Congressman Duncan Hunter writes in the March 4, 2003 Washington Post that U.S. non-proliferation efforts in Russia need to be refocused and to come under better oversight to ensure money is not wasted in the future. For once on the issue of cooperative threat reduction, Congressman Hunter is right. Despite his record of undermining U.S. efforts to prevent the proliferation of Russian weapons to other countries and terrorists, Congressman Hunter points out correctly that greater congressional and executive oversight and attention to U.S. threat reduction efforts are needed.

Understandably, Congressman Hunter is concerned about the construction of a missile rocket fuel disposal facility that will never be used for its intended purpose. Poor oversight by the United States Department of Defense and changes in Russian priorities have resulted in the construction of a $100 million facility that will not directly benefit U.S. security. There is no excuse for the failure, the responsibility for which must be shared by the current and the previous administration, as well as the Congress which has oversight responsibilities over the program. But Hunter uses the example of the plant to criticize the entirety of cooperative threat reduction programs - efforts that have dramatically improved the security of the United States and reduced the proliferation risk from the former Soviet Union. Congressman Hunter grudgingly notes that U.S. efforts have "achieved a respectable measure of success." But if denuclearizing three countries, eliminating over 6,000 nuclear weapons, securing enough nuclear materials to make many thousands of nuclear weapons, and eliminating more strategic missiles, bombers and submarines that exist in the U.K., France and China combined is merely "respectable," it would be useful to know what Congressman Hunter considers an unqualified success.

The fact is that Duncan Hunter has never been a supporter of U.S. efforts to manage the proliferation risks in the former Soviet Union. His deep-seated suspicion of Russian motives and his sustained belief that Russia maintains an active chemical and biological weapons program have influenced his votes on Russian threat reduction efforts. Instead of working to improve U.S. efforts to eliminate Russia's chemical and biological weapons infrastructure, or providing proof of his allegations, Congressman Hunter actively blocked U.S. financing last year for money desperately needed to secure and eliminate Russia's massive stockpile of chemical weapons that are at risk to theft by terrorists or black-marketers. As a result, these hundreds of thousands of chemical weapons remain at risk of diversion - a danger that puts U.S. citizens and allies at risk of terrorist attack.

Just because the congressman's motives are suspect does not mean his points are invalid. While Rep. Hunter would have us throw out the baby with the bath water, U.S. efforts to address the proliferation risks in Russia are in desperate need of attention. The Bush administration has undermined cooperative threat reduction programs, and has even reduced funding this year for critical efforts to security nuclear materials, employ at risk Russian scientists, and downsize the Russian nuclear complex. Greater congressional and administration oversight, as well as broader political support for these vital national security programs is required.

 

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