As Nunn-Lugar turns 20, the senators behind it aim to pass the torch

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As the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program turns 20, its namesake senators stressed the need to grow a new generation of leaders to spearhead the cause.

The pair spoke Dec. 3 at a celebration of the program, which was created to help the Soviet Union reduce its nuclear arsenal after the Cold War, held at National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will exit the Senate when the current session ends, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) left in 1997. They and other leaders who have been involved with the program are relatively old, Nunn said, joking that a new generation of recruits could include Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

"We've got to skip down another generation," he said. "That's a big challenge."

Nunn said living through the Cuban missile crisis taught him the urgency of the nuclear threat, but as the Cold War and even the 9/11 attacks fade from memory, the threat of nuclear and other forms of terrorism may not capture the attention of legislators in the same way.

The 2001 anthrax attack on a Senate office building made a strong impression, Lugar said. But now, he went on, senators need to educate new members who haven't experienced a scare like that about the need to reduce dangerous weapons.

Longtime leaders have to "try to interest our colleagues really in taking more of a role in it so there's some continuity," he said.

He also said that Americans don't always see foreign relations as a priority, so it's up to legislators to convince their constituents that global weapons reduction matters.

The Cooperative Threat Reduction program also will have to evolve to meet new threats and contexts, the senators said.

Nunn said that reducing biological threats will be more of a challenge than nuclear threats, because there are so many biology laboratories worldwide, and they're more dispersed than nuclear facilities.

He also said that when the CTR program began, some Russians felt like "supplicants for aid" and not partners, but Russia has plenty of its own resources now. The United States has to adapt to the changing relationship, he said.

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