35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Nunn-Lugar 25th Anniversary Shows Cooperative Security Worked

Published: Dec 12, 2016
Briefing Book #571

Edited by Tom Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya

For further information, contact:
Svetlana Savranskaya: 202.994.7000 and nsarchiv@gwu.edu

3429 Soviet Nuclear Warheads Outside Russia at End of USSR in 1991. None Blew Up

Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar headline 25th reunion of Nunn-Lugar veterans today, December 12, 2016, at the Kennedy Caucus Room, U.S. Senate, 2-7 p.m.

Washington D.C., December 12, 2016 – Newly declassified documents show that the risk of nuclear proliferation at the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 was even greater than publicly known at the time, with 3,429 Soviet strategic warheads scattered outside of Russia in various former Soviet republics, according to today’s posting by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The publication marks the 25th anniversary of the day President George H.W. Bush signed the historic Nunn-Lugar legislation into law, beginning a flow of U.S. funding that helped secure the post-Soviet nuclear weapons as well as reduce chemical and biological dangers, with the hands-on cooperation of Russian, Kazakh and American military personnel and scientists.

Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar today join a 25th reunion of dozens of Nunn-Lugar veterans including Russians, Kazakhs, and Americans, at a series of panel discussions on the future of mutual security and U.S.-Russian relations, in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room of the U.S. Senate.

The discussion will address today’s headlines about U.S. relations with Russia, and elevate an underappreciated narrative based on 25 years of cooperation ridding the world of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, that offers lessons and a potential model for mutual international security.

The newly declassified documents published today include the CIA’s specific listing of every Soviet strategic warhead outside of Russia including its location, and internal Russian documents showing that the conditions in Russian nuclear centers were even more “catastrophic” and dangerous than U.S. analysts knew (according to internal Minatom and Duma assessments in 1993 and as late as 1995).

The documents also offer new perspectives on Ukraine and the debate in that country in the early 1990s over keeping nuclear weapons. One internal Russian technical assessment in 1994 alerted Russian decision-makers that Ukraine could not have kept its nuclear weapons safely even if nationalists had insisted, because of radioactive decay.

Today’s publication begins with the risk assessment in December 1991 by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who predicted that 250 or more nuclear warheads from the Soviet arsenal would leak into the hands of others. None actually did, much to the credit of the Nunn-Lugar initiative.


"If the Soviets do an excellent job at retaining control over their stockpile of nuclear weapons – let's assume they've got 25,000 to 30,000; that's a ballpark figure – and they are 99 percent successful, that would mean you could still have as many as 250 that they were not able to control."

– Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, NBC Meet the Press, December 15, 1991