by John N. Conlon
The Department of State has many responsibilities: maintaining relationships with overseas partners; standing up for human rights; promoting American business; and aiding American citizens overseas. Perhaps the most important of these is the Department’s role in ensuring U.S. national security, which includes the vital field of nonproliferation: keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous people. One of the most flexible tools the Department possesses to advance nonproliferation is the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF). Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, NDF provides a means through which the Department addresses unanticipated nonproliferation opportunities and priorities that emerge around the world.
During the Cold War, communist regimes in Eastern Europe spent a tremendous share of their national wealth on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), delivery systems and other weapons. After communism fell, Congress was concerned that the legacy WMD could fall into the hands of rogue regimes and terrorists. In response, Congress created a suite of proliferation threat reduction initiatives throughout the federal government, including the NDF.
While most U.S. threat reduction programs develop their program plans in accordance with the annual federal budget cycle, the NDF is designed to respond to opportunities that emerge in real time. NDF funding is not programmed in advance. Additionally, NDF funds are “no-year” money. Unlike other U.S. accounts that expire after a designated period of time, NDF funding is available until expended. Congress granted that authority because the NDF negotiates with some of the world’s toughest and most distasteful actors: those who would pursue WMD. Because of its no-year money, negotiators are not constrained by expiring funds, and foreign interlocutors do not gain an advantage by stalling. Consequently, the NDF has all the time it needs to develop the best possible deal for the U.S. taxpayer.
The NDF also has notwithstanding authority, or the authority to use its funding notwithstanding other restrictions of U.S. law. Congress granted this notwithstanding authority for the NDF to provide negotiators with the flexibility to assist countries subject to assistance restrictions when the Department believes that it is in the U.S. national security interest to do so. As a result, the NDF has developed nonproliferation initiatives with regimes and countries that could not receive foreign assistance from most other U.S. government programs.
The Department has developed a record of threat reduction achievements through NDF programs that have helped bolster U.S. national security and made the world a little bit safer.
While the NDF is proud of its past accomplishments, NDF personnel are also busy anticipating the challenges of the future. Currently, the NDF has funding and logistical resources at the ready to be deployed should there be a breakthrough in the dialogue with North Korea. The Department is also considering a number of other potential NDF efforts around the world, whether it be assisting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s work with foreign nuclear regulators, developing and implementing new technologies to enhance the international system for the monitoring of nuclear explosions, or assisting foreign governments to control the traffic of weapons throughout their national territories.
The NDF looks forward to building upon the work it has accomplished to prevent the development and use of WMD over the next 25 years. And while other U.S. national security initiatives may be larger or higher profile, the NDF remains a top contributor to U.S. national security.
John N. Conlon, PMP, is a foreign affairs officer in the Office of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.