"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
The Next Steps in U.S. Nonproliferation Policy

Richard G. Lugar

In 1991, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) and I pushed a bill through Congress that began a sustained American effort to assist the states of the former Soviet Union in safeguarding and destroying their enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Our argument was straightforward: with the Russian economy crumbling, the huge Soviet arsenal had to be secured, or weapons and materials of mass destruction inevitably would be stolen, sold, or diverted with disastrous consequences to U.S. national security.

As terrifying as the U.S.-Soviet nuclear competition had been, it had one advantage: both nations had an interest in preventing proliferation and keeping a tight lid on their own weapons systems. We lived in a world where nuclear annihilation was disturbingly possible, but smaller nuclear incidents involving terrorists or third countries were highly unlikely. The collapse of the Soviet Union blew the lid off the controls over the Soviet arsenal. Meanwhile, the failure of the Russian economy provided huge incentives to sell these weapons or the scientific knowledge of how to make them. This opened the possibility that rogue states and terrorist groups could buy or steal what they previously could not produce on their own.

Despite these realities, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program was highly controversial. The Cold War had only recently subsided, and a great deal of mistrust existed in both the United States and Russia. Many U.S. politicians argued that the United States should not aid our former enemy when we had plenty of pressing domestic needs. Prospects for the program were further complicated by the perception that devoting resources to foreign concerns was politically risky. Candidates for congressional seats and the presidency in 1992 sought to avoid association with foreign issues and foreign expenditures.

The Nunn-Lugar concept, however, overcame skepticism in both the United States and Russia. Working through private contractors, the program proved that U.S. resources could be efficiently applied to disarmament projects in the former Soviet Union with outstanding results. Our experiences also showed that in most cases Russian leaders, military officials, and local representatives were eager for help in safeguarding hazardous weapons systems and stockpiles.

In the first years of the Nunn-Lugar program, work focused on safely deactivating strategic nuclear warheads and dismantling their delivery systems. The program eventually branched out to include security measures for chemical and biological weapons, rapid responses to sudden proliferation threats, the safeguarding of fissile material, and numerous other initiatives. One of the most important accomplishments was the use of Nunn-Lugar programs to persuade Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus (each of which had inherited nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union) to give up their nuclear weaponry. The Nunn-Lugar program provided funds and technical expertise to safely move these nuclear warheads to Russia and to dismantle the associated delivery vehicles.

To date, Nunn-Lugar has deactivated more than 6,000 nuclear warheads, along with hundreds of bombers, missiles, and submarines. It is employing tens of thousands of Russian weapons scientists so they are not tempted to sell their knowledge to the highest bidder. The program also has made progress toward protecting and safeguarding nuclear material, biological weapons laboratories, and chemical weapons stockpiles. Beyond statistics, the Nunn-Lugar program has served as a bridge of communication and cooperation between the United States and Russia, even when other aspects of the relationship were in decline. It has improved military-to-military contacts and established greater transparency in areas that used to be the object of intense secrecy and suspicion.

We have come further than many thought that we could, but much more needs to be done quickly. Eleven years ago, when the Nunn-Lugar program was conceived, the terrorist threat was real but vague. Now, we live in an era when catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction is our foremost security concern. We must not only accelerate weapons dismantlement efforts in Russia, we must broaden our capability to address proliferation risks in other countries and build a global coalition to support such efforts, we must prioritize our nonproliferation goals, and we must overcome remaining political obstacles in our own country to efficient implementation.

Globalizing Nunn-Lugar

On June 27, 2002, leaders of G-8 member states meeting in Canada agreed to participate in a “Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.” The agreement pledges the United States to spend $10 billion toward dismantlement efforts over the next 10 years. Similarly, it commits the other G-8 nations, as a group, to spend $10 billion for the same purpose. As a result, the agreement has sometimes been referred to as “10 Plus 10 Over 10.” If the agreement were fully implemented, it would double the resources currently being expended on the broad range of Nunn-Lugar-style programs.

In August, I visited numerous Nunn-Lugar dismantlement sites and met with Russian leaders on nonproliferation issues. I found our Russian counterparts eager to discuss the 10-Plus-10 initiative. Shipyard directors, former biological weapons facility directors, and military commanders look forward to the opportunities that will be provided by the G-8 agreement. Likewise, interest in this initiative is keen in some European capitals. According to testimony Undersecretary of State John Bolton delivered October 9, Canada has pledged $650 million; the United Kingdom $750 million; Germany $1.5 billion; the European Commission $1 billion; and Japan, initially, $200 million. France and Italy reportedly are close to announcing their pledges.

Still, the future of the G-8 initiative is not assured. Many of our international partners will find it difficult to establish nonproliferation programs during a period of stagnating domestic economic growth. The United States must make clear that enormous opportunities exist at this moment in history to secure weapons and materials of mass destruction in Russia. Moreover, at a time when some U.S. allies and their populations are skeptical of military approaches to combating terrorism, the 10-Plus-10 formula offers a nonmilitary means through which they can have a profound impact on preventing catastrophic terrorism.

Another difficult hurdle will be ensuring Russia’s willingness to extend full audit rights and exemptions from taxes and liability to nations other than the United States. The U.S.-Russian “umbrella agreement” covering these issues has been crucial to the smooth operation of Nunn-Lugar programs. I am optimistic that the prospect of significant new resources for disarmament programs will lead to the conclusion of umbrella agreements between Russia and other contributing nations.

Although 10-Plus-10 is a G-8 initiative, it welcomes participation by countries outside the G-8. If other states were to become involved, additional resources and expertise could be devoted to disarmament and a truly global coalition devoted to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could be built. Though not a G-8 country, Norway has been a leader in working with the Russians to address the security and environmental problems posed by Russia’s decaying nuclear submarine fleet and other nuclear hazards in the Arctic region. Our own experience with Norway and Russia in the trilateral Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation program, or AMEC, may provide instruction for integrating G-8 nations into the broader Nunn-Lugar effort.

If 10-Plus-10 is to work, it will require vigorous U.S. leadership. No other country has the depth of experience in nonproliferation efforts or the ability to coordinate contributions from nations with widely divergent nonproliferation goals and interests. I plan to offer legislation in the 108th Congress that will support U.S. leadership and coordination relating to the 10-Plus-10 agreement. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing on 10-Plus-10 on October 9, will continue very public reviews and diplomatic activity to maintain momentum toward gaining effective global participation in the Nunn-Lugar concept.

The focus of 10-Plus-10 nonproliferation efforts will be on Russia because that is where most weapons and materials of mass destruction exist. But the United States and the international community should apply Nunn-Lugar concepts and practices to nations outside the former Soviet Union as well. The agreement envisions that some projects may go beyond weapons dismantlement efforts to include counterterrorism, nuclear safety, and environmental damage containment.

Today, we lack even minimal international confidence about many proliferation risks. Some of these risks involve overt programs, such as those in India and Pakistan. But others involve ostensibly peaceful nuclear, chemical, and biological research programs; nuclear power facilities; chemical production facilities; or other legitimate civilian activities that use dangerous materials. It is critical that the United States lead in establishing a global coalition capable of exerting pressure on states to cooperate with the safeguarding, accounting, and (where possible) destruction of weapons and materials of mass destruction. Given that war is being contemplated with Iraq over the question of their weapons programs, it is reasonable to ask why more is not being done on a global scale to control other proliferation risks.

The Nunn-Lugar program provides a model for international action. A global version of Nunn-Lugar could coordinate assistance for those nations seeking help in securing or destroying weapons or dangerous materials. Such a coalition could be built and sustained with contributions of money and expertise from participating countries. Like a military coalition, a standing bureaucracy would not necessarily be required. The coalition would create international standards of accountability for protecting and handling nuclear material and deadly pathogens. It would help organize international pressure on states to comply with those standards. Coalition members would undertake missions to secure dangerous materials or weapons that were at risk of falling into the wrong hands. They could also develop cooperative procedures for coming to the aid of victims of nuclear, biological, or chemical terrorism.

Clearly, some nations would resist any accountability in the area of weapons of mass destruction. But the resistance of nations such as Iraq or North Korea is not a reason to forego wider nonproliferation efforts. A global coalition aimed at controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction would bring new assets to bear in this effort. It could also give greater substance to the improved U.S.-Russian post-Cold War relationship propounded by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. Russia’s participation and expertise would be essential to the coalition’s success.

Top 10 Disarmament Priorities

If the 10-Plus-10 agreement is implemented, careful analysis and coordination must occur to ensure that the initiative achieves the maximum nonproliferation benefits. In June 2002, I developed the following “Top 10 List” of nonproliferation projects that could be undertaken as additional resources become available. Other proliferation threats exist beyond the 10 listed, but the intent of the list is to stimulate critical thinking about matching resources to the threats that face the international community.

1. Chemical Weapons: The United States and Russia ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. Today, more than five years later, Russia has barely begun to eliminate its estimated 40,000-metric-ton stockpile. I have visited Shchuch’ye, one of the major chemical weapons repositories in Russia where a chemical weapons destruction facility is to be built with U.S. cooperation. At that location, there are approximately 2 million shells and warheads filled with sarin, VX, and other nerve gases. The smallest of these, an 85 mm shell, can easily fit into a briefcase. Just one briefcase could carry enough chemical agent to kill thousands of people. The possibility that deadly weapons could be lost, stolen, or traded is high. Because of these factors, Shchuch’ye and the Russian chemical weapon stockpile represent one of the greatest proliferation threats in the world.

2. Biological Weapons: The United States must continue to work closely with Russia to assist in the conversion of former biological weapons facilities. The Nunn-Lugar program is working closely with the International Science and Technology Center at the State Department to upgrade security and engage Russian scientists and technicians in peaceful work. We have made great progress at facilities such as the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (also known as Vector), but there are still some facilities that have not been opened to anyone. Opening these facilities, ensuring that their scientists do not transfer their weapons knowledge, and providing necessary security upgrades must be high on any list of priorities.

3. Tactical Nuclear Weapons: U.S.-Russian cooperation must move beyond strategic nuclear systems into the tactical weapons arena. By some measures, the proliferation threat posed by tactical nuclear systems is more serious than that posed by strategic weapons. Tactical warheads are more portable; they usually are deployed closer to potential flashpoints; and many are not secured at the same level as strategic systems. We must establish mutual confidence in the quantity, status, storage, and security of tactical nuclear weapons.

4. Employment of Former Weapons Scientists: Tens of thousands of Russian weapons scientists have been employed by the United States in peaceful pursuits under the auspices of the State Department’s International Science and Technology Center and the Department of Energy’s Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention. If Russian weapons experts are placed in a position of economic desperation or bankruptcy, the possibility that at least some will sell their services elsewhere is high. I have encouraged U.S. corporations and those from G-8 states to explore the possibility of purchasing or investing in Russian laboratories. Only when these Russian weapons scientists have long-term employment in peaceful pursuits will we be able to scale back our efforts in this area.

5. Material Protection, Control, and Accounting: After eight years of close cooperation and considerable effort, 40 percent of the facilities housing nuclear materials in Russia have received security improvements through U.S. assistance. This represents great progress, but it is far short of the comprehensive protection that is required to prevent proliferation. Furthermore, only half of the facilities that have received improvements have complete security systems. Russia should continue to consolidate materials in fewer locations, but if facilities housing nuclear weapons materials are vulnerable, they must receive upgrades as quickly as possible, regardless of consolidation plans.

6. Radioactive Sources: The Soviet Union produced hundreds of small nuclear generators, known as radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs), to supply power at remote sites. These RTGs are considered very dangerous because they hold nuclear material that might be used in a radiological weapon, or “dirty bomb.” The Russian government does not have an accurate accounting of where all the generators are located. We must find these units, secure them, and remove the dangerous materials.

7. Shutdown of Plutonium-Producing Reactors: There are three nuclear reactors in Siberia producing a total of 1.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium per year as a byproduct of their operation. Russia will not shut down these reactors until replacement power sources are available because the reactors are the sole source of electricity and heat in their region. As we continue to safeguard and eliminate nuclear material in Russia, we must also take steps to ensure that no additional weapons-grade material is created.

8. Plutonium Disposition: The United States and Russia have agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Both sides will fabricate the material into mixed oxide fuel that will be irradiated in commercial nuclear reactors. The fabrication processes will require significant investments by both sides in new facilities. An estimated $2 billion will be needed to build and implement the Russian effort.

9. Nonstrategic Submarines: Each time I visit Russian shipyards, I am startled by the enormity of the task that lies before us in the area of submarine dismantlement. Nunn-Lugar is limited to dismantling strategic missile submarines. This restriction is a mistake. There are important nonproliferation, security, and environmental benefits to the timely dismantlement of conventional submarines. Many carry cruise missiles that could prove valuable to the missile programs of rogue nations. Other submarines, such as the Alfa attack submarine, are powered by nuclear fuel enriched to very high levels, which could pose serious proliferation risks if unsecured.

10. Reactor Safety: The United States and its allies must work together with Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere to convert reactors that currently use weapons-grade material to burn less-enriched fuel. Potential threats stemming from these kinds of reactors are not hypothetical. In 1998, Operation Auburn Endeavor, a covert mission funded by the Nunn-Lugar program, was launched to take highly enriched uranium material from a vulnerable Georgian storage facility to safekeeping.

Overcoming American Obstacles

Given international concern with nonproliferation since September 11, one would imagine that the wisdom of expanding the size and scope of cooperative nonproliferation efforts would be self-evident. Ironically, proponents of Nunn-Lugar activities have faced more American obstacles this year than in any year since Nunn-Lugar’s creation.

The Bush administration has repeatedly stated official support for Nunn-Lugar programs, and it took the initiative at the Kanaskis Summit to push the 10-Plus-10 agreement. However, despite the endorsements of the president and top administration officials, the program encountered unnecessary challenges, including the temporary suspension of new dismantlement activities. This resistance seemed to originate in the national security bureaucracy.

Opposition in Congress, however, is less ambiguous. Some of my colleagues on Capitol Hill oppose Nunn-Lugar outright or assign it a very low priority among national security programs. Members have not always provided reasons for their opposition, but the combination of lingering Cold War attitudes toward Russia and resistance to nontraditional forms of defense spending have colored the debate. This opposition has resulted in delays in Nunn-Lugar implementation and limitations on its scope. This is unfortunate and difficult but not insurmountable. The fate of the three legislative proposals described below provide a glimpse of the opposition Nunn-Lugar faces.

General Nunn-Lugar Waiver
Each year, the president is required by law to make six certifications to Congress before new Nunn-Lugar projects can be implemented. Until this year, these certifications were made routinely. However, the Bush administration chose not to issue a certification because of unresolved concerns with incomplete Russian disclosures about their chemical and biological weapons legacy. Instead, the administration requested a waiver to the certifications.

Unfortunately, passage of this important waiver authority was delayed for months as all appropriate legislative vehicles were held up by unrelated political and policy disputes. A temporary waiver was finally passed as an amendment to the 2002 supplemental appropriations bill. But absent waiver authority, no new Nunn-Lugar projects could be started and no new contracts could be finalized between April 16 and August 9, 2002.

This delay caused numerous disarmament projects in Russia to be put on hold, including installation of security enhancements at 10 nuclear weapons storage sites; initiation of the dismantlement of two strategic missile submarines and 30 submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and initiation of the dismantlement of SS-24 rail-mobile and SS-25 road-mobile ICBMs and launchers. Clearly, these projects were in the national security interest of the United States.

A second period of delay began on October 1, 2002, with the expiration of the temporary waiver contained in the supplemental appropriations bill. Again, U.S. national security suffered with the postponement of critical dismantlement and security activities.

Even as the supplemental appropriations bill with the temporary waiver worked its way through Congress, I was attempting to pass a permanent waiver. Despite the positive testimony of the secretaries of state and defense, the strong support of the national security adviser, and Senate advocacy of a permanent waiver, the House Armed Services Committee argued for a one-year waiver or no waiver at all. In the end, a three-year waiver was included in the defense authorization bill passed by Congress in November 2002.

This represents progress, but three years from now when the waiver expires, efforts to dismantle and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction may again be suspended and left to the mercy of bureaucratic and legislative red tape. The weapons and materials of mass destruction targeted by Nunn-Lugar are too dangerous to leave to the whims of congressional holds and roadblocks.

Shchuch’ye Waiver
Specific conditions imposed by Congress—above and beyond those that apply to Nunn-Lugar in general—continue to delay construction of the chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye. The United States and the international community have a vital interest in the rapid construction of this facility. Without it, little progress will be made toward eliminating Russia’s enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons, which are both highly lethal and a profound proliferation risk.

Security and living conditions at Shchuch’ye are substandard, and there is virtually no inventory control. Shchuch’ye houses nearly two million modern ground-launched chemical weapons. These artillery shells and Scud missile warheads are in excellent working condition, and many are small and easily transportable. They could be employed by terrorists, religious sects, or paramilitary units with potentially catastrophic effect. Russian sources have estimated that the weapons stored at Shchuch’ye could kill the world’s population some 20 times over. The size and lethality of the weapons at Shchuch’ye are a direct proliferation threat to the American people.

The Bush administration has been clear on its support for construction of the facility. In a letter to me, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, has requested that Congress pass a waiver to the conditions it imposed on the Shchuch’ye project. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has expressed his support for the waiver in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Secretary of State Colin Powell has repeatedly appealed to members of Congress in letters and telephone calls.

The project at Shchuch’ye was reviewed by the administration as part of its nonproliferation program review last year. In a fact sheet released December 27, 2001, the White House stated that, “The Department of Defense will seek to accelerate the Cooperative Threat Reduction project to construct a chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye, to enable its earlier completion at no increased expense. We welcome the contributions that friends and allies have made to this project thus far, and will work for their enhancement.”

I offered an amendment in July 2002 to the Senate’s defense appropriations bill providing the president with permanent waiver authority to the congressionally imposed conditions on chemical weapons elimination. My amendment was adopted by unanimous consent in the Senate, but it immediately faced opposition in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, this opposition led to the downgrading of the authority to a one-year waiver. Again, this failure to provide the president with the sustained authority he needs to continue weapons dismantlement could lead to suspension of efforts to eliminate the 40,000- metric-ton Russian chemical weapon stockpile at the end of this fiscal year on September 30, 2003. Unless permanent waiver authority is granted, we risk additional delays as the Pentagon attempts to construct the facility at Shchuch’ye.

Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act
As the United States and our allies have sought to address the threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the aftermath of September 11, we have come to the realization that in many cases we lack the appropriate tools to address these threats. Beyond Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, Nunn-Lugar-style cooperative threat reduction programs aimed at weapons dismantlement and nonproliferation do not exist. The original Nunn-Lugar legislation passed in 1991 only authorized threat reduction programs in the states of the former Soviet Union. The ability to apply the Nunn-Lugar program to states outside the former Soviet Union would provide the United States with another tool to confront the threats associated with weapons of mass destruction.

The continuing experience of Nunn-Lugar has created a tremendous nonproliferation asset for the United States. We have an impressive cadre of scientists, technicians, negotiators, and managers working for the Defense Department and for associated defense contractors. These individuals understand how to implement nonproliferation programs and how to respond to proliferation emergencies.

I offered both a freestanding bill and an amendment to the defense authorization bill designed to empower the administration to respond to both emergency proliferation risks and less-urgent opportunities to further nonproliferation goals. If foreign nations request U.S. help in securing vulnerable weapons or materials of mass destruction, it is essential that our agencies not be hindered by a lack of legislative authorization. Unfortunately, this effort to improve U.S. nonproliferation capabilities met a chilly reception in the House of Representatives. Criticism was based upon two premises. First, some believed that the Pentagon already held the authority to utilize Nunn-Lugar funds and expertise outside the states of the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, this view was not held by Defense Department officials who requested the legislative authority. Second, critics of Nunn-Lugar pointed out that, by expanding the possible scope of the program the concept it employs might become a permanent fixture of defense policy. In this, they were absolutely correct. In fact, it is my hope that the tool that has served U.S. security so well in Russia might prove effective in addressing additional threats related to weapons of mass destruction elsewhere.

House opposition to the Lugar amendment led to an unsatisfactory outcome in the conference committee wherein the Pentagon was required to report to Congress on the need for authority to operate outside the states of the former Soviet Union. It is incomprehensible to me that, at a time in which our country is involved in a worldwide war against terrorism, Congress is refusing to permit the utilization of tested and proven concepts to address the threat posed by the nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.


To appreciate what the United States and Russia are doing through the Nunn-Lugar program, one has to step back and view it from the perspective of history. After decades of tense military confrontation and ideological struggle, we are sending American firms and know-how to our former enemy to dismantle and safeguard their massive stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Our former enemy is welcoming us and, in fact, asking us for even more help. Both sides have had to set aside our past and current differences to accomplish this cooperation. Historically, no great military power has ever possessed the opportunity to work with another military power in mutual threat reduction on such an awesome agenda.

Our ultimate goal should be to build on the Nunn-Lugar success by constructing a global coalition to safeguard nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their component materials and technology. This post-Cold War campaign will be a painstaking process. But it is one that all of us must be committed to with the same stamina and resolute purpose that accompanied our victory in the Cold War. The real question is whether there exists sufficient political will, particularly in the Congress, to devote the requisite resources and attention to these programs. If we are to block terrorist acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, then bipartisan vision, statesmanship, and patience will be required over many years.

Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) will assume the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee when the 108th Congress convenes in January.