Last week the Russian government indicated it would not renew the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program. This two decade-old effort was established to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons in the Former Soviet Union. According to Sen. Richard Lugar, one of its sponsors, it has succeeded in deactivating more than 7,600 nuclear warheads and eliminating 498 ICBM silos, 33 ballistic missile submarines, and 155 strategic bombers.
Friction between Russia and the US about ballistic missile defense is the obvious correlate to this decision, and the New York Times reported that President Putin sets higher priority on arbitrating that issue than on cooperative nonproliferation. Yet later in the same piece the Times connected this decision to another that has been generally overlooked: last month Russia tossed USAID out of the country. The resulting loss includes USAID support for child welfare, public health, land rights, microfinance, as well as an independent election-monitoring group.
None of this involves big money. That makes Russia’s choices all the more telling, since they found these foreign aid programs worth resisting despite them being low-dollar. And, though shutting down CTR may be more about the influence it adds to US foreign aid than about missile defense, it serves as a reminder of the economy and efficiency CTR has brought to nuclear threat reduction going back to the early ‘90s.