Presidential CTR Re-Certification Likely to be Required Every Three Years

Publish date: October 31, 2002

Written by: Charles Digges

No new contracts for the dismantlement of nuclear and chemical weapons in Russia have been allowed under US law since Oct.1 — the date President George Bush’s temporary waiver for the Nunn-Lugar program expired — meaning few if any of the warheads Russia and America agreed to scrap during a weapons summit in May have been decommissioned, officials in US Senator Richard Lugar’s office said Tuesday.

If the present deadlock over the Defence Authorization Bill — where all of Nunn-Lugar’s funding is tied up — continues, Sen. Lugar’s Spokesman Andy Fisher warned, then it is possible no new contracts to destroy Russian nuclear and chemical weapons falling under Nunn-Lugar will be dismantled until, at best, December, and, at worst, next year.

One twist in the current impasse, noted Fisher in a telephone interview with Bellona Web, was that Congress had agreed to allocated money for the Shchuchye project — a programme designed to destroy Russia’s stores of Soviet-era chemical weapons, and which was ground zero for the current certification crisis. But, as Fisher explained, congress is not letting Nunn-Lugar spend any of that money.

“Nothing can happen for the Nunn-Lugar programme at the moment,” said Fisher. “No new projects, no new activities can begin, so even though the Shchuchye money has been released, it can’t be obligated [for any projects] at this point because of the shut down in the whole Nunn-Lugar program”: which came as a result of Bush’s temporary waiver —signed in August — expiring.

At issue in the Defence Authorization Bill are two opposing versions of presidential certification of the Nunn-Lugar program. By US law, the US administration must “certify” that Nunn-Lugar is living up to its treaty obligations.

In fiscal year 2002, Bush became the first president in the history the 11-year-old American-Russian non-proliferation programme to decline Nunn-Lugar’s certification, over concerns that Russia was not being candid about its stocks of Soviet-era chemical weapons. The subsequent refusal to it certify the programme shut down nearly a third of Pentagon-run Nunn-Lugar activities in Russia, and heightened the crisis for world security.

The Bush Administration’s next move was to ask for a permanent waiver, versions of which are being debated in the Defence Authorization bill.

One version of the waiver in the bill before the US House of Representatives, which Fisher said was Senate supported, would permanently waive requirement that the president annually sign-off on Nunn-Lugar — officially known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction act, or CTR. Another version, supported by the House of Representatives, would keep the annual certification process in place.

The most likely outcome, said Fisher, and other congressional staffers, is a waiver requiring presidential re-certification of Nunn-Lugar every three years.

But what is currently stopping Congress from debating the Defence Authorization bill is not whether the waiver should or should not be granted. Rather it is that many representatives and senators are simply not present as they hit their first post 9/11 campaign trail for the Nov. 5 elections. Many of the candidates, Lugar’s office hopes, are bound to stump on the issue of nuclear and chemical weapons security.

After elections, Fisher explained, Congress will reconvene for a short session before its December break to try to deal with old business — which, by that time, will include the Defence Authorization Bill. Congress may also pass a resolution that would carry old business into the new year. But if Nunn-Lugar doesn’t get included in the language of this resolution, Fisher said, “that’s more bad news, in terms of authorization, for things like Nunn-Lugar.”

In other words, the waiver debate would be put off until next year’s congressional session begins, meaning a possible CTR dismantling backlog of almost three months, beginning November and ending January. As an example of what this means, Bush’s inability to secure a temporary waiver until August for fiscal year 2002 — which runs from Oct.1 until Sept 30 — gave CTR a mere three months to reassemble contractors, shipyards, munitions experts and scientists to simply begin work on this year’s contracts.

Similar delays for 2003 look likely as Congress goes into campaign mode and then heads off on vacation. Meanwhile some $450 million budgeted for CTR programs next year hangs in the balance as Russian subcontractors — and, indeed, the Russia government — begin to doubt America’s non-proliferation commitments.