Quantifying Progress in Reducing WMD Threats Getting Tougher: Report

Missile-launch tubes removed from a ballistic missile submarine in January 2010 are eliminated with equipment and services provided by the U.S. Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction program. A new congressional report warns it is growing more difficult to quantify progress in reducing the global threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
June 26, 2014, 6:54 a.m.

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.

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