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The Effect of Cooperative Threat Reduction in Russia and Possible Application to other Regions

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the newly independent states in the region found themselves in a dangerous situation.   Years of arms buildup had created huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but the nations from the former Soviet Union that held these weapons no longer had the financial means to maintain or secure these weapons.   This left the stockpiles vulnerable to theft, and the world vulnerable to nuclear war.

In an attempt to solve the problem, Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar created Cooperative Threat Reduction programs.   These programs, run through the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, are intended to safely secure and/ or disarm the former Soviet Bloc.   CTR doesn’t refer to a specific program, but to a group of disarmament programs, mostly those formed under the initial Nunn-Lugar legislation.

CTR has successfully disarmed Belarus and Kazakstan.   Ukraine is nearly disarmed, and the program has shifted its focus primarily to Russia.   The program in Russia deals mainly with implementing the various start treaties, which require Russia to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile.   Additionally, CTR has helped stop the problem of brain drain, a crisis that occurred when underpaid Russian nuclear physicists sold their knowledge to other nations.   The program keeps these scientists paid.

CTR also assists Russia in securing its existing nuclear weapons facilities.   Once the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia could not maintain these facilities adequately.   As a result, some nuclear weapons were stolen or became lost.   The CTR program pays for increased physical security of nuclear weapons sites, and actual maintenance of the weapons themselves.

Although CTR has been hailed as a huge success, there have been some criticisms of the program.   For instance, there was some evidence that CTR money was being poured into building more weapons, not disarming existing ones.   Additionally, some money may have gone to the living expenses of corrupt government officials.

These problems raise an important issue: How transparent can disarmament programs be made?   It depends, to an extent on the cooperation of the nations with the nuclear weapons.   Transparency is a huge issue when talking about nuclear weapons disarmament.   The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the enforcement arm of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, encounters many problems with transparency.   For example, when dealing with Iran, the IAEA has had difficulty determining whether or not nuclear weapons have been built there because Iran’s government is being only partially cooperative.

These kinds of situations lead some to believe that international governing bodies may be unable to disarm nations because they lack the necessary enforcement power.   Some argue that bilateral programs such as the CTR programs are the most effective because they allow allies to work together and provide some sort of incentive.   For Russia the incentive was both economic (the United States is paying to secure their weapons facilities) and political (in the interests of ending the arms race and Cold War tensions, Russia needed a mechanism through which to implement the Start treaties).

However, others contend that bodies like the IAEA have the best chance of achieving disarmament because they can pool resources such as manpower, technical expertise, and money.   All that may be needed is a stronger enforcement mechanism such as sanctions or threat of force.   Additionally, international bodies are able to implement more comprehensive punishments such as multinational sanctions.

Recently, the need for effective disarmament measures has become increasingly important.   The DPRK’s recent nuclear test scare was a wake-up call for the globe.   Although it was determined that there was no nuclear test, it has become more evident that the issues with North Korea need to be addressed.   Additionally, Iran has announced that it will continue with its nuclear weapons program, starting with the enrichment of uranium to make weapons-grade fissile material.

Other nations are now voluntarily attempting to disarm their nuclear weapons programs.   Libya has recently agreed to open up its borders to IAEA inspectors.  

The international community is now at a crossroads.   What is the best way to disarm nations, whether it is voluntary or involuntary?   Is it through bilateral programs such as CTR, or through multinational organizations and treaties such and the IAEA and the NPT?   What are the correct punitive measures, if any, that should be taken if nations refuse to comply?   All these questions need to be answered if the world is to successfully disarm.

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