Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Front Runner George Bush began building his foreign policy reputation on November 19 by delivering a major address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. While Bush supported many traditional Republican issues – including missile defenses, increased military spending, and the like – the Governor specifically endorsed U.S. security assistance programs addressing the proliferation threat in the former Soviet Union. He added that as President he would "ask the Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia’s weapons as possible, as quickly as possible." Vice President Gore and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley have backed increased support U.S. non-proliferation programs in Russia.

Since 1991, U.S. assistance to the Former Soviet Union (FSU) has been used to dismantle Soviet nuclear delivery systems, improve security of nuclear materials and technology, keep weapon scientists gainfully employed and out of third world weapon programs, and eliminate other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. These efforts have resulted in real, tangible security benefits to the United States and have generally received wide spread, bipartisan support.

Congressional Republicans have been increasingly skeptical about the value of these programs to U.S. security. A few critics have tried to discredit the programs by labeling them as nothing more than foreign aid. While congressional investigations of U.S.-Russian cooperation programs have raised legitimate questions about management and oversight, these reports have often downplayed the positive impact of these projects. President Clinton summed up the situation well when he stated in October that future generations will never look back and criticize us for having done too much to deal with this threat, but they might look back and criticize us for having done too little.

With the current administration and leading Presidential candidates endorsing increased support to Russian assistance programs, the natural question is: where should the United States be spending more money?

In answering, it’s worth noting that not all problems in the former Soviet Union can be addressed by expeditiously spending more money. Some programs will take considerable time and effort to implement and sustain.

That being said, there are several possible areas where more money and sustained efforts could yield substantial and immediate benefits for U.S. security: 

Russian Nuclear Scientists: Unpaid and under-employed Russian nuclear scientists pose a serious proliferation risk. President Clinton requested $30 million dollars this year to help develop non-defense jobs for Russian nuclear scientists in what are known as Russian "closed" nuclear cities.

Russia’s realization that its nuclear complex is simply too large to maintain has led U.S. and Russian officials to launch the Nuclear Cities Initiative. This program, however, received only $7.5 million of the original $30 million request, forcing the U.S. Government to limit its activities to just one of the ten closed cities. The U.S. should provide at least $50 million for the three cities Russia has agreed to involve in the project and expanding the effort to build business development and training centers in as many cities as Russia is willing to allow.

Expanded purchases of Russian Weapons Uranium: The United States has an agreement to purchase 500 metric tons of weapons-usable uranium from Russia over a 20 year period. This deal, commonly referred to as Megatons to Megawatts, has already resulted in the dilution of over 35 tons of weapons-usable uranium. Russia may possess as much as 750 additional tons of highly enriched uranium, much of which remains highly vulnerable to theft or diversion. Additional purchases of uranium from Russia, and more rapid dilution of the uranium slated for sale to the United States, would have a direct and immediate security benefit. It would also provide Russia with funds needed to improve security over nuclear materials and paying for other disarmament-related activities.

Plutonium Disposition: The United States and Russia have both declared sizable stockpiles of nuclear materials to be "excess to defense needs." The two sides are negotiating an agreement to ensure that this excess plutonium is placed in a form which impedes its reuse in nuclear weapons. Russia cannot pay for the construction and operation of the facilities needed to dispose of this excess plutonium. The United States will need to spend approximately $2 billion domestically to dispose of its own plutonium and should arrange to either purchase Russian plutonium for disposal in the United States or to pay for the construction of disposal facilities in Russia

Dismantling Submarines: Russia has over 120 nuclear powered attack submarines, many of which are idle and slated for dismantlement. The United States is paying to destroy Russian submarines that can launch ballistic missiles, but Russia does not possess the facilities or the resources to destroy non-strategic attack subs. The lack of resources is slowing the destruction of ballistic missile submarines and risks causing a massive environmental disaster in the arctic region, near allies such as Norway and Sweden. The United States is considering programs to assist Russia’s submarine dismantlement efforts. The United States should agree to fund Russian submarine dismantlement and spent fuel disposition, even though this may require spending upwards of $100 million over the next few years.

These are only four possible areas of expanded or new cooperation. U.S. Government officials interested in pursuing new and innovative programs are constantly hamstrung by the belief that new funding proposals will be rejected out of hand. In fact, the State, Defense and Energy Departments should seek increased funding for these programs. It’s good policy, and even good politics.


Jon B. Wolfsthal is an associate with the Carnegie Endowment’s Non-Proliferation Project. He is a former Department of Energy special assistant and policy advisor.