By Kerry Boyd
President Bush signed a waiver August 7 that freed up more than $300 million in funding for U.S. efforts to safeguard and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. The waiver, however, expires at the end of September, and Congress is debating measures to extend the president’s ability to release the funds.
The Bush administration decided last spring that it could not certify Russian compliance with the chemical and biological weapons conventions—a condition Congress placed on funding for the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs and similar efforts run by the State and Agriculture departments. The administration’s decision marked the first time the United States has not certified Russian compliance since threat reduction programs began operation in 1991. (See ACT, May 2002.)
In order to continue funding for the nonproliferation projects, the White House asked Congress to grant the president the authority to waive the certification requirement on the basis of national security interests. Congress approved a temporary waiver in fiscal year 2002 supplemental funding. The president signed the supplemental funding legislation August 2 and signed the waiver five days later. The waiver frees up funds until the federal government’s fiscal year ends on September 30.
Without a more permanent waiver, however, funding for threat reduction programs could be frozen each year if the president does not certify Russian compliance with certain arms control agreements. “Without a permanent waiver, Russian implementation of key reductions under the Moscow Treaty could be suspended for more than six months each year while Congress considers additional waiver authority,” said Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who cosponsored the creation of the CTR program in 1991.
In response to those concerns, Congress is expected to debate providing more extensive waiver authority for threat reduction programs after the August recess. The Senate version of the fiscal 2003 Defense Authorization Act would grant the president permanent authority to waive the certification requirement annually if providing threat reduction funds “is important to the national security interests of the United States.” The House version of the authorization legislation, however, would provide waiver authority only through December 31, 2005.
House and Senate conferees began discussions to resolve differences in the authorization legislation before the recess began and will resume meetings after Congress reconvenes September 3, according to a Senate Armed Services Committee aide.
Meanwhile, the Senate approved an amendment Lugar proposed to the fiscal year 2003 Defense Appropriations Act that would also grant the president permanent authority to waive additional certification requirements that Congress has placed on providing funds for Russian chemical weapons destruction programs.
Congress appropriated up to $50 million for fiscal year 2002 to help Russia build the Shchuch’ye chemical demilitarization facility, but current U.S. law requires the president to certify that Russia has met six conditions, including provision of a full disclosure of its chemical weapons arsenal, for the funds to be released. The administration has said that Russia is not complying with these requirements, and without a waiver funds for the project are blocked.
The Senate passed the appropriations bill August 1, and House and Senate conferees are expected to meet sometime after the recess to resolve differences in their respective bills.