Congressional Research Service Reports

[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

91144: Nuclear Weapons in the Former Soviet Union: Location, Command, and Control

Updated November 27, 1996

Amy F. Woolf
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division





Quantity, Location, and Control of Soviet Nuclear Weapons
Locations of Soviet Nuclear Weapons
Command and Control of Soviet Nuclear Weapons
Changes in Soviet Nuclear Weapons After 1991
Activity and Opinion in the Newly Independent States
Joint Control of Nuclear Weapons
Views in Russia
Views in Ukraine
Views in Kazakhstan
Views in Belarus
Continuing Concerns about Control and Security of Soviet Nuclear Weapons
Strategic Nuclear Weapons
Strategic Bombers
Security Concerns
Tactical Nuclear Weapons
Land-Based Tactical Nuclear Weapons
Sea-Based Tactical Nuclear Weapons
Security Concerns
Soviet Nuclear Facilities and Materials
Steps to Improve Nuclear Weapons Safety and Security
Arms Control Measures
The Bush and Gorbachev Proposals
Clinton-Yeltsin Targeting Agreement
Technical Assistance: The Nunn-Lugar Program
Safety and Security of Nuclear Facilities and Materials





The demise of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the newly independent states raised concerns about the control of Soviet nuclear weapons. This issue brief outlines the location and command and control systems for Soviet nuclear weapons, reviews the debate over changes in their location and control systems, and examines measures, including U.S. technical assistance, that might enhance their security.

Before the end of 1991, the vast majority of Soviet nuclear weapons were deployed or stored in Russia. Strategic weapons in non-Russian republics are supposed to be eliminated under the Lisbon Protocol to START I. A tripartite U.S.-Russian-Ukrainian declaration, signed in January 1994, committed Ukraine to removing all former Soviet nuclear weapons from its territory. This occurred by June 1, 1996. Kazakhstan has also eliminated all the nuclear weapons on its territory. In late November 1996, the nuclear warheads from the last 18 missiles in Belarus were returned to Russia; the missiles are expected to follow by the end of the year.

The command and control system for Soviet strategic and tactical nuclear weapons remains centered in Moscow. Leaders in other former Soviet states could not launch weapons on their territory, and none stated a desire for operational control over those weapons. Even so, in the past Russian President Yeltsin has stated that he would attempt to gain their agreement before authorizing the use of these weapons. The command and control structure for strategic nuclear weapons involves tight central control. The weapons cannot be used unless President Yeltsin, Defense Minister Grachev, and the Chief of the Russian General Staff generate and transmit the necessary codes. Even though all tactical nuclear weapons have been moved to storage areas in Russia, questions exist about the locks employed on these weapons and possible breaches in security at Russian storage facilities. Many now believe that the risk of acquisition or use by rebels, criminals, or rogue military leaders may be greater for tactical nuclear weapons than it is for strategic nuclear weapons.

Others have expressed fears over the possible sale or transfer of Soviet nuclear materials or nuclear knowledge by newly independent states in search of hard currency. An additional concern was the possible deterioration of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

These concerns have led to a number of proposals to tighten control over or enhance the safety and security of these weapons. For example, all land-based and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons in the United States and former Soviet republics have been removed from deployment and placed in storage, and the U.S. and Russia have agreed to no longer target each other with strategic nuclear missiles. In addition, the United States has offered Russia and the other newly-independent republics technical and financial assistance through the Nunn-Lugar Program to aid with the transportation, storage, and elimination of the nuclear weapons on their territory.


On September 20, 1996, officials in Kazakhstan and Russia announced that all the silos that had housed SS-18 ICBMs in Kazakhstan had been destroyed according to the provisions in START I.

On November 27, 1996, officials in Belarus and Russia held a ceremony to mark the return to Russia of the nuclear warheads from the last 18 SS-25 ICBMs in Belarus. The missiles and their launchers are scheduled to be returned to Russia by the end of the year.


The demise of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 generated numerous questions and concerns about the number, location, and control of Soviet nuclear weapons. Immediate concerns focused on the possibility that some weapons might be lost or stolen, or that weapons might be launched by accident or without the authorization of responsible officials. The United States took several steps in late 1991 that were designed to reduce these risks; some of these efforts continue with funding provided under the Nunn- Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

At the same time, many expressed concerns that the demise of the Soviet Union might lead to the creation of several new nuclear powers because Soviet nuclear weapons were deployed on the territories of several of the former Soviet republics. Most observers believed that the existence of several nuclear states would undermine stability between the United States and former Soviet republics and could lead to new nuclear dangers and instabilities among these new nuclear states. The United States spent a considerable amount of time and diplomatic energy in 1992 and 1993 to ensure that only Russia would be left with nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union.

Quantity, Location, and Control of Soviet Nuclear Weapons

According to most estimates, the Soviet Union possessed more than 27,000 nuclear weapons in 1991. These include more than 11,000 strategic nuclear weapons -- warheads on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and weapons on bombers with the range needed to attack the continental United States -- along with more than 15,000 warheads for tactical nuclear weapons (such as artillery shells, short-range missiles, nuclear air-defense and ballistic missile defense interceptors, nuclear torpedoes and sea-launched cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons for shorter-range aircraft). Additional information that became available in late 1993 indicated that the Soviet Union had at one time possessed almost 45,000 nuclear warheads -- 12,000 more than had generally been thought to exist by Western analysts. In addition, the same source indicated that the Russian inventory of bomb-grade uranium was now believed to be nearly 1,200 tons -- more than twice as large as was formerly thought to exist.

Locations of Soviet Nuclear Weapons

All Soviet nuclear weapons are currently deployed or stored in Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed, most of the Soviet tactical nuclear weapons (those with ranges below 360 miles) were in Russia. During the Cold War, many tactical nuclear weapons had been stationed in republics that were closer to prospective theaters of operation. The Soviet leadership had moved nuclear weapons from Eastern Europe, the former Baltic republics, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to Russia prior to the end of 1991. Of those tactical nuclear weapons that remained outside Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed, the majority reportedly were in Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, with perhaps less than 5% in Georgia and the Central Asian states (Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.) All of these were moved to storage areas in Russia by early May 1992.

In 1991, more than 80% of Soviet strategic nuclear weapons, including all ballistic missile submarines, were deployed at bases in Russia. The remaining strategic nuclear weapons were deployed in Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Each of these states has agreed to return all nuclear warheads on its territory to Russia (this process is underway) and eliminate delivery vehicles for these weapons. Table 1 depicts the number of nuclear weapons deployed in these states in late 1991 and the number remaining today.

***TABLE or GRAPHIC not shown here***

Command and Control of Soviet Nuclear Weapons

According to American and Russian sources, the command and control system for all strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is centered in Moscow; this central command authority would have to authorize the use of any of those weapons. The release and dissemination of nuclear weapons authorization and enabling codes begins at the top of the political and military establishments in Russia. The President of Russia and the Minister of Defense would independently generate and transmit a special code, which would be combined with a third code provided by the Chief of the Russian General Staff. This combined code would then be transmitted to the forces in the field, where it apparently would become part of the enabling codes needed to arm and launch the weapons.

The demise of the Soviet Union affected the participants in, but probably not the structure of, the nuclear command and control system. As the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin replaced Soviet President Gorbachev at the top of the command authority. At the time, Soviet President Gorbachev and Russian President Yeltsin both assured U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that the tight central control of nuclear weapons would remain in place. Leaders in the three other states with Soviet nuclear weapons on their territories do not have access to the codes needed to unlock and launch nuclear weapons. Russian President Yeltsin said he would consult leaders in other republics before authorizing the use of nuclear weapons, but the other leaders are not a part of the central command authority and none of the leaders in the three non-Russian nuclear republics ever sought unilateral operational control over the missiles deployed on his territory.

Some reports indicated that Ukraine was seeking to take operational control over the weapons on its territory. Ukrainian officials denied this, noting that they only sought administrative control over troops based on their soil (this is discussed in more detail below). Officials in Russia expressed particular concerns about the bomber-carried weapons based in Ukraine. The minimum range of most of the Soviet ballistic missiles is too long for Ukraine to use them against Russia, but if Ukraine broke the codes on bomber-carried weapons, it might be able to threaten to use or use them in a conflict with Russia.

Changes in Soviet Nuclear Weapons After 1991

Activity and Opinion in the Newly Independent States

Joint Control of Nuclear Weapons. When several former Soviet republics formed the Commonwealth of Independent States in late 1991 (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the five Central Asian republics, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) they agreed to establish a joint command for nuclear weapons even though control of the authorization codes would remain in Moscow. This arrangement was supposed to ensure that non-Russian republics had a say in the future disposition of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, during 1992 and 1993, the participants in the CIS were unable to devise a new command structure for strategic weapons. These weapons were initially placed under joint control, with Marshall Shaposhnikov as the central Commonwealth Commander. However, this joint command was dissolved in June 1993 without agreement on a new permanent arrangement. Marshall Shaposhnikov reportedly transferred his set of launch authorization codes to Russian Defense Minister Grachev in July 1993, an act that confirmed that strategic nuclear weapons were under Russian -- rather than joint Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- control.

Officials in Ukraine refused to recognize Russia's jurisdiction over nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory. Ukraine insisted that the weapons were Ukraine's property and should be under Ukraine's administrative control, i.e., although only Russian President Yeltsin could authorize the use of the weapons, Ukraine should be responsible for activities related to the weapons and the troops supporting them while the weapons remained on Ukrainian soil. Russian officials objected to the Ukrainian approach and argued that Ukraine's efforts to maintain and store the weapons contradicted its pledge to become nuclear free. Russia also argued that Ukraine's approach contributed to problems with the maintenance of the missiles deployed on Ukrainian territory. Some Russians argued that the missiles in Ukraine did not receive proper periodic maintenance and were, as a result, beginning to become unsafe.

Russian officials contended that the absence of proper maintenance was caused by the fact that Ukraine has taken responsibility for day-to-day operations at the bases but that it lacked the technical ability to maintain the missiles. Ukraine, in contrast, insisted that Russia had agreed to maintain the missiles and warheads as a part of the joint operational command of strategic systems, but that it has failed to provide needed spare parts and technical expertise.

Views in Russia. In August 1991, President Yeltsin suggested that other republics transfer their nuclear weapons to Russia. The other republics initially rejected this suggestion, but, by December 1991, the members of the CIS had agreed to consolidate tactical nuclear weapons in Russia. These weapons were all moved to Russia by May 7, 1992. In addition, in January 1992, Russia apparently gave Undersecretary of State Bartholomew a plan showing that all strategic nuclear weapons outside Russia would be eliminated or moved into Russia under the provisions of START I. At the time, there was little evidence that the other republics agreed with this plan. However, on May 23, 1992, leaders of all four nuclear republics signed a Protocol to START in Lisbon, Portugal, that outlined the obligation to remove all strategic nuclear weapons from the non-Russian republics during the 7-year reduction period included in the treaty. Although Ukraine backtracked on this commitment for awhile and many officials in Ukraine argued that it should retain some of the weapons on its territory, (see the discussion below), START I and the Lisbon Protocol entered into force on December 5, 1994. When fully implemented, these agreements will lead to the elimination of all nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Views in Ukraine. When Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, antinuclear sentiment was particularly strong, in part as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in 1986. Immediately after the abortive Soviet coup, some Ukrainian leaders indicated that they wanted the Soviet Union to remove its nuclear weapons from Ukraine quickly. However, by early September 1991, opinions began to shift. Ukrainian President Kravchuk signed a decree prohibiting any movement of nuclear weapons in Ukraine unless he and the republic's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, were consulted. Many members of the Rada reportedly did not want the weapons moved into Russia because they felt this would concentrate too much power in Russia. In December 1991, President Kravchuk called for joint control over strategic nuclear weapons, with all nuclear republics -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- gaining a voice in the system that would authorize their use. While meeting with Secretary of State Baker in December 1991, President Kravchuk stated that Ukraine sought joint control over nuclear weapons while they remained in Ukraine, but that it would eventually eliminate both the tactical and strategic weapons.

Ukraine agreed to move its tactical nuclear weapons to Russia for elimination because it did not have the necessary dismantlement facilities. But it insisted that Ukrainians participate in and monitor the destruction process to ensure that Russia did destroy the weapons. Shipments were stopped in mid-March 1992 because Ukraine could not confirm that Russia was destroying them. President Kravchuk proposed that the Commonwealth states establish a mechanism for joint control over the weapons' destruction, or that an international group monitor and verify the destruction of those weapons. As an alternative, he also suggested that Ukraine build its own destruction facility to eliminate the weapons itself. Russia rejected proposals for international monitoring with Western participation because, according to Russian Defense Minister Morozov, this would disclose nuclear weapons design secrets. Ukraine and Russia came to an agreement in mid-April and Ukraine resumed shipping tactical nuclear weapons to Russia. For its part, Russia agreed to allow representatives from the four nuclear Commonwealth states to monitor warhead dismantlement. Ukraine accepted this arrangement as "international monitoring," in spite of a lack of Western participation. Both sides reported that the transfers had been completed by May 7, 1992.

Ukraine pledged to eliminate all of the strategic nuclear weapons on its territory when it signed the Lisbon Protocol to START I in May 1992. But the Rada did not review and debate START until mid-February 1993. (Ratification had been expected by the end of 1992.) President Kravchuk attributed the delay to the complexity of the treaty and the parliament's right to consider its terms carefully. He denied that the delay was due to a change in Ukraine's commitment to become nuclear-free.

Ukraine also asked for assistance with the elimination of these weapons and for compensation for the components and materials returned to Russia. Officials of the Bush Administration had stated, and those of the Clinton Administration initially repeated, that Ukraine could receive $175 million in Nunn-Lugar assistance to help with the dismantling of the weapons only after it approved START 1 and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Some in Ukraine believed that this sum was too small. Estimates have been made by Ukrainians that the destruction of nuclear weapons could cost Ukraine $1.5-$2 billion, and the entire process associated with the removal of missiles from the republic could cost more than $6 billion.

During 1993, a number of members of the Rada wanted Ukraine to retain some nuclear weapons. This view gained a prominent adherent when Prime Minister Kuchma, and later President Kravchuk, supported the argument that the 46 SS-24 missiles in Ukraine had been manufactured at facilities in that nation and could, therefore, be considered to be Ukrainian property. In addition, Kuchma stated that these weapons would have remained in a Soviet force under START, so Ukraine would not have to eliminate them to comply with the limits in START. (The United States rejected this view, stating that Ukraine agreed to eliminate all strategic offensive arms on its territory in a letter accompanying the May 1992 Lisbon Protocol to START.)

Ukraine also assumed "administrative control" over the weapons deployed in its territory. In doing so, it claimed responsibility for the day-to-day operations, storage and maintenance of the weapons and their facilities and the provision of food and supplies for the troops. In April 1993, Ukrainian Defense Minister Morozov announced that troops at the command and control center for nuclear weapons would also have to take an oath of loyalty to Ukraine.

At the same time, Ukraine began to deactivate some of the SS-19 ICBMs on its territory in July 1993. By the end of December 1993, Ukraine claimed to have removed the warheads from 20 of these six-warhead missiles, its SS-19s, and to have deactivated 20 of its 10-warhead SS-24 missiles.

Presidents Yeltsin and Kravchuk discussed nuclear weapons issues on a number of occasions in 1992 and 1993. Russia reportedly offered to defend Ukraine from attacks if Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. Russia and Ukraine also worked on an agreement that would allow Ukraine to share profits from the sale of highly enriched uranium to the United States. On September 3, 1993, the two countries apparently reached an agreement authorizing the deactivation and shipment to Russia of all ICBM warheads on Ukrainian territory. Three weeks later, the agreement was repudiated by Russia when copies of the text with handwritten changes intended to exclude the SS- 24s from the agreement were published in Ukrainian newspapers.

Following a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Christopher at the end of October 1993, President Kravchuk submitted START I and the NPT to the Rada for ratification. On November 18, the parliament ratified START by a vote of 254 to 9, but it attached many significant conditions. The parliament rejected the promise made in the Lisbon protocol that Ukraine would accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as soon as possible. The document also stated that the instruments of ratification would be exchanged with the other signatories only after a number of conditions had been met. Among the conditions was that Ukraine would rid itself of the nuclear weapons on its territory only if sufficient international financial and technical assistance were made available, and only after receiving guarantees concerning the non-use against it of nuclear weapons, of conventional military forces, of threats to resort to force, and of economic pressure. In another provision of the document, the parliament interpreted START I to require that Ukraine eliminate only 36% of the strategic delivery vehicles and 42% of the warheads on its territory. These conditions were unacceptable alterations to the terms of START I and, therefore, the treaty could not enter into force. In particular, the Russian resolution of ratification indicated that the treaty could not enter into force until Ukraine fulfilled all of its obligations under the Lisbon protocol, including the promised accession to the NPT.

The United States and Russia rejected the conditions in the Rada's declaration, but both nations continued to work with Ukraine to develop an acceptable solution. On January 14, 1994, President Kravchuk met with Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton in Moscow to sign a trilateral declaration. According to the terms of the declaration -- some of which still remain undisclosed -- in exchange for U.S. foreign aid, reactor fuel rods, tripartite mutual security guarantees, and compensation for fissile material transferred to Russia, Ukraine promised to remove all former Soviet nuclear weapons from its territory within 7 years and to accede to the NPT. In an annex to the statement, Ukraine promised to deactivate all SS-24s on its territory within ten months by removing the warheads from the missiles. In a major turnaround, the Rada passed a resolution on February 4 recognizing the tripartite declaration and indicating that it and President Kravchuk's actions had met the preconditions for ratification of START I that had been set out on November 18. Apparently, the steps taken by the Rada in February were heavily influenced by the combination of the extremely poor state of the Ukrainian economy, the promise of fuel for Ukrainian nuclear power plants, promises of U.S. and international aid for privatization and weapons dismantlement, and the tripartite security assurances (in spite of the fact that the assurances would not come in the form of a formal treaty, as many in Ukraine had wanted).

But START I could not enter into force because the Rada still had not approved Ukraine's accession to the NPT. When the new Rada convened after the March 1994 elections, ratification of the NPT was at the bottom of the agenda. Newly elected President Leonid Kuchma was equally unenthusiastic about early ratification of the NPT. Nonetheless, in response to U.S. pressure, on November 16, 1994, the Rada agreed that Ukraine would join the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state; this cleared the way for President Kuchma to visit the United States in late November and for START I to enter into force on December 5, 1994.

In early March 1994, two trains carrying a total of 120 warheads were dispatched from Ukraine to Russia. However, the Ukrainian government suspended further shipments. The reasons given by Ukrainian officials for the suspension were either that the nuclear power plant fuel assemblies expected from Russia had not been delivered or that detailed Russian media attention had compromised the security surrounding the weapons shipments. Russia finally did deliver some nuclear fuel assemblies to Ukraine in early April, and shipments resumed. By April 1995, some 420 strategic nuclear warheads had been transferred from Ukraine to Russia.

Although Ukraine and Russia agreed to a timetable for the removal of ballistic missiles warheads from Ukraine, throughout most of 1995 they had not resolved the final disposition of the 46 strategic bombers -- 19 TU-160 Blackjacks and 27 TU-95 Bears -- deployed in Ukraine. Ukraine had expressed an interest in selling the bombers to Russia, but the two sides remained far apart in their estimates of the value of the aircraft. At the end of November 1995, news reports indicated that Russia and Ukraine had agreed upon the sale of the aircraft, but the exact terms remained unclear.

Several officials in Russia and Ukraine pledged to complete the transfers of missile warheads by mid-1996. However, in March 1996, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security Council, Viktor Gorbulin, stated that Ukraine would not be able to meet this schedule because it did not have the "physical capabilities." He indicated that the transfers would be completed in the future but he did not state precisely when this would occur. Some believe that this statement came in response to a vote that had just occurred in the Russian parliament, the Duma. The Duma had approved a resolution that declared the break-up of the Soviet Union to be illegal and many members actively supported the reconstitution of the Soviet empire. In addition, officials in Ukraine have indicated that Russia had not lived up to its commitments under the Trilateral agreements because it did not provide Ukraine with any fuel assemblies for its nuclear power plants during the first quarter of 1996.

On June 1, 1996, President Kuchma announced that Ukraine had completed the shipment of all the nuclear warheads on its territory to Russia. Ukraine is now nuclear-free. In late July, Ukraine announced that it had opened an ICBM Neutralization and Dismantlement Facility in Dnipropetrovsk, where it would dismantle the SS-19 ICBMs removed from silos.

Views in Kazakhstan. After the demise of the Soviet Union, antinuclear sentiment was also strong in Kazakhstan, where contamination from decades of Soviet nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk created serious environmental and health problems. Kazakh President Nazarbayev announced on August 29, 1991, that he had closed the Semipalatinsk site. However, he did not want the nuclear weapons deployed in his republic moved into Russia. At a news conference following his September 17, 1991, meeting with Secretary of State Baker, President Nazarbayev said, "I am absolutely against having any single republic control all nuclear weapons by itself." Nonetheless, President Nazarbayev stated that Kazakhstan does not want to become a nuclear power and that he would not seek unilateral control over the weapons deployed in the republic. Instead, he favored a system of shared control, so that Kazakhstan would have a voice in the decisions about the weapons on its territory. He also stated that he wanted to participate in any international negotiations that would affect the nuclear weapons in his republic.

President Nazarbayev originally stated that Kazakhstan reserved the right to retain strategic nuclear weapons as long as Russia had strategic nuclear weapons. He suggested that Kazakhstan be considered a "temporary nuclear state" so that it could retain some SS-18 missiles until arrangements could be worked out for further reductions in Russian and Kazakh weapons and the elimination of the remaining missiles. Nonetheless, in May 1992, President Nazarbayev agreed that Kazakhstan would give up all of its strategic nuclear weapons by 1999 (when START I reductions must be complete) and sign the NPT as a non-nuclear state. When he signed the Protocol to START I on May 23, 1992, he confirmed that all nuclear weapons would be removed from Kazakh territory by 1999.

The Kazakh parliament ratified START I in July 1992. But, in February 1993, President Nazarbayev repeated that Kazakhstan would need a "100% guarantee" of its security if it gives up its nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan also sought U.S. financial and technical assistance that would help it eliminate the strategic nuclear weapons on its territory. After extensive negotiations, a Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement was finally signed during a visit by Vice President Gore after the Kazakh parliament ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty on December 13, 1993.

In February 1994, after 12 SS-18 missiles had been removed from service, the Kazakh government suspended further withdrawals of the warheads from the missiles pending agreement with Russia on the amount of compensation for the fissile material contained in the warheads. According to press reports, agreement was reached on the future of the missiles in talks between Presidents Yeltsin and Nazarbayev held March 27-30, 1994. However, almost a year later, the terms of compensation remained unavailable. In February 1995, the commander of Russian strategic rocket forces stated that 632 warheads had been withdrawn from Kazakhstan, and that 266 still remained.

According to numerous reports, all Soviet bombers that had been based in Kazakhstan, and the cruise missiles carried by those bombers, had been returned to Russia by the end of 1994. In compensation for the bombers and the nuclear warheads returned to Russia, Kazakhstan was to receive 43 modern aircraft -- including 21 Mig 29s -- by the end of 1995, and another 30 aircraft in the future. By early May 1995, Russian officials announced that all nuclear warheads had been removed from Kazakhstan. And, on September 20, 1996, officials in Kazkahstan and Russia announced that all 104 silos that had held the SS-18 missiles in Kazakhstan had been destroyed according to the provisions in START I.

Views in Belarus. The removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus initially did not provoke controversies like those in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. In February 1993, the parliament in Belarus gave its approval to START I and agreed that Belarus would accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. During debate on the treaties, some members of parliament suggested that Belarus seek compensation for its weapons, but the Chairman of the parliament, Stanislav Shushkevich, refused to place conditions on Belarus' approval of START and the NPT.

Belarus and Russia reportedly signed an agreement that states the strategic weapons would be removed within 5 years of START I entry-into-force. In early August 1993, officials in Belarus reported that all nuclear weapons could be removed from Belarus by the end of 1996 if they were withdrawn according to the schedule set for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Belarus. By November 1993, nine of the SS-25 missiles stationed in Belarus had been returned to Russia. According to news reports in March 1994, Russian and Belarusian officials had agreed that half of the remaining 72 SS-25 missiles were to be removed by the end of 1994 and the remainder by the end of 1995. By the end of 1994, only 36 SS-25 missiles remained in Belarus. However, press reports in July 1995 indicated that recently elected Belarusian President Lukashenko had ordered the withdrawal of the remaining 18 Soviet nuclear missiles halted until Belarus received compensation for the warheads and financial assistance to help with the elimination of Soviet missile bases. By late 1995, officials in Belarus and Russia reported that agreement had been reached and the last of the missiles would be out of Belarus by mid-1996. When June 1996 passed and 18 missiles remained in Belarus, officials in that nation reported that the agreement was to have the missiles removed by the end of 1996. Although President Lukashenko threatened to retain the missiles if NATO proceeded with plans to expand, the transfers continued. In late November 1996, officials in Belarus and Russia reported that the warheads from the last 18 missiles had been returned to Russia. The missiles and launchers were scheduled to follow by the end of the year.

Continuing Concerns about Control and Security of Soviet Nuclear Weapons

Many observers have expressed concerns about the possible unauthorized acquisition or use of Soviet nuclear weapons. Some fear the possible acquisition of Soviet nuclear weapons by criminals, rogue or terrorist groups. In addition, at hearings held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August 1995 and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in March 1996, witnesses indicated that there existed a real potential for the smuggling of weapons-grade fissile material from the former Soviet Union and that in an environment of large-scale military corruption and insubordination some Russian military personnel responsible for nuclear weapons faced severe financial shortages. In October 1996, several newspapers reported that a Top Secret intelligence document indicated that the U.S. remained concerned about the potential loss of control of Russian nuclear weapons. Although the report stated the risk of unauthorized use of nuclear weapons remained low, it indicated that control, particularly over nonstrategic nuclear weapons, had weakened in recent years and noted that a severe political crisis could result in a loss of control.

Strategic Nuclear Weapons

The existing command and control structure for strategic nuclear weapons has ensured tight central control over these weapons and, for some time, precluded their unauthorized use by a leader in a republic or a rogue officer or group in any of the republics. The weapons cannot be launched without the authorization codes that must be generated by the central national command authority. According to Bruce Blair of the Brookings Institution and Edward L. Warner III, formerly of the RAND Corporation, virtually all Soviet strategic weapons contained locking mechanisms that must be released with these codes. The command and control system also employs complex procedures to transmit the codes and employ the weapons.

ICBMs. Soviet ICBMs apparently employed permissive action links (PALs), which are electronic locks against the arming and detonation of the nuclear warheads. The launch crews must receive authorization codes that would allow them to release the PALs and also authorization codes that would allow them to actually initiate the launch of the missiles. During peacetime, the launch crews cannot communicate with the command centers that would send these codes; they must first receive a special message that authorizes them to turn on their combat command communications. (In contrast, U.S. launch crews maintain constant communications with their military commanders.) According to Blair, the Soviet system also allows civilian and military authorities to sever communications with sites receiving unauthorized information and to override unauthorized efforts to launch missiles.

SLBMs. Soviet SLBMs are controlled by a complex system of procedures and locks that make it necessary for submarine crews to receive authorization from the national command authority before they could launch their missiles. According to Blair, different officials on the submarine may receive their authorization from different superiors along different lines of communication. After the captain of the submarine received a message authorizing him to unlock a special computer, three officials on each submarine -- the captain and two of his officers -- would each receive separate launch authorization codes that they would combine and enter into the computer. If the computer cannot validate the combined code, the missiles cannot be fired. (According to the U.S. Navy, at the present time, the codes needed to launch U.S. SLBMs are stored on the submarine itself. Under most circumstances, the submarine captain would expect to receive authorization before the codes are unlocked, but these codes can be unlocked without authorization if communications lines have been severed.)

Strategic Bombers. Soviet strategic bombers apparently incorporated several measures that are designed to protect against their unauthorized use. The bombers are not on alert during peacetime and their weapons, which are stored away from the bombers, are guarded by special military units. In current practice, these guard units have to receive authorization to unlock the weapons and move them to the bombers. This authorization would be transmitted through a chain of command that differs from the chain of command that would order an increase in alert status for the bombers. (Hence, even though Ukrainian President Kravchuk may have gained control over the bombers based on his territory, the nuclear weapons that would be delivered by those bombers apparently remain under central control.) In addition, according to Blair, the weapons for Soviet heavy bombers may contain a mechanical lock or an electronic PAL that must be lifted with codes transmitted by the General Staff and the national command authority before they can be armed and employed by the bomber crews.

Security Concerns. The current command and control system makes it unlikely that there could be an accidental or unauthorized use of Soviet strategic nuclear weapons, though some Russian strategic rocket forces personnel have faced serious financial hardship. Because all three non-Russian republics are returning nuclear warheads to Russia, it is unlikely that leaders in these states would seek operational control over these weapons in the future. Even if they did, most analysts doubt that these states would threaten the United States because they would be deterred from actually using their weapons by the threat of nuclear retaliation. And it is increasingly unlikely that these states would attempt to use nuclear weapons to gain prestige in international politics; the debate over the past few years has demonstrated that they have more to gain by eliminating nuclear weapons.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Although the existing Russian command and control structure and safety and security measures place tight central control over tactical nuclear weapons, the large numbers of weapons and storage sites involved have given rise to fears over their long-term security. Also, because different types of tactical nuclear weapons employ different locking systems, many have expressed concerns about possible breaches in security or unauthorized use.

Land-Based Tactical Nuclear Weapons. The warheads for land-based tactical nuclear weapons are stored separately from the aircraft, artillery, and missiles that would launch them. And the warheads are locked up and guarded by special military units. The guards must receive authorization before they can unlock and move these weapons to the crews that would employ them. In addition, warheads for some tactical nuclear weapons may be equipped with PALs that would block the arming of the weapons without the appropriate authorization codes. However, Blair has noted that the quality of the PALs may vary among different types of tactical weapons and some older weapons may not have them at all.

Sea-Based Tactical Nuclear Weapons. These weapons may have lacked many safety and security features incorporated in other Soviet nuclear weapons. For example, according to Blair, some of these weapons, such as the nuclear-armed torpedoes on attack submarines, may not contain PALs. Instead, the Soviet Union had instituted organizational procedures to complicate the unauthorized launch of tactical nuclear weapons by a ship or submarine captain. All of these weapons have reportedly been removed from the fleet and placed in storage areas in Russia.

Security Concerns. Questions about the safety and security of tactical nuclear weapons concern the possible acquisition or use of these weapons by renegade groups, rogue Russian military officers, or terrorists. Some also speculate that warheads could end up on the black market as a source of hard currency. Willing buyers may exist because some nations have made determined and well-funded efforts to purchase or steal nuclear technologies and weapons. U.S. questions about Russia's ability to track and account for all the warheads in its inventory have further added to concerns about their security.

In March 1992 some reports postulated that a few nuclear warheads from Kazakhstan might have been sold to Iran. The reports stated that Iran did not have the codes needed to detonate the weapons but that it might use them to gain design information it needs for its own nuclear weapons programs. Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev and Kazakh officials consistently denied that nuclear weapons are missing, and U.S. officials stated that the United States has no evidence of such a transfer.

In addition to moving all nuclear weapons into Russia, the Russian military has reduced sharply the number of storage facilities for those weapons. Nonetheless, the United States has encouraged Russia to further consolidate its weapons so that it can provide better security and accounting. U.S. and Russian officials have been discussing possible data exchanges and monitoring mechanisms that may boost confidence about the safety and security of Russia's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Soviet Nuclear Facilities and Materials

Several observers have also raised concerns about the sale of Soviet nuclear materials or nuclear knowledge to nations that are trying to acquire their own nuclear weapons. In February 1993, Russia reported that uranium had been stolen from Russian facilities three times in the previous two years, and there have been many reports of nuclear materials appearing on the black market in Eastern Europe. During the Spring and Summer of 1994, several instances of nuclear smuggling came to light in Germany. Nonetheless, there is little evidence that the materials came from Russian nuclear weapons or weapons facilities and the materials lacked the purity to be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The deterioration of economic conditions and the decline in military spending has displaced many scientists and engineers who worked in Soviet nuclear programs. Concerns that these scientists might move to nations seeking nuclear weapons prompted the Bush Administration to propose science centers in Moscow and Kiev (see discussion below). In early December 1992, Russian security personnel reportedly arrested 36 nuclear experts who had been hired to assist with nuclear weapons programs in North Korea. In February 1993, Russia stated that it would cut off diplomatic relations with North Korea if that nation continued to recruit and employ Russian nuclear and missile scientists and engineers. In addition, in June and July 1993, scientists at several of Russia's nuclear research centers threatened to strike and stop dismantling nuclear weapons because they had not been paid in months.

Concerns about the potential leakage of nuclear materials out of the former Soviet republics have grown in recent years and experts have noted that security at many research facilities has not improved. With economic conditions continuing to deteriorate and organized crime activities continuing to expand, many experts in the United States believe that it is only a matter of time before significant amounts of nuclear material end up in the hands of rogue nations or terrorists. These concerns reappeared in November 1996, when, during a visit to the United States, former Russian national security adviser Alexander Lebed warned that nuclear security in Russia was not satisfactory and that terrorists might be able to acquire nuclear materials. A report in the London Sunday Times in mid-November stated that a cache of Russian nuclear materials stored in Chechnya had been lost during the conflict in that region. Neither Russian nor U.S. officials confirmed this report.

Steps to Improve Nuclear Weapons Safety and Security

Arms Control Measures

The Bush and Gorbachev Proposals. In late September and early October 1991, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of all land-based and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons. This gave President Gorbachev a way to remove tactical nuclear weapons from republics where ethnic unrest and independence movements had raised questions about the safety of these weapons. President Yeltsin and the leaders of the other republics with nuclear weapons on their soil completed their removal to Russia. Dismantling these warheads will reduce the possibility that someone might try to sell them or their components.

Clinton-Yeltsin Targeting Agreement. In a text accompanying the January 14, 1994 Tripartite Declaration, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that no later than May 30, 1994, neither country would target its strategic nuclear missiles on the other. This eased concerns about accidental launches because, in the extremely unlikely event that such an incident occurred, a missile would land in the open ocean. However, in times of international tension, the missiles could be quickly retargeted.

Technical Assistance: The Nunn-Lugar Program

A major element in the U.S. response to concerns about the safety and security of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union has been the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. In 1991 and 1992, Congress authorized the transfer of a total of $800 million from the Defense Department budgets for this program. An additional $400 million was authorized for FY1994; $380 million was authorized in FY1995 and an additional $300 million was approved for FY1996.

These funds can be used to provide Russia and the other republics with assistance in 1) the transportation, storage, safeguarding and destruction of nuclear chemical and biological weapons and the dismantlement of missiles and launchers; 2) the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and, 3) the prevention of diversion of weapons-related scientific expertise. Some money may also be spent on efforts to improve the safety of civilian nuclear reactors. Congress has, however, prohibited the use of these funds for defense conversion projects, environmental restoration, and the construction of housing for demobilized military officers.

The Clinton Administration requested an additional $327.9 million for FY1997. The House approved $302.9 million in its version of the Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 3230) but the Senate approved the full administration request for FY1997 and added $37 million for DOD efforts and $57 million for DOE efforts in its version of the bill (S. 1745). The added funds were included in the "Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996," sponsored by Senators Nunn, Lugar, and Domenici, which authorized expanded efforts by DOE and DOD to improve materials control and accounting and safety and security at nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union. The legislation also states that CTR funds can now be spent in any of the former Soviet republics with nuclear facilities, not just the four that had nuclear weapons stationed on their territories. The House-Senate conference committee on the Defense Authorization Bill approved the Senate's funding levels for the CTR program, providing a total of 364.9 million for DOD, in addition to the funds for DOE, in the final version of the FY1997 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 104-201).

By early September 1996, DOD had notified Congress of its intent to spend $1.5 billion of the funds available and had obligated more than $1 billion after signing specific project contracts with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. More than $600 million had been spent on these projects. Some of the projects are common to all republics holding former Soviet weapons, while others were specifically designed for Russia as the successor nuclear weapons state to the Soviet Union. Common projects included materials controls and accountability assistance, export controls assistance, nuclear emergency response equipment and training, and continuous communications links. Russia-specific projects included providing armored blankets to protect weapons and materials, secure rail car equipment for transporting weapons and weapons materials, fissile material containers and help to design a storage facility for fissile materials removed from dismantled nuclear weapons.

Particularly costly -- and focused -- Nunn-Lugar programs are $236 million in assistance to Russia specifically for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, $243 million to Ukraine for the same purpose, and $78 million to assist in the destruction of SS-18 missile silos in Kazakhstan.

In "Project Sapphire," Nunn-Lugar funding was used to help purchase, package, and ship about 1300 pounds of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan to the United States in October and November 1994. In addition, through the "Lab-to-Lab" Program, the Department of Energy is providing assistance in securing Russian nuclear facilities.

Safety and Security of Nuclear Facilities and Materials

On April 20, 1996, the leaders of the G-7 nations and Russia met at a Nuclear Safety and Security Summit in Moscow to discuss mechanisms that would enhance the safety of nuclear power reactors and nuclear weapons materials. The participants agreed on a number of measures designed to improve safety at facilities storing nuclear materials and to improve their control and accounting practices for nuclear materials. They also pledged to take steps to impede illegal trafficking in nuclear materials.


P.L. 104-106 (H.R. 1530)
FY1996 Department of Defense Authorization Act. Signed by the President on February 10, 1996. Authorized appropriations of $300 million for CTR programs in DOD. Prohibited the use of funds for defense conversion or programs to build housing for former military officers in the former Soviet republics.

P.L. 104-201 (H.R. 3230, S. 1745)
FY1997 Department of Defense Authorization Act. Signed by the President on September 24, 1996. Provided 364.9 million for CTR programs. Added funds to DOD and DOE to enhance efforts to control and secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet republics.


09/20/96 -- Russia and Kazakhstan announce that all SS-18 silos in Kazakhstan have been destroyed according to provisions in START I.

06/01/96 -- Ukraine reports that it returned all nuclear weapons to Russia.

12/05/94 -- START I enters into force.

11/16/94 -- The Ukrainian Parliament approves Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear state.

02/04/94 ---The Ukrainian parliament approves the tripartite declaration and removes its conditions from START I ratification documents.

01/14/94 ---Presidents Yeltsin, Kravchuk, and Clinton signed a tripartite declaration in Moscow in which Ukraine promised to eliminate all nuclear weapons in exchange for compensation and security guarantees.

12/13/93 ---The Kazakh parliament ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The parliament had ratified START 1 in July 1992.

11/18/93 ---The Ukrainian parliament ratified START 1, but with many major conditions. At the same time, it formally delayed accession to the NPT.

02/04/93 ---Belarus approved START 1 and agreed to accede to the Non- Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state.

11/04/92 ---Russian parliament approved START 1 but stated it would not enter into force until the other republics acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear states and completed agreements with Russia that outlined the schedule and procedures for the removal of their nuclear weapons.

05/23/92 ---Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed the Lisbon protocol to START in which they pledged to remove all nuclear weapons from their territories and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear states.

05/07/92 ---All land-based tactical nuclear weapons had reportedly been removed from Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

12/08/91 ---Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus established a Commonwealth of Independent States. They were joined by Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova on 12/21/91.


CRS Reports

CRS Report 94-985. The Nunn Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program for Soviet Weapons Dismantlement, by Theodor Galdi.