Examining Nuclear Threats Past and Present Sixty years after President Harry Truman called for an end to the use of atomic weapons, arms control efforts continue. Where are we today? Talk of the Nation examines the current state of arms control in a live broadcast before a studio audience at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.

Examining Nuclear Threats Past and Present

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting live from the Ampitheater at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Our broadcast today is part of the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference. The meeting comes a week before the 60th anniversary of President Harry Truman's call for the establishment of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. Truman's goal was to attain the most effective means of entirely eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes.

Our purpose today is to take stock of where we are relative to that goal and during the long decades of the Cold War, the world faced the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Today's threats may not be quite so cataclysmic, but could also be more likely. They fall into four basic categories, according to experts here. Number one is the possibility that terrorists steal or buy nuclear weapons or nuclear materials. Second is the entrance of new players into the nuclear arms race, North Korea maybe or Iran. And the possibility of a regional nuclear conflict. Third is the problem of existing arsenals. Despite efforts to dismantle a large proportion of the world's nuclear stockpiles, there are still 27,000 nuclear bombs today. And fourth is the breakdown of the non-proliferation regime. Israel, India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states outside the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If the world grants them some kind of exemption, what's to stop other countries?

As these challenges face the world, what is the US and other--what are other nations doing to ensure a safer future? Should we focus strictly on arms control or do we need to think about the balance of power as well? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. We'll also be taking questions from the audience here in the Ronald Reagan Building.

Three prominent players in the United States' strategy towards nuclear non-proliferation join us today. As administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Ambassador Linton Brooks is in charge of the nation's nuclear arsenal.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Also with us is Senator Richard Lugar, Republican from Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Amtrak willing, we will shortly be joined by Senator--former Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia, co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The Nunn-Lugar nuclear threat reduction program was passed by Congress in 1992. It was set up to reduce the number of warheads in the US and Russia and also to secure existing warheads in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's breakup in 1991. And why don't we begin right there?

Senator Lugar, should we be worried about the security of nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union?

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana; Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee): Well, of course, and that was the whole purpose of the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program. But beyond that, the work of the G-8 to try to amplify that and the work of every country really--pardon me--that's interested in this whole process, I believe it's always been possible to have an inventory of precisely who had nuclear weapons or at least materials that could be utilized for nuclear weapons. The question has been diplomacy: how to bring all of these parties into some responsible activity together.

We started with Russia and the former Soviet Union, because between the United States and the Soviets, perhaps 97, 98 percent of the problem was contained in those entities.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Do we know where all of the nuclear weapons are today?

Sen. LUGAR: I believe so. I think clearly there may be questions with regard to the North Korean nuclear weapons, if they have them. But there are not many questions as to who has them. And the question really is the transparency and the openness, the willingness for inspection, the willingness to negotiate and the willingness for people to come together so they have a feeling they don't need to have nuclear weapons that'll impact their liability.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, let me ask Ambassador Brooks about that. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and obviously much better relations with Russia than we used to have with Moscow in the old Soviet days, why are nuclear arsenals necessary anymore? What are nuclear weapons for in the modern age?

Ambassador LINTON BROOKS (National Nuclear Security Administration): Well, first of all, nuclear arsenals are a lot less necessary. That's why last year the president announced the reduction of our own arsenal to the smallest levels since the Eisenhower administration; that's why the United States and the Russian Federation agreed in 2002 to limit deployed nuclear weapons to 17 to 2,200, a level that a few years ago we would have all thought as fanciful.

At the present time, we don't see that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is possible, partly for verification reasons and partly because there's still an unstable international environment. But we've substantially reduced the numbers since the end of the Cold War, both here and in Russia.

CONAN: Reduced the number of weapons, but not necessarily the amount of nuclear materials available to make weapons.

Amb. BROOKS: We're--well, we've done both, actually. Under a innovative program, we are halfway through taking 500 tons of Russian uranium, down-blending it in Russia, selling it in the United States, turning it into fuel. One out of every 10 lightbulbs in the United States is powered by a former Soviet atom bomb. So we're reducing material. We are working with Russia to dispose of plutonium. We've solved some legal problems with that. We started site preparation for our own disposition facility last month.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Senator Lugar, turning to some of the other threats that also exist, new countries acquiring nuclear weapons; India, Pakistan, Israel all presume to have--well, India and Pakistan blew up nuclear weapons so we're pretty sure they've got them. North Korea and Iran are the current concerns. Are there others and is this--obviously the negotiations with Iran are taking place in a European context as well. This is truly an international effort.

Sen. LUGAR: It certainly is. And let me just say with regard to Iran and North Korea, that those negotiations are critical because the outcome of the six-power talks with North Korea in the event that the North Koreans continue on to build nuclear weapons could be that Japan might decide to do so to South Korea. What started out as a six-power talk to try to limit could, in fact, be a situation in which everybody ends up moving the other direction. Ditto for the Iranian situation. In the event we're not successful--by we I mean the world community--to limit the thought of nuclear weapons there, there are clearly other states in the area that are on the threshold, at least, of attempting to acquire this.

Now they may not be successful. As we know in the Libyan case, they worked very hard at it. The A.Q. Khan network has spread a lot of material both in terms of knowledge and perhaps the real stuff elsewhere. But the fact is, those two negotiations are very, very important and I can't stress how much we depend upon a multinational aspect in both of them.

CONAN: Let me ask you about that, Ambassador Brooks. The A.Q. Khan network, this was based in Pakistan, that country's--the father of that country's nuclear program, who sold nuclear technology, we're pretty sure, to North Korea and to Iran as well, and to Libya. Was that the extent of it?

Amb. BROOKS: Well, I think nobody is absolutely sure, but those are certainly three cases that we worry most about. This whole problem of the proliferation of technology to enrich uranium, which is what you have to do to make a nuclear weapon, is something the United States is very concerned with and the president's made some proposals last year to stop the spread of that technology.

CONAN: Senator Lugar?

Sen. LUGAR: What's the question?

CONAN: This was on the basis of--are we concerned about countries other than the ones we've talked about? In terms of North Korea and Iran, could the A.Q. Khan network have spread technology elsewhere?

Sen. LUGAR: Yes. And, you know, in due course we probably will find out more as the cooperation with Pakistan increases. A.Q. Khan is still there and bit by bit as materials show up that have some traces of that network, why we find out more. But we don't really know the extent of his travels and that of his sales.

CONAN: Do you believe that he sold that stuff on his own without the Pakistani government knowing?

Sen. LUGAR: Well, my own judgment is that he was a national hero. He had a lot of latitude in Pakistan and as a matter of fact, still does, even if he's under house arrest. The fact is that at that time, he had a network of persons--he didn't move personally country by country in this respect. But likewise it was a for-profit situation, one in which people made some money on it, in addition to ...(unintelligible) leased Pakistani wizardry with regard to this.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Is it scarier that he was able to sell it on his own or that it was done with the Pakistani government's--well, under the table?

Sen. LUGAR: Well, I won't comment on that. It was clearly a part of what they felt was their national need for defense. They saw problems in India next door; ditto the other way. Our problem in the world now is to work with both of these countries--they're both very important--and to make certain that they sort of move down the trail away from that type of thing, first of all, so they don't hurt each other and the neighborhood and, secondly, so that the proliferation dangers that are not well-known perhaps, as some of us have found out in working with the Soviet Union and Russia over the course of time. Until they really come into a better early-warning system among themselves, we will all be in peril.

CONAN: And here's a testament to the on-time arrival of Amtrak's 1:00 arrival here in Washington, DC. Former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia and president of the--co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Thanks very much for taking the time to join us today, Senator.

Former Senator SAM NUNN (Democrat, Georgia; Co-chairman and CEO, Nuclear Threat Initiative): Thanks, Neal. And I agree with everything they've said so far.

CONAN: Oh, good.

(Soundbite of laughter; applause)

CONAN: And, Senator Nunn, we have to take a break in a minute, but I did want to bring you in the conversation, ask you again--we were talking with Senator Lugar and Ambassador Brooks earlier, but the threat of what are known as loose nukes, do you think that's been contained?

Mr. NUNN: I think it's a dynamic process that has to continue for as long as we have nuclear materials. So I don't think we can ever say it has been done. We have made progress; there's no doubt about that. But I still believe this is the biggest danger we face securitywise, not only in this nation but around the globe, and that is nuclear material, weapon-grade material being seized or being stolen or being bought by terrorists because I think terrorists would use the material.

CONAN: With that, we're going to have to take a short break. We're broadcasting live from the Ampitheater at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here in Washington, DC. Sixty years ago just one country had a nuclear bomb; today there are at least eight. What should we do about it? (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail: totn@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting live today from the Ampitheater at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Some of the sharpest minds on the subject of nuclear arms control are gathered here for the Carnegie Endowment's International Non-Proliferation Conference. Our guests here on the stage are Ambassador Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former Senator Sam Nunn, who represented the state of Georgia in the United States Senate, now co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

How do you stop the spread of nuclear weapons? (800) 989-8255. E-mail us: totn@npr.org. We're also going to take questions from the audience here in the Ampitheater. And why don't we begin here on my left?

Mr. IAN DAVIS: Thank you. My name's Ian Davis from the British-American Security Information Council. I'm very pleased to be here from London. Why are there still nearly 500 US tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe 15 years after the end of the Cold War?

CONAN: Why are there--those tactical nuclear weapons and--well, Ambassador Brooks, is that to you?

Amb. BROOKS: It may as well be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. BROOKS: NATO is an alliance that has a number of purposes. One of those purposes is defense, and there's a nuclear component to that aspect of the alliance. And so it is clear that we retain a very small number of tactical nuclear weapons, roughly 10 percent of the total arsenal we had at the time of the Cold War.

Sen. LUGAR: Let me just follow up by saying that we've tried, as the United States, frequently to get the Russians into negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons, and it's just not been--it's been a non-starter. I'm hopeful always as each year comes around that we may begin to talk. But the reason we have them there is because there's a whole lot of other tactical nuclear weapons close by. Our NATO allies want to make certain that we're prepared. Now we've moved downhill with those just as rapidly as we could with the long-range missiles, where there's a will to negotiate, and I hope there will be.

CONAN: Senator Nunn, do those kinds of force-level comparisons make any sense today?

Mr. NUNN: No. And I was one of the big supporters of having tactical nuclear weapons in Europe during the period of time where we had a confrontation with the Soviet Union. We had the Warsaw Pact. We had NATO. We had the chance of our military forces, in a conventional sense, being overrun very quickly with the predominant tank force, artillery force that the Soviet Union had. We were using tactical nuclear weapons as a deterrent to prevent the conventional disparities from giving the Soviet Union any kind of invitation to either invade or to use their military powers leverage. That day is over. There is no Soviet Union, there is no Warsaw Pact. A number of those countries are now a part of NATO.

The tactical nuclear weapons in the US arsenal and the Russian arsenal now are much more danger to ourselves than they are to each other in terms of deterrents. I don't think they have any value now. I think they are a bad example for the United States and Russia. And I think the United States and Russia, without having to go through a long treaty--President Bush and President Putin should talk about it, and they should start with transparency. We ought to know where theirs are; they ought to know where ours are. And then we should move them out of Europe or anywhere near Western Europe or Eastern Europe. And then the next thing we should do is start talking about how do you get rid of them. Transparency first and then we take the steps after that.

This is one that I would give both President Bush and President Putin failing grades on. It takes two to make an agreement, so you don't know who to completely put the responsibility on. But it needs to be a much higher priority on President Bush's list. Ad then if President Putin has no interest, we know it--clearly where the accountability is. But I believe that if the United States and Russia did go to a bilateral transparency--doesn't need to be known by the world--as a first step, we would at least be in a position to be comforted that terrorists would not be able to buy these weapons on the market. We hope that's not the case. We hope Russians know how many they have in their inventory. We hope none of them are missing, but we have no assurances of that. And it's a ridiculous situation now, this many years after the Cold War when we have no real conventional threat from Russia in Europe.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation, and we'll go to Jim. And Jim's calling from Kent, Ohio.

JIM (Caller): Yes, sir. Just to follow up on that last point about the Cold War, it seems that the tensest moment of the Cold War occurred with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that was sparked because they were--Russia was coming within 90 miles of American territory. Now we can see the shoe on the other foot with NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and the Caucuses and in central Asia, where we occupy at least four or the five central Asian countries.

And it seems to me that the most likely source of--the most probable source of the coming nuclear war would be that--the fact that NATO is expanding right into Soviet territory. Wherever NATO goes, the nukes go, those tactical weapons you just mentioned, plus who knows what else they have hidden. And it seems to me that that is the real threat. Now what if we don't get out of Uzbekistan? Suppose we defy the Uzbek government and don't leave in January, like they want us to? Would that--and say if Russia came to their aid and insisted, yes, we have to get out now, what are we going to do then? What happens then if we refuse?

CONAN: Well, I don't mean to throw that hypothetical at you Senator Lugar, but the broad point of the question.

Sen. LUGAR: Well, we are leaving Uzbekistan, so we'll not have a problem there. I think to describe the dilemma that NATO has expanded is to miss the point that President Bush has talked about Europe whole and free; that could include Russia, as a matter of fact. It's not a question any longer of NATO being--occupying territory and so forth. It's a question of how Europe will come together, including the Balkan states, Ukraine perhaps, Georgia in due course. And that is the challenge, how we have, in fact, a comprehensive group of countries, all of whom want to see peace. I agree with Sam Nunn on the tactical weapons that's come up again in this question.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sen. LUGAR: That this is something that we could work out with the Russians. The point I made is that this is something that they've chosen not to visit, but they might decide to do so in the next couple of months. Hope springs eternal, and that's been true of our Nunn-Lugar program throughout the time. Things have opened up if you're there, if you're there talking and visiting and have an opportunity, really, to get together with folks.

CONAN: Ambassador Brooks, as NATO expands eastward into places like Poland that used to be part of the old Soviet bloc--not the old Soviet Union--do nuclear weapons move east with it?

Amb. BROOKS: I think that NATO was fairly clear when the expansion process began that while sovereign states don't ever give up their rights lightly, that we saw no need to station nuclear weapons in the new NATO members. It's important to understand we've been talking as though nothing had changed since the Cold War. Every nuclear artillery shell in the Western World is gone; we took the last one apart a year and a half ago. All short-range nuclear missiles are gone. The capability to delivering nuclear weapons from aircraft carriers is gone. The capability to delivering nuclear weapons from surface ships is gone. The number of nuclear bombs has been dramatically reduced. So it would be a mistake for our listeners to think that this is still the mid-'80s.

JIM: Well, sir ...(unintelligible).

CONAN: Senator Nunn, go ahead.

Mr. NUNN: I would agree that we have taken those steps. But what we don't know is what the Russians have done. That's the missing ingredient here. And I think that we've got to be persistent in putting that on the table and it's a matter now of Russian leadership. They're going to be leading the G-8. Well, Russia should have some accountability in that overall forum in terms of the example it sets for other nations. And so we've got 5 or 600 of them in Europe. Those are not certainly part of any kind of rational defense, in my view, now. The Russians have them throughout Russia, and that's where we're spending a lot of Nunn-Lugar money--is trying to help them secure. But we don't have any accountability on those or any transparency. So it's a matter of both countries making this a real leadership issue. And I think it's a chance for Russia to lead in the G-8.

CONAN: Let's get another question from the audience here in the Ampitheater. And is there somebody--over here to my right. I'm sorry.

Ms. THERESA MONGELLO(ph): Hi. My name is Theresa Mongello, and I'm from the US Department of Energy. And my question, I guess, is for the entire panel, and it's about whether or not in the future we're going to see counterproliferation replacing non-proliferation and if you could explain the difference between the two.

CONAN: Who wants to take that one? We're pointing at Ambassador Brooks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. BROOKS: When people talk about non-proliferation, they usually mean an international regime of some kind to prevent legally the transfer of the capability to produce nuclear weapons. When people talk about counterproliferation, they usually mean something much more forceful. I think it's fairly clear that this is not an area where one answer works. We're going to continue strong support for the non-proliferation treaty and for the different regimes of export control that surround it. We're going to continue bilateral things, such as the Nunn-Lugar efforts with the Russia Federation, that help improve security. We're going to continue things like the proliferation security initiative that helps thwart those who would circumvent international will. And all of those work together. And ultimately we're going to try and create a world in which nations see that you can be Libya and abandon things and gain benefits of being integrated into the international system, or you can be North Korea and continue to isolate yourself away from the international system. So I think that we're not going to see anything replace anything. This is where you have to use a lot of the tools.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question. Let's get another caller on the line, and this is--if I can find the right button--this is Joe. Joe's calling from--is that--you in Milwaukee, Joe?

JOE (Caller): Yes. Yes, it is.

CONAN: Go ahead.

JOE: Hi. We spent for the last 30 years something like $3 to $6 billion a year on aid to Israel, and they have spent the money obviously somewhat on their--one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals, and the rest of it apparently they're spending occupying and settling Arab territory in the West Bank and up until recently the Gaza. These things both inspire, you know, Arab terror. I'm just wondering what you think about continuing to spend that money.

CONAN: Well, I'm not sure how--which pocket of money Israel pays for its nuclear weapons program out of, Senator Lugar, but if you could give Joe--obviously Israel's nuclear arsenal is a concern.

Sen. LUGAR: Well, we have a strategic alliance with Israel. We are very hopeful that the peace process, in which we're heavily involved in which many countries in the world believe we should be more heavily involved, works so that Israel's finally recognized by the surrounding states and so that commerce among the states so that normal flows that may bring prosperity to people who haven't enjoyed it as much might occur.

Let me just say that I have no idea what the nuclear budget of Israel may be, but I would question whether $3 to $6 billion goes to Israel to begin with. Clearly in the time of peace with Egypt a while back, money went to Egypt and Israel reciprocally and that that has continued and will continue for the security, really, of all of our friends that are involved there. This gives us, I think, some leverage and we utilize it with the Israeli leadership, as well as leverage we're trying to exemplify with the Palestinian leadership and for that matter with Jordan, trying to do better with Syria and Lebanon, in fact, in the whole area that...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sen. LUGAR: ...might be helpful and might mitigate any possibilities of the spread of nuclear weapons by Israel or by anybody else.

CONAN: We're talking about the spread of nuclear weapons and how best to control it.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Senator Nunn, let me bring you in on the same question. Clearly the existence of an Israeli nuclear arsenal creates a problem in the Middle East.

Mr. NUNN: Well, I think the problem is not simply Israel; the problem is the huge animosity in that area and the vows that we've heard recently from the leader of Iran in terms of the bent determination of some in that part of the world to destroy Israel. So if you're sitting there in Israel, you're thinking you have a deterrent to that kind of thing and you've got it with conventional and with nuclear. I think there's no question in my mind that we need to put more priority on the peace process there, and if we can get a peace--as Senator Lugar indicated, if we can get a peace agreement going, then I think it puts the nuclear arsenal of Israel, as well as the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan and hopefully eventually India in a different kind of category.

They don't all relate to the Middle East, but you sort of spin the bottle, and you've got Israel, because of their security problems, that have nuclear weapons; you've got Pakistan because of their fear of India that has nuclear weapons; you've got India because of their fear of China; China, Russia; US, Russia. All--it all goes in a circle. So I think there has to be some leadership somewhere. In my view, the leadership--much more vigorous leadership has to come from the United States and Russia. We still have thousands of weapons on what I call hair-trigger alert aimed at each other.

That makes no sense now, and I think the US and Russia could set a real example in the whole non-proliferation area by beginning to remove most of those weapons from what I would call quick alert. I think that would also be a lesson to India and Pakistan, because there's probably more danger of an accident happening there, some kind of false alarm than there is between any other two countries in the world. So we're all kind of going in circles. I don't think you can say it all starts with Israel, but it certainly would include Israel in the long run as we try to work through these problems that are such a threat to the world.

CONAN: Let's get another question from the audience to my right.

Mr. TARYK GROFE(ph) (Audience Member): My name is Taryk Grofe. I had a general question that this week there will be discussions between North Korea, the United States and some other countries on North Korea giving up its nuclear weapon program. If this were to happen, who do you think should do the verification of the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapon program? Should it be the United States and Russia or the International Atomic Energy Agency? And I wanted to add a comment to something that Ambassador Brooks said earlier in this discussion, that verification of nuclear warheads is a problem and that is why there is not much progress between Russia and the United States, but if in the past South Africa's dismantlement of six nuclear weapons could be verified and if the US is seeking verified dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons, why can we not use the same types of methods to verify dismantlement of Russian and US nuclear warheads.

CONAN: Well, with that comment aside, Senator Lugar, did you want to address whether the appropriate--in a happy day after the agreement, who would monitor North Korean compliance?

Sen. LUGAR: Well, my nominee would be the IAEA. Seems to me that's (unintelligible) heard from Dr. ElBaradei yesterday. He came over to visit with me, and I think, you know, our thoughts were that essentially that organization is made up of many nations, including the United States, United Kingdom, basic European powers. That this offers an opportunity--it did before. Part of the problem was the IAEA was kicked out of Yongbyon by the North Koreans, out of kilter for quite a while. So that seems to me to be a very good starter. Others may have other overlays in which you can become more certain.

CONAN: We're gonna take another short break. If you'd like to join the conversation, by the way, give us a phone call: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. Our guests are Ambassador Brooks and Senators Nunn and Lugar. And we'll be back after a short break.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting live today from the amphitheater of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, the US Supreme Court is taking up the issue of military tribunals. We'll talk about the constitutional issues at stake for foreigners suspected of terrorism. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking with Ambassador Richard Brooks and Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. Excuse me, that's Ambassador Lynton Brooks--very distinguished director, though, your brother--and Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. The topic is today's nuclear threat. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255. Our e-mail address: totn@npr.org. We're also taking questions from the audience here in the amphitheater, and let's go to my right for the next question.

Mr. SETH GRAY(ph) (CEO, Thorian Power(ph)): Hello. I'm Seth Gray. I'm the CEO of Thorian Power. I'm on the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded 60 years ago and originally its doomsday clock was set at seven minutes to midnight, and over the decades after moving back and forth, it again today stands at seven minutes to midnight, seven minutes from doomsday. If it were up to you, would you move the hands of the clock closer to or further away from midnight today?

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Hmm. Why don't we ask each of our guests to respond to that. Ambassador Brooks?

Amb. BROOKS: I think you have to distinguish very sharply between the threat we faced of the annihilation of societies and the threat we face that somebody may steal enough for a crude device. I don't mean to minimize the importance of nuclear security. I'm spending my life trying to improve it. But the nuclear threat that we faced in the Cold War dwarfed anything we face today.

CONAN: Senator Lugar?

Sen. LUGAR: Well, I will pay tribute to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 60th anniversary of that great publication, that published a (unintelligible) survey that our office took, that is the Foreign Relations Committee, and we found certain probabilities within five years or 10 years among a panel of experts that a serious event would occur, but I agree with Lynton that we're not talking about annihilation of the world. We're talking about a serious event in which a lot of people could be killed, and that would be an enormous tragedy. And so I would say perhaps the magazine needs to redefine what the seven minutes is till, and perhaps you have.

CONAN: And Senator Nunn?

Mr. NUNN: Well, I believe that the clock is further from midnight than it was during the Cold War. I would agree with Lynton there, and certainly in terms of any kind of all-out confrontation that would involve nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union. I do, however, believe, and it's pretty complicated--you're gonna have to have, as Senator Lugar indicated, a little bit more complex clock. It's complicated because I think with the deteriorated Russian warning system and the deteriorated Russian radar system and the inability of Russia to have the survivable weapons that it had back during the Cold War because of non-patrol of submarines, not as much mobile missiles and so forth, there is increased vulnerability to first strikes, and that would certainly be from the Russian perspective.

That means that the chances of an accident--not a war coming out of the NATO confrontation, not a deliberate, premeditated strike, but some kind of accident, false warning, in my view has gone up, not down. Now that's also ridiculous. We can do something about that between the United States and Russia.

The chances of a nuclear explosion by terrorists because the nuclear knowledge has greatly increased with the proliferation of materials all over the globe, weapons-grade material, in my view has gone up, not back. But the chance of an all-out nuclear attack, as Lynton said, I think has gone down very considerably.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line, and this is Barry. Barry's calling us from Charleston, South Carolina.

BARRY (Caller): Yes, sir. I was wanting to know how much money in general was the United States spending on this nuclear disarmament? And also Senator Nunn, I think, didn't answer what--I don't know if he was able to answer the question, I think the ambassador was unable to answer the question of how much the 3 billion we sent to Israel was spent. How about Senator Nunn? Does he have any idea how much of $3 billion a year Israel's getting do they spend on nuclear disarmament? How about the other countries? How--do we give aid to other countries besides, you know, Israel, some of the other countries, Pakistan--do we give them aid and do they spend it on nuclear weapons?

Mr. NUNN: I really can't answer. We certainly give Israel aid. We give some aid to Pakistan. I certainly do not know, though, the percentage they would spend. I don't have an answer for that.

CONAN: Senator Lugar?

Sen. LUGAR: Well, I don't think anybody has that answer. The question, however...

CONAN: Well...

Sen. LUGAR: ...very clearly we do not send money for them to spend on nuclear weapons. Where clearly in the case of Israel is a program, Pakistan likewise. We have a relationship with Pakistan which is extremely important and extremely complex, and it has to do with Afghanistan, as well as Iraq and a whole complex of situations.

CONAN: But the other question--part of the question was how much does the United States spend on...

Sen. LUGAR: About a billion dollars a year, about half of that for the (unintelligible) program in the Department of Defense, the other half roughly in Department of Energy. There's probably some additional bits and pieces in the State Department, ISTC contributions, other international organizations.

CONAN: And, Ambassador Brooks, would that count the money that's being used to dismantle nuclear weapons?

Amb. BROOKS: No, that counts the money that the G8 agreed we would spend in the Russian Federation in the former Soviet Union. It's basically $20 billion over 10 years; half of it is coming from the United States. In addition we spend significant money to dismantle our own weapons, and we spend significant money, smaller than a billion, to improve security and convert research reactors throughout the world.

CONAN: Another question from the audience, to my left.

Mr. HERBERT LEVIN(ph) (Audience Member): Herbert Levin. Senator Lugar and Senator Nunn, would you two agree that the proposed US-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, as presently written, will weaken the worldwide non-proliferation effort?

Sen. LUGAR: It's certainly possible that might occur. We had a good hearing before Foreign Relations this week with some good experts on the subject and that's why it's very important when the administration forwards language, which they will need to do, for amendment of our laws, that we have a very thorough debate, and that's why we've started it now. The administration's now prepared to do that because from the standpoint of India they've not started to separate their civilian and military components yet and that's the (unintelligible) of making this work.

At the end of the day, the relationship between the United States and India is extremely important, and this is going to have to be weighed against potential, knowing at the NPT or how we shore up NPT in the process. I think Dr. ElBaradei's views once again as to how we make nuclear material or fuel available to other countries, but repossesses before it gets to weapons grade is tremendously important as a component of this discussion.

CONAN: Senator Nunn, I was hoping you would join in on that?

Mr. NUNN: I believe that the verdict is out on the question of the US-Indian deal. I think it depends on the follow through. Do we follow through by getting a lot more cooperation with India so that we understand much more about the dangers between India and Pakistan? Do we get Pakistan to join into that counterdialogue. Do we help both of those countries with more warning so there'd be less chances of an accident? Do we basically get India, China and Pakistan all together? Do we set an example on NPT by US-Russia having more warning time and have that move toward an example for India and Pakistan? I think it depends on the follow-through. It could--in my view, if that's all that's done, it'll be a setback for non-proliferation if that's the only step. But with other steps, it could be a positive.

CONAN: And, Ambassador Brooks, doesn't a strategic partnership with India at risk of some violations of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, doesn't that open up the possibility of charges of, well, double standards again?

Amb. BROOKS: No, I don't think it does, and you don't have to depend on my assertion, because I'm from the administration and you would sort of expect me to support the president's position. But Dr. ElBaradei said on this stage yesterday morning--and said that he thought that this agreement could be completely consistent with strengthening non-proliferation. We deal with the world as it is and the world as it is is there's no evidence that India is about to reverse something they've spent 30 years doing. So the question is: How do you draw them into responsible behavior, while at the same time helping them bring the benefit of expanded civil nuclear cooperation? We'll have to see how it plays out. All bold ideas are risky when they start, but we'll be all right.

CONAN: Senator Lugar, just to follow up on that, I mean, how can you tell India, `Well, in retrospect, your nuclear weapons are OK. Iran, you can't go ahead.'

Sen. LUGAR: Well, I think we're going to see that. I think there's no pat on the back for India for developing nuclear weapons. The recognition they have them, how you separate the situation and the cooperation of India in many, many ways with regard to the whole non-proliferation regime. They have a big stake really in making certain there is non-proliferation.

CONAN: Let's get another question from the audience, to my left again.

Mr. IRA SCHORR (Physicians for Social Responsibility): Ira Schorr with Physicians for Social Responsibility. A question for Ambassador Brooks. Doesn't current US nuclear policy of targeting other nations for pre-emptive nuclear strikes pushing for the development of new, supposedly more usable nuclear weapons and keeping thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert set a bad example and make it more likely that nuclear weapons will be used again?

Amb. BROOKS: If the United States were doing any of those, it might well set bad examples. But, in fact, we're not. The United States' national security strategy reaffirms a long-standing doctrine that you don't have to wait to absorb a blow to act, but it didn't use the words `nuclear preemption.' I've testified publicly that while nobody will ever tie the hands of a president, I can't conceive of circumstances in which nuclear preemption makes sense. The last new nuclear weapon the United States developed was in the '80s, and last night the Congress made it clear that we're not going to study the modification--not developing a new weapon, but modifying of a weapon. I don't quite understand what usability means, but the decision to use nuclear weapons is so apocalyptic that I can't imagine any president would ever make it lightly.

And finally, with great respect to Senator Nunn, the United States hasn't had its weapons on alert pointed at anything for over a decade. We went through detargeting in the '90s. So I guess I think that all the things you say are dangerous, that's not why--that's why we're not doing them.

Sen. LUGAR: Lynton, if I could follow up one ques--how long does it take us to retarget?

Amb. BROOKS: Depends on the system, sir.

Mr. NUNN: It doesn't take but a matter of seconds, maybe minutes, and the same thing with Russia. The detargeting was a gesture, symbolic, perhaps worthwhile, but had no real meaning in terms of the dangers of quick use.

CONAN: Senator Lugar, I'm told that we have to lose you. You're due on Capitol Hill, I'm told, something about a vote, your other job?

Sen. LUGAR: Well, we are having a roll call vote starting at 2:45. Not to worry.

CONAN: All right. Then we'll be able to hold on to you another--for another five minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking about the threat of nuclear proliferation, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me ask you just sort of a follow-up question on that. I think it was after the first Gulf War that a Pakistani general was quoted as saying--asked what he thought the military lessons of that Gulf War were, he said, `Well, the lesson is you never fight the United States unless you have a nuclear weapon.' Does the United States' overwhelming conventional advantages lead some states that might feel at risk from the United States to feel that they need to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent? Senator Nunn?

Mr. NUNN: I think that's true, but, you know, there are other examples that I think we need to hold up to the world. Kazakhstan got rid of nuclear weapons. They had an arsenal bigger than China, than Britain and France combined; so did Ukraine. Those are examples we ought to be holding up. I do not think a nation increases its security by developing nuclear weapons. In the case of Iran, I think it's extremely dangerous for them to develop nuclear weapons, to the region as well as to themselves. I think the same thing is true with North Korea. And fortunately China and other nations, I think, are agreeing with us on that, so yes, there's a certain psychological effort here to say that they could deter us if they had nuclear weapons, but frankly speaking, I remember the first Gulf War there was a considerable amount of thought in the military that chemical and/or biological weapons were going to be used, and that did not deter the United States from taking that action. So I think that's an argument, it has some merit, but I think in the long run it's dangerous for countries to develop nuclear weapons, and at some point, if we keep having proliferation of nuclear weapons, it's gonna dramatically increase the dangers to the world.

But the United States and Russia need to set an example. I repeat that. Dr. ElBaradei has said that it's very difficult to get someone to give up smoking if you're chain smoking yourself.

CONAN: We just have a couple of minutes left with you, and I'd like to ask you if there was one thing--and Senator Nunn may have just spoken to it--but if there was one thing you could do today to improve the prospects of nuclear disarmament, what would it be, Senator Lugar?

Sen. LUGAR: I think it's still a systematic question of trying to get the inventory of where it all is, trying to pull the parties together to understand the transparency of the situation and to the prospects we all have. I think we are making great headway missile by missile in the former Soviet Union. We have now Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus that used to be the third, seventh and eighth largest powers, with no nuclear weapons. Libya having renounced. That came about through diplomacy essentially, through finally persuading nation-states that their best interests lay in moving away from nuclear.

CONAN: Ambassador Brooks?

Amb. BROOKS: If there were one thing I could do it would be to convince people that that's the wrong question. This is a problem of a series of small steps. It's one more security improvement done cooperatively with the Russian Federation. It's one more reactor that doesn't use vulnerable highly enriched uranium anymore. It's one more strengthening of the export control regime. This is inherently a long-haul business and we need to understand we're in it for the long haul.

CONAN: And, Senator Nunn, I'll give you the last 45 seconds.

Mr. NUNN: I would say that President Bush and President Putin and the other leaders of the world, including the G8, need to turn words into deeds, they need to turn plans into programs, and they need to turn pledges into action, and that needs to be done on a cooperative basis all over the world. Securing all highly enriched uranium, security and beginning to destroy plutonium, and also beginning to delegitimize the use of highly enriched uranium in commerce. That'll take time, but I think it's enormously important.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: And with that, I'm afraid our time is up. We'd like to thank our guests. You just heard from former Senator Sam Nunn, who's co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. We also heard from former Ambassador Lynton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and our thanks to the senator, Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


CONAN: We want to thank the people at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, especially Joe Cirincioni and Jessica Matthews. And also at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. This conference celebrates the 60th anniversary of its first publication.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

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