"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Eliminating the Obstacles to Nunn-Lugar

Senator Richard Lugar

The war on terrorism proceeds in a world awash with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials. Most of these are stored in the United States and Russia; but they also exist in India, Pakistan, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Israel, Great Britain, France, China, and possibly other nations.

We must anticipate that terrorists will use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) if allowed the opportunity. The minimum standard for victory in this war is the prevention of any terrorist cell and rogue state from obtaining weapons or materials of mass destruction. We must make certain that all sources of weapons of mass destruction are identified and systematically guarded or destroyed. We have taken important steps in this regard and scored some important victories. In particular, to combat the WMD threat in the former Soviet Union, the United States has carried out the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Nunn-Lugar has devoted U.S. technical expertise and money for successful joint efforts to safeguard and destroy materials and weapons of mass destruction (see box).

In his Feb. 11 speech at the National Defense University, President George W. Bush expressed his strong support for the Nunn-Lugar program, stating, “In 1991, Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar legislation.…Under this program, we’re helping former Soviet states find productive employment for former weapons scientists. We’re dismantling, destroying and securing weapons and materials left over from the Soviet WMD arsenal.”

However, the president noted, “We have more work to do.” I agree. Unfortunately, some of our important work has lagged because of pockets of resistance within Congress and the administration. For example, new Nunn-Lugar projects in Russia were halted for more than six months in 2002-2003 because the administration determined it could not certify that Russia had satisfied all of six legislatively- mandated conditions. In particular, Russia had not provided what the United States considered “full and accurate” disclosure of the size of its chemical weapons stockpile and had not developed a practical plan for nerve agent destruction.

Resumption of assistance was possible only after Congress granted and the president exercised limited authority to waive certification requirements in the interest of national security. This authority will expire again on September 30, 2005 (the end of fiscal year 2005), and Bush has rightly requested that Congress make the waiver authority permanent. Unfortunately, so far Congress has denied this request. This bureaucratic logjam must be corrected. I share the policy goals associated with the certification requirements, but the elimination of weapons of mass destruction must be our top priority.

In addition, under Bush’s leadership, Group of Eight (G-8) leaders pledged to match U.S. funding of nonproliferation efforts in the former Soviet Union. Under the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, G-8 leaders pledged an additional $10 billion over 10 years for Nunn-Lugar programs in the former Soviet Union. Submarine dismantlement and chemical weapons destruction have been identified as the highest priorities for G-8 funding.

The administration has proposed a slight cut in Nunn-Lugar funding in its fiscal year 2005 budget request. Fortunately, this will have little practical effect in the short term because, unlike past years, there is enough money in the pipeline to carry out all the projects currently underway. It is important to demonstrate a vigorous commitment to the “10 plus 10 over 10” program to our G-8 partners, some of whom have been slow to fulfill their commitments. The good news is that other countries outside the G-8, such as Norway, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, have stepped up to pledge funds.

It was in part to help rally support for the Global Partnership that I recently hosted a meeting of ambassadors and representatives of the nine countries that have made contributions for constructing a chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye. In addition to representatives from the Pentagon and Russia, the ambassadors of Norway, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and the European Union joined in a discussion about our cooperative efforts to dismantle the dangerous chemical weapons stockpile at Shchuch’ye. The United States and Russia are building a new chemical weapons destruction facility in western Siberia, which holds tons of munitions filled with deadly nerve gas, including sarin, soman, and VX.

With strong international support, construction of the chemical weapons elimination facility is underway and making good progress. Pentagon officials briefed the ambassadors on the progress to date and laid out the projected timelines for completing construction and commencing elimination operations.

Yet, despite the obvious national security benefits associated with destroying chemical weapons stockpiles in Russia, the effort has faced political opposition in Congress and elsewhere.[1] Opposition is all the more perplexing when one considers Bush’s strong commitment to the Nunn-Lugar program, as well as to our chemical weapons destruction efforts in Russia. As a result of the Nonproliferation Strategy Review conducted by the administration in 2001, Bush called on the Department of Defense to accelerate work at Shchuch’ye. I have spoken to the president about this issue on several occasions, and each time he has expressed his support and directed his national security team to assist in resolving bureaucratic and legislative obstacles.

I have visited Shchuch’ye twice and am convinced that the weapons stored there must be dismantled quickly and safely. Nearly two million artillery shells and SCUD missile warheads filled with sarin, soman, and VX are stored in 14 wooden warehouses. Many of the warheads stored there are small and easily portable. In fact, three 85mm shells stored at Shchuch’ye can fit in a normal business briefcase and are capable of killing thousands.

Yet, at the insistence of the House of Representatives, Congress placed six conditions on U.S. assistance for chemical weapons destruction that the president must certify Russia is meeting before any funds can be obligated or expended (see box). In 2002 the administration did not certify that Russia was meeting its arms control obligations in this area. As a result, funding for the project was suspended until Bush signed a waiver in January 2003. We would have faced a similar prospect this year, but the National Defense Authorization Act extended this authority through September 2005. To date, the Russians have worked to satisfy five of the six conditions, leaving one remaining barrier to U.S. assistance.

The remaining condition requires the full and accurate disclosure of the Russian chemical weapons stockpile. There is disagreement over whether the Russian declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention is complete. The Russians have not granted access to some closed facilities, which they say either no longer house chemical weapons materials or never did. It is extremely important to reach an acceptable conclusion to this matter this year. It cannot be set aside, as some Russians have proposed.

Despite these sticking points, I have been working with colleagues in the Senate to ensure that the United States continues its assistance in the area of chemical weapons destruction in Russia. If current projections are met, the Shchuch’ye project will begin to destroy live agents in 2007. Assuming a destruction rate of 1,700 metric tons of nerve agent per year, it will take six-and-a-half years to destroy the nerve agent that Russia stores at Shchuch’ye. When that task is complete, chemical weapons will be brought from other locations in Russia for elimination at Shchuch’ye.

The remaining obstacles to biological weapons proliferation cooperation must also be addressed. I have visited numerous facilities involved in the Soviet biological weapons program, including Obolensk and Vector, where the smallpox virus and other lethal germs were produced. Cooperation is ongoing between the U.S. government and most of the facilities involved in the former Soviet biological weapons program. American officials, scientists, and contractors are at these sites every day, working closely with Russian colleagues to improve security, take accurate inventories, and engage former weapons scientists in peaceful projects.

Unfortunately, four former military facilities continue to refuse to cooperate with the Nunn-Lugar program. The United States has not received a satisfactory explanation for this refusal. Some Russian leaders have had the audacity to suggest that any concern is unnecessary because a biological weapons program never existed in the Soviet Union. Our Russian partners must get over this denial and obfuscation. We are anxious to assist Russia in transforming these facilities to peaceful purposes. However, success depends on honesty and transparency.

Partly thanks to the Nunn-Lugar program, U.S. officials now have considerable information about the weapons arsenals of the former Soviet republics. Elsewhere, however, the United States lacks even minimal international confidence about various foreign weapons programs, particularly those in the most worrisome countries. In most cases, there is little or no information regarding the number of weapons or amounts of materials a country may have produced, the storage procedures they employ to safeguard their weapons, or their plans regarding further production or destruction programs.

Congress took important steps in the Fiscal Year 2004 Defense Authorization Conference Report to respond to these threats. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) and ranking member Carl Levin (D-Mich.) took the lead with legislation that expands the president’s authority to confront the threat posed by proliferation, where needed, beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. As Bush has pointed out, Iraq and Libya are two obvious places to start, and we should be considering ways to work out agreements with other countries as well. A key part of the additional power granted to the president is modeled on legislation I authored, the Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act. This provision gives the president the authority to use the Nunn-Lugar program beyond the former Soviet Union to address proliferation emergencies. A formal treaty would not be needed if other international arrangements could be worked out. In his recent speech at the National Defense University, Bush endorsed efforts to expand the Nunn-Lugar program and related nonproliferation efforts. He also called on the G-8 “to expand (the Global Partnership) elsewhere in the world.”

The continuing experience of the Nunn-Lugar program has created a tremendous nonproliferation asset for the United States. We have an impressive cadre of talented scientists, technicians, negotiators, and managers working for the Defense Department and associated defense contractors who understand how to implement nonproliferation programs and how to respond to proliferation emergencies. The new authority to go beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union will permit and facilitate the use of Nunn-Lugar expertise and resources when nonproliferation threats around the world are identified.

Proliferation threats sometimes require an instantaneous response. We must not allow a proliferation or WMD threat to “go critical” because we lacked the foresight to empower the United States to respond. Under the Nunn-Lugar program, the United States has undertaken time-sensitive missions such as Project Sapphire in Kazakhstan and Operation Auburn Endeavor in Georgia that have kept highly vulnerable weapons and materials of mass destruction from being proliferated. The new authority will make it easier for the administration to carry out such needed actions.

The precise replication of the Nunn-Lugar program will not be possible everywhere. Clearly, many states will continue to avoid accountability for programs related to weapons of mass destruction. When nations resist such accountability, other options must be explored. When governments continue to contribute to the WMD threat facing the United States, we must be prepared to apply diplomatic and economic power, as well as military force.

Yet, we should not assume that it is impossible to forge cooperative nonproliferation programs with critical nations. The experience of the Nunn-Lugar program in Russia has demonstrated that the WMD threat can lead to extraordinary outcomes based on mutual interest. No one would have predicted in the 1980s that American contractors and Defense Department officials would be on the ground in Russia destroying thousands of strategic systems. If we are to protect ourselves during this incredibly dangerous period, we must create new nonproliferation partners and aggressively pursue any nonproliferation opportunities that appear. Nunn-Lugar expansion authority is the first step down that road. Ultimately, a satisfactory level of accountability, transparency, and safety must be established in every nation with a WMD program.

There are always risks when expanding a successful venture into new areas, but I do not believe we have a choice. This new venture, like its predecessor, will take time to organize and to establish operating procedures. Some in Washington do not support our cooperative efforts. But this is not the view of the president. He has embraced the Nunn-Lugar concept and has endorsed efforts to apply it worldwide. Nunn-Lugar has developed a unique capability to address these threats and has proven its value to our country’s security. But the program needs firm policy guidance and aggressive diplomacy to engage potential partners. We must work diligently in the future to ensure that we make maximum benefit of the window of opportunity that remains open in Russia and around the world to address the threats that challenge our nation. I am hopeful that, a decade from now, we will look back on this effort and marvel at the successes we have enjoyed.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.


Chemical Weapons Certification

In order to release threat reduction funding for Shchuch’ye, current law requires the president to certify that the following six conditions have been met:

1. Russia has allocated at least $25 million annually for chemical weapons

2. Russia has enacted a law that provides for elimination of all nerve agent at a single site [Shchuch’ye];

3. Russia has agreed to destroy or convert its nerve agent production facilities;

4. There is an international commitment to fund and build the necessary infrastructure for a chemical weapons destruction facility;

5. Russia has provided full and accurate information on the size of its chemical weapons stockpile; and

6. Russia has developed a practical plan for nerve agent destruction.

As of January 2004, the first four issues had been resolved. Russia has committed to comply with the sixth by March.

The Nunn-Lugar Scorecard

A decade of efforts under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program have produced a number of tangible disarmament results in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Key totals, as of February 3, 2004:

6,282 Former Soviet nuclear warheads separated from missiles
529 Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) destroyed
458 ICBM silos eliminated
8 ICBM mobile launchers destroyed
124 Strategic bombers eliminated
668 Nuclear air-launched cruise missiles destroyed
408 Sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers eliminated
474 SLBMs eliminated
27 Strategic missile submarines destroyed
194 Nuclear test tunnels/holes sealed
40,000 Metric tons of chemical weapons stored in seven locations awaiting destruction

1. See Christine Kucia, “Lugar, Hunter Lock Horns on Threat Reduction,Arms Control Today, April 2003, p. 34.

Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.