Profile: Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn was a participant or observer in the following events:
After Islamic militants bomb a Berlin discotheque, killing two American soldiers (see April 5, 1986 and After), the White House blames Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and prepares to attack Libya in retaliation. Some members of Congress, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn (D-GA), question the appropriateness of the Reagan administration committing what may well be an act of war without consulting Congress. Others say the White House should make public its case against Libya before launching what in essence is the opening salvo in a war, instead of insisting that the evidence against Libya must remain classified. However, Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) staunchly defends the White House’s unilateral action. He tells a PBS reporter that “if the president of the United States reviews it and feels it’s adequate,” then the nation should trust what he says about classified intelligence. “It seems to me that this is a clear-cut case where the president as commander in chief… is justified in taking whatever action he deems appropriate and discussing the details with us after the fact.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 52]
Senator Sam Nunn. [Source: Carnegie Corporation of New York]Time magazine’s cover story reports on the potential for anti-American militants to kill thousands in highly destructive acts. It mentions that, three weeks earlier, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) had outlined a scenario in which terrorists attack the US Capitol building on the night of a State of the Union address, by crashing a radio-controlled airplane into it, “engulfing it with chemical weapons and causing tremendous death and destruction.” The scenario is “not far-fetched,” and the required technology is readily available, Nunn said. [Time, 4/3/1995] An almost identical scenario was included in the storyline of the Tom Clancy bestseller Debt of Honor, released the previous year, but this involved a plane guided by a suicide pilot, rather than radio control (see August 17, 1994). High-ranking al-Qaeda leaders will claim later that Flight 93’s target was the Capitol Building. [Guardian, 9/9/2002]
A dozen leading politicians, scholars, journalists, and security experts meet at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for an exercise simulating the consequences of a biological terrorist attack, in this case the release of smallpox by terrorists. The participants include: Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), who plays the president of the United States; former presidential adviser David Gergen as the national security advisor; Governor Frank Keating (R-OK), who plays himself; James Woolsey playing the CIA director; and Jerome Hauer as the FEMA director. The exercise, named “Dark Winter,” starts with three states suddenly confronted with an outbreak of smallpox. Americans are no longer vaccinated against this virus because it was eradicated decades ago. Thousands quickly fall ill. The medical system is overwhelmed. Masses start to flee from the infected areas, but are stopped at the borders of neighboring states. Faced with chaos, the exercise ends with the president declaring martial law. Reviewing the exercise, participants and observers agree that the nation is vulnerable to biological terrorism and unprepared for an actual attack. [Time, 9/24/2001; US Medicine, 12/2001; Center for Biosecurity, 2002; O'Toole, Mair, and Inglesby, 4/1/2002] In the days following 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney will watch a video report on the exercise, and, at his urging, the National Security Council will receive a “harrowing” and “gruesome” briefing on September 20, on the possibility of a biological attack. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 3-4] At about the same time as Dark Winter is taking place, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) returns smallpox to the list of reportable diseases. Smallpox had been removed from the list decades ago after worldwide eradication. The agency says it is increasing its surveillance efforts of infectious pathogens that could be used in a biological terrorist attack. [United Press International, 5/31/2001] After the 9/11 attacks, public health officials will deny that the re-listing of smallpox was the result of any specific intelligence warnings. [UPI, 10/22/2001]
Nuclear Threat Initiative logo. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative]The US decides to oversee the removal of two nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear material from the Vinca Institute in Serbia, part of a defunct Yugoslavian nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has cut funding for the government’s nuclear nonproliferation programs so drastically (see January 10, 2001 and After) that it is forced to rely on the efforts of a private foundation. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), founded by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and media tycoon Ted Turner, contributes $5 million to the effort—double the funding contributed by the State Department. US and Serbian authorities, in conjunction with NTI, transport 5,000 rods of highly enriched uranium from the site, most likely to be stored at Russia’s Ulyanovsk Nuclear Processing Plant. “Serbia might have decided to sell this material to Iraq,” says national security expert Joseph Cirincione. “It’s a good thing for all of us that that possibility has now been eliminated.” When the operation is successfully concluded, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, whose department oversees the securing of “loose” nuclear material from around the world, learns of it through newspaper reports. [Nuclear Threat Initiative, 8/23/2002; New York Times, 8/23/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 208]
Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), one of the nation’s most respected defense experts, is critical of the Bush administration’s wholesale failure to work to help Russia secure its “loose nukes” (see January 10, 2001 and After and August 2002). “In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats,” he says, “on a scale of one to ten, I would give us about a three.” Nunn adds that a recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moves the US “closer to a four.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
White House officials give the press a broad outline of President Obama’s ambitious arms-control agenda. Obama’s plan calls for dramatic cuts in both US and Russian nuclear arsenals, an end to a Bush administration plan for a more advanced nuclear warhead, the ratification of a global treaty banning underground nuclear testing, and a worldwide ban on the production of nuclear weapons material. The long-term goal, officials say, is “a world without nuclear weapons” in which the US leads by example. Obama’s plans are striking departures from the Bush administration agenda, which had little use for arms-control treaties (see May 24, 2002 and Late May 2005) and pulled out entirely from the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia (see December 13, 2001). Obama has said his plans are based in part on the work of the bipartisan Nuclear Security Project, headed by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.
Criticism - Some conservative organizations and members of the national security community warn that Obama’s proposals could weaken US security. Henry Sokolski, a member of the bipartisan US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and an advocate of limited arms reduction, says: “This brave new, nuclear world may be anything but peaceful. As the qualitative and quantitative differences between nuclear weapons states become smaller, rivalries are likely to become much more dangerous.” The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Strang says of the Obama administration: “The problem is that they are betting the physical survival of the US on nothing more than the hope that other nuclear-armed states and any states or non-state actors that join the nuclear club will follow suit by disarming. This gamble involves the highest possible stakes and has an exceedingly low likelihood of success.” And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a Defense Department official during the Reagan administration and president of the Center for Security Policy, says, “Every other declared nuclear weapon state is modernizing its stockpile and the most dangerous wannabes—North Korea and Iran—are building up their offensive missile capabilities and acquiring as quickly as possible the arms to go atop them.” Obama may also face opposition from within his Cabinet; Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, wants to implement the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (see January 26, 2009), a nuclear warhead replacement program that Obama opposes.
Support - Obama’s plan has strong support among Congressional Democrats: Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), who heads the House subcommittee overseeing US nuclear forces, says that reducing US and Russian arsenals, negotiating a treaty to end production of new nuclear weapons material, and ratifying the test ban pact “are all achievable goals. The debate is at a point where it is a question about when we achieve these goals, not if,” she says. Ultimately, achieving Obama’s goals will be difficult, says nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “It is going to require a herculean effort,” he says. “It is completely doable, but it will require the sustained attention of the president himself.” [Boston Globe, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Joseph Cirincione, Frank Gaffney, Ellen Tauscher, Barack Obama, Baker Strang, George Shultz, Henry Sokolski, Robert M. Gates, Sam Nunn, US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, William Perry, Nuclear Security Project, Obama administration, Henry A. Kissinger
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
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