Sam Nunn and Bill Perry Discuss Strategies to Prevent Nuclear Warfare

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On April 26, the Ivan Allen College Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech, in collaboration with the University of Georgia’s distinguished Charter Lecture Series, co-hosted a remote video viewing of Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe in an Age of Nuclear Terrorism: A Conversation with Bill Perry and Sam Nunn with the Georgia Tech Chapter of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM).

The world has not seen the use of a nuclear weapon since 1945, but the equation is far more complicated today than ever before. Perry explained that while the non-proliferation treaty can be considered successful, states no longer have a monopoly on weapons of mass distruction (WMDs), materials, and information about how to construct a weapon. The knowledge gap has narrowed considerably, which makes constructing a weapon easier than in the past. He remarked that there were several close calls during the Cold War, and that we were very fortunate to avoid nuclear war. This avoidance was critical, but will be far more difficult to sustain in the coming years.

Nunn also noted that the prospect of a nuclear catastrophe is far more likely to occur today than during the Cold War. He explained that there are now several possibilities for catastrophe that did not exist during the Cold War. Among them is the conflict between India and Pakistan (both nuclear states) that could result in nuclear war, as well as easier access to fissile materials that could result in an attack by terrorists, such as a dirty bomb loaded into the back of a truck. Perry agreed that terrorists could eventually gain access to fissile material and construct a dirty bomb, which is why the United States, Russia, and other nuclear states need to form a “joint working group” to facilitate cooperation and prevent access to radiological and biological materials. Nunn concurred.

The present situation is difficult, as tensions between Russia and the Unites States have not been this high since the Cold War. Given this, Nunn strongly advocated that the U.S. should not replicate a similar situation by ushering in another nuclear arms race between states, as the technology, enemy, and scenario are different. He added that the Cold War took unnecessary risks that should not be repeated. Perry concurred, saying that the United States and Russia should have a vested interest in avoiding nuclear war, as it would mean mutual destruction.

In their concluding remarks, Nunn affirmed that the United States should re-establish diplomatic ties with Russia to work with them on a mutual interest in deterring a nuclear attack by terrorists, as this will foster trust and go a long way towards avoiding nuclear war. Perry agreed and added that he is most concerned about a rogue group developing, delivering, and detonating a crude weapon in the middle of a city.

Nunn is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to reduce the risk of use and prevent the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. He served as a United States Senator from Georgia for 24 years (1972 - 1996) and is retired from the law firm of King and Spalding.

Perry is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor (emeritus) at Stanford University. He is a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and the Hoover Institution and serves as director of the Preventive Defense Project. He is an expert in U.S. foreign policy, national security, and arms control. He was the co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) from 1988 to 1993, during which time he was also a part-time professor at Stanford. Perry was the 19th Secretary of Defense for the United States, serving from February 1994 to January 1997. 



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