United States - Russian Federation Cooperative Efforts in the Area of Chemical Weapons Destruction


Dr. Harold P. Smith, Jr.
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs
United States Department of Defense

The original Cooperative Threat Reduction, or Nunn-Lugar, legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in the fall of 1991 provided authorization to the Department of Defense (DoD), but did not provide any funding for implementation. This meant that the Congress granted the DoD authority to transfer funds--up to $400 million--from other DoD accounts to use toward the stated objectives of the program, but did not require that these transfers be made or that projects be undertaken. In light of all of the other purposes and programs to which available DoD funds could be used for other programs, there was little incentive to spend DoD resources on what was perceived as a preventive defense effort and little enthusiasm was initially exhibited towards the Congressional initiative to reduce dangers in the former Soviet Union in an urgent manner.

Dr. William Perry, first as Deputy Secretary of Defense and then as Secretary, changed all of that. He instructed his staff to obtain the necessary international agreements and intergovernmental coordination, and to plan to implement them. As a result, the amount of assistance under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, as measured by the rate of obligations (that is assistance under contract), rose to the levels that had been anticipated by the U.S. Congress. At the end of January 1993, only $25.9 million had been obligated, but by the end of January 1994, obligations had increased over four-fold. By January of 1996, cumulative obligations were 19 times those of January 1993, and by January 1997, obligations exceeded 1.18 billion dollars, nearly 46 times what they were in January 1993.

The process by which the political-military objectives of the CTR program are translated into actual assistance to the Russian Federation, in the form of equipment, technical support, and training, is complex and often arduous. After intergovernmental coordination and preliminary coordination with the receiving Russian Federation organization on a given project have been completed, the U.S. Congress must be officially notified regarding the intention to undertake the activities and spend the money allocated and only then can formal agreement for a specific project be signed. After this, the procurement of goods or services can be initiated in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or FAR, which ensures free and open competition among the potential providers of the goods or services. The next steps, after a contract award is finally made, are to build or buy the necessary items of assistance; ship them to what are often remote locations; install the items and initiate the maintenance and spare parts pipeline; train operators in the use of the equipment; and conduct audit and examinations periodically to ensure the assistance is accounted for and being used for its agreed purpose.

The CTR program has a central role in the Russian Federation's implementation of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, in that the United States is providing key equipment and other forms of assistance for safely removing and destroying missiles, bombers, missile silos, and submarines, and disposing of missile propellant in an environmentally acceptable manner. General-Colonel Maslin has stated publicly that Russia would be able to meet its START obligations without CTR assistance, but not as quickly or as safely as it has done with the assistance. At three major naval bases in Russia--near the northern cities of Severodvinsk and Murmansk and the far eastern city of Bolshoi Kamen, near Vladivostok--the CTR Program is providing equipment which the Russians are using for actual destruction of their strategic missile-launching submarines. CTR has also contributed to the safe withdrawal of over 3,300 strategic warheads to Russia from Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine for eventual dismantlement in Russia; removal of over 1,400 strategic nuclear warheads from deployed delivery systems in Russia; and the elimination of 64 submarine missile launchers, 147 ICBM silos, and 23 strategic bombers.

Nuclear risks are not the only risks that remain from the Soviet era; the Russian Federation's chemical weapons arsenal, also inherited from the Soviet Union, includes 40,000 metric tons of toxic agent distributed among seven storage sites. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, also known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), signed by both the United States and the Russian Federation, bans on a multilateral basis chemical weapons entirely. Unfortunately, while the United States has ratified the CWC the Russian Federation has not. Since together they hold vast quantities of these weapons (the U.S. had about 30,000 metric agent tons at eight sites prior to the start of its Stockpile Disposal Program), it is essential that both countries ratify this treaty. Regardless, both nations are committed to eliminating their respective chemical weapons arsenals, not only to achieve arms control objectives, but to reduce the risk these weapons pose to the populace near their storage locations as they become old and unstable.

Negotiations for our assistance to the Russian Federation under the CTR Program have not been easy. Our objective has always been to assist the Russian Federation in the safe, secure, timely, cost effective and environmentally sound destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile, specifically in the area of nerve agent destruction. The Russian CW Destruction Support Program initially focused on working with the Russian Federation to jointly develop plans and conduct technology evaluations and developments, while at the same time constantly looking for areas of cooperation that could accelerate the start of destruction activities. Initially we suggested an incineration process similar to that used in the U.S. stockpile disposal program, but Russian Federation scientists had developed a two-step (neutralization-bituminization) chemical agent destruction process that could achieve the required destruction and with which they were more confident in its implementation in Russia. This two-step destruction process has been jointly evaluated at the laboratory level and is continuing to be developed to allow its application at an industrial level in a chemical weapons destruction facility.

With a funding level now established at $136.5 million, and confidence gained through progress achieved to date, the Russian CW Destruction Support Program is now focused on the establishment of a Central CW Destruction Analytical Laboratory and on the design of the first destruction facility for nerve agent-filled munitions at Shchuch'ye, Kurgan Oblast. The Central CW Destruction Analytical Laboratory will provide the Russian Federation a capability to develop and monitor environmental standards, develop analytical procedures for use at destruction facilities, and to train workers and analysts. Through CTR assistance, it is hoped that the destruction facility at Shchuch'ye will accomplish the necessary pilot and/or demonstration activities for destruction of nerve agent-filled munitions using the Russian two step destruction process, and that the destruction facility will be expanded to allow full-scale operations (1,200 metric tons of agent per year) with the resultant destruction of the entire Shchuch'ye stockpile.

Various Russian Federation officials have indicated that the Government lacks the funds to carry out the scope of chemical weapons within the timelines required by the CWC; it is not only the expense of creating the necessary infrastructure, but also the fact that destruction--by definition--leaves nothing tangible to show for the expenditure. Compounding this situation is the reluctance on the part of the Duma to ratify the CWC without the funds to comply with it. The U.S. Government, it should be noted, recommends that Russia ratify the treaty as soon as possible, because Russia must become a State Party to the CWC, given the size of its chemical weapons stockpile, and cannot afford to not be an active participant in the international process to reduce chemical weapons. An additional consideration by Russia should be the fact that it can petition for a five-year extension to complete its stockpile destruction commitments under the treaty. Other countries have promised assistance to the Russians to complement the U.S. CTR assistance, most recently during the first session of the Conference of the State Parties to the CWC. Some promises have been fulfilled. We will have to wait and see if the remainder become reality.

As mentioned earlier, the U.S. chemical weapons arsenal consisted of about 30,000 metric agent tons. We are dismantling weapons and incinerating chemical agent at a plant on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Since 1993, over 1,239 metric tons of chemical agent have been destroyed at this facility. This is an example of safety through remoteness, although there are the troublesome logistics and overall difficult conditions, leading to a high personnel turnover rate among the plant operators. From the standpoint of chemical weapons destruction, however, Johnston Atoll is a success: the latest runs are ahead of schedule and below budget, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission has found no contamination in the surrounding environment.

The lessons learned at the Johnston Atoll facility have been incorporated into our destruction facility at Tooele, Utah, which began destruction operations in August 1996. The storage site at Tooele holds more than 44 percent of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. The operation at Tooele is proceeding slowly and with great care because the safety of the workforce and public is paramount. Although we are exploring alternate technologies, which can be applied especially to chemical agent destruction at sites that store only bulk agent, we are not waiting for these techniques because any delay poses considerable risks.

While our joint U.S.-Russian Federation efforts have not progressed as rapidly as we all would like, meaningful progress has been achieved. With approval by the Russian Federation Government of their Federal Program for "Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stockpiles in the Russian Federation" in March 1996, the signing of the federal law "On the Destruction of Chemical Weapons" by President Yeltsin on May 2, 1997, and the anticipated ratification of the CWC by the Duma, DoD is optimistic that the overall pace of our cooperative efforts will increase. The technical and political complexities associated with CW destruction as well as the reality of limited financial resources, will continue to challenge both countries in these cooperative efforts.

(1) Based on Address To The Commonwealth Club of California, presented in San Francisco, California, September 26, 1996.