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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 53, December 2000 - January 2001

Nuclear Threat Initiative Launched

At the National Press Club in Washington on January 8, Ted Turner, founder of CNN television, and Sam Nunn, former Democratic Senator for Georgia, announced the establishment of a major new charitable foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, dedicated to furthering the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Turner and Nunn will act as co-chairs of the organization, which will make $250 million of funds available over the next five years. According to Turner, the need for an intense focus on reducing nuclear dangers is all too pressing:

"Like everyone else, we thought that when the Cold War ended, we no longer had to worry about nuclear annihilation... [But] the progress that we made to reduce the nuclear threat in the last ten years has been marginal at best... Despite the fact that we are no longer enemies, the US and Russia still maintain nearly 3,000 nuclear weapons each on high alert... An accidental exchange is not out of the question. In many ways, the threat has become more complex dangerous."

Nunn highlighted some immediate funding priorities: "There is tremendous vulnerability to [nuclear] theft and terrorism and illegal sales... [Russian nuclear scientists] are in great demand by terrorist groups, but don't know how to feed their families." Addressing the immensity of the issue of nuclear threats around the world, Nunn added that there is currently "a gap between the threat and the response, and we're going to try to help... Fifty million dollars a year sounds like an awful lot of money, but in the sea of challenges out there, this is small potatoes. But I think we can come in where there are niches, and we can be a catalyst."

The organization's Chief Operating Officer will be Charles Curtis, former Deputy Secretary of Energy.

Note: on December 31, former California Senator Alan Cranston died at the age of 86. Cranston, one of the Democratic Party's staunchest advocates of nuclear disarmament, was founder and President of the Global Security Institute in San Francisco. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, published on December 10, Cranston voiced his alarm that the risk of nuclear catastrophe remained so high: "We are convinced that there is graver danger now in the post-Cold War era that nuclear weapons will be used than was the case during the Cold War... That's for a number of reasons. One is the chaos and lack of resources in Russia. This has led to a lack of proper command-and-control over nuclear weapons that leaves them open to unauthorized use, an accidental use, or [to the chance] that terrorists or representatives of people like Saddam Hussein might buy or bribe or steal their way to getting nuclear weapon components and capacities out of Russia."

Reports: Time bombs continue to tick, Chicago Tribune, December 10; Calif. Mourns former Senator Alan Cranston, Reuters, January 1; Turner, Nunn form new foundation, Associated Press, January 8; Turner funds effort against nuclear arms, Reuters, January 8; Ted Turner, Sam Nunn launch charitable effort to fight nuclear threat, US State Department (Washington File), January 8; Turner, Nunn unveil 'nuclear threat initiative', Washington Post, January 9.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.