The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week rejected a $50m measure that would have allowed for an expansion of US-sponsored threat reduction programmes to countries other than Russia.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn, who jointly sponsored the so-called Nunn-Lugar act of 1991, remained hopeful in an interview with Bellona Web Friday that the initiative will be passed in legislation this year.
Despite the set-back in the House of Representatives, Lugar noted, a modified version of the provision, which gives the Defense Department $50m for expansion activities, was approved in the Senate, and has the backing of the Republican Bush Administration. Lugar said this measure has a good change of passing during the regular appropriations cycle that will come later this year.
"In the Senate, I am promoting legislation to permit the President to use Nunn-Lugar expertise and resources to address proliferation threats around the world," Lugar told a gathering of international non-proliferation experts in Washington, DC on Friday.
"The precise replication of the Nunn-Lugar program will not be possible everywhere, but the experience of Nunn-Lugar in Russia shows that the threat of weapons of mass destruction can lead to unprecedented outcomes based on mutual interest," he said.
What expansion means
The $50m Nunn-Lugar expansion item — which was contained a $75bn appropriation request submitted last week by the Bush Administration largely to fund the war in Iraq — was left out of the marked-up, or revised, version of the bill that was approved by the Republican-controlled House Appropriations committee.
The requested authority would allow the Nunn-Lugar programme — officially known as the Defence Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, programme — to spend $50m over the next two years to secure weapons of mass destruction stockpiles that are located outside the former Soviet Union, including those weapons said to be in Iraq.
This added authority would enable the Bush Administration to carry out plans for securing — perhaps by outright purchase of — poorly guarded highly enriched uranium, or HEU, and plutonium, the chief components of nuclear bombs, at an estimated 24 sites around the world.
The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved the expanded authority, with some modification. It would limit the authority of the measure to fiscal year 2003, which ends Sept. 30, and adds a 15-day requirement for congressional notification prior to expenditure of funds. The Senate bill also includes $55m for Department of Energy, or DOE, non-proliferation programs outside the former Soviet Union.
"The bottom line is this," Lugar told the gathering. "For the foreseeable future, the United States and its allies will face an existential threat from the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The minimum standard for victory in this war is the prevention of any of the individual terrorists or terrorists cells from obtaining weapons or materials of mass destruction."
House republicans still critical of CTR
In recent days, conservative House Republicans have criticized CTR programmes for failing to obtain full Russian cooperation and for attempting to expand their activities beyond their initial mandate. Last year, the House successfully prevented passage of a similar White House request to expand Nunn-Lugar’s authority.
Much of this criticism has been fuel by two reports released last month — one by Harvard and the other by the General Accounting Office, or GAO, the US government’s main auditing body. Both reports concluded that Russia’s continued Soviet style preoccupations with secrecy are preventing CTR officials from visiting many of the sites whose security the United States wishes to improve. Lugar has responded that Russia’s patchy cooperation with CTR programmes is not sufficient reason to discontinue CTR assistance to those sites at which Russia does cooperate.
As for expanding the programme outside Russia’s borders, Lugar and Nunn said the urgency of adopting this measure was underscored last year when officials in Belgrade turned to CTR for help in removing a poorly secured stockpile of HEU sufficient for the manufacture of two and a half nuclear weapons from Belgrade to a more secure setting in Russia.
Current restrictions on CTR however, meant the US government was only allowed to finance $2m of the $7m clean-up and relocation project, with the remaining $5m coming from Nunn’s Washington and Moscow-based non-governmental organization, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, or NTI.
"We would not have enough money to do that again," Nunn told Bellona Web. "Our foundation — very few foundations would. This is the kind of emergency thing the president ought to have the authority over, with reports and accountability to the congress."
Added Lugar: "For me, it’s a no-brainer that we would at least authorize our government if we ran in to trouble to use these $50m."
Of the estimated 24 areas in the world that would benefit from geographically expanded CTR efforts, Nunn singled out Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"Some of those places are not available to that type of negotiation but some of them are and this needs to be a higher priority," he said. He added that after NTI had taken part in removing the HEU stockpiles for Belgrade, several key Washington officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage, called Nunn-Lugar expansion efforts a national priority.
Support for expansion in high places
Lugar pointed to the Bush Administration’s budget request for CTR work next year, which represents a 30 percent increase in the funding requested for the current year. Lugar said the budget request "called specifically for this programme of expanding the geographical scope of CTR activities for both the Departments of Defense and State."
"So I am hopeful in enlisting the support of the president and the Secretaries of Defence and State, National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice, all of whom we try to bring to bear on the issues."
Still, Lugar — a Republican himself — hinted that it was difficult to fathom the level of opposition to CTR activities that has boiled up among republicans in the House of Representatives for the past two years. Last year, a Republican-led impasse over CTR’s certification requirements, and subsequent congressional debates over granting the president the authority to waive certification, shut down a third of CTR’s activities for most of last year.
"We work very hard to convince people that we’re on the right track, We’ve had people that doubted the sincerity of the Russians, still do, who don’t feel they cooperate, who feel they hide, who feel they cheat, all of it," said Lugar.
"Still, having gone through all of that, would we have called all this off — failed to take the 6,000 warheads off the missiles? That would have been terrible," he said.
He added: "So we understand human fallibility, bureaucracy, but you go ahead and work with people and try to find allies in Russia and we have found some. There are ups and downs in the political relations all the time. But this Nunn-Lugar thing has been pretty constant because it’s serious."