Report Urges International Action to Eliminate Risks From Russian WMDs

Publish date: January 22, 2003

Written by: Charles Digges

The United States, Russia and Europe should do more to reduce the proliferation risks posed by remaining Russian stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, concludes a new report by a consortium of 15 influential private research centres that was released in London this week.

Specifically, the report asserts that the United States and its European allies must begin treating Russia as a partner in non-proliferation and disarmament efforts rather than as a strategic charity case. Russia, for it’s part, must become more open and remove obstacles to international cooperation in preventing the worlds most lethal arms and technology from spreading to proliferation risk states and terrorist groups. Moscow must also take greater financial responsibility for meeting these challenges.

The four-volume study was conceived as one of the most comprehensive appraisals of a decade of American and allied efforts to help Russia secure its strategic arms stockpiles and reduce the dangers inherited from cold war supplies of unconventional weapons.

To further curb these dangers, the report urges the fulfilment — even over-fulfilment — of funding goals set at June’s conference of the major industrial powers and Russia — the Group of 8, or G-8 — where involved nations agreed to contribute $20bn over the next ten years to help Russia reduce the threat posed by its weapons stockpiles. Under this agreement — called the Global Partnership, or “10 plus 10 over 10” plan — the United States pledged to contribute $10bn, with other G-8 nations to fund the remaining $10bn.

The report will also form the backbone of legislation to be introduced in US Congress later this year that will aim to significantly expand the mandate of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts sponsored by Nunn-Lugar — or Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) — programmes.

The report’s findings are meant to be required reading for G-8 governments and other nations contributing to non-proliferation efforts in the Former Soviet Union. It has also been circulated throughout US Congress, said Mark Helmke, a policy advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The goal of the report is to give a road map for implementation of ‘10 plus 10 over 10,’” said Helmke in an interview with Bellona Web. Following the report’s release at a London non-proliferation conference Monday, Helmke said members of the contributing think tanks, which represent 10 different countries, are to confer with their respective governments to drum up support for the Global Partnership.

The three-year study is called “Protecting Against the Spread of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons.” It was endorsed and authored by representatives of 15 research organizations in Europe, Russia, Japan and the United States and was financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Nuclear Threat Initiate, the Washington non-proliferation foundation started by Ted Turner and former Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn.

The report’s first volume was written by Robert Einhorn and Michele Flournoy, former senior arms control and defence specialists from the Clinton Administration who are now at CSIS.

The report states that — given the danger that nuclear, biological and chemical materials might be acquired by rogue states and terrorist — contributing nations should look on the G-8’s $20bn pledge as a funding “floor” rather than a ceiling. It also recommends that nations “may wish to waive debt payments” in exchange for additional spending by Russia on such projects.

The study highlights progress made with a $7bn investment in these efforts by the United States, much of it under CTR programmes begun by the 1992 legislation that was sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana — now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman — and Nunn.

In the past decade, the report notes, nuclear materials have been entirely removed from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. More than 13,000 nuclear warheads have been deactivated and 48 ballistic missile submarines have been dismantled. In addition, the world’s largest anthrax production facility at Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, was taken down.

The first prototype chemical weapons destruction plant in the Urals town of Shchuchye, Russia is ready to operate, and more than 50,000 scientists who once worked in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons facilities have received aid.

Despite such steps, the report says that more ambitious measures from a wider variety of countries are needed. The study found, for example, that basic security upgrades had been completed at “facilities containing only 46 percent of the approximately 603 metric tons of Russia’s weapons-usable nuclear materials” identified by the United States Department of Energy, or DOE.

“Virtually none” of Russia’s plutonium and “less than one-seventh” of its highly enriched uranium has been rendered unusable for nuclear weapons,” the report says. “The same is true for the United States.”

Theft of these materials continues to be a risk. “Over the past decade,” the report notes, “there have been 18 incidents involving the seizure of stolen highly enriched uranium or plutonium that have been confirmed by the relevant states” of the Former Soviet Union. The most troubling of these, the report says, was a foiled 1998 conspiracy to steal more than 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium at one of the closed nuclear facilities near Chelyabinsk.

The report also asserts the urgency of dismantling Russia’s growing number of retried non-ballistic missile — or general-purpose — subs, whose destruction is not currently provided for under CTR because they never targeted the United States.

Additionally, thousands of weapons scientists and workers are still unemployed or underemployed," the report says, and susceptible to lucrative offers of work from countries that could have secret nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

The legislative package that will expand CTR’s mandate beyond the destruction of only strategic weapons that pose a threat to the United States will be introduced by Senator Lugar in March or April, Helmke said.

The legislation will include provisions for inventorying and destroying of tactical nuclear weapons; the shutdown and dismantlement of certain kinds of nuclear reactors; the seeking out and destruction of radioactive battery systems used during Soviet times as power sources in remote areas, but now long orphaned by the government agencies responsible for them; the establishment of a central authority to coordinate US non-proliferation efforts, and the export of Nunn-Lugar programmes to other countries who wish to eliminate their own weapons of mass destruction.

The bill will hit the floor of Congress by summer in the form of a formal foreign assistance bill — which offers tighter policy strings for money spent and has a better than average chance of passing with Senator Lugar as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Helmke predicted that the legislation could be passed by the end of May.

There is, nonetheless, resistance from many Bush administration officials, who say Russia should not benefit from American assistance, given its reluctance to open facilities suspected of illicit arms research. US Officials have also protested Russian aid to the Iranian nuclear programme, which has recently became an even thornier issue when commercial satellite photos revealed the existence of two plants in Iran that could possibly produce high-enriched uranium and plutonium — two routes to an atomic bomb.

But the report concludes that helping Russia secure and eliminate unconventional weapons stockpiles is too important to be held hostage by these differences of opinion.