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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

CRS Issue Brief for Congress

Nuclear Weapons in Russia: Safety, Security, and Control Issues

March 1, 1999

Amy F. Woolf
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division



When the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, it reportedly possessed more than 27,000 nuclear weapons, and these weapons were deployed on the territories of several of the former Soviet republics. All of the nuclear warheads have now been moved to Russia, but Russia still has around 6,000 strategic nuclear weapons and perhaps as many as 12,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

Many analysts in the United States and Russia have expressed concerns about the safety, security, and control over these weapons. Some of these concerns focus on Russia's nuclear command and control structure. Financial constraints have slowed the modernization and replacement of many aging satellites and communications links, raising the possibility that Russia might not be able to identify a potential attack or communicate with troops in the field if an attack were underway. Some fear that the misinterpretation of an ambiguous event might lead to the launch of nuclear weapons. Deputy Secretary of Defense Hamre has also raised the possibility that the year 2000 computer bug could affect Russia's command and control system.

Some concerns are also focused on the safety and security of nuclear warheads in storage facilities in Russia. Press reports and statements by Russian officials about possible missing warheads have added to these concerns. However, General Eugene Habiger, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, stated that he had no major concerns about security at Russian nuclear storage facilities after he visited several storage sites in October 1997 and June 1998.

Reports of Russian nuclear materials for sale on the black market, when combined with evidence of weaknesses in the security systems have raised concerns about the possible theft or diversion of nuclear materials from these facilities.

The United States and Russia are cooperating in many fora to improve the safety, security, and control over Russia's nuclear weapons and materials. Through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the U.S. Department of Defense has provided assistance worth more than $1 billion to help Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus safely transport and store weapons and eliminate launchers under the START Treaties. The Department of Energy's Materials Protection, Control and Accounting Program is helping Russia and other former Soviet republics secure nuclear materials at research and other facilities in the former Soviet Union. The nations have also held bilateral meetings to identify ways in which they might cooperate to improve security and resolve concerns.

Some have proposed that the United States and Russia negotiate arms control agreements to reduce their stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and to improve transparency and confidence in the elimination of those weapons. Others have proposed that the two sides agree to "de-alert" their strategic nuclear weapons to reduce the pressures and relieve concerns about Russia's nuclear command and control system.


A team of experts from the United States visited Moscow in mid-February to offer assistance with potential problems in Russia's early warning system for nuclear attack caused by the Y2K bug. During the meetings, the United States invited Russia to send officials to an early-warning center in Colorado that would operate for a few weeks at the end of 1999 and beginning of 2000. Russian officials could use the information gathered in this center to replace any information lost if the computer systems associated with Russia's early warning network failed to operate.

A GAO report published in February 1999 raised concerns about implementation and oversight of the Department of Energy's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) Program. The report noted that less than one-third of the funding went to Russian institutes, and that taxes, fees, and other costs further reduced the amount available for scientists and engineers. The report also questioned whether the program was aiding U.S. nonproliferation objectives.


Nuclear Weapons After the Demise of the Soviet Union

The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 raised questions about control over Soviet nuclear weapons. Initially, most concerns focused on the possibility that some weapons might be lost or stolen, or that weapons might be launched by accident or without authorization by responsible officials. The fact that many of these weapons were located outside Russia, and possibly outside the control of officials in Russia, heightened many of these concerns. Both the Bush and Clinton Administrations received assurances from officials in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan that the weapons remained under secure, central control. The United States has also offered these nations assistance, through efforts such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, to encourage the return of all nuclear warheads to Russia and to enhance safety and security at nuclear facilities in Russia.

By the late 1990s, many of the early concerns about the potential for loss of control have eased, but concerns about the long-term effects of economic hardship and the increasing age of Soviet-era systems continue to prompt questions about the disposition of Russia's nuclear weapons. This issue brief highlights the continuing concerns that many have about the safety and security of these weapons and ongoing U.S. assistance programs.

Location of Nuclear Weapons in the Former Soviet Union

When the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, it possessed, according to most estimates, more than 27,000 nuclear weapons. These included more than 11,000 strategic nuclear weapons -- warheads on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and in bombers with the range needed to attack the continental United States -- and over 15,000 warheads for nonstrategic tactical nuclear weapons (such as artillery shells, short-range missiles, nuclear air-defense and ballistic missile defense interceptors, nuclear torpedoes and sea-launched cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons for shorter-range aircraft). In early 1998, Russia reportedly retained approximately 6,000 warheads on its strategic nuclear weapons and, according to some reports, between 7,000 and 12,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

In 1991, more than 80% of Soviet strategic nuclear weapons, including all ballistic missile submarines, were deployed at bases in Russia. The remaining strategic nuclear weapons were deployed in Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. By the end of 1996, each of these states had returned the nuclear warheads on its territory to Russia and each had begun to eliminate the launchers for strategic nuclear weapons under the terms of the START I Treaty. By the end of 1998, only Ukraine still had Soviet-era strategic missiles in silos on its territory, and it continued its efforts to eliminate these missiles and their silos. The last SS-19 ICBM was eliminated at the end of February 1999, and work continued on the elimination of SS-24 ICBMs. In mid-November 1998, Ukraine began to dismantle the Soviet-era bombers that remained on its territory. Table 1 depicts the number of nuclear weapons deployed in these states in late 1991 and their status today.

1: Strategic Nuclear Weapons in the Non-Russian Republics

State Strategic Nuclear Weapons in 1991 Strategic Nuclear Weapons Today
Belarus 81 SS-25 single-warhead mobile ICBMs All SS-25 single-warhead mobile ICBMs, with warheads and launchers, were removed in November 1996
Kazakhstan 104 SS-18 10-warhead silo-based ICBMs (1,040 warheads)
40 Bear H bombers
All SS-18s removed from silos; all silos destroyed; all warheads returned to Russia.
All bombers and cruise missiles returned to Russia
Ukraine 130 SS-19 6-warhead silo-based ICBMs
46 SS-24 10-warhead silo-based ICBMs
About 40 strategic bombers
More than 500 air-launched cruise missiles
Many missiles remain in silos but all warheads have been returned to Russia. Almost all SS-19 silos and all SS-19 missiles have been destroyed. Ukraine has begun to dismantle bombers.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense.

Many of the Soviet Union's tactical nuclear weapons were also stationed outside Russia, in Eastern Europe or in republics that were closer to prospective theaters of operation. The weapons in Eastern Europe had reportedly been returned to Russia by 1989. In late 1991, the majority of weapons outside Russia reportedly were in Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, with perhaps less than 5% in Georgia and the Central Asian states (Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.) According to officials in Russia and these other states, all the weapons had been moved to storage areas in Russia by the end of 1992.

According to American and Russian sources, the command and control system for all former Soviet strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is centered in Moscow. This central command authority would have to authorize the use of any nuclear weapons. As the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin replaced Soviet President Gorbachev at the top of the command authority, but the rest of the system remained the same.

Continuing Concerns about Command, Control, Safety, and Security

Many in the United States and Russia remain concerned about safety, security, and control over nuclear weapons in Russia. These concerns center on three general areas -- concerns about the possibility for an accidental or unintended launch of nuclear weapons due to weaknesses in Russia's command and control system; concerns about the possible theft or loss of nuclear warheads due to lax security or accounting at nuclear weapons facilities; and concerns that nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons facilities might be lost or sold to nations seeking their own nuclear weapons.

Russia's Nuclear Command and Control System

Russia's nuclear command and control system consists, generally speaking, of early warning satellites and sensors that would warn of an imminent attack on Russian territory; the senior political and military leaders who would assess the nature of the attack and, if necessary, authorize a response using Russia's nuclear weapons; and the communications links that these commanders would use to consult with each other and to transmit messages authorizing the use of nuclear weapons to commanders in the field. These messages would contain the authorizing and enabling codes needed to "unlock" the permissive action links (PALs) and other technologies used to make sure that nuclear weapons could not be armed and launched without authorization from the central command authority. Although assurances from Moscow have eased concerns about the possibility that a launch might occur by accident or at the bidding of a rogue commander, some continue to question Russia's ability to control its nuclear weapons in the long-term. These concerns are due, in part, to financial constraints that have slowed the modernization and replacement of many aging components of Russia's early warning and communications networks. (For a more detailed description of this command and control system, see CRS Report 97-586, Russia's Nuclear Forces: Doctrine and Force Structure Issues.)

Analysts in the United States and Russia have pointed to the degradation of Russia's early warning network of satellites and radars, many of which are in other former Soviet republics, to note that Russia may soon lack the ability to monitor and react to strategic threats to its own territory. In early 1997, Russia's Defense Minister Rodionov stated that he feared a loss of control over Russian strategic nuclear forces in the future if additional funding were not available to maintain and modernize the communications links in the nuclear command and control structure. Furthermore, in June and July 1998, both of Russia's geostationary early warning satellites failed; this leaves Russia relying on its older satellites and ground radar stations for early warning of ballistic missile attacks. These systems cannot provide continuous coverage of U.S. missile launch sites. At the end of August, Russia lost another early warning asset when Latvia shut down the Skrunda radar, which provided Russia with early warning of ballistic missile attacks. Russia had hoped that Latvia would allow this radar to continue operating until a new radar in Belarus was completed next year.

The U.S. Defense Department has downplayed concerns about a loss of control over Russia's nuclear weapons, noting that the central command structure remains in place. But some analysts fear that Russia could respond to the degradation of the system by disseminating codes needed to launch nuclear weapons to commanders in the field to make sure that these commanders had the ability to launch missiles in a conflict. This might raise the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized use of these weapons.

Reports in the Russian press have also noted that some strategic rocket forces personnel have faced serious financial hardship. Reports of inadequate funding for training and maintenance, along with low morale among the troops, have raised concerns about an eventual breakdown of authority among strategic rocket troops. Recent reports of shooting incidents at facilities that house nuclear weapons or materials and onboard a nuclear-powered attack submarined have raised further concerns about the reliability of Russia's military personnel. In addition, the Washington Times reported that President Yeltsin had ordered an inspection of troops at nuclear facilities in September 1998 to assess their military fitness. Although problems with the troops probably would not lead to the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, they could make it difficult for Russia to remain confident in the reliability and effectiveness of its nuclear deterrent.

In June 1998, Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre raised a new concern about Russia's nuclear command and control system. He noted that the computers in Russia's system could be vulnerable to the year 2000 computer bug. He did not identify any particular problems that this could cause, but he stated that the United States was working on a plan to share early warning information with Russia in case Russia's heavily computerized early warning sensors and satellites experienced problems. The Commander of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces reportedly has said that he looked into the issue and does not believe it will be a problem for Russia's nuclear forces.

In January 1999, officials in the Russian government acknowledged that the Y2K bug could pose problems for Russia's military systems, and Prime Minister Primakov set up a special commission to address the issue. In early February, officials stated it could cost Russia $2-3 billion to solve its Y2K problems. Although officials acknowledge that problems could affect the computers that control Russia's nuclear weapons, most agree that the missiles and weapons, themselves, would shut down, rather than launch, if their computers failed. However, concerns remain about the early warning network of satellites and radars and the communications systems. If computers in these systems fail, then confusion could set in and some in Russia might conclude that Russia had come under attack. A team from the U.S. Defense Department traveled to Moscow in mid-February 1999, to begin to assess the problem and help Russia work out solutions. The United States reportedly proposed that the two nations man a joint early warning center in Colorado Springs at the end of December 1999 and early January 2000. This center would monitor world-wide ballistic missile launches. Russian officials in the center could communicate back to Moscow, and use the information in the center to replace any information lost due to computer malfunctions in Russia's own early warning center. Russian officials expressed interest in the idea and agreed to continue discussions in March. Some in Russia, however, remained skeptical. One military affairs specialist, Pavel Felgenhaur, wrote that he believed the Russian military would view proposals for shared early warning data as "espionage," because the United States was seeking information about the capabilities of Russia's early warning network.

Safety and Security of Stored Nuclear Warheads

In October 1991 and January 1992, Soviet President Gorbachev and Russian President Yeltsin pledged to withdraw most nonstrategic nuclear weapons from deployment and to place them in secure storage areas. All the warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons based outside Russia had been moved to storage facilities in Russia by the middle of 1992 and Russia has consolidated the remaining weapons, reducing the number of storage facilities from several hundred to, perhaps, less than one hundred. Russian officials also contend that they have begun to dismantle these warheads and that they can do so at a rate of around 2,000 warheads per year. The United States does not have independent confirmation of this number, and some analysts in the United States suspect that Russia could still have 12,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its storage facilities. Many in the United States remain concerned about the level of security at these storage facilities. Some fear that, as a result of poor security and inadequate record-keeping, Russia may not be able to keep track of all the warheads in these facilities. As a result, some argue that these warheads may be at risk for theft or sale on the black market.

In March 1992, some reports suggested that a few nuclear warheads from Kazakhstan might have been sold to Iran. The reports stated that Iran did not have the codes needed to detonate the weapons but that it might use them to gain design information it needs for its own nuclear weapons programs. At the time, Russian and Kazakh officials denied that nuclear weapons were missing, and U.S. officials stated that the United States has no evidence of such a transfer. Nevertheless, these reports resurfaced in April 1998 -- the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported that an Israeli politician had received Iranian documents showing that Iran had received these weapons. Russia repeated its denials and U.S. officials repeated that the United States had no evidence that any nuclear warheads were missing from Russia. The 1998 reports surfaced amidst concerns about Russia construction of nuclear power reactor in Iran and reports that Russian firms were assisting Iran's missile development program. Some believe the timing was intended to apply added pressure on Russia to cease its cooperation with Iran and on the U.S. Congress to impose sanctions on Russia.

In September 1997, Former Russian Security Council head and national security advisor Alexander Lebed alleged that Russian authorities were uncertain of the whereabouts of 100 out of 250 small portable nuclear demolition munitions. Lebed stated that the weapons could have been destroyed, placed in storage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, or purloined. On September 10, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that "the Russian system of nuclear weapons safety keeps nuclear weapons under full control and makes any unauthorized transport of them impossible." It also stressed that all nuclear weapons have been withdrawn to Russia from the former Soviet republics. Other Russian observers discounted Lebed's allegations as a bid for increased Russian defense spending or as publicity for his presidential aspirations. In early October 1997, Lebed appeared to withdraw his allegation, stating that he had investigated the matter and had found no evidence of missing nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, the debate in Russia continues, with some alleging that Russia never had such small munitions and others confirming that the munitions existed but denying that any are unaccounted for. Some in the Administration and Congress called the Lebed allegations worrisome and called for stepped-up U.S.-Russian cooperation in combating nuclear materials thefts. The White House, however, stressed that there is "no credible information that any [Russian] nuclear weapons, suitcase or not, has ever been available on the black market."

Further concerns about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons emerged in early December 1997, when the Senate Intelligence Committee released responses to questions it had posed to George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence. Director Tenet reportedly stated that the United States remained concerned about the possible loss or theft of nuclear weapons and materials in Russia due to declining social and economic conditions. He did not, however, offer any evidence that such losses had already occurred. But conditions have continued to deteriorate, and some wages have gone unpaid for several months during the financial crisis that began in mid-1998. As a result, many analysts have continued to express concerns about the "human factor" and the possibility that low morale and poor living conditions may combine to weaken security and controls over nuclear weapons.

During NATO meetings in December 1997, U.S. officials noted that discrepancies existed in U.S. and Russian estimates of the number of tactical nuclear weapons in Russian storage facilities. The officials acknowledged that the different estimates could result from different definitions of the weapons in question or a lack of knowledge in the U.S. about the number of weapons destroyed by Russia. Regardless, the two sides agreed to establish a team of experts to get a definitive count of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons.

Although many analysts and officials remain concerned about security at Russia's nuclear storage facilities, General Eugene Habiger, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, has expressed his confidence in Russia's ability to safeguard its weapons. General Habiger visited nuclear weapons storage facilities in Russia to observe safety and security procedures on two occasions. In October 1997, he reportedly came away impressed with what he saw, although he acknowledged that his tour only focused on strategic nuclear weapons and provided no information or insights into the security procedures at storage facilities for nonstrategic nuclear weapons. He also noted that Russia lacked many of the high-tech devices the United States used to maintain security at nuclear bases and that it seemed to rely more heavily on added manpower to protect its weapons. He announced that the United States and Russia would exchange visits of security specialists at their nuclear weapons bases to observe and learn about security procedures. A group of Russian military officers spent a week at Warren AFB in Wyoming at the end of May 1998.

During a trip to Russia in early June 1998, General Habiger visited five major nuclear sites, including bases with operational missiles and storage areas for nuclear weapons. At a base for SS-19 ICBMs, he viewed security procedures around the silos and at the launch control center. He noted that the Russians had guards posted at all the silos and had security officers at the launch control center; the United States, in contrast, uses sensors and alarms, rather than on-site guards to secure its ICBM silos. He also visited a national nuclear weapons storage site at Saratov, where U.S. assistance has provided fencing and sensors to help secure the sight. He noted that the site used massive sliding doors to guard the interior of the storage facility and sealed containers to hold the weapons. At his third stop, General Habiger viewed the weapons storage facility at Engels Air Force Base, where Russian heavy bombers are deployed. He also visited a weapons storage site at an SS-25 ICBM base and a naval nuclear weapons storage facility. In a press briefing after this trip, General Habiger again noted that Russia used more manpower and less technology than the United States to safeguard its nuclear weapons. But, in response to a question from a reporter, he stated that he did not have any serious concerns about the security of Russia's nuclear weapons.

Some in Congress remain concerned about Russia's stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The Senate added an amendment to the FY1999 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 105-261) that notes that Russia may still have 7,000-12,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, a number that far exceeds the U.S. stockpile, and that these weapons could become strategically destabilizing as the two sides reduce their strategic offensive weapons. It calls on the President to press Russia to reduce these weapons in accordance with its pledges from 1991 and 1992. The amendment also requires that the Secretary of Defense submit a report detailing the numbers, types, strategic implications, and proliferation risks associated with Russia's nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

Former Soviet Nuclear Facilities and Materials

Several observers have also raised concerns about the possible theft or sale of former Soviet nuclear materials to nations trying to acquire their own nuclear weapons. There have been numerous reports of nuclear materials from facilities in the former Soviet Union appearing on the black market in Europe. In most cases, the materials lacked the purity to be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. However, in approximately 6-8 of the reported cases, the materials could have been useful to a nation seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

In mid-July 1997, the Russian press reported that Vladimir Orlov, the director of the Centre for Political Studies in Moscow, told the press that a combination of weaknesses in physical security, the low morale of workers due to a lack of pay, and a shortage of secure transportation equipment had made it possible to steal nuclear materials or weapons from facilities in Russia. Although few of his assertions were new, and most focused on security at materials facilities, not weapons facilities, his reports did renew concerns about nuclear safety and security in Russia.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that there may be enough weapons-usable nuclear materials to produce 40,000 nuclear weapons at facilities in 8 countries that were once a part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union secured most of these facilities by placing them in closed cities or by using with gates and armed guards. But, according to DOE, budget cuts and political upheavals have undercut this system. Many facilities now lack fences, monitors, alarms, and comprehensive accounting systems to keep track of the materials in the facilities. Recent reports indicate that even those facilities with security and monitoring systems have disconnected them to save money on electric bills and to reduce false alarms. They also have been unable to pay the guards and officers charged with maintaining security at the facilities.

Deterioration of economic conditions and the decline in military spending has also displaced many scientists and engineers who worked in Soviet nuclear programs. Although reports of scientists moving to other countries have waned, the economic problems continue. For example, in June and July 1993, scientists at several of Russia's nuclear research centers threatened to strike and stop dismantling nuclear weapons because they had not been paid in months. In 1996 the director of one of Russia's labs killed himself because he could not pay his scientists or support research at his facility. And, on July 23, 1998, several thousand staff members at Arzamas-16, one of Russia's premier nuclear research facilities, stopped work during a three-hour strike. Their protest was designed to seek back payment for wages and budget allocations for 1997 and a pay increase for 1998. Nuclear workers from several of the closed cities participated in a strike in mid-September 1998, with many traveling to Moscow for protests at the Atomic Ministry (MINATOM).

Cooperative Programs For Nuclear Threat Reduction

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program

Program Objectives and Funding. In November 1991, Congress allocated $400 million in Department of Defense funds to help the former Soviet republics secure their nuclear weapons. The funds were to provide Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan assistance in 1) the transportation, storage, safeguarding and destruction of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the dismantlement of missiles and launchers; 2) the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and, 3) the prevention of diversion of weapons-related scientific expertise. (For details on the CTR program, see CRS Report 97-1027, Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs: Issues For Congress.)

Although some Members have questioned the benefits and administration of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, Congress has consistently supported the central objectives of the program, allocating $400 million each year in FY1993, 1994, and 1995 and an additional $300 million in FY1996. In FY1997, the Senate passed a new amendment sponsored by Senators Nunn, Lugar and Domenici that added $94 million to DOD and DOE budgets to expand U.S. efforts to contain and control nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union. These funds were included in the House-Senate Conference Report, which provided $364.9 million to DOD for CTR, in addition to the funds for DOE, in the FY1997 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 104-201).

The Clinton Administration requested $382 million for the CTR programs for FY1998. The House reduced the Administration's request to $284.7 million (H.R. 1119, H.Rept. 105-132). The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its version of the FY1998 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 924, S.Rept. 105-29), reduced the Administration's request for CTR funding by $60 million. The full Senate restored the funding and the conference report on the Defense Authorization Bill (P.L. 105-85, H.Rept. 105-340) provided the full $382.2 million requested by the Administration for CTR programs. The House approved this legislation on October 28, 1997; the Senate followed suit on November 6, 1997. The conference report (H.Rept. 105-265) on the FY1998 Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2266) also provided $382.2 million for the CTR program. The House and Senate both approved this legislation on September 25, 1997. The President signed it into law (P.L. 105-56) on October 8, 1997.

The Clinton Administration requested $442.4 million for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program in FY1999. In its version of the FY1999 Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 3616), the House approved $414.4 million for the CTR programs. Among other changes, the House reduced the amount requested for chemical weapons destruction by $53.4 million and added $31.4 million for strategic arms elimination activities in Russia and Ukraine. In its report on the Bill (H.Rept. 105-532), the House National Security Committee noted that this shift reflected its belief that strategic offensive arms elimination should take priority over chemical weapons destruction because Russia's chemical weapons stockpile does not pose a direct security threat to the United States. In addition, as in past years, the Committee expressed concerns about the total cost of construction for the chemical weapons destruction facility and Russia's ability to contribute its portion of the funding. The Senate approved $440.4 million in its bill (S. 2057) and it specified that $35 million of this must be used for projects designed to ensure the safety of retired Russian nuclear submarines that are currently based at Arctic ports. It did not specify which CTR projects should receive less funding to make up this difference. The Conference Report on the FY1999 Defense Authorization Bill (H.Rept. 105-736) adopted the Senate position, providing $440.4 million for the CTR programs and the full amount requested for chemical weapons destruction. The President signed this bill into law (P.L. 105-261) on October 17, 1998. The Clinton Administration has requested $476 million for the Nunn-Lugar CTR programs in FY2000.

Implementing the Programs. By the end of 1997, the Department of Defense had obligated nearly $1.6 billion for CTR projects and had actually spent nearly $1 billion implementing those efforts. Early CTR projects focused on transportation of nuclear warheads; the United States provided secure rail cars, storage containers, and kevlar blankets to protect nuclear warheads moving to storage areas inside Russia. The United States is also helping Russia design and construct a storage facility for materials removed from dismantled nuclear warheads and offering Russia assistance with its nuclear materials and nuclear weapons control and accounting systems. Key projects are also helping Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan eliminate strategic nuclear weapons and facilities, as they reduce their forces under the START I Treaty. Russia will also receive CTR funds to help it dismantle nuclear weapons slated for elimination under START II. In addition, in FY1999, DOD has requested funds to begin helping Russia with a warhead dismantling project. The two sides are also building a storage facility at Mayak for plutonium removed from Russia's nuclear weapons. The facility's design has been completed and construction is underway. However delays have occurred because Russia has been unable to fund its portion of the project and the two sides have been unable to agree on transparency measures that will ensure that materials stored in the facility are not removed and returned to nuclear weapons uses.

In addition to these ongoing projects, the CTR program has also funded special projects that addressed a particular proliferation concern. For example, in November 1997, the United States used CTR funds to purchase 21 nuclear-capable MIG-29 aircraft from the Republic of Moldova. The United States feared that Moldova might sell these aircraft to a nation seeking nuclear delivery capabilities. In a more recent case, in April 1998, CTR funds were used to address concerns about security at a nuclear facility in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The United States and Great Britain worked with the Georgian government to move 8.8 pounds of highly enriched uranium and 17.6 pounds of highly radioactive spent fuel from a nuclear reactor outside Tbilisi, Georgia to Dounreay, Scotland. According to officials in the U.S. State Department, Georgia had first requested assistance in securing these materials in 1996. The U.S. Department of Energy worked to improve security at the facility, with both physical improvements and changes in security procedures. But the U.S., U.K. and Georgia eventually agreed that the only way to be sure the materials were safe was to remove them from the country. As a result, the materials were flown to Scotland on a U.S. military aircraft on April 23, 1998. In September 1998, the government of Kazakhstan announced that it planned to move 3 tons of weapons-useable nuclear materials from a facility near the Iranian border to Semipalatinsk, on the other side of the nation, over the next several years. Funds from the CTR program would help secure this material, as well.

International Science and Technology Centers

The United States, several European countries, and Japan have all provided funding to International Science and Technology Centers (ISTC ) in Moscow and Kiev. These centers -- which were originally funded through the CTR program, but are now funded by the State Department -- are designed to provide research and peaceful employment opportunities for nuclear scientists and engineers. The United States has contributed just over $75 million to the centers. The Centers began operations in 1992 and have, thus far, funded around 450 projects at a cost of $145 million. More than 17,000 scientists and engineers have participated in ISTC projects. Many continue to work at their primary jobs in Russia's research facilities. But, because most have not received their full salaries at their primary jobs, the grants from the ISTC permit them to support their families without contemplating selling their knowledge to nations seeking nuclear weapons.

Material Protection, Control, and Accounting Programs

As was noted above, many in the United States have expressed concerns about the safety and security of nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. Although some of the materials believed to be at risk are located at nuclear weapons facilities, many others are located at civilian nuclear research facilities. Although the Nunn-Lugar CTR program focused on securing nuclear weapons, not materials, it did include some funding for materials control and protection. But government-to-government negotiations with Russia and the other republics proceeded slowly, so projects at facilities with these materials did not begin until 1994. In a parallel effort that sought to reduce these delays, experts from the U.S. nuclear laboratories also began, in 1994, less formal contacts with their counterparts in Russia to identify and solve safety and security problems at Russian facilities. Together, the government-to-government and lab-to-lab projects constitute the Material Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC&A) program, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy; these merged into a single program in 1997.

The MPC&A program began with less than $3 million in the FY1993 Nunn-Lugar budget and $11 million in FY1994. This amount grew to $73 million in FY1995. In FY1996, Congress expanded these programs through the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Amendment, and provided $99 million in the DOE budget for MPC&A. The program received an additional $115 million in FY1997 and $137 million in FY1998. The Administration requested $152 million for MPC&A activities in FY1999; the House and Senate have both included that amount in the FY1999 Appropriations for the Department of Energy. The Clinton Administration has requested $145 million for MCP&A activities for FY2000.

According to the Department of Energy, the MPC&A program has provided assistance at 53 facilities in the former Soviet Union. It had completed security upgrades at 17 small sites by the end of 1997 and expected to complete upgrades at 10 more sites by the end of 1998. These upgrades include the installation of improved security systems that use modern technology and strict material control and accounting systems. The program has also provided security training for Russian nuclear specialists. DOE has set the year 2002 as the target date for the completion of work under the MPC&A program.

Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention

The Department of Energy has also sponsored a program to help former nuclear weapons scientists and engineers in Russia so that they will not seek employment in nations seeking nuclear weapons. The Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program, which began in 1994, funds projects with non-military applications that have commercial value for both the United States and the former Soviet republics. In its first phase, the program coordinated lab-to-lab contacts that sought to identify technologies at former Soviet weapons facilities that might have commercial applications. In its second phase, the program matches U.S. government funds with funds provided by U.S. companies in projects that seek to commercialize the technologies identified in the first phase.

The IPP program initially received $35 million in the FY1994 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, and it funded 193 projects in its first phase in 1995. In FY1996, Congress provided $10 million in the DOE budget and the program received another $20 million from the Nunn-Lugar CTR budget. IPP received $30 million in the DOE budget each year in FY1997 and FY1998. Through FY1998, the IPP program had obligated $115 million to 435 projects throughout the former Soviet republics. In FY1999, DOE requested only $15 million, noting that it had sufficient unexpended funds from previous years to continue ongoing projects with this funding level. The Senate, however, in its version of the FY1999 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 2057) provided $30 million for the IPP program. The Conference Report on the Defense Authorization Bill (H.Rept. 105-736) provided $20 million for the IPP Program. It also required that the Secretary of Defense submit a study on the number of former Soviet nuclear weapons scientists and engineers who are likely to be unemployed or unpaid and the extent to which commercialization projects, such as those sponsored by IPP, might employ these people and discourage them from selling their knowledge to other nations. The Clinton Administration has requested $30 million for the IPP program for FY2000.

In February 1999, the General Accounting Office issued a report that reviewed and criticized the IPP program. The report noted that Russian institutes had received only around one-third of the funds allocated to IPP projects -- around 50% of the funds had gone to the DOE labs for oversight and implementation and around 12% had gone to U.S. companies that were participating in the program -- and that taxes, fees, and other charges had further reduced the amount of money available to Russian scientists. The report also questioned DOE's oversight of the programs, noting that program officials do not always know how many scientists are receiving funds through the IPP program. Finally, the report questioned whether the program was contributing to U.S. nonproliferation objectives because none of the projects was yet a commercial success and because some scientists who received IPP funding might still be working in Russia's WMD programs. DOE agreed that the IPP program needed improved oversight, but it questioned the conclusions about its contributions to U.S. nonproliferation objectives. DOE noted that IPP has temporarily employed thousands of scientists in around 170 institutes. DOE also stated that the program did not subsidize scientists who were performing weapons-related work.

In August 1998, Vice President Gore and then-Prime Minister Kiriyenko signed an agreement establishing the Nuclear Cities Initiative (see below). This program is designed to bring commercial enterprises to Russia's closed nuclear cities, so that scientists and engineers will not be tempted to sell their knowledge to nations seeking nuclear weapons. In September 1998, Secretary of Energy Richardson and Russia's Minister of Atomic Energy signed an implementing agreement for this program. The Clinton Administration has requested $30 million for the NCI program in FY2000. In its February 1999 report, the GAO recommended that DOE move slowly with this initiative to ensure that it met its stated goals and objectives.

Bilateral Meetings

Officials from the United States and Russia have met in several groups over the past 5 years to address specific problems in Russia's nuclear weapons complex. Some groups have produced numerous agreements and cooperative efforts; others have shown few results. This section briefly reviews the objectives of some of these bilateral working groups.

The U.S.-Russian Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation (The Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission). In April 1993, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin established the U.S.-Russian Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, to be chaired by Vice President Gore and Russia's Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. The commission has held 11 sessions, with the latest in late July 1998 chaired by Vice President Gore and Russia's recent Prime Minister Kiriyenko. Although the Commission was created to foster cooperation on space and energy issues, its mandate has expanded to include a number of other different policy areas. In addition, Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin often used their meetings to address issues, such as arms control and missile defense cooperation, on the agenda for upcoming Presidential summits.

The Energy Committee has a working group that addresses fissile materials (e.g. weapons-grade uranium and plutonium) in an effort to ensure that they do not pose a proliferation or environmental threat. This working group has agreed on numerous projects, most of which were subsequently funded by the Nunn-Lugar CTR program. For example, in 1994, the commission announced that the two sides would cooperate in building a storage facility at Mayak (described above) for plutonium removed from Russia's nuclear weapons. In 1994, Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin also signed the agreement that established the program through which the United States will purchase 500 metric tons of uranium removed from Russian nuclear weapons for use in nuclear power reactors.

In June 1994, the two sides signed an agreement requiring the shutdown of nuclear reactors that produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Russia initially balked at this agreement because it used the same reactors to produce light and heat in the cities of Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk, but the two sides agreed to find ways to replace these energy sources. Although it announced that it had stopped producing plutonium for weapons in the reactors by the end of 1994, Russia refused to proceed with the shutdown because these alternatives were not yet available. In 1995, the United States agreed to work with Russia to identify alternatives and, in 1996, the two sides agreed to convert the reactors to a type that would not produce weapons-grade materials as a byproduct of energy production. The United States will contribute $80 million, through the Nunn-Lugar CTR Program, to convert the reactors. An implementing agreement was signed at the commission's meeting in Sept. 1997.

During their June 24, 1998 meeting, Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Kiriyenko signed two agreements on nuclear issues. The United States agreed to provide Russia with assistance in converting plutonium from nuclear weapons to fuel for nuclear reactors. In the second agreement, the United States pledged $3.1 million for 9 projects that are designed to help scientists in Russia's closed nuclear cities convert their efforts to peaceful civilian endeavors, a project known as the Nuclear Cities Initiative.

The Strategic Stability Working Group (SSWG). In September 1993, Secretary of Defense Aspin and Defense Minister Grachev established a working group of experts from the U.S. DOD and the Russian MOD, to discuss ways to improve strategic stability, increase mutual confidence, and relax the Cold War nuclear force postures. One of the first topics the SSWG addressed was ballistic missile "detargeting." In an agreement that took effect on May 30, 1994, the two nations agreed that no country would be targeted by any strategic forces on either side. Many observers praised this agreement as an overdue sign that the United States and Russia no longer consider each other enemies. Some also saw it as a move away from the nuclear hair-trigger and a concrete step to reduce the risk of accidental missile launches. Others, however, argued that its benefits were strictly symbolic because both sides could quickly retarget missiles during a crisis. Many also noted that the measure was not verifiable, so neither side could be sure that the other's missiles were actually detargeted.

AT the SSWG meeting in May 1994, U.S. experts gave a detailed briefing on U.S. strategic exercises. This was designed as a confidence-building measure that might reduce Russian uncertainty about U.S. intentions during exercises. Russia did not share similar information with the United States. The United States also shared information on threats to both sides from short-range ballistic missiles, and the two sides discussed holding a joint exercise in which they would coordinate their defenses against short-range ballistic missile attacks. Russia has proposed that the two sides establish keep-out zones for attack submarines to keep them a specified distance away from the shores of the other nation. The United States has rejected this proposal as an infringement on the freedom of the seas.

The SSWG continued to meet periodically and to plan cooperative activities, such as a joint TMD exercise. The first phase of this project occurred in June 1996, in Colorado Springs. At that time, the Russians deployed SA-12 interceptors and the U.S. deployed Patriot batteries in a simulated combat scenario to defend against a common enemy. In October 1996, the SSWG merged with the Bilateral Working Group, which had focused on military-to-military contacts, peacekeeping, and joint exercises, to form the Defense Consultative Group. This group continues to meet periodically, discussing issues such as concerns about Russia's early warning network and command and control systems. During its most recent meeting in Moscow in February 1999, the group addressed concerns about potential problems in Russia's early warning network from the Y2K bug.

Safeguards, Transparency, and Irreversibility Talks. During the January 1994 Moscow summit, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin established a working group to consider steps to ensure the transparency and irreversibility of the process of reducing nuclear weapons. These measures could include the exchange of data on weapons stockpiles and possibly inspections at weapons storage and elimination facilities. The Safeguards, Transparency, and Irreversibility working group produced an agreement, in principle, for the two sides to exchange data on warhead stockpiles. But they were unable to finalize the details of this data exchange because the parties did not complete an agreement that would permit the exchange of classified data on nuclear warheads. Congress had amended U.S. law to permit this exchange in 1994, but Russia has neither passed legislation nor issued the necessary executive decree.

Arms Control Proposals

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons. In 1991, the United States and Soviet Union both announced that they were withdrawing most of their deployed nonstrategic nuclear weapons and placing them in central storage areas. Each side adopted these measures unilaterally, without formal negotiations and without a formal verification regime. The United States and Russia have periodically exchanged information updating the status of the withdrawals and assuring the other side that the remaining weapons are in safe and secure storage areas.

Some observers believe that the United States and Russia should further reduce their non-strategic nuclear weapons to prevent their loss or theft. Some also believe the two sides should permit inspections at storage and elimination facilities to improve confidence that each have tight control over the warheads and materials removed from them. During their summit meeting in Helsinki in March 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the two sides would explore possible arms control measures relating to tactical nuclear weapons and warheads removed from strategic nuclear weapons during the proposed START III negotiations (which will not begin until START II enters into force). These initiatives could include transparency measures and confidence-building measures, along with reciprocal inspections and monitoring at storage and dismantlement facilities.

The United States would like further restrictions on Russian tactical nuclear weapons both because it believes these might pose a proliferation risk and because Russia has a far greater number of these weapons than does the United States. Russia, however, has resisted formal limits on these weapons. However, in late April 1998, officials from NATO and Russia exchanged information about their nonstrategic nuclear weapons. This effort was designed not only to ease Russia's concerns about NATO's nuclear weapons, but also to provide NATO with information about the thousands of tactical nuclear weapons still in service in Russia.

Agreement on the Disposition of Weapons-grade Plutonium. During their Moscow summit in Sept. 1998, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that each nation would convert 50 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium to a form that could not be returned to nuclear weapons. Clinton Administration officials estimated that this amount was approximately half of the U.S. stockpile and perhaps 25% of Russia's stockpile. The agreement highlighted two means for converting the plutonium -- the parties could either convert it to fuel for nuclear power reactors or mix it with other nuclear wastes and dispose of it in a way the would preclude its use in nuclear weapons. This agreement is designed to ease concerns about the possible theft or diversion of weapons-grade plutonium by nations or others seeking to develop their own nuclear weapons. However, the Clinton Administration emphasized that this effort could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it called on other nations to help Russia implement the program. Congress allocated $200 million for this program in the Omnibus Appropriations Act passed at the end of the 105th Congress.

Sharing Early Warning Data. During their Moscow summit September 1998, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the United States and Russia would share early warning data for all space launches and ballistic missile launches world wide. In other words, if one side detected evidence of such a launch, it would share that information with the other side. Although the details must still be worked out, the two sides agreed that they would share this data on a continual basis, in real time (rather than providing it annually or biannually); they agreed that data would include information on strategic, theater, and intermediate range missiles, and on space launches; they agreed the data would be derived from early warning satellites and ground-based radars; and they agreed to establish a multilateral pre-launch notification system that would be open to all nations who agreed to share data prior to missile or space launches from their territories. Russia proposed that the two sides establish a joint early warning center, that would presumably receive data from both nations' assets, on Russian territory. The Clinton Administration emphasized that this agreement would strengthen stability and protect against the possibility of a nuclear launch triggered by misinterpretation of data. Administration officials also noted that the agreement is particularly relevant in light of perceived weaknesses in Russia's ballistic missile early warning system.

Alert Rates for Strategic Nuclear Weapons. Many analysts who are concerned about the command and control system for Russia's strategic nuclear weapons argue that Russia's aging satellite and communication systems, when combined with the high alert rates for U.S. and Russian nuclear forces (both can launch on very short notice), increase the possibility of a nuclear attack. They fear that Russia may loosen controls over its nuclear weapons during peacetime if it cannot be certain of its ability to transmit messages during crises. These analysts, and many in Russia, also note that Russia may lack complete information about the status of U.S. forces due to gaps in its surveillance systems. And because the United States maintains its weapons on high alert, Russia may interpret ambiguous events as a missile launch, and, because its own missiles are on high levels of alert, it may respond quickly with a launch of its own. The agreement on sharing early warning data, described above, is designed to address this problem by providing Russia with information about ambiguous events. But some analysts argue that this is not enough.

Some in the United States, such as Bruce Blair and former Senator Sam Nunn, have proposed that the United States and Russia "de-alert" their nuclear weapons. They argue that, if U.S. weapons were not on alert, Russia would be less likely to assume that it were under attack if it detected ambiguous activities. In addition, if Russia took its forces off alert, it would not have to loosen controls over them to ensure their launch in a crisis because the missiles would not be ready to be launched in a crisis. Those who support this type of proposal have outlined several different measures that the parties might take, from removing warheads from missiles and storing them separately, to removing launch keys from control centers or removing critical data from launch computers.

Those who oppose the idea of "de-alerting" argue that it will undermine, not enhance stability. They note that warheads in a few storage depots may be far more vulnerable to a preemptive attack than warheads deployed on hundreds of missiles in hardened silos. They also argue that each side might feel compelled to "re-alert" its forces quickly if it suspected that the other side had started the process, and that this could lead to a destabilizing "alert" race, with each trying to gain an advantage over the other. Finally, some have noted that officials in Russia have shown no interest in this proposal; instead, some Russians have argued that "de-alerting" appears to be a U.S. attempt to disarm Russian missiles.

In late 1997, the Clinton Administration formed an inter-agency working group to assess possible measures to "de-alert" U.S. nuclear forces. This effort stemmed, in part from the U.S.-Russian agreement to deactivate weapons that would be eliminated under START II by the end of 2003, even though they would not have to be eliminated until 2007. But it also was an effort to explore ideas put forth by supporters of a more comprehensive change in the alert status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. The Administration has not, however, announced any changes in the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces. During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Eugene Habiger, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, noted that the reductions in offensive forces mandated by the START Treaties would serve to reduce the number of alert weapons in the U.S. force from about 2,300 today to less than 1,000 under START II and less than 700 under START III because only a portion of the U.S. force is on alert at any one time.

After a June 1998 visit to Russia, General Habiger stated that he was convinced it would take Russia at least 10 minutes to load launch codes into missiles that had been detargeted under the 1994 agreement. Although this would not preclude an unintended launch, it would provide the nations' leaders with time to consult on the Hot Line if either expected that the other was about to attack. Hence, according to this analysis, the detargeting agreement had achieved one of the key objectives sought by those who support efforts to "de-alert" nuclear forces. In response, Bruce Blair, one of the primary advocates of "de-alerting," stated that he believed it might take 10 minutes or longer to load a new target into a missile's data base, but that it would take only seconds to restore a target that was already in the computer.


P.L. 105-261
National Defense Authorization Bill for FY1999. Signed into law October 17, 1998.


U.S. Congress, House. Committee on National Security. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999. H.Rept. 105-532, 105th Cong. 2nd sess. May 12, 1998.


Executive Branch Reports

U.S. Department of Defense. Cooperative Threat Reduction. August 1997.

U.S. Department of Energy. MPC&A Strategic Plan. January 1998.

CRS Reports and Issue Briefs

CRS Report 97-586. Russia's Nuclear Forces: Doctrine and Force Structure Issues.

CRS Report 97-1027. Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs: Issues for Congress.

CRS Issue Brief 98030. Nuclear Arms Control: The U.S.-Russian Agenda.

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