Sam Nunn Discusses Outcome of US-North Korea Summit on Bloomberg TV

MR. WESTIN:  You're watching Balance of Power.  I'm David Westin.  Former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia has devoted most of his career to reducing the threat from nuclear weapons, working with Senator Richard Lugar to deactivate over 7,600 nuclear warheads under the Nunn-Lugar Threat Reduction Program.  Since he left the Senate, he has been serving as co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  He joins us today from Atlanta in today's “Conversation in Chief.”  So Senator, thank you so much for your time, always enjoy having you on.

SEN. NUNN:  Thank you, David.  Glad to be with you.

WESTIN:  So we have a lot to talk about.  Let's start with North Korea and what happened over there in Hanoi.  From what you see from the outside and understand about it, did President Trump do the right thing to walk away from that table?

NUNN:  I think he did, at the time he did it, because of what had developed, but backing up, I would say the first summit was very heavy on symbolism, important symbolism, with a couple of substantive items that are also important -- that is the stopping of tests, both missile tests and nuclear tests by North Korea, so that was the first summit.

The second summit, if you look at expectations, was certainly a setback.  But I'm hoping out of the second summit, we will have a breakthrough on -- I would call it a “breakthrough on realism” -- by both North Korea and by the United States.  And that starts with the understanding that these matters are extremely technical, and we have to have the envoys below the level of President Trump and President Kim be mandated and empowered to really seriously negotiate.  This second summit, they were not prepared in terms of having laid the groundwork, there was no real agreement and they were betting on a Hail Mary pass, both sides from a different perspective.

So I don't say it's all bad news. I think there's hope for a realistic approach by both countries, which means no Hail Marys, but three yards and a cloud of dust and progress on what I think has to be a broader subject than just denuclearization. I think it has to be demilitarization over a period of time.

WESTIN:  Senator, give us the benefit of your experience, which is very pretty vast in this particular area, particularly involving the former Soviet weapons that as we said got decommissioned, and you said three yards and a cloud of dust, take it one step at a time.  What would the first three yards look like?  Specifically, what would you look to have happen?

NUNN:  I would say the most important thing is stopping the production of weapons grade and weapons usable nuclear material.  That means plutonium, it means highly-enriched uranium.  As long as North Korea is churning this stuff out, the dangers are continuing to grow.  Even though they might not weaponize that material, I'll always worry about the sale of that kind of material from the North Koreans to some group that doesn't have a return address.

So stopping the material would be number one.  Number two, some sort of declaration about how much they produce, so we'll know what the baseline is as we try to work with the North Koreans to reduce the dangers in terms of that material.  And third is getting some people on the ground, hopefully Plan A would be the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, with experts on the ground, understanding what's going on, working with the North Korean scientists and technicians who put together those weapons; those are the people who have to take them apart.  That has to be done cooperatively.

I think the United States could come in with a team of people, but being on the ground is all important in terms of both getting the job done safely with the North Koreans, as well as verification.

WESTIN:  Senator, President Trump has spoken repeatedly about complete denuclearization.  Is that realistic?  And specifically, let me play something that we've heard from someone you know well, Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, former Chief of Staff to the President.  And this is what he had to say, we have to be realistic.  Listen to Leon Panetta.MR. PANETTA:  If we make clear that even though they may ultimately retain some of their nuclear weapons that they're going to have to join all of the civilized nations in providing limitations on their nuclear capability.

WESTIN:  So Senator, we don't want to negotiate with ourselves, but realistically is that more of what we should expect, that is to say they may well keep nuclear weapons but we bring them within a regime that really limits, as you say, the possibility of them exporting them, developing more, what they do with them?

NUNN:  I would keep the goal denuclearization, but it has to be step by step and getting control of materials, having verification, and all of that has to occur first.  And most important the South Koreans and North Koreans have started on a new course.  That may be the most encouraging thing of all.  As South Korea and North Korea begin to cooperate more, economically and otherwise, then denuclearization becomes more and more realistic and feasible.  It will not be the first step, it may be the last step, but I think it ought to be our goal, and I think the North Koreans have said that's their goal, and I think we ought to hold them to it. And of course we have to have a definition, and we have to take a lot of other steps first, but yes, I would continue that as a goal.

WESTIN:  So Senator, let's turn to a different conflict from last week and that is between India and Pakistan, both of whom have quite a few nuclear weapons, a lot more we think than North Korea does. It seems to have come down a little bit in temperature as the Indian pilot was returned, but nevertheless continued conflict up there in Kashmir.  Has the world essentially given up on denuclearization of India and Pakistan?

NUNN:  Well, it’s certainly not in any kind of near-term realm of forecast or probability. But they have taken additional steps in the last couple of years that make the situation even more dangerous than it was.  Number one, India, frustrated by Pakistan's alleged support of terrorism in Kashmir and other places -- that's the charge India makes -- and India is very frustrated because it takes them a long time or has to mobilize their forces.  

And in the meantime the world puts pressure on saying, "India don't retaliate because Pakistan has nuclear weapons.  They may use them."  So India in response to all of that frustration has now developed a “cold start” concept in terms of mobilization.  And Pakistan, in response to that, has gone for short-range weapons which have to be positioned near the frontline because of the range. And they may even have delegated authority to some of their military commanders.  So cold conventional mobilization by India, a response with short-range nuclear weapons near the frontline with Pakistan is a, to say the least, explosive and very dangerous development particularly with all the historical tensions.  So there's got to be dialogue.

There's got to be dialogue.  They have to move away from these postures not just on the immediate crisis but to prevent a blunder in the future.  That kind of dialogue is all important.  Perhaps even -- this may be a bridge too far given relationships -- but it's really a good area for the United States to propose that Russia and China join in sponsoring talks between India and Pakistan.

Now the parties may not want that, but if the three countries that are most involved in relationships with India and Pakistan, at least large countries, would get together and sponsor that kind of dialogue, it might have extra meaning.  But nevertheless, Pakistan and India must have dialogue.  The sober people in those countries and there are many, have to understand that they are moving towards a very dangerous cliff where you could have a war that nobody wanted, and it could go nuclear very quickly.

WESTIN:  At the same time, Senator, is it sort of a difficult time for United States to reach out to Russia on subjects such as this.  I mean we basically backed off of the intermediate nuclear -- the nuclear test -- the nuclear missile treaty that we had.  And just as of today, Mr. Putin, the President of Russia, has said he's going to back off it as well.  We're not making much progress when it comes to Russian denuclearization.

NUNN:  Exactly right.  The trust has eroded.  We have all sorts of tensions with Russia, including the election interference in this country, but we still have existential common interests.  90 percent of the nuclear weapons, 90 percent of the nuclear materials are possessed by the United States and Russia.  They have an existential mutual interest, and we have an existential interest.  We’ve got to work together in these areas if we're going to avoid catastrophe for our citizens and the world.  So India and Pakistan is one example, North Korea is another example where we have to work with Russia and with China and with our allies Japan and South Korea.

I’ve said this several times, but it gets even more accurate as we go along: we're in a race between cooperation and catastrophe in the nuclear field.  Add in cyber, it gets even worse.  The major powers have to start cooperating or we are really jeopardizing the security and the future of our citizens and indeed God's creation.

WESTIN:  So Senator, leave us at the end here with some “green shoot” that you can find.  Do you see any major power that may be moving in that direction or signaling they might be willing to move in that direction?

NUNN:  Well, the good news is that South Korea and North Korea are having a dialogue.  That's on that front. In terms of the nuclear front, there's not much encouraging news now. Canceling the INF, Russia has now said they're going to cancel it, I understand.  The United States has already announced that.  We’ve got six months to decide whether that's really going to happen, but beyond that, the START agreement is enormously important.  That's where all the verification provisions are.

So if I were searching for a silver lining, and it is pretty hard to find, I would say that President Trump and President Putin, when they had their summit conference, it got overwhelmed by other news, but they agreed on strategic stability talks, and those talks should take place.  We can't afford to wait for a new leadership in Russia and the United States. We can't afford to wait until after the Mueller investigation has concluded and wrapped up totally.  We've got to begin that kind of dialogue, and I think Congress here has to really step in, because we all know that the Trump administration is imperiled on matters concerning Russia. The leadership that Congress has, the war and peace responsibility under the Constitution, they have to recognize the dangerous territory we’re getting in.  They have to move forward with bipartisan work, starting with coordinating with the executive branch and then eventually moving towards much more dialogue with Russia and not simply with Putin.

WESTIN:  Senator, thank you so very much for your time.  Always enjoy having you on.

NUNN:  Thank you.

WESTIN:  That is Sam Nunn, he's a former Democratic senator from Georgia and current co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

 

*  *  *  *  

March 4, 2019
About

Sam Nunn, Nuclear Threat Initiative co-chairman and former U.S. Senator from Georgia, comments on President Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. He speaks with Bloomberg's David Westin on "Bloomberg Markets: Balance of Power."

Authors
Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn

Founder and Co-Chair