Nonproliferation Assistance to Russia and the New Independent States

Nonproliferation Assistance to Russia and the New Independent States

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Michael Jasinski

Research Associate, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


As the political and economic situation in the Soviet Union deteriorated in the late 1980s, fears arose that the Soviet government might not be able to adequately safeguard its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenals, nor the associated materials and know-how. These fears were exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and gave rise to a number of U.S. government foreign assistance programs whose goal is ensuring the safety and security of WMD assets in the Newly Independent States (NIS). These programs, which have received approximately $4 billion over the last decade from the U.S. government, have been administered by the departments of Energy, Defense, State, and Commerce, and have made great strides toward accomplishing their goals. However, some programs have failed to bring expected results, and the concept of providing nonproliferation assistance to the NIS countries has recently met with some resistance. Early 2001 saw an intensification of the ongoing debate on the utility and direction of these programs. In spite of an early attempt by the Bush administration to reduce nonproliferation assistance program funding, the U.S. Congress restored most of the cuts, and following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, approved additional funding.

As the political and economic situation in the Soviet Union deteriorated in the late 1980s, fears arose that the Soviet government might not be able to adequately safeguard its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenals, nor the associated materials and know-how. These fears were intensified by the final break-up of the Soviet Union in December 1991, which left nuclear weapons on the territories of four states, and components of the Soviet military-industrial complex scattered across the territories of the Newly Independent States (NIS). In the ensuing turmoil, the potential for the loss of weapons, theft of nuclear material, or the emigration of weapons scientists to "rogue states" posed a new and unprecedented proliferation threat.

A small group of senators led by Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) recognized that a new approach to security was required to deal with this new threat. They argued that it was in the national interest of the United States to address this threat through focused assistance programs that would be a unique experiment in "cooperative threat reduction." With the passage of the so-called Nunn-Lugar legislation in late 1991, the United States began to assist the NIS governments in implementing their arms control obligations and securing weapons and materials. By 2001, the U.S. Congress had allocated approximately $4 billion for NIS nonproliferation and disarmament assistance programs administered by the Departments of Energy, Defense, State, and Commerce.

Department of Defense efforts under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program focus on providing assistance to the NIS countries in meeting their strategic arms reduction obligations under START I and eliminating and/or safeguarding their WMD infrastructure. The CTR program has carried out projects in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Uzbekistan. In Russia, CTR assistance has helped remove nearly 5,000 nuclear warheads from ballistic missiles, eliminated nearly 400 strategic missiles and missile silos, and scrapped 12 ballistic missile submarines. The CTR program also funds security upgrades to Russian nuclear warhead and fissile material transportation and storage facilities. Funds have also been allocated for the elimination of Russia's chemical weapon arsenal and production facilities and the establishment of safeguards at chemical and biological research facilities in Russia and Kazakhstan. CTR assistance was instrumental in convincing Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear weapon states. The transfer of all nuclear warheads from their territory to Russia (accomplished by the end of 1996), and the elimination of the strategic nuclear delivery systems and infrastructure on their territory was also supported by the CTR Program.

Programs managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) focus on ensuring the security of Russian nuclear materials, disposing of excess fissile materials, and preventing the "brain drain" of Russian nuclear scientists. Key activities include the Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) Program, which improves the security of fissile materials in the NIS by providing security upgrades to selected nuclear facilities, promoting consolidation of nuclear materials in central sites, and improving nuclear materials accounting procedures. DOE also manages Russian fissile material disposition projects, which are designed to convert weapons-grade material into nuclear fuel. In addition, DOE programs include MPC&A upgrades to Russian facilities housing fresh and spent naval nuclear reactor fuel, as well as some facilities with naval nuclear weapons. The DOE Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI), and the Initiative to Prevent Proliferation (IPP) seek to provide alternative employment opportunities for the employees of the Russian nuclear industrial complex, reducing the risk that individual scientists might transfer of weapon design know-how to countries of concern.

State and Commerce Department nonproliferation assistance programs concentrate on providing export control assistance, as well as providing training and equipment to customs and border guard organizations. Other key programs funded by the State Department (in cooperation with other Western governments) include the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) in Russia, and the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine (STCU), which were established to redirect WMD expertise in NIS countries to other uses. Furthermore, the State Department's Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund participates in various DOE and DOD projects.

These projects have met obstacles and criticism from both the U.S. and NIS sides. Some critics in the United States have suggested that the assistance might indirectly be funding Russian strategic modernization programs. Other critics have focused on alleged inefficiencies in the use of resources, such as the spending of excessive funds on travel for U.S. delegations, or the practice of not using U.S. contractors as extensively as mandated by the U.S. Congress. Others have argued that funding levels are inadequate to the task. A DOE-sponsored task force chaired by former Republican Senator Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler issued a report in January 2001 that recommended that the U.S. provide up to $30 billion in nonproliferation assistance to Russia over the next eight to ten years.

On the Russian side, implementation problems were caused by a political and legal system still in its formative stages. In addition to making the accountability, transparency, and oversight required by the U.S. difficult, these conditions forced organizations implementing nonproliferation projects to deal with unresolved taxation and customs issues. Many projects have also been hampered by the Russian tradition of secrecy, which has hindered access to a number of sites by U.S. government officials and contractors. Russian critics of the assistance programs have also charged that too much of the money is paid to the U.S. companies and national laboratories that implement the projects, rather than to Russian companies and scientists.

In early 2001 it appeared that nonproliferation assistance programs to the NIS might be scaled back or even eliminated under a nonproliferation assistance review conducted by the Bush administration. The proposed FY2002 DOE budget, for example, called for a $100 million reduction in nonproliferation funding compared to FY2001. However, the proposed cuts met with resistance in the U.S. Congress, which adopted a budget resolution strongly urging President Bush to restore eliminated funding. The passed FY2002 nonproliferation assistance budget exceeded the administration's request by $50 million, and following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Congress approved an additional $200 million in nonproliferation assistance spending, bringing the total FY2002 budget to over $1 billion. In an indication of greater importance being attached to nonproliferation assistance, the Bush administration's FY2003 budget request was, at $956 million, nearly $200 million higher than its initial FY2002 request.

A recurring issue concerning U.S. assistance programs is the U.S. legislation requiring the U.S. President to certify that Russia is fulfilling its arms control treaty obligations. The Bush administration determined in April 2002 that it could not certify Russia due to concerns that Russia was not making sufficient progress in the area of chemical and biological weapon elimination. The administration, however, requested that Congress give it authority to waive certification for the current year.  This authority was granted in July 2002. As of August 2002 legislation was pending that would extend this authority for future years.


Articles and Reports

  • Leonard S. Spector, "Missing the Forest for the Trees: U.S. Non-Proliferation Programs in Russia," Arms Control Today 31, June 2001,
  • Matthew Bunn, Oleg Bukharin, and Kenneth N. Luongo,m"Renewing the Partnership: Recommendations for Accelerated Action to Secure Nuclear Material in the Former Soviet Union,"Princeton, NJ: Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, August 2000,

  • Michael Barletta, ed.,"WMD Threats 2001: Critical Choices for the Bush Administration,"CNS Occasional Paper No. 6, May 2001,
  • Fred Wehling, "The Way Forward for U.S.-Russian Nonproliferation Cooperation," Eleventh Annual International Arms Control Conference, April 20-22, 2001, in Albuquerque, New Mexico,

  • Interim RANSAC Report: Proposed Federal Budget Cuts for Nuclear Security Efforts in Russia,
  • John W. R. Lepingwell and Nikolai Sokov, "Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination and Weapons Protection, Control, and Accounting,"Nonproliferation Review 7, Spring 2000,

  • James Clay Moltz, "Russian Nuclear Submarine Dismantlement and the Naval Fuel Cycle," Nonproliferation Review 7, Spring 2000,

  • Jonathan B. Tucker and Kathleen M. Vogel "Preventing the Proliferation of Chemical and Biological Weapon Materials and Know-How," Nonproliferation Review 7, Spring 2000,

  • Emily Ewell Daughtry and Fred L. Wehling, "Cooperative Efforts to Secure Fissile Material in the NIS," Nonproliferation Review 7, Spring 2000,
  • Scott Parrish and Tamara Robinson, "Efforts to Strengthen Export Controls and Combat Illicit Trafficking and Brain Drain," Nonproliferation Review 7, Spring 2000,
  • William C. Potter and Fred L. Wehling, "Sustainability: A Vital Component of Nuclear Material Security in Russia,"Nonproliferation Review 7, Spring 2000,
  • Confirmation Status of Presidential Appointees to Nonproliferation-Related Positions, 

Official Documents and Reports

  • U.S. Department of Energy Task Force Report Card on Non-Proliferation Programs with Russia, January 10, 2001,
  • U.S. Department of Energy Budget Highlights. Fiscal Year 2002 Budget Request,
  • Funding for CTR – FY 1998 – 2001 National Defense Authorization Acts,

Congressional Testimony

  • "Statement of Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development," Department of Energy, May 2, 2001,
  • "Text: Gottemoeller Outlines Expanded Threat Reduction Initiative to Senate Subcommittee," Washington File, March 7, 2000,
  • Congressional Testimony on the Lack of Security Surrounding Russia's Chemical Weapons Stockpile (November 1995),

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