A recent congressional report sees growing difficulty ahead in quantifying progress in U.S. efforts to secure and eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
Changing circumstances -- including some notable successes -- are the culprit, according to a June 13 report by the Congressional Research Service posted online by the Federation of American Scientists.
After more than 20 years, many U.S. programs authorized by the Nunn-Lugar Act to dispose of Soviet-era nuclear and chemical arms are almost done with their work. Thousands of nuclear warheads and hundreds of long-range ballistic missiles have been destroyed as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative.
But as disarmament work in the former Soviet Union winds down, the United States increasingly is focused on the less quantifiable goal of reducing the potential for nonstate actors operating in the Middle East and Africa to acquire unconventional arms.
"As the United States has expanded its threat reduction assistance to nations outside the former Soviet states, and as the programs have emphasized cooperative engagement, capacity-building, and best practices instead of weapons dismantlement and facility security, the problem of measuring progress has grown more complicated," concludes the CRS report.
Recent examples of this new capacity-building work include a U.S.-financed project to build a high-security biological laboratory in Kazakhstan, the deployment of radiation scanners at Azerbaijan's Baku Airport, and the training of Kenyan and Ugandan armed forces to respond to a WMD terrorist attack.
"While participants in the [CTR] program may be confident in their ability to share knowledge and build cooperative relationships, they may be less confident in their ability to measure the relationship between funding and progress in cooperation," the report by Congress' internal think tank notes.
"However, most of the threat reduction assistance currently under way is more difficult to quantify," the congressional analysts explained. "In many cases, progress is evident in access to decision makers and operators, and success is reflected in the growth of relationships."
The report said that metrics could potentially be developed for threat-reduction efforts, based in part on survey tools used in related projects that attempt to gauge progress in such fields as "a country's licensing, enforcement, industry outreach, and nonproliferation regime adherence."
Meanwhile, U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction initiatives have played high-profile roles in recent international nonproliferation wins. CTR funding was used to repair a chemicals destruction facility in Libya that was disabled by the 2011 revolution, paving the way for the North African country last year to finally destroy the last of its chemical arms. Similarly, the U.S. MV Cape Ray, which is set to shortly begin destroying Syria's chemical warfare materials, was also equipped using CTR funds.