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Cooperative Threat Reductio Ad Absurdum

The well-meaning Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction effort has turned into a Russian version of "take the money and run" -- yet John Kerry, as he insisted again last Thursday, thinks he’ll get the Russians to cooperate. He’ll have better luck finding Treblinka Square.

By 10.4.04

(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.

Attempting to prevent an unprecedented catastrophe, Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, and Republican Richard Lugar authored the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, signed into law in 1991. Without a doubt, the CTR program has done some amazing work, deactivating 5,990 nuclear warheads and destroying 479 ballistic missiles, 435 ballistic missile silos, 97 bombers, 336 submarine-launched missiles, 396 submarine missile launchers, and 24 strategic missile submarine. Thanks to CTR, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are free of nuclear weapons, a fact that comforts Russians more than us, no doubt.

At the time of CTR's inception, Russia was too weak to address proliferation concerns. The CTR program delivered vast sums of money in hard times, which encouraged the Russian government to cooperate. But Russia is a very different country today than it was in 1992, said Ilan Berman, vice-president of the American Foreign Policy Council. "Nunn-Lugar came along at a time in the early 90s when Russia was literally broke," he said. "The monetary situation in Russia is now far less a factor. The Russian economy has bounced back; they are paying off the national debt and even building cash reserves. Still, they are unwilling to increase their investment in disarmament so long as America remains so willing to put up the money regardless of whether the Russians hold up their end of the bargain or not."

This disregard was on display at Shchuchye, an $890 million facility designed to destroy Russian chemical weapons stockpiles to keep the country in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it signed in 1993. Russia agreed to pony up an additional $750 million for the project, but had only provided $25 million at last count. Meanwhile, local officials are beginning to make rumbles about shutting down the facility on environmental grounds, openly trumpeting the railroading of Votkinsk as a model. Considering the unwillingness of the Putin administration to intervene then, the possibility that Shchuchye could become a billion dollar boondoggle for CTR is not beyond the realm of imagination.

Things are not much better over at Mayak in Russia's Southern Ural mountains, home of the largest nuclear complex on the planet. At Russia's request, CTR built a huge storage facility for dismantled nuclear warheads and plutonium at Mayak. The U.S. government in theory limited CTR funding of the project to $275 million, approximately half the cost. Russia agreed to come up with the other $275 million once the program was under way, but ultimately reneged. With little protest, CTR quickly agreed to put up $385 million to get the site up and running, and as yet has received no firm assurances from the Russian government that it will front the more than $10 million annual operating costs of the facility.

Since 1995, the U.S. has been providing Russia with security equipment for facilities housing WMD, with the understanding that if the U.S. installs it, the Russians will pay to run it. But the Russians have brazenly refused to pay. According to a GAO report, the U.S. has spent $171 million for operational support and development at sites across Russia.

Adding insult to injury, Russia continues to deny American inspectors access to the Mayak facility that American dollars just built, thus making it impossible to know exactly what is being stored there. It is possible, of course, that the Russians are using the facility to store precisely the materials the U.S. built it to store and nothing else. But their unwillingness to allow American inspectors to take a look around reeks of secrecy and deceit. Without verification, everything remains in question. Even the godfather of CTR, Dick Lugar, was barred from visiting a bio-weapons facility on a trip to Russia two years ago, without explanation.

THIS LACK OF TRANSPARENCY is nothing new. An examination of the CTR program by the GAO found that the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy had denied American teams access to 73 percent of buildings with weapons-usable material housed in them. Additionally, Americans have been denied entry into sites where it is believed the Russian government continues an offensive biological weapons program in violation of treaty obligations, including production of such nasty bugs as Ebola and the Marburg virus, pathogens that could kill millions in the wrong hands.

The most outrageous case of lack of transparency has to be the Liquid Propellant Disposition System at Krasnoyarsk, a $106 million facility built by CTR at Russia's request to dispose of 30,000 metric tons of heptyl (liquid fuel) and 123,000 metric tons of amyl or oxidizer. In addition to the plant itself, several million dollars were spent to provide Russia with flatbed railcars, specially designed tank containers, and cranes to help transport the propellant. When all was said and done, and the Americans asked for deliveries to begin, the Russians disclosed that there wasn't any heptyl or amyl to be disposed of -- they had already used the fuel in launches of commercial satellites and a new line of Proton missiles.

A letter to CTR program directors obtained by The American Spectator makes clear that Nikolai Shumkov, deputy director general of the Russian Air and Space Agency, was not in the throes of guilt over this massive deception. Shumkov allows that CTR directors were "justified in claiming that the Russian side should have informed the U.S. side" that the plant would be useless, and goes on to explain that while there is still heptyl to be reprocessed, Russia would be holding on to it "due to an increased number of Proton missile launches in future years." Shumkov closed the letter with suggestions for what to do with the now worthless plant, which basically amounted to gutting the building and selling the parts on the world market.

The U.S. is taking Shumkov's advice and expects to recoup about one million dollars on its $106 million investment. Not once does Shumkov suggest the U.S. should be reimbursed for the huge outlay of cash with the profits Russia made from satellite launches.

CAN C.T.R. BE REFORMED? Yes, but only if a warts-and-all examination of the program, something not possible thus far, is done. A Pentagon investigation into CTR waste earlier this year was too mincing to be useful. The inspector general's report said that the program had derailed because, "positions responsible for CTR oversight were vacant for almost five years" and that there was not "an adequate chain of command between the organizations responsible for implementation and those responsible for oversight." But in fact there has been no loss of continuity -- the same cast of players involved now was present in the mid-1990s.

"We [Russia and the United States] do have common interests to a certain point," says Ilan Berman, vice-president of the American Foreign Policy Council. "But CTR has become a pet project for some in the government, which essentially means its supporters are reluctant to acknowledge mistakes or have a serious discussion about reforming it. So there have been no midcourse corrections, and the program has become a bit sidetracked."

It is not unreasonable to ask, for example, whether the United States and Russia still agree on disarmament goals. An official White House memorandum on CTR notes that the "Secretary of State is unable to certify that the Russian Federation is committed to foregoing any military modernization program that exceeds legitimate defense requirements and foregoing the replacement of destroyed weapons of mass destruction." The memorandum casts doubt on whether the Russians have been honest in their declarations on chemical and biological weapons stockpiles.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was more blunt in an interview with Jim Lehrer. "Russia is an active proliferator," he said. "They are part of the problem."

Russian politics has changed vastly since the early 1990s. The long-held excuse that Putin was too weak politically to foist a disarmament regime on the Russian military is losing credence in the aftermath of his landslide reelection. The public boasting of Putin and his top officials about Russia's military expansion and capabilities is not the rhetoric of a weak regime.

"The world has changed," Russia's Defense Minister S.B. Ivanov told a NATO conference this July. "Yet, the new age must not necessarily be accompanied by dismantlement of the military and the political legacy of the past. I have already said this and I want to say it again: Russia regards nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence as the basis for global stability."

Ivanov is proclaiming Russia's indifference to a disarmament regime. We are now faced with a Russia blatantly uncooperative with regard to CTR as well as other American foreign policy objectives. But in the eyes of CTR cheerleaders, the program overrides U.S. national security interests. Last year a U.S. CTR official went to Moscow during the week of March 25 to cajole the Russians into accepting an additional $150 million at the very moment the Russians were thumbing their noses at U.S. overtures for cooperation regarding Iraq. As the U.S. continued to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to help Russia clean up a weapons crisis of its own making, Russians were scheming in back rooms at the U.N. to thwart a war with Iraq deemed necessary for American security. As the U.S. writes checks, Russia refuses to stop selling nuclear secrets and materials to the mullahs in Iran, official sponsors of Hezbollah, the organization many blame for the Khobar Towers attack in 1996.

ACCORDING TO BILL McCOY, WHO formerly dealt with the mechanics of CTR policy, the U.S. is paying to dismantle Russian SS-19 missiles. But Russia has now purchased some 30 new SS-19 missiles from Ukraine to take their place in the same silos. The question is: Are we more secure with 30 rusting SS-19s taking up 30 missile silos, or with 30 unused SS-19s with warheads aimed at the United States? As Justin Bernier points out in Parameters, "Russia's conscious decision to vigorously invest in new ballistic missile submarines and new long range bombers and new ICBMs and gigantic bomb shelters, but not in ongoing disarmament projects, raises serious questions about its willingness to properly prioritize its growing economic resources."

The CTR program inexplicably paid nearly $400,000 for repairs and operation of an active, commissioned Russian nuclear fuel ship, the PM-74, after the request had been disapproved twice, once by acting principal director Susan Koch and again by deputy assistant secretary of defense Marshall Billingslea. Who approved this payment after disapproval by two senior policy managers? Additionally, at the same time it paid for improvements to the de-fueling ship, CTR was funding on-shore nuclear de-fueling facilities to accomplish the same task. More worrisome still is that only concern for "Russian integrity" prevents the on-shore de-fueling facilities from being used to refuel Russian nuclear submarines.

Destroying Russia's WMD stockpiles is a noble goal. But the mischief rampant in the CTR program isn't advancing it.

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