Senator Nunn on The Michael Medved Radio Program

MR. MEDVED:  And another great day in this greatest nation on God's green Earth, a great day when the entire world is looking forward to the President of the United States delivering his very first State of the Union Address, tonight, just a couple of hours from now.

And according to many, many White House sources, one of the themes of his State of the Union Address is going to be looking for a few good men and women on the Democratic side of things to join with President Trump in helping to do something about the dreamers, to enhance border security, to build up our military, to build infrastructure, to continue a booming economy despite a tough day on Wall Street today, to do all of that.

And so where are you going to find those men and women on the Democratic side who can work with President Trump?  Well, one place to look, at least for inspiration, in that regard, is a Democrat who served 24 years in the United States Senate and was a true example of bipartisanship in that service, of working successfully with Democratic and Republican presidents.  His name is Sam Nunn, he was the senator from Georgia.  He was chair of the Armed Services Committee, and a leader on defense issues in particular.  He currently is the co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  And he is an Annenberg distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution here at Stanford, where I'm broadcasting today.  Senator Nunn, an honor to speak to you.

MR. NUNN:  Thank you, Michael.  Pleasure to be with you.

MR. MEDVED:  Let me first address this question of the nuclear threat.  The North Korea situation seems to have temporarily calmed down.  That does not strike you, I suspect, as a permanent solution of any kind, the fact that they are fielding a team together with the South Koreans in the Winter Olympics?

MR. NUNN:  Well I think the fact that North Korea and South Korea are talking now and they are cooperating in the Olympics is a positive thing.  I don't think it solves the nuclear problem and North Korea's nuclear problem is not simply the danger of North Korea having a weapon, it's also what it may do in the whole Northeast Asia region in terms of the Japanese reaction, the South Korean reaction, and the reaction of others.  So it's a continuing problem.

But talking between the South and North is a good thing and I have felt for some time -- Mike Mullen, former chairman of Joint Chiefs, and I did a report on this about a year ago -- and one of the things we said is that North Korea and the United States should talk.  If nothing else, I wouldn't call it necessarily a negotiation, but to make sure we don't have a war by blunder or by accident because of intense rhetoric and the escalation of rhetoric is dangerous in and of itself. So I think discussion and communication is very important, but we're going to have to deal with China on this one.  It's China, China, China in terms of the country that can put the squeeze on North Korea.

But we have to, Michael, not just tell China what we want them to do, which is to tighten down on the sanctions in every respect, but also ask China what they want us to do, and that's another matter.  And they have their own concerns that we have to be conscious of.

MR. MEDVED:  What do you think the number one, when you talk about what China would want us to do in return, what would that be?

MR. NUNN:  Well, they will be concerned about what happens if they put a squeeze on North Korea, and North Korea collapses, what do we do in terms of refugees, what do we do in terms of American troops coming very near to the Chinese border?  What do we each do about the North Korean nuclear program?  Do we cooperate in trying to make sure that there's not a race for the weapons or that the weapons don't get in the hands of people who would sell them to terrorists?  I mean there are a whole set of agenda issues that we need to talk to the Chinese about, that they are concerned about.

The reason they don't want to put a huge squeeze on North Korea is because they don't want it to collapse.  And if we were right next door, we would probably feel the same way.

MR. MEDVED:  Wouldn't it be vastly preferable for the whole world if there were some sort of Chinese occupation of North Korea?

MR. NUNN:  Well, I think the South Koreans would pretty vigorously object to that.  The Korean-Chinese relationship is not the smoothest in the world. So I think the Korean Peninsula, north and south, would each very much be opposed to China occupying.  In fact, I don't think China itself would feel that was in its national interest.  But it certainly has a big influence --

MR. MEDVED:  And so are you suggesting, Senator, that there is an American interest, a world interest, in maintaining this regime in power in some form?

MR. NUNN:  No I don't, but I don't think that the United States is going to be able to, in and of itself, make that decision.  That decision is going to have to be made by North Koreans and we have not had very much influence in North Korea for a long time.  

We don't have much in the way of economic relations, so our leverage and our ability to squeeze North Korea without the cooperation of other countries, starting with South Korea and Japan and certainly as I've said including China and including Russia, on our own --  is not going to work.  It's got to be with others.

We've got to have the allies in the region, we've got to cooperate, and we've got not only to squeeze the North Koreans but we need to also talk to them.  We need to show them there is a better way.  I don't want to in anyway compare Kazakhstan, one of the former Soviet states, with North Korea, except to the extent that there is an example here of a country that gave up a large nuclear arsenal and has done very well economically, in the aftermath of giving up that nuclear arsenal.  So Kazakhstan can be a real example here.

MR. MEDVED:  We are speaking with Senator Sam Nunn, he was for 24 years a distinguished member of the United States Senate, Democrat from Georgia. He was chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, I understand that one of the things that President Trump is going to emphasize in the speech tonight is his desire to build up our military, particularly the United States Navy.  Would you tend to support him in that effort?

MR. NUNN:  Yes, I do.  And I think the Army has to be rebuilt too. We've been in a war for what 15-17 years in Afghanistan, and also in Iraq and so all three branches of the service are going to have to be updated and modernized.  We've got to do that within the physical context of making sure that we don't continue to roll up just unsustainable deficits, but we certainly need to give priority to the military. That's the key and essential responsibility of the United States.

MR. MEDVED:  If President Trump were to call to get your advice and ask a very simple question is, where do we get the money, where should we get the money with which we need to build up our military, what would you say?

MR. NUNN:  Well, I've always thought we need to move toward taxing things that we want less of, and I think that's carbon.  But I don't think the President will be ready for that proposal by me but I think some type of gradual increase in the carbon tax will do something about our environmental problem of climate change and also provide a source of revenue.  But I also think that the carbon tax as George Shultz has pointed out, a coalition headed by George Shultz, is the carbon tax needs to be re-circulated.  And I think -- by making sure that the tax is not simply put into government spending.  I would make an exception on the military side but I do believe that the carbon tax would be the way to go because we want less carbon and that's the way to get it.

MR. MEDVED:  The President in a sort of shouted back and forth with the press yesterday did say that he wants to see some bipartisanship, he feels that we need to see bipartisanship particularly on immigration and other issues.  In a few seconds, what's the most important thing President Trump could do to encourage that bipartisanship?

MR. NUNN:  Well, I think one thing Michael, he could clarify his position on what is being perceived as rhetoric that is basically dangerous in the racial sense.  I think if he made a statement clearly that when racism rears its dangerous head, it must be denounced.  I think that would help an awful lot.  On the foreign policy side, I think if he made a statement that, as Reagan did, that nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought, I think that would go a long way.  On the domestic side, again I think health care – it seems to me that Democrats and Republicans ought to be able to come together in careful review and oversight to try to get the cost curve on health care pointing in a downward direction instead of in an upward direction because cost control is what neither party has been able to even begin to address successfully.  So those would be my suggestions.

MR. MEDVED:  We're speaking with Senator Sam Nunn. He is now head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  And we'll continue the conversation.  We're also going to be speaking a little bit later this hour -- a little bit later on the show with Victor Davis Hanson.  More coming up on The Medved Show.

SPEAKER:  1-800-955-1776, The Michael Medved Show.

MR. MEDVED:  It's 20 minutes after the hour on The Michael Medved Show with Sam Nunn.  He is a former senator from Georgia, 24 years in the United States Senate, and he is now the co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  He's also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution here at Stanford University from where I'm broadcasting today.

Senator Nunn, toward the end of your Senate term, you experienced some of the government shutdowns of the Clinton era.  I take it -- I remember you were not enthusiastic about government shutdowns at the time. I take it that you would agree with me that this is a strategy that both parties ought to put aside.

MR. NUNN:  Absolutely, I saw where Senator Lamar Alexander said that the other day and I completely agree with that.  I think it is a leverage that should never be used -- to threat to shut down the government.  There's no cause worthy of shutting down the US government with the number of people that are affected adversely.

MR. MEDVED:  Amen to that.  Let's go directly to our callers, to JR in Atlanta. You're on The Michael Medved Show with Senator Nunn.

LISTENER:  Hey, Michael and Mr. Nunn -- it's very nice to hear your voice again, Senator Nunn.  I'm from Peachtree City, Georgia just South Atlanta.

MR. NUNN:  Thank you.

LISTENER:  Yes sir.  And so here is my question, when you have a situation like this in Korea -- North Korea of course, and of course I see it brewing just a matter of time in Iran, is there or are there any options other than war?  Because if they just continue to build these weapons, I mean sooner or later they're going to sell them to somebody.

MR. NUNN:  Well, I worry about that with North Korea very much because they are such a basket case economically.  And one of the provisions the Security Council passed about a year and a half ago was to search every ship and plane coming and going from North Korea to make sure they did not have illicit nuclear material on them.  One of the things that Michael Mullen and I recommended last year in our task force was that, that be vigorously implemented because North Korea, if they fire a nuclear weapon, there's a return address and they know that's suicide.  But if they sell the materials or even a weapon to a terrorist group, there may not be a return address and it could easily be used with devastating circumstances.  So I do worry about that very much with North Korea.

I do think the Iran agreement has bought us at least 15 years, and actually there are provisions in that agreement in terms of verification and in terms of prohibition against any nuclear weapon or any nuclear weapon program in Iran forever.  Those provisions last forever and most people don't realize that.  So we have made progress on Iran, we bought some time and I think that agreement we ought to stick with.  I wish we could get something similar with North Korea.

MR. MEDVED:  Let's go to Don in Columbus, Ohio.  You're on The Michael Medved Show with Senator Sam Nunn.

LISTENER:  Oh yes, thanks for taking my call.  My comment is in regards to the State of the Union speech.  How do you expect Republicans and Democrats to work together in a bipartisan manner when everything Republicans have passed have been with Republican votes only?  It seems to me that the Republicans only want bipartisanship when they are in control.  And given the fact that Trump talks out of both sides of his mouth, why should the Democrats believe anything he says?


MR. MEDVED:  Senator?

MR. NUNN:  Well, I have a judge cousin who says that a fellow came before him on an assault charge and he asked him what happened, he said, "Judge, it all started when he hit me back."


MR. NUNN:  I think that is the condition of the two parties now.  It seems that the partisanship is growing.  I think that's to the detriment of our country.  When you pass, for instance, a health care bill and you get no Republicans to vote for it, and when you basically can't get any consensus on very, very important matters even keeping the government open, it's a sad day.  So I think we're going to have to see statesmen rise up in the Senate and in the House.  I think there are.  I think there are some very good people in Congress and I think it's going to take some leadership.  We're seeing that now, we're seeing a common sense caucus that is starting.  I know Susan Collins is involved and some people on the Democratic side in the Senate.  I think that group has got to grow because we can't solve any major problems in America on a sustained basis without THE participation of both parties.

MR. MEDVED:  I know that a lot of people feel that the difficulty with that is today you have the danger of anyone who takes a more cooperative bipartisan position getting a primary challenge, whether it's a primary challenge from Elizabeth Warren-style Democrat or from a Roy Moore-style Republican.  It can be a very scary thing for long-term incumbents, can't it?

MR. NUNN:  That's exactly right, Michael, and one of the things -- I normally would not want the Supreme Court or the federal courts to interfere with what has normally been a congressional legislative matter but in the case of reapportionment, it's gotten so far out of bounds that I think the courts have to step in.  And there are several cases before the courts now, but what we've got is absolute safe districts for Republicans and safe districts for Democrats.  And as you said the only fear is that you'll get beat by somebody to your right or left.  So the middle is getting basically cut out of the picture.  We don't have the people that are bridges between the two parties as we did when I was there.  And those bridges have got to be built.

MR. MEDVED:  Let's go quickly to George in Cleveland, Ohio.  You're on the Medved Show with Senator Sam Nunn.

LISTENER:  Yes, Michael, it's usually you that makes me yell at the radio, but the Senator just did.  Nice to speak with you Senator, but you just said something that is profoundly troubling and that was that the government shutting down adversely affects so many people.  That's the problem, so many Americans dependent on the federal government.  That's the issue.  We need less federal government, less interference in our daily lives.  Nobody should have to look to the federal government for their day-to-day lives, no one, not one American should ever have to look to the federal government.  It should be so far in the background as to almost seem nonexistent.

MR. MEDVED:  Senator?

MR. NUNN:  I have a little bit different take on it. I think there's always got to be a safety net.  I think the capitalist system is the most efficient producer of wealth of any system ever devised.  But there's got to be a safety net.  Some people fall through it.  We're not going to let people die on the streets when they don't have medical insurance, we're not going to let people starve, and some type of safety net is absolutely essential.  We've got that with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and those programs are not going to be terminated.  Neither party nor very many folks in either the Republican or Democratic Party advocate that.

MR. MEDVED:  And by the way, I think we have about 70 million Americans right now who are on Social Security and Medicare, so that's a pretty big role for government.

Sam Nunn, I appreciate your coming on the show, appreciate your common sense and collaborative approach to national security and the future of this great nation.

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January 30, 2018

NTI Co-Chair Sam Nunn spoke with Michael Medved on The Michael Medved Radio Program about issues including North Korea, US military spending, and the Iran Deal.

Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn

Founder and Co-Chair