Weapons of Mass Destruction:

U.S. Efforts to Reduce Threats From the Former Soviet Union

T-NSIAD/RCED-00-119: Published: Mar 6, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the U.S. programs to reduce the threats that the former Soviet Union's weapons of mass destruction pose to U.S. national security, focusing on: (1) GAO's overall observations regarding these programs' cost and impact; and (2) some questions for Congress to consider in reviewing current and future budget requests for these programs.

GAO noted that: (1) to date, Congress has authorized more than $4.7 billion for U.S. programs aimed at helping Russia and other newly independent states reduce the threats posed by their weapons of mass destruction; (2) the cost of implementing many of these programs is escalating dramatically; (3) such increases are largely due to Russia's apparent inability to pay its share for these programs and to expanding program requirements; (4) although costs are uncertain and rising, reducing the threats posed by Russia's weapons of mass destruction is clearly in the U.S. national interest; (5) however, conclusively demonstrating that most of these programs are having a positive impact has proven to be very difficult; (6) on the positive side, GAO can be relatively confident that the Department of Defense (DOD) played a tangible role in helping at least two former Soviet states meet their arms control treaty obligations involving the destruction of missile launchers; (7) most of these programs, however, are inherently a cost risk in that the United States may never be able to prove that the programs achieved their intended purpose; (8) this is because Russia's frequent reluctance to provide the United States needed access to sensitive nuclear materials and facilities is denying DOD the ability to confirm that the facility will contain components from dismantled weapons; (9) similarly, the United States may never know the extent to which its aid to unemployed former Soviet weapons scientists is actually reducing any desire they may have to sell their skills to countries of concern in the production of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction; (10) with the continuing economic crisis in Russia, a major question that applies to all U.S. threat reduction assistance is whether Russia will ever pay its agreed-upon share of program costs or be able to fund operations and maintenance of the facilities and systems that the United States has or plan to put in place; (11) given the situation, the United States may have to fully fund not only its implementation but also the operations and maintenance of the threat reduction projects; (12) another question is whether the United States can overcome Russia's national security concerns about providing the United States access to very sensitive sites; and (13) if GAO can reach agreement on this issue, the United States may be able to better plan, prioritize, and monitor implementation of the programs, be better able to meet threat reduction objectives, and help mitigate against unforeseen cost increases.

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