Threat Reduction Funding Increase Requested

Philipp C. Bleek

After requesting cuts for threat reduction and nonproliferation programs last year, the Bush administration has asked Congress to increase funding for the efforts to downsize and secure weapons of mass destruction materials and expertise in the former Soviet Union.

U.S. nonproliferation efforts have received increased attention in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the increase in requested funding was foreshadowed in late December by the release of a White House review that concluded that most threat reduction programs “work well, are focused on priority tasks, and are well managed.” (See ACT, January/February 2002.)

Submitted to Congress February 4, the administration’s fiscal year 2003 budget requests $417 million for the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs, a slight increase from the fiscal year 2002 level of $403 million but still below the $443 million allocated for fiscal year 2001 by the Clinton administration. Recent fluctuations in funding for CTR efforts have been due at least in part to budgeting technicalities and changes in program requirements.

The administration’s request calls for a more substantial increase for threat reduction programs run by the Department of Energy. For fiscal year 2003, the Bush administration budgeted approximately $1.1 billion for the department’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, about half of which is allocated for threat reduction efforts in Russia. The nonproliferation account received about $1 billion for 2002, but that sum includes $226 million of supplemental funding added by Congress in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, making the administration’s request a substantial increase above the regular 2002 appropriation.

The budget also asks for $103 million for three State Department nonproliferation programs, approximately the same amount the programs received for 2002.

The total 2003 threat reduction budget represents the most funding requested for the initiatives in a single year. However, during a February 5 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) called the planned increase “very, very small,” contrasting threat reduction funding with the approximately $8 billion requested for defense against ballistic missiles, which Biden noted the intelligence community considers the least likely threat against the United States.

Powell agreed that the requested increase is small but noted that the programs’ capacity to absorb additional funds is limited. Powell also said that “we’re looking at other ways of increasing the funding,” such as “debt relief.” Senators Biden and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have championed a bill that would allow Russia to write off some Soviet-era debt in exchange for nonproliferation commitments. Approved by the Senate in December, the bill must now be considered in the House.