Nunn Forum Envisions Nuclear Weapon-free Future

Improving the relationship between the United States, Russia and Europe was the timely topic of the Sam Nunn Policy Forum, held at the Global Learning Center on the Georgia Tech campus March 29.

The forum came as President Barack Obama prepared to sign a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And on the morning of the forum, terrorists bombed a subway in Moscow, killing 39 people.

Those events pointed to a brighter future for partnership, attendees said, as well as the need for developed countries to secure nuclear weapons and facilities to keep them out of terrorists’ hands.

“Today the risk of a nuclear accident is higher” than during the Cold War, said Nunn, Cls 60. “When you have this many nuclear weapons around, things can go badly wrong.”

Nunn, co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, championed nuclear security while a U.S. senator. The forum, held every other year, is hosted by the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

Nunn told the dignitaries, researchers and students in attendance that Russia and the United States need to improve their communication on nuclear issues, reduce the number of nuclear missiles on ready status and improve their posture toward each other. Those steps will “determine whether we live in a world of promise or peril,” he said.

The forum’s featured speaker was Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Kislyak stressed the common interests of the United States and Russia while also providing the Russian perspective on contentious issues.

“We don’t see any threat coming from the United States and hope they see no threat coming from us,” he said. “But concerns about the stability of Europe remain. We want to be part of a Europe that is stable and secure for everyone.”

Kislyak repeatedly mentioned NATO and how its members had held Russia at a distance. He said the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo was seen as illegal by Russia. And he called Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili “a criminal with the blood of Russians on his hands.” NATO and the United States supported Georgia when Russian troops invaded the country in 2008.

Kislyak attributed lasting disagreements to unresolved issues from the Cold War. Overcoming those issues is central to replacing mutually assured destruction with “mutually assured security.”

“Nuclear armament is just part of this,” he said. “We need to work on the issues that prompted us to have nuclear weapons.”

In a later panel discussion, Kislyak introduced Charles Boyd, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, commander in chief of the U.S. European Command and NATO executive director. Kislyak suggested Boyd had flown spy missions during the Cold War and asked if Boyd was haunted by it.

“How’s that for an introduction?” Boyd joked before saying he had been stationed in Turkey during the Cold War, ready to fly a bombing mission at a moment’s notice.

The two former opponents enjoyed a friendly discussion on nuclear policy, highlighting the improved relations between the United States and Russia.

The event also featured the introduction of disarmament guidelines from the International Crisis Group in a video message from Gareth Evans, president emeritus of the group.

“The world is riding a wave as opposed to resisting a tide,” Evans said of disarmament. “It’s sheer dumb luck that we’ve managed to survive without a nuclear explosion catastrophe. The status quo is not an option.

“We have to go for absolute abolition. If any nation has nuclear weapons, others will desire them.”

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