Senator Nunn Previews Bush-Putin Summit on CNN

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Sam Nunn was a Democratic senator from Georgia for 24 years. He was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for part of that time. He remains active in movements to reduce the global nuclear threat.  Former Senator Nunn is here now to talk about missile defense, and about tomorrow's meeting between President Bush and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

What does he have to offer Mr. Putin in order to get him on side for his missile defense plan?

SAM NUNN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well first, the United States and Russia have a lot in common. And I think it's important to emphasize the things we do have in common, the mutual interests we have, the fact that we want them to succeed economically, that it is in our interest for Russia to be a part of the family of nations, that there are paths open for them for economic cooperation.

He also has to point out, frankly, the obstacles and the fact that repression at home is going to make it very difficult for Russia to be accepted as part of the economic family of free nations.

MCEDWARDS: Can this plan fly at home without cooperation from Russia?

NUNN: The overall missile defense plan?


NUNN: The missile defense plan will need cooperation from Russia. The reason is because missile defense is one part of the threat. We have a whole spectrum of threats. We have the biological threat. We have the chemical threat, mostly from terrorists. We have the question of waste materials and how you handle those.

We have excess nuclear materials that are weapon grade and how you handle those. All of those require Russian cooperation, because most of that material and most of the know-how that could get to Third World countries for making those weapons of mass destruction are in Russia.

So we do need their cooperation. And missile defense has to be viewed as part of that overall spectrum, not as the only threat.

MCEDWARDS: You just said something interesting there, Senator. Now, you said, you know, that the threat, that the bulk of the missiles is in Russia. But what we hear President Bush talking about all the time is that America needs a missile defense shield because of rogue nations: the North Koreas of the world, the Irans, the Iraqs.

NUNN: Well, that's -- you can't say that that's erroneous. There certainly is a possibility over the next four or five years, we could have missiles developed. And they could get weapons of mass destruction. Their most likely source of those weapons of mass destruction is from Russia. And so we need and we are cooperating with Russia in trying to stem the export of that material for those weapons.

But also we have to realize that the more likely threat is not from a country with a return address, because we will know when the missile is launched. We will be able to retaliate. And they know that it would be suicide to attack us with a missile. That doesn't make it impossible. But it means they're much more likely to find some other means of smuggling a weapon in this country, whether it's a biological or chemical or nuclear. For that, we'd need cooperation not just of Russia, but of China and other nations in the world.

MCEDWARDS: I want to hear your thoughts about the ABM Treaty of 30 years ago. It's so touchy -- so touchy in Europe, especially. Should that treaty be abandoned or would it be a smarter course to take to revise it a little bit, because some people believe it did so much in terms of the restrictions that it had in keeping the arms race under control?

NUNN: It needs revision. And President Bush is right about that. But I think when he talks about throwing it in the trash can, I think that is just scratching on the blackboard with your fingernails. And I think that's not the way to go.

We need to be able to sit down and talk to Russia about that, as well as other nations in the world, because what the ABM Treaty, as described in very simplistic terms, is preventing any kind of defense. Everybody wants to be able defend this country. But what the Russians see, and what we would see if we were in their place, is that a defense combined with our overwhelming offensive advantage now, that they don't have the money to keep their missiles invulnerable on submarines or on mobile missiles, it means that what they view, from their military point of view, is a possibility or a threat of a U.S. first strike knocking out 95 percent of their weapons, which are vulnerable -- more vulnerable every day. Then, we would be able to defend against what's left.

Now, what does that mean to us? Well, it means to us that, as they perceive that, they are more likely to launch quickly before they really know that they're under attack. And what does that mean?  It means there's more likely to be a mistake. And the United States of America has a huge stake the Russians do not make a mistake in thinking we're attacking them when we're not.

So all of that means that we've got to find ways to take the fingers further from the nuclear trigger: our finger and their finger.

MCEDWARDS: Understood. All right, former Senator Sam Nunn, appreciate your thoughts on this this morning. Thanks very much.

NUNN: Thank you, Colleen. Thank you.

June 15, 2001

Prior to the June 2001 meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin, Senator Nunn outlines the key issues of mutual interest between the U.S. and Russia.

Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn

Co-Chair, NTI