Decade: 1990

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of 1991, the fundamental underpinning of the Cold War nuclear standoff was upended. The resulting confusion and unpredictability regarding the status of Soviet nuclear forces became a major global concern. What had been a delicate dance of nuclear stability and “rules of the game” suddenly vanished. With the Soviet collapse, four nations from the former Soviet Union now possessed nuclear weapons: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.


In September 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States would remove almost all US tactical nuclear forces from deployment so that Russia could undertake similar actions, reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation as the Soviet Union dissolved. Specifically, the US committed to eliminating all of its nuclear artillery shells and short-range nuclear ballistic missile warheads and removing all nonstrategic nuclear warheads from surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated, pledging to eliminate all nuclear artillery munitions, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear landmines. He also pledged to withdraw all Soviet tactical naval nuclear weapons from deployment. LEARN MORE


In late 1991, the US Congress created a program and funding to ensure that former Soviet nuclear infrastructure and materials would be accounted for and secured. The Nunn-Lugar program (officially called the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program) provided a creative and comprehensive set of projects, equipment, and technologies to minimize the risks posed by Russia’s massive—and now dispersed—nuclear arsenal. In 2012 Russia ended the 20-year long program after significant accomplishments. LEARN MORE


Launched in 1993, this program aimed to reduce the risks of proliferation from former Soviet nuclear weapons by enabling the United States to purchase bomb-grade uranium from Russia and down-blend it into lower-level reactor-grade fuel. This fuel was then put into US nuclear reactors, where it generated electricity for substantial segments of the US power grid. The Russians got paid for the uranium, the US got years worth of nuclear power fuel, and the world now lives with tens of thousands fewer potential nuclear bombs. LEARN MORE


Project Sapphire was a creative, rapid response to dealing with former Soviet nuclear material that “fell through the cracks” of the CTR program. In 1994, US officials visiting Kazakhstan discovered that some 1,300 pounds of bomb-grade uranium was being stored at a nuclear facility. This facility, and its potentially deadly contents, had not been accounted for as part of the larger CTR program. The amount of material could have been readily fashioned into scores of bombs. Through quick and secret planning, the US and Kazakh governments had the material airlifted to a highly secure nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. LEARN MORE