With a key U.S. lawmaker calling for more such projects, Albania has become the first country outside the former Soviet Union slated to receive assistance from the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. The United States will help the southeastern European state destroy its small stockpile of chemical weapons.
According to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the United States will provide Albania with about $20 million over two years to eliminate 16 tons of chemical agents. So far, U.S. funds from a different program have helped the Albanian government install a security fence and cameras around a storage barn containing the chemical agent.
The assistance is possible after President George W. Bush signed the Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act last December. The law, authored more than a decade ago by Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) was initially designed to safeguard and destroy Cold War stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and related delivery systems. It allows the president to use up to $50 million in CTR funds for nonproliferation activities outside of the former Soviet Union.
Lugar introduced legislation Nov. 16 that would further broaden the use of such funds. The legislation would eliminate the $50 million cap on programs outside of the former Soviet Union and transfer the authority for approving funds in this manner from the president to the secretary of defense.
“The Nunn-Lugar Program has established a deep reservoir of experience and talent that could be applied to non-proliferation objectives around the world,” said Lugar in an Oct. 21 press release highlighting the Albanian action. He noted that the area surrounding Albania has “witnessed tremendous violence and Muslim extremism over the last decade,” making it critical that the Nunn-Lugar program move quickly to destroy the chemical agents as soon as possible.
Lugar visited Albania Aug. 27-28 to meet with the nation’s prime minister and foreign and defense ministers and urge the leaders to accept U.S. assistance. While there, he also visited the storage barn where the chemical agents, currently in canisters, were being stored.
The president authorized the use of Nunn-Lugar funding in Albania Oct. 20, and the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency will lead the U.S. effort. A draft implementation agreement has already been prepared by the United States and is under review by the Albanians. The groundwork for additional assistance was laid last year in the May 2003 agreement between the United States and Albania increasing military relations and efforts to prevent weapons of mass destruction proliferation.
The Albanian government claims to have discovered the chemical agent stockpiles in several locations while canvassing the country for weapons caches hidden by the previous former Communist government. It is believed the chemical agents were imported during the 1980s.
The current location and nature of the stockpile was not revealed for security reasons, but it is widely believed that the canisters contain a mustard agent. Photographs taken by Lugar’s office show Chinese labels on the sides of the canisters, indicating that some are possibly of Chinese origin.
Albania did not declare its small stockpile to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) until March 2003 (See ACT, June 2003), although it had ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1994. By then, several interim deadlines for destroying portions of the chemical weapons stockpiles had passed. In July, the OPCW Executive Council recommended granting Albania extensions to three interim deadlines. The recommendation requires final approval from the Conference of the States Parties in December, which is considered likely. The U.S. assistance is designed to allow Albania to destroy its entire stockpile by the final CWC deadline in April 2007.