration is seeking to almost double previous funds for strategic elimination efforts in Ukraine. According to the senior defense official, the funds will be used to address unexpected technical difficulties encountered in processing the fuel from SS-24 long-range missiles and to continue to help Ukraine dismantle 40 non-START-accountable Tu-22M Backfire bombers. (See ACT, June 2001.)

The administration has also requested funds to construct conventional power plants to replace three nuclear reactors in Russia that produce weapons-grade plutonium. In 1994, the United States pledged to help construct the plants, but that plan has been modified several times. Senior administration officials indicated that a decision has been reached to proceed with fossil-fuel plants instead of modifying the existing reactors to produce less plutonium, as decided in 1997.

Cuts Counter to Campaign Pledge

Though the budget cuts are apparently not intended to reduce the scope of threat reduction efforts, they clearly do not fulfill President George W. Bush’s campaign pledge to “ask Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia’s weapons as possible, as quickly as possible.” (See ACT, September 2000.) White House officials were unavailable to comment.

The White House review of threat reduction efforts is expected to be finished soon, and officials emphasize that the administration could ask Congress to alter funding levels based on the review’s findings. Some senior administration officials have been openly critical of threat reduction efforts. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and the head of the CTR program have all expressed concern that threat reduction programs free up funds for Russia to use in modernizing its strategic forces.

But attempts to substantially scale back threat reduction efforts are likely to face resistance in Congress, where the programs enjoy bipartisan support. Most recently, in an August 9 speech, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) called for restoring “cuts the president made [to] programs to control and destroy Russian nuclear weapons and weapons material, and find alternative employment for nuclear scientists.”

Posted: September 1, 2001