Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The end of the Cold War introduced a new set of challenges. In this lesson, we'll look at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program and see how it dealt with the changes of the era.

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program

The Cold War was a tense time. As the conflict between the USA and USSR escalated, people became convinced that if it were to come to all-out warfare, the use of nuclear weapons was practically guaranteed. Both the USA and USSR stockpiled massive amounts of these weapons. However, by 1991 the USSR was in bad shape. It's leader, Mikhail Gorbachev started preparing to end the communist regime there. The Cold War was almost over.

This left the United States with a new concern: if the USSR fell, what would happen to all of its weapons? The prospect of nuclear missiles entering the black market was truly terrifying. Luckily, two men had a solution. Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) worked together to develop the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Despite being a mouthful, the program was designed to do just what the name implies: reduce threat through cooperation.

The Plan

In November of 1991, just a month before the USSR was formally dissolved, Senators Nunn and Lugar oversaw the passage of the Soviet Threat Reduction Act, which gave them the legal authority and bureaucratic power to organize their program. The goal was to work with existing governments in soon-to-be former USSR states to contain and eventually reduce their nuclear arsenals. The original four nations targeted by the program were Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, all of which were major nuclear manufacturing or stockpiling centers of the USSR.

Senators Nunn and Lugar in 1991

The Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program was designed to work cooperatively with Soviet officials and leaders in these new, formerly Soviet states to ensure that weapons did not end up on the black market. At the same time, the program hoped to ensure that these weapons were being disposed of in the safest manner possible, thereby preventing any nuclear accidents. Overall, there were four main objectives of the CTR program:

  • Dismantle the Weapons of Mass Destruction and associated infrastructure in the former USSR
  • Secure WMD technologies and materials
  • Promote greater transparency and adherence to nuclear agreements than had existed under the USSR
  • Prevent the spreading of nuclear technologies of materials by cooperating with local defense and militaries

Changes to the CTR Program

The CTR program was inaugurated in 1991 and immediately put into effect. It worked throughout the 1990s with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to prevent weapons from entering the black markets and safely destroy existing nuclear missiles. The first major change to this program came in 2004, when a fifth state asked to join. Albania requested assistance in destroying chemical weapons. The program was successfully adjusted, and Albania became the first modern nation to completely destroy its entire supply of chemical weapons.

Soviet chemical weapons being stockpiled in Albania were destroyed by the CTR program after 2004

Other changes to the program were less galvanizing. In 2012, Russia decided to reject American proposals to renew the CTR program, threatening 20 years of cooperation between the two nations. The change coincided with the start of Vladimir Putin's second term as President of Russia and was criticized by many as an attempt to return secrecy to Russia's government affairs.

In 2013, the USA and Russia reached a new agreement that would continue to the work of the CTR program, but with less concentrated efforts. While the USA is still involved in helping Russia reduce its nuclear arsenal, Russia has taken unilateral control of most of its own disarmament since 2014.

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