Russian Nuclear Submarines:

U.S. Participation in the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation Program Needs Better Justification

GAO-04-924: Published: Sep 9, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2004.

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Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States participate in the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) program, a multilateral effort that seeks to reduce the environmental impacts of Russia's military activities through technology development projects. AMEC has primarily focused on Russia's aging fleet of nuclear submarines. Section 324 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 required GAO to review AMEC, including its relationship to the Department of Defense's (DOD) Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. In accordance with the act, GAO (1) assessed the extent to which AMEC supports and complements the CTR program, (2) identified AMEC member countries' financial contributions to the program, (3) assessed AMEC's future program objectives, and (4) evaluated DOD's proposal to expand its technology development activities to Russia's Pacific region.

In a 1999 program plan to the Congress, DOD stated that AMEC projects would support the goals of the CTR program. However, we found that only one of eight AMEC projects designed to support CTR's objective of dismantling Russia's ballistic missile nuclear submarines has done so. This project involved development of a prototype 40-metric ton container to store and transport spent (used) nuclear fuel from Russia's dismantled submarines. Despite AMEC's limited contribution to CTR, DOD officials, including CTR representatives, said that most of the projects can be used to support dismantlement of other types of Russian nuclear submarines. In addition, U.S. and foreign officials cited other benefits of U.S. participation in AMEC, including promoting U.S. foreign policy objectives, particularly with Norway, and facilitating military-to-military cooperation with Russia. From 1996, when the program was established, to April 2004, AMEC member countries had contributed about $56 million to the program. The United States has been the largest contributor, providing about $31 million, or about 56 percent of the total. However, the overall U.S. contribution has decreased from fiscal year 1999 to fiscal year 2004 as U.S. funded projects have been completed and as other AMEC member countries have increased their assistance. In May 2004, AMEC developed a draft strategic plan to guide its future efforts. The plan, which is currently being reviewed by AMEC partners, proposes improving the security of Russia's nuclear submarine bases and securing spent nuclear fuel from dismantled submarines. However, securing bases could be contrary to U.S. policy, which preclude assistance to most operational Russian military sites that contain nuclear weapons, including certain naval facilities. DOD wants to expand its dismantlement technology development efforts to Russia's Pacific region, but has not adequately analyzed the condition of Russia's decommissioned nuclear submarines in the Pacific and their impact on the environment. Furthermore, DOD has not identified specific projects that would be needed beyond those already done in the Arctic region.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Regarding DOD's proposed Pacific initiative, the Secretary of Defense should determine what form U.S. participation in such a technology development program would take, such as a bilateral effort or a multilateral organization similar to AMEC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 14, 2008, a senior DOD official who previously oversaw U.S. participation in the Arctic Military Cooperation (AMEC) program told GAO that, with respect to the then-planned Pacific Initiative, DOD determined that it would not support the expansion of AMEC to the Pacific region. Instead, DOD ended active U.S. participation in AMEC in 2006 and has funded no new projects since fiscal year 2005.

    Recommendation: Regarding DOD's proposed Pacific initiative, the Secretary of Defense should assess whether technology development activities should be expanded to include submarine dismantlement in that region, and if determined it is necessary, request congressional approval for this expansion to the Pacific region.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 14, 2008, a senior DOD official who previously oversaw U.S. participation in the Arctic Military Cooperation (AMEC) program told GAO that DOD assessed whether technology development activities should be expanded to include submarine dismantlement in the Pacific region, and determined it not to be necessary. Instead, DOD ended active U.S. participation in AMEC in 2006 and has funded no new projects since fiscal year 2005.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the United States' continued participation in AMEC supports--and is consistent with--overall U.S. assistance efforts in Russia, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretaries of Energy and State, should ensure that AMEC's efforts are well defined, closely coordinated, and complementary with other U.S. nuclear nonproliferation programs managed by the Departments of Defense and Energy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 14, 2008, a senior DOD official who previously oversaw U.S. participation in the Arctic Military Cooperation (AMEC) program told GAO that, prior to the program's cancellation in 2006, DOD, in consultation with DOE and State, determined that AMEC's role should not be expanded to include such activities as improving security around Russian nuclear submarine bases. Instead, DOD decided the program should be ended and ceased funding new projects in fiscal year 2006. According to a senior DOD official, the agency coordinated all AMEC efforts prior to ending the program with other U.S. agencies, such as DOE and State.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the United States' continued participation in AMEC supports--and is consistent with--overall U.S. assistance efforts in Russia, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretaries of Energy and State, should determine whether AMEC's role should be expanded to include activities such as improving security around Russian nuclear submarine bases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 14, 2008, a senior DOD official who previously oversaw U.S. participation in the Arctic Military Cooperation (AMEC) program told GAO that, prior to the program's cancellation in 2006, DOD, in consultation with DOE and State, determined that AMEC's role should not be expanded to include such activities as improving security around Russian nuclear submarine bases. Instead, DOD decided the program should be ended and ceased funding new projects in fiscal year 2006.

    Recommendation: Furthermore, the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency should determine, in consultation with the Secretary of the Navy, if the funds that were designated for AMEC-related activities are still needed for the purpose intended. If not, the Administrator and the Secretary should determine whether to reprogram the funds for other AMEC-related activities or to propose rescinding the funds.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2005, EPA wrote that it agreed with our recommendation and had met with the Navy to discuss the most appropriate use of funds for the AMEC program. As a result of this meeting and a subsequent international AMEC steering committee meeting, funds designated for the AMEC Liquid Waste Project were reprogrammed to support other AMEC-related activities. EPA and the Navy met in December 2004 to discuss the transfer of funds. However, the actual transfer of funding from EPA back to the Navy did not occur until fiscal year 2006. According to EPA, the exact amount of unspent funds for this project that were available to be reprogrammed was $700,972.66 (fiscal year 2004 dollars).

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