Laura S. H. Holgate Ambassador (ret.)
Vice President, Materials Risk Management
Laura S. H. Holgate testifies before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services
Statement of Laura S. H. Holgate
Vice President for Russia/NIS Programs Nuclear Threat Initiative
before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services hearing on “Combating Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) with Nonproliferation Programs: Nonproliferation Assistance Coordination Act of 2001”
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about how the United States government can strengthen its efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons – and keep them from falling into the hands of groups and states who would do us harm.
The nation and the world discovered September 11 that there are terrorist forces in the world who will stop at nothing in their efforts to take innocent lives. The work that the U.S. government does to secure nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and materials is our first line of defense in keeping these weapons out of terrorist hands. These programs are even more important and more urgent than many had previously believed – and consequently, they need to be expanded as part of a vigorous and accelerated national security commitment to protect us from weapons of mass destruction. So I would like to thank the chairman and the members of the committee for putting the spotlight on this issue and giving me and others a chance to contribute our ideas.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, it left behind a legacy of 30,000 nuclear weapons, more than 1,000 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 tons of plutonium – enough to build 60,000 to 80,000 weapons – in storage sites poorly secured, and many weapons scientists with no steady paychecks. We have seen hostile efforts to sell, steal and recruit weapons designs, materials and know-how out of Russia. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the head of the safety department at the Russian nuclear regulatory agency has just acknowledged a security violation of “the highest possible consequence” sometime during the last two years. Authorities recently thwarted an inside effort to smuggle 18.5 kilograms of highly enriched uranium out of a nuclear facility in the Urals.
That’s enough material – with the right expertise – to build a small nuclear device. The International Atomic Energy Agency has recorded since 1993 more than a dozen thwarted efforts to smuggle plutonium or highly-enriched uranium. What we don’t know is what percentage of the smuggling we stop? Is it one hundred percent … or closer to one percent?
Earlier this year, a distinguished bipartisan task force headed by Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler published a major report on the need to secure Russian weapons, materials and know-how, declaring it "the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States," and calling for a four-fold funding increase for these threat-reduction efforts.
This threat is understood and discussed at the highest levels of our government. Speaking just last week via satellite to the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism, President Bush said: “These terrorist groups are seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation; and, eventually, to civilization itself.”
President Bush is not a newcomer to this concern. Two years ago at the Reagan Library, Candidate Bush praised “the foresight and statesmanship” of Senators Lugar and Nunn for their legislation to improve security at many Russian nuclear facilities. Then he added: “A great deal of Russian nuclear material cannot be accounted for. The next president must press for an accurate inventory of all this material, and we must do more. I will ask the Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia's weapons as possible as quickly as possible."
The Administration’s actions in the first months of its tenure fall short of the vision and purpose articulated by President Bush. Early this year, the Administration announced a review of nonproliferation programs, then cut the programs’ budgets before it began the review. The review itself stopped action in its tracks. Travel was halted. Work was postponed. Momentum was lost. Program managers felt they lacked the authority to go forward. And the review was undertaken without the courtesy of telling our partners in Russia. Now we are told the review is complete, but we have not seen its outcome.
I strongly support a review of our nonproliferation programs; we have not had one since 1993. But it needs to be broad or strategic. The review that was recently completed appeared to be aimed merely at finding inefficiencies in individual program activities. That is a worthy purpose on its own terms, but it is no substitute for strategic thinking about U.S. national security goals and how threat reduction programs can help achieve them.
I have worked for many years, in many capacities, to implement and advance these programs to prevent nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, weapons materials and weapons know-how from falling into the wrong hands. It is my view that these programs are critically important, largely effective, and – because of the obvious urgency – more in need than ever of high-level attention, increased funding, greater staffing and continuous fresh thinking to help speed up the pace and widen the scope of the programs. If terrorists are racing to acquire weapons of mass destruction, we ought to be racing to stop them.
This is a complex task. The expertise necessary for the job is wide-ranging – distributed across many agencies of government. The Defense Department is needed for its expertise in handling and destroying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; the Energy Department for its knowledge of fissile material management and the national labs' experience in scientist-to-scientist cooperation; the State Department for its role in bilateral and multilateral diplomatic negotiations and in-country expertise; the Agriculture Department for its understanding of animal and plant diseases as they might relate to bioterrorism; the Department of Health and Human Services for its epidemiologists; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for its experience in licensing and oversight of nuclear facilities; the Customs and Treasury Departments for their knowledge of export control regulations and processes; the Overseas Private Investment Fund and the Trade and Development Agency for their support of U.S. businesses seeking Russian business partners.
Some point to the involvement of so many agencies as evidence of poor management. It is not. It is evidence that such a program, as I said, requires wide-ranging expertise, and therefore will always be a challenge to administer – a challenge that can be fully met, in my view, only with high-level leadership and coordination. This leadership and coordination has been hard to come by since the early days of these programs.
Despite the complexity of these nonproliferation cooperation activities, programmatic duplication is remarkably low, and program implementation is in general very effective. Improving the coordination and accountability of these programs should result in even greater improvements in U.S. national security.
What is missing in the process is a definitive statement of strategy and consistent advocacy of Administration goals. This must include holding agencies accountable for financing and implementing programs that accomplish those goals. Without this clear high-level direction, and the interagency process that creates and maintains it, agencies have set and articulated their own priorities, resources have not always been aligned with those priorities even within agencies, and differences among agencies’ rhetoric and programmatic actions have created perceptions of inefficiency and contradiction which are exploited by opponents of the programs and missions. Programmatic inconsistencies also open doors for recipient nation counterparts to play agencies off against each other. All of this can be remedied with decisive and enduring leadership from the White House.
I would like to spend a few minutes reviewing the activities and accomplishments of our nonproliferation programs, discussing some of the barriers they face, and offering several recommendations about how we can make them more effective.
USG nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union
Ten years after the passage of the landmark Nunn-Lugar Act established the legal basis for nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and other former Soviet states, U.S. Government activities in this area approach $1 billion annually and involve multiple agencies, myriad contractors, and over a dozen Congressional committees and subcommittees. This growth has been by and large organic, with each agency pursuing its own contacts and relationships in recipient countries, assembling and justifying its own budget, implementing programs based on its own culture and approaches, and interacting with its own Congressional oversight committees.
In spite of proceeding without a comprehensive and coordinated vision, administered from the top, these programs, taken collectively, have massively improved U.S. national security, through projects in Russia and the former Soviet Union that secure, consolidate and/or reduce overall quantities of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; the materials required to manufacture them; facilities and equipment required to make and maintain them; and the knowledge and experience necessary to create and use them.
Let me describe each in turn:
Weapons: The fall of the Soviet Union left behind four new nations with nuclear weapons on their territory, totaling over 10,000 strategic warheads deployed on missiles, bombers and submarines. Removing all Soviet weapons to Russia and helping them implement their arms control commitments to reduce these weapons has been the initial focus of U.S. Government threat reduction programs. In addition, tons of outdated chemical weapons are stockpiled at seven locations in Russia, and need to be destroyed.
Materials: Russia retains massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons materials. No one knows exactly how much because accounting has been so poor under the Soviet system. Best estimates, however, are that the Soviet Union manufactured more than 1,000 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and over 150 metric tons of plutonium which remain in Russia under inadequate security. Ironically, as weapons are dismantled, the challenge of safe storage of their materials increases. Smaller quantities, enough for a few weapons, are held at research facilities around the former Eastern Bloc. Stocks of biological weapons ingredients are also poorly secured.
Infrastructure: Part of the Cold War “hangover” Russia struggles with today is a massively outsized weapons of mass destruction infrastructure. For example, Russia has four facilities which assemble and disassemble nuclear weapons; the U.S. has a single such plant. Nuclear arms reductions will result in military bases closures. The covert Soviet bioweapons program was scattered throughout its legitimate biotechnology research system, involving hundreds of labs and institutes, and surge production facilities with huge capacities. These facilities need to be eliminated or converted to peaceful civilian use in order to prevent the recreation of these fearsome production systems.
Know-how: Along with the overgrown infrastructure are tens of thousands of people who know how to make or manage mass-destruction weapons but are unable to feed their families. As their labs, institutes and plants lose government funding and ultimately are closed, they may be tempted to share their knowledge with terrorist groups and hostile states who seek such weapons.
These initiatives describe a wide-ranging agenda. Dismantling weapons, securing material, eliminating infrastructure, and directing know-how to peaceful pursuits – all of these play an essential role in fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We’ve taken important steps. But to protect the security of the American people, we need giant strides.
US Government organization
As this brief description indicates, as many as a dozen U.S. Government agencies are involved in these activities. Prior to 1996, these efforts were funded primarily by the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction budget, with transfers to other agencies working on these programs, moderated through an interagency budget allocation process led by the National Security Council. These inter-agency transfers drew opposition from the Pentagon’s Congressional oversight committees, and CTR program managers in the Defense Department were held accountable inappropriately for expenditures and program outcomes managed by other agencies. In 1996, these concerns were resolved by the determination that the Departments of Defense, Energy and State would each request their own budgets for the programs they implemented. As a result, Congressional oversight was spread out among many different committees; there was no one committee in the Congress charged with oversight of everything. Programmatic trade-offs became muted once they ceased competing within the same line-item.
As these programs have grown and multiplied, funding transfers between agencies have in some cases continued. One reason is the lack of willingness both by agencies and their oversight committees to appropriate agency funds for activities seen as outside an agency’s traditional mission. The Agriculture Department is a case in point. Veterinary medicine and crop disease expertise is central to the engagement of Russian bioscientists, who developed means to cripple enemy agriculture through biological weapons. The Agriculture Department has not traditionally supported a national security mission so directly, and has no financial resources to do so. The Agriculture oversight committees have not been prepared to provide such funding. As a result, participation of Agriculture experts and use of the agency’s facilities to support nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and other countries are funded by the Departments of State and Defense.
This programmatic complexity certainly increases the management burden both with the Executive branch and on Capitol Hill. It would be hard to argue that this management burden has been effectively carried in either branch. Where it has worked well, it has been a consequence of personalities, committees or commissions that are not an enduring feature of the organizational plans – either within the U.S. government, or in relations between the U.S. and the states of the former Soviet Union.
Earlier approaches at coordinating nonproliferation programs
In 1994, the National Security Council created a special position, reporting simultaneously to the Senior Director for Nonproliferation and the Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia, to manage the working-level interagency response to nuclear smuggling, then much in the news. The dual nature of this position gave the occupant access to two Senior Directors, who often convened joint meetings of senior officials to review agency programs to combat proliferation in former Soviet states. Only rarely did the NSC direct agencies in program planning or execution, but it provided an authoritative venue for programmatic deconfliction, and documentation and enforcement of collective decisions. Over time, however, based in part on personalities and interests, this position lost its connection to the Russia/Eurasia Directorate, and subsequent occupants gained other priorities, diluting their ability to become involved in the increasingly large and complex set of cooperative programs. Senior-level meetings to discuss programmatic priorities became increasingly rare.
At the same time, a special Ambassadorial position was created within the State Department to coordinate all assistance to the former Soviet republics—from democracy and economic reform to security and nonproliferation. This mechanism provided a useful centralized clearinghouse of information both among agencies and for outside parties, but only rarely became involved in shaping agency programs and had little or no impact on agency budgetary positions or program implementation. One particularly useful role of this office, however, has been the coordination of an Administration-wide response to Congressional committee interests, particularly where non-traditional agency partners have become engaged in national security activities.
Also early in the former Administration, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to form the U.S.-Russia Binational Commission, to be chaired by Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The semi-annual meetings of the commission became action-forcing events – giving agency officials the sense of urgency they needed to coordinate their efforts and make advances, because they knew they would be giving a progress report every six months that would be reviewed at the highest levels, and – to be credible — would have to be corroborated by reports on the Russian side. The end of the Commission eliminated a very valuable tool of coordination – one that created frequent opportunities for interagency interaction on cooperative programs, and exposed senior officials to the diversity of activities underway across agencies.
Despite its rhetorical recognition of the importance of these programs, the Bush Administration has restructured the NSC in ways that may actually weaken — not strengthen – coordination, management and attention given to threat reduction programs. The directorate previously responsible for nonproliferation was expanded to include missile defense and homeland security, and the office previously responsible for Russia and other new independent states was merged into the European directorate. These changes have increased the challenge of gaining senior-level attention, as presidential priorities and national emergencies absorb existing staff, resources and time. Recent additions to the White House counter-terrorism team do not change the fact that no one at a sufficiently senior level concentrates exclusively on these important issues.
Obstacles to effectiveness
By and large, these programs have been effective in improving our security, but they have not increased their impact or scope as much as the threats would warrant or their proponents have hoped. There are several important reasons.
Leadership: In the beginning days of these programs, the early tasks were easy to identify: denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Officials at the highest levels of government shared this priority, and held their staffs accountable for delivering on these goals using all resources available, including the tools in the newly created Nunn-Lugar Act. Once that goal was achieved, high-level attention from the White House diminished. Fortunately, several cabinet officials maintained a high-level of personal interest in these programs – including Secretary of Defense William Perry, Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary, and Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, who made these issues a priority and convened the prestigious Baker-Cutler panel, which made important bipartisan recommendations for expanding these programs. When I ran the CTR Program at the Pentagon, we briefed Bill Perry monthly. This routine encouraged U.S. to press ahead with these programs, so we could deliver evidence of new achievements at each monthly briefing. Perry’s interest also protected the CTR Program in the budget debate both within the Pentagon, and between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. The leadership of cabinet secretaries is important, but even in the best of circumstances, it cannot take the place of a high-level White House official, who can provide strategic vision, coordinate the work of different agencies, and use the power of the President to support the programs.
Funding: When high-level attention drops, funding increases are nearly impossible, even if they are necessary. As U.S. and Russian counterparts built relationships, opportunities emerged for cooperation in new areas. Unfortunately, without senior-level pressure to make the most of such opportunities, program managers tended to see such opportunities as unwelcome competition for existing programs. Until the FY02 budget submission, total USG spending on cooperative nonproliferation programs rose steadily, but not at a rate commensurate with either the threat or the opportunities to expand areas of cooperation.
Interagency coordination: The lack of an agreed, integrated government-wide strategy for reducing proliferation threats – one that sets priorities and defines agency roles – has kept these programs from making even greater contributions to national security. Without a clear message about the goals and accomplishments of these programs, policymakers and the U.S. public remain largely ignorant of their impact. Even where policymakers are aware of these successes, they tend to see such efforts as “soft” foreign aid, and not part of a national security agenda. Without an overarching vision and a high-level champion, it is impossible to make the response match the threat. The lack of coordination is seen more in missed opportunities or unmet threats rather than in programmatic duplication. Finally, at the implementation level, programmatic stovepipes among and within agencies limit the chance to create economies of scale and to transfer “lessons learned,” thereby decreasing overall efficiency.
Congressional oversight: The leadership of Congress is essential in establishing a strategic vision, allocating resources, and holding agencies accountable for results. Unfortunately, there were cases where committees prescribed not only what was to be done, but also spelled out – to a very high degree of detail – how it was to be done. This led to multiple reporting requirements and tangled – sometimes conflicting – conditions on how the program was to be run.
This type of Congressional oversight has hindered nonproliferation efforts almost as much as inadequate funding. During my tenure in the CTR Program, straightforward Administration budget requests would emerge from committee overgrown with kudzu-like restrictions and reporting requirements. At one point, CTR was responsible for generating more than twenty reports to Congress in a single year, many of which governed the program’s ability to access funds already appropriated.
Even now, CTR Program implementers experience a year’s delay between appropriation and availability of funds for obligation. These Congressionally required delays in spending then become arguments in subsequent years for reducing funding levels. Congressional disillusionment with certain sub-elements of a program’s approach has resulted in a gradual erosion of authorities, thereby eliminating tools that had been key to some of the programs’ successes.
Increasing levels of specificity in allocations within programs rob agencies of the flexibility they need to respond to new threats and opportunities. Contradictory guidance can paralyze programs, as in a DOE program in which the appropriations bill simultaneously specified that 70% of the budget be spent in Russia while mandating new oversight requirements, which could only be undertaken by U.S. personnel, whose pay is 20 times more than their Russian counterparts. Normal competitive politics between House and Senate, authorizers and appropriators, and Foreign Relations and Armed Services can result in half-a-loaf compromises that complicate or disrupt program implementation.
Coordination with recipients: International activities require the participation of the recipients. Several trends have converged to complicate relationships with recipient nations. Project areas have moved from very specific and measurable (e.g., remove all 1,400 strategic nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan) to diffuse (e.g., prevent Russian bioscientists from aiding proliferators). Projects with clear prior commitment (e.g., eliminate Russian nuclear weapons to achieve START I levels) have been joined by projects with only grudging acceptance (e.g., permanently dispose of 34 tons of weapons plutonium). Projects with built-in reciprocity (e.g., bilateral verification of START eliminations) have led to projects with unilateral inspection rights (e.g., U.S. monitoring of the Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility).
National attitudes towards the U.S. on the part of the recipients have swung from euphoric openness to annoyance to fatigue to suspicion. Security officials have reasserted themselves both in the U.S. (after the Los Alamos spy imbroglio) and in Russia (after the election of an ex-KGB president). Ever-increasing U.S. demands for accountability and access to sensitive facilities reinforce suspicions of Russian security officials, and the cancellation of site visits slows down programs. Congressional limitations on U.S. support to Russia’s top priorities (retiring officer housing, elimination of general purpose submarines, conversion of military cities and populations) make it harder to achieve U.S. priorities, which the Russians do not take as seriously (fissile material control and disposition, closure of biological weapons institutes). Efforts to condition nonproliferation cooperation on changing undesirable Russian behavior (e.g., Iranian nuclear cooperation) are ineffective, because many Russians would prefer that these programs, and the burden of U.S. cooperation, simply go away. Yet, terminating these programs would be devastating to our national security.
Today’s heightened awareness of the threat posed by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons makes consideration of the organization and coordination of our nonproliferation programs essential and timely. At the same time, re-organizing these programs, no matter how wisely, will not by itself make a significant improvement in program effectiveness. Several commissions, including the Baker-Cutler Commission, the Deutch Commission, and the Hart-Rudman Commission all recommended the creation of a high-level White House position dedicated solely to nonproliferation programs. Administration responses to such directives have typically been limited to renaming existing officials or committees, leaving the status quo essentially unchanged. Without senior-level commitment within the White House to improving and maintaining a high-quality interagency coordination process, the actions of Congress will not have the hoped-for effect.
In light of the recommendations of these prestigious panels, I am not about to win an award for original thinking. I recommend the creation of a Deputy National Security Advisor, committed explicitly and exclusively to reducing the threats we face from weapons of mass destruction. High-level attention to nonproliferation programs within the White House is the single most effective step we can take to make our programs match the growing threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Better interagency coordination, improved funding, more flexibility will follow from this appointment, and won’t happen without it.
This new Deputy National Security Advisor must have, and must be seen to have, the personal confidence of both the National Security Advisor and the President. He or she would convene regular and substantive “principals meetings” to ensure all agencies are acting cooperatively toward a common purpose. He or she would develop a unified presentation of agency budgets for nonproliferation programs to allow both the President and Congress to see clearly what is being done and to understand the justification for each operating entity’s role and function. Such a high-level official assigned to this issue would be able to command more attention to these issues in recipient countries.
This new Deputy National Security Advisor would speak for the President and National Security Advisor to all relevant Congressional committees and panels. He or she would be the ultimate authority and bear the highest responsibility for the state of our nonproliferation efforts. This would ensure consistency and authority in statements of Administration positions and broader coordination and vision across program areas.
Congress should also explore how it might more effectively exercise its oversight of these important responsibilities. A unified budget presentation, a more effective and transparent coordination of Executive branch functions, a high-level White House authority who can speak for all programs, should win greater confidence from both houses and both parties, and encourage the Congress to authorize and appropriate monies in larger packages allowing much greater programming authority and flexibility.
Ten years ago, a group of bipartisan Senators convinced their colleagues to allocate $400 million to help secure the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union. This expenditure was not embraced by everyone. Some argued that the prospect of these weapons falling into the wrong hands was far off and remote. The threat today is neither far off nor remote. It can be seen by the untrained eye; and so combating it is no longer a matter of vision; it is a matter of common sense and self-defense. Our nonproliferation programs today need to be clearly defined, well coordinated, better funded, and led at the highest levels.
In whatever manner Congress and the Executive decide to organize our programs – and there are many effective ways to do so – they must have high-level Presidential attention. Any organizational structure with high-level attention will be better than the best organizational structure with low-level attention. Thank you very much.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.
EASLG leaders Des Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, Igor Ivanov, Ernest J. Moniz, and Sam Nunn, along with 34 dignitaries from 12 countries, call for all nuclear-weapons states to conduct internal reviews of their nuclear command-and-control and weapons systems.
Modern technologies like cyber are introducing new risks to nuclear systems and underscore the need and urgency of conducting a new failsafe review.
This paper offers a focused set of recommendations for specific commitments related to practical and achievable actions that States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) could take to advance the NPT’s goals and achieve success at the 10th NPT Review Conference.