The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR)

Fun Fact

In the aftermath of the Cold War, as the world grappled with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the unprecedented challenges posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), two visionary U.S. Senators, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, spearheaded a groundbreaking initiative that would transcend borders and political ideologies. The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, born out of bipartisan foresight and a commitment to global security, sought to address the looming spectre of WMD proliferation, particularly in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.

The purpose of the CTR Program was originally “to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure in former Soviet Union states.” As the peace dividend grew old, an alternative 2009 explanation of the program was “to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in states of the former Soviet Union and beyond.” Key components of the Nunn-Lugar program include:

  • Dismantle former Soviet Union (FSU)’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and associated infrastructure
  • Consolidate and secure FSU WMD and related technology and materials
  • Increase transparency and encourage higher standards of conduct
  • Support defense and military cooperation with the objective of preventing proliferation

The Nunn-Lugar Act was a significant contributor to the de-escalation of nuclear weapon arsenals. This program was used for “the transportation, storage, safeguarding and destruction of nuclear and other weapons in the Soviet Union… and to assist in the prevention of weapons proliferation”.

Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are nuclear weapons-free because of this program. Under CTR, the U.S. and recipient states have made considerable advancements in global security against the threat of WMD. By the year 1997 all strategic Soviet nuclear weapons were removed from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine marking an essential landmark in the CTR initiative. 

Weapons deactivated and destroyed under this program include:

  • 537 ICBMs
  • 459 ICBM silos
  • 11 ICBM mobile missile launchers
  • 128 bombers
  • 708 nuclear air-to-surface missiles
  • 408 submarine missile launchers
  • 496 submarine-launched missiles
  • 27 nuclear submarines
  • 194 nuclear test tunnels

Other milestone results include:

  • 260 tons of fissile material received security upgrades
  • 60 nuclear warhead storage sites received security upgrades
  • 35 percent of Russian chemical weapons received security upgrades
  • 49 former biological weapons facilities were converted to joint U.S.–Russian research under what were known as the Biological Threat Reduction Integrating Contracts
  • 4 biological weapons sites received security improvements
  • 58,000 former weapons scientists employed in peaceful work through International Science and Technology Centers (ISTC, of which the U.S. is the leading sponsor)
  • 750 projects involving 14,000 former weapons scientists and created some 580 new peaceful high-tech jobs; The International Proliferation Prevention Program has funded

The initiative went through further expansions of revitalization & modernization under Bush’s & Obama’s presidencies to keep up with the evolving global security challenges.

One could say that in the story of post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relations – so scarred with failures and missed opportunities and persisting animosity – the Nunn-Lugar initiative stands as a towering success. Convincing post-Soviet nations, particularly Russia, to allow foreign inspection of sensitive defense facilities demanded exceptional diplomacy and trust-building. American, British, and European experts undertook the formidable task of assessing and addressing nuclear, chemical, and biological threats in collaboration with their Russian counterparts. This venture, undertaken during a period of geopolitical uncertainty, required immense skill and determination. The program exemplified a bold leap into the unknown, fostering trust between former adversaries and ultimately contributing to global export control & border security by dismantling the remnants of a once-formidable nuclear superpower.

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