Sam Nunn and the nuclear hair-trigger

Over at Foreign Policy magazine, David Hoffman has what is essentially a review of “Nuclear Tipping Point,” a documentary that lays out the argument for a slow walk away from nuclear weaponry.

The film is a project coordinated by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit agency co-chaired by former Georgia senator Sam Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner.

“Nuclear Tipping Point” is, in fact, the video version of an argument that a bipartisan quartet – Nunn, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and William Perry – have made in a series of op-ed pieces for the Wall Street Journal.

Nuclear weaponry is an outdated feature of the Cold War, the era’s former architects argue. Here’s the trailer:

Hoffman’s piece is worth reading in its entirety, but it includes this:

In the film, Nunn returns to a topic that has concerned him for years — the danger of accidental launch or miscalculation. At the peak of the Cold War, a president would have only minutes to decide on a course of action after receiving a warning of a nuclear attack.

In the 1980s, Nunn and John Warner, the outgoing Virginia Republican senator, proposed creating risk-reduction centers in the United States and Soviet Union to share information in a crisis. In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement establishing Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers in Washington and Moscow.

Nunn and Warner had also suggested a more ambitious effort, but it was not adopted.

In his recently-published Nuclear Posture Review, setting down nuclear weapons policy for the next five to 10 years, Obama decided not to take intercontinental ballistic missiles off alert.

But in the film, Nunn makes a strong appeal for doing so, giving a president more time to make a decision and avoid a mistake. The land-based missiles are generally on four-minute alert and submarines 12 minutes.

“Now, people would assume that cannot be, the Cold War is over,” Nunn says in the film. “Are we still in that posture? The answer is, we are. The number of weapons on quick launch on both sides is something to me that is absolutely ridiculous, bordering on insanity…

“And if we have, let’s say, four, five minutes’ warning now, we ought to double it, and once we get to 10 minutes, we ought to go to 20, and then to 40, and then to 60, and then to hours, and then days, and nuclear weapons become less relevant.”

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9 comments Add your comment


May 21st, 2010
12:34 pm

I am glad that Obama has made this issue a priority. After all, it is only the fate of the human race at stake. No Dems, no Repubs, just nuclear ash wafting around, if things get crazy. And thank God for the rational voice of Sam Nunn. While others pander and profiteer from their past political office, Nunn has worked tirelessly to limit nuclear threats.


May 21st, 2010
1:54 pm

What would Rand Paul say about this?

GA Native

May 21st, 2010
2:02 pm

I wish we still had a Senator like Nunn representing us. Isakson and Chambliss are both pathetic. We’ve had larger than life Reps/Senators from Georgia in the past. Sadly, those days appear gone. Ignorance is in fashion these days.


May 21st, 2010
4:18 pm

Good thing we have such a strong foreign policy president in office to help achieve this. Oh, wait…


May 21st, 2010
4:18 pm

What would Rand Paul say? I don’t know, but there’s a group of hawks, most of whom never served in the military, that are still PO’ed that we didn’t move on Russia at the end of WWII and invade China when were in Korea.

Hopefully, rationality will continue and we’ll realize that we can no longer go it alone in the world. We need allies that are respected and whose opinions are considered before doing something stupid — like Iraq.

Thanks to Sam. He’s always been a hero of mine.


May 21st, 2010
4:23 pm

Looks like an imposter “Boots” is trying to move it. But everyone knows, there’s only one and I’ve been using this handle for years.

Adios, you dang imposter!


May 21st, 2010
5:32 pm

“While others pander and profiteer”? Hey, let’s not put Sam on Mt. Rushmore. He’s profited plenty between King and Spalding and the multiple corporate boards he sits on.


May 21st, 2010
6:08 pm

I’d take Nunn over Price, Isakson, Chambliss, Gringrey, etc. any day of the week!
@rightofcenter: they are talking about him not profiting over this topic. Sam Nunn has as much right to earn a living as anyone else. He just doesn’t use this topic to do it. He also didn’t pander and get so puffed up about himself (can you say Tom Price?) while he was in the Senate. Wish some of the others were like him. They are far to interested in pandering and getting themselves in front of a camera to really serve the people of Georgia.


May 23rd, 2010
9:21 pm

In Congress, Nunn was a consensus maker, a bridge builder highly respected on both sides of the aisle but now there is increasingly little room for moderates in Congress. Partisan redistricting abuses have sent all the radicals of both sides into office and have forced the moderates like Nunn to get out. Independent redistricting will allow us to send more bridge builders to Congress because they will have to run in districts that are less politically polarized. If we stop allowing the politicians to draw their own districts more people like Sam Nunn will get elected and bipartisan solutions will result. Several states have already seen the light and Georgia should become the next state to get smart on this.