2010 Forum Overview

The 2010 Sam Nunn Policy Forum Executive Summary is now available.

Debate over the desirability and feasibility of eliminating nuclear weapons has gathered unprecedented momentum across the globe. New thinking on practical arms control and security related steps and visions for a world free of nuclear weapons has been propelled by the moderate political center of American and international strategic communities. A number of current U.S. officials, together with many former leaders of the national security establishment, now openly acknowledge anachronisms in current nuclear force posture and debate the fundamental long term value of nuclear weapons.

Inspiring this debate and discussion, the Nuclear Security Project, led by former Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and Henry A. Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn, is a nonpartisan effort – begun three years ago on the commentary page of the Wall Street Journal – to develop a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world. The four have undertaken this effort believing that the accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and nuclear material has brought us to a nuclear tipping point, with the very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands. Along with the vision, they call for a number of practical steps to be taken, including:

  • Changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time and thereby reducing the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon;

  • Reducing substantially nuclear forces in all states that possess them;

  • Moving toward developing cooperative multilateral ballistic-missile defense and early warning systems, which will reduce tensions over defensive systems and enhance the possibility of progress in other areas;

  • Eliminating short-range "tactical" nuclear weapons – beginning with accountability and transparency among the United States, NATO, and Russia;

  • Adopting a process for bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, which would strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities;

  • Securing nuclear weapons and materials around the world to the highest standards;

  • Developing a multinational approach to civil nuclear fuel production, phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce, and halting the production of fissile material for weapons;

  • Enhancing verification and enforcement capabilities – and the political will to do both;

  • Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.

The four stated clearly, "Without the bold vision of working towards a world free of nuclear weapons, these actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent; and without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible."

This call was reinforced in July 2009 when President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, jointly committed to taking concrete steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons. A number of world events, including global leadership transition, anxiety about the state of the nonproliferation regime, the threat of catastrophic terrorism, as well as expectations of a global renaissance of nuclear energy, have all recently provided an impetus for transforming nuclear risk reduction.

As Senator Nunn has said, "The goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is like the top of a very tall mountain. It is tempting and easy to say: 'We can't get there from here.' It is true that today in our troubled world we can't see the top of the mountain. But we can see that we are heading down – not up. We can see that we must turn around, that we must take paths leading to higher ground, and that we must get others to move with us."

Yet, there are significant obstacles to translating this renewed spirit into practical but ambitious and sustained nuclear arms reductions. It is often said that there are simply "too many actors, too many unforeseeable possible technological innovations, and too many political and security-related events" that could derail the concrete steps needed to make the vision of nuclear disarmament even feasible. There also are deep conceptual gaps concerning the requirements for strategic stability in a world of deep nuclear reductions.

As a practical matter, the road to fundamental nuclear risk reduction will depend on a constructive and unprecedented Euro-Atlantic partnership. While the collapse of the Berlin Wall and demise of the communist system across East Europe and Eurasia twenty years ago presented a historic opportunity to smooth divisions among Europe, Russia, and the United States, such strategic ambitions have not yet been realized. Although Russia is no longer an adversary to Europe or the United States, it remains neither a trusted friend nor a close ally. Similarly, from Moscow's perspective, there are lingering suspicions of U.S./NATO intentions and growing frustration that Russia is "informed but not involved" in critical decision-making on Euro-Atlantic security issues.

Notwithstanding common security priorities regarding reducing global reliance on nuclear weapons, stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, bolstering energy security, and combating terrorism and other transnational threats, mutual confidence has been diminished by a host of political, economic, energy, and regional policy conflicts. With leaders from across the Euro-Atlantic space now seeking to recapture the promise of strategic partnership, the time is ripe for exploring fresh and pragmatic approaches to forging inclusive security architectures as a critical step toward bolstering strategic reassurance.

This year's Sam Nunn Bank of America Policy Forum seeks to contribute to this agenda. The forum will address important challenges and opportunities for deepening Euro-Atlantic strategic engagement and confidence building. These steps forward will be integral to advancing U.S. – Russian nuclear arms reductions and enlisting other nuclear weapons states to join in nuclear threat reduction and the disarmament process. In doing so, the forum will integrate and build upon Senator Nunn's co-leadership of two projects – the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Nuclear Security Project, which, in cooperation with the Hoover Institution, aims to promote global steps toward reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, and the Carnegie Endowment's Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, which strives to foster new approaches to collective security – as well as new initiatives to assess future requirements for strategic stability underway at Georgia Tech's Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy.

The forum will highlight underlying political, security, economic, and energy issues that currently complicate reassurance among Europe, Russia, and the United States, as well as propose realistic directions for redressing these fault lines and strengthening cooperation. The purpose also will be to identify prospective avenues for cementing closer Euro-Atlantic partnership on nuclear issues. Accordingly, the forum will consider Euro-Atlantic cooperation as an engine for taking specific steps towards deep reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, changing respective declaratory policy and force postures, cooperating on missile defense and early warning, and advancing nuclear risk reduction more broadly. The discussions may include implications for broader visions for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons, preventing their proliferation into dangerous hands, and ultimately ending the threat they pose to America and the world.