Sam Nunn on Fox News Sunday following Reagan Peace Through Strength Award

Sam Nunn on Fox News Sunday following Reagan Peace Through Strength Award

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Chris Wallace:  Earlier, I sat down with Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary for defense for policy, and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, now co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.


WALLACE: Thank you both for talking with me. Senator Nunn, you received the Reagan Peace Through Strength Award this weekend. And in your speech you say that the threat of confrontation right now between the U.S. and Russia is the greatest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Really?

SAM NUNN FORMER SENATOR (D-GA): I think that's true. We're not communicating as we did even during the Cold War. We have confrontation with them with troops in the same proximity, both in the Middle East, as well as in Europe over Ukraine.

We have a collapse of arms control. We are hanging on with a couple of treaties, but there's no real regulatory regime. We have new technologies like cyber that could be used to basically spook or fool our command-and-control system of any country that has nuclear weapons, as well as warning systems. All of those things mean — particularly with new technologies, we need to be communicating but the lines of communication are nowhere near as vigorous as they should be.

And when you consider U.S. and Russia have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons and 90 percent of the nuclear materials, there's an acute obligation for these two countries to talk, even when we disagree.

WALLACE: Michelle, how seriously do to take the threat of confrontation? Confrontation between the U.S. and Russia? And President Putin, Russian leader, just said that he would like to extend the New Start Treaty before the end of the year. It runs out in 2021. Your thoughts about that. Should we take him up on it?

MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: We should absolutely take him up on the offer to extend Start. The New Start Treaty basically provides the strategic framework to create some degree of predictability, transparency, stability in our nuclear relationships. We don't want to take the lid off that and get into an open competition with Russia right now.

There are definitely issues that need to be solved in renegotiating a future treaty, but let's keep the current one in place and then open up a new negotiation.

WALLACE: Senator Nunn, when you look at President Trump's policies around the world, what do you see of his that you think he's doing right and is there anything you see that you think he's doing wrong?

NUNN: I agree with him in terms of his initiative on North Korea. I wish there had been a game plan and still it needs to be developed to do a step-by-step process in terms of denuclearization. There's got to be a win-win here. But opening with North Korea, I agree with. I agree that he's helped increase defense resources. I agree that he's helped spur the NATO allies to do more.

But in terms of the overall, the alliances have been, in my view, shaken very badly because we don't have predictability. From one day to the next, our allies in Europe, allies around the world don't know what's going to come from President Trump. So that is a real weakness. And the way he goes about saying — his name-calling and so forth, it really takes its toll.

WALLACE: Michele, same question, what is President Trump doing right in the area of foreign policy, national security, what's he doing wrong?

FLOURNOY: Well, I do think we needed to open our eyes to a more competitive situation with a rising China and I think there's been bipartisan support that's come along behind that.

I think the president has certainly supported the increase in defense spending and investment in future capabilities. But I agree with Senator Nunn, I think even if we're doing some of the right things day to day on our defense relationships and alliances, overall we're seeing now people don't know exactly what we stand for because our policies are not consistent, we don't seem to have a cohesive strategy. We've become an unpredictable, if not unreliable ally.

And so that creates a lot of uncertainty. It tempts adversaries to test us to see where the limits are and it — it — it, I think, moves some of our allies to start hedging against the possibility that they can't count on the United States of America.

WALLACE: Michele, is there a big threat out there that you think all of us, the politicians, the media, the foreign policy experts, are not paying enough attention to?

FLOURNOY: I actually think a lot of people in Washington understand the challenge of a rising China in the competitive threat that it will propose to us economically, technologically, from a security point of view, even from an influence point of view. But I don't think that's understood widely or at least not in any kind of nuanced way.

I think there's a huge opportunity to explain this to the American people, not to make China an enemy, because, you know, we want to avoid that, but to say, look, this is a competitive moment. We, as Americans, know how to compete. Let's invest in the drivers of our own success, our research and development, education, 21st century technology and so forth. So I think with the right leadership and vision, you could actually get this country moving again in a much more competitive world.

WALLACE: Senator Nunn, I want to go back to something that you said in your speech. You talk about peace through strength at home. And one of the things you discuss is the lack of civility and that that is sort of undercutting the unity of the nation and its ability to confront threats.

How serious an issue do you think that is?

NUNN: Well, I think it is a serious issue. I think when we're divided at home, we do not have anything like the strength we would otherwise have abroad. And I believe every American with that voice and their vote should insist on civility. Civility doesn't mean you're going to agree, it means you don't demonize the other side and while you're disagreeing you recognize that we have to work together to have sensible policy.

Democrats and Republicans and independents are all in this together. But many days in Washington you would never know that. So civility is absolutely essential, in my view, for governance. And governance, given all those changes in technology, may be the most difficult problem we face in terms of the digital age.

We have many, many challenges in governance and right now technology is far out running policy.

WALLACE: Do you see the push by House Democrats for impeachment now as a sign of the breakdown in civility?

NUNN: Well, I'm concerned about it. I'm concerned about the fact that the Republicans and Democrats are not coming together. The people have made up their mind long before the evidence has all been completed. And if you're thinking about impeachment, you have to ask yourself, what happens if it goes to the Senate. If we don't have Republicans on board, is it just going to wither away, is there going to be any condemnation?

I think a serious option ought to be considered is — in the Houses is censure. Censure can condemn the conduct without basically taking away the right of the American people to make the decision on who our leaders should be.

WALLACE: But, I mean, just to follow up on this, when you talk to Democrats, they say no, no way, and the president no — no way. So it doesn't seem like the — anybody wants to take that off ramp.

NUNN: Well, is — everybody's against it, the Republicans are against it, the Democrats are against it, the president is against it, but I think their behavior, prima facie case — we need to hear all the evidence, but prima facie case is, there was a very bad mistake made here in terms of basically extorting a foreign country with appropriated funds that had already been passed to help in a military emergency in exchange for going after a political opponent. That's a prima facie case. And it seems to me that kind of behavior at least has to be condemned. But I think censure ought to be looked at very carefully by everybody. Maybe the fact all parties are against it means it's the right way to go.

WALLACE: Peace through strength at home, what a nice thing to talk and think about at the Reagan Library.  Senator Nunn, Michele Flournoy, thank you both very much.

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The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index

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