(From the September 2004 American Spectator.)
Votkinsk, the birthplace of composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, may have been founded in 1759, but during Soviet times the city didn’t make it onto most maps. The Soviets had their reasons for keeping Votkinsk under wraps. Built on a tributary of the Kama River, the city was settled by decree of the Empress Elizabeth to house employees of Votkinsky Zavod, a steel works plant that remains one of the largest defense plants in Russia today. Originally the plant busied itself casting parts for steamships, barges, and bridges, but during World War II the plant was militarized, producing various artillery and anti-tank pieces. After the war, production morphed again into strategic missile production, and at the height of the Cold War the factory was cranking out close to 50 ICBMs a year, just in case they should ever have to raze American cities to “defend” the Workers’ Paradise. Votkinsk didn’t get its topological due until 1988, when the first Americans came to the city to serve as inspectors under the START and INF treaties.
Today Votkinsk is easily found on a map, yet it has become a black hole in another way, swallowing up millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. As part of the increasingly unfocused and freewheeling Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, the U.S. government doled out nearly $100 million to build a state of the art “low-pressure, contained burn system” in Votkinsk to dispose of the solid propellant from SS-24, SS-25, and SS-N-20 ballistic missile motors at the request of the Russian government.
Last year, the entire project went off the rails. A coalition of local politicians, ostensibly, was able to block it on the basis of “environmental concerns.” Never mind that studies showed that the facility would clearly not affect the area’s air quality. Or that the United States itself had been successfully burning similar motors in the open air at a fraction of the cost. Or that this program would eliminate stockpiles of missiles that actually did pose a threat to the local population and the world. “Votkinsk is so desolate polar bears would love to see a pipeline built so they’d have something to scratch their ass on,” one incredulous State Department employee who visited the facility said. “These environmental claims were a complete, very expensive joke.” In fact, the environmental “concerns” became a new type of “greenmail,” used to wrestle more goodies for the municipality and the Udmurt region, where Votkinsk is located.
No alternate use could be found for the $80 million design. International environmental groups, including those funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, took pictures of themselves gleefully gloating among $15 million worth of gas lines, warehouses, and roads, all abandoned, never to be used, as if impeding America from disposing of WMDs was a tremendous victory. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government shrugged their shoulders at the whole affair. What did they care? It wasn’t their money, and, anyway, as they have made abundantly clear over the last few years, a program of total disarmament jives less and less with Russia’s revived nationalistic and imperial ambitions all the time.
Some former CTR program officials claim there may have been a more nefarious motive behind Russia’s request. “We weren’t just building a burn chamber for old motors at Votkinsk,” a former CTR coordinator said on condition of anonymity. “The Russians kept pushing us for a stronger chamber until it finally became clear they were trying to get us to build them a testing chamber. Right next to a missile assembly plant. It was unbelievable. The Russians wanted U.S. taxpayers to develop a fully integrated missile production facility for them.” And CTR management agreed to do it!
Votkinsk now produces the Topol-M, a state of the art ICBM with a 7,000 mile range first tested in 2000, and which, according to Putin, “can hit targets at intercontinental distance and can adjust their altitude and course as they travel.” In other words, it can evade the very missile defense shield the U.S. is building. The Votkinsk plant was also given a task of building the newest Russian Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile, “Bulava” (Fighting Mace). The Russians haven’t publicly announced where the motors for these costly missiles were tested.
But did CTR at least serve the security interests of curtailing proliferation of missile technology to rogue states? Hardly. A first stage ballistic missile motor weighs 48 tons. You can’t throw a rug over that and smuggle it across the Iranian border. “These materials cannot be easily carted off by would-be terrorists, who could not use them anyhow,” California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter wrote in the Washington Post last year. “The fuel and engines instead represent an environmental challenge — one that might warrant a good many Russian rubles but certainly not hundreds of millions of already overstretched U.S. defense dollars.” It’s the smaller parts that are harder to make, and therefore more sought after on the black market — the nozzles covered with a special, light coating of metal that are the key to steering a large missile, for example.
“We don’t get those parts, which are really the most important parts, from the Russians,” the CTR coordinator said. “We’re supposed to take their word for it, which as anybody who has been over there knows, is a criminally stupid policy.”
INCREDIBLY, VOTKINSK IS NOT an isolated incident. As the scope of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program has expanded far beyond its original mission, the Russian government has come to see CTR as an entitlement, not a joint venture. This breakdown led Congressman Hunter in the aforementioned Washington Post piece to write that although CTR was designed as “a temporary, focused effort to shrink Moscow’s vast strategic arsenal” it had “over time, morphed into an open-ended, unfocused and sometimes self-defeating venture.” Cooperation has dwindled, to the point where a CTR “success story” is often considered anything that gets done at all, no matter the cost or dubious value to U.S. security interests.
The Russians rarely share costs these days, even if cost sharing had been previously agreed upon. “Most of the dismantlement programs the United States initiated to secure and ultimately destroy Russian nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon systems appear to be completed or no longer agree with Moscow’s policy goals,” Justin Bernier writes in Parameters, the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College. “In addition, Russia’s spending priorities and contributions do not reflect a continuing, mutual interest in disarmament.”
Worse, the United States, under the auspices of disarmament, is paying to upgrade Russian military capabilities, in ways that might not be as obvious as the scam at Votkinsk. Through CTR, the United States pays to keep the Russian military in line with its obligations under disarmament treaties, while Russia invests in new weapons programs. The money it saves on disarmament funnels right back around to military programs. Russia’s defense budget for 2004 is up approximately 20 percent from last year, and an analysis published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies reports that Russia’s annual defense spending increased by 170 billion rubles between 1999 and 2002, while its disarmament budget rose by only 8 billion.
Nevertheless, despite the considerable failings of CTR in recent years, Democrats have made the program the cure-all for Eastern proliferation issues.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry plans to commit $30 billion to CTR, a sum he promises would eliminate all of Russia’s WMD in four years — a dubious claim at best considering that over the last 12 years only a third of Russia’s weapons-grade nuclear material has been secured. Vice-presidential nominee John Edwards has likewise advocated a threefold increase in funding for CTR, to be paid for by slashing spending on U.S. missile defense. He also wants to expand the program to India and Pakistan, countries with arguably less incentive to disarm than Russia.
THE BREAK-UP OF THE Soviet Union left Russia in chaos and financial ruin — sitting atop the world’s largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. To give some idea of the magnitude of the crisis, imagine a cash-strapped nation in an era of nihilism with more than 30,000 nuclear weapons, 600 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear materials, 40,000 metric tons of “declared” chemical weapons, and 2,100 missile and bomber systems capable of delivering those weapons at its disposal. Imagine as many as 40 research institutes dedicated to the “development and production of biological weapons” scattered throughout the country, and between 30,000 and 75,000 “senior nuclear, chemical and biological weapons scientists and thousands of less experienced junior scientists” out of work.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online