In an era when global terrorists are aggressively seeking weapons of mass destruction for just one purpose — to use them — President Vladimir Putin’s Foreign Ministry quietly issued a statement on its website, on the evening of Oct. 10: Russia will not renew its Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction partnership with the United States when the present agreement expires next June.
While the news reports seemed to signal the end of one of the modern era’s most successful peacekeeping programs, reports of the Nunn-Lugar program’s demise, at age 20, may well prove to be not just greatly exaggerated but flat-out wrong (as we’ll soon explain).
The United States spent billions of dollars under the Nunn-Lugar program to help secure, dismantle and destroy thousands of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, materials and delivery systems that suddenly became vulnerable when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Sen. Sam Nunn, then a Democrat from Georgia, first realized just how vulnerable the Soviet weapons had become when he visited freshly deposed Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Back in Washington, Nunn teamed with Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and this farsighted bipartisan duo drafted its program and sold it to a skeptical White House and Congress as a matter of unprecedented global urgency.
Now widely acclaimed, the Nunn-Lugar program may be the most Nobel Peace Prize-worthy effort never to have received that international honor. Consider the program’s global safeguarding accomplishments:
The program deactivated more than 7,659 strategic nuclear warheads, destruction of 902 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 498 missile silos, 191 mobile missile launchers, 684 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 492 submarine missile launchers, 155 strategic bombers, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles and 194 nuclear test tunnels, provided protection for railroad trains carrying nuclear-weapons shipments, built 39 stations for monitoring biological agents, and disposed of 3,023 metric tons of chemical weapons agents in Russia and Albania.
Then there was a reality that existed beyond the big numbers: The Soviet collapse would have created three instant nuclear superpowers in new republics — Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Nunn-Lugar helped finance the removal of those nuclear and chemical stockpiles.
Russia’s announcement last Wednesday on not renewing its Nunn-Lugar partnership came after it ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development to close its aid efforts, citing what the government called political interference, and ordered UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, to leave by the year’s end.
Putin’s Russia doesn’t want to be seen as an aid recipient, but an aid donor. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emphasized in his statement last week that Russia now can pay for what needs to be done. He said a new Nunn-Lugar partnership pact should be drafted to reflect that. So it doesn’t come down to totally scrapping the partnership.
In Washington, Lugar, who was defeated in a primary and is leaving the Senate this year, said when he visited Russia in August, “the Russian government indicated a desire to make changes to the Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement, as opposed to simply extending it.” Nunn optimistically said he hoped the U.S.-Russian partnership will be “strengthened” by any changes, adding both countries should play a significant role in reducing global dangers from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Indeed, while Russia wants the world to know its days of being a needy aid recipient are past, the rest of us are mainly focusing on the nuclear adventurism of Iran, a nation that supports terrorism and appears intent on fomenting new peril to what is already the planet’s most incendiary region.
In a recent speech, Nunn cited a quotation that bears repeating: “The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
The speaker was not a famous professor or antiwar activist. It was five-star Gen. Omar Bradley, the World War II hero, speaking in 1948, shortly after the only time nuclear bombs were detonated in wartime. Sadly, his words ring even truer today.
That’s why we need, more than ever, a truly global Nunn-Lugar program.
Martin Schram writes analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.