CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Yesterday was a dark day for the United States. When Richard Lugar lost the Republican primary election, not only did Indiana lose its senator of 35 years, but the nation was deprived of one of its greatest champions of bipartisan leadership on issues of war and peace.
Orwell wisely observed that we sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. But we are also able to enjoy the benefits of peace and civilization because far-sighted leaders take actions that prevent acts of terrible violence that would otherwise make our lives poor, nasty, brutish, and short. A prime example would be terrorists exploding a nuclear bomb in one of our cities.
When the Soviet Union collapsed just 20 years ago last December, a central question was: what would happen to its superpower nuclear arsenal? When Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney was asked this question, he answered: “If the Soviets do an excellent job at retaining control over their stockpile of nuclear weapons and they are 99 percent successful, that would mean you could still have as many as 250 that they were not able to control.”
The moderator followed up with a question about what the U.S. could do to affect these developments. Since he was unable to think of anything constructive, Cheney responded: prepare for the consequences. As he said, “the only realistic thing for me to do as Secretary of Defense is to anticipate that one of the byproducts of the breakup of the Soviet Union will be the proliferation of nuclear weapons.” Try to imagine the consequences for the United States of 250 nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea, Iran, or Al Qaeda.
Faced with inaction by the first Bush Administration, Lugar and his Democratic colleague, Senator Sam Nunn, stepped forward with a big, bold idea. They refused to stand by and let stuff happen. Instead, they invented the most significant national security initiative in the post-Cold War era. Nunn-Lugar legislation established and funded a program that gave US Defense Department officials a direct role in shaping the post-Soviet nuclear future.
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Over the past two decades, with strong bipartisan support, $20 billion American taxpayers’ dollars have been invested in the most cost-effective expenditure in the defense budget. More than 3,000 long-range missiles, mostly aimed at American cities, have been removed from Soviet successor states in the greatest nonproliferation success in history. Thanks to significant help from Nunn-Lugar programs, 14,000 shorter-range nuclear weapons, many of a size well suited for terrorists, have been secured.
Two decades after Cheney’s forecast, how many nuclear weapons from the former Soviet superpower arsenal have proliferated? Not the 250 Cheney predicted. Not 25. Miracle of miracles, not a single nuclear weapon has been discovered outside the control of Russia’s nuclear custodians.
For all this, Richard Lugar deserves our eternal gratitude. His sense of duty, foresight and, most of all, his willingness to work with Democratic colleagues, helped keep America safe. His bipartisan spirit should be a source of pride for Republicans. Instead it has been used against him, to their shame, and ours.
Since the 1970s, Graham Allison has been a leading analyst of U.S. national security and defense policy, with a special interest in nuclear proliferation and terrorism. He served as assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration, and was a longtime member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. He is the founding dean of the modern Kennedy School
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