Nunn, Lugar talk campaign finance, nukes 

click to enlarge A poster displayed at Tuesday's reception captures U.S. Senators Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind., at work on nonproliferation issues.
  • A poster displayed at Tuesday's reception captures U.S. Senators Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind., at work on nonproliferation issues.

U.S. Senate alumni Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and Sam Nunn, D-Ga., talked farm policy, campaign finance and international relations during a media availability Tuesday evening before joining National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep (a Carmel, Ind., native) in a conversation before a live audience at the University of Indianapolis.

WFYI Public Television will broadcast that conversation, titled "Diplomacy in a Dangerous World" at 9 p.m., Feb. 27, and on 90.1 Public Radio at 7 p.m. on Feb. 28.

So as to expand the marketplace of ideas - and pierce the veil separating the public from a series of Republic-shaking exhortations issued during the press conference from a pair of seasoned politicians - we offer the following excerpt of the senators' pre-conversation conversation.

Lugar: On Nunn-Lugar, we had to fight for appropriations to continue (nonproliferation efforts) against very considerable opposition in the Senate. People would try to add on further things that had to be done before any money could be spent - one provision after another. There were so many provisions added one year to an appropriations bill that no money got spent at all that year.

So this is not altogether new. ... We were fighting this from the beginning. Some people in my party said, "Not a dime for the Russians." So I said, "Well, that's not quite the issue we're talking about." Still, there is that feeling, essentially.

I think currently, the problem as I see it: The Supreme Court is now discussing a campaign contribution court case in which the question is whether an individual person can make unlimited gifts to all sorts of candidates.

You might say, 'Isn't that already occurring?' Not exactly. People are making 10s of millions - now in this particular case, $100 million - gifts to organizations that sort of anonymously come in and dwarf all the activity that may be going on. ... The dominance of forces that have a specific agenda ... has made an enormous difference. As a result, the court continues to rule in this direction ... I hope at some point the courts might come to a different conclusion with regard to political money ... that might make it a little easier for local voters to sort of understand, to get into the issues and the cooperation.

Nunn: I don't think the court understood when they made the rulings they have about almost unlimited expenditures by wealthy people or corporations or labor unions ... they basically have unleashed Frankenstein in American politics.

I wish we had a couple members of the court who had run for local sheriff and understood what a huge hunk of money can do in the last 30 days of a campaign ... Now, even if the money isn't spent, every candidate is having to raise money ... as if they're gonna have somebody come in the last 30 days of the campaign and put 5 or 6 million against them on television. Nobody can withstand that; basically it's just too much pressure. And you've got left and right doing it. And at some point, it begins to eat into the confidence people have in government because they see the dominance of money in politics.

I think the court made a really bad decision judgment and I hope the people with good judgment and common sense on the court will be willing to reexamine that decision because, otherwise, you can't cure these problems without a constitutional amendment and that takes many years.

So I worry about the American political system - the way we're heading now. There's not a perfect answer ... but the constitutional interpretation now clouded the picture, wouldn't you say? [Lugar responds, "Yes."]

click to enlarge U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar during a 2003 Meet the Press interview. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar during a 2003 Meet the Press interview.
  • submitted photo

NUVO: Sometimes I imagine that I am the president of Iran and I wonder why I should let other countries that have nuclear weapons tell me I can't have what they have ... What would be your elevator pitch to assuage my doubts?

Lugar: Well, a long time ago, the countries of the world, 190 of them, came together on the nonproliferation treaty. The idea of that treaty was to offer safety to all nations - a pledge that if you did not have nuclear weapons, you would not develop them.

[The evening's program stated India, Pakistan and Israel refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003.]

It's not a new question: It's been out there. Pakistan and India were obviously countries that have weapons that wanted to keep them for whatever purposes they have. However, it seems to me that it's certainly incumbent on the United States and other countries in the world to discourage the further development of nuclear weapons.

I think we should applaud the efforts of the United States and others who are working with Iran - apparently a six-month negotiation. Iranians initially are saying 'We're not going to pledge to never do this, but we may, in fact, take parts of the program down, we may pledge not to enrich beyond a certain level.'

Some are skeptical ... I applaud, at least, the attempt of diplomacy to work at this point. It could be that there is potential for change on the outlook of Iran to other countries in the world. Maybe they see their situation in the Middle East, given the deterioration in Syria - apart what's occurred in the Arab Spring and elsewhere. Maybe they want more of a relationship with the United States, or European countries, in addition to the relationship they have with Russia.

Maybe the Shiite/Sunni difficulties are much intense as they look at it than we would see it and this may influence their cooperation.

Nunn: The nonproliferation treaty was a great big deal in the late '60s ... in effect countries with nuclear weapons basically said 'We're going to get rid of our nuclear weapons step by step over time.' And the countries without nuclear weapons agreed basically not to develop them, but ... everyone had the right to civil nuclear technology.

The Iranians have breached that agreement over and over again misleading the world about they are doing. They have given every suspicion that they are, in effect, trying to develop a weapon. Now this agreement has given the opportunity to prove to the world that they are not developing a weapon.

What they are already beginning to do under the six-month period is dilute down the 20 percent enrichment (not bomb grade, but heading in that direction). About 3 percent enrichment is used for civil power; 20 percent you can barely justify for medicinal and some type of unusual nuclear purposes. But 80 percent/90 percent is where you get an atomic weapon.

The Iranians now are willing to seemingly get rid of some of that 20 percent - dilute it down and quit producing the 20 percent, which gives more time. The world has to be satisfied ... that not only is Iran giving up immediate enrichment up to 20 percent, but that they are not going to start back up.

There has to be some built in safeguards and inspections. But I think, as Dick Lugar said, we need to give diplomacy a chance. I don't know that it will work, but we ought to give it time and see if it can work because things have changed. We've seen tremendous change in relationships around the world - Germany, Japan and others, so it is not a hopeless situation.

When the alternative is either a nuclear weapon or a war - those are two really bad alternatives. Neither one is acceptable, so it's a pretty good reason to give diplomacy a chance here.

In the long run, the nuclear powers have gotten rid of about 2/3 of their weapons since the 1990s ... Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus gave up their nuclear weapons. South Africa gave up a nuclear program, South Korea gave up a nuclear program. Taiwan gave up a nuclear program.

So this is not a hopeless quest. The nonproliferation treaty is enormously important, but it has one big loophole ... that technology is the same for nuclear fuel for civil power as it is to take it to high-level enrichment for an atomic weapon. So that technology availability is a huge loophole. That's what the Iranians and the North Koreans have been taking advantage of.

In my view, in the long run, every country that enriches uranium or that re-processes plutonium is going to have to be under camera.

If we're going to avoid cataclysmic nuclear terrorism - every process by which nuclear material can be made into a weapon needs to be under camera - not under control in terms of production but under total oversight and supervision of the Atomic Energy Agency. That can be done with modern technology.

Lugar: After Sam left the Senate, he founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I'm proud to serve as a member of his board. This has brought together board members from countries from all over the world to discuss these issues continuously, to think through ingenious methods to be more effective with their governments or with other governments with whom they may have diplomatic relations. This is very important to keep people talking, to have people coming and going through various countries as opposed to standing back and making pronouncements.

Nunn: Because of Dick Lugar, the Nunn-Lugar program, which was started as just for the Soviet Union is now applied worldwide. It's already applied in Libya and what's happening in Syria right now - the chemical weapons the U.S. and Russia are trying to get rid of - that came about because Dick Lugar was a leader in the Senate and expanded the Nunn-Lugar program. One of the main reasons we formed the Nuclear Threat Initiative organization was to help him while I was out of the Senate and he was still over there struggling, explaining that the Nunn-Lugar program was for our security and was not a welfare program.

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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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