Russia's conflict with Georgia in August caused a serious rift in U.S.-Russian relations but does not appear to have harmed the two countries' cooperation on improving the security of nuclear materials and weapons in Russia, according to administration officials and members of Congress.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Sept. 17, Thomas D'Agostino, administrator of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), discussed the administration's views on the effect of the recent conflict on nonproliferation programs in Russia.
D'Agostino said, "I think that the Russians and the [United States] both recognize the value of these programs and that... despite the recent activities that have gone on, we have a commitment that we are going to follow through on, working with Russia on nonproliferation and that it is way too important for the world to pause the activity. That's a consensus view within this administration."
In the aftermath of the Georgia conflict, Congress has also indicated that it will not change its threat reduction funding priorities because of the war. The Defense Authorization Act authorized $434.1 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, an increase of $20 million from the administration request.
The two authors of the act that created the CTR and related nonproliferation programs, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), have both expressed confidence that the programs will continue for now despite any political differences the two nations have, but also contended that there are inherent risks in such a strained relationship.
Lugar cited specific examples of recent progress during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 9. Lugar said that, "during August, the month of contention in Georgia, 10 intercontinental ballistic missiles were destroyed in Russia and four shipments of nuclear weapons were sent to safe and secure storage. It's a fairly modest outcome, but nevertheless the program sort of rumbles on."
At the same hearing, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs and a former ambassador to Russia, echoed D'Agostino's and Lugar's comments. "On some critically important issues, like combating nuclear terrorism and nonproliferation, we have a hard-headed interest in working with Russia," Burns said. He added that the United States was committed to working with Russia on dealing with Iran's nuclear program, finding a follow-on to START, and continuing to secure hazardous weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union.
The CTR and other nonproliferation programs were created by the 1992 Nunn-Lugar legislation with the goal of securing weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union, but many diplomats, lawmakers, and outside experts have called for its realignment after more than 15 years of existence. A stronger Russian economy has given the government more money to pay for its own security, and the increasingly global nature of nuclear commerce tand proliferation threats are often cited as reasons for a re-examination of priorities.
In some ways, the programs are a victim of their own success as many projects have been completed or are rapidly coming to an end. …