A Postwar Program That Worked

We do not often hear success stories about foreign policy. After the Second World War, the United States did what victorious powers throughout history have rarely done. Rather than vanquishing and humiliating our defeated enemies at war’s end, we worked together to strengthen them and create a safer world.

After the cold war, the United States did it again. While most Americans are familiar with the Marshall Plan, the rebuilding of Germany and Japan and the creation of NATO, most are unacquainted with the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs. But we should know about them. They need support and should be expanded to other critical areas like India and Pakistan.


This month we mark the anniversary of this largely unheralded success story. Fifteen years ago, Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and then Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, made our lives much safer from nuclear weapons by establishing the C.T.R. programs. The Soviet Union was disintegrating, but a vast number of nuclear weapons and large stocks of radiological, chemical and biological materials were unsecured and scattered across the territories of the former Soviet Union. George H. W. Bush, president at the time, was preoccupied with a war in Iraq and not focused on nuclear weapons safety and elimination. Displaying historic congressional leadership in foreign policy, the senators reached out across party lines, took the long view and created a better future for us all.

Through this highly successful program, the United States and the states of the former Soviet Union cooperated to destroy nuclear weapons quickly and safely and to safeguard, protect, control and account for the nuclear materials, weapons and scientists from the former Soviet Union’s nuclear complex. The program was later expanded to include chemical and biological weapons, and measures to detect weapons of mass destruction for border security.

Thanks to the vision and persistence of Senators Nunn and Lugar, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus are now free of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, and last year the C.T.R. program was expanded to destroy Albania’s chemical weapons. Thousands of nuclear weapons have been deactivated and thousands of missiles, strategic bombers and nuclear submarines designed to deliver nuclear weapons have been destroyed. Over 75 percent of Russian nuclear warhead sites have been secured to date, and 160 buildings housing hundreds of tons of nuclear materials have been secured. Cold war biological and chemical weapons production facilities in Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been safely dismantled. Thousands of scientists associated with these weapons programs have been retrained and employed in civilian pursuits.

All of this has been accomplished on a budgetary shoestring. From 1992 to 2007, the United States has budgeted a total of only $13.3 billion on all C.T.R. programs combined. According to the government’s nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, this is less than we spend on the war in Iraq in a single month.

Given this established track record, you might think the president would be leading the movement to expand these efforts. You would be wrong. Today, another President Bush is in the White House, preoccupied with another war in Iraq and not providing leadership in this critical area. Since 2002 Senator Lugar has proposed globalizing C.T.R. efforts, particularly to safeguard the vulnerable nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan. In 2004 the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, A. Q. Khan, was discovered selling nuclear secrets and technologies to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Pakistan’s President Musharaff is the frequent target of assassination attempts, and Islamic extremists supportive of Al Qaeda and the Taliban thrive in Pakistan, including in its military. The insecurity of Pakistan’s arsenal is a danger to the world.

Despite these proven dangers, Senator Lugar’s fellow Republicans in Congress and the White House have not followed the September 11th Commission’s recommendations and advanced C.T.R. programs. This year Senator Lugar has again submitted legislation to expand C.T.R. beyond the former Soviet states.

The comparison with Iraq is worth considering. Five years ago on Oct. 7, 2002, President Bush argued that the United States had to invade Iraq so that Saddam Hussein could be disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction programs. “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Apparently that argument applied only to Iraq. The White House has willingly sacrificed the lives of over 3,700 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis and has spent over $450 billion dollars to disarm a nonexistent Iraqi program for weapons of mass destruction. Yet it is unwilling to work cooperatively through proven programs that use nonmilitary means to secure known, existing arsenals of weapons of mass destruction in India and Pakistan at a tiny fraction of the cost.

Expanding C.T.R. is a proven way to stop terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. It works by strengthening the peace rather than by war. The public and Congress ought to appreciate and replicate Senator Lugar’s successes.

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