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Russia To Go It Alone On Nuke Disarmament


Well, this past week, the Russian government announced that it is dropping out of the program.

NPR's Mike Shuster has more on the consequences.

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: The Nunn-Lugar program takes its name from the two senators who created it, the former Democratic senator from Georgia, Sam Nunn, and the current Republican senator from Indiana, Richard Lugar. They sponsored the bill in 1991, creating a program whereby the U.S. would provide Russia with expertise and money to secure and reduce its weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological.

It has not been smooth and not been easy. And at many points along the way, the Russians have resisted or threatened to pull out of the deal. But now, after two decades, the achievements are impressive, says Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

DARYL KIMBALL, DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: This has been one of the most successful security programs in history. And it has been a vital part of really ending the Cold War.

SHUSTER: How vital? Well, the Pentagon and Senator Lugar keep a scorecard on their websites. These are just some of the statistics as of this week:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The Nunn-Lugar scorecard now totals 7,610 strategic nuclear warheads deactivated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Nine hundred and two intercontinental ballistic missiles destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Four hundred ninety-eight ICBM silos eliminated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: One hundred and ninety-one ICBM mobile launchers destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One hundred fifty-five bombers eliminated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Nine hundred and six nuclear air-to-surface missiles destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Six hundred and eighty-four submarine launched ballistic missiles eliminated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Thirty-three nuclear-ballistic-missile-capable submarines destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One hundred and ninety...

SHUSTER: And there's more. Nearly 4,000 metric tons of chemical weapons agent in Russia and Albania destroyed. And all nuclear weapons and their systems eliminated in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

Former Senator Nunn never thought the program would accomplish this much.

SAM NUNN: Well, it has been far more successful than I would have dreamed and hoped for. I did know in 1991 and so did Senator Lugar and others who supported this program, that we were in a very grave period of danger with thousands of weapons all over any number of time zones.

SHUSTER: At the beginning, Russia had no money for a program like this and very little expertise. The Russians let the Americans in to look at their nuclear weapons and finance the work, but resentfully. And they often got in the way. But now, the Russians have acquired the necessary technological skills and the financial resources. They say they intend to continue the work on their own. As to their motives, they have been silent.

Still, says Daryl Kimball, the work is far from finished. And he thinks the partnership between the U.S. and Russia must continue.

ASSOCIATION: I don't believe that Russia is seeking to terminate all work that it has been doing with the United States over the past two decades to reduce the risk of Cold War legacy weapons.

SHUSTER: Nor does the State Department. Top department experts on nuclear proliferation intend to stay engaged with the Russians and work on a new framework for partnership, focusing on other countries that need help securing and eliminating their weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Nunn says there's lots of work in the field for both nations.

NUNN: U.S. and working together as a team is very important. It's important psychologically, it's important as a matter of pride, but it's fundamentally important in terms of actually improving security.

SHUSTER: Some in Congress will welcome the Russian move though. There have been those in Congress who have opposed financing the program. They have argued all along the Russians should have been spending their own money to disarm. The program has cost the U.S. about a billion dollars a year for the past 20 years.

Mike Shuster, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.