Nunn the Wiser

Former Senator Sam Nunn represented the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate for twenty-five years starting in the early ‘70’s. He was one of the youngest sitting Senators and considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union he, along with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) authored the “Nunn-Lugar” initiative which effectively bought loose nuclear weapons from former Soviet satellite states and disposed of them.  It was, and by many accounts still is, regarded as one of the most effective means by which former Soviet weapons were disposed of. 

Understandably, perhaps, he eventually tired of the daily battles and contracted the almost guaranteed fatigue that most men and women holding important positions for many years are sure to encounter. After leaving the Senate by deciding not to run for a new term in 1996-7, he took some time off before returning to the national stage. Now he serves as co-chairman and CEO of something called the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

This organization was built-up around a very simple notion: nuclear war is a dangerous potential reality and one most likely none of us would survive. Even just one medium level atomic above ground explosion holds the seeds of tremendous harm and loss of life within a range of several hundred miles of the ground zero point. Indeed the nuclear cloud that would form after such an explosion could be carried around the world via various jet streams and the accompanying radiation would adversely affect everything in its path including the world’s food, air and water supplies.

Thus finding ways to stop that event from occurring is an issue worth the time and attention of most people and especially that of a retired but newly invigorated American senator. The Nuclear Threat Initiative strives to put forth ideas as to how to reduce if not entirely eliminate the a-bomb threats. One such idea was put forth by ex-Senator Nunn in this August’s issue of the American Bar Association’s National Security Law Report. He makes the point first that he has “spent a large portion of (my) life attempting to communicate in clear and understandable words,” and there can be little doubt that his words in this article are quite clear and, in my view, quite wrong.

Senator Nunn wrote:

“The greatest dangers we faced during the Cold War were addressed primarily by confrontation with Moscow. The greatest threats we face today — catastrophic terrorism, a rise in the number of nuclear weapon states, increasing danger of mistaken, accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch — we can successfully address only in cooperation with Moscow and many other capitals.”

That sounds just fine, but the reality is that the Rodney King approach of all just getting along and being friends doesn’t work. How can we trust the Russians on issues of nuclear proliferation when they have let much of their formal nuclear arsenal be stripped off and sold piece by piece to the highest bidders no matter whether they are responsible players or not? How can we trust the Russians when it is they who stood with the Iranians to help build nuclear reactors that have the potential if not the down-right intent of being used to make weapons grade uranium? How can we trust the Russians when Vladimir Putin himself lashes out at the West as he did this past spring (see my article “Putin Threatens Europe” 06/05/07) by saying that any attempts by the West to defend themselves against incoming missiles, even those fired by terrorists groups or countries like Iran (if indeed a distinction can be made between terrorists and the Iranian government and I am not sure at all that it can) would be met by a dramatic increase in the former Soviet state’s nuclear missile targeting of European cities?

Senator Nunn writes that in his view “the threat of terrorism with nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction presents the gravest danger to our nation and the world.” He writes that we know al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons and if they get them, they will use them.

Of that there can be no question. But the answer to our problem does not lie, as he suggests, in joining forces with our enemies or our questionable “allies.” No, the real answer to our problem is to swiftly, quickly and absolutely unilaterally, if we must, destroy the head of al-Qaeda right now. We know that their headquarters is in the Pakistani tribal territories and we have the means, in a non-nuclear method, immediately to destroy them fully and completely. It is all well and good to deny the enemy the lucrative proving grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan, but to really take care of the problem that Senator Nunn wants to eliminate we should be willing to be very confrontational both with al-Qaeda in the tribal territories and with Iran’s government in Teheran.

President Bush said of al-Qaeda, we were going to “smoke ‘em out” and of Iran that “they should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.” That is great talk. Now we need some real action. The answer is not as Senator Nunn writes, to have a nice little cooperative effort with those nations, like Russia, that have proven time and again that they don’t want to cooperate with us at all. No the answer, however, unsettling is to do what we are most definitely supposed to do as the world’s one true super-power and that is to stand up fully to those who have vowed to kill us all and simply kill them first.

After that, perhaps we can start to have “cooperative” sessions with other quasi “allied” countries and one of the first items on our cooperative list should be to tell Russia directly that it not to supply man-power and manufacturing aid to Iran or any other terrorist country’s nuclear program. Then, I suppose we can go have friendly chats with the Chinese who pretend to be our friend and then maybe Syria should make it onto our goodwill list.

No, the truth is we need to be much more confrontational than we have been to date with those who wish to harm us. The former Senator from Georgia, despite all of the history he has seen and all the Washington years he has experienced, seems unfortunately to remain none the wiser.