ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Lugar, Hunter Lock Horns on Threat Reduction
Share this

Christine Kucia

For Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program that he helped inaugurate, this should be a crowning moment. A heightened awareness of potential terrorist and “rogue state” threats has drawn increased attention to the CTR effort, which helps Russia and former Soviet states secure and dispose of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons materials.

Over the past decade, Lugar has escorted the program through its numerous successes and trials as Congress battles over how much money to provide to its former Cold War adversary. Now newly reinstalled as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar is poised to put into action a bigger agenda: expand the CTR program to countries beyond the former Soviet Union and incorporate more extensive threat reduction projects.

Republican members of the House of Representatives, however, might deny Lugar his long-sought prize. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke recently about his dissatisfaction with the program’s oversight and projects, drawing attention to two facilities for destruction of weapons components that wasted nearly $200 million. His comments indicate that the scope of CTR projects and the money for them might undergo intense scrutiny as Congress deliberates over the program budget.

Presently funded at $416.7 million, the Pentagon’s CTR program offers Russia assistance and technical expertise to maintain its excess stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) safely. A recent report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Harvard University calls for even more U.S. investment in threat reduction efforts worldwide. However, the future of the program in many ways rests in the hands of Lugar and Hunter, who offer differing outlooks and priorities for the CTR program.

Congress Poses Procedural Hurdle

The CTR program grew out of the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, spearheaded by Lugar and then-Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA). It was designed to forestall the theft or illicit transfer of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and materials as the Soviet Union crumbled. Not long after the program’s founding, it grew to include a comprehensive array of goals addressing all aspects of the former Soviet WMD complex. From the beginning, the Department of Defense administered the CTR program to handle dismantlement and destruction of the weapons, but later the Energy and State Departments launched associated nonproliferation initiatives to tackle fissile material control, scientific “brain drain,” and the safe shutdown of production facilities for the weapons. This year, the United States will invest more than $1 billion in these programs.

Proponents of CTR, however, often have had difficulty securing the necessary funding from Congress. Deep-seated distrust of the former Soviet Union’s biological and chemical weapons programs spurred lawmakers in 1993 to attach conditions to U.S. funding allocated to Defense-run CTR programs. The conditions required presidential certification of Russia’s compliance with arms control and human rights agreements and Moscow’s own investment in disposing of its stored weapons. Despite the conditions, since the program’s inception, Congress has annually allocated funding to secure and dispose of nuclear and biological weapons materials.

However, suspicions of Russia’s chemical weapons stockpile declarations persisted. In 2001, Congress added another set of conditions specific to the chemical weapons demilitarization efforts, requiring certification that Russia had declared its chemical weapons stockpile in full and would implement a plan to help destroy its stockpiled nerve agents.

Yet, Congress still held the purse strings. With pressure from Republican House members prevailing, lawmakers eliminated funding for the chemical weapons destruction program in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, Congress finally approved $50 million—after the House Armed Services Committee tried to delete it—to help build a chemical weapons destruction facility in Shchuch’ye. But the conditions for the CTR chemical demilitarization program had caused an unintended obstacle to the program: President George W. Bush neither certified nor waived the extra conditions set out for Russia’s chemical weapons stockpile, freezing the project’s funding once again.

In 2002, prospects for CTR efforts brightened a little. After a nine-month delay, Congress agreed in July on program funding for fiscal year 2002, releasing the nonproliferation funding. In November, lawmakers passed funding for 2003 and authorized the president to waive the conditions for the nuclear and biological weapons programs for the next three years. Congress also granted the president authority to waive the chemical weapons program conditions for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 to release the project’s stalled funding, freeing up more than $183 million to help construct the Shchuch’ye facility. Bush signed the waivers for all CTR programs January 10, and, after formal notification to Congress, the fiscal year 2002 and 2003 funding was released March 19.

Lugar Rallies for Improvements

Since 1997, the Republican-dominated House and the more evenly divided Senate have demonstrated differing visions for CTR’s future through their funding priorities. House leaders consistently authorized less funding than requested, especially for chemical weapons programs, which were considered environmental problems, according to a March 2002 Congressional Research Service report. In contrast, the Senate—prodded by program cofounder Lugar—approved funding at the requested level or higher for the same programs.

Lugar, frustrated over the frequent funding delays and annual arguments over waiver authority, unsuccessfully urged his colleagues as they considered funding for 2002 and 2003 to extend permanent waivers for all conditions on CTR programs.

Elections in November 2002 changed the balance of Congress once again, and Lugar assumed the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Vested with newly acquired authority on a committee that influences programming for international programs, Lugar began circulating plans for securing additional funding for, and even expansion of, CTR projects.

In December 2002, shortly after assuming the chairmanship, Lugar wrote in Arms Control Today that “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.” To do this, he proposes once again to provide permanent waivers for the conditions saddling CTR programs, encouraging other governments to offer more financial assistance to secure weapons of mass destruction, and expanding CTR projects to extend beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.

The administration’s fiscal year 2003 supplemental appropriations request submitted to Congress March 25 offered an early sign of Lugar’s success. The bill requested using up to $50 million of CTR assistance for nonproliferation efforts beyond the former Soviet states. The current CTR program would provide the guidelines for establishing agreements arranged with the new recipient countries.

CTR Faces Difficulties

Considerable obstacles stand in the way of Lugar’s ambitions for the program. Joseph A. Christoff, director of international affairs and trade for the General Accounting Office (GAO), testified March 4 to the House Armed Services Committee about the critical problems that the U.S.-sponsored program faces. Christoff underscored Russia’s refusal to allow access to its sites with nuclear and biological weapons holdings as a significant obstacle, as well as Russian reluctance to fund its agreed-upon portion of the program expenses.

At the same hearing, David Steensma, the Defense Department’s deputy assistant inspector general for auditing, reported that a study conducted on construction of a CTR-funded liquid propellant disposition plant showed significant flaws in the U.S.-Russian planning and insufficient accounting for stages of work throughout the facility’s construction. Russia also refused to grant adequate access to U.S. officials to verify Russia’s stocks of the propellant, he said.

In addition, unbeknownst to U.S. officials, Russia used nearly all its stocks of the liquid propellant in the country’s space program rather than destroying the fuel at the U.S.-built facility, as the two countries had agreed. Russia claimed it had to use the propellant because the facility was taking years to build, according to media reports. The plant “will not be used for its intended purpose,” according to Steensma. The Defense Department must now decide what to do with the constructed plant, in which the department invested $137.2 million.

Recent reports indicate that the CTR program requires greater attention and funding in order to provide the security that it promises. A March 12 report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Harvard’s Managing the Atom Project revealed that the pace of the program—frequently interrupted by congressional squabbles over waiver authority and funding—and its scope cannot meet the threat reduction needs that it promises. It called progress on keeping nuclear materials out of terrorist hands “unacceptably slow” and recommended more funding from the United States and other Western governments to finance a broader palette of programs to secure nuclear material worldwide.

The report called for other initiatives, such as appointing a “nonproliferation czar” both in the United States and in Russia to facilitate planning and program execution (See ACT, March 2003); strengthening surveillance and detection capabilities related to the transport of nuclear material; and improving data exchanges on U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

Hunter, Lugar Trade Accusations

Reports on the CTR program’s failures stirred up criticism from Hunter, who argued at the March 4 hearing, “The CTR program has strayed from its original purpose at the same time that deeply disturbing instances of mismanagement and negligence are emerging.” Offering fact sheets on the liquid propellant plant project failure and a similar case involving a solid rocket motor disposition facility, Hunter criticized the practice of “diverting billions of dollars from the U.S. defense budget for these activities.”

Hunter’s recent remarks are not the first time he has weighed in on the program. At an October 9, 2002 hearing, Lugar pointed to Hunter’s work in the House as detrimental to CTR program efforts overall. Questioning past delays in securing CTR waiver authority, Lugar noted that Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) “said it’s on the Republican side that the difficulty lies. He identified…Duncan Hunter and Curt Weldon. It comes down to these House members.” A December 2 Los Angeles Times report points to Hunter and Weldon as instrumental to eliminating funding for the Shchuch’ye facility for two years and holding back financing for nuclear and biological weapons disposal projects.

Asked at a March 12 press briefing about the friction with Hunter—chairman of a committee that is instrumental to securing CTR funding—Lugar replied, “To the extent that I have caused any ripples of unfortunate unhappiness over there, I’ll try to be more diplomatic.” He also encouraged his congressional colleagues to learn more about the benefits of the CTR program to help it flourish.

Posted: April 1, 2003