From Donor to Partner: The Evolution of U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction into Global Security Engagement

From Donor to Partner: The Evolution of U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction into Global Security Engagement

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Chen Kane

Senior Resesarch Associate, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


May 10, 2011 marked nearly 20 years of U.S. Government involvement in Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR), which has since evolved into several initiatives collectively referred to as "Global Security Engagement" (GSE) programs. With the branching out of threat reduction activities beyond the original DOD-run initiative, CTR's nature has drastically changed and continues to adapt to address threats and challenges in the post 9/11 era more effectively.


The original CTR program was launched in 1992 at the initiative of Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) to respond to the immediate post-Cold War proliferation threats. The objective of the program was to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the former Soviet Union states (including Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan).[1] The United States provided funding and expertise to help these states safeguard and dismantle their WMD stockpiles, associated infrastructure, related materials, and delivery systems. The program also redirected scientists and facilities linked to WMD production to peaceful research initiatives. .[2]

New Threats

The need for an updated CTR program aimed at providing the United States with additional nonproliferation tools became evident after 9/11 and with the exposure of the A.Q. Khan black market network in late 2003. While the focus of the original CTR program was to minimize the potential proliferation of WMD from FSU states, CTR has been expanding its focus to prevent all WMD from being acquired by additional states or by non-state actors, and especially terrorist organizations.

To address these new challenges and threats, CTR activities today cover projects that focus on a wide variety of issues outside the FSU, including biological and chemical security; prevention and mitigation of infectious disease and other biological weapons threats; enhancing border security; strengthening export controls; developing nuclear forensics capabilities; interdicting illicit trafficking; and preventing radiological terrorism.

New Definition (and name?)

To better reflect the expanding objectives and regional scope of the contemporary CTR program, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the State Department Coordinator for Threat Reduction, in close consultation with representatives from other agencies within the U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), developed a revised definition for CTR:

Cooperative Threat Reduction is a set of USG programs and initiatives to address the complex challenges posed by weapons of mass destruction to national security and global stability. These collaborative activities operate globally to engage key partners in building awareness, trust, and local capacity to secure WMD-related materials, technologies, and knowledge; prevent their misuse; and reduce or mitigate the risks caused by their availability. Working through a cooperative network of civil society, inter-agency, and international institutions and relationships, CTR initiatives are tailored to unique national, regional, and cultural conditions.[4]

The new definition also reflects a revised U.S. strategy of modulating the relationship with new CTR participant countries from a donor-recipient dynamic to one of partnership.

There have been attempts to find a new name for the CTR program that will better reflect this new approach. In fact, the term CTR has been used at times by various parties to denote a range of different activities, which has sometimes caused confusion. Some equate CTR with the original Nunn-Lugar Program and DOD's strategic offensive weapons dismantlement program in the FSU; while others include the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Department of State programs in Russia and the FSU; and in recent years CTR has been used more generically to refer to a broad group of programs spread across U.S. government departments and agencies, including a range of chemical and biological security programs. This constellation of programs is sometimes also dubbed "CTR 2.0."[5]

To both reflect the broader CTR objectives and prevent confusion, the term GSE (Global Security Engagement), is expected to replace the CTR 2.0 label. While the official name will probably remain CTR, because of existing funding legislation linked to it, the term GSE is gaining more widespread usage as CTR programs continue to expand worldwide.

New "Whole-of-Government" Approach

The CTR program started as a DOD project and evolved through the 1990s to include programs within DOE and DOS. As the development of new threats forced CTR to develop correspondingly new responses, it also led to recruiting broader participation across the U.S. government. As of 2011, CTR is more comprehensive and inclusive, with a partnership that includes the Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury, the United States Agency for International Development, and other organizations. Cooperation among the various U.S. agencies provides the United States with a better ability and resource base to engage new countries. Many of the above-mentioned agencies have already developed the necessary local partnerships, knowledge of local cultures, and understanding of local threat perceptions which could better facilitate GSE-related work than could one agency alone. An example of such cooperation is the September 2010 partnership between the State Department's Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP) and the Defense Department's CTR initiative to provide support to more than 20 African experts in public health and infectious diseases so that they could attend the sixth Training Program in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network Global Scientific Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. Similarly, in September 2010, the United States and South Africa signed an agreement to extend cooperation on Project Phidisa, a groundbreaking clinical research collaboration among the South African Department of Defence and Military Veterans, the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Defense.[6]

Expanding Geographical Areas

While the main focus of the original CTR program was on Russia and the Former Soviet Union countries that inherited components of Russia's WMD programs, today's CTR activities are globally focused and threat-driven. For example, as discussed earlier, CTR programs have expanded to Africa, where the nexus of transnational terrorist threats, biosciences capacity building, infectious disease epidemics, and WMD-usable materials and expertise is growing.[7]

In fact, DOE and the State Department were involved with CTR programs outside the FSU as early as 2003, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and moved most recently into Africa.[8] DOD activities, however, were limited by law to work only in Russia and the Former Soviet Union states. The FY2008 Defense Authorization Act, however, stated that CTR should include broader international cooperation and partnerships, and authorized DOD to accept increased international contributions for such collaborations. It also suggested that these new initiatives could include "programs and projects in Asia and the Middle East; and activities relating to the denuclearization of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."[9] In 2009, Congress approved DOD to use ten percent of its CTR budget "notwithstanding" authority, enabling operations outside of the former Soviet Union states, such as the elimination of chemical weapons in Albania.[10]

The geographical expansion of the program increased the challenge of how to tailor projects to best fit the unique circumstances of each recipient country. While there is no model that applies effectively to all cases, developing unique programs tailored to the specific circumstances of each state significantly increases operational costs. To address this issue, and recognizing that GSE has limited capacities to meet every threat, there is an effort underway to establish regional centers of excellence and training hubs that would strengthen regional capacities to combat the proliferation of WMD.[11] Such centers have been established or are planned in Poland, Chile, Japan, India, China, and South Korea. It is still to be decided how each center will operate, what its specific objectives will be, and whether and how the centers will coordinate with one another.

New Partnerships

With the expansion of geographical scope and potential recipients, the United States increasingly looks to other actors, outside the U.S. government, that could assist in implementing or facilitating GSE-related programs. Recognizing the additional resources available beyond the United States, the program today includes a broad group of participants, such as other governments, academia, industry, and nongovernmental and international organizations. Also, new international platforms were created such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the Proliferation Security Initiative, UN Security Council Resolution 1540, and the Nuclear Security Summit.

Another key example of collaborative activities is the G-8 Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (GP). In 2002, the G-8 leaders agreed to establish a long-term program to stop the spread of WMD and related materials and technology, and to strengthen the global capacity to prevent, detect and respond to nuclear terrorism by conducting and coordinating multilateral activities. Since its founding in 2002, 15 additional states have joined the G-8 countries on GP-related projects.[12]

The GP Working Group normally meets four times per year to review the progress of the various initiatives.[13] In its most recent summit, in Muskoka, Canada in June 2010, the GP decided to reorient its efforts and priorities away from the decommissioning of Russian nuclear submarines and chemical weapons, the disposition of fissile materials, and the employment of former weapons scientists in Russia and the FSU, to concentrate globally on biosecurity, nuclear and radiological security, scientist engagement beyond the FSU, and capacity-building measures, such as export controls and implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540.[14]

France, which currently serves as the G-8 president, published its objectives for the 2011 G-8 Summit, which include enhancing coordination among the GP members and their partners, promoting a broader scope of projects, and focusing in particular on nuclear and radiological security, biological safety and security, export controls, and nuclear energy.[15] The current 10-year, $20 billion GP commitments will expire in 2012, and the G-8 has yet to agree to extend the initiative beyond 2012. At the same time, the GP members will have to address important issues, such as coordination among their projects, following up on their pledges, and Russia's role as both a donor and a recipient.[16]

New Challenges

As the CTR program operates in a more complex global environment by addressing new threats, moving into new regions, and forging new partnerships, additional new challenges will need to be addressed.

Measuring Success

Under the original CTR, the United States, other donors, and recipient states have made considerable advances in enhancing global security against the threat of WMD. Under this effort, it was relatively easy to measure progress and success, as most of the programs concentrated on weapons dismantlement, and fissile material control. The progress was relatively easily quantified, and its effect could be visually observed. For example, according to Senator Richard Lugar's CTR score card, as of March 2011, weapons deactivated and destroyed under this program include 7,551 nuclear warheads, 537 ICBMs, 27 nuclear submarines, 194 nuclear test tunnels, etc.[17] However, with the program expanding its reach to meet less-tangible goals, results will become more difficult to quantify, making success harder to demonstrate.

Such successes may include establishing personal relationships and professional networks where none existed before, securing dangerous pathogens and upgrading the security of biological labs, improving appreciation of nonproliferation dangers in partner countries, heightening trust between participating U.S. and foreign officials, military officers, and scientists, and providing training courses for customs officials. These all contribute to U.S. national security, but it is difficult to quantify the direct and indirect impacts of such intangible benefits, compared to the clear-cut national security gains of dismantling a nuclear weapon.

GSE's future sustainability, therefore, is challenged by the need to develop metrics that prioritize which projects should be pursued, assess program impact, and demonstrate the value of these efforts to Congress and the general public. Per congressional request, the National Academy of Sciences is currently working on developing such metrics for one component of the GSE enterprise, the DOD CTR program.[18] The results of the NAS effort are not yet available, and it is not known whether new metrics will be able to demonstrate the impact of these efforts and their effectiveness, will be broadly applicable beyond DOD, and will assist in securing future funding.

Funding and Coordination

The ability to measure success has direct influence on securing executive and legislative support and funding for CTR efforts. Over the years, the program's overall budget, which started at around the $400 million mark in 1992, has grown to roughly $1 billion annually.[19] Some supporters of these programs in Congress, and among foundations and private philanthropists, may also be experiencing "threat fatigue," and are raising questions as to whether WMD proliferation and terrorist threats remain as serious as in the past.[20]

After a long battle over the FY2011 budget, and although it falls considerably short of the amounts that President Barack Obama requested for fiscal year 2011, the existing funding for CTR programs was secured in April 2011. DOD's Cooperative Threat Reduction Program received an additional $99 million relative to FY2010 for a total of $523 million, a 20 percent increase.[21] The State Department's CTR program received $184 million in funding, a 10 percent reduction from its FY 2010 $205.9 million budget. At the NNSA, CTR-related programs received $2.32 billion dollars, an increase of about $200 million from the fiscal year 2010 appropriation of $1.712 billion.[22]

The international economic and financial crisis has also directly influenced the ability of the United States and other donor states to fund CTR-related programs. Most of the G-8 governments confront serious economic recessions, face painful cuts to their national budgets, and therefore find it increasingly difficult to continue to fund CTR or GP-related programs, even as many new projects and relationships with new partner states are being launched.


One of the main challenges the CTR program has faced in all of its iterations is sustainability. Sustainability ultimately depends on the recipient country's ability and willingness to continue projects after U.S. or other funding ends and the advisors leave. There are additional challenges to sustainability that must be considered up-front and throughout the life of a project. For example, constructing a biosafety lab in an area that has no access to electricity and water, or lacks local experts to work at the facility will not be a sustainable project. Sustainability therefore also depends on the donors' ability to assist in building long-term capacity in the recipient country to deal with the challenges and threats it faces. Sustainability can be strengthened by engaging local stakeholders, who may possess valuable insights into the unique local dynamics which may help or hinder the long-term viability of a CTR project. These stakeholders, in turn, may act as effective partners, communicating the interests of the sponsors locally, as well as sharing important feedback from the local community with the sponsors. It is also important to develop with the recipient state a sustainability plan and management information system to track progress.


Given the substantial and increasing U.S. and foreign funding that CTR programs have received since their inception, there appears to be broad consensus that they have made and continue to make significant contributions to national and international security. As the programs shift their focus to new regions and new threats — particularly less-easily quantifiable threats— the programs may confront new challenges in sustaining such support, particularly in an era of tighter budgets in the United States and abroad. The challenges CTR programs face today are many, but so are the opportunities and prospects. To ensure continued and even greater success, coordination and transparency are needed, as well as efforts to secure sufficient funding and promote the projects' long-term sustainability.


[1] According to the "Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991," H.R.3807 (P.L. 102-228), Section 212, "Authority for Program to Facilitate Soviet Weapons Destruction": "The program…shall be limited to cooperation among the United States, the Soviet Union, its republics, and any successor entities to (1) to destroy nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons, (2) transport, store, disable, and safeguard weapons in connection with their destruction, and (3) establish verifiable safeguards against the proliferation of such weapons." As agreed in 27 November 27, 1991,
[2] "History of the Nunn-Lugar Program," Senator Richard Lugar Senate website,
[3] "The Nunn-Lugar Scorecard," Senator Richard Lugar Senate website,
[4] Based on a discussion with Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, April 2010, Washington, DC. This definition is still a "work in progress."
[5] See also: National Academy of Sciences, "Global Security Engagement: A New Model for Cooperative Threat Reduction," Washington, DC, April 2009,
[6] Bonnie Jenkins, "Adapting to the Times: The Evolution of U.S. Threat Reduction Programs," Arms Control Today, January/February 2011,
[7] For additional information on CTR activities in Africa, see Bonnie Jenkins, "Adapting to the Times: The Evolution of U.S. Threat Reduction Programs," Arms Control Today, January/February 2011,
[8] For additional information on CTR programs in new countries, see Matthias Mitman, ISN/CTR and the Global Threat Reduction (GTR) Programs,; and Anne M. Harrington, "Adapting Cooperative Threat Reduction to New Environments: Lessons Learned from Iraq and Libya WMD Redirection," 27 July 2004,
[9] The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-181, Title XIII, Section 1306),
[10] For additional information, see the Defense Threat Reduction Agency,
[11] For additional information on the role of regional organizations in preventing the spread of WMD, see Johan Bergenäs, "The Role of Regional Organizations in Combating WMD Terrorism," G8/G20 Magazine,
[12] The GP consists of the G-8 states plus Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine (as a recipient).
[13] For the list of the various GP projects, see "Global Partnership Working Group — GPWG Annual Report 2010 Consolidated Report Data," ANNEX A, G-8 2009 Summit,
[14] Report on the G-8 Global Partnership 2010, and G-8 Global Partnership, 2009 Report on the Global Partnership Working Group, Annual Report, July 2009,
[15] Press Conference by the President of the French Republic, Presentation of the French Presidency of the G20 and G8, 24 January 2011,
[16] For additional information on these challenges, see "The G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction," The Stimson Center, and Robert J. Einhorn and Michele A. Flournoy, "Assessing The G8 Global Partnership: From Kananaskis to St. Petersburg," July 2006, Center for Strategic and International Studies,
[17] "The Nunn-Lugar Scorecard," Senator Richard Lugar Senate website,
[18] "Improving Metrics for the Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program," National Academy, PGA-CISAC-10-01, See also: James Revill, "Developing Metrics and Measures for Dual-Use Education," 2010,
[19] Rose Gottemoeller, "Cooperative Threat Reduction Beyond Russia," The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Spring 2005,; and "The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program," Nuclear Threat Initiative,
[20] See Sharon Squassoni, "Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options," Congressional Research Service, Updated 5 October 2006,, and Amy F. Woolf, "Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance: U.S. Programs in the Former Soviet Union Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy," Congressional Research Service, 4 February 2011,
[21] U.S. DOD, "Cooperative Threat Reduction Annual Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2012," as submitted to Congress; and Robert Golan-Vilella, "Congress Boosts Nonproliferation Funding," Arms Control Today, May 2011,
[22] Robert Golan-Vilella, "Congress Boosts Nonproliferation Funding," Arms Control Today, May 2011,; and 2010 budget numbers were taken from "CTR Programs Online Budget Database," Securing the Bomb, Nuclear Threat Initiative,

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