A Step in the Right Direction: The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabrooks and Robin Collins

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2005 Volume 26 Issue 3

The insecurity of Russia’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse has become a cause for international concern, particularly since 9/11. There are stories of nuclear-powered submarines rusting in northern ports, weapons storage facilities secured with decrepit wooden fences and padlocks, and nuclear scientists driving taxis in Moscow. This situation has fueled dire warnings and publicity stunts to show the plausibility that Russia’s weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorists. And the international community is starting to respond.

The sheer breadth of its programs to research and develop weapons of mass destruction, and the dispersion of processing and storage facilities across a continent have made the tracking and physical security of the former Soviet arsenal an immense challenge. This is compounded by redrawn borders in the region, economic collapse, and the dissolution of the Soviet domestic security regime.

The international community, including Canada, has responded to the perceived security crisis by pouring billions of dollars into threat reduction initiatives in Russia and the Newly Independent States. The Global Partnership Program Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (GPP) is one of these and is prominent in the securing of a portion of the former Soviet weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenal, although the effort is not without a variety of challenges.

Some critics of the threat reduction approach compare the some $2-billion1 spent annually to reduce proliferation threats, with expenditures by the nuclear weapon states to maintain their arsenals.2 There are good reasons to be critical of an approach to counter proliferation that prioritizes potential terrorism threats, while nuclear weapon states continue to upgrade their nuclear arsenals. But the experience of more than a decade of threat reduction work in Russia and particularly the Global Partnership Program have provided valuable lessons for even larger-scale disarmament. The GPP demonstrates the importance of transparent information exchange, confidence-building between partners, cooperative and multilateral programs, to say nothing of the direct tangible disarmament benefits achieved from the program.

A G8 initiative

At the 2002 G8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, under the leadership of Canada as the Chair of the G8, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States agreed to a set of Non-Proliferation Principles and Guidelines in response to a perceived increased threat of nuclear proliferation. These statements committed the member states to the secure management of biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear materials, promoting international cooperation in the cause of nonproliferation (Government of Canada 2002). The Global Partnership Program was created by the G8 members to realize the goals for the Russian Federation as it struggled to cope with the WMD legacy of the Soviet Union.

The GPP is fundamentally a funding scheme through which G8 members committed in 2002 to raise $20-billion for activities to reduce proliferation threats in, or emanating from, the Russian Federation. Initially the Global Partnership was described as “10 + 10 over 10” because the US committed $10-billion in funding, to be equally matched by the other G8 members and distributed over 10 years. At the Evian Summit in 2003, G8 states reported on the pledges made: the US committed $10-billion, Germany €1.5-billion, Canada $1-billion, France €750-million, Japan $200-million, Italy €1 billion, the EU €1-billion and Russia $2-billion. Several non-G8 partners, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland, have also joined the program to partner on specific projects.

The goal of the GPP is, however, to spend the pledged funding on practical disarmament initiatives. Four priority project areas were identified by Russia at the outset and supported by the other partners. They include the destruction of chemical weapons stocks, dismantlement of nuclear-powered submarines, physical security and accountancy of nuclear and radiological materials, and employment of former weapons scientists and technicians. The program has since been broadened to include biosecurity and control of dangerous pathogens.

Since the program’s inception, G8 states have been working bilaterally with Russia and in a variety of cooperative arrangements to meet the nonproliferation goals set out in Kananaskis. Some of the largest and most notable projects in which several states are cooperating include the construction and operation of chemical weapons destruction facilities at Gornyi (in operation), Shchuch’ye, and Kambarka. Dismantlement of nuclear submarines is ongoing, and includes construction of a long-term storage facility for the reactor component of the dismantled ships and storage for Spent Nuclear Fuel. Redirection of former weapons scientists and technicians is another major initiative, facilitated in cooperation with the International Science and Technology Centre in Moscow and the Science and Technology Centre in Kiev and emphasizing sustainable, long-term employment.3

Canada was instrumental in building the political and financial commitment to the Non-Proliferation Principles and the GPP and is itself a significant partner with a pledge of $1-billion towards counter-proliferation programs in Russia (approximately $100-million annually). To implement its projects, Canada is working both directly with Russia and through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the International Science and Technology Center, as well as through third parties. Although all of the pledged funding has not been allocated, several projects are underway and seeing results. Canada has committed to support the dismantlement of 12 nuclear-powered submarines by spending up to $120-million over four years; up to $18-million per year has been designated to redirect former weapons scientists and engage them in collaborative research; some $90-million is committed to the Shchuch’ye chemical weapon destruction facility construction project; and $65-million will support Russia’s plutonium disposition program (Department of Foreign Affairs 2005).

Cooperative threat reduction

The GPP builds on the experience of nonproliferation assistance in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, and particularly the approach developed by the US Cooperative Threat Reduction program in the 1990s. In 1991, an amendment to the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991” sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) created the threat reduction initiative and in 1992 appropriated some $400-million of Defense Department funds for the work (Woolf 2001, p. CRS-1). Originally this program was considered an emergency response to the evidence of proliferation threats in the breakdown of the Soviet Union, but over time became viewed as a long-term investment in nonproliferation, counter-terrorism, and international cooperation.4

The Cooperative Threat Reduction program, also referred to as Nunn-Lugar (after the amendment sponsors), includes a group of programs administered by the US Departments of Defense, Energy, and State. Together these initiatives seek to control access to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons materials, technologies, and experts to reduce the proliferation threat from the former Soviet arsenal both in Russia and the Newly Independent States. Some $1.2-billion has been requested for the fiscal year 2006 by the three departments for an increasingly complex network of threat reduction programs.5

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, concern about nuclear terrorism came to the fore and in turn gave new impetus to the call for threat reduction. The G8 used this momentum to gain support for the Non-Proliferation Principles and leverage significant funding for the programs of the GPP. The GPP funding scheme matched US funding for threat reduction, thus ensuring the sustainability of the US programs, while adopting a cooperative and multilateral approach. Implementation of the threat reduction programs has not, however, been without difficulties.

Obstacles to implementation

Cooperative threat reduction in Russia has been plagued since the early days of the Nunn-Lugar program with the problem of gaining access to sensitive Russian military sites. Securing nuclear weapons material storage sites has been hampered particularly by the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy’s refusing to permit access to, or even providing transparent accounting of, its sites. This may in part be due to skepticism about US intentions, but is also a result of Russian laws and legitimate concerns about protecting state secrets (United States General Accounting Office 2003, p. 29). Although there is evidence of some progress on this front, with lists of approved visitors and greater use of Russian subcontractors,6 the 2005 GPP Annual Report acknowledged the access challenge and prioritized this for further action:

Site access arrangements are working smoothly in many cases, but it is clear that access problems can impact on the successful implementation of projects. Issues related to site access should be resolved as quickly as possible in accordance with national legislation of the recipient country and relevant agreements with donors and with a view to enabling implementation to go forward in a timely way. In the same way, wherever possible, access should also be granted to donors that provide financial resources to projects led by others. (G8 Senior Group 2005, p. 3)

The year 2005 saw the resolution of a two-year-old conflict between the US and Russia about the allocation of liability in accidents arising from threat reduction programs. Two Department of Energy programs, requiring renewal in 2003, were at the centre of this dispute: the Plutonium Science and Technology agreement, and the Nuclear Cities Initiative. The US demanded a liability arrangement based on the model of a previous agreement from 1992, which allocated complete liability to Russia in the case of any problem or accident. When Russia refused to comply, the renewal of the agreements and commencement of any new projects were blocked. Resolution of the conflict came only once the US agreed to adopt a liability arrangement based on the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation, an international agreement with a considerably more reciprocal liability provision. Ken Luongo (RANSAC 2005) of the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council called this a manufactured crisis, which “weakened U.S. negotiating power with Russia and crippled important global nuclear security projects.”

The performance of Russia in implementing the G8 Non-Proliferation Principles and supporting the Program is an area of ongoing concern, and suggests that Russia is not carrying its weight in these joint programs. On several occasions Russian program spending has come in well below agreed budgets. Construction of a fissile material storage facility at the Mayak site was one project in which Russia failed to raise its share of the costs. The US budget for the project was originally $275-million, half of the projected price to build a 50,000-container storage facility. This amount grew to $400-million for a 25,000-container site and, although the project came in moderately under cost, the US still covered the majority of the project’s expenses (Bunn 2004). Taxation of foreign entities working in Russia on threat reduction projects has been another ongoing problem, not yet fully resolved. Throughout the history of cooperative threat reduction in Russia coordination problems and corruption have plagued project implementation.

Lessons learned

In spite of the obstacles to project implementation in Russia, the GPP experience to date has shed light on best practices to minimize problems in the future. It provides some useful principles for disarmament on an even larger scale. Above all, the multilateral Global Partnership Program demonstrates the utility of a collective approach to disarmament. When there is suspicion, broadening the partnership can be a confidence-building measure. It provides alternative channels for projects in which a bilateral relationship is problematic. If undertaken in a coordinated way, multilateral efforts and burden-sharing can reduce overhead and project management costs. As the 2005 G8 Annual Report emphasized, it is important that donor states ‘piggy back’ on projects to limit overlap. Canada has taken this approach in its cooperation with the Shchuch’ye chemical weapons destruction project by supporting the assistance program of the UK’s Ministry of Defence through a Memorandum of Understanding, rather than re-creating the means to implement a parallel project with Russia directly (Department of Foreign Affairs 2005). The G8 Senior Group, which reviews implementation of the GPP, has established a subcommittee, the Global Partnership Working Group, to address issues that arise from project implementation.7

Limited site access and a Russian reluctance to exchange information have led to project delays and re-structuring that tarnish the record of threat reduction in Russia. A 2003 US General Accounting Office report compared the Department of Defense’s relationship with the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Department of Energy’s relationship with the Russian Navy. It found that DOE had made significant progress in securing nuclear warheads under the jurisdiction of the Navy, while DOD had installed only one-third of available perimeter fencing at warhead storage sites. The department was unable to install any security equipment to address insider threats because Russia refused to grant access to the facilities (US GAO 2003).

In situations where language, culture, and bilateral history impede a working relationship between two states it is understandable that transparency will be a challenge. However, the 2005 Annual Report noted an increase in information exchange, both among donor states and from the Russian Federation (G8 Senior Group 2005).

Transparency is directly linked to the relative role of the recipient state in threat reduction programs. When threat reduction is perceived as an aid program in which Russia is an ungrateful recipient of US resources, complaints have implied either that Russia is not paying its way or, worse, that as a result of GPP largesse, Russia is able to concentrate on modernizing its remaining nuclear weapon program. But gradually, and particularly through the GPP, Russia has become a more active partner in the threat reduction project, as both a financial donor and contributor of expertise. Russia determined the four priority areas in which GPP funding should be directed, and is increasingly seeking to play an equal role in project administration. The liability crisis is evidence of this trend toward Russia’s increasing partnering. Although partnering is not found in the absence of a sense of ownership and responsibility, it may become an important baseline for progress.

Finally, the GPP has shown tangible and measurable results. Practical disarmament activities, such as the dismantlement of submarines or destruction of launch vehicles, provide a demonstrable measure of success. Government officials and parliamentarians responsible for funding the activities can report positive progress to their publics. Projects such as the Shchuch’ye chemical weapon destruction facility are more prone to criticism because of the immense costs and time delays,8 but once in operation, they will also provide examples of concrete progress toward elimination of the most harmful weapons on earth.

Expanding the mandate

In 2004, G8 leaders meeting at Sea Island, Georgia, considered expanding the GPP beyond Russia to other states with similar proliferation threats. Ukraine agreed to partner in the GPP framework and was admitted to the Program in 2004, and potential threat reduction projects are being explored (G8 Senior Group 2005). It remains to be seen if other states will formally join the program but Russia has expressed some concern that such expansion may divert funding away from the areas of greatest concern.

The Global Partnership Program was formulated in the post-9/11 context of the war on terror, targeting the Russian proliferation threat. Some partners clearly refer to the program as practical disarmament, although the US in particular retains the phrases “co-operative threat reduction” and “non-proliferation assistance,” implying a direct link to the terrorism agenda. As a consequence, the program tends to prioritize security measures designed to prevent leakage of dangerous materials and technologies, although not necessarily their destruction. That said, expansion of the GPP approach – both horizontally to other states with WMD arsenals, and vertically to include disarmament of operational weapons systems – is not inconceivable. The successes, and perhaps even more the failures, of threat reduction have built a body of knowledge from which to expand the scope of threat reduction to other states, and to a wider disarmament mandate.

In some cases, assistance might involve aiding other states in meeting obligations already made under the Chemical Weapons Treaty or Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The US and UK have both commenced projects to redirect the weapons scientists involved in research in the clandestine Libyan and Iraqi WMD programs. Based on its past experience in Russia, the US has also launched a “Global Threat Reduction Initiative” to support the security of nuclear and radiological materials and facilities around the world, including the transition from use of Highly-Enriched Uranium to low enriched Uranium in civilian power reactors (Abraham 2004).

Some have proposed adapting the GPP model to India, Israel, or Pakistan – which possess nuclear weapons outside of the multilateral Non-Proliferation Treaty regime – to help secure nuclear weapons and materials storage facilities. Each scenario will require careful coordination and a process of confidence-building. While no strategy has universal application, the Russian experience will no doubt assist in avoiding pitfalls.

Threat reduction in Russia since 1992 has demonstrated the extraordinary challenge and immense cost of disarmament – in pursuit of targets established to limit weapons of mass destruction, not to mention a future program toward their elimination. The Global Partnership Program has leveraged the political weight and influence of the G8 to raise $20-billion to address a range of WMD threats, and it shows promise as a significant step in the right direction toward a comprehensive disarmament program.

Robin Collins has been active on peace, disarmament and global governance issues in Ottawa for many years. He is currently chair of council for the World Federalist Movement – Canada.



  1. All dollar figures used in this article are in US currency.
  2. The US Department of Energy budget request for 2006 included $6.6-billion for ‘Stockpile Stewardship’, which is intended to “ensure the operational readiness of the Nation’s nuclear weapons using science and technology to detect and predict problems in the stockpile.”
  3. Progress on these and other initiatives is outlined in the G8 Global Partnership Annual Report prepared by the G8 Senior Group for the Gleneagles G8 Summit, June 2005.
  4. The Nunn-Lugar amendment of 1991 was an immediate response to the political transition in the former Soviet Union, which was in 1995 referred to by Secretary of Defense William Perry as “defense by other means” (Woolf 2001, p. CRS-3).
  5. Seventy-one million dollars was requested by the Department of State for FY2006 (Hoem 2005c). The department of Defense requested $415.5-million for Fiscal Year 2006 (Hoehn 2005b). The Department of Energy requested $722.3-million for Fiscal Year 2006, up from the $591.1-million appropriated for 2005 (Hoehn 2005a).
  6. In the spring of 2005 Kenneth Luongo and William Hoehn (2005) reported on some progress on the accessibility issue, noting that “a compromise on access could be in the works, but time is running out.”
  7. Cristina Chuen (Center for Nonproliferation Studies 2004, p. 11) determines that the Global Partnership Working Group’s “main usefulness will continue to be in bringing high-level attention to difficulties encountered during the implementation of projects designed and implemented at over levels.”
  8. The US alone is contributing some $1-billion to the Shchuch’ye construction project, which has been delayed but now has an anticipated completion date of 2008, becoming operational by 2009 (Nguyen 2005). Canada has pledged some $45-million through 2005 for affiliated projects, including support for the UK initiative to build an 18-km rail link from the chemical weapons storage depot to the destruction facility (Foreign Affairs Canada 2005).


Abraham, S. 2004, “GTRI Partners Conference Opening Keynote Address, Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Energy Secretary Abraham,” September 20.

Bunn, M. 2004, “Securing Nuclear Warheads and Materials: Mayak Fissile Materials Storage Facility,” Nuclear Threat Initiative Factsheet, last updated 30 January.

Center for Non-Proliferation Studies 2004, Coordinating Submarine Dismantlement Assistance in Russia.

Department of Foreign Affairs 2005, “Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Material of Mass Destruction,” Presentation to the Department of Foreign Affairs Civil Society Consultation, Ottawa, 9 March.

Foreign Affairs Canada 2005, “Chemical Weapons Destruction,” Global Partnership Program factsheet, updated 5 May.

G8 Senior Group 2005, G8 Global Partnership Annual Report, prepared for the Gleneagles G8 Summit, June.

Government of Canada 2002, “The G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction,” Statement by G8 Leaders.

Hoehn, W. 2005a, “Preliminary Analysis of the DOE FY 2006 Nonproliferation Budget Request,” February 9.

Hoehn, W. 2005b, “Preliminary Analysis of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Fiscal Year 2006 Cooperative Threat Reduction Budget Request,” March 2.

Hoehn, W. 2005c, “Preliminary Analysis of the U.S. State Department Fiscal Year 2006 Global Threat Reduction Programs Request,” March 24.

Luongo, K. & Hoehn, W. 2005, “An ounce of prevention,Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 61;2, March/April, pp 28-35.

Nguyen, M. 2005, “Russia Speeds Chemical Weapon Disposal” Arms Control Today, 35:1, January/February.

RANSAC 2005, “Liability Agreement with Russia A Reversal of U.S. Hard Line,” Press Release, 21 July.

US Department of Energy 2005, “Department of Energy Budget Factsheet”, Office of Management and Budget.

United States General Accounting Office 2003, Weapons of Mass Destruction: Additional Russian Cooperation Needed to Facilitate U.S. Efforts to Improve Security at Russian Sites, GAO Report (GA-03-482), March.

Woolf, A. 2001, “Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs: Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 23 March.

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