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Context of 'August 2002: Private Institute Funds Removal of ‘Loose Nuke’ Material from Serbian Institute'

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A bipartisan commission chaired by former Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) and former Carter administration counsel Lloyd Cutler reports on the state of nuclear nonproliferation programs in Russia and its former Soviet client states. The report is bleak: it finds that Russia alone is in danger of becoming a “virtual ‘Home Depot’” of nuclear weapons and technology for terrorists seeking nuclear WMD. Russia has the equivalent of 80,000 nuclear weapons, mostly in fragments and in different locations, but all befitting the definition of “loose nukes.” “Imagine if such material were successfully stolen and sold to a terrorist like Osama bin Laden,” the report warns. Baker and Cutler recommend that the US triple its annual expenditure on its program to secure the weapons, from $1 billion to $3 billion. The threat of terrorists acquiring Russian nuclear technology is “the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today.” For various reasons, the report stirs little interest among the members of the incoming Bush administration. Many of the relevant programs, collectively known as cooperative threat reduction efforts, are run through the Pentagon, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has no interest in them. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later point out that the very idea of “cooperative threat reduction” is at odds with the conservative “us-versus-them” ideology. “Paying our former enemy to secure its own weapons so that we will not be threated by them does not constitute a clear, military, zero-sum situation,” Scoblic will write. Indeed, some conservatives, led by House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), mount an effort to scrap the programs entirely, arguing that they undermine US national security—by funding Russian efforts to secure and destroy so-called “loose nukes,” Hunter and his followers warn, the US is allowing Russia to spend more on its own weapons programs. The Bush administration will respond to the Baker-Cutler report by slashing funding for the cooperative threat reduction programs almost in half, and tripling funding for research into missile defense programs. Scoblic will write, “Rather than focusing on making it harder for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, the administration was devoting its resources to building defenses against what an intelligence community assessment had determined would be the least likely means by which a nuclear attack would be carried out against the United States.” After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration will request $20 billion in emergency funding for homeland security; as Scoblic will write, “[n]ot a dollar of it was allotted to security upgrades for loose Russian nuclear material, even though the danger had certainly been brought to the president’s attention.” The administration will continue to oppose funding increases for the programs in the future. [Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, Department of Energy, 1/10/2001 pdf file; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 205-206]

Entity Tags: Duncan Hunter, Bush administration (43), Carter administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Lloyd Cutler, Howard Baker, J. Peter Scoblic, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham asks for almost $380 million for added security at US nuclear facilities (see February 15, 2004). The Bush administration approves less than 10 percent of that figure, $26.4 million. Items that are not funded include: secure barriers and fences; funds to secure computer programs vulnerable to hackers; equipment to detect explosives hidden in packages and vehicles entering a nuclear site; and the reduction in the number of sites that store bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. [Carter, 2004, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Spencer Abraham

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Bush administration, prodded by State Department official John Bolton, refuses to certify that Russia is in compliance with international accords banning chemical and biological weapons. As a result, Russia is no longer eligible for State Department and Defense Department funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs (see January 10, 2001 and After). The Clinton administration harbored similar concerns, but believed that helping Russia secure its loose nuclear weapons and technology was more important than holding Russia in noncompliance in the CBW accords. In related negotiations, Bolton successfully impedes progress in negotiations in a liability agreement with the US over the securing of “loose nukes”; Bolton insists on absolving US government officials, as well as private firms and personnel, of any liability for accidents or even sabotage encountered as part of the nonproliferation programs. The dispute will not be resolved until September 2006. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 209]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), US Department of State, John R. Bolton, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Nuclear Threat Initiative logo.Nuclear Threat Initiative logo. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative]The US decides to oversee the removal of two nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear material from the Vinca Institute in Serbia, part of a defunct Yugoslavian nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has cut funding for the government’s nuclear nonproliferation programs so drastically (see January 10, 2001 and After) that it is forced to rely on the efforts of a private foundation. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), founded by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and media tycoon Ted Turner, contributes $5 million to the effort—double the funding contributed by the State Department. US and Serbian authorities, in conjunction with NTI, transport 5,000 rods of highly enriched uranium from the site, most likely to be stored at Russia’s Ulyanovsk Nuclear Processing Plant. “Serbia might have decided to sell this material to Iraq,” says national security expert Joseph Cirincione. “It’s a good thing for all of us that that possibility has now been eliminated.” When the operation is successfully concluded, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, whose department oversees the securing of “loose” nuclear material from around the world, learns of it through newspaper reports. [Nuclear Threat Initiative, 8/23/2002; New York Times, 8/23/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 208]

Entity Tags: Sam Nunn, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Joseph Cirincione, Spencer Abraham, Vinca Institute, Bush administration (43), Ted Turner

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), one of the nation’s most respected defense experts, is critical of the Bush administration’s wholesale failure to work to help Russia secure its “loose nukes” (see January 10, 2001 and After and August 2002). “In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats,” he says, “on a scale of one to ten, I would give us about a three.” Nunn adds that a recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moves the US “closer to a four.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Bush administration (43), Sam Nunn, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Members of the 9/11 Commission, issuing their final report on progress made in meeting the commission’s earlier recommendations, give the Bush administration a grade of “D” in its nonproliferation efforts. The administration has wholly failed to help Russia secure loose nuclear materials and actual weapons, the commission finds (see January 10, 2001 and After and June 2005). President Bush needs to make nonproliferation a priority, to “ride herd on the bureaucracy” and engage in “a maximum effort” to ensure the US’s nuclear security. “Given the potential for catastrophic destruction,” the commission members find, “our current efforts fall far short of what we need to do.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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