Discussions continue on a post-CTR era

Jun 10 2013
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring
Alberto Muti, London
The end of 2012 saw the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) celebrating its 20th anniversary amid widespread praise for the results it has attained.
The programme was established in 1991, on the initiative of US Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. Its purpose is to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and related equipment and infrastructures in the former Soviet Union. Over time, it provided crucial assistance in dismantling Soviet nuclear weapons and delivery systems, destroying chemical weapons, and securing stockpiles of fissile material. CTR also oversaw the elimination of former-Soviet nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
At the 20th anniversary symposium, US President Barack Obama called it ‘one of the country’s smartest and most successful national security programs’. Yet, with the programme coming to an end in June 2013, and Russia apparently unwilling to extend it, the attention inevitably shifted to what the world was poised to lose with its termination. The VERTIC blog covered the issue on October 25, 2012, highlighting the political challenges the CTR faces, as well as possible ways forward.
Russia has opposed renewing the agreement, which was drafted during the Soviet Union collapse—a time in which Russia was in dire need of foreign assistance, especially on the financial side. State officials in Moscow have remarked that the arrangement is not ‘modern’ and ‘fails to take into account the changes that took place in the world after its signing in the 1990s’.
Claims that Russia can carry on the work started under the CTR through its national budget only are difficult to prove, but there are other, more substantial issues that stand in the way of the programme’s renewal. First of all, under CTR, the US Government and its contractors cannot be held liable for accidents, damages or deaths occurred during CTR work. Second, and more importantly, the inspection regime under the Nunn-Lugar initiative is far-reaching, allowing the US in-depth access to sensitive Russian military technologies. While this ensures a high level of confidence on the US part, it has been a source of consternation for some in the Russian national security establishment. In addition, it must be considered that these issues do not represent just practical obstacles, but over time they have become identified within Kremlin circles as evidence of an unequal relationship with the US.
Yet while voicing its displeasure over the original agreement, Russia has signalled its willingness to continue the work started with the CTR through a successor arrangement ‘based on the principles of equality and mutual respect’. President Obama responded favourably in its Nunn-Lugar anniversary speech, saying that ‘Russia has said that our current agreement hasn’t kept pace with the changing relationship between our countries. To which we say, let’s update it.  Let’s work with Russia as an equal partner.’
The two countries have engaged in negotiations over a new arrangement since early 2013, with both sides reporting satisfaction in respect of both the atmosphere and productiveness of the talks. In late May, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Kennet Handelman stated that the negotiations were approaching a successful conclusion and that all outstanding political issues had been resolved to satisfaction. Handelman even went as far as to say that if the new agreement were not to be signed before 16 June, the day the old one expires, it would be due to bureaucratic reasons only.
Even if the renewal deal between the US and Russia were to encounter new obstacles, Nunn-Lugar supporters have an important achievement to celebrate: as the CTR enters its third decade of activity, its legacy is expanding far beyond its original scope (the former Soviet Union) to help secure WMD-related material all over the world.
The expansion process started in 2003, when the American Congress adopted the so-called Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act, allowing the programme to operate outside the boundaries of the former USSR. In 2004, CTR dealt with chemical weapons in Albania, completing the stockpile destruction in 2007. In 2010, the programme provided assistance to secure biological laboratories in Africa and prevent the theft or accidental release of deadly pathogens such as Ebola, Anthrax and Marburg Haemorrhagic Fever.
In a constant effort to expand the initiative, then-senator Richard Lugar used his last months as a state official to promote the expansion of CTR to South-East Asia. After he left office at the end of 2012, his work has been carried on by others, and in May 2013 Senator Jeanne Shaheen proposed a Next Generation Cooperative Threat Reduction Act’ to apply the experience and know-how acquired through the Nunn-Lugar initiative to states in the Middle East and North Africa, with a proposed funding of $30 million for, among others, ‘expanded training, professional networking and civil society engagement, […] tighter export and border control rules.’ The US is already engaged in the destruction of chemical weapons found in Libya after the fall of the Gadhafi regime, and it has been proposed that the programme might be aimed at the Syrian chemical arsenal. While the situation is Syria doesn’t not allow for such an operation at the moment, US-led assistance in dismantling the country’s weapons of mass destruction could play an important role in peacebuilding operations in the future. 

Last changed: Jun 10 2013 at 11:32 AM