The Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council (RANSAC) &
The Committee on Nuclear Policy

U.S.-Russian Efforts to Redirect the Russian Nuclear Weapon Complex:
Administration Plans, Congressional Action, and Future Prospects

- Thursday November 4, 1999 -


On November 4, the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council (RANSAC) and the Henry L. Stimson Center’s Committee on Nuclear Policy held a briefing on issues related to the downsizing and transformation of Russia’s nuclear weapons complex.

The U.S. and Russia have been pursuing a “Nuclear Cities Initiative” (NCI) to help develop new, non-military job opportunities for excess weapon scientists and workers in Russia’s ten closed “nuclear cities.”  The NCI, in conjunction with other programs led by the Energy, State, and Defense Departments, is designed to guard against so-called “brain drain” risks, to allow the Russian government to close facilities and eliminate excess weapon production capacity in an orderly way, and to eliminate nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.  The U.S. Congress, however, has recently expressed doubts about the value and effectiveness of this engagement by scaling back funding for the NCI and other programs.  The purpose of this meeting was to present a variety of perspectives – from U.S. and European analysts, Congress, and the Clinton Administration – on the challenges faced by efforts to help Russia transform its nuclear cities.

Briefing Moderator:

Jesse James, Director, The Committee on Nuclear Policy, The Henry L. Stimson Center

Speakers:

Oleg Bukharin, research staff of Princeton University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies;
Jack Segal, Director for Nonproliferation and Export Controls, National Security Council;
Madelyn Creedon, Counsel, Senate Armed Services Committee;
Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, University of Milan and the Landau Network – Centro Volta; and
Kenneth N. Luongo, Executive Director of the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council.

Summary:

Oleg Bukharin reviewed recent and possible future changes in the Russian nuclear weapon complex.  According to Bukharin, Russia has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons to guarantee its national security.  The Russian nuclear weapons complex is still oversized, however, and it is not configured much differently than during the Cold War.  The strategic rationale for maintaining such a massive complex has diminished, and the limited available funding means further reductions and contractions in the complex are inevitable.  Moreover, the physical infrastructure of the complex is likely to contract due to aging and lack of maintenance, and the pool of qualified scientific and technical talent is likely to shrink due to demographic shifts in the closed cities.
 
Bukharin noted that the trajectory of the complex is of great importance to the West because of nonproliferation and arms control reasons and because its effects on cooperative programs.  In particular, business development cooperation with locations and facilities where defense work takes place is inhibited because of restricted access and investment limitations.  The Western objective in Russia therefore is the rapid consolidation of weapons work to the smallest number of facilities possible.  Russia’s objective is the controlled, phased reduction of the nuclear weapons production infrastructure.
 
During the Cold War, the mission of the Soviet nuclear complex was to produce fissile material for weapons and develop improved modern weapons.  Recent developments have changed this mission dramatically.  Despite the U.S. failure to ratify the CTBT, the future of the Treaty remains important in defining the future missions of the Russian nuclear weapons development centers.  Bukharin added that Russian stockpiles would fall below 1,000 deployable strategic weapons (and 2,000 tactical weapons) in less than ten years.  Furthermore, the Russian nuclear complex is limited by budget constraints.  Next year’s planned budget for the Ministry of Atomic Energy’s (Minatom) defense program is approximately $100 million.
 
Bukharin highlighted several post-Cold War missions for Russia’s nuclear weapon establishment: (a) science support and stockpile surveillance (stewardship is a secondary concern); (b) warhead life extension; (c) replacement of limited life components (stockpile management); (d) warhead safety and security; (e) dismantlement of retired warheads; and (f) arms control and nonproliferation.
 
At its Cold War height, Russia’s nuclear complex consisted of over twenty major facilities, most important of them spread among ten closed nuclear cities, which could produce 3,000-4,000 warheads per year.  The complex now consists of eighteen facilities, with a total employment of about 100,000 (75,000 personnel are in seven closed cities).  Bukharin contrasted this situation with the downsizing of the U.S. complex, which has consolidated down to eight facilities, and reduced its personnel from approximately 75,000 (in 1985) down to 25,000 (in 1998).
 
Russia has halted production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for weapons purposes and has put three cities out of the defense program altogether.  Warhead production is less than one tenth of Cold War levels (now about 200-300 warheads per year).  While there is a large-scale warhead dismantlement effort underway, defense research and development has declined; there is simply no money for new projects.  Employment in nuclear weapons institutes in the open cities has contracted to one-third Cold War levels.

Despite these changes, Russia still maintains twice as many nuclear facilities and four times as many defense program personnel than the United States.
 
Minatom’s summer 1998 program for nuclear complex restructuring and conversion called for ending warhead production at two of four facilities by 2000, halting warhead dismantlement at two facilities by 2003, and consolidating HEU/plutonium component manufacturing at one site and consolidating other defense program activities in smaller areas within facilities by an undetermined date.  By 2004, the plan called for a reduction in the number of defense program personnel in all closed cities to 40,000, and a reduction at the serial production complex from 40,000 to 15,000 workers.  Bukharin characterized this as a useful first step, but even after the plan is implemented the complex would likely have a capacity to manufacture 1,000-2,000 warheads per year (the U.S. complex is sized to produce 200-300 per year).  More work therefore needs to be done to design a plan for further reductions of the complex.

According to Bukharin, phase two of reductions could include the consolidation of assembly/disassembly work at one site, and in phase three all warhead activities could be consolidated at Chelyabinsk-70 (Snezhinsk) and Arzamas-16 (Sarov).  Bukharin noted that there have been no significant results in the restructuring program to date.
 
Finally, Bukharin listed a number of caveats that will influence Minatom’s ability and desire to restructure the weapon complex, including: (1) shortage of funds, (2) limited opportunities for redirection of excess workers, (3) political issues – including up coming election results in the U.S. and Russia and creeping anti-Western sentiment, and (4) arms control uncertainties.  With these variables in mind, Bukharin felt that the steady erosion or collapse of the nuclear complex without consolidation could not be ruled out.

Jack Segal outlined the Clinton Administration’s perspective on nonproliferation cooperation with Russia’s nuclear cities.

At the time of Segal’s remarks, the Administration and the Congress were engaged in a battle over the foreign operations (foreign aid spending) bill, which provides funding for State Department nonproliferation programs.  President Clinton vetoed the bill passed by Congress in part because it would have drastically reduced funds from the requested amount for assistance to Russia and the Newly Independent States, including support for nonproliferation activities.  Segal noted that many members of Congress are supportive of assistance to the Former Soviet Union and understand the national security benefit of the support, while others do not understand that this assistance contributes to the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  He characterized the current deadlock as more of a political battle than a substantive battle.
 
Segal described some of his previous experiences as a U.S. foreign service officer stationed in Russia, and how these experiences and the political-economic realities have shaped his personal views toward economic re-development efforts there.  He felt it has not and would not work for the U.S. to rely on high-powered consultants with excessive travel budgets to go to Russia and tell them how to re-structure their economy and their lives.

Segal segued to a discussion of the President’s proposed Expanded Threat Reduction Initiative (ETRI), which would increase funding over the next five years for programs led by the Defense, Energy, and State Departments to help contain proliferation risks emanating from Russia and the other post-Soviet countries.  Calling ETRI a proven program that will build down Russian weapons of mass destruction, Segal described the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR, aka “Nunn-Lugar”) program as “a stroke of genius.”  Citing several examples of success under CTR and related programs, Segal said that since 1992, the U.S. taxpayer has facilitated disassembly of 5,000 Russian strategic nuclear weapon delivery systems, assisted relocation of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and has helped engage 30,000 Russian nuclear scientists in productive, peaceful work.

The ETRI seeks to expand and internationalize support for U.S.-Russian nuclear security programs.  Additionally, the ETRI would bolster U.S.-led programs to assist NIS countries in elimination of non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD), science and technology cooperation, and military relocation and stabilization.
 
The Department of Energy (DOE) is the lead U.S. agency focused on helping Russia stabilize and downsize its nuclear weapon complex.  The DOE request for nuclear security work with Russia under ETRI was $265 million, including $60 million designated for two programs helping develop new, non-weapons jobs for Russian nuclear scientists.  Congress appropriated $240 million, with the deepest cuts applied to the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) and the Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI).  Both programs received funding for fiscal year 2000, but at reduced levels – $22.5 million for IPP, and only $7.5 million of the Nuclear Cities Initiative’s $30 million request.  In addition to limiting the number and types of activities the NCI can undertake with the Russian complex next year, this funding level also sends a signal to the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) that the United States is not seriously interested in helping Russia downsize and re-develop its nuclear complex.  This could endanger Russian willingness to cooperate with the DOE, and could undermine chances for further openness of the Russian complex.

Segal believed that there are some “very real and legitimate concerns” in Congress behind the funding cuts, stemming from doubts about the efficacy of the approach of the Nuclear Cities Initiative and the implementation of the program.  The Administration shares these concerns, and Segal felt it is extremely difficult to carry out a program of NCI’s scope and size in the remote regions in Russia, particularly in cities with strict access control.  Calling the problems of Russia’s ten nuclear cities a “difficult nut to crack,” Segal called the nuclear cities closed “institutions” that are organized far differently – culturally, politically, economically – than the U.S. weapon complex.

Under the NCI, the U.S. has so far approached three of the closed cities as a “pilot project,” to become more familiar with the sites.  He characterized NCI’s initial forays to the cities as a difficult, sometimes extremely strange process that has at times strained other parts of the U.S.-Russian relationship.  It has been a hard transition for Minatom to make, and an even more difficult change for the Russian state security services (FSB) since these institutions had acted as strict gatekeepers over the complex for decades, prohibiting access to any of the sites and tightly controlling information about activities in the cities.

Now, under the auspices of the NCI, the closed nuclear cities are being subjected to “industrial tourism.”  In order to become more familiar with the challenges of the closed cities and to survey potential opportunities, there have been hundreds of requests from the Energy Department, its labs, and others to gain access to cities that have never allowed visitors.  Local Russian authorities would like to open up the closed cities and loosen regulations to compete with other Russian cities in the regions that have no such restrictions.  Yet these desires clash with the extensive secrecy and security regulations promulgated by the FSB, including a forty-five day review period for all foreign visit requests to the closed cities.
 
Stating that the Administration would move ahead and try to make the most of the funds provided by Congress, Segal highlighted the importance of engaging other nations in the conversion of the Russian nuclear weapons complex.  In June, the Administration had its first meeting with other donor countries, and in November it plans to join European and Japanese representatives at another meeting in the Hague to prioritize the problems in the closed cities and identify potential projects other countries could carry out in the closed cities.  Segal added that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could play a useful role in drawing the attention of foreign governments to the challenges of the Russian nuclear weapon complex, and coaxing them to undertake nonproliferation activities in Russia that are not included in U.S. efforts.

Madelyn Creedon reviewed Congressional attitudes toward the NCI and U.S. nuclear security work with Russia more broadly, and speculated as to why Congress cut FY 2000 funding for DOE programs aimed at transforming Russia’s closed cities.  Creedon noted at the outset that she could not provide definitive reasons for the funding cuts and new restrictions, but offered to embellish some of the “clues” that might explain Congress’s actions.
 
The first major problem Creedon identified is the fundamental absence of a strong constituency in Congress for DOE programs.  She contrasted the lack of DOE support with the fairly strong Congressional backing for the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) activities.  Even though funding for one of CTR’s major projects – construction of a chemical weapons destruction facility in the Russian city of Shchuch’ye – was fiercely opposed by the House and was ultimately cut in the Defense Authorization and Appropriations conference bills, these funds were re-distributed to other CTR activities so that the total CTR program cut was minimal.  These actions reflect a generally strong level of support across the board for the rest of the DOD nonproliferation effort.
 
Creedon attributed much of CTR’s success to Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who founded the bipartisan initiative in 1991 with former Senator Sam Nunn and who continues to champion it.  Lugar is seen as “the father” of CTR, and there is much consultation with him on how that program should be structured.  Lugar has intervened on timely occasions, and has been able to build effective coalitions with other Senators to troubleshoot CTR implementation problems and issues, such as pushing the State and Defense Departments for prompt certification of CTR funds so that the program is not slowed down.
 
Creedon described several clues to explain why a constituency supportive of DOE programs has not taken root on Capitol Hill.

For starters, a February 1999 GAO report that criticized implementation of the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program and raised doubts about the ability of the Nuclear Cities Initiative to achieve its goals provoked a Congressional backlash.  The conference report for the fiscal year 2000 Defense Authorization Act and the House Energy and Water Appropriations Act cite the GAO report and use its findings to justify new restrictions on and deep funding cuts to both the IPP and NCI programs.
 
At the same time, other committees without jurisdiction over Energy Department programs have vied to direct how DOE’s nonproliferation efforts are managed.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), in particular has shown a stronger hand in shaping DOE’s work with the Russian weapon complex.  Senator Helms requested the GAO report mentioned above, and the Foreign Relations Committee’s increasing assertiveness may signal the beginning of increased competition between it and the Armed Services Committee and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.
 
There is Congressional concern overall about the management of the Nuclear Cities Initiative and whether it has a real chance for success.  Many of these concerns stem from over a year ago, when the NCI was unveiled with a good deal of fanfare and money, but with little explanation of its plans, goals, and strategy.  Creedon felt that the NCI was still carrying this baggage, and that it has a “doubly hard effort” to show that there is a workable program plan, and that this plan will result in the “serious employment” of the scientists in the closed cities in a way that will allow the Russian government to close weapon facilities.  As a result of Congressional concerns about NCI’s attempt to do too much, too quickly in the closed cities, the Defense Authorizers decided to limit NCI’s scope next year to only three Russian nuclear cities and two serial production plants.
 
Creedon felt the appropriation for NCI was no doubt a big blow the Energy Department, particularly since the cut is one of the biggest on a percentage basis for all the programs under ETRI.
 
Creedon noted the pages of criticisms directed toward the NCI and IPP in the defense authorization conference report, including restrictions on the amount of money that can go to U.S. laboratories, prohibitions on the payment of Russian taxes, and expressions of concern about how little money is going to Russian scientists.  Creedon says she also sees confusion in both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees about the goals of IPP program, which was designed to get support to both Russian institutes and scientists.  She noted a declining Congressional interest in general in seeing U.S. funds go through Russian institutes.  To the extent there is support for IPP, Congress’s preference is to see funds go more directly to individuals.

Looking down the road, Creedon suggested that the first thing to be done is for the Energy Department to build a constituency in the Senate and the House, and outside of Congress, comparable to the level of support that CTR receives.  A constituency of this sort is vital to demonstrate that there is interest in the NCI and other DOE programs, that there are successes, and that there are real plans.  In a related area, one of DOE’s major obstacles is that it does not have a good metric for measuring its accomplishments in the Russian nuclear cities, making it more difficult to convey the value of these programs to Congress.  The Defense Department’s CTR program, on the other hand, has a relatively simple concrete metric, such as the number of missiles that have been destroyed or dismantled.  The Energy Department needs a comparable yardstick of judging its performance that is easy for Members of Congress and their staff to grasp.

The confusion about the NCI’s goals and plans has caused some in Congress to question whether the Energy Department is the best agency to implement the program, despite the agency’s technical competence and all of the access it has achieved in the closed cities.  While Creedon disagrees, some Members have argued that the Commerce Department might be better suited to oversee the Initiative.  In Creedon’s mind, Congressional doubts about DOE’s ability to run a large commercialization program should be treated as a significant warning sign.  It is important for the Executive Branch to get all of the Departments involved in the NCI, and that resources are brought to bear to NCI from each agency in order to show Congress that it is a focused, strategic program.

Finally, Creedon noted that industry could be a strong advocate for the NCI and related programs on the Hill.  Demonstrating private sector involvement in the Initiative and industry “success stories” from the closed cities would carry a lot of weight with Congress, even those success stories that create alternative commercial jobs for only a handful of nuclear scientists and workers in the closed cities.

Paolo Cotta-Ramusino described European interest in Russia’s nuclear cities and the possible creation of a European “Nuclear Cities Initiative.”  As a departure point for his presentation he posed the question, “What has Europe done to assist the Russian nuclear weapon complex, and why isn’t that enough?”
 
Cotta-Ramusino described the prevailing European perspective on Russian nuclear security as a strictly bilateral U.S.-Russia problem.  Europe is largely passive on this and other large, global issues.  The reports of smuggling over the last nine years have not brought Russian nuclear proliferation to the forefront of the European mind.  Since no significant smuggling cases have been reported since 1994, many Europeans are under the impression that the dangers have dissipated.   Thus, the efforts to downsize the Russian complex and secure Russian nuclear materials are seen as assistance problems rather than as urgent security issues requiring global attention.  As a result, Europe is doing little to help with the transformation of the Russian nuclear complex.  While the U.S. contributes $1 billion a year to control nuclear weapons, Europe as a whole is only contributing about a 50% equivalent of the total ISTC budget ($34 million).  The European Union (EU) has provided a total of $1 billion over the past seven years to the TACIS program (which provides development assistance and technical training to the CIS), yet the EU has a higher GNP than the United States.
 
Cotta-Ramusino believes that the disproportionate funding levels are due more to political circumstances than economics.  European governments need to be sensitized to the crises brewing inside the Russian weapon complex and the potential impact of Russian nuclear instability on European security in order to secure more European aid.  Toward that end, Cotta-Ramusino proposed creating a European Nuclear Cities Initiative (ENCI) to call European attention to the difficulties facing the Russian nuclear complex, and to leverage greater European resources in the conversion effort.

Cotta-Ramusino indicated that the Europeans are generally more sympathetic than Americans to the whole notion of converting defense enterprises to alternative, commercial production, and that therefore there should be a good philosophical fit between European interests and the objectives of the NCI.  He stressed, however, that U.S. resources remain critical to the effort, and that the idea behind the ENCI is not to compete with the U.S. program, but to cooperate with it.

This cooperation might include ENCI carrying out activities that complement the U.S. program, or conducting projects that the Nuclear Cities Initiative has chosen not to emphasize.  For example, Cotta-Ramusino noted that European countries could focus on joint environmental clean-up research with the closed cities (an area which the U.S. program has not actively embraced) or decommissioning of nuclear submarines, as well as helping facilitate worker transitions to other high-tech fields, such as computer programming (which is more in line with the NCI’s current objectives).

Cotta-Ramusino argued that certain requirements should be stressed in the administration of European efforts to help the Russian complex.  He noted that some programs, like TACIS, are afflicted by a number of bureaucratic constraints, which need to be minimized in order to save time and reduce management costs.  Ha said activities under a European NCI should be careful not to adopt a heavy bureaucratic structure, and that they should remain flexible to allow for creative thinking and for different arrangements that can bring the most resources to bear on the problems in the closed cities.
 
Following the November meeting at the Hague between the U.S., European, and Japanese governments mentioned by Jack Segal, the Landau Network-Centro Volta will convene a conference in Rome in mid-December to further discuss a possible European role.  The conference plans to draw about 70 people including European government officials, European analysts, American experts, U.S. government and lab representatives, scientists from the Russian nuclear cities, and various European industries.

Ken Luongo expressed concerns and uncertainties about the current direction of the NCI, and questioned whether the activities it has emphasized so far have been particularly effective.  Many officials and nonproliferation observers have expressed concern about the instability within the Russian closed cities, and the U.S. government has undertaken over the past several years a variety of “band aid” programs to deal with the short-term risks of “brain drain.”  But the fundamental question of how to help facilitate a full-scale transformation and downsizing of the Russian complex has not been attacked systematically until the last year and a half under the NCI.

Luongo took issue with the way in which the NCI program has been configured by the Energy Department, arguing that the current strategy and plan is a significant departure from the NCI “blueprint” put forward by the non-governmental community two years ago.  Instead of adopting the whole blueprint, which advocated activities in multiple areas – economic development, nonproliferation research, joint environmental clean-up technology development – the government only adopted a narrow segment of the plan, placing priority on creation of sustainable civilian jobs in the nuclear cities.  Luongo is not convinced that this narrow focus is the right path since leveraging new commercial investment in the closed cities is the most difficult objective and because it may take some time for these activities to demonstrate tangible successes.

Luongo identified the various programs and actors currently focused on the Russian nuclear complex:

Given all of these efforts, Luongo asked, why couldn’t all of the pieces coalesce into one strategic plan?
 
Luongo was dismayed that fierce bureaucratic infighting and turf battles have inhibited more effective integration of governmental efforts to deal with the problems of the closed cities.  He argued for the creation of a Presidential Decision Directive that would elevate the dangers related to the deterioration of the Russian complex to a national security priority, and that would pull all of disparate governmental programs together under one comprehensive strategic plan, assigning roles, missions, responsibilities, and appropriate funding levels to each agency.

Luongo essentially agreed with Bukharin that the Russian nuclear complex can go one of three ways: (1) rapid consolidation, (2) gradual consolidation, or (3) nothing happens, and the complex decays over time or collapses.  At this point in time, with a combination of low funding, fighting among government agencies, and questionable programmatic priorities, there is a possibility that U.S. efforts to facilitate consolidation will fail, and the Russian complex will continue to deteriorate under its own weight.
 
There is a misconception that Minatom cannot be dealt with and that it will resist cooperation between its nuclear cities and the U.S.  Luongo declared that there is, in actuality, an unnatural willingness in Minatom to participate in the NCI; Minatom wants to downsize its complex, shut down its facilities, and develop new opportunities for its scientists and workers, but it needs help to achieve these objectives.
 
However, because the NCI budget has been severely cut for next year, political support for the Initiative within Minatom is eroding.  Luongo added that the Energy Department has been hobbled in the wake of the Chinese nuclear espionage scandal, including new limitations on its exchanges with foreign labs, and the reorganization of the Department’s nuclear weapons programs.  In short, Luongo felt that DOE could not solely carry the burden of assisting Russia with the transformation of its weapon complex.  He noted that the ISTC could do a lot, that it has a capable office in Moscow, and is interested in helping create employment opportunities in environmental and energy issues.  The CRDF is another example of an effective organization that is helping stimulate joint ventures between Russian scientists and corporations in the U.S.  Finally, Minatom has endorsed and given positive feedback on a RANSAC proposal to create a university/NGO consortium which would (with foundation funding) undertake activities within the closed cities that complement what is being done on an official level under the NCI.
 
Luongo closed out the session by underscoring that this moment in history provides us with a window of opportunity to transform Russia’s nuclear complex.  Unfortunately, this window is slowly closing, and it is not clear the existing efforts are well enough oriented to have the greatest impact.  After the elections in Russia and the U.S. next year, it is difficult to predict if the same opportunities for involvement and cooperation will be available.