United States Senator

I want to say to John, before the beginning my remarks, it is great that you are going to bring a sense of humor to the CIA; they need it now.

I want to thank Jane Wales, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Association for Advancement of Science, and others who have participated in putting this program together.

I endorse everything Dick Lugar has said. We have seen this eye-to-eye from the very beginning, and I think that is the reason this program has had the kind of support it has enjoyed on Capitol Hill.

The subject today is of immense importance and there are very few jokes that go with it, but there is a true story that I guess I can tell to this audience about a Republican senator. I will not name him, but he was elected a few years ago. He had a press conference the morning after his election, and the news media asked him what his top priority was. He was a little flustered. He said, "I have thought about it a lot during this campaign and decided my top priority is to prevent my beloved state from becoming a nuclear suppository."

We do not want this wonderful world to become a nuclear suppository either, and that is what we are all about here today. I have been asked to give you a brief summary of the history of this program, and I can do so by telling you a little bit about why I came to the conclusion that something like this was needed.

My own experience started in 1975. I went to Germany and toured some of our tactical nuclear weapon facilities there at the request of Senator Stennis, who was chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I came back after a very revealing I would say almost shocking experience. As I was getting the normal tour that generals give in the Department of Defense, I was told that these nuclear facilities were perfectly safe and everything was wonderful. A guard handed me a note and said, "Senator Nunn, there is a lot that you need to know. Please come by my barracks so I can tell you, anytime after five o'clock." Well, I thought about it, and then I decided to do it. I went by the barracks and I had an eye- opener, because everything was wrong with nuclear security at those tactical nuclear bases.

First of all, we had a demoralized military coming out of Vietnam: A lot of alcohol and tremendous drug problems. A number of the people who were guarding those weapons were on drugs, I was told. I went back and I looked at the physical security, too. That was a big problem.

When I came back, I did not go home when I got off the plane at about four o'clock in the afternoon. I went directly to see then-Secretary of Defense, Jim Schlesinger, and gave him a full report, because I felt that something had to be done very quickly. We were very vulnerable to having just a few terrorists, well-organized, come in and actually take over a facility guarding nuclear weapons in those crucial countries in Europe at a time when it would been have devastating to our national security and probably to our nuclear deterrent. That was my first eye-opener.

We had a number of hearings in 1982 and 1983, but we had them all during the 70s, also. I slowly but surely was coming to the conclusion that perhaps the greatest danger that confronted us was not an all-out first strike by the Soviet Union, but rather some kind of accidental nuclear launch or some kind of third country launching a missile or a submarine missile that would start a war between the two super powers.

I asked Dick Ellis, who was then General Dick Ellis with what was then the Strategic Air Command, to give me a summary of the United States' ability to detect the origin of a nuclear strike. I do not mean by that an all-out strike. That would have been obvious. But one or two weapons even some being delivered by submarines. I aked him whether we would know where such a strike came from and what the origin was. He gave me a somewhat ambiguous answer: He said he did not have a real study on that. So I asked him to go back and look at what the United States could do to detect the origin of nuclear strike and what the Soviet Union could do.

He took it very seriously and spent about six monthson it. He put some of his best staff people on it. I went to a classified briefing some of it was later declassified; some of it is still classified. The bottom line was we were fair in our ability to detect the origin of a nuclear strike. The Soviet Union was much worse. That was not comforting.

I came to the conclusion out of that, as did General Ellis and all the staff working on it, that we had a real stake in the Soviet Union's ability to detect the origin of a nuclear strike. It was no comfort that their intelligence was not as good as ours and that their means of ascertaining the origin of the strike was not as good as ours. In fact, it was more concerning than if it had otherwise been the case. Because, if they thought that a strike let us say from a Chinese submarine against the Soviet Union came from the United States, then we can all imagine what might have happened in the 1980s.

Out of that I came to the conclusion that this whole nuclear business was not a zero-sum game and that we had better stop treating it as such.

The next event that had a real impact on my thinking was in the then Soviet Union, I was there about four or five days after Gorbachev returned from the August 1991 coup attempt. I had a long meeting with him, and during that meeting I kept coming back to the question of nuclear control during his captivity or his semi-imprisonment. He kept giving me somewhat glib and not very thorough answers. It was obvious to me he was very uncomfortable about the whole subject.

About that time I concluded that we had to start doing something. It was apparent that the Soviet Union was coming apart and that we had better start working with them to be able to help them control their own weapons. We had a vital national security interest in doing that.

To make a long story short, about the time I was concluding that, Les Aspin was concluding that we needed to help them at that stage with some emergency food shipments. We had passed the House bill on Armed Services. We had passed the Senate bill, and we were in conference. Les proposed that we do something on emergency food shipments. I proposed that we do something on the overall question of helping them control their own nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

We came up with a conference report that included a provision and money for both purposes. It was not well received there was tremendous opposition. There was legitimate opposition, because it had been in neither bill not a good habit. I felt it was an emergency and it was justified. Nevertheless there was substantive opposition because people felt that we were helping the Soviet Union. We had all sorts of people come out against it on the floor. The bottom line, Les and I decided in prudence that we needed to go back in conference and take it out; we did. This was in late September.

Then, in early November, Ash Carter gave his report on nuclear weapons security in the USSR, which I understand was financed by Carnegie. The topic of your conference is how science and technology can assist in making the world more stable. This was a science and technology project done by Ash Carter at Harvard and financed by Carnegie.

That report had an astounding effect. Dick Lugar and I got together. I knew that Dick had tremendous influence on the Republican side, tremendous influence in the Senate, and in the country. We really formed a partnership. Ash Carter presented his report to us. We then brought in other senators, and within about three to four weeks we had built a consensus.

A proposal, in an earlier stage received overwhelming opposition on both the House and Senate side, became one that was widely accepted. It became known as the Nunn-Lugar proposal. We passed it about six or eight weeks after it had been overwhelmingly not voted on, but rejected in terms of voices on the floor on the House and Senate. It became known as the Nunn-Lugar program, and that was the beginning of what we are here to discuss today.

There has been a lot of talk in the media about how slowly implementation has occurred, but it has been very effective even when the money was not being spent. It created a psychology that focused the Russians and others on their own problems. It calls them to be much more attentive, as Dick Lugar has already said, to their own problems to make them a priority because they knew that we thought it was important and they knew there was some money, at least in pipeline.

Why was it slow? First of all, this was not an executive branch initiative. Whether Republican administration or Democratic administration, things that do not originate in the executive branch are not always treated as high priorities. We have noticed that over the years. The Bush Administration was rather cool to the idea at first. They were not opposed to it; they were simply cool to it.

The second reason was because of the stage of the proceedings and because we were trying to get the money any way we could. We had to authorize transfer of money from other DOD programs into this program. We did not give them what we would call "fresh money." It was transfer authority, and that meant they had to cut something else. So they had to find the money somewhere else in order to transfer it, and that is always a problem in terms of Congressional initiatives.

The third, and maybe the most important reason, was that the breakup of the Soviet Union left the "nuclear" successor countries in a situation where they did not have the kind of coherence or the kind of governance that would allow them to make tough decisions in these areas. The Nunn-Lugar program did start off slowly, but it has been a very solid success and an example of how we are going to have to use innovative ways to deal with these unprecedented problems.

This is the first time in history that an empire has broken up that had in its possession over 30,000 nuclear weapons, over 40,000 tons of chemical weapons (that is very conservative estimate), and an undetermined number of biological weapons.

It is also the first time in history that we have had an empire break up where there were thousands of scientists that knew how to make these weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons that have tremendous implications, weapons that could get into the hands of terrorists, and missile technology. It is the first time we have had thousands of scientists in that part of the world not knowing where their next paycheck was coming from, also knowing that their services would be in great demand in a number of rogue nations in the world and certainly with a number of terrorist groups.

One of the first contests in the period after World War II was which side was going to get access to the German scientists. We got more of them than did the Soviet Union. We are in a comparable period right now, but we have not focused on it as much as we should. Bill Perry will go into more details about what has been done.

If we could develop a weapon that would basically cause three nuclear states to give up their nuclear weapons, how much would we pay for it? The Nunn-Lugar program has done that. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine have given up (or are in the process of giving up) their weapons.

If we could develop a weapon that would get rid of 2,500 strategic nuclear warheads which have been removed from the launches, how much would we pay for it? If we could have a weapon that would get rid of four regiments of SS-19s that were aimed at the United States, how much would be pay for it? If we could developed a weapon that would get rid of 600 launches physically, how much would we pay for it? If we could develop a program that would employ in a gainful way some 5,000 former Soviet weapons specialists, what would it be worth? A great deal, I think many, many times more than we have spent of the Nunn- Lugar program. Thank you.

William J. Perry
Return to Forum Homepage