By Christine Kucia
Through the fiscal year 2003 Defense Authorization Act, which was sent to the White House November 13, Congress has granted the president the right to waive congressionally mandated conditions that were holding up funds for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program.
The CTR program, which provides Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union with U.S. financial and technical support to secure and dispose of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and materials, had struggled because a 1993 law requires the president to certify that Russia has met particular arms control benchmarks before CTR funding can be released.
President George W. Bush refused to certify that Russia had met the conditions for fiscal year 2002 funding, but he appealed to Congress for authority to waive the conditions and thus release the CTR money. Congress approved a waiver for fiscal year 2002 on July 24 and Bush signed it August 7—allowing less than two months to spend the released funds before the fiscal year ended September 30. (See ACT, September 2002.)
The House and Senate versions of the 2003 Defense Authorization Act entered the joint conference committee with differing language on the waiver authority. The House had granted only a one-year waiver to the general CTR program, while Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) argued strongly for a permanent waiver. Conferees from the House and Senate settled on the three-year waiver of the CTR conditions, so the president may waive the certification requirement for fiscal years 2003, 2004, and 2005. Congress could face the issue once again when it crafts the fiscal year 2006 bill.
Prior to the release of funds in each fiscal year, the president must provide an explanation of why U.S. national security interests and other factors make the waiver necessary. Congress allocated $416.7 million for CTR programs in fiscal year 2003, but the funds cannot be spent until Bush signs the waiver. In the meantime, the programs are operating on unspent funds carried forward from fiscal year 2002.
Representative John Spratt (D-SC) said he was pleased that the restrictions on the CTR program have been eased and that the funding for fiscal 2003 is imminent. “Rogue states that pose a threat to us can be a lot more threatening if they get outside help and materials.…We can help prevent the proliferation of these materials and keep those countries a long way off from developing weapons of mass destruction,” he said in an interview November 20.
CTR’s chemical weapons demilitarization program, however, still labors under a one-year waiver authority that was included in the 2003 Defense Appropriations Act passed in October and will be subject to congressional approval in the fiscal year 2004 budget bills. The chemical weapons program is governed by an extra set of requirements in addition to the general program’s conditions, and Congress has been reluctant to offer waiver authority because of unanswered questions about whether Russia has fully declared its stocks of chemical weapons. (See ACT, November 2002.)
Spratt was emphatic that the chemical weapons component of the CTR program proceed quickly. “There’s nothing to be lost in destroying these stocks; the sooner they’re destroyed, the better, irrespective if Russia has made a full declaration or not,” he said.