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– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
Nunn-Lugar at 15: No Time to Relax Global Threat Reduction Efforts
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Paul F. Walker

The Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, which will celebrate its fifteenth birthday later this year, is one of the clear successes of post-Cold War diplomacy. CTR was established in 1991 to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since then, the program, also known as Nunn-Lugar, after two of its founders, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), has deactivated more than 6,800 nuclear warheads and overseen the end of nuclear weapons programs in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

Yet, throughout the last decade and a half, the program has wrestled with recalcitrance on the part of some Russian bureaucrats and military officials and with opposition from some U.S. policymakers who have perceived it as a diversion of precious Pentagon resources.

The pressure to slow down or terminate the program has intensified recently in Washington, illustrated by less than optimal CTR budget requests from the Bush administration and reluctance by Congress to expand particular programs. Bilateral tensions also have spiked, leading to differences over funding priorities and potentially risking these efforts.

Now is not the time to abandon this valuable program. Thousands of nuclear warheads await deactivation, thousands of tons of chemical weapons remain to be destroyed, and dozens of nuclear submarines among other Cold War weapons systems await dismantlement. Although some significant changes need to be made, too much valuable work remains to be done to let relatively minor difficulties stand in the way of fulfilling this historic opportunity to improve both national and global security.

Post-Cold War Concerns

As the Cold War wound down in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a major concern, particularly in light of the growing lack of structure in East European and former Soviet capitals and militaries, was the threat of proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and related launch systems. The Soviet Union and United States had negotiated and signed several important bilateral arms control agreements throughout the 1970s and 1980s. These agreements had already led to important weapons reductions, including destruction of some 1,800 short- and intermediate-range missiles by the end of 1990.

However, the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union still bristled with nuclear warheads and launch systems in 1990: an estimated 1,398 ICBMs, 61 strategic nuclear submarines with 930 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and 175 long-range strategic bombers. In addition, the Soviet Union was thought to have at least 40,000 tons of chemical weapons and an unknown number of biological weapons and pathogens.

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact thus led to much concern about “loose nukes” and the overall security of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the former Soviet republics. As a result, Congress established the CTR program in November 1991 in the fiscal year 1992 defense authorization act. Both Nunn and Lugar, along with Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.)—who would later serve as secretary of defense—and others actively supported this new initiative. After the failed coup in Moscow in August 1991 and the complete disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, this initiative became all the more urgent. The final legislation, the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, authorized $400 million in Department of Defense funds to help the Soviet Union and its “successor entities” with three broad tasks:

  1. to “destroy nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons”;

  2. to “transport, store, disable, and safeguard weapons in connection with their destruction”; and

  3. to “establish verifiable safeguards against the proliferation of such weapons.”

Lugar, in the minority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, warned in late November 1991 that the Soviet breakup risked harming “international stability” and could mean much less security for nuclear arsenals. Senate colleagues warned of the “seizure, theft, sale or use of nuclear weapons or components…particularly if a widespread disintegration in the custodial system should occur.” They also warned of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction beyond the former borders of the Soviet Union. Nunn, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, summed up these major concerns as follows: “We are on the verge of either having the greatest destruction of nuclear weapons in the history of the world or the greatest proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, and scientific know-how on how to make these weapons, as well as chemical weapons, ballistic missiles, even biological weapons the world has ever seen.”

Other Senate proponents such as Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations panel, argued that the Nunn-Lugar amendment would be “assisting ourselves,” not just the Soviet Union, in preventing terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. Yet, critics such as Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) and other conservative Cold War politicians emphasized that this was simply foreign aid to an enemy state and would allow the Soviet Union to reinvest its own resources in more military hardware.

By 1993, two years after congressional passage, the CTR program acquired its current name and enlisted the help of the Departments of State and Energy for weapons security, transportation, demilitarization, and weapons scientist redirection efforts. Four years later, both of the departments would begin to request funds for their own complementary programs in nuclear nonproliferation and security.

Over the past decade, Energy Department programs have broadly focused on security and management of fissile materials, while State Department efforts have sought to engage former Soviet weapons scientists in civilian projects in order to preclude brain drain. Today’s Energy Department programs are managed under the National Nuclear Security Administration and include a variety of nuclear materials protection and cooperation assistance efforts, proliferation prevention initiatives, and the elimination of weapons-grade plutonium. Energy Department funding mechanisms are complex, but the total request for fiscal year 2007 is about $834 million. State Department programs have also supported export control and border security projects, have helped establish international science and technology centers in Moscow and Kiev for the retraining of weapons scientists, and have participated in legal negotiations on nonproliferation. Annual State Department funding, including the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund, is about $150 million.

This analysis focuses, however, on the Defense Department’s ongoing CTR program. Congress authorized $400 million annually out of the defense budget for the CTR program for its first four fiscal years, 1992-1995. Over the next decade, annual requests ranged from a low of $328 million in 1997 to a high of $476 million in 2000. Although the debates noted above have continued over the years regarding whether CTR funds are truly necessary for nonproliferation or rather a stealthy foreign aid program for the former Soviet Union, both parties in Congress have generally been receptive to executive branch requests. Over 15 years of funding requests, from 1992 to 2006, Congress has reduced funding only twice and increased funding only once. Approximately $6.1 billion has been requested and authorized over the period, averaging $407 million per year. Combined with Energy and State Department requests for global nonproliferation efforts but without amounts for U.S. fissile material reprocessing in the Energy Department budget, annual funding is about $1 billion, the amount to which the United States committed at the 2002 Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Kananaskis, which established the Global Partnership (see page 38). The current request for fiscal year 2007 for the CTR program is $372 million. In addition, the administration has requested $45 million in a fiscal year 2006 supplemental bill for enhanced warhead security.

The primary goal for the CTR program, as noted in the initial programmatic goals above, has been the security and elimination of former Soviet nuclear weapons. At the time of the CTR program’s establishment in late 1991, the Soviet Union’s strategic nuclear arsenal was estimated at well over 10,000 strategic nuclear warheads and bombs (some estimates, which include tactical weapons, range up to three times this amount) and deployed in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, in addition to Russia. Early projects included purchases of armored blankets, storage containers, railcar improvements, and emergency response vehicles for nuclear warhead security. CTR support remains ongoing today in weapons transportation and storage security. It has also focused on fissile materials storage as thousands of nuclear warheads are dismantled and bomb-grade fissile materials must be safely stored for the longer run. A major effort since the mid-1990s has been the construction of a $400 million storage facility at Mayak, outside of Chelyabinsk, designed to hold more than 25,000 fissile material containers from approximately the same number of nuclear warheads.

In addition to security, transportation, and storage of nuclear warheads and bomb-grade fissile materials, the dismantlement and destruction of nuclear weapons systems have been major CTR tasks and have helped to implement the 1991 START I and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (Moscow Treaty). The CTR program can claim a long list of accomplishments in reducing former Soviet weaponry. Perhaps most important, all nuclear warheads have been returned to Russia from the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. All strategic weapons infrastructure, including missiles and silos, has also been eliminated in Belarus and Kazakhstan, and elimination is underway in Ukraine.

The safe storage and destruction of Russian chemical weapons has also been a top priority of the CTR program. Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, along with the United States and many other countries, and ratified it in November 1997, six months after the U.S. Senate had approved the treaty. Russia declared seven chemical weapons stockpiles containing a total of 40,000 metric tons of nerve and blister agents. The United States, after a July 1994 inspection of the chemical weapons destruction site at Shchuch’ye, decided to help Russia build a large demilitarization facility at the 5,400-ton nerve agent stockpile. This stockpile was chosen primarily because of its proximity to the southern Russian border and the portability of its two million artillery shells. To date, the CTR program has committed more than $1.1 billion for this effort, including provision of mobile testing laboratories, construction of a Central Analytical Lab (CAL) in Moscow, and the dismantlement of two former chemical-agent production facilities.

Although a trip report from the 1994 on-site inspection included a recommendation to secure and destroy this site as soon as possible, construction did not officially begin at the site until March 2003, and demilitarization operations are predicted to commence as late as 2010, according to March 29 testimony by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Peter Flory. Because of the long delays in this project, Congress allocated $20 million in fiscal year 1999 for security upgrades at the two nerve-agent artillery shell stockpiles—Shchuch’ye and Kizner—which were completed three to four years later.

The CTR program has also sought, based on its original congressionally mandated tasks, to engage Russia in demilitarizing its enormous biological weapons establishment, estimated at 60,000 employees at more than 50 dispersed sites. Over the past decade, efforts have been made to improve security of biological weapons sites and specifically of biological pathogen collections, to redirect former weapons scientists through the Moscow International Science and Technology Center, and to help Russia develop more modern surveillance and monitoring systems. Progress in this area, however, has been very slow, as pointed out in a 2003 General Accounting Office report, because of lack of Russian transparency and site access, especially to military-related sites. This has caused the CTR program to focus more recently on former Soviet republics, such as Georgia, that have been more cooperative with Western partners.

The CTR program, after almost 15 years of work and some $6 billion in appropriations, has accomplished a great deal. The deactivation of over 6,800 nuclear warheads and almost 1,000 strategic missile launchers and silos alone is an enormous accomplishment for global security and homeland defense. As former Defense Secretary William Perry has noted, it is “defense by other means,” particularly important in today’s terrorist- and proliferation-threatened world.

Perhaps equally important, it has brought the major Cold War enemy, Russia, back into cooperative and allied relations with the West along lines—deep cuts in weapons of mass destruction—that many observers only dreamed about more than a decade ago.

Problems Requiring Resolution

However, there have been many tough challenges to threat reduction programs over the past 15 years that need to be resolved before the CTR program will have much hope of making better progress in the next decade.

Eliminating Bureaucratic Obstacles and Enhancing Transparency

Perhaps first and foremost is the need for cooperative, supportive, and transparent behavior on the part of all partners in nonproliferation and threat reduction efforts. This challenge covers a wide swath of territory and issues, but the many roadblocks that have been built over the years to inhibit cost-efficient project implementation require elimination.

Both access to Russian sites and Russian visa regulations for foreigners no doubt top most complaints of CTR officials. As noted, Russia has been very grudging in providing access to biological weapons facilities and needs to do more so that better security can be provided for dangerous pathogens. Likewise, U.S. officials rightly complain about Russia limiting or denying access to nuclear weapons facilities where they have installed equipment, thus preventing accountability.

In addition, paperwork for site access continues to be overly complicated. Although not surprising, especially when compared to current regulations in the United States for access to similar U.S. sites, one would hope that a more streamlined and trusting approach could have been developed over a decade of bilateral work. Likewise, Russian and U.S. visa regulations require expensive, complicated, and time-consuming processes that continue to inhibit constructive exchanges and cost-efficiencies in projects. Major CTR projects in Russia have spent millions of CTR dollars simply processing Russian short-term visas and covering travel for employees out of country during application processes. Visa approvals and denials can also be capricious and harmful at times, as was the case when a CTR project manager was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow and deported two years ago. This drains both financial resources and productive worker time and undermines mutual trust.

The most egregious example of a lack of transparency was the failure of a $100 million liquid rocket fuel disposition facility in Krasnoyarsk. After the CTR program built the facility, Russia announced that it had already used its strategic liquid-fueled missiles in space launches. Unfortunately, the lack of communication and transparency among the United States and Russian federal governments and agencies, and the primary U.S. contractor caused the facility to be finished long after the need for it had disappeared. There continues to be miscommunication among all parties in many projects, perhaps partly caused by language barriers and the failure of the CTR program to promote Russian language studies in its personnel, but this is also no doubt caused by lingering Cold War suspicions both by Russian and CTR managers.

Ending CTR Political Conditions

Another major and ongoing challenge to successful CTR projects is the need to overcome political conditions that stall and inhibit demilitarization efforts. The congressional debates over whether threat reduction projects are advantageous to national security have resulted in two sets of six congressional conditions being placed on CTR funds. Six broad conditions, such as whether Russia is adhering to all arms control and human rights agreements, require annual certification by the administration for all CTR projects. A second set of six conditions have been emplaced on the chemical weapons destruction work and require, for example, annual certification that Russia has fully and accurately declared its chemical weapons stockpile. Congress has fortunately provided annual waiver authority for the president, that is, the ability of the president either to certify or waive these 12 conditions in the interest of national security. Lugar was successful in 2005 in amending the fiscal year 2006 defense authorization act to eliminate these conditions all together. Unfortunately, his amendment did not survive the House-Senate conference on the bill. These conditions, now outdated and nonproductive, need to be removed for good. Lugar is expected to reintroduce his amendment again this year, a very positive step in facilitating more efficient and timely CTR efforts.

More Community Involvement

A third major obstacle for the CTR program has been the lack of project funds to support local community involvement and transparency at major CTR project sites in Russia. Most informed observers have recognized for a decade or more that centralized, authoritarian implementation by the Russian federal government of dangerous and contentious projects in Russia is no longer feasible because of local opposition and Russia’s democratic evolution. This first became obvious in 1989 when dozens of local factories and thousands of workers went on strike to protest the proposed opening of a secretly constructed chemical weapons destruction facility in Chapayevsk. This facility today remains open only for limited military training.

The first CTR program director, Major General Roland Lajoie, and his successor, Brigadier General Thomas Kuenning, both recognized that proactive community outreach was critical to project implementation and risk reduction. They both supported establishment of public outreach offices, managed by the environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO) Green Cross Russia and overseen by Global Green USA and Green Cross Switzerland, as a neutral, independent facilitator at the controversial Shchuch’ye site. The active involvement of the local community, including public hearings, independent health and risk assessments, and establishment of a Citizens’ Advisory Commission, have been central to making progress in this important project. Unfortunately, this model of project implementation has not been replicated at other CTR project sites, and community opposition continues to be a major challenge for most work in Russia.

The case of Votkinsk well illustrates this problem. The CTR program had agreed to help Russia destroy its solid rocket propellent and strategic missile stages at the Votkinsky Zavod, one of the largest missile factories in Russia. The project goal was to construct a closed-burn facility where some 800 or more large missile stages could be safely ignited and toxic gases carefully scrubbed. Russia had moved the project to Votkinsk after it had earlier been rejected by local authorities in Perm. After investing more than $100 million, about a quarter of the estimated project costs for the CTR program, the project was shut down because neither the CTR program nor the Russian government would meet local requests from the Udmurt regional government for some local investments. For want of 1-2 percent of project costs, a major strategic and environmentally sound disarmament initiative was lost.

Over the past few years, several members of the G-8 Global Partnership—Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and others—have recognized the importance of community involvement and have begun supporting local outreach offices. At the urging of NGOs and the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, William Burns, the U.S. Agency for International Development has also begun engaging local communities on a very limited basis. Additionally, the Russian federal government has begun over the past three years to invest limited resources in local communities. These efforts must be expanded and supported more actively by all threat reduction programs, including the projects of the Defense, Energy, and State Departments.

Consistent Funding

Lastly, adequate and predictable funding remains a major challenge for successful CTR implementation. Opponents of CTR funding regularly complain about the lack of burden-sharing among allies, including Russia. The establishment of the G-8 Global Partnership in 2002 at Kananaskis, Canada, where $10 billion was pledged over 10 years—essentially a match to the U.S. pledge of $10 billion—was a major step in the right direction. Russia, in participating in this pledge, also stepped up its funding profile. This was about 10 years late, but the delay is understandable given the difficult economic transition it weathered throughout the 1990s. Although some observers believe that the Global Partnership should have accomplished more over the past four years, it continues to expand its work as more countries commit funds to Russian nonproliferation projects.

Yet, the fiscal year 2007 CTR request of $372 million remains more than $40 million below the fiscal year 2006 appropriation and $80 million less if one includes the fiscal year 2006 supplemental request. Compared in real terms to the early years of the Nunn-Lugar appropriations, the CTR program receives less than half the funds it used to receive. It is apparent from this request, especially when several recent bipartisan studies have proposed spending at least double this amount, that a certain weariness is setting into CTR programs. Perhaps the Defense Department judges other more directly battlefield-related projects of higher priority. However, much still remains to be done in threat reduction; we would be terribly remiss, indeed irresponsible, not to take advantage of this unique opportunity to eliminate long-standing threats and proliferable weapons of mass destruction before they fall into the wrong hands.

The fiscal year 2006 defense authorization act requests a report from the Defense Department on impediments to successful implementation of nonproliferation and threat reduction programs. This report must fully cover these major challenges and offer short-term solutions to move these important projects forward.

According to recent CTR figures, the U.S. goal is to eliminate at least another 6,500 nuclear warheads, 850 ICBMs, 350 ICBM silos, 80 strategic bombers, almost 400 SLBMs, 300 SLBM launchers, 19 strategic ballistic missile submarines, and 5,400 tons of nerve agent; and this is the short list. More than 100 nuclear-powered attack submarines await dismantlement; another 34,000 tons of chemical agents are still to be destroyed; and tons of fissile material remain to be secured and safely stored, far beyond these initial threat reduction goals.

The CTR budget should be increased by at least $100 million to $472 million for fiscal year 2007, and high priority should be placed on accelerating warhead dismantlement, fissile material security and storage, and chemical weapons destruction at the nerve agent sites of Shchuch’ye and Kizner. International and multilateral projects are never simple or cheap, but every day lost to unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles, underfunded budgets, and lingering Cold War suspicions only increases risks to global and homeland security. This is not a time to lose commitment or energy for implementing the 1991 Nunn-Lugar threat reduction goals. This is not a time to reduce or sunset any nonproliferation programs.

This year also heralds renewal of the 1992 bilateral CTR Umbrella Agreement, which was amended and extended in 1999. Should this agreement lapse in June 2006, all CTR projects would run the risk of being halted. Fortunately, Flory testified before the Senate in March 2006 that Russia “has accepted U.S. terms for extension of this framework and we believe that we will be able to conclude negotiations well before the June 2006 deadline.”

Threat reduction projects, both bilateral and multilateral, remain extremely important. President George W. Bush has placed top priority on such initiatives in his recent National Security Presidential Directives regarding nuclear, chemical, and biological threats and promised “comprehensive strategies” to combat WMD proliferation. Political differences among the United States, Russia, and other countries, however challenging they may be, must not be allowed to stand in the way of securing and eliminating these potential tools of terrorists. The forthcoming G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July offers a timely opportunity for Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and other national leaders to reaffirm their commitments to cooperative nonproliferation and threat reduction goals and, equally important, to the elimination of ongoing obstacles to safe, efficient, and mutual disarmament objectives. Global security demands no less.


Paul F. Walker is Legacy program director with Global Green USA, the U.S. affiliate of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross International.


Details of CTR Budget Emerge

William Huntington

Funding for Department of Defense chemical weapons destruction in Russia will be cut sharply if Congress approves President George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2007 budget request, according to Pentagon documents released late March.

The Pentagon request for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program includes a proposed 61 percent cut in such assistance. In 2005, Congress approved $108.5 million in funds for the chemical weapons program for the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. But the administration only requested $42.7 million—a $66 million cut—for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which administers the CTR program, claims no more funds are needed beyond those requested for 2007, as those funds, in combination with funds already appropriated for 2005 and 2006, will allow for the completion of the chemical weapons destruction facility at Schuch’ye in Russia. But some nongovernmental advocates note that Russia is lagging far behind on its overall destruction commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention (see ACT, April 2006) and would benefit from additional assistance.

All told, the administration is seeking a cut of more than 10 percent to the CTR program, which seeks to secure, dismantle, and destroy weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and their production facilities in the former Soviet Union. The president requested $372.2 million for the CTR program for fiscal year 2007, down $43.3 million from the fiscal year 2006 appropriation of $415.5 million.

The administration has sought to step up current spending on the program before the fiscal year ends. The president included an additional $44.5 million for CTR warhead security programs within his 2006 supplemental appropriation request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is now being considered by Congress.

The WMD Proliferation Prevention program also faces a cut. The administration requested $37.5 million for the program, down from its 2006 appropriation of $40.6 million. Within the program, a significant increase of nearly three times is slated for the Caspian Sea Maritime Proliferation Prevention program in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, while the Land Border and Maritime Proliferation Prevention program in Ukraine is marked for a 48.5 percent cut. These programs seek to improve border controls and block WMD smuggling in certain former Soviet states.

The administration requested $77 million for the Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination program in Russia, down $1.9 million from the 2006 appropriation of $78.9 million. This program allows for the destruction of Russian strategic nuclear delivery systems, including ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and for the defueling and partial dismantlement of Delta- and Typhoon-class nuclear submarines.

The president has also requested increases for some CTR programs.

The Biological Weapons Proliferation Prevention program is slated to receive $68.4 million, an increase of $7.6 million, or 12 percent, from the 2006 appropriation of $60.8 million. The program assists states of the former Soviet Union with the development of modern disease detection and response, provides for secure storage of pathogen libraries, and supports cooperative research ventures.

Funding for the Nuclear Weapons Storage Security program was requested at a level of $87.1 million, up $3 million, or 3.5 percent, from the 2006 appropriation of $84.1 million. However, the programmatic increase is in fact larger than the top-line number suggests, as the 2006 appropriation included a one-time sum of $10 million for the construction of a training site for Russian WMD security officers.

The administration also requested a small increase for the Nuclear Weapons Transportation Security program, up $3 million, or 10 percent, to $33 million. The program works to improve security for nuclear warheads during transport, including the provision of special railcars.