Senator Sam Nunn (right) delivered the inaugural Robert S. McNamara Lecture on War and Peace on Oct. 17 at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. Belfer Center Director Graham Allison (left) moderated the discussion.
A nuclear weapon-free world is possible, Nunn says
October 20, 2008
Author: Beth Maclin, Former Communications Assistant, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
The U.S. must work with other countries – both those with nuclear capacities and those without – to move toward a nuclear-free world, according to former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA).
Nunn outlined what he believes needs to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons while delivering the inaugural Robert S. McNamara Lecture on War and Peace on Friday (Oct. 17) at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. The discussion was moderated by Belfer Center Director Graham Allison.
“I believe America would be far more secure if no one had nuclear weapons,” Nunn said. “Right now we can’t see the top of that mountain. It’s very difficult to see. But we can see that we’re heading down the mountain.
“But if we want our children or grandchildren to have any hope of seeing the top of the mountain, and in the meantime to help prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States, we’ve got to have that kind of world movement,” he said.
Nunn served in the Senate from 1972-97 and as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987-95. Among his legislative achievements is the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which helps former Soviet states control and protect their nuclear weapons, weapons-usable materials, and delivery systems. Nunn is currently co-chairman and the chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
To begin moving toward the goal of a nuclear-free world, Nunn told the Forum audience, the U.S. and other Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories must complete the steps outlined in the treaty to address the new threats of nuclear terrorism and the familiar threats posed by nuclear countries using their weapons and non-nuclear countries attaining weapons.
Nuclear-armed countries in particular, Nunn said, have an obligation to reduce their arsenals.
“We and the Russians and other nuclear powers are viewed by the rest of the world as not living up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” he said. “We have to march up the mountain together.”
Nunn said the U.S. needs to begin serious and substantive discussions with Russian leaders on a number of critical issues – including missile defense, nuclear warning systems, and nuclear submarines – if the nuclear-free dream is to be realized.
“We’ve had all sorts of windows of opportunity to find ways to work with Russia, and for their reason and our own reasons, we have not done so,” Nunn said.
But while Russia’s actions and perceived intentions may arouse concern for some, Nunn is much more concerned about non-state actors using nuclear weapons.
“I’m much more concerned about a terrorist without a return address that cannot be deterred than I am about deliberate war between nuclear powers,” Nunn said. “You can’t deter a group who is willing to commit suicide. We are in a different era. You have to understand the world has changed.”
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