Accessibility links

Breaking News

Lawmakers Criticize US Program to Help Former Soviet Union Reduce Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2003-03-05

A congressional committee has criticized what it calls waste and mismanagement in a more than decade-long program under which the United States helps Russia and former Soviet republics reduce their nuclear and other weapons.

The Comprehensive Threat Reduction (CTR) program was designed to help Russia and former Soviet republics reduce or eliminate weapons of mass destruction. It grew out of the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act, legislation passed by Congress in 1991.

Over the past decade, the United States has provided about $7 billion to Moscow, as well as to Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, to defray costs of destroying nuclear, chemical and other weapons.

The Defense Department says the program has resulted in the deactivation of more than 6,000 warheads, 856 ballistic missiles, 25 missile submarines, and 101 strategic bombers, along with missile launchers, while contributing to non-proliferation.

However, despite the progress achieved, two programs went seriously awry.

After providing $100 million for construction of a facility in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk to neutralize rocket fuel from nuclear missiles, U.S. officials were told later that the fuel had been diverted to the Russian space program.

In another example, the United States contributed about $95 million for a plant, at Votkinsk, to "burn off" solid fuel rocket motors, only to learn later that construction was blocked because of local community opposition.

Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, calls the two cases "remarkable stories of massive waste."

"While we are going to continue to work aggressively with this administration to make sure that we dismantle weapons of the former Soviet Union, we are also going to work aggressively to see to it that there is an ongoing accounting so that blunders like this don't occur again," he pointed out.

Mr. Hunter is also concerned that Moscow could be using money it saves through the program to maintain its own biological and chemical weapons capabilities, which he said are contrary to U.S. national security interests.

J.D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, told the congressional panel that the waste of taxpayer money was "inexcusable" and "a wake up call" for the Defense Department.

"While we would like to trust our CTR partners, and we try to build trust with our CTR partners, we know that every assumption, expectation and schedule for a project needs to be verified and verified repeatedly," he said.

However, Mr. Crouch emphasized these two failed projects should not be allowed to slow efforts to deal with Russian and other stocks of weapons, particularly given new threats of proliferation to so-called "rogue states" or terrorist groups.

The hearing on U.S.-Russian nuclear threat reduction coincided with the release of a new report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the Congress.

The report faults the Russian government for inconsistently adhering to agreements to pay its share of costs, and for barring access to U.S. defense and energy officials to certain nuclear and biological weapons sites.