Happy Birthday Nunn-Lugar! Another Case of Second Line of Defense In Action


12/13/2011 by Richard Weitz

The optimal strategy for averting WMD threats is to cooperate with other countries in reducing them. In this respect, the cooperative threat reduction (CTR) projects between Russia and the United States stands out as one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers let alone former global adversaries. Commonly referred to as the Nunn-Lugar program after its original two Senate sponsors, the flexible nature of the CTR process has given rise to numerous CTR projects, whose specific names often change even while their projects continue largely unaltered.

December 12, 2011, marks the 20th anniversary of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (Public Law 102-228, Title II). The National Journal hosted a luncheon discussion on “Nunn-Lugar at 20: Assessing America’s Progress on Risk Reduction and Terrorism Prevention.” National Journal Senior Correspondent James Kitfield reminisced the origins of the CTR Program with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), and others involved in the program’s creation and execution.

What will be the long-term consequences of the Nunn-Lugar program? Image Credit: Bigstock

On the U.S. side, these projects are funded and managed by the U.S. Departments of Defense, State, and Energy. Other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (which supports programs designed to prevent a WMD attack against the United States), also assist them. (Strictly speaking, the term “Cooperative Threat Reduction” only applies to the DOD’s programs, but analysts often group all U.S. government threat reduction programs in Russia under the “CTR” label.) Sometimes in cooperation with U.S. allies and other partner countries, these U.S. agencies have spent billions of dollars on a wide variety of threat reduction and nonproliferation projects in the former Soviet Union.

Among their many achievements, the CTR programs have helped dismantle the strategic weapons delivery systems and infrastructure of the former Soviet republics, enhance the security and safety of their WMD and WMD-related material during both storage and transportation, consolidate and monitor WMD agents, prevent the trafficking of WMD and their components across their borders, and redirect former Soviet military enterprises and weapons scientists into civilian sectors.

In recent years, these programs have expanded from their original function of dismantling former Soviet weapons to include collaborative projects between the United Russia and the former Soviet republics aimed at pursuing a wide range of nonproliferation objectives.

The original focus of the Nunn-Lugar initiative (the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991) was to assist the newly independent former republics of the recently disintegrated Soviet Union fulfill earlier Soviet-American nuclear arms control agreements such as the START I agreement. U.S. executive and legislative branch officials saw clear benefits in destroying weapons systems designed especially to attack the United States, while Russian policy makers were open in principle to receiving external assistance to destroy unwanted, antiquated, and potentially mutually dangerous armaments. U.S. and Russian policy makers also wanted to eliminate the WMD holdings of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

Several CTR programs continue to concentrate on destroying former Soviet strategic weapons systems, including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their delivery systems. Since the enactment of the original November 1991 Nunn-Lugar bill, the CTR program has helped deactivate 7,601 strategic nuclear warheads and destroyed 792 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 498 ICBM silos, 182 ICBM mobile launchers, 674 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), 492 SLBM launchers, 33 ballistic-missile launching nuclear submarines, 155 strategic bombers, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles, and 194 nuclear test tunnels. The program has also supported 547 nuclear weapons transport train shipments and upgraded security at 24 nuclear weapons storage sites. Finally, it has financed the construction and equipping of 34 biological monitoring stations. [See “The Nunn-Lugar Scorecard” at http://lugar.senate.gov/nunnlugar/scorecard.html].

In the aggregate, CTR has succeeded in eliminating entirely the nuclear weapons arsenals of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine and made the Russian nuclear weapons more safe and secure. Russia has also made much progress in dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal. When the Russian government signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in January 1993, it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, the largest stockpile in the world. It has now eliminated almost two-thirds of that total.

A second CTR objective has become more important over time as the dismantling of former Soviet weapons has progressed: enhancing the security of Russia’s residual WMD materials against illicit trafficking by terrorists and other non-state actors. With the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, U.S. government agencies have devoted special attention to enhancing the security equipment and procedures at Russia’s nuclear weapons storage sites and helping the Russian government consolidate, secure, and account for its nuclear weapons and fissile materials.

For example, U.S. funded chain-of-custody projects and other initiatives to improve the Russian Ministry of Defense’s accounting and tracking of its nuclear warheads. U.S. agencies also upgraded security at Russia’s nuclear weapons storage sites and transportation nodes, including by helping the Russian government purchase special rail cars used to transport Russian nuclear warheads to storage and dismantlement sites.

Furthermore, the United States, along with other governments operating under the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction that was launched at the June 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada, also paid to construct chemical weapons destruction plants in Russia as well as a specially designed Fissile Material Storage Facility at Mayak to hold excess weapons-grade plutonium and uranium.

Cooperating with Russia and other countries to establish multiple layers of defense against WMD materials “on the move” as well as at their source has become a more recent priority. Progress on enhancing the security and safety of Russian WMDs and their related materials, technologies, and expertise accelerated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks graphically demonstrated the capabilities and perverse creativity of modern terrorist groups. Cooperation has continued at a rapid pace despite the subsequent deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. Second Line of Defense (SLD) program (unrelated to this web site) aims to prevent illegal trafficking in nuclear materials by enhancing the security of borders and maritime shipping routes. SLD has constructed radiation detection monitors at hundreds of international border crossings in the former Soviet republics. Current plans are to install equipment to screen commercial cargo, passenger vehicles, and pedestrians at additional sites in many more countries. A special SLD Megaports Initiative has placed radiation scanners at the largest  international ports.

Programs to strengthen the “first line of defense”—which seek to deny unauthorized access to the research, storage, and manufacturing facilities located in the former Soviet republics that contain nuclear materials—also continue to make progress. Under its Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MOC&A) Program, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has introduced security upgrades at almost all these sites. The MPC&A is also supporting the conversion of Russian HEU into LEU and helping consolidate Russia’s weapons-usable nuclear material into a smaller number of more secure locations.

A third and more recent core CTR objective–joint Russian-American efforts to reduce third-party proliferation threats from other countries—holds considerable potential for helping transform the nuclear relationship between Moscow and Washington in a more positive direction. Although Russian and U.S. officials often disagree in specific cases how best to prevent third countries from pursuing WMD, they concur on the general need to limit the number of new nuclear weapons states and prevent the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons. This area holds the most promise for future U.S.-Russian threat reduction cooperation because it helps transform the traditional donor-recipient model of CTR programs into one of joint partnership against clearly perceived mutual threats.

The recent progress on CTR despite the problems in the other dimensions of the U.S.-Russian relationship is actually less of an anomaly than it would otherwise appear. For example CTR cooperation continued during the late 1990s, when Russian-American relations deteriorated sharply over NATO’s decision to intervene militarily in Kosovo despite Moscow’s opposition and the alliance’s failure to secure UN Security Council authorization to use force. In June 1999, the Russian government even agreed to extend the original 1992 CTR agreement, and declined to interrupt any existing CTR programs, even while U.S. airplanes were bombing Serbia, Russia’s main ally in southeast Europe. Disagreements over the 2001 U.S. decision to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and NATO’s continuing expansion have also not appreciably disrupted cooperation on CTR.

The main reason why Russia and the United States continue to support and make progress in CTR is that both countries value the process as a tool to counter the dual threats of WMD terrorism and WMD proliferation.  Core U.S. national security documents and statements by American leaders underscore that the use of WMDs by terrorists and other hostile actors represents one of the main threats to U.S. security. Russian officials likewise warn about threats of CBRN terrorism, especially incidents involving nuclear materials.

Russia and the United States have experienced devastating terrorist attacks in recent years. They belong to a select group of countries that have experienced attacks on their territory involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents: the mass mailing of anthrax in the United States shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and the radioactive Cesium-137 left in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park by Chechen terrorists in November 1995.

Nevertheless, while some of the problems that plagued the CTR program in the 1990s—including corruption, miscommunication, and poor accounting—have now been overcome, two major impediments to deeper cooperation persist, The first problem is the restrictions on the access of American government officials to U.S.-funded projects in Russia. The second challenge is the persistent doubts that the Russian partners will assume full responsibility for funding and managing CTR programs after official U.S. support ends.

Impediments to American access to certain Russian WMD sites remain a contentious feature of the CTR process. Representatives of the Russian government and the Russian national security community still complain that, in the process of helping to store, move, and dismantle their excessive WMD stockpiles, Americans demand unreciprocated insights into Russian military practices.  Some Russians also worry about safeguarding Russia’s commercially relevant WMD technologies from foreign economic espionage. American-funded CTR programs use U.S. contractors whenever possible, which encourages these espionage concerns and generates Russian complaints that only a small percentage of U.S. funding actually reaches Russia.

Although good ties at the ground level between American and Russian personnel can often overcome these problems in the case of specific threat reduction programs, the general milieu of strategic distrust has permeated Russian-U.S. security engagement on CTR since its inception. In a sense, access problems are an inherent feature of the CTR process. The Soviet nuclear, chemical, and biological infrastructure tightly integrated civilian and military functions, which the post-Soviet Russia government has only partly divided.

In addition, the CTR model diverges from traditional arms control sharply in this very area. The formal Soviet-American strategic arms control agreements of the Cold War typically include verification measures as well as mutual privileges and obligations that guarantee parties roughly equivalent access for inspection and monitoring. The current bilateral threat reduction framework does not give Russian personnel the same level of access to American weapons elimination programs and facilities because the Russian government does not pay for these U.S.-based activities. These feared intelligence asymmetries and risks have always led Russian officials to impose considerable limitations on U.S. access to certain Russian WMD sites.

Worries also persist regarding the plans to transition the CTR programs in Russia from Washington’s to Moscow’s control. Although CTR and other nonproliferation programs enjoy bipartisan backing in Washington, critics have complained that Nunn-Lugar is assisting Russia’s military rearmament.

Partly in response to these pressures, the Congress has directed that Russian assume full responsibility for funding and control of the nuclear security systems in Russia. Recent CTR budgets have accordingly reduced funding for projects involving Russia while increasing resources allocated to WMD-related threat reduction efforts in other countries.

U.S. program managers have tried to promote CTR sustainability by enhancing recipients’ capacity to manage these projects with less direct U.S. support. For example, they are training Russians involved in implementing CTR projects, supporting the use of Russian-made technologies, and encouraging Russians to elevate their nuclear security culture.

Despite these efforts, it remains unclear whether the Russian government will prove willing and able to maintain security upgrades at Russian WMD sites that previously were sustained by U.S. and other foreign financing.