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Russia's Mountain of WMD

"We have more work to do," President Bush told the world in a speech on WMD proliferation last week. That particular sentence referred to the "Nunn-Lugar" program to dismantle, destroy, and secure weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Bush's one-liner puts the "under" in "understatement." The program championed by former Sen. Sam Nunn and Sen. Richard Lugar is grossly behind schedule. What was supposed to be accomplished in 10 years is now in its 13th year, and the work is not even half done.

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Since 1991, all of the nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus have been removed; 6,252 nuclear warheads have been deactivated; and more than 20,000 scientists employed in WMD have found peaceful work. That's progress.

But it leaves more than 7,000 warheads to go, and hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium to properly secure. Most of the 40,000 tons of chemical weapons - much of it in suitcase-size shells - has yet to be destroyed.

Some critics, noting the administration's decreased budget request for 2005, argue that more funding would speed things up.

The real need here, however, is not money but political will. Serious bureaucratic delays are stalling efforts, preventing allocated money from being spent. The wrangling covers everything from physical access at Russian facilities to liability concerns.

Pouring money into a system where it gets stuck in bottlenecks can't do much good. These problems could be more speedily resolved if they received sustained attention at the highest levels in the White House and the Kremlin.


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