By Philipp C. Bleek
The White House notified Moscow in early April that President George W. Bush cannot certify Russia’s compliance with chemical and biological arms control accords, stalling the implementation of joint programs to ameliorate the threat posed by Russia’s weapons of mass destruction complex.
The law funding the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction programs requires the president to annually certify that Russia is “committed” to several key standards, such as “complying with all relevant arms control agreements” and “observing internationally recognized human rights.” Similar requirements apply to threat reduction efforts under the purview of the State and Agriculture departments.
The Bush administration conducted its first certification review earlier this year and identified “serious concerns about Russian chemical and biological weapons activities,” according to the National Security Council (NSC). Failure to certify Russian compliance means that new funds cannot be allocated for threat reduction programs managed by the affected departments.
In interviews, administration officials described a broad set of concerns. A key State Department official cited the low level of access Russia has provided to its “military biological weapons facilities,” concerns that Russia retains the ability to manufacture biological weapons agents, the fact that former offensive biological weapons personnel continue to occupy key defense establishment posts, and the fact that Russia has not accommodated a U.S. desire for high-level bilateral meetings to discuss biological weapons.
On the chemical weapons front, the official highlighted concerns over the completeness of Russia’s chemical weapons declarations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the U.S. contention that Russia has yet to provide a satisfactory plan for the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Russia presented a plan to the convention’s implementing body last September, but U.S. officials appear to view that plan as insufficient.
The Clinton administration had similar concerns but chose to certify Russian compliance annually. According to Elisa Harris, director for nonproliferation and export controls on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council, President Bill Clinton chose to certify “because it was the judgment of all of the relevant agencies—Defense, State, Energy, etc.—that President Yeltsin and the Russian government were committed to complying with their arms control obligations.”
Asked to comment on the disparity between the Clinton and Bush administration’s policies, the State Department official said the Bush administration “takes both the certification requirement and concerns over Russia’s chemical and biological activities very seriously.”
The administration notified key members of Congress of the noncertification in mid-March and told their Russian counterparts of the finding through multiple diplomatic channels in early April, according to the official.
The efforts affected by the decision include the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program; the International Science and Technology Center, which incorporates both State and Agriculture Department efforts; and the State Department’s export control and border security initiatives.
The Energy department’s nonproliferation programs in Russia are not subject to similar certification requirements, and all of them will continue without disruption, the National Security Council said.
According to State Department officials and the NSC, the affected threat reduction programs can continue to spend obligated funds, but funding cannot be allocated for new efforts. One State Department official indicated that relatively few programs are being curtailed at the present time but that the number of initiatives affected “is increasing daily as current contracts expire.”
The previous certification review was conducted in the final months of the Clinton administration, and the resulting certification was delivered to Congress on January 20, 2001, according to the State Department official. The Bush administration had to certify the programs one year after that, and as a result, the Bush administration’s failure to certify Russian compliance technically began to impede threat reduction efforts after January 20 of the current year.
In order to allow threat reduction programs to continue, the administration is seeking authority from Congress to waive the certification requirement’s provisions. In a 2002 emergency supplemental appropriations request submitted to Congress March 21, the administration requested relief from the certification requirement “if the President certifies in writing…that waiving such restrictions is important to the national security interests of the United States.”
According to the National Security Council, “While we seek a waiver, the administration will continue to work intensively at senior levels with Russia to resolve our concerns with its arms control behavior.”
In interviews, administration officials were hopeful that Congress would approve the waiver authority in the near future. Speaking at an April 23 Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a leading proponent of threat reduction programs, called the curtailment of new projects “a dangerous situation” and expressed hope that the Congress “will respond quickly by granting this waiver.”
But Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, appeared to support curtailment of threat reduction efforts in an April 18 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “It makes no sense for the United States to fund threat reduction programs helping Russia meet her international obligations if Moscow continues to pursue illicit WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs with freed-up Russian funds,” the senator argued.
It remains unclear whether Congress will approve the waiver authority in time for a late May summit in Moscow at which Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin are expected to discuss a broad range of issues, including threat reduction. Administration officials declined in interviews to commit to utilizing a waiver if and when Congress grants such authority.
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alexander Yakovenko responded to the noncertification in an April 9 statement, saying that Washington’s actions had “seriously perplexed” his government. Yakovenko argued that “Russia has been undeviatingly abiding by the provisions” of the biological and chemical accords and said, “If questions arise…they should be solved through the existing mechanisms of bilateral and multilateral consultations.”
Claiming Washington had ulterior motives for the noncertification, Yakovenko said the U.S. move was intended “to distract attention from the actions of the U.S. itself,” citing U.S. opposition to a compliance protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention and recent U.S. moves to oust the head of the Chemical Weapons Convention’s implementing organization. (See ACT, September 2001 and Chemical Weapons Convention Chief Removed at U.S. Initiative.)
Yakovenko alleged that Washington was not providing “concrete facts” to support its allegations. He warned of possible ramifications, saying, “Such actions may have a most adverse effect on achieving mutual trust,” impacting cooperative efforts on nonproliferation and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.