Soviet-Era WMDs Still a Threat

Monday, 29 Nov 2010 04:55 PM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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Russian leaders had gone out of their way to make nice with the 28 members of the Atlantic alliance. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev even showed up at a NATO heads of state meeting in Lisbon. The "reset" button in U.S.-Russian relations was holding.

There was much common ground between Russia and the Atlantic alliance on a wide spectrum of global issues — from transnational terrorism to nuclear proliferation and from piracy to illicit narcotics. Moscow had even enlarged the list of non-lethal items the United States and NATO are allowed to move to Afghanistan through Russia for the war effort against the Taliban insurgency, to include armored vehicles.

Most important of all, Russia has finally decided to sign on to a NATO ballistic-missile defense system designed to deter Iran's growing number of medium range missiles that could in the foreseeable future threaten the Middle East and southern Europe with nuclear weapons.

Unstated in the language of diplomacy: neither Russia nor the NATO allies believe they are a threat to each other.

Unstated, too, is Moscow's wish to be included in NATO's decision-making process. Otherwise, say the Russians, a joint anti-missile system wouldn't make much sense. Russia is closer to Iran than much of Europe is.

At the end of the Cold War in 1991, some forward-thinking strategists suggested it would behoove NATO to invite Russia to join the alliance. This, they said, would encourage Moscow to keep to the straight and narrow as it groped its way from dictatorship to democracy. But the idea was rejected in favor of NATO expansion to include nations that were once part of Moscow's inner empire — the three Baltic states, Poland, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.

Most important of all for the Russian-U.S. rapprochement was a new START missile treaty that had been negotiated between the two powers — that cut each side's arsenal 30 percent to a maximum of 1,550 warheads.

Every major American geopolitical player, both before and since the end of the Cold War, testified in favor of ratification — e.g., Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, George Shultz, James Baker, Colin Powell, Sam Nunn, Richard Lugar, and a bevy of generals and admirals. After 12 hearings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14 to 4 in favor and sent it on to the Senate (to replace the old START that expired a year ago) — where it ran into a major stumbling block.

Serious opposition came from minority whip Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. U.S. President Barack Obama countered by committing $4 billion to weapons modernization. But then Sarah Palin, tea party mover and shaker, weighed in with an open letter to the newly elected Republican members of Congress urging "patient and careful deliberation." To which Kyl responded there isn't sufficient time before the lame-duck session of Congress expires to tackle "complex and unresolved issues."

The new session will easily muster all of the 58 Democratic senators. But only Lugar's vote is a given on the GOP side of the aisle. And the new treaty will have to go through the whole process of committee hearings all over again.

START I got overwhelming (93-6) approval in the Senate.

The 1992 Cooperative Threat Reduction program — known as Nunn-Lugar — is seldom mentioned but has racked up an impressive record, at a cost of some $11 billion, in providing funding and expertise to help the former Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle its staggering stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well its delivery systems.

A sampling of Nunn-Lugar's CTR record in Russia to date:
  1. 791 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) destroyed; 7,500 nuclear warheads deactivated.
  2. 498 ICBM silos eliminated;
  3. 180 ICBM mobile launchers destroyed;
  4. 651 submarine-launched ballistic missiles eliminated;
  5. 492 SLBM launchers eliminated;
  6. 32 nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles destroyed;
  7. 155 long-range bombers eliminated;
  8. 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles destroyed;
  9. 194 nuclear test tunnels eliminated;
  10. 493 nuclear weapons transport train shipments secured;
  11. 24 nuclear weapons storage sites given upgraded security;
  12. 20 biological monitoring stations built and equipped;
  13. 1,569.5 metric tons of Russian and Albanian chemical weapons agents neutralized.
  14. $400 million storage facility to hold more than 25,000 fissile material containers from the same number of nuclear warheads;
  15. Large demilitarized facility for a 5,400-ton nerve agent stockpile; also 2 million nerve gas artillery shells;
  16. Seven chemical weapons stockpiles secured containing 40,000 tons of nerve and blister agents. Demilitarization operations started in 2010.
Yet to be demilitarized is Russia's gigantic biological weapons establishment, with its 60,000 employees at more than 50 dispersed sites. On the yet to be destroyed or neutralized list are 6,500 nuclear warheads, 850 ICBMs, 350 ICBM silos, 400 SLBMs, 300 SLBM launchers, 19 nuclear missile submarines, 5,400 tons of nerve agent, 34,000 tons of chemical agents.

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., returned Nov. 20 from leading a team of Pentagon arms control experts to Africa to help secure deadly biological diseases and to destroy lethal pathogen armaments.

"Deadly diseases like Ebola, Marburg and anthrax are prevalent in Africa," Lugar explained. "These pathogens can be made into horrible weapons aimed at our troops, friends and allies and even the American public. This is a threat we cannot ignore."

Al-Qaida and associated terrorist movements are active in widely scattered parts of Africa, from Mali in the west to Somalia in the east. The Pentagon team inspected laboratories in Kenya and Uganda where pathogens are made with insufficient security. Arrangements were made to secure the labs.

Little noticed, too, is the Lugar-Obama program (from the time Obama was a senator) under which shoulder-fired surface to air missiles, rocket propelled grenades and AK-47 automatic assault weapons gathered in Burundi from decades of conflict in the region are being destroyed under the supervision of Pentagon experts.

From the time the Soviet Union imploded in 1990-91 until Nunn-Lugar funding kicked in two years later, thousands of former Soviet nuclear and chem-bio scientists and engineers were abandoned on starvation wages. Weapons stockpiles were guarded by soldiers suddenly without a country.

Those familiar with the chaotic conditions that prevailed at that time say it would be a miracle if there had been no leakage of nuclear and other deadly materials to the highest bidder in the then rapidly growing global organized crime networks.

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