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U.S., Russia Debate Tactical Nuclear Arms

Wade Boese

Washington and Moscow sparred over each other’s tactical nuclear weapons following an Oct. 5-6 visit to Russia by a senior Department of State official, who also rebuked Russia for not withdrawing its armed forces from two of its neighbors.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker indicated that the United States had questions about Russia’s fulfillment of October 1991 pledges regarding its tactical nuclear weapons, which are warheads designed for use on the battlefield rather than the more powerful kinds deployed on long-range missiles and bombers.

Specifically, then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev promised Moscow would dismantle its nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, mines, and artillery munitions. Gorbachev also pledged to store in central locations nuclear warheads removed from air defense missiles, surface ships, multipurpose submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. The Soviet president volunteered these steps in response to similar unilateral moves announced by President George H. W. Bush days earlier. Together, the commitments are known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs). (See ACT, October 1991.)

The Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries offered their assessments Oct. 7 on how well Gorbachev’s goals had been achieved. The Defense Ministry claimed that “[t]he Russian side has fulfilled these obligations by dismantling nuclear warheads from ground-based tactical missiles and removing tactical nuclear weapons from surface ships and submarines.” For its part, the Foreign Ministry stated, “Russia has practically carried out in full all of the [tactical nuclear-weapon] reduction initiatives that had been put forward.” It added, “All those weapons, unlike the situation with the United States, are located solely within our national territory.”

The 26-member NATO alliance stations nearly 500 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. NATO asserts its nuclear weapons holdings, which peaked at more than 7,000 warheads, are “an essential political and military link” for alliance members.

The State Department released a statement Oct. 20 to Arms Control Today regarding the two Russian ministries’ declarations. “We believe that Russia, for the most part, has been implementing its PNI pledges, but the U.S. will continue to keep this issue under review.”

Little reliable public information exists about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. At a minimum, the Kremlin is estimated to have at least 3,000 such weapons deployed.

The United States and Russia agreed in March 1997 to explore transparency measures for tactical nuclear weapons, but formal talks never got underway.

Although Washington has some uncertainty about Moscow living up to its tactical nuclear weapons pledges, no such doubts exist about the Kremlin’s failure to get its military out of Georgia and Moldova. Rademaker fumed that Russia’s lingering presence is a “source of considerable frustration.”

Moscow agreed in November 1999 to pull all of its troops from Moldova by the end of 2002 and to negotiate a Russian forces withdrawal schedule with Georgia in 2000. Neither has taken place, and Rademaker warned that, until they do, NATO members would not match Russia’s moves toward ratifying the 1999 adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which limits the amount of heavy weaponry permitted on a country’s territory.

Moscow wants this treaty, which is an updated version of an accord concluded almost a decade earlier, to enter into force because NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have no current arms limits because they are not bound by and cannot join the original treaty. The older treaty will remain in effect until all of its 30 states-parties ratify the 1999 overhaul. Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine have completed this action; Russia has done everything but taken the last step of depositing its instrument of ratification. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The Kremlin charges that the United States and NATO are improperly tying the adapted CFE Treaty to Russia’s Georgia and Moldova commitments, but Rademaker argued that Russia agreed to both “simultaneously” and they are inextricably linked. “I must say it’s inexplicable to me why we don’t see more progress,” he said.

Obsolete Relics of a Dead Conflict

Daryl G. Kimball

Some habits, even dangerous ones, can be difficult to break. Nearly 50 years ago, the United States introduced so-called tactical nuclear weapons into NATO forces in Europe to deter and, if necessary, use against a Soviet land attack. Not long after, the Soviet Union followed suit.

The U.S.-Soviet military rivalry is now over. Yet, both countries cling to the remnants of their massive tactical nuclear arsenals. They serve no meaningful military role for the defense of Europe or Russia, and the possible loss or theft of these weapons poses an unacceptable risk of nuclear terrorism. It is past time to account for and verifiably eliminate tactical nuclear weapons, beginning with those stationed in Europe.

During the Cold War, each side amassed thousands of these “battlefield” nuclear bombs for delivery by bombers, ships, and artillery. Today, the United States continues to maintain approximately 1,300 tactical nuclear weapons, including about 480 bombs deployed on NATO military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In response, Russia is estimated to possess at least 3,000 of these generally smaller, portable, but still devastating weapons.

The first and last serious effort to address the issue came in 1991, when Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev unilaterally withdrew most forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons to build confidence as the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet, in the absence of verification measures, significant questions remain about how Moscow has implemented its 1991 pledges and about the size, location, and security of Russia’s remaining tactical nuclear forces.

In 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to explore controls on tactical nuclear weapons in the context of future nuclear arms negotiations but failed to do so. Unfortunately, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin did not address the issue in the context of the May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

Although senior Bush administration officials and leading Democrats have expressed interest in controlling tactical nuclear weapons, there is no active effort to do so. Russia, which has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons, refuses to enter into talks on tactical nuclear arsenals mainly because the United States and its NATO partners still deploy such weapons in Europe.

NATO’s current strategic plan claims that its nuclear forces in Europe “provide an essential political and military link” between the United States and European alliance members. As a result, NATO maintains an antiquated nuclear posture, which allows for the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict, including in reply to an attack with conventional weapons.

In the 21st century, tactical nuclear weapons are more useful for terrorists than for fighting terrorism or keeping the peace between nations. Whatever symbolic value the weapons may provide for NATO unity is far outweighed by the risk that some of Russia’s weapons might be lost, stolen, or sold to another nation or a terrorist group. Russia’s inadequate nuclear command and control systems and weapons transportation practices make its thousands of tactical nuclear devices a prime terrorist target. Just one of these bombs could be used to destroy a city.

Complicating progress on tactical nuclear arms reductions, the United States is also exploring new battlefield nuclear weapons. If left unchecked, the effort could lead to the development and deployment of a modified version of an existing high-yield bunker-busting warhead or possibly a new type of lower-yield tactical nuclear weapon. Russia and other states can be expected to match any such U.S. move.

The devastating power and inescapable collateral effects of such weapons make them inappropriate tools against non-nuclear targets. Rather than treating tactical nuclear weapons as just another part of the vast U.S. arsenal, the United States must diminish their value and vulnerabilities and cancel the new weapons research.

The next U.S. administration must align tactical nuclear weapons policy with present-day realities, and soon. To open the way to cooperation with Russia on the consolidation and dismantlement of its large and destabilizing tactical nuclear stockpile, NATO should announce that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and begin withdrawing its obsolete tactical nuclear forces from Europe. The United States should also invite Russia to negotiate an agreement on warhead accounting and the verifiable dismantlement of excess tactical nuclear weapons.

Through two U.S. and two Russian presidencies, government leaders have failed to tackle the dangers posed by their Cold War tactical nuclear weapons arsenals. A new initiative to reduce and verifiably eliminate these weapons would reduce the salience of all nuclear weapons, reinforce global nonproliferation efforts, and lower the danger of nuclear terrorism.


Russia, U.S. Bolster Regional Nuclear Security Following Terrorist Attacks

Claire Applegarth

A series of recent terrorist attacks in Beslan and Moscow attributed to Chechen rebels have spurred the United States and the Kremlin to step up activities to guard Russia’s high-risk nuclear materials.

The Russian Atomic Energy Agency announced Sept. 1 that Russia had moved additional troops to guard dozens of its nuclear facilities in the wake of the attacks, which included the seizure of a school in North Ossetia, a suicide bombing in Moscow, and the downing of two Russian airplanes. The announcement, reported by Reuters, did not specify the number of troops dispatched or the names of nuclear facilities slated to receive the additional security.

The United States did not formally respond to the report of the Russian troop movement, but Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton alluded to the liability posed by loosely guarded Russian reactors in a Geneva press conference Sept. 10. He said that “the recent tragedy in Beslan is a good example of the risk that they [the Russians] fully understand: that if terrorist groups are capable of carrying out that kind of operation, how much more horrible it would be if such a terrorist group got a nuclear weapon.”

In its most recent threat reduction effort in the region, the U.S. Department of Energy successfully returned 11 kilograms of enriched uranium fuel to a secure Russian facility from Uzbekistan on Sept. 9. Approximately three kilograms of the uranium consisted of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which could be used to make a nuclear bomb. The U.S.-funded retrieval project was completed under the Energy Department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).

The mission is the fifth such Russian fuel repatriation project undertaken since 2002, following removals in Bulgaria, Libya, Romania, and Serbia. In total, however, 20 sites in 17 countries have been identified as possessing Russian or Soviet-origin fuel that needs to be retrieved. The Energy Department aims to repatriate all fresh HEU fuel of Russian origin to Russia by the end of 2005 and all spent fuel by 2010.

The threat of nuclear theft became a central point of discussion during the Global Threat Reduction Initiative Partners’ Conference in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 18-19. Russian Atomic Energy Agency head Alexander Rumyantsev urged the nearly 600 delegates attending from more than 90 countries to “consistently and constantly improve the complex of measures aimed at ensuring nuclear and physical security.” Rumyantsev reported to Agence France-Presse Sept. 15 that Russian officials have managed to recover small quantities of weapons-grade uranium stolen over the past 25 years but that greater cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and foreign governments is needed to prevent future theft.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told attendees at the conference that countries with nuclear materials “must…be the responsible custodians of these materials and the facilities in which they are located.” He also stated that the United States has helped eliminate 216 metric tons of HEU, has secured 43 percent of unspecified weapons-usable material in Russia, and anticipates securing all Russian navy nuclear-warhead sites by the end of 2006.

Russia Holds Nuclear Terror Drills

Gabrielle Kohlmeier

In August, NATO officials had their first up-close look at Russia’s efforts to defend its nuclear arsenal against terrorist attacks.

On Aug. 3-5, “Avaria 2004” (Accident 2004) exercises involving more than 1,000 army troops and various law enforcement personnel were held in the northern Murmansk region of Russia. The exercises, held under the auspices of the Russia-NATO Council work program, focused on defending Russia’s nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons in transit and the consequences of potential nuclear accidents. The exercises were put together by the 12th Main Directorate, a division of the Defense Ministry in charge of the security of Russia’s nuclear weapons storage facilities.

Though similar exercises are held in Russia annually, this year’s exercises marked the first time invitations were extended to outsiders, including 49 military specialists and observers from 17 NATO countries. Russian participants ranged from the Defense Ministry, the Leningrad and Moscow military districts, emergencies and interior ministries, and the Federal Atomic Energy Agency. The exercises took place at a testing ground near Olenegorsk, which houses one of Russia’s nuclear weapons storage facilities.

“We are the first to show foreigners combat readiness in what used to be one of the most secret areas of weaponry,” said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in an Aug. 3 interview with Russian Channel One TV. He said that he expected comparable exercises to be held in NATO nuclear-weapon states by next year.

In the first part of the exercise, an international terrorist attack was said to have been carried out on a road convoy transporting nuclear weapons in special containers. The contingent protecting the convoy, which was not given details of the time, place, or weaponry that would be used in the hypothetical attack, managed to corner and “destroy” the terrorists while keeping the nuclear weapons protected. To test the super containers housing the mock nuclear weapons, transport vehicles were under fire from anti-tank mines, grenade launchers, and automatic weapons. The exercises also featured a second scenario, in which a vehicle carrying a mock nuclear weapon went off the road into a lake. Radiological reconnaissance crews, including divers, recovered the submerged vehicle.

Ivanov presented the success of the exercises as proof that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is well guarded, asserting that outside criticism to the contrary was unfairly maligning Russian efforts. “In certain parts of the world there is a myth, that is sometimes deliberately fanned even, that says that Russia’s nuclear weapons are not reliably or well protected by qualified personnel. This is really a myth.”

At the same time, the defense minister used the opportunity to point out that, although concerns over the safety of Russia’s nuclear facility are often voiced, only a small amount of the aid promised by Western countries to help Russia secure and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction has been received by Russia, particularly in the nuclear arena. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

At an Aug. 14 meeting in St. Petersberg, Ivanov briefed his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on the details of the exercises. The Avaria 2004 exercises were merely one of a growing number of special exercises, according to Ivanov. “This year, many more exercises are still to be held, involving the navy, the air force, the Ground Troops, and the Strategic Missile Troops,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently granted Ivanov, a political ally, greater authority over the armed forces, lessening the authority of the service chiefs in military decisions. As part of that decision, Putin announced Aug. 9 that the country’s nuclear defense complex would henceforth be placed under control of the Defense Ministry. This further enhances Ivanov’s authority, which was already amplified in late June, when Russia’s parliament passed amendments transferring powers over operational leadership of the armed forces and over coordination of all national security structures to the defense minister.

The former Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) had been in charge of the country’s nuclear defense complex until March, when Putin announced a major government restructuring. (See ACT, April 2004.)

Dispute Over Russian Withdrawals From Georgia, Moldova Stall CFE Treaty

Wade Boese

Russian lawmakers and President Vladimir Putin recently approved a five-year-old treaty limiting conventional weapons stationed in Europe. Yet, the treaty’s prospects for entering into force anytime soon are dim because of Western concern over Moscow’s failure to fulfill related commitments on removing its armed forces from Georgia and Moldova.

The Russian legislature’s lower and more powerful chamber, the Duma, passed the adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with a 355-28 vote on June 25. The Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, followed suit July 7 with a nearly unanimous 137-1 vote.

Putin signed the federal law on the treaty’s ratification July 19, but the ratification process will not be completed until Putin deposits an instrument of ratification with the treaty depository, the Netherlands.

Once Putin acts, Russia will join Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine as the only countries to have completed ratification of the treaty, which caps the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, and heavy artillery that each state-party is permitted to deploy on its territory. Treaty limits also restrict how many combat aircraft and attack helicopters may be deployed in Europe.

The treaty is a 1999 overhaul of an accord negotiated nearly a decade earlier to balance the military hardware of Cold War adversaries NATO and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact. The older version with its outdated bloc limits is currently in force and will remain so until all of its 30 states-parties ratify the adapted version.

Russia is eager to replace the original treaty because new NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have no weapons limits under the old treaty and cannot join the revised version until it enters into force. Moscow fears that NATO might take advantage of this loophole to stockpile arms near Russia’s border.

But NATO members are refusing to ratify the revised accord until Russia fulfills commitments it made to Georgia and Moldova when the adapted CFE Treaty was concluded at a summit in Istanbul. Specifically, the Kremlin pledged to finish negotiations by the end of 2000 to close Russian military bases on Georgian soil and to remove all of its troops and weaponry from Moldova by the end of 2002. Neither objective has been met.

Russian officials argue that the matters should not be linked, but the United States and NATO disagree. Visiting Moldova June 26, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that “the obligations that were undertaken at Istanbul some five years ago need to be fulfilled.”

At their summit meeting a few days later, NATO heads of state declared, “We recall that fulfillment of the remaining Istanbul commitments on the Republic of Georgia and the Republic of Moldova will create the conditions for allies and other states-parties to move forward on ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty.”

Russia and Georgia differ on how long it should take the Kremlin to vacate its bases in Georgia. Tbilisi says Russia should be able to pull out in three years; Moscow claims it will need 11. One option proposed by Georgia is the creation of a joint counter-terrorism center on Georgian territory to compensate Russia for withdrawing its forces.

Although Russian-Georgian relations appeared to be on the upswing with a June resumption of talks on the basing issue after more than a year-long halt, relations subsequently took a turn for the worse. In recent weeks, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stepped up efforts to reassert Tbilisi’s control over two separatist Georgian regions that have close ties to Russia and where one of the disputed Russian bases is located. The Kremlin has matched Saakashvili’s tough talk and action. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned in an Aug. 14 press conference with Rumsfeld that Georgia “is developing into a very dangerous scenario.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s withdrawal from Moldova has stalled. In 2003 the process had been moving forward, with Russia removing 42 trainloads of arms and ammunition; only one such trainload has departed this year. International officials monitoring the withdrawal estimate that about 42 trainloads of ammunition—nearly 21,000 metric tons—and 10 trainloads of military equipment remain.

Moscow contends it is not to blame for the dramatic falloff. It claims that separatists in the Transdniestria region, where the weapons are located, are blocking the withdrawal.

Russia further maintains that its roughly 1,400 troops in the region should stay because they are helping keep the uneasy peace between the separatists and the government of Moldova. Moldova has voiced its preference, however, for replacing the Russian “peacekeepers” with an international force.

A U.S. government official familiar with the status of Russia’s withdrawal stated that Russia has a mixed bag of concerns and it is unclear which will come out on top. “All that’s left is the really hard stuff,” the official added.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.

Russia Joins Proliferation Security Initiative

Wade Boese

In an anniversary gift to the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), Russia on May 31 joined the effort to intercept deadly weapons shipments worldwide on its one-year mark.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, a chief architect of PSI, hailed Russia’s move that day as a “major development.” He said Russian participation had been something Washington “has been working on almost since the beginning.”

Russia had remained cool to U.S. courtship out of concern that interdicting cargo in transit did not square with universally accepted laws protecting global commerce and safe passage through international waters and airspace.

To be sure, Moscow’s unease has not disappeared. In a June 1 statement, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted, “We presume that activity under this initiative should not and will not create any obstacles to the lawful economic, scientific and technological cooperation of states.”

Still, the statement described PSI as a “potentially useful mechanism in the struggle against the threat of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation.”

Russia became the 15th country to join the initiative, which in recent months has seen its mandate broadened to include preventing arms shipments from even getting underway. Following a March PSI meeting, Portugal issued a statement that participants agreed “to not only interdict shipments of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials, but to cooperate in preventing WMD proliferation facilitators (i.e., individuals, companies, and other entities) from engaging in this deadly trade.”

Another 60-some governments have reportedly endorsed the initiative’s interdiction principles. And two states, Panama and Liberia, have signed agreements with the United States setting out expedited procedures for stopping and searching vessels flying their flags suspected of transporting missiles or nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. (See ACT, June 2004.)

Reflecting the administration’s general skepticism about legally binding instruments and multilateral organizations, U.S. officials have downplayed the importance of membership in the initiative, saying the key matter is a country’s willingness and readiness to stop arms shipments.

Nevertheless, Bolton appeared excited about Moscow’s participation. He said, “Russia is a great naval power and it has extensive land and airspace that can be used for commercial activities, which we hope and expect will now be closed to proliferators.”

Russia has ties to and is strategically located near the two countries that the United States is most concerned about developing and trafficking weapons of mass destruction: Iran and North Korea.

With the Kremlin now onboard, U.S. recruitment efforts for PSI will likely increasingly center on China. So far, Washington’s lobbying has not appeared to sway Beijing.

Yet, Bolton suggested that the reality may be somewhat different. “We have had some operational cooperation with China in interdiction activities,” the undersecretary stated.

Bolton and other U.S. officials generally imply that PSI is producing results but decline to provide specifics on the basis that speaking about successes could jeopardize ongoing or future operations. “Because so many of PSI’s activities rely on sensitive intelligence information, which we don’t comment on publicly, there’s much that we can’t talk about. I’d be delighted to talk about it, but we’re not going to,” Bolton told reporters.

The October 2003 seizure of centrifuge components bound for Libya has been the only revealed intercept. Bush administration officials contend the operation played a major role in persuading Libya to renounce its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, although some former U.S. government officials say that viewpoint wrongly downplays the importance of years of sanctions and diplomacy that preceded the interdiction. (See ACT, June 2004.)





Building a Forward Line of Defense: Securing Former Soviet Biological Weapons

Kenneth N. Luongo, Derek Averre, Raphael Della Ratta, and Maurizio Martellini

Preventing a biological weapons attack—long a terrifying battlefield danger and now a serious threat to civilian populations as well—is a major contemporary global security priority. The anthrax attack on the U.S. Congress, the discovery of ricin laboratories in France and the United Kingdom, and the unearthing of documents detailing pathogen production processes in al Qaeda hideouts indicate that terrorists are willing to pursue both biological weapons development and use.

The rapid advances that have occurred in biotechnology, the small footprint of many laboratories, and the difficulty in locating and securing biological pathogen stockpiles further increase the already difficult challenges of preventing the spread of biological weapons. In addition, the recent discovery of nuclear procurement and technology transfer networks in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe have underscored the difficulty of comprehensively tracking illicit and covert movements of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related technology.

In the past few years, the United States has responded to the threat from biological weapons by pouring more than $14 billion into attack response preparedness and biodefense programs under the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. However, neither the United States nor its key allies have taken the step of creating an effective forward line of defense against bioterrorism by rapidly accounting for and securing known stockpiles of pathogens on foreign shores.

Although a number of nations may possess suspected biological weapons programs, this accelerated security effort should begin in Russia and the former Soviet states. A vast complex of Soviet-era biological research and development institutes still exists, questions remain about the adequacy of the security of the pathogen collections at a number of the facilities, and numerous scientists are threatened with unemployment as a result of the downsizing of facilities and the elimination of state subsidies.

Russia has renounced its offensive biological weapons capability, but as a key partner in the fight against proliferation, it needs to do more to secure its biological materials and technologies adequately and to redirect former weapons scientists to peaceful activities. These issues must transcend traditional arms control approaches and are best addressed through the expansion of current U.S. and allied programs aimed at reducing former Soviet stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

The West has been engaged in these cooperative efforts with Russia and the former Soviet states for more than a decade, and managing biological threats has become an increasingly important priority. Still, spending is paltry both in comparison to U.S. nuclear-related foreign assistance and to U.S. domestic defenses against biological weapons threats. The United States, which has led this effort, is still spending less than $100 million annually (see sidebar for details) under multiple programs. These efforts are supplemented by another $25-30 million provided by Western-nation contributions to science centers in Russia and Ukraine and another half-million dollars in assistance coming directly from some European nations to projects in Russia and the former Soviet states.

There are several reasons for this funding shortfall, including a lack of prioritization and urgency in key Western governments. A crucial sticking point, however, is the unwillingness of the Russian government to permit Western access to several sensitive biological facilities and the Kremlin’s reluctance to override an entrenched bureaucracy to address its domestic bioproliferation dangers.

The Soviet Legacy

At the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, there were about 1.7 million scientific researchers in the country, and the government financed 97 percent of the research conducted, with many of the scientists working in military-related programs.[1] The exact number of BW scientists remains unknown, but nonproliferation experts generally agree that Soviet biological weapons facilities in total employed 60,000-65,000 people.[2] The Soviet BW complex was separated into three distinct areas, which helped to conceal research activities; the complex contained some activities that were clearly prohibited by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), although Western intelligence agencies never could determine to what extent this was so. The complex included:

• multiple Ministry of Defense- controlled facilities, employing around 15,000 people. These facilities conducted research on some biological agents, such as Lassa fever, probably deemed too sensitive for Biopreparat institutes.[3]

• the Biopreparat network of facilities that employed roughly 40,000 scientists and workers.[4] This network included 50 nominally civilian/ commercial facilities that many believe used a “civilian” cover to engage in BW activities. The Defense Ministry was in fact the main customer for Biopreparat’s work.

• six agricultural laboratories, which employed about 10,000 people. Work at these facilities focused on developing pathogens related to plants and animals.

Stopping the proliferation of biological weapons expertise from the former Soviet states is complicated by the difficulty in pinpointing key experts, particularly those with the knowledge to make a key contribution to a biological weapons program. Recent figures have suggested that there are anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 former Soviet biological weapons scientists with weapons-relevant skills. Ken Alibek, who was deputy director of Biopreparat immediately before the collapse of the Soviet Union and who later defected to the United States, has publicly stated that roughly 100 scientists have the expertise to create a biological weapon from beginning to end. Some experts have offered higher figures. Glenn Schweitzer, the International Science and Technology Center’s first executive director, stated that about 25,000 of those formerly engaged in the Soviet biological weapons complex represented a real proliferation risk.[5]

Threat Reduction Responses

In April 1992, President Boris Yeltsin formally announced that Russia would adhere to the provisions of the BWC and that all offensive work on biological weapons would end immediately. This opened the door to cooperation between the former Soviet facilities and the United States under the newly created cooperative threat reduction (CTR) agenda and its related multilateral institutions.

The U.S. Departments of State, Defense, and Energy; the European Union (EU); and joint efforts between the United States and other wealthy nations all currently fund threat reduction programs (see sidebars). During the past decade, important progress has been made on eliminating or converting infrastructure in the BW complex. In addition, some Biopreparat workers have been redirected to peaceful activities. Access to these facilities also has improved over time as mutual suspicion has been replaced by partnership. By 2000 the United States had gained access to approximately 30 of the 50 nonmilitary institutes formerly associated with Biopreparat,[6] and a number of these laboratories had begun working on commercial biotechnology and pharmaceutical projects. This new nonproliferation cooperation, however, has not extended to allow access to several key biological facilities controlled by the Defense Ministry.

Standoff on Defense Ministry Facilities

Yeltsin’s announcement had raised hopes that the Russian government and military would be more transparent with regard to the military-related facilities. Yet despite pressing for more than a decade, the United States and allied nations have failed to gain access to or significant information about the Defense Ministry-controlled biological facilities.
Most experts agree that there are currently four biological weapons facilities under the jurisdiction of the Russian Defense Ministry.[7]

• The Center of Virology in Sergiev Posad (formerly Zagorsk). This is the largest military biological facility managed by the Defense Ministry.

• The Center for Military Technical Problems of Anti-Bacteriological Defense in Ekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk). This facility is best known for the infamous anthrax outbreak of 1979, which killed 66 people, including some Soviet scientists working at the center.

• The Scientific Research Institute of Microbiology in Kirov. Under the Soviet Union, this facility was active in developing typhus, Q fever, tularemia, brucellosis, anthrax, and glanders. It also produced and stockpiled plague. The Kirov-200 Institute in Strizhi is a related insti- tution. Partial jurisdiction of it was recently transferred to the Ministry of Education, and it is believed to be the most commercially oriented of the sites.

• The Scientific Research Institute of Military Medicine in St. Petersburg. This is one of the leading centers for defense against chemical and bio- logical weapons. It is engaged in vaccine testing, development of mass immunization and prophy- lactic methods, and pathogen detection techniques.

U.S. officials have tried to gain access to these facilities on numerous occasions. Beginning with the Trilateral Agreement of September 1992, the United States, together with the United Kingdom, negotiated with Russia for “visits” (not inspections) to nonmilitary biological sites. Subsequent negotiations for access to military facilities, commonly known as the Rules of the Road, took place sporadically from 1994 to 1996 with little result.

Although the issue of access to the Defense Ministry sites remained part of the nonproliferation dialogue between the United States and Russia through the end of the decade, this issue assumed a higher profile after a 2000 General Accounting Office (GAO) report repeatedly criticized Russia’s refusal to allow the United States “to inspect its military institutes currently managed by the Ministry of Defense.”[8] Part of the problem in gaining access to the Defense Ministry facilities, according to the GAO report, was that “the same generals who directed the Soviet biological weapons program continue to lead the greatly reduced Russian military defensive biological weapons program.”[9]

Some U.S. politicians have independently tried to resolve access issues with Russia. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has been an outspoken critic of the Russian government’s refusal to allow access to the Defense Ministry-run sites. In 2002, Lugar traveled to Kirov-200, but Russian officials barred him from entering the facility. For Lugar, the last-minute refusal was a frustrating reminder of the Russian paradoxical mindset: “[T]hey [the Russians] were interested in getting…pharmaceutical companies to invest in these facilities. But as I told them, it’s a non-starter if investors can’t even get inside the place.”[10]

In a meeting with Lugar the next day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov provided no explanation for the rebuff.[11] There are generally three lines of argument that are offered by Russian officials for excluding foreigners from the Defense Ministry-controlled sites:

• The official Moscow line, continu- ing from the Soviet era, is that Russia neither has nor had an offensive biological weapons development or procurement program. The existence of the Defense Ministry facilities is denied or explained in terms of “other than offensive” activities that rep- resent an integral component of Russian national security.

• Russia’s current biological pathogen research also is described as en- tirely defensive or “peaceful” in nature. Thus, some chief Russian officials argue that access has been denied to foreigners at the Defense Ministry sites simply because there is nothing to hide and no reason for them to enter.

• A third reason given is that the United States refuses to accept reci- procity. Some Russian officials insist that, in return for allowing access to Russian military sites, they be allowed to visit similar U.S. military facilities. The United States has opposed this, and it has fed Russian concerns about the true intent and scope of the U.S. biodefense program.

As a result of the Russian resistance on this issue, the U.S. Congress has acted to limit the expenditure of threat reduction funds at facilities that do not allow site access to U.S. agencies. This stance is intended to ensure that no offensive biological weapons research is being conducted at facilities receiving U.S. funds and also to increase the pressure to resolve this access standoff, but it also perpetuates obvious security concerns.

Possible Solutions

Both the United States and Russia have a mutual interest in finding agreement on access to the Defense Ministry facilities because each recognizes the magnitude of the global threat posed by the proliferation of biological weapons, technology, and expertise. The reorganization of the Russian government this spring following President Vladimir Putin’s re-election and the increasing focus by wealthy and European nations on reducing the biological weapons threat could create new opportunities for negotiation on the subject. Bringing the parties to the negotiating table, however, most likely will require high-level political involvement, which so far has been lacking.

As a starting point, the United States and Russia could agree to a confidential exchange of updated information about former and current (defensively oriented) military facilities. Particular attention should be directed to the existence of any genetically altered pathogens that are resistant to current vaccines. The implications of an accidental release of such a pathogen should transcend rigid adherence to national security secrecy.

This voluntary exchange of information could begin to establish a level of trust.

It would then be important to decide whether discussions of access to the Defense Ministry-run facilities should be reopened. If discussions were to begin, they could focus on biosafety and biosecurity and the principles of trust and transparency. An important issue would be the level of intrusiveness that is acceptable and required for site visits and how to incorporate degrees of flexibility into the process. Another consideration is whether to keep the discussions entirely as a bilateral U.S.-Russian matter or whether the inclusion of other parties, such as the United Kingdom or other EU nations, NATO, or perhaps even the United Nations, could help to facilitate the process.

Governments can look to the ongoing collaboration with Russia in other sensitive nonproliferation areas, especially in the nuclear field, as a guide for resolving transparency issues at the Defense Ministry-run facilities. Obtaining access to nuclear cities and facilities was a long and gradual process during which many obstacles had to be overcome, and cooperation in this sphere still is far from perfect. Nevertheless, ways were found to overcome sensitivities and mistrust and to cooperate effectively in this area, with benefits accruing to all sides. With renewed diplomatic commitment, both sides could reconcile past differences and agree to some form of access to the Defense Ministry-run facilities.

Expanding the Effectiveness of Bio-Threat Reduction

Besides solving the problem of Defense Ministry facility access, there are many additional actions that could be taken at nonmilitary facilities to expand and improve such threat reduction activities. Increased funding could be readily absorbed in some key areas such as scientist re-employment and product commercialization. In fact, a number of assistance proposals have been approved but await funding.

There also could be better integration between the efforts that target the elimination of infrastructure and those that focus on scientist and worker redirection. For example, the biological weapons production capacity at the Stepnogorsk plant in Kazakhstan was eliminated by a U.S. program, but this action left many scientists without work. As similar infrastructure elimination is planned in other former Soviet states, it would be wise to carry out advance planning for worker re-employment in order to yield a more substantial and long-lasting nonproliferation benefit. If the Defense Ministry facility access problems can be solved, then even greater acceleration of the scope and funding for bio-threat reduction programs would be in order.

In order to develop a more comprehensive and cooperative strategy for addressing the dangers posed by unsecured biological pathogens, the West, Russia, and former Soviet states need to begin working on the following additional key elements of the program.

Improving Transparency

Although gaining access to Russian military facilities is essential, there also is a need for greater access to Russian private-sector biological research facilities. As the biotechnology boom has spread across Russia and the former Soviet states, many biological institutes have been privatized. Given the many problems with transparency in Russia and the sensitive and competitive nature of biotechnology research and commercialization, concerns naturally arise about the adequate monitoring of the activities at these private facilities. It is necessary to guarantee a level of proprietary protection and confidentiality in order for companies to be competitive, but the international community must be assured that private owners of these facilities have not bought them to pursue dangerous ends.

Expanding the Research Agenda

New opportunities for biological weapons scientists need to be identified and funded. Much of the focus has been on employing scientists on biodefense projects, but there is also a need to focus even greater attention on the development and commercialization of affordable pharmaceuticals and research aimed at solving global health problems. Pharmaceuticals from the former Soviet states perhaps will not be competitive in the West, but they could serve needs in Russia, China, and other nations. Another valuable opportunity might be in employing Russian biological experts and facilities in the UN’s efforts to stem the mushrooming global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Finally, former weapons scientists could be drafted to participate in the improvement of public health in their local areas. Disease surveillance and health-care planning are crucial elements in minimizing the potential impact of bioterrorism, and this is one area where the local facilities could be better integrated with global networks such as the World Health Organization.

Creating an EU Initiative

Expanded EU involvement would also be a welcome supplement to current efforts. The EU has recognized the increasing danger posed by bioterrorism and the need to expand threat reduction initiatives to deal with it.[12] Indeed, both the United Kingdom and France have indicated that this will be an area of intensified focus. The EU nations could concentrate on expanding biosafety and biosecurity upgrades and contributing to the creation of biotechnological parks at critical sites. For example, environmental monitoring labs have been established at Stepnogorsk and Kirov with help from the United States, but many proposals and project ideas for these centers remain unfunded, including analyses that could contribute to environmental pollution mitigation and food safety improvement. Also, EU governments and industries could investigate the potential benefits of greater cooperation on civilian biotechnology.

Insuring Best Practices

There is a need to support training and education in biosecurity and biosafety best practices and to reinforce ethical norms and codes of conduct as a tool to combat the misapplication of biology by scientists. This is a problem faced by many nations, not just Russia and the former Soviet states. Improving the quality of biosafety and biosecurity measures at key facilities will also help to improve their ability to market their capabilities and products to Western commercial partners as well as deepen cooperation, transparency, and trust, potentially leading to progress in other areas.


The world is facing an increasingly challenging battle against potential bioterrorism. Advances in biotechnology are occurring rapidly, and the traditional arms control methods of controlling biological weapons are increasingly inadequate to address the modern-day challenges. The global community, and in particular the wealthy nations involved in the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, need to develop new cooperative, synergistic, and effective strategies that can mitigate the bioterrorism danger. The recent statement from the G-8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia, underscored the “unique and grave threats” posed by bioterrorism but contained no new funding pledges or programs. Rather, it focused primarily on the effective implementation of the prohibitions contained in the BWC as the primary defense against biological weapons. This narrow response is insufficient.

Effectively addressing the proliferation danger from biological weapons will require targeting new funding on underfinanced areas, including rapidly increasing security and safety at all biological facilities, expanding research opportunities, and creating new commercial initiatives. The place to begin is in Russia and the former Soviet states, where the largest problems exist and where existing CTR mechanisms allow for rapid action. Yet, the effort cannot stop there. It must be extended globally to prevent any dangerous biological pathogens from falling into the hands of terrorists.


1. Elena Kokurina, Obschaya Gazeta, (November 1-7, 2001), p. 6. This article was translated by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation on November 13, 2001.

2. The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Congressional Research Service place the number at 60,000, and the Henry L. Stimson Center, citing an annonymous government official, puts the number at 65,000.

3. Jonathan B. Tucker, “Biological Weapons in the Former Soviet Union: An Interview With Dr. Kenneth Alibek,” The Nonproliferation Review, Spring/Summer 1999, p. 4.

4. Amy Smithson, Toxic Archipelago: Preventing Proliferation From the Former Soviet Chemical and Biological Weapons Complexes (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, 1999), p. 10.

5. Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Russia: International Science and Technology Center (ISTC).”

6. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), “Biological Weapons: Efforts to Reduce Former Soviet Threat Offers Benefits, Poses New Risks,” GAO/NSIAD-00-138, April 2000, p. 6.

7. The precise number and identity of the Defense Ministry-controlled facilities has varied in recent years. “In information submitted to the UN in 1987, the Soviet Union declared five institutes under Ministry of Defense control: Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Kirov, Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterineberg), Zagorsk (now Sergiev Posad), and Aralsk [this facility is actually located near the Vozrozdheniya Island test site, which has been decontaminated]. Russia’s 1992 declaration referred to Kirov, Sverdlovsk, and Zagosrk,” as well as to the sites Obolensk, Chekhov, Leningrad, and the Vozrozdheniya Island test site. Graham S. Pearson et al., “Biological Weapons Proliferation: Reasons for Concern, Courses of Action,” Henry L. Stimson Center Report No. 18, January 1998, p. 29.

8. GAO, “Biological Weapons,” pp. 3-4.

9. Ibid, p. 16.

10. Ibid.

11 . Joby Warrick, “Russia Denies U.S. Access on Bioweapons,” The Washington Post, September 8, 2002, p. A25.

12. There are two significant EU documents that address bioterrorism and the importance of threat reduction: Presidency Conclusion, Annex II, Declaration on Non Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Thessaloniki, June 19-20, 2003; Javier Solana, A Secure Europe in a Better World, European Council, Thessaloniki, June 20, 2003.

Funding for Bio-Threat Reduction

The United States, the European Union, and other global actors have initiated a variety of efforts to eliminate the residue of Soviet biological weapons programs.

U.S. Programs
Three U.S. agencies have programs to reduce biological weapons proliferation from Russia and the former Soviet states:

Defense Department

The Department of Defense, through its Biological Weapons Proliferation Prevention Program, has four major project areas devoted to the reduction of bio-threats.

• The Cooperative Biological Research program funds civilian research projects at eight bio-institutes in the former Soviet states.

• The Bio-Safety/Bio-Security program has sponsored training courses for scientists in proper animal care and animal testing procedures and installed physical security systems in Russian, Kazakh, and Uzbek institutes.

• The Infrastructure Elimination pro- gram has removed weapons-related equipment from three biological weapons production buildings at the former anthrax production facility in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, and elimi- nated live anthrax material on Vozrozhdeniye Island in Uzbekistan by either destroying it or evacuating it to other facilities.

• The newly established Threat Assessment/Disease Response program is designed to upgrade the diagnostic methods of outdated disease monitoring facilities in Kazakhstan, Uz- bekistan, and Georgia and to relocate pathogen libraries from these Soviet- established tracking stations to central reference laboratories.

Total funding for these four efforts is currently about $55 million per year. In its fiscal year 2005 budget request (for the budget year beginning Oct. 1), the Pentagon proposed substantially cutting cooperative research funding and more than doubling funds for biosecurity and biosafety.

U.S. Funding for Bio-Reduction in the Former Soviet Union, by Deapartment (in millions of dollars)[1]




2005 (Requested)

IPP funding for bio-related projects

BII, Bio-Chem Redirect

1. Funding for the Pentagon’s biological weapons threat reduction activities is roughly $55 million per year. The Department of State’s Bio Industry Initiative (BII) received a one-time appropriation of $30 million in fiscal year 2002 that is being spent over multiple years; it requested an additional $3 million in the fiscal year 2005 budget request. The State Department’s Bio-Chem Redirect program is about $18 million per year. Budget documents indicate that $13 of the $17 million requested for Bio-Chem Redirect for fiscal year 2005 will be spent on bio-related projects. Bio-Chem Redirect also provided some funding for BII in fiscal year 2003 and 2004 ($2 and $4 million, respectively). The Department of Energy’s Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program allocates roughly $7-8 million to bio-related programs. The United States also contributes roughly $30 million per year to the science centers in Moscow and Kiev, which spend about 28 percent (approximately $8 million) of their annual funds on biological and related projects. Based on these figures, the authors estimate U.S. funding at $90-100 million per year.

2. This line combines funding for both the Bio-Chem Redirect and BII programs. Beyond its $30 million appropriation in FY02, and its $3 million request for FY05, BII also has received support from Bio-Chem Redirect in FY03 ($2 million) and FY04 ($4 million).

State Department

The State Department leads two major initiatives focused on the redirection of biological weapons expertise to civilian purposes.

• The Bio-Industry Initiative (BII) pro- gram was established in 2002 with an initial appropriation of $30 million; it is now seeking $3 million in funding in fiscal year 2005. The goal of the BII effort is to reconfigure former Soviet bio-production facilities to commercial uses and engage former weapons scientists in civilian research projects, such as the development of drugs and vaccines. To date, it has provided mar- ket research assistance and training in “Good Management/Good Laboratory Practices” (GMP/GLP), set up a com- mercial consortium of biotechnology production facilities, and established a toxicology testing initiative to improve the quality and pre-clinical services that can be provided to contract cus- tomers by Russian biotech institutes.

• The Bio-Chem Redirect program is a multi-agency effort, led and adminis- tered by the State Department, specifi- cally focused on redirecting biological a chemical weapons scientists. The funds are provided to the Environ- mental Protection Agency and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. Key accom- plishments of the program include the establishment of environmental mon- itoring laboratories at the former an- thrax production facility at Stepnogo- rsk in Kazakhstan and at Kirov in Russia.

Energy Department

The Department of Energy’s Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program has provided more than $30 million to date to re-employ biological experts in commercially oriented projects. It currently spends approximately $7-8 million per year on biological projects and, like the State and Defense Departments programs, has more project proposals in hand than it is able to fund. One of the Energy Department’s key strategies is to build infrastructure and capacities in former Soviet facilities in order to allow them to “graduate” and become self-sustaining commercial enterprises.

Multilateral Efforts

Science Centers

Multilateral contributions to biological weapons threat reduction have been primarily channeled through the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) in Moscow and the Science and Technology Center of Ukraine (STCU) in Kiev, both of which provide funding for peaceful activities for former weapons scientists.

Through the end of 2003, the ISTC had provided roughly $130 million in funding for more than 700 regular and partner projects in biotechnology and life sciences. Such projects in recent years have been an increasing focus of the center’s work. Similarly, the STCU has spent more than $7 million to date on biotechnology and related medical projects.

In addition to the U.S. direct financial contribution to the ISTC each year (on the order of $30 million), many U.S. government agencies also funnel parts of their funding for biological projects through the ISTC’s Partnership Program. U.S. agencies typically fund projects that correspond to their own expertise and research priorities. For example, in its partnerships with former Soviet institutions, the Pentagon has supported research applicable to the biodefense field. Overall, U.S. government agencies have funded more than $30 million in biotechnology and life sciences partner projects under the ISTC.

G-8 Global Partnership

With the creation of the Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership in 2002 at the Kananaskis summit in Canada, eight of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged to provide up to $20 billion over the next decade for weapons of mass destruction threat reduction and nonproliferation programs (mainly in Russia). The United States is expected to contribute $10 billion over this period while the remainder would be provided by the other G-8 nations and countries that join the Global Partnership.

Few of these pledged funds have yet been spent to contain the spread of biological weapons. According to official reports of a G-8 meeting in March 2004, the major projects were funded by the United Kingdom ($405,000) and Sweden ($130,000). However, the G-8 is expected to mount an intensified effort to reduce the threat posed by biological weapons. Canada, for example, recently pledged in joining the ISTC that a significant portion of its $13 million contribution would go toward such efforts. Likewise, British officials have pledged to increase funds. At the recent G-8 summit, France indicated that it would initiate a € 5 million program for biosecurity improvements at Russian laboratories.

European Union Programs

The European Union (EU) primarily has funded efforts to reduce the threat of biological weapons though contributions to the ISTC and the STCU. The EU allocation through 2005 was €125 million for the peaceful employment of former weapons scientists. The EU also provides funding for cooperative threat reduction-like activities through two additional programs, the EU Joint Action and TACIS (Technical Assistance to the CIS). At this point, none of this funding appears to have been directed toward reducing biological weapons threats, but EU officials have indicated that bio-threat reduction may be a higher priority when the new budget cycle begins in 2007.

In addition, INTAS, an independent international association, is promoting scientific cooperation between researchers in former Soviet republics and those in EU member states and other countries such as Israel and Turkey. All told, INTAS has funded more than 300 biotechnology and life science projects. Additionally, the NATO-Russia Joint Scientific and Technological Cooperation program has provided grant support to Russian scientists in plant biotechnology, as well as plasma physics and forecast and prevention of catastrophes. Depending on the size of the project team, funding for the collaborative linkage grants usually falls between $5,000 and $20,000.


Kenneth Luongo is executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council (RANSAC). Derek Averre is senior research fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham, U.K. Raphael Della Ratta is director of the Weapon Scientist Redirection Project at RANSAC. Maurizio Martellini is secretary-general of the Landau Network Centro-Volta, Como, Italy. The article is based in part on the findings of a meeting organized by the authors in Como, Italy, in November 2003 on the future of bio-threat reduction.





Putin Reshuffles Atomic Ministry Again

Christopher Madison

Two months after Russian President Vladimir Putin buried the former Ministry of Atomic Energy within the Ministry of Industry and Energy, he signed a new decree May 20 reshuffling the nuclear boxes once more, pulling the agency out of the bureaucracy and putting it directly under the executive’s supervision, most likely through the prime minister’s office. (See ACT, April 2004.)

Although many of the operational details remain unclear, the proposal won a warm reception from the head of the Atomic Energy Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, who commented in Russian news reports, “I think it’s very positive.”

Putin’s earlier decision to move the agency to the larger ministry caused some concern in Washington that it would affect bilateral nuclear threat reduction programs, particularly U.S. access to Russian nuclear facilities. It also worried analysts because U.S.-Russian cooperation had been improved through the close relationship between U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Rumyantsev.

This latest reorganization has raised hopes that the previous diplomatic channels and arrangements will be resumed.

Minatom, the predecessor agency of the Atomic Energy Agency, was in charge of producing and storing civilian and defense nuclear materials, as well as the development and testing of nuclear weapons and the elimination of excess warheads and munitions.





New Life for the MX Missile?

Wade Boese

A vestige of the Cold War, the mammoth, 10-warhead MX missile is on schedule to become history next fall just like the superpower conflict that spawned its creation. Yet, Pentagon planners are already contemplating the missile’s possible reincarnation.

Air Force Space Command has deactivated 26 MX intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), also known as “Peacekeepers,” and has 24 more to go, according to spokesperson Michael Kucharek. The last MX missile is supposed to be disassembled by September 2005.

The Bush administration is deactivating the entire MX force as part of its efforts to reduce the number of operationally deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads to comply with the terms of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty negotiated with Russia in 2002.

In decommissioning the MX group, the four-stage missile is taken apart in sections, beginning with its payload, and then the sections are shipped to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, for storage. The Pentagon plans to maintain the MX missile silos, rather than blow them up, in order to keep them available to house future missiles.

A February 2004 report by a task force of the Defense Science Board, an independent advisory body to the secretary of defense, recommended redeploying MX missiles armed with conventional warheads so as to be able to hit targets around the globe in no more than 30 minutes.

The Air Force Space Command plans to review the proposal as part of a study beginning this month. That effort will examine what systems should be developed to replace hundreds of U.S. Minuteman III ICBMs whose service lives start to expire in 2018. The United States currently deploys 500 Minuteman IIIs armed with 1,200 nuclear warheads.





A vestige of the Cold War, the mammoth, 10-warhead MX missile is on schedule to become history next fall just like the superpower conflict that spawned its creation...

U.S., Russia Still SORTing Out Nuclear Reductions

Wade Boese

Nearly two years after concluding a treaty to reduce the size of their deployed strategic nuclear forces by roughly two-thirds, neither the United States nor Russia have finalized plans on how to accomplish that task.

U.S. and Russian government officials met April 8-9 in Geneva to officially update each other for the first time on their implementation of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed May 24, 2002. Also known as the Moscow Treaty, the agreement commits the United States and Russia to operationally deploy fewer than 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads apiece by Dec. 31, 2012.

Washington currently deploys nearly 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads, and Moscow fields almost 5,000. These tallies do not account for stored strategic warheads or less powerful weapons known as tactical nuclear warheads that are not covered by SORT. The entire U.S. nuclear arsenal totals roughly 10,000 warheads, while Russia’s is estimated to be nearly double that.

SORT does not spell out how the United States and Russia should reduce their deployed nuclear forces, leaving each to proceed as it sees fit. In fact, the treaty leaves quite a bit of latitude: Warheads removed from deployment under SORT do not have to be destroyed but only stored separately from the missiles, bombers, and submarines used to deliver them. As Secretary of State Colin Powell explained to senators in July 2002 testimony, “The treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.”

Still, the treaty does oblige the two sides to hold biannual meetings of a Bilateral Implementation Commission (BIC) to discuss their reduction activities.

George Look, a Department of State official who represents the United States in talks with Russia on START, headed the U.S. delegation to the first BIC meeting. Andrey Maslov, deputy director of the department for security and disarmament in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led Russia’s delegation.

A Bush administration official told Arms Control Today on April 15 that the meeting “got off on a good foot” and involved an exchange of “future [reduction] plans to the extent they exist.” The official explained that both governments have “broad outlines” and some near-term benchmarks for lowering their deployed forces, but that exact schedules and specific force plans remain unsettled.

The official described Russian reduction plans and future force structure for 2012 as “less certain” than those of the United States.

Washington intends to cut its deployed forces to between 3,500 and 4,000 strategic warheads by 2007. To reach that interim goal, the Pentagon plans to complete deactivating all 50 10-warhead MX ICBMs (see sidebar) and finish converting four of its 18 Trident submarines from carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles to conventional armaments.

U.S. reduction plans beyond this stage are not fixed because the Bush administration has been rethinking how the future U.S. nuclear stockpile—deployed and stored—should be comprised.

As a result, the administration has not sent Congress a stockpile memorandum detailing its nuclear force structure plans, which previous administrations had generally provided on an annual basis.

According to a congressional source, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld finally signed a stockpile plan recommendation for the president on April 19, but its contents remain unknown. The Department of Energy had approved the plan months earlier. The lag between the two departments’ approvals reportedly stemmed from their differences over how large the stored or reserve stockpile should be.

Two years ago, the Pentagon indicated it planned to store up to 2,400 nuclear warheads in a state of readiness, enabling them to be returned to service within weeks, months, or at most three years after being removed from deployment. (See ACT, March 2002.) This so-called responsive force would constitute only part of the U.S. nuclear warhead reserve. It is unclear to what extent this proposal made it into the recently recommended stockpile plan.

How many warheads to keep in storage and what their state of readiness should be are just part of the administration’s deliberations. It is also exploring new types of warheads out of concern that the existing U.S. arsenal is not tailored to deterring terrorists and rogue regimes.

Reflecting this current of thought, a task force of the Defense Science Board, an independent advisory body to the secretary of defense, issued a February 2004 report describing the U.S. nuclear stockpile as “aging” and “of declining relevance.” As a remedy, the report called for a shift toward warheads with lower explosive yields and more penetration capabilities to increase in potential adversaries’ minds the possibility that the United States might use nuclear weapons. Research into such new capabilities is currently underway.

The Defense Science Board report stated, “It is American policy to keep the nuclear threshold high and to pursue non-nuclear attack options wherever possible.” Still, the report added, “future presidents should have strategic strike choices between massive conventional strikes and today’s relative large, high-fallout weapons delivered primarily by ballistic missiles.”





Nearly two years after concluding a treaty to reduce the size of their deployed strategic nuclear forces by roughly two-thirds, neither the United States nor Russia have finalized plans on how to accomplish that task.


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