Magazine article Insight on the News

Russian Subsidies and Nuclear Security

Magazine article Insight on the News

Russian Subsidies and Nuclear Security

Article excerpt

U.S. taxpayers spent billions of dollars during the Cold War keeping the Pentagon one step ahead of the Soviets in the arms race. And since the big thaw, taxpayers are spending millions more -- actually billions, troth be told -- helping a cash-strapped Russia dismantle the nuclear arsenal that her erstwhile leaders once boasted would "bury" us.

The added expenditures are necessary, we are told, to help the Russians comply with arms-control treaties and safely dismantle their nuclear infrastructure. The expenditures also keep Russia's top scientists occupied, decreasing the likelihood of nuclear proliferation by reducing the incentives their technicians and scientists may have to peddle their know-how to gate crashers at the atomic country club. Combined, U.S. programs focused on nuclear-nonproliferation assistance to the Newly Independent States, or NIS, so far have spent more than $2 billion trying to subsidize our way toward nuclear security.

But a review of the Department of Energy's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, or IPP, raises serious doubts about where the money is going and whether U.S. security is being enhanced.

According to the General Accounting Office, or GAO, only 37 percent ($23.7 million) of the $63 million spent so far by the IPP actually found its way into the coffers of research institutes or the pockets of individuals in the NIS. U.S. nuclear labs administering the program, together with several dozen participating companies, have skimmed off63 percent of the money meant to put food on the table for their potentially desperate counterparts in Eastern Europe.

That may not be as bad as it at first sounds, however, since at least some of the funds that do go overseas, rather than finding their way onto the dinner tables of former Soviet scientists supposedly beating swords into plowshares, instead are going into the pockets of people still building the swords. Disturbingly, the GAO found that DOE officials have only the foggiest notion about how many scientists they are subsidizing and which formerly Soviet nuclear-research institutes are receiving exactly what amounts of money. "Some scientists working on Russia's weapons of mass destruction program are receiving [U.S.] funds" GAO concluded.

The GAO also reports that IPP's efforts to find commercial applications for Soviet weapons research may have resulted in the export to Russia of "dual use" technologies -- transfers, says the GAO, that "could negatively affect U.S. national-security interests." And finally, the GAO criticized as "cursory" the process by which IPP projects were reviewed for national-security implications -- even projects concerning biological or chemical weapons. …

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