The United States will continue to invest in programs to reduce and secure dangerous material that could be used to build weapons on mass destruction despite planned declines in defense spending, President Barack Obama said.
Obama touted counter-weapons of mass destruction investments during the first four years of his presidency, but said more needs to be done to secure nuclear, chemical and biological material around the world.
“Even as we make some very tough fiscal choices, we’re going to keep investing in these programs because our national security depends on it,” Obama said during a Dec. 3 speech at the National Defense University.
Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top Defense and State department officials all backed the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program during a daylong event here.
Officials now hope to expand the CTR program — which was created 20 years ago by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and retired Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. — and shift its focus from former Soviet states to the Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The CTR program has historically focused on securing and dismantling nuclear, chemical, and biological materials, weapons and delivery systems.
“We are putting together a greater emphasis on sustainability and stewardship even as we re-focus the CTR program to take on a wider range of biological threats,” said Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs.
The CTR program is getting “unprecedented” support for the international community, Creedon said. So far, 24 countries have pledged $10 million for CTR efforts over the next decade.
CTR is drawing from lessons learned in former Soviet states to address threats in Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, Creedon said.
“As we expand into new areas and address emerging proliferation challenges, the departments of State and Defense and Energy are synching their activities ever more closely together,” said Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
Officials still pledged to continuing funding the CTR efforts, despite a $487 billion in defense spending cuts already mandated through the Budget Control Act.
During the budget-building process, “never once did the president or [Panetta] consider cutting our investments in countering weapons of mass destruction,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
“They preserved them because they knew programs like Nunn-Lugar [CTR] remain our most effective and efficient instrument to prevent from the outset the costly and potentially dreadful and deadly prospects of WMDs,” Carter said. “For less than one-one-hundredth of 1 percent of our annual defense budget we are buying down the risk of having to respond to WMDs.”
Panetta said the CTR program is at a “critical inflection point.”
“It’s evolved from a focus on nuclear infrastructure in the former Soviet Union to encompass a broader range of counter-[weapon of mass destruction] efforts across Asia and Africa and the Middle East,” Panetta said. “Despite the successes achieved in the former Soviet Union, this program remains as critical as ever and maintains the strong support of the Department of Defense’s leadership.”