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A Short History of Threat Reduction

The U.S. Congress, in bipartisan action in 1991, laid the foundation for the cooperative threat reduction agenda by enacting what became known as the Nunn-Lugar program, named for its primary co-sponsors, Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). This initiative has since developed into a broad set of programs that involve a number of U.S. agencies, primarily the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State. The government now provides these programs with approximately $900 million to $1 billion per year. In the past 10 years, roughly $7 billion in total has been spent on cooperative activities to secure and eliminate WMD and related materials, expertise, and technologies at their source in Russia, in other former Soviet Republics, and in other locations around the world.

During this time, this cooperation has yielded indisputable results that have made a real, tangible difference in global security. Among the highlights:

The first success came in 1992, when Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan agreed to return to Russia the nuclear weapons they had inherited from the Soviet breakup and to accede to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states. The same year, the United States helped establish two science centers designed to provide alternative employment for scientists and technicians who had lost their jobs and, in some cases, had become economically desperate because weapons work in the former Soviet Union was significantly reduced.

In 1993 the United States and Russia signed the Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase agreement, under which the United States would buy 500 metric tons of weapons-grade HEU that would be "blended down," or mixed with natural uranium to eliminate its weapon usability, and be used as commercial reactor fuel. To date, 175 metric tons of Russian HEU, or the equivalent of approximately 7,000 nuclear warheads, have been eliminated under this program. The two countries also established the Material Protection, Control, and Accounting program, a major effort to improve the security of Russia’s fissile material, and they signed an accord to build a secure Russian storage facility for fissile materials.

In 1994, U.S. and Russian laboratories began working directly with each other to improve the security of weapons-grade nuclear materials, and the two countries reached an agreement to help Russia halt weapons-grade plutonium production. Assistance to the Russian scientific community also expanded, with weapons scientists and technicians being invited to participate in the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, which is focused on the commercialization of non-weapons technology projects.

In 1995 the first shipments of blended-down Russian HEU began arriving in the United States. The United States and Russia also began to implement a new program to convert the cores of Soviet-designed research reactors so that they no longer use weapons-grade uranium.

In 1996 the last nuclear warheads from the former Soviet republics were returned to Russia. In the United States, Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici legislation, which expanded the original cooperative initiative and sought to improve the U.S. domestic response to threats posed by weapons of mass destruction that could be used on American soil.

In 1997 the United States and Russia agreed to revise their original plutonium production reactor agreement to facilitate the end of plutonium production. In March 2003, the United States and Russia signed the implementing agreements, under which the United States will finance the modernization and construction of replacement fossil fuel plants in exchange for a Russian commitment to shut down and decommission the three remaining reactors.

In 1998 the two countries created the Nuclear Cities Initiative, a program aimed at helping Russia shrink its massively oversized nuclear weapons complex and create alternative employment for unneeded weapons scientists and technicians.

In 1999 the Clinton administration unveiled the Expanded Threat Reduction Initiative, which requested increased funding and extension of the life spans of many of the existing cooperative security programs. The United States and Russia joined to extend the CTR agreement, which covers the operation of such Department of Defense activities as strategic arms elimination and warhead security.

In 2000 the United States and Russia signed a plutonium disposition agreement providing for the elimination of 34 tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium by each country.

In 2001, Congress increased the funds for critical threat reduction activities substantially above the requested amounts, including in the post-September 11 supplemental appropriations act.

In 2002 the G-8 agreed to expand the scope, funding, and timeline for WMD threat reduction activities in Russia, and Congress again provided supplemental funding for key efforts.

from Kenneth N. Luongo and William E. Hoehn III. "Reform and Expansion of Threat Reduction," in Arms Control Today. June 2003

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