Council on Foreign Relations
STEPHEN BIEGUN: Good morning. If I could ask everybody to take their seat. Good morning. My name is Steve Biegun. I'm a vice president with Ford Motor Company. And it's my pleasure today, on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations, to introduce our two speakers, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
Senators Lugar and Obama are here today to discuss "Challenges Ahead For Cooperative Threat Reduction." As most of you in the audience are well aware, Cooperative Threat Reduction is the more technical name for the Nunn-Lugar program. The Nunn-Lugar program was passed into law 15 years ago through the efforts of Senator Lugar and Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Over that 15 years, the program has worked, sometimes in fits and starts, to control, secure, and to dismantle some of the most dangerous weapons in the world that are stockpiled in the former Soviet Union. I say "in fits and starts" because the program has had to endure politics, Cold War legacy, frugal funding, and yet it has endured. And as we all know in Washington, endurance is the ultimate test of a good idea, and it is a test that the Nunn-Lugar program has passed with flying colors.
Senators Lugar and Obama today will be discussing two things. Senator Obama will discuss a recent trip he and Senator Lugar took to the region to look at progress in implementing Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs. And Senator Lugar will be laying out some ideas for the way forward for some additional opportunities for the United States to increase our own security and that of other countries around the world.
Before I introduce Senator Obama for his remarks, I'd like to make a few reminders to the audience on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations. First, I ask you at this point to please be sure to turn off all cell phones and wireless devices. Second, I'd like to remind the audience that unlike most council events, this one is on the record, so all questions and remarks will be on the record. And finally, we intend to end promptly at 9:30 to allow the senators to get to the Hill. And with that, I would ask that everybody stay in their seats and stay here until the end of the program to avoid disruptions.
Senator Obama. Senator Obama came to the United States Senate this year, I think as is well-known to all of you. Prior to coming to the Senate, he had a career that was dedicated to public service as a civil rights attorney, as a community organizer, and as a leading member of the Illinois State Senate. During his 2004 campaign, Senator Obama placed special priority on aggressive efforts by the United States to control and secure and dismantle the dangerous weapons of mass destruction that still are stockpiled across the Soviet Union. Upon being sworn into office in 2005, Senator Obama earned a position on the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he's had an opportunity to give meaning to the commitments he made on the campaign trail.
Senator Obama, with Senator Lugar, in August of this year visited Russia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine to firsthand take a look at what possibilities exist to not only improve the implementation of the current Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs, but also expand them and move them forward more aggressively.
So with that, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce Senator Barack Obama. (Applause.)
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Thank you so much. And good morning, everybody. And thanks so much to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting us here this morning.
As some of you know, as was just mentioned, Senator Lugar and I recently returned from a trip to Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan to witness firsthand both the progress we're making in securing the world's most dangerous weapons, as well as the serious challenges that lie ahead.
Now, I have to say that few people understand these challenges better than the co-founder of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, my colleague, and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar. And if anybody has ever accompanied Senator Lugar on a trip, you know that he is a rock star wherever he goes. (Laughter.) You know, the degree of his experience I think became particularly clear during one incident on our trip. We were in the Ukraine visiting a pathogen laboratory in Kiev. This is a city of two and a half million people. And we traveled to a nondescript building right in the middle of town. And this facility once operated on the fringes of the Soviet biological weapons program.
So we enter into the building. There are no discernible fences or security systems. And once we are inside -- sort of a ramshackle building -- there were open windows, maybe a few padlocks that many of us might use to secure our own luggage. And our guide, a young woman, takes us right up to what looked like a little mini-refrigerator. And inside the refrigerator there were rows upon rows of test tubes. She picked them up, and she's clanking them around, and we listened to the translator explain what she was saying. And some of the tubes, he said, were filled with anthrax, and others with plague. (Laughter.)
And, you know, and I'm pretty close -- (laughter) -- and I start sort of backing off a little bit. And I turn around and say, "Hey, where's Lugar? Doesn't he want to see this?" And I turn around -- do you remember this, Andy? -- and he's way in the back of the room, about 15 feet away and he looked at me and said, "Been there, done that." (Laughter.) So, Dick Lugar has been there, and he has done that.And thanks to the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs he co-founded with Senator Sam Nunn, we've made amazing progress in finding, securing and guarding some of the deadliest weapons that were left scattered throughout the former Soviet Union after the Cold War.
But this is one story that shows our job is far from finished at a time when demand for these weapons has never been greater. Right now, rogue states and despotic regimes are looking to begin or accelerate their own nuclear programs. And as we speak, members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction, which I think all of us believe they would use without hesitation. We've heard the horror stories -- attempts by rogue states to recruit former Soviet weapon scientists; terrorists shopping for weapons-grade materials on the black market. Some weapons experts believe that terrorists are likely to find enough fissile material to build a bomb in the next 10 years -- and we can imagine with horror what the world would be like if they succeeded.
Today, experts tell us that we're in a race against time to prevent this scenario from unfolding. And that's why the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons within the borders of the former Soviet Union represent the greatest threat to the security of the United States -- a threat we need to think seriously and intelligently about in the months to come.
Fortunately, the success of CTR, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program -- especially in securing nuclear weapons -- serves as a model for how we can do this. And so the question we need to be asking today -- and I know that we're going to get some great insights from Senator Lugar -- is what is the future of this program? With the situation in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union so drastically different than it was in 1991, or even in 1996 or even 2001, what must we doing differently to effectively confront the threat in the days and years to come?
The answers to all these questions I think will require sustained involvement by the executive branch, Congress, non-governmental organizations, and the international community. Everyone has a role to play, and everyone must accelerate this involvement.
For my part, I'd like to suggest three important elements that should be included in such a discussion.
First, the Nunn-Lugar program should be more engaged in containing proliferation threats from Soviet-supplied, civilian research reactors throughout Russia and the Independent States.
The Department of Energy and others have made progress in converting civilian reactors to low-enriched uranium, taking back spent fuel and closing unnecessary facilities, yet a serious threat still remains. Many of these aging research facilities have the largest, least-secure quantities of highly enriched uranium in the world -- the quickest way to a nuclear weapon. For a scientist or other employee to simply walk out of a lab with enough material to construct a weapon of mass destruction is far too easy, and the consequences would be far too devastating, not to mention the environmental and public health and safety catastrophe that could come from a failure to store and transport these materials safely and securely.
In a way that balances the needs of science and security, more needs to be done to bring these materials, as well as other sources that can be used to construct improvised nuclear weapons and radiological devices, under control and dramatically reduce the proliferation threat they pose. So in the years ahead, this should become an increasing priority for the Nunn-Lugar program, the Congress and the Russians, who are already taking important steps to help implement these programs.
Which brings me to a second area that I think's going to be critical: biological weapons threat reduction programs. Now, throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union was engaged in a massive undertaking in the field of germ warfare. At its height in the late 1980s, this program stockpiled some of some of the most dangerous agents known to man -- plague, smallpox, anthrax, to name just a few. As one book says, "Disease by the ton was its industry." And it was interesting to note, by the way, that not only were some of these stockpiles aimed at the immediate infliction of disease on the human populations, we saw a number of storage facilities for pathogens targeted at our agricultural system as well, and indicates the breadth and scope of some of these programs.
Besides the devastation they can cause in a civilian population, biological agents can also be effective in asymmetrical warfare against U.S. troops. And while they're often difficult to use, they are easy to transport, hard to detect, and, as we saw in Kiev, not always well secured. Here in Washington, we saw what just two letters filled with just a few grams of anthrax sent to the United States Senate could accomplish. Five postal employees were killed, and the Senate office buildings were closed for months. That was two letters.
Fortunately, we've made some good progress on this front. For years, Nunn-Lugar programs have been effectively upgrading security at sites in six countries across the former Soviet Union. And the Kiev story is headed in the right direction. While we were in Ukraine, Senator Lugar, through his tireless and personal intervention, was able to achieve a breakthrough with that government, bringing that facility and others under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. But because of the size, the secrecy and scope of the Soviet biological weapons program, we are still dangerously behind in dealing with this proliferation threat. We need to be sure that Nunn-Lugar is increasingly focused on these very real nonproliferation and bioterrorism threats. One of the most important steps is for Russia to permit the access and the transparency necessary to deal with the threat.
Additional steps should also be taken to consolidate and secure dangerous pathogen collections, strengthen bio-reconnaissance networks to provide early warning of bio-attacks and natural disease outbreaks, and have our experts work together to develop improved medical countermeasures. As the avian flu outbreak demonstrates, even the zealous Russian border guard is helpless against the global sweep of biological threats. And precisely because threats like pandemic are so severe and significant, we may be in a position to get more cooperation from the Russians than we previously have had.
My third recommendation, which I'll just touch briefly on and let Senator Lugar talk about in more detail, is that we need to start thinking creatively about some of the next-generation efforts on nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. On our trip, we saw two areas where this is possible -- elimination of heavy conventional weapons, and the interdiction efforts to help stop the flow of dangerous materials across borders.
In Donetsk, I stood among piles of conventional weapons that were slowly being dismantled. And just to give you some sense, this is acres of a former facility used to construct conventional weapons that was now a graveyard, essentially, for mountains of conventional weapon stockpiles. Oftentimes you had crates in the open air exposed to the elements. And you really got an impression that what was being destroyed was just a fraction of the stockpiles that still remained all across the former Soviet Union.
The government of Ukraine is making progress here, but the limited funding they have means that at the current pace, it will take 60 years to dismantle these weapons. We've all seen how it could take far less time for these weapons to leak out and travel around the world, fueling insurgencies and violent conflicts from Africa to Afghanistan. By destroying these inventories, this is one place where we could be making more of a difference. And our long-term national security, I think, is actually invested in making certain that in fact the proliferation of conventional weapons that are currently doing enormous harm around the world could be contained.
One final point. For any of these efforts that I've mentioned to work as we move forward, we are going to also have to think critically and strategically about Washington's relationship with Moscow. Right now there are forces within the former Soviet Union and elsewhere that would like these nonproliferation programs to stop. I don't know the details of what was behind the thinking of the Russian government, but our detention for three hours in Perm is a testament to these forces. I have to say that both Senator Lugar and I slept through this detention. We were pretty tired. And I have been detained longer at O'Hare Airport. (Laughter.) But nevertheless, you did get a sense that not everybody views the CTR program in the ways that we saw on the part of many of the military officers who had been working with the program for quite some time.
Additionally, in the last few years we've seen some disturbing trends from Russia itself -- the deterioration of democracy and rule of law, the abuses that have taken place in Chechnya, Russian meddling in the former Soviet Union states -- that raise serious questions about our relationship.
But when we think about the threat that these weapons pose to our global security, we can't allow the U.S.-Russian relationship to deteriorate to the point where Russia does not think it's in their best interest to help us finish the job we started. We have to safeguard these dangerous weapons, materials and expertise.
And one way we could think about strengthening this relationship is by considering Russians more of a partner and less of a subordinate in the CTR effort. One of the things that I observed, at least, while we were in Russia is the degree to which the Russians no longer want to be treated as a stepchild in this process. I think there's an enormous amount of national pride that exists, and the more that we can give them a sense that they are, in fact, cooperating not as supplicants but rather as full partners, the better off we will be.
This does not mean that we should ease up one bit on issues affecting our national security. Outstanding career officials who run the Nunn-Lugar program -- people like Colonel Jim Reid and Andy Weber, who happen to be here today -- will be there every step of the way to ensure that U.S. interests are protected. But time and time again on the trip, I saw their skill and experience when negotiating with the Russians. And I also saw their ability to ensure that whatever shortcomings might exist were addressed and programs were implemented correctly.
Thinking of the Russians, though, as more partners does mean being more thoughtful, respectful, and consistent about what we say and what we do. It means that the Russians can and should do more to support these programs. And it means more sustained engagement, including more senior-level visits to Nunn-Lugar program sites. It's important for senior officials to go and visit these sites, to check their progress and their shortcomings, to see what's working and what's not. But lately we haven't seen many of these visits, and we need to see more.
We also need to ensure that the CTR umbrella agreement, due to expire in 2006, is renewed in a timely manner. And we need to work together to obtain a bilateral agreement on biological threat reduction.
There's no doubt that there's a tough road ahead. It's going to be difficult, and it will be dangerous. But when I think about what's at stake, I'm reminded by a quote from the late President Kennedy, given in a speech at American University in 1963, about threats posed by the Soviet Union. President Kennedy said, "Let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests, and to the means by which those differences can be resolved, for in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal." Much of what President Kennedy described in 1963 remains true to this day, and we owe it to ourselves and to our children to get it right.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
BIEGUN: Thank you very much, Senator Obama.
It's now my pleasure to introduce Senator Lugar. Senator Lugar is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's now serving in his fifth term in the United States Senate. And when I look at his biography, and I think about the 15-year history of the Nunn-Lugar Program, I realized today that Senator Lugar has been working over half of his career now in the United States Senate on this program. And I think all of us owe you a great debt of gratitude, Senator Lugar. Your work on the Nunn-Lugar Program, the test of it -- the success of it will never be proven by what happens but by what doesn't happen. It'll be the dogs that didn't bark. But future generations will certainly have you and Senator Nunn to thank, if the program continues on its current course.
Senator Lugar has been a leader in the Senate in reducing the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. As mentioned, in 1991, he formed a bipartisan team with Senator Nunn to pass the Nunn-Lugar Program. Remember, this was to assist the Soviet Union. This was even before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of modern Russia.
Senator Lugar is going to lay out for us today some ideas based on his 15 years of experience, and looking forward as to future opportunities for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.
Senator Lugar? (Applause.)
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you. Gee, thank you very much. It's always an honor to be with the council. And it's a special pleasure to be here today with my good friend Senator Barack Obama. As you have already heard, we had an extremely successful trip in August, and I appreciate the strong support for the Nunn-Lugar Program that he has displayed. In his first year in the Senate, he's committed himself to improving the U.S. response to the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. We discovered existing programs and we discussed those opportunities extensively during the trip.
Let me just say I was particularly pleased that Barack chose the Nunn-Lugar situation as the subject of his first foreign travel as a senator. The choice was not an accident or the result of a last-minute whim. During his Senate campaign well over a year ago, he identified the threat posed by unsecured weapons of mass destruction as the greatest national security threat existing for the United States. And on the Foreign Relations Committee, he has followed those issues intensely, has been a steadfast voice of support for nonproliferation efforts.
Now, our trip in August was spent hiking, as he's suggested, through nuclear weapons storage sites, picking through piles of mortar rounds and land mines, touring missile elimination facilities, examining laboratories containing deadly pathogens, and for three hours being detained in the visitors' lodge (sic/lounge) at a remote Russian airfield near Perm. Barack, I want to make sure you understand that your future congressional travels are unlikely to include so many glamorous tourist hot spots. (Laughter.) It's safe to assume that none of the reporters who have joined us today are from Frommer's or Lonely Planet. (Laughter.)
I've had the opportunity to visit the former Soviet Union to tour these sites and facilities once or twice a year for the last 14 years. And as Barack witnessed, these trips serve a greater purpose than our personal edification. They're designed to invigorate and to endorse and encourage the work of a program that both of us see as vital to our national security. On many previous trips, weapons facilities were opened to Americans for the first time, including such notable facilities as the SevMash submarine base, birthplace of the Typhoon nuclear missile submarine.
Political support for Nunn-Lugar activities can never be taken for granted. Not everyone in the former Soviet Union, and indeed, not everyone in our own country believes these programs should be a priority. But the Nunn-Lugar Program and associated nonproliferation efforts have required constant stewardship and support from the Congress, and mercifully, we obtain that each year. In this context, I'm enthused and encouraged by Senator Obama's commitment to adding his strong voice and creativity to the nonproliferation challenge.
Since its founding, Sam Nunn and I always regarded the Nunn-Lugar Program as more than a government program. We have seen it as a disarmament concept, nonproliferation tool, worthy of adaptation and expansion. The Nunn-Lugar Program and people like Jim Reid and Andy Weber, who are with us today, who manage its day-to-day operations, represent a tremendous national security asset to be applied in situations well beyond the scope of the original legislation. Indeed, the program's aims have been expanded from the focus on safeguarding and destroying strategic nuclear weapons to a much broader array of goals involving safely disposing of all types of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and materials, as well as employing former weapons scientists.
In 2003, I offered the Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act, which was signed by President Bush. It allowed, for the first time, Nunn-Lugar funds to be used anywhere in the world, not just within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union. As I have advocated frequently, United States officials should be prepared to extend the Nunn-Lugar concept whenever opportunities present themselves. Some potential applications for the program -- North Korea, for example -- may seem remote today, but the same could have been said for the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
In this spirit, Senator Obama and I are introducing legislation today that will again extend the Nunn-Lugar concept to new areas of endeavor. Our bill is entitled Cooperative Proliferation Detection and Interdiction Assistance and Conventional Threat Reduction Act. As Barack described, our trip included an examination of conventional weapons stockpiles near Donetsk, Ukraine. We also visited Baku, Azerbaijan, where we observed the mock interdiction of a naval vessel playing the role of nuclear smuggler. These visits and our subsequent joint research have convinced us that the United States can and should do more to eliminate conventional weapons stockpiles and assist other nations in detecting and interdicting weapons of mass destruction. We believe that these functions are underfunded, fragmented and in need of high-level support.
The United States government's correct (sic/current) response to threats from vulnerable conventional weapons stockpiles is dispersed between several programs in the State Department. We believe that the planning, coordination and implementation of this function should be consolidated into one office at the State Department with a budget that is commensurate with the threat posed by these weapons. We are particularly concerned that our government has the capacity to deal quickly with vulnerable stockpiles of shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles, known as MANPADS. In recent years, concerns have grown that such weapons could be used by terrorists to attack commercial airlines, military installations and government facilities here at home and abroad. Al Qaeda reportedly has attempted to acquire MANPADS on a number of occasions.
The Lugar-Obama bill recognizes that the proliferation of conventional weapons is a major obstacle to peace, to reconstruction and to economic development in regions suffering from conflict and instability. It calls upon the State Department to implement a global effort to seek out and destroy surplus and unguarded stocks of conventional armaments and to cooperate with allies and international organizations when possible.
In Ukraine, we saw stacks of thousands of mortars, anti-personnel land mines, and other weapons left over from the Soviet era. The scene there is similar to situations in other states of the former Soviet Union and Africa, Latin America and Asia, for that matter. I've also witnessed these threats firsthand in Albania and Georgia recently, where those governments have requested assistance in eliminating MANPADS, tactical missile systems and millions of tons of ammunition and weapons. In many cases, the security around these weapons is minimal, particularly when the weapons are no longer being used by the nation's military. But as we have seen in Iraq, even obsolete weaponry and explosives can be reconfigured with deadly results. If foreign governments know that the United States is poised to help them eliminate such weapons, they will be more likely to come forward with requests for help, as Albania and Georgia did.
Inevitably, some countries will decline our assistance, and their stockpiles will remain unsecured. But this is not a reason to fail to secure the stockpiles that are open to us now. Every stockpile represents a theft opportunity for terrorists and a temptation for security personnel who might seek to profit by selling weapons on the black market. The more stockpiles that can be safeguarded or eliminated, the safer we will be. We do not want the question posed the day after an attack on an American military base, an embassy compound or even a commercial aircraft in the United States why we did not take these threats seriously.
Two years ago the Department of Energy combined several nonproliferation programs into the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the GTRI program, charged with identifying, securing and disposing of vulnerable nuclear materials and equipment throughout the world. We used GTRI as a blueprint for the organizational and programmatic structure needed in the conventional arms elimination arena. By merging activities in a single office at the State Department and making it the lead federal agency in efforts to eliminate non-strategic missile systems, MANPADS and all small arms, we will raise the profile and value of this important work.
The second part of the Lugar-Obama legislation is focused on United States efforts to assist allies in detecting and interdicting weapons of mass destruction. The Nunn-Lugar program in our country is the first line of defense against the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, and that is recognized. But it attempts to secure weapons of mass destruction at their source. The Department of Homeland Security is our last line of defense, focused on detecting these threats inside U.S. borders and responding to attacks, if they occur. Our bill would bolster the second line of defense, namely, our ability to stop weapons of mass destruction that have been taken from the source but have not yet reached the United States, this interim stage.
To strengthen the second line of defense, we believe that we must improve the capabilities of other nations. The United States military and intelligence services cannot be everywhere. We need the cooperation and vigilance of like-minded nations to detect and interdict WMD threats.
The United States has constructed the Proliferation Security Initiative, which enlisted the participation of other nations in the interdiction of weapons of mass destruction, and PSI is an excellent step forward in our communications with foreign governments on WMD interdiction. But what is lacking is a coordinated effort to improve the capabilities of our foreign partners so that they can play a larger detection and interdiction role.
The Lugar-Obama bill creates a single office dedicated to supporting the detection and interdiction of WMD. The State Department engages in several related anti-terrorism and export-control assistance programs now in foreign countries. But these programs are focused on other stages of the threat, not on the detection and interdiction of WMD cargo. Thus we believe there is a gap in our defense that needs to be filled.
The Lugar-Obama bill earmarks 25 percent of the Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related Programs account to address the shortcomings in the State Department's response. This would have amounted to $110 million this year. Our bill goes one step further by calling on the State Department to also commit 25 percent of annual foreign military financing amounts to nations for the purchase of equipment to improve their ability to detect and interdict WMD. This would represent a potent but flexible tool that could help build a network of WMD detection and interdiction abilities worldwide.
Senator Obama and I give the State Department the flexibility to determine how these funds should be used. This is because a "one size fits all" approach does not work with FMF funds. And some recipients of United States security assistance, such as Israel, already are capable of detecting and interdicting WMD. Other potential recipients are unable to utilize effectively such detection and interdiction assistance because they lack the basic military structures to employ it.
We require the administration to outline for Congress the rationale behind the decision not to invoke the 25 percent requirement clause. And through this reporting requirement, we are seeking to ensure that Congress remains an active participant in important decisions on military finance.
Now I am confident that the ongoing reorganization of the arms control and nonproliferation bureaus, under the direction of Undersecretary Bob Joseph, provides us with an excellent opportunity to reshape, to refocus and reinvigorate the State Department's nonproliferation mission. The Lugar-Obama legislation is intended to assist in the transformation of the department's efforts.
The United States' response to conventional weapons threats and the lack of focus on WMD detection and interdiction assistance must be rectified if we are to provide a full and complete defense for the American people. We look forward to working closely with the administration on these proposals and will benefit from their recommendations on ways to perfect our legislation.
The Lugar-Obama bill is a critical step forward, in my judgment, in improving our ability to protect the United States and its citizens, and we appreciate very much the forum to present it this morning. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
BIEGUN: At this point in the program, in a moment, we'll turn to questions from the audience. I'd ask people to keep their questions very focused and tight, so we can maximize the amount of time for dialogue with Senators Lugar and Obama this morning.
But before we start with the open questions, I'd like to lead it off with one, Senators Lugar and Obama.
Senator Obama, you've had several months in the Senate -- you have this trip under your belt -- to take a good, long look at these programs and consider them. I wonder if you could tell us if there is one thing within existing authorities or one priority within the existing authorities that you'd like the United States government tomorrow to begin focusing on, to be able to make a meaningful contribution to improving our security through the security of these materials.
And Senator Lugar, if I may ask you, on the flip side, if there's one thing that you would like to see the Russians do tomorrow, the Russian government, to act also to bring about a material improvement in these programs.
OBAMA: Well, I think the bill that Senator Lugar just outlined points to some priority areas that are extraordinarily timely. I think the opportunity to extend Nunn-Lugar to reach conventional weapons, as well as biological and chemical weapons, is going to be something that we increasingly need to work on in an environment in which we have more asymmetrical threats. As Senator Lugar indicated, when you look at what's happening to Iraq right now, it gives you some sense that we are less likely to be threatened by a nation-state with a large infrastructure dedicated to nuclear missiles and much more likely to see trouble stirred up as a consequence of -- you know, whether it's biological weapons or conventional weapons -- that are out in the open market. And I think that's part of what our legislation seeks to address.
The interdiction side is also critically important because we can't be everywhere. And when we were in Azerbaijan, you know, what you had was the equivalent of the Coast Guard for Azerbaijan. We're helping to provide them very basic equipment. When they interdict a ship in the Caspian Sea, their capacity to detect radioactive material on board a ship is not a very big investment. It doesn't cost a lot of money. And yet it is potentially a means for us to, as Senator Lugar indicated, stop the flow of nuclear material or other problem areas before it even comes to our shores. And we're going to need more eyes and ears who can effectively operate, because, you know, ultimately, there's only so much that -- as good as our military is, as good as our intelligence -- as hard as our intelligence community works, unless we're operating in this sort of cooperative way, we're not going to be able to get the job done.
BIEGUN: Thank you. Senator Lugar?
LUGAR: I think Barack was right on target mentioning the Russians feeling that they want to be considered partners, not supplicants. And that's fair enough. But with that partnership really comes responsibility to work with the Duma; that is for President Putin and others to say we really have to have this umbrella legislation that gives exemption from viability to contractors, excessive taxes, all these sorts of things. We've had this for our basic program, and -- but it comes up for renewal in 2006. And unfortunately all of the G-8 met now a couple of years ago at the Kananaskis conference and pledged really to double the Nunn-Lugar monies, which were then about a billion (dollars) a year, and that would mean the other seven would do another billion (dollars); very little of this has happened, but because essentially the Europeans and the Japanese, others have not been given that kind of treatment by the Duma.
And so the monies that might have come in to help much more readily have simply -- have not. And that is very important to get across. I think Barack is right, that more high-level visits on our part, that is United States visits, with Russian officials are probably going to be essential. When the president visited with President Putin, he got an agreement that we could go to nuclear storage sites. Now, we're still listing how many of them; we're up to 28 or 29. Barack and I went to one of them. It was different from the last time that I went because they shielded the windows, you could not see where you were going until the moment that you arrived at the site, as soon as the door opens.
The officiousness and all of this business is really excessive, but nevertheless, that's their way of sort of push back when something occurs of this variety. And we hopefully in the spirit of partnership and maturity have got to get beyond this sort of pettiness that characterizes still much of the relationship.
BIEGUN: Thank you, Senator Lugar. And now could we open it up for questions.
Sir? And I'd ask if you'd introduce yourself and your affiliation before you ask your question.
QUESTIONER: Okay. Mac Destler, University of Maryland. First of all, just let me express my admiration and appreciation, as an American, for both of what you -- both of you for pushing this, for what you are doing. It's wonderful to have the Senate's leader in foreign relations and a man widely recognized as a rising star in the Democratic Party combining to give this --
LUGAR: There you are.
QUESTIONER: I shouldn't say -- rising star of the Senate --
OBAMA: That's right. I thought you were going to say the most junior member before -- (laughter) --
QUESTIONER: That might be -- that might also -- new kid on the block might also be true.
Let me express one concern. It seems to me the nuclear problem is far and away the biggest threat. If you think about what could happen, what would be most catastrophic, it seems to me a nuclear weapon exploded in a U.S. city -- and I think it's more so that biological -- but that's a different issue. What I worry about is in trying to broaden this concept, in trying to stretch resources to conventional weapons, there's a danger that you might divert resources, that you might spread the program thinner, and in some respects undercut or make it -- make people -- well, we got a lot else to do; let's not tackle this really tough one that's been -- you know, we're a tough facility.
But I wonder if you could reassure me somehow, that in broadening this to conventional weapons, which I agree are a serious problem, but it seems to me the magnitude, the level of threat is -- well, it's horrible, but manageable, whereas a nuclear weapon might really be unmanageable if they got --
BIEGUN: Senator Lugar?
LUGAR: Well, let me have a quick try at that. Essentially, the United States and Russia are headed toward mutual destruction of nuclear weapons. Now, some arms control specialists would say it ought to be more specific. This sort of general idea, we sort of get their on our own in the next few years might not be everybody's cup of tea and others may renegotiate it in due course. But I would just say at (Sarov ?) -- well, at one of the places where we've seen weapons, 17s, 18s, 19s, the missiles are being ground up for a month, even as we speak, so long as our money, our program continues; that was true at Perm with the SS-24s, 25s, that as long as the program continues, they're going to flow in, and all of them will be gone. We could accelerate the program, but that requires two to tango. The Russians have to want to accelerate the program.
So Jim Reid and his people are out there at the point attempting at least to see what is within the realm of the possible. But the nuclear thing is on a fairly predictable schedule. All of the -- at least the large weapons are known. The question is how do you store all the fissile material after you get the missile out of the silo and have destroyed the silo and so forth, and that's a big problem. And how Russia finally will work its way through downgrading the fissile material or -- what -- and dealing with that is a whole set of other problems.
So I take your point, but it appears to me that one is on track, and it depends upon negotiation from your two partners as to whether the progress could be accelerated.
Some of the other stuff we're talking about, the Russians are still in denial they ever made a biological weapon. There are four places none of us have been to. And so, you know, we're still on the murky edges of some situations in the relationship that we think are very dangerous, and without arguing which is the worst explosion, how many people might die where, you can make quite a case on the biological side, as you see these pathogens -- the plan. Somebody had to destroy all the livestock in the United States, for example, as a retaliatory means. This is pretty awesome.
BIEGUN: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: Why don't we go ahead and -- the only thing, I guess, I would add would be that it's my understanding that in the ramp-up to CTR, and what's been taking place over the last decade, a lot of money was devoted to construction issues and building up infrastructure. Some of that construction is completed; it's stabilizing. Now, it's more of a matter of sustaining programs that are already in place, which means that some of the money that was in these programs can be put into areas like conventional, biological, chemical without any demunition of the commitment to destroying nuclear stockpiles or securing them.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Senator.
BIEGUN: Stobe Talbott
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Strobe Talbott with Brookings, a question for both senators. Do you see any tension between continuing the very important momentum that you've developed in the area that we've been talking about and addressing concerns in an entirely other area, namely the drift of Russia's political evolution with regard to free media, civil society, the very nature of the system, Chechnya?
And in that regard, both of you made a strong pitch for treating the Russians respectfully as partners. I'm sure the Russians make that same pitch to you. Have you heard anything from representatives of the Putin government and the Russian political elite, in general, that could be crudely translated as follows: If you want us to keep cooperating in the area that you two gentlemen are most interested in, lay off of us on our internal affairs.
BIEGUN: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: Well, I think it's a terrific question. I -- this was my first trip to Russia, so I'll defer to Senator Lugar in terms of comparing what the situation was like 10,15 years ago from this time out. What was clear, to me at least, was that the hope and the promise of a rapid transition to an open democratic society in Russia has stalled to some degree. I think -- the impression I got was that President Putin has consolidated power, that -- in part fueled by enormous influx of oil revenues. The average Russian is more concerned with consumer goods and economic progress and some of the focus on democratization and civil liberties that had been talked about are less talked about.
I don't think that these two issues are inconsistent though. I think that the more -- part of the strength that I saw of the CTR program was it gives a means of us engaging with the Russians in a constructive way and at multiple levels, not just at the top levels, but you know, you have military officers, intelligence officers who are in a cooperative-joint venture several layers down. And that kind of interaction around constructive common projects does a couple of things.
One, it gives us, I think, better intelligence, not in a cloak and dagger sort of way, but simply a presence on the ground and relationships with people that are important in the government. And I think that as we build trust on issues where we have mutual agreement, that allows us in a respectful but consistent and dogged way to push some of these broader issues related to democratization and liberalization.
So I, at least, have not perceived a conflict. It may be that at some point the Russian government starts saying that this is a quid pro quo. The advantage we have is that this really is in the Russians' interests. I mean, this isn't a situation where they are doing something for us. If you look at what happened in Beslan or other recent severe terrorist attacks that have taken place within Russia or the former Soviet Union, you know, I think what's clear is that the Russians themselves are going to have an interest over the long term in making sure that these weapons are secured.
And that, I think, is something that we have to remind ourselves; they're not doing us a favor in this process, they're in some ways probably more vulnerable than we are to immediate attack.
LUGAR: I would just pick up on Barack's last point, that throughout at least the last 14 years I've talked about these trips, there have been some years in which our relations with Russia at the State Department and Defense Department level were zilch and really bad. Now, the reason that we were still visiting was that the Russians understood in a gut way that the Cooperative Threat Reduction program was absolutely vital. If you have that many vulnerable weapons sitting around your country, you need help. There may be some Russians who may in a misguided zealotry feel they really don't, but they're still a minority, thank goodness.
And I would just say 40,000 metric tons of nerve gas out there, you know, in seven locations, with most of it, almost all of it still to be destroyed, that is a lot of nerve gas, quite apart from all of the nuclear warheads and the aging of these. Without embellishing too much, I've seen these warheads lying like caskets in a tomb. They've got labels on top of when the thing was constructed, what kind of servicing it might have gotten, some idea how long it's efficacious, maybe when it might become dangerous.
You know, there's no doubt that the push for us is to take the oldest ones first so there's not a nuclear accident or event that occurs there because you didn't surface the stuff. This is not passive sporting goods stuff on a shelf. And so that is why the Russians need us. Now, some years they feel they need us more than others, but still it offers an opportunity to extend the conversation into democracy, freedom of the press, other things that we think are very important.
BIEGUN: Thank you, Senators. Maybe one in the back. Jack Janes. Jack, could you wait for the microphone to get to you?
QUESTIONER: Senator Lugar, I wanted to ask, you had talked, and Senator Obama, talked about the need for help and we can't be everywhere. Senator Lugar, you've been a big booster of NATO for the last 15, 20 years, and especially since '90. Can you see a role here for NATO in terms of trying to help us with this? Is this a hindrance when we deal with Russia? Can we use it elsewhere? I was thinking specifically when you were talking about Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, Turkey. Is there a role here for NATO?
LUGAR: Certainly there is. And I think at the Wehrkunde conferences and various other times when people get together to talk about these things, there are a lot of NATO people, a lot of Europeans wanting to think through not just Afghanistan but what about the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, how can we move there. But likewise the subject of Russia is always going to be a subject for NATO, every conference I've ever attended or every time you're in Brussels. And the question always is, should Russia logically become a member of NATO? If not, what is the affiliation; how can it mature? if Ukraine would come in or Georgia or other countries, what does this mean? So the Europeans are very important in that, as they were during the Ukraine elections, for example, or the Georgian transformation. And we must utilize that goodwill that comes through NATO in those ways.
BIEGUN: We have time for one last sharply asked question. And why don't we go back there, sir; you. If we wait for the microphone, it's just coming from behind you.
QUESTIONER: Spurgeon Keeny, National Academy of Sciences. I recognize the overwhelming importance of dealing with the states of the former Soviet Union initially, but I wonder whether greater priority -- relative priority is emerging elsewhere on weapons of mass destruction. For example, in particular I refer to Pakistan and Japan.
In the case of Pakistan, it's demonstrated at high levels in the government they are engaged in the worst examples of nuclear proliferation, and also the state, the stability, future stability of the state is very much in question, and they have large numbers of weapons and fissile material.
In the case of Japan, they have and will increasingly accumulate very large stockpiles of fissile material. And until recently, at least, there were no -- the guards on their facilities were not allowed to even carry sidearms. And I understand that even now, they're improvement consists of guards that are located many miles away from the facilities they're supposed to be guarding.
BIEGUN: Perhaps we could --
QUESTIONER: The question is, what, if anything, can and should be done with regard to these and other countries which may be a more immediate threat to proliferation than even the former states of the Soviet Union?
BIEGUN: Senator Lugar, opportunities for cooperative threat reduction outside the former Soviet Union?
LUGAR: Well, clearly, the State Department and the Defense Department are thoroughly engaged with Pakistan every day, the dangers are just as described. And we've worked with India likewise to see if there cannot be more cooperation so there are not accidents or some situation that gets out of hand. A.Q. Khan is still there, and the proliferation that he caused or information about it we're still obtaining. So this is a work in process. I think there's a lot of concentration on Pakistan, and rightly so.
With Japan, the issue really is how well, perhaps, the six-power talks go with North Korea. The ominous thought is always if they don't go well, the North Koreans develop a weapon of mass destruction or more, or a whole program, so will the Japanese, so will the South Koreans, the six-party talks really become very different. You have (almost ?) six players now who are in business, as opposed to a downsizing, which we hope for.
BIEGUN: Senator Obama, the last word?
OBAMA: I think you make terrific points. And that underscores something that was apparent during the course of my trip, and that is that the CTR program is a critical component in our broader diplomatic efforts. It's not a replacement for our broader diplomatic efforts to deal with countries like Pakistan or engage in the six-party talks to make sure that we're addressing the challenges involved with North Korea.
So I think what CTR, it strikes me, has provided is a technical infrastructure that allows us to deal with threats that are immediately identified, in which the groundwork has been laid for cooperation between two countries, but ultimately these countries have to be engaged at the highest levels of diplomacy. It's not a technical problem in Pakistan of securing those nuclear sites only. I mean, the biggest threat we have there is to what degree is there a commitment on the part of the highest levels in the military to make sure that proliferation is not occurring? To what degree is there control by President Musharraf of the entire nuclear infrastructure?
And those are issues that are not going to be simply solved through CTR. This does give us another tool in the tool kit in engaging in those conversations. And I think that to the extent that we continue to value this tool, that it will be an important component of the broader conversations that we're going to have to have on all these fronts.
BIEGUN: Senators Lugar and Obama, we wish you well on the launch of your legislation today. And thank you very much for your time.
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