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American Forces Press Service

Reduction Focus Shifts from Nukes to Bio Threats

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2012 – The 21-year-old program to reduce weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union is shifting focus from nuclear to biological threats and from Russia to Southeast Asia and Africa, the assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs told a Senate panel yesterday.

Madelyn R. Creedon said the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, established in 1991, is gradually shifting to more of a biological threat reduction effort as the program adapts to take on emerging weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, threats in other regions.

“With all the work that's gone on in Russia over the better part of the last 20 years,” she added, “a tremendous amount has been accomplished” in reducing the threat from legacy WMD programs of the former Soviet Union.

Creedon testified before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, which met to review President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 $3 billion budget request for programs at the departments of Defense and Energy that seek to stem the flow of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

“We do continue to do a variety of work with Russia and in time that will phase down a bit,” Creedon said. “But we also value the relationship with Russia and in that context are seeking an extension of the umbrella agreement that allows for the work in Russia.”

An extension of the agreement, which expires in 2013, would allow work to continue “in some of the areas of sustainment, chemical weapons and some small amount of additional destruction work,” she added.

“We also continue to work in the states of the former Soviet Union,” said Creedon, adding that large biological security programs are ongoing in Kazakhstan, with similar programs in Ukraine.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union military industrial complex transformed viruses and bacteria to weapons of war, and industrial-scale biological weapons facilities were built to win the germ war arms race, according to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency website.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, newly independent republics faced the challenge of dealing with deadly pathogens at sites left unprotected and vulnerable to theft.

Now, Creedon said, “we are beginning to shift focus in the biological program to Africa and the Middle East, so in time we will transition over to those areas of the world as well.”

During 2011, Creedon testified, the CTR program built new nonproliferation partnerships in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Each country’s agreement will be based on its needs and requirements.

For countries like Kazakhstan that are more advanced in such biological work, Creedon added, “you look at things like, how many collections of dangerous pathogens do they have? How are they secured? Should they be consolidated? Should you combine veterinary pathogens and human health pathogens, or does it make more sense to keep them apart?”

In accordance with the CTR’s historical focus, DOD tries to consolidate such biological sites according to a country’s requirements, and monitors each site’s security.

In countries with more advanced facilities, Creedon said, including Kazakhstan and Ukraine, DOD checks the biological safety level of the facilities and determines whether they meet international health regulations and standards.

“We also look at the overall disease surveillance capabilities of the country, because … it's a national security requirement to make sure that our troops in the area, our families in the area, are protected,” she added.

“We want to make sure, particularly in countries that have a naturally occurring incidence of diseases that could be weaponized, that we know whether or not an outbreak is manmade or … natural, Creedon said.

As the biological program expands, Creedon said, “these are the things that we're going to look at with respect to each country, each agreement.”

In the United States, such programs are vetted across federal agencies through a process led by the White House staff, she added. International agencies as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services are included.

Testifying at the same hearing was Kenneth Myers III, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.

He told lawmakers CTR and other nonproliferation programs “are based upon a cooperative relationship with a country, based upon a nonviolent environment where those programs can be carried out.” Myers is also associated with the Joint Forces Headquarters for Elimination, established this year by Stratcom.

“The standing Joint Force Headquarters is designed to be able to provide the same type of capability in a nonpermissive environment,” he said, “or one in which we are not permitted a cooperative opportunity to reduce weapons of mass destruction.”

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