The CTR Program, created in 1991, was based on an enlightened approach to national security conceived at a time of rapidly changing events surrounding the end of the Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union (and its successor states) had a shared security interest in addressing the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation from the Soviet nuclear weapons complex at a time when the former Soviet Union (FSU) was experiencing profound political and economic crises. Because of the security risks precipitated by the unstable and evolving situation, the United States provided assistance to Russia and other states of the FSU to meet treaty obligations by dismantling weapon delivery systems and to address the challenges of improving protection, control, and accounting for nuclear weapons and materials; to work to prevent smuggling of nuclear weapons and their components; and to prevent transfer of actual weapons, components, and weapons-related knowledge to other countries or terrorist groups. How did the United States reach the point where it would provide such assistance to a set of new states that emerged from its former Cold War rival?
In 1990, the Soviet Union possessed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, more than all of the other countries on Earth combined. The Soviet Union was also beginning to break apart. Several of its constituent republics declared independence over a 21-month period, a group of hard-line Communist Party leaders staged a failed coup attempt in August 1991, and in December 1991, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. Throughout the process of the Union’s dissolution, nuclear security experts in the United States became increasingly concerned about the control of Soviet nuclear weapons in Russia and especially in other, newly independent states.
Recognizing the danger of leaving nuclear weapons on the territories of newly devolved states facing profound economic and political difficulties, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev asked U.S. President George H.W. Bush for assistance in dismantling some Soviet nuclear weapons and began removing Soviet weapons from military bases outside of Russia. When three heads of the former Soviet republics signed the Minsk Agreement on December 8, 1991, followed by eight others on December 21, formally dissolving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and forming the Commonwealth of Independent States, approximately 4,000 nuclear weapons remained in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. These agreements and the subsequent Lisbon Protocol signed with the United States on May 23, 1992, helped to ensure strategic stability by defining roles and future responsibilities under existing arms control treaties and establishing commitments for consolidation of Soviet nuclear weapons in Russia. Further steps were also needed to implement these commitments and to deal with parts of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal itself.
On December 12, 1991, President Bush signed into law The Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-228), commonly known as the “Nunn-Lugar” legislation, so named because Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar were the sponsors of the bill. This legislation articulated two objectives for the CTR Program: “A) to facilitate on a priority basis the transportation, storage, safeguarding, and destruction of nuclear and other weapons in the Soviet Union, its republics, and any successor states; and B) to assist in the prevention of weapons proliferation.” During the 1990s, the CTR Program expanded to address threats from the discontinued clandestine biological weapons programs and the stalled chemical weapons destruction program of the Soviet Union. These tasks have been substantial. The production scale of these Soviet programs was enormous: devastating chemical agents were stockpiled in