Sam Nunn left the Senate in 1997. Richard Lugar lost his bid for a seventh term in May. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their landmark 1991 legislation, the Nunn-Lugar act that created the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, may be passing into history.
It’s tough now to gaze back 20 years to the collapse of the Soviet Union and recall the concern generated by its thousands of nuclear weapons sprinkled among four of its 15 republics – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. Battleland recalls traveling to Ukraine with then-Defense Secretary William Perry in 1994 as that nation shipped 120 nuclear warheads to Russia to be scrapped.
It was a bizarre and giddy concept: spending U.S. taxpayers’ money to destroy, not build, nuclear weapons. Some Russians didn’t want such American charity, but they were a minority. Ultimately, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine went nuclear free, with help from Nunn-Lugar. The program has since has gone on to help other nations reduce and secure nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Both countries have agreed to extend the program twice – in 1999 and 2006 – but the Russians apparently are not interested in a third extension when it is slated to end next June. The U.S. has spent an estimated $8 billion to help eliminate more than 7,500 Soviet nuclear warheads and other weapons. Both Nunn and Lugar express hope that a modified version of Nunn-Lugar will continue.
Harvard professor – now deputy defense secretary – Ash Carter said of the program in 2005:
Historians should look back at what might have happened – but didn’t – thanks to Nunn-Lugar. The disintegration and discrediting of the power and ideology that commanded half the world for half a century passed peacefully, like evening into night, despite the fact that the Soviet empire’s writ ran over enough destructive power to end civilization as we know it. This is a major historic achievement for humankind, and historians not only decades but centuries from now will note the disaster that might have been – but which was averted through Nunn-Lugar.
So regardless of what happens: Thank you, Dick and Sam.