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When the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, it reportedly possessed more than 27,000 nuclear weapons, and these weapons were deployed on the territories of several of the former Soviet republics. All of the nuclear warheads have now been moved to Russia, but Russia still has around 6,000 strategic nuclear weapons and perhaps as many as 12,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Many analysts in the United States and Russia have expressed concerns about the safety, security, and control over these weapons. Some of these concerns focus on Russia's nuclear command and control structure. Financial constraints have slowed the modernization and replacement of many aging satellites and communications links, raising the possibility that Russia might not be able to identify a potential attack or communicate with troops in the field if an attack were underway. Some fear that the misinterpretation of an ambiguous event might lead to the launch of nuclear weapons. Some also expressed concern that the year 2000 computer bug could affect Russia's command and control system, but it did not.
Some concerns are also focused on the safety and security of nuclear warheads in storage facilities in Russia. Press reports and statements by Russian officials about possible missing warheads have added to these concerns. However, General Eugene Habiger, former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, stated that he had no major concerns about security at Russian nuclear storage facilities after he visited several storage sites in October 1997 and June 1998.
Reports of Russian nuclear materials for sale on the black market, when combined with evidence of weaknesses in the security systems have raised concerns about the possible theft or diversion of nuclear materials from these facilities.
The United States and Russia are cooperating in many fora to improve the safety, security, and control over Russia's nuclear weapons and materials. Through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the U.S. Department of Defense has provided assistance worth nearly $2 billion to help Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus safely transport and store weapons and eliminate launchers under the START Treaties. The Department of Energy's Materials Protection, Control and Accounting Program is helping Russia and other former Soviet republics secure nuclear materials at research and other facilities in the former Soviet Union. The nations have also held bilateral meetings to identify ways in which they might cooperate to improve security and resolve concerns.
Some have proposed that the United States and Russia negotiate arms control agreements to reduce their stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and to improve transparency and confidence in the elimination of those weapons. Others have proposed that the two sides agree to "de-alert" their strategic nuclear weapons to reduce the pressures and relieve concerns about Russia's nuclear command and control system.
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
The President's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2003 includes added funding for programs intended to reduce the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials from Russia. Most of the increases are proposed for the DOE programs that focus on the security of nuclear materials. The Bush Administration had reduced funding for the MPC&A program in FY2002 to $138 million (although Congress restored the funding to the FY2001 level of $179 million in its regular appropriations process and added $120 million in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill). For FY2003, the Bush Administration has requested $233 million for MPC&A. It has also requested $39 million for the Russian Transition Initiative, the program that combines the NCI and PPI efforts. The Administration has also requested an increase in funding for plutonium disposition program, from around $300 million in FY2002 to $448 million for FY2003, although the Administration has decided to focus only on the conversion of plutonium to MOX fuel.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Nuclear Weapons After the Demise of the Soviet Union
After the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, many analysts grew concerned that nuclear weapons might be lost or stolen, or that some might be launched by accident or without authorization by responsible officials. Many of these weapons were located outside Russia, but have since been returned to storage areas in Russia. The United States has offered through efforts such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, to enhance safety and security at nuclear facilities in Russia. Many of the early concerns about the potential loss of control have eased, but concerns about the long-term effects of economic hardship and the increasing age of Soviet-era systems continue to prompt questions about the disposition of Russia's nuclear weapons. This issue brief highlights continuing concerns about the safety and security of these weapons and ongoing U.S. assistance programs.
Location of Nuclear Weapons in the Former Soviet Union
When the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, it possessed, according to most estimates, more than 27,000 nuclear weapons. These included more than 11,000 strategic nuclear weapons--warheads on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and in bombers with the range needed to attack the continental United States--and over 15,000 warheads for nonstrategic tactical nuclear weapons (such as artillery shells, short-range missiles, nuclear air-defense and ballistic missile defense interceptors, nuclear torpedoes and sea-launched cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons for shorter-range aircraft). Bye the end of 2001, Russia reportedly retained around 5,900 warheads on its strategic nuclear weapons and, according to some reports, between 7,000 and 12,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
In 1991, more than 80% of Soviet strategic nuclear weapons, including all ballistic missile submarines, were deployed at bases in Russia. The remaining strategic nuclear weapons were deployed in Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. By the end of 1996, these states had all returned their nuclear warheads to Russia and begun to eliminate the launchers for strategic nuclear weapons under the terms of the START I Treaty. By the end of 1998, only Ukraine still had Soviet-era strategic missiles in silos on its territory, and it continued its efforts to eliminate these missiles and their silos. The last SS-19 ICBM was eliminated at the end of February 1999, and all SS-24 silos were eliminated by October, 2001. After lengthy and unsuccessful negotiations with Russia, Ukraine began to dismantle the Soviet-era bombers on its territory. However, in August 1999, Ukraine and Russia announced that Russia would take 8 of these aircraft as partial payment for Ukraine's debt for natural gas deliveries from Russia. In October, the two nations completed the details of the transaction and noted that Russia would buy 11 of the strategic bombers from Ukraine. Table 1 depicts the number of nuclear weapons deployed in these states in late 1991 and their status today.
Many of the Soviet Union's tactical nuclear weapons were also stationed outside Russia, in Eastern Europe or in republics that were closer to prospective theaters of operation. The weapons in Eastern Europe had reportedly been returned to Russia by 1989. In late 1991, the majority of weapons outside Russia reportedly were in Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, with perhaps less than 5% in Georgia and the Central Asian states (Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.) According to officials in Russia and these other states, all the weapons had been moved to storage areas in Russia by the end of 1992.
According to American and Russian sources, the command and control system for all Soviet strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is centered in Moscow. This central command would have to authorize the use of any nuclear weapons. As the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin replaced Soviet President Gorbachev at the top of the command authority, but the rest of the system remained the same.
Continuing Concerns about Command, Control, Safety, and Security
Many in the United States and Russia remain concerned about safety, security, and control over nuclear weapons in Russia. These concerns center on three general areas--concerns about weaknesses in Russia's command and control system; concerns about the possible loss of nuclear warheads due to lax security or accounting at nuclear weapons facilities; and concerns about the loss or theft of nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons facilities might.
Russia's Nuclear Command and Control System
Russia's nuclear command and control system consists, generally speaking, of early warning satellites and sensors that would warn of an imminent attack on Russian territory; the senior political and military …