25 years since program started, Nunn-Lugar program still “key to world’s safety”

Dec. 16, 2016

Watch the symposium.

Almost exactly 25 years since President George H.W. Bush signed it into law, the program designed to keep the world safe from weapons of mass destruction continues to do its job.

That was the consensus of a distinguished group of panelists gathered to discuss the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program on Friday, Dec. 9 in the Global and International Studies auditorium, co-sponsored by SGIS and the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. 

The discussion included one of the program’s namesakes, Sen. Richard Lugar, now a distinguished scholar in the School of Global and International Studies. Indiana’s U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly joined by Skype because Senate negotiations on a budget bill kept him in Washington, D.C. Senator-elect Todd Young, now completing his term in the U.S. House of Representatives, joined to make remarks and participate in a discussion with SGIS Dean Lee Feinstein. Lauren Robel, provost of IU Bloomington and executive vice president of Indiana University, welcomed the panelists and introduced the event.

“Nunn-Lugar is as key to the world’s safety today as it was 25 years ago,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly noted that the original legislation was built to be flexible and has allowed a response to chemical weapons in Syria and even fighting the outbreak of Ebola. Created in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and concern over loosely-guarded and poorly-handled nuclear and chemical weapons, the signature bipartisan act of former Democratic Senator from Georgia Sam Nunn and his Republican Hoosier counterpart Lugar has provided a framework for continuing response to controlling weapons of mass destruction.

The program provided funding and expertise to former Soviet states to consolidate and eliminate stockpiles. Russia declined to renew the agreement in 2013, though there is now a truncated weapons agreement between the U.S. and Russia.

In all, the program is responsible for dismantling 7,600 nuclear warheads, more than 3,600 missiles and missile launchers, 1.6 million chemical munitions and 4,000 metric tons of chemical weapons.

The Congressmen said the bipartisan spirit that went into creating the original program must carry forward. Former Lugar aide Todd Young said he hopes the world appreciates the legacy of Nunn-Lugar and what it has done. “Congress must build on this legacy,” Young said. In January, Young takes his seat in the U.S. Senate where he said he and his colleagues must consider the continuing threat from ISIS and other actors seeking to use WMDs.

Lugar reminded his audience of the beginnings of Nunn-Lugar, noting that it grew through conversations he and Nunn had with Russian government officials who related that the security of weapons in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states were deteriorating. Lugar said the notable act actually came as an amendment to an unrelated appropriations bill. After persuading reluctant members of Congress to commit to sending money toward a program in the country the U.S. had just defeated, Lugar said he and Nunn had to convince President Bush. That was aided by a trip back to former Soviet states the Senators took with administration staff to review the state of things in person.

“We all got religion together,” Lugar said.

“We celebrate 25 years, but the challenge is still there,” Lugar said.  Noting a list of nuclear-equipped countries outlined in a report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Lugar said there are continuing threats from North Korea and other countries. He also said the threat has morphed into something different. He cited the theft of radiological material stolen from a Brussels hospital and weaponized two years ago. “This is a very real problem that has nothing to do with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, but has a lot to do with the world of terrorists.” 

As in the early 90s when Lugar and his colleague insisted on dialogue with the Russians and their allies, he said the time for continuing talk is now. “This is a world that that still has dangers,” Lugar told WTIU-TV in an interview after the symposium. “I think it’s important that the United States be diligent in working with countries that have been listed, for instance, by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.”

The complete panel discussion is available at broadcast.iu.edu.