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Nunn-Lugar Program Scaled Back
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Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

Russia and the United States on June 14 agreed to a pared-down replacement for a 1992 pact that formed the basis of their joint efforts to control or destroy Russian weapons of mass destruction and related material and delivery vehicles.

The Obama administration described the new pact as a recalibrated extension of the old agreement. But some current and former congressional staffers said they saw it more as the sunset of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, commonly known by the names of the authors of the 1991 legislation that established the effort, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

The new accord replaces the so-called CTR umbrella agreement, which expired June 17.

Cooperation between the two countries will continue “in a broad array of nuclear security and nonproliferation areas,” such as security of nuclear and radiological material and conversion of research reactors from using highly enriched to low-enriched uranium fuel, according to a June 19 State Department summary of the agreement. But Russia “will assume the costs [of] and complete without further U.S. assistance” two main parts of the CTR effort—destruction of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons—the summary said.

That shift is reflected in the roster of “executive agents” listed in the agreement. For Russia, the list includes the State Corporation for Atomic Energy, commonly known as Rosatom, which is the principal Russian agency for the work on nuclear materials security and nonproliferation, but does not include the Ministry of Defense, which was responsible for the work on ballistic missiles, or the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which was the main Russian agency for CTR work on chemical weapons destruction.

For the U.S. side, the executive agents are the Energy and Defense departments. The June 19 summary includes the State Department on its list of agencies that “will remain involved.”

The new agreement “reflects the evolution” of the U.S.-Russian partnership, the summary said. In a June 25 interview, a State Department official said that the effort has developed into “more of an equal partnership” than it was at its inception. Russia is “more comfortable” with that form of the relationship, and so is the United States, the official said.

Russian media reported last year that Moscow may not want to continue the CTR agreement at all because it no longer needs Washington’s financial assistance to carry out the program and does not want to risk revealing sensitive information to the United States. According to Western experts, Moscow had resented being dependent on Washington to pay for securing its own weapons.

The State Department official said that some parts of the program are “winding down,” but described the new agreement as a “continuation of the relationship, just in a different form.”

In a June 17 statement, Nunn, who is now co-chairman and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, acknowledged that “key elements of what we have known as Nunn-Lugar will not be carried forward under this umbrella agreement” and said that “[w]e must find ways beyond this agreement to work together” on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction.

Thomas Moore, a former Lugar staffer who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a June 21 interview that the joint effort “was going to end sometime, and now it has.” The new agreement “marks the final chapter in the end of the Cold War,” he said.

A Republican congressional staffer expressed a similar view in a June 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today, saying that “[t]he programs that are ending are largely completed, at least as much as the Russians are going to allow us to do. And those that are continuing should continue. Do I have confidence that the Russians will match our standards? No. But I hope they will be good enough. I don’t see that we have any option.”

Paul Walker, a former House Armed Services Committee staffer who heads the environmental security and sustainability program at Global Green USA, had a mixed response. In a June 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he said the new agreement is “a positive step forward,” but he cautioned that “there…remain thousands of nuclear warheads and millions of chemical weapons to dismantle, as well as hundreds of strategic launch systems.”

“Russia no doubt decided that the meager funds weren’t worth the foreign intrusion at their most sensitive military sites,” said Walker, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

He said he hoped that Russia and the United States “can still work out bilateral agreements specific to projects, for example, to finish construction at the chemical weapons destruction facilities at Shchuch’ye and Kizner so that Russia does not continue to fall behind in [its] destruction schedule.”

The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond by press time to a request for comment.

In addition to the programmatic changes, a key difference between the new agreement and its predecessor is in its liability provisions.

Under the original agreement, the U.S. government and its contractors were shielded from virtually all liability for accidents that could occur under the program’s work in Russia. In 2006, when the agreement was being renewed for the second time, the deal reportedly was on the verge of collapse due to Moscow’s concerns over liability.

Under the new agreement, Russia is to notify the United States when it believes it has grounds for a liability claim against the United States or its employees or contractors. The two sides “shall…attempt to achieve a mutual understanding within 90 days” of the notification. If they do not reach this understanding, Russia can begin legal proceedings.

The liability arrangements are described in a protocol to the 2003 Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR), which replaces the CTR umbrella agreement as the underlying legal basis for the threat reduction work. The MNEPR has traditionally outlined the legal underpinnings for countries to assist Russia with spent nuclear fuel safety and radioactive waste management.

Posted: July 2, 2013