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Senate Developing Bill to Modernize, Expand Nunn-Lugar Program

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- New Senate legislation is in the works to modernize a key U.S. nonproliferation program that came out of the Cold War and make it more applicable to regions outside the former Soviet Union, Senator Jeanne Shaheen said on Thursday.

The New Hampshire Democrat told attendees of an Arms Control Association event that she would "in coming weeks" join with Senate colleagues on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees “to introduce new legislation aimed at modernizing our Cooperative Threat Reduction and nonproliferation assistance programs and expanding them more comprehensively into the Middle East and North Africa."

The Nunn-Lugar program was established in the early 1990s as a means of funneling U.S funds and technical assistance to Russia and other former Soviet states for the elimination and protection of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear arms. In two decades, the initiative has disabled or destroyed thousands of strategic nuclear warheads, hundreds of ICBMs, and scores of ballistic missile submarines and heavy bombers.

However, it is another aspect of the program’s work -- securing WMD-related materials -- that is likely to be carried into new regions. The Pentagon under the CTR initiative is already working to improve biosecurity in Uganda and Kenya -- African states possessing disease research laboratories that in the past have not observed the proper protocols for ensuring deadly pathogens are not stolen or accidentally loosed into the environment.

When asked how the Senate planned to update Nunn-Lugar for work in additional areas, Shaheen only said it would be a “comprehensive” and “more focused approach” aimed at minimizing the chances of new regional nuclear and WMD proliferation.

At present, the Middle East's two primary unconventional arms concerns -- Iran and Syria -- are not likely to agree to participate in any U.S.-led nonproliferation effort. However, the remnants of chemical weapons stocks in Libya and Iraq could create some early openings for U.S. assistance under Nunn-Lugar.

The Senate’s interest in revamping Cooperative Threat Reduction comes as Russia is demanding programmatic changes if it is to continue participating in the effort past the June expiration of a bilateral cooperation agreement. Obama administration officials have expressed optimism that a compromise can be reached to maintain the collaborative work.

Requests for comment about the planned legislation to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were not returned as of press time.


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