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Diplomacy in Action

Cooperative Threat Reduction in the 21st Century

Ambassador Bonnie D. Jenkins
Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs 
Hudson Institute
Washington, DC
March 8, 2011


MR. ANDREW SEMMEL: We’re very fortunate to have Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins here today. She is the Coordinator for Threat Reduction programs in the Department of State. It’s a new senior position in the State Department, so she is the first incumbent in this position that was created in the Obama administration and by Secretary Clinton.

We’ll try a new format for these presentations today. Ambassador Jenkins and I will have an interaction, back-and-forth and some Q&As, and I’ll ask some questions and she’ll respond as she sees fit. And perhaps I’ll have some follow-up questions to those too.

Following that, we’ll open up the questions to the audience. And in addition to the questions that you might ask up here, since this is being live-streamed, I can field questions from those observing from afar who want to send in some questions to my. My email address is So we may get some questions that I can get on the web from the Internet as we go to open up questions on the floor.

By way of just a very, very general statement at the outset, cooperative threat reduction program really began when the Cold War ended. And there was a situation in the states of the former Soviet Union, which collapsed at that point in time, that led to deep concerns about the vulnerability of weapons of mass destruction, the materials associated with the technology of the weapons as well as the expertise that was behind much of the Soviet programs of weapons of mass destruction. The initial response by the United States came in the form for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program that was conceived in 1991 and came into being in fiscal year 1992. That was called the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991.

The program, interestingly, was conceived after delegates from the former Soviet Union came to the United States and informed the administration, the congress and others of the risk and the dangers of unsecured and poorly inventoried weapons of mass destruction programs in the former Soviet Union. This raised all kinds of alarm bells and there was an effort to respond to that. It was very difficult. The Soviet Union, after all, had been our principle adversary for more than half a century.

And I can tell you it was a rough start. The going wasn’t very easy at the outset. It was a time in which the American people were looking for a peace dividend. They didn’t want to get involved. The initial thought about how to deal with these unsecured weapons of mass destruction was initially thought of as foreign assistance. And you know how foreign assistance is very low on the totem pole of priorities, until it was re-conceptualized as defense by other means by those who were working on this program, and then we got a turnaround on that.

So the Nunn-Lugar program stated in 1992 with about $400 million in the defense department. This was not new money, but it was money that the defense department already being allocated and appropriated. So there were no new funds appropriated, but the defense department could use $400 million for the cooperative threat program.

The focus at that time was dubbed “loose nukes,” a term that’s used (without license ?). And the urgent need was to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons, disable and destroy some of them, nuclear and chemical weapons, and to bring them back as necessary for safe storage in Russia, and then to establish safeguards against further proliferation of these weapons. The overall goal of the Nunn-Lugar program was, and still remains, to prevent weapons of mass destruction, materials and technology associated with those weapons, as well as the expertise necessary to develop and use them, from getting into the hands of non-state actors, terrorists, criminal elements, other opportunists, as well as rogue states.

It’s based on the underlying logic that reducing the threat and keeping dangerous weapons away from these rogue elements, non-states actors and states, is simply too big and complex for one state to handle. The challenges are too great to handle. And the task, to be successful, had to involve collaboration and cooperation. Hence the term, cooperative threat reduction.

Since the 1990s the CTR has evolved. And just to mention some very generic things, it has evolved and grown geographically. Originally the Nunn-Lugar program focused on Russia and then Ukraine, and has grown over time to include a number and diversity of countries participating both as donors and as recipient countries. Donors offer their capital and expertise and recipient countries allow others to come in to deal with loose nukes and attendant problems.

The program has grown in the amount of funding dedicated to CTR from about the $400 million that I mentioned earlier to more than $1 billion per annum. And it’s grown in the number and diversity of the programs created over time to secure and prevent the spread of nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological weapons. The CTR has also grown from what was originally a dire emergency to a more structured program. The focus was originally on DOD, the Department of Defense, but now obviously the Department of State, the Department of Energy are deeply involved as principal managers of the various CTR programs.

But it interestingly involves also other federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, even Homeland Security. But it also involves international governmental organizations. The IAEA is a part of this, the UN Security Council 1540. And it also involves non-governmental organizations. The NTI, for example, plays a role in this, as well as the private section.

So the program has grown from its original inception back in the early 1990s with its focus on Russia, to a much more global effort. And we’ll get into some of that during our Q&A. So with that, unless you’d like to say a few words?

AMB. BONNIE JENKINS: No, I think you pretty much – thank you for that – I think you pretty much outlined a lot of what I would have obviously said at the beginning, which is how CTR has grown and has expanded in the years since this started in 1992 from being a program run by DOD, with DOE and State Department, to one that has a lot more agencies, to one that has a lot more regions of focus. The type of threat that we had faced in 1992 is not the same type of threats we face today, which are much more global and which therefore require activities and programs that can address the types of threats we have today. So you have different programs, different agencies, different international organizations involved, different regions of focus and a different emphasis in the types of work that we do.

There are a lot of things that I do at State Department – it has really focused a lot of my attention on some of these new activities, trying to coordinate them, and also trying to do a lot internationally in trying to gain interest in the type of activities that we’re doing in the United States, but also the kind of things we’re doing with our allies and partners through a number of initiatives. And I’m focusing a lot on Africa and trying to increase the type of programs that we do in that region and other regions as we reach out the CTR, which has changed so much since 1992. That pretty much outlines a lot of what I focus a lot of my attention on, the new CTR, the evolution of CTR.

MR. SEMMEL: Okay, what I’m going to do is start this first part of the program and we’ll go back and forth on some Q&As and then we’ll open it up to the floor. Let me start out with some very general questions to sort of provide the frame within which you may want to follow-up with some questions. To some extent, we’ve already provided a brief description or overview of the CTR program as it’s now configured. And where do you believe it should be going and moving into the future? As you pointed out, 1991-1992 is not the same as 2011. Times have changed. The program has changed with it. So could you give us kind of an overview umbrella?

AMB. JENKINS: I guess I’d just say generally speaking that the umbrella CTR now is pretty much a wide umbrella, a much wider umbrella. DOD, as you mentioned, focused a lot of its original attention on Russia, the former Soviet Union, because of 1992 and the events that followed in securing materials in Russia and the former Soviet Union. But now, for example, the DOD is much more engaged in biological, biosecurity, biosafety issues, surveillance issues outside Russia, the former Soviet Union.

You have DOE, the Department of Energy, involved in a number of countries, over 90 countries that they’re engaged in, working on radiological security, nuclear security, nuclear materials security issues, border security issues. You have the Department of State, which is also reaching out to areas in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. So the umbrella CTR now is a lot more expansive, as we were saying earlier, with agencies to some degree doing a lot of what they did before but also doing a lot of new things.

The State Department, for example, is still focusing a lot on scientist engagement work, working with individuals, working with the human factor, still doing that globally. But you also have new agencies – the CTR umbrella is even wider because of that reason because you have CDC engaged now, USDA, as you said on animal health issues. So if you define the structure of CTR you will see some similarities in the sense that some agencies are doing some similar things but in different regions.

You will find some departments doing different things than they’ve done before in the last few years since 1992. And also under that structure and umbrella, you’ll see new agencies more engaged because they’re doing biosecurity, engagement. And so you need not only their expertise, but you also need the fact that some of these agencies-departments have been engaged in some of the regions that we want to go into, for example, Africa, Latin America. They’ve been there for a number of years. So we need their expertise and knowledge in those regions. So the structure is a lot wider in terms of what’s happened.

MR. SEMMEL: What is CTR? It seems to me when you talk about how much funding is provided for this program, what do you include and what do you exclude? Virtually all of our programs dealing with nonproliferation could conceivably be subsumed under the rubric of what is the cooperative threat reduction program. If you get into some of the innovations that were created during the Bush administration, for example, the Proliferation Security Initiative, a global initiative, a representative example from the Bush administration.

Is that part of the CTR? I mean, is there a demarking line in what you can include, what you can’t include? And I know in the various discussions that probably take place in the G-8, where you also represent the United States on these issues, on nonproliferation and global partnership, that there’s some effort to try to identify the amount of funding that the United States contributes on an annual basis. But all that is dependent on what you include as part of cooperative threat reduction and what is not. It’s hard for me to get my arms around exactly where the parameters are in this program.

AMB. JENKINS: Thank you. That’s a very good question because what I’ve been looking at is how do you define CTR today. Because you do look at things like the Global Initiative and the Proliferation Security Initiative and ask are those included? Some would say no it’s not, those are a special type of programs that are not really the traditional type of CTR programs. So I think a lot of it will depend on who you ask.

Currently, for example, in the G-8 partnership we’re not counting things that are done under PSI, for example, but we probably will in the future. But right now the CTR programs are the traditional programs with new programs like export controls. We see a lot more of that: the biosecurity, bio-engagement program. All of the programs are permissive in which we work, if a country requests or a country asks – you know, they ask for assistance or we promote assistance in a permissive environment.

And there are certain categories of activities that I would say the G-8 (funds ?), which is one way of measuring what CTR, to a certain degree, have not been counted. So we haven’t been counting Global Initiative activities. We haven’t been counting Proliferation Security Initiative activities.

But we will be counting, for example, activities under UN Security Council Resolution 1540. And we will be counting bio-engagement type of activities, disease surveillance activities. So I guess the best definition would be that right now we don’t – look at that as one way of measuring the G-8 partnership – we don’t count those. But I think that as we look at this issue there have been some internal discussions about how we define CTR. We’ve actually come up with a new definition, which I didn’t bring with me, but it’s a lot more expansive in how it defines what CTR is so that it can encompass things like GI and PSI.

MR. SEMMEL: The reason I asked that question is there is a kind of an evolving architecture for nonproliferation: nuclear, chemical, bio that exists. It’s an architecture, I think, that was not designed from a blueprint early on that this is the way we deal with these problems. But it’s an architecture in which there’s units built into that over time in reaction to events: the collapse of the Soviet Union for example, or 9/11 and other things. So it’s an architecture that is not particularly pretty, necessarily, if you want to think of it as a structure. But it’s a sort of tacking on of different types of initiatives to deal with problems usually in a reactive mode over time in the U.S. and other countries.

It’s interesting to try to reconstruct how all those programs were put together, some of which are under the rubric of CTR and some of which are not. You’ve read the description of the program today on the Hudson Institute web site. There are a number of questions that are posed and I’m just going to sort of use them at the outset also to ask a number of broad questions.

And one of the questions that was there is the CTR has been up and running for almost two decades now, starting in the early 1990s, and the question that we are interested in is how can the CTR program continue to be effective in the 21st century? We earlier noted that times are not the same, times have changed, issues have arisen, there’s different players out there, different concerns and this has evolved over time. So how can the CTR, after these changes, continue to be effective? I think we all tend to agree that it has been effective, although we might disagree on how much so. Does the CTR have the staying power? Will it be staying with us and be reasonably effective in dealing with the larger issue of keeping dangerous items, dangerous weapons, dangerous materials out of the hands of dangerous people?

AMB. JENKINS: I think the fact that the threats have not gone away, and in fact that they’ve become more complex and more global, in itself is a driving force for continued work on CTR. Because the desire to deal with these concerns and threats, and the fact that they have become more complex, in itself is a driving force for continued work in the future. I seriously doubt anyone would feel any more secure by not having these programs as the threats themselves continue to evolve.

I think that by continuing to be innovative in the way in which we address these threats is important. I think that ensuring that we have all the players at the table, who have a stake in this, is very important. I think continuing to reach out to our international partners to get them engaged is important.

Very often I hear colleagues from the G-8 (global partnership ?) and elsewhere who are interested in new types – of doing different types of programs, whether it’s biosecurity in different parts of the world they have not been engaged in to date – there’s an interest in continuing to do these kinds of things. So I think we need to continue that momentum, in addition to try to continue funding, to keep doing this work. So there is an interest to continue to address these threats.

Having things like the Nuclear Security Summit, for example, also helps because it gives such high level attention to some of these issues; on nuclear materials, for example, securing those materials. Continuing to have those things is important. Having a national strategy on biosecurity, for example, that the U.S. released in 2009 is also important to provide the momentum that we need.

You know, to continue to push UN Security Council Resolution 1540, getting an extension on that, is also important. So these are ways in which you can continue the momentum, not only having these activities continue and continue to address the threat and being innovative, but also to continue to bring in partners from donor countries. Also, to continue to engage other countries who are not involved in these efforts who we want to become involved, who we want to become partners, and help them understand why it’s important to become involved and how these efforts can really help them and promote some of their security issues.

So I think (our efforts ?) will continue. The threats aren’t going anywhere. If anything, like I said, they’re becoming more complex.

MR. SEMMEL: Is it possible for the United States to persuade Russia, for example, a long-term recipient of these programs, to partner with the United States and with others for that matter, given their experience in the various CTR programs really from the inception, is it possible that we can get Russia, for example, to not only be a recipient but also be a partner in terms of lending its expertise, perhaps some of its resources, to achieve the same kinds of progress that we’re talking about outside of the former Soviet Union or in other states of the former Soviet Union? Is it possible that Russia can play that kind of role?

AMB. JENKINS: It definitely is possible, I think it’s also important that they do. I know that in past years since the Global Partnership began they have been funding some of their – some of the work that has been going on there in terms of the destruction of submarines and chemical weapons. But I think it’s also important, as you said, to take advantage of the experience that is in Russia to help them become more of a donor country and not a recipient, even though we try to get away from the term donor-recipient as much as possible.

But essentially yes, we would like them to do a lot more. And I have heard, I have one of my Russian colleagues in the audience who may want to say something later, but I have heard mumblings about the several times some of my Russian colleagues have expressed an interest in maybe doing some of that and getting engaged and being a donor in some of the kind of activities that we’re doing outside Russia, the former Soviet Union. So that’s something that I know the U.S. is very interested in. I know that some of the departments and agencies within the U.S. are interested in it and would be very much happy if they would use some of their expertise to help other regions to address some of the concerns that we have on these issues.

MR. SEMMEL: Have we actually made any attempt for them to do that?

AMB. JENKINS: We have. I mean, I have made efforts in some of my visits actually to talk with them about that and discuss this issue with them. So it’s something that’s on the table that we’re talking about.

There’s some other issues that we want to resolve. I think the G-8 Global Partnership will be a mechanism, a good mechanism, to have this kind of discussion with them. We’re trying to resolve some other issues with the Global Partnership right now, but I think that that’s something that definitely we can talk with them, particularly in that kind of a forum.

MR. SEMMEL: Another question I wanted to ask, again that’s on the description of the event we’re having today, is what are some key lessons learned from the past nearly decade of the CTR program, the Nunn-Lugar program, the CTR program? There should obviously be a learning component to them so that we make those adaptations to future programs based upon what we’ve experienced over the 17 or 18 years of those programs. What are some key lessons that sort of jump out at you?

AMB. JENKINS: I guess a couple of things. One would be engagement and the importance of continued engagement with countries. These programs won’t work unless you are working with individuals on a regular basis and willing to put the time and energy in, to travel, to meet with individuals, to keep it going when there’s problems, to work through them to the degree that you’re able to, and that it’s really a long-term thing for long-term sustainability. I think that’s very important.

Right now we have started a lot of very, very good work in Russia, in the former Soviet Union. And the issue now is how do we make sure that that work is sustained, particularly as the U.S. and other countries decide to start working in other parts of the world? You want to make sure that the work that you have done already continues there and is sustainable. And that shows the importance of engaging individuals in regions of the world. As we go into other regions, not only do we go in there with ideas and ways in which to do things, but to help them develop the capacities so that the work that we’re doing can be sustained in the future so that we don’t feel that we have to be there forever. So as we go and improve security at facilities and help with surveillance issues, and then know that there’s a culture there that will pick that up and do that in the future and own that issue and buy into that issue so that it will be (sustained ?).

MR. SEMMEL: What are some of the key problems, some of the key obstacles that we’re confronting with the continuation of the CTR program, not just in Russia but generally speaking? What are some of the key obstacles and problems that we have encountered? I know you have to get the cooperation, obviously, of the host government.

Somebody just asked before we started this program if we’re still in touch with Libyan scientists engaged in redirecting the program in Libya? Well it’s pretty difficult to do it under the present circumstances. So there are some real problems of entry and access and things like that. But could you just maybe talk very generally about some problems and challenges that we’re now facing as we go forward?

AMB. JENKINS: Well I guess the most obvious would be the funding issue. You have to have the funding to do this work. So that’s obviously one very important issue. The other one is, as you said, the political issues. You don’t know when something may crop up to slow things down. You may be in the process of really of really developing a program, you’re focused on it, you’re working on it, and then a political situation as you’re set to go into different regions (causes ?) a different perception of threat and different security issues. And their priority of security issues may not mesh with the same ones that we have.

So it’s not so much a problem as much as something we have to learn to work with. When you work with them (you learn ?) trafficking is also important in our respect too in terms of nuclear material or securing radiological material to securing borders in general, to make sure that people who transit illicit material can’t – (inaudible) – also the same ones that you want to secure so that you can prevent human trafficking. So it’s learning how to adjust to different threat perceptions, different security concerns, different levels of security concerns, which is different from what I think we had in the past.

And capacity is a big one. It’s the fact that these are all great programs but if a country doesn’t have the capacity to do the programs they’re not going to want to be doing them, which is logical.

(End of coverage).

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