by Travis Sharp [contact information]
President Obama’s First Budget Shortchanges Nunn-Lugar
Published on the Nukes of Hazard Blog on May 15, 2009
The Cooperative Threat Reduction program, commonly known as “Nunn-Lugar,” helps safeguard and secure weapons of mass destruction and related technologies that are located in Russia and former Soviet states. The program has been quite successful over the years. Since the early 1990s, Nunn-Lugar has deactivated over 7,500 nuclear warheads; eliminated more than 2,000 missiles; and destroyed over 1,100 missile launchers.
This is impressive work, but more remains to be done. As Harvard University’s Matthew Bunn detailed in his latest Securing the Bomb report (PDF), security upgrades have not been completed at 25 percent of buildings containing weapons-usable nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. Security improvements also are unfinished at 35 percent of Russian nuclear warhead sites.
With critical security upgrades still incomplete and the Russian nuclear infrastructure becoming more dilapidated, now is not the time to reduce funding for Nunn-Lugar. Yet that is exactly what President Obama proposed in his fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget.
Nunn-Lugar, which is funded as part of the defense budget, will receive $404.1 million in FY 2010 under the Obama administration’s budget plan. Without adjusting for inflation, that is seven percent less than the current FY 2009 Nunn-Lugar funding level of $433.2 million (see the FY 2010 O-1 budget book, p. 66, PDF).
As detailed in the chart below, Nunn-Lugar funding declined during the Bush administration. From an inflation-adjusted peak of $537 million in FY 2004, the Nunn-Lugar budget decreased 19 percent by the time President Bush left office in FY 2009.
President Obama’s proposed FY 2010 Nunn-Lugar budget of $404.1 million, after adjusting for inflation, is $79 million (or 17 percent) less than the Bush-era annual average of $474 million (2009 dollars). That is not exactly a promising sign.
Officials in the Obama administration have stated privately that they recognize the decline in Nunn-Lugar funding is a problem. There is doubt, however, that the political will exists both in Russia and the United States to execute the program successfully.
President Obama has promised that within four years, the United States will help secure all vulnerable nuclear material in Russia and the former Soviet Union. With declining Nunn-Lugar budgets, it is hard to see how this nonproliferation goal will be achieved.
Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He has published articles on defense policy in scholarly journals, internet magazines, and local newspapers, and has appeared on or been quoted in media venues such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, CNN, and Al Jazeera.