Issue No. 55, March 2001
Moving Away from Doomsday: Speech by Sam Nunn
Moving away from Doomsday and other dangers,' speech by
former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, National Press Club,
Washington, March 29, 2001.
"... Two months ago, a new President took office. One of the
first rites of initiation for any new President is to receive a
briefing on the nuclear war plan. If you will permit me a moment of
poetic license, I would like to suggest what a military briefer
could have said in such a briefing to the President:
- Our primary mission, Mr. President, is to deter a nuclear
attack against the US and our allies. This mission has remained
essentially unchanged for the last 50 years.
- Our deterrence strategy depends on the unquestioned ability of
our nuclear weapons to survive a massive Russian nuclear strike,
and still to be able to retaliate with enough force to destroy
Russia, literally and absolutely.
- To support this strategy, the United States maintains more than
2,000 nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to launch within
minutes. So does Russia.
- Once launched, we have no capacity to divert missiles or
destroy them in flight. Neither does Russia.
- Mr. President, Russia can no longer afford to keep most of its
submarines at sea or its land-based missiles mobile and
- This reduces Russia's confidence that its nuclear weapons can
survive a first strike and makes it more likely Russia will launch
its weapons not after an attack, but after the mere warning of an
- Russia's early warning system has eroded dangerously, and this
increases the chance that a warning could be false.
- We worry that Russia's command and control of its nuclear
weapons will also erode.
... As President Reagan's former Undersecretary of Defense Fred
Ikle has recently observed, a man from Mars comparing the US
nuclear posture today with that at the height of the Cold War would
find them essentially indistinguishable. ...
Not only are the threats today different; the means to meet them
are different. We addressed the Cold War's threats by confrontation
with Moscow, and over the long term, we cannot rule out a possible
return to this confrontation. But most of today's greatest threats
we can address only in cooperation with Russia. This is the
overarching present day reality of our relationship. ...
I am puzzled by recent rumours which indicate that budgets for
these essential threat reduction programs may be seriously reduced.
If true, this would be heading backward. No one knows how long the
present window of opportunity will remain open. ... I welcome the
President's review of these programs, and I believe that they can
be better coordinated and made more effective. I am optimistic
about this review, because President Bush expressed support for
threat reduction during the campaign, and showed that he knows that
new thinking is required. ... I agree, and I trust that the
President's final budget and policies will reflect his words of
The Bush administration also is undertaking reviews of the US
nuclear posture, missile defenses, and conventional forces. As they
take on this challenge, I urge them to be willing to think anew
without any undue homage to inherited presumptions. ... In terms of
direction, I believe we should seek a world:
- Where nations rely on nuclear weapons less, not more.
Unfortunately, Russia today is moving in the opposite direction. So
are India, Pakistan and perhaps China.
We should seek a world:
- Where the United States and Russia move beyond a Doomsday
posture and no longer threaten each other with nuclear annihilation
or nation-ending damage. Until we do this, the US and Russia cannot
have what anyone would call a normal relationship.
We should seek a world:
- Where our strategic posture, both offensive and defensive, does
not undermine our ability to cooperate with major powers like
Russia and China, and with allies like NATO and Japan, to stop the
spread of weapons of mass destruction.
We should seek a world:
Let me be clear, I am not talking about the total elimination of
all nuclear weapons, a goal that generates much skepticism and
disagreement. I am talking about risk management and risk
reduction, an objective on which there can and should be broad
common ground. To move in this direction, however, we have to face
some difficult but fundamental questions that have been deferred
far too long. ..."
- Where we evaluate our policies, strategies, and programs by
their ability to move toward zero the risk that nuclear and other
weapons of mass destruction will ever be used anywhere, by anyone,
whether by design or accident. ...
Source: website of the Nuclear Threat Initiative,
co-chaired by Sam Nunn and Ted Turner,
© 2001 The Acronym Institute.