Expand Nunn-Lugar

The program is one of our best tools to counter nuclear proliferation.

The Nunn-Lugar program was originally conceived to eliminate the fearsome Soviet arsenal that had been aimed at the United States during the Cold War, and to keep those weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states.

Two decades later, it has proven an unqualified success. The Nunn-Lugar program has dismantled 7,514 nuclear warheads, destroyed 768 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 32 nuclear submarines. It has eliminated more weapons than the arsenals of France, Britain and China combined.

Now is time to build on that success and employ the skills and expertise that have been developed in the Nunn-Lugar program to address new threats and new challenges. With support from the Obama administration, Nunn-Lugar could become the central pillar in American nonproliferation and counter-proliferation efforts.

The legislation is well positioned to assume this expanded role because it has evolved steadily over the years, gaining new authorities and greater flexibility to meet emerging threats in an ever-changing international environment. Once confined to the former Soviets states, it can now operate anywhere in the world, and unlike many programs, the Secretary of Defense may accept funds from foreign governments and other entities to help pay for Nunn-Lugar activities.

Nunn-Lugar has developed expertise far beyond the nuclear arena. Just last year, for instance, operations began at on a massive chemical weapons destruction facility in Siberia, built through the program, that will destroy some 40,000 metric tons of deadly nerve gas and other lethal agents. In January, the nation of Georgia, with Nunn-Lugar help, completed construction of a Central Reference Library to provide safe and secure storage for pathogens and highly infectious disease strains inherited from the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan recently established similar disease surveillance capacity, thanks to Nunn-Lugar.

The program has also helped eliminate an undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in Albania, provided maritime surveillance capabilities for Azerbaijan to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on the Caspian Sea, which borders Iran, and helped Ukraine improve the monitoring of shipping lanes on the Black Sea, where there is a potential threat of WMD smuggling.

All along, Nunn-Lugar's important work on the former Soviet nuclear stockpile has continued. Last year, for instance, Nunn-Lugar completed security enhancements at 24 Russian nuclear-weapons storage sites to protect them from theft and diversion, and eliminated a Typhoon nuclear missile submarine, which once carried 200 nuclear warheads aimed at the United States.

I urge the Obama administration to embrace the record and the capabilities in the program as it steps up its non-proliferation efforts and prepares for the summit on nuclear-security later this year. By giving new prominence and profile to Nunn-Lugar, the administration could improve on the current interagency process that currently coordinates our efforts and help implement a national program.

One important mission for an expanded Nunn-Lugar program would be biological threats. Securing dangerous germs, building secure laboratories and establishing disease surveillance and monitoring requires the kind of sensitive security cooperation that is the legislation's forte, and would serve important U.S. interests by keeping bioweapons out of the hands of our enemies and detecting emerging diseases and pandemics before they threaten the American people.

Likewise, if we are to fulfill President Obama's pledge to secure all vulnerable fissile materials around the world in four years, we will need the capabilities of an expanded Nunn-Lugar.

But this will take money. Nunn-Lugar has assumed more mandates in recent years, but it has not received the corresponding funding increases. All the relevant agencies-including the Pentagon, the Energy Department, State and the Department of Agriculture-will need more resources to carry out the mission of keeping Americans safe from the myriad dangers we face.

In the past, some have been skeptical about authorizing more money while permitting more latitude and fewer restrictions on its use. But Nunn-Lugar has proved its worth and demonstrated the value of expanded authorities and a more global reach. Last year, Congress validated that assessment by, for the first time, granting Nunn-Lugar maximum flexibility to expend some of its funds.

At roughly $500 million a year, Nunn-Lugar has been a relative bargain, and I am sure that frugal habit will continue.  But as the program takes on new responsibilities and goes to more countries, it cannot continue to operate on a shoe-string. Even in this time of fiscal difficulties, I urge the Obama administration to provide a significant increase in funding. It will be a wise and important investment in our long-term national security.


Senator Richard G. Lugar is the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.