By Christine Kucia
A U.S.-sponsored chemical demilitarization program in Russia received a boost October 23 after President George W. Bush signed the fiscal year 2003 defense appropriations bill, which released funds that had been withheld from fiscal years 2000-2002 “for the planning, design, or construction of a chemical weapons destruction facility” at Shchuch’ye.
Congress requires that the president certify Russian compliance with certain conditions, such as abiding by arms control treaties, in order to provide funding for Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs, which include nuclear, biological, and chemical nonproliferation and disarmament projects.
In fiscal year 2000, President Clinton certified Russian compliance, but Congress denied funding for Shchuch’ye. In addition to the usual CTR certification requirements, some Republicans who questioned Russia’s commitment to destroying its chemical weapons stockpile denied funding again and inserted a provision into the fiscal year 2001 defense authorization bill imposing additional conditions on funds for the chemical demilitarization program. Among the requirements, the secretary of defense must certify that Russia has declared its entire chemical weapons stockpile and that Moscow is committed to allocating at least $25 million per year for Shchuch’ye’s construction and operation.
The Pentagon has been unable to certify these conditions and has therefore been prevented from spending money on Shchuch’ye that was allocated after the legislation was passed. The 2003 appropriations bill provides the president with the authority to waive the certification requirements, allowing the Defense Department to spend the backlogged funds and money to make up the 2000-2001 gap.
President Bush had asked Congress to grant him the authority to waive the conditions and allow the Shchuch’ye project to proceed. The House and Senate finally agreed to grant a one-year waiver authority as part of the appropriations bill in order to release the money withheld from fiscal years 2000-2002.
The congressional requirements and the Pentagon’s decision not to certify Russia’s compliance, however, might still prevent expenditure of funds allocated for fiscal year 2003. Waiver authority for 2003 funds was not in the appropriations bill. Although the fiscal year 2003 defense authorization bill could grant the president waiver authority for the general CTR program and the chemical destruction project, Congress has not yet completed it.
Before Congress passed the appropriations bill, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a key proponent of the CTR program in Congress, accused his colleagues in July of dangerous foot-dragging on the waiver issue. He declared, “It has been more than five years since the U.S. and Russia, each, ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention but no Russian chemical weapons are being destroyed…. Almost two million rounds of chemical weapons in relatively small and discrete shells [are] awaiting elimination at Shchuch’ye.” Lugar urged Congress to grant the president permanent waiver authority.