Cato Foreign Policy Briefing No. 39 March 18, 1996

Foreign Policy Briefing

The Nunn-Lugar Act:
A Wasteful and Dangerous Illusion

by Rich Kelly

Rich Kelly is an independent defense analyst based in Washington, D.C.

Executive Summary

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in late 1991, Soviet nuclear weapons were in the hands of four suddenly independent republics-- Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus--whose leadership appeared confused and wobbly. In response to that threatening turn of events, Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) persuaded Congress to pass the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to provide assistance for dismantling or safely storing the weapons in the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

That program, which began in response to a pressing national security challenge, has evolved into a Pentagon bureaucracy. The urgent need for aid has waned, and its central purpose--to destroy nuclear weapons--remains unfulfilled. To date, the CTR program has done relatively little. The few projects it has funded--ranging from defense conversion to providing housing for former Soviet military officers--do little, if anything, to advance Washington's key objective of curbing nuclear proliferation.

In fact, the evidence suggests that CTR may in the long run threaten, rather than enhance, American security. CTR funds have eased the Russian military's budgetary woes, freeing resources for such initiatives as the war in Chechnya and defense modernization. Congress should eliminate CTR funding so that it does not finance additional, perhaps more threatening, programs in the former Soviet Union.

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1996 The Cato Institute
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