Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Observations on U.S. Threat Reduction and Nonproliferation Programs in Russia

GAO-03-526T: Published: Mar 4, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 2003.

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After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia inherited the world's largest arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The Soviets' extensive military resources and autocratic rule allowed it to maintain and secure this vast arsenal. As Russia adopted economic reforms and moved toward an open society, its economy and central controls deteriorated, making it difficult to maintain security at these weapons sites. Recognizing these difficulties, the Congress authorized funds for programs to help destroy Russian weapons and improve WMD security. The events of September 11th have increased U.S. concerns that terrorists might obtain nuclear materials or weapons at poorly secured sites. GAO has reviewed U.S. threat reduction and nonproliferation efforts in Russia since 1993.

Over the past decade, the United States has responded to increased proliferation risks in Russia by providing $6.4 billion for Departments of Defense, Energy, and State programs in the former Soviet Union. The United States has made important progress in three areas. First, the Department of Defense helped destroy 463 Russian nuclear submarines, long-range bombers, and strategic missiles to support Russia's efforts to meet treaty requirements. Second, the Department of Energy installed security systems that helped protect 32 percent of Russia's weapons-usable nuclear material. Third, the United States supplemented the income of thousands of Russian weapons scientists so they would be less inclined to sell their skills to countries of concern. However, U.S. threat reduction and nonproliferation programs have consistently faced two critical challenges: (1) the Russian government has not always paid its agreed-upon share of program costs and (2) Russian ministries have often denied U.S. officials access to key nuclear and biological sites. Regarding program costs, Russia did not pay, for example, its previously agreed-upon share of $275 million to design and build a nuclear storage site at Mayak. As of January 2003, the United States plans to spend $385 million for a scaled-down version of this site. Russia has also failed to pay operation and maintenance costs for security equipment the United States installed at sites with weapons-usable nuclear material. As a result, DOE plans to spend an additional $171 million to ensure that this equipment is properly maintained. Regarding access, Russia will not allow DOD and DOE the level of access they require to design security improvements, verify their installation, and ensure their proper operation. As a result, the agencies have been unable to help protect substantial portions of Russia's nuclear warheads and weapons-usable nuclear material. In addition, many Russian biological sites that store dangerous biological pathogens remain off-limits to the United States. Russia justifies these access restrictions on the grounds that it is protecting its national security interests.

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