Lugar, Hunter Lock Horns on Threat Reduction

Article excerpt

FOR SENATOR RICHARD Lugar (R-IN) and the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program that he helped inaugurate, this should be a crowning moment. A heightened awareness of potential terrorist and "rogue state" threats has drawn increased attention to the CTR effort, which helps Russia and former Soviet states secure and dispose of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons materials.

Over the past decade, Lugar has escorted the program through its numerous successes and trials as Congress battles over how much money to provide to its former Cold War adversary. Now newly reinstalled as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar is poised to put into action a bigger agenda: expand the CTR program to countries beyond the former Soviet Union and incorporate more extensive threat reduction projects.

Republican members of the House of Representatives, however, might deny Lugar his long-sought prize. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke recently about his dissatisfaction with the program's oversight and projects, drawing attention to two facilities for destruction of weapons components that wasted nearly $200 million. His comments indicate that the scope of CTR projects and the money for them might undergo intense scrutiny as Congress deliberates over the program budget.

Presently funded at $416.7 million, the Pentagon's CTR program offers Russia assistance and technical expertise to maintain its excess stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) safely. A recent report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Harvard University calls for even more U.S. investment in threat reduction efforts worldwide. However, the future of the program in many ways rests in the hands of Lugar and Hunter, who offer differing outlooks and priorities for the CTR program.

Congress Poses Procedural Hurdle

The CTR program grew out of the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, spearheaded by Lugar and then-Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA). It was designed to forestall the theft or illicit transfer of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and materials as the Soviet Union crumbled. Not long after the program's founding, it grew to include a comprehensive array of goals addressing all aspects of the former Soviet WMD complex. From the beginning, the Department of Defense administered the CTR program to handle dismantlement and destruction of the weapons, but later the Energy and State Departments launched associated nonproliferation initiatives to tackle fissile material control, scientific "brain drain," and the safe shutdown of production facilities for the weapons. This year, the United States will invest more than $1 billion in these programs.

Proponents of CTR, however, often have had difficulty securing the necessary funding from Congress. Deep-seated distrust of the former Soviet Union's biological and chemical weapons programs spurred lawmakers in 1993 to attach conditions to U.S. funding allocated to Defense-run CTR programs. The conditions required presidential certification of Russia's compliance with arms control and human rights agreements and Moscow's own investment in disposing of its stored weapons. Despite the conditions, since the program's inception, Congress has annually allocated funding to secure and dispose of nuclear and biological weapons materials.

However, suspicions of Russia's chemical weapons stockpile declarations persisted. In 2001, Congress added another set of conditions specific to the chemical weapons demilitarization efforts, requiring certification that Russia had declared its chemical weapons stockpile in full and would implement a plan to help destroy its stockpiled nerve agents.

Yet, Congress still held the purse strings. With pressure from Republican House members prevailing, lawmakers eliminated funding for the chemical weapons destruction program in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, Congress finally approved $50 million-after the House Armed Services Committee tried to delete it-to help build a chemical weapons destruction facility in Shchuch'ye. …