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Ted Turner Introduces Former Senator Sam Nunn to Head Nuclear Threat Initiative

Aired January 8, 2001 - 11:03 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to go to Washington, D.C., Ted Turner speaking about the organization of a new -- let's go ahead and listen in.


TED TURNER, VICE CHAIRMAN, TIME WARNER: Normally I don't read from a prepared text, but I've worked on my statement so much that I don't want to forget anything so I'm going to read it if I may. I've got large enough print here so I don't need to use my glasses so it looks authentic.

It's with great hope and anticipation that we address you today about the initiative that Senator Nunn and I are launching. The nuclear threat initiative is the product of months of discussions and consultations with dozens of the world's most respected security experts.

The threat that we face from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is real. It is even more urgent now since it seems to have fallen off most people's radar screens during the last 10 years since the Cold War ended.

Like everyone else, we thought that when the Cold War ended, we no longer had to worry about nuclear annihilation. The progress that we made to reduce the threat in the last 10 years has been marginal at best despite the fact that we are no longer enemies with the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China.

The U.S. and Russia still maintain nearly 3,000 nuclear weapons each on high alert, and our technologies are not infallible.

Recent examples are the explosion of the Concorde in Paris and the sinking of the Russian submarine, Kursk. An accidental nuclear exchange is not out of the question.

In many ways the threat has become more complex and dangerous. In addition to the risk of nuclear exchange, we now have serious and urgent concerns about the security of weapons and bomb-making materials. We are threatened about the risk of proliferation of these weapons and its expertise from laboratories, the deterioration of command and control systems in certain parts of the world and proliferation of missile technology, et cetera. Furthermore, maintaining these nuclear arsenals is not cheap. It has been estimated the U.S. spends something between $25 and $30 billion every year maintaining its 10,000-plus nuclear weapons -- a number that makes overkill an understatement. This money could be used more efficiently elsewhere in the U.S. budget. And the same could be said of Russia and the other nuclear weapon states.

In October 2000, CNN produced a special report entitled "Rehearsing Doomsday," which put some of these issues into perspective.

And if you have not had an opportunity to see it, we will provide you with a copy when you leave the room.

This report, as well as all the consultations and discussions brought home to all of us a key fact: that we have lived virtually our entire lives under the threat of nuclear war.

If there had ever been a logical reason for this state of affairs, it no longer exists. We have therefore decided to do what we can to work towards decreasing this threat. There is no greater legacy that we can leave our children and grandchildren than a peaceful and safer world.

Too little attention has been paid to these issues over the last decade. If we are to reduce the nuclear threat in all of its forms, we need to raise public awareness and to ensure leadership and cooperation in this country and throughout the world.

These efforts must also include biological and chemical weapons. Senator Nunn has agreed to join me in these efforts. And we are proud to announce that he has accepted the position of co-chairman of the nuclear threat initiative.

We can think of no better person to lead this effort. Senator Nunn, as we all know, is one of the world's most respected security experts.

As we launch this effort, I would like to state that I personally advocate the complete elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, as quickly as possible. If fewer is better, then in my opinion, zero is best. Every U.S. president since President Johnson has pledged to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons as dictated by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And as recently as last May, all of the declared nuclear weapons states reaffirmed their, quote, "unequivocal undertaking," unquote, towards that end. Great nations keep their word, and I for one will continue to push the U.S. and the other nuclear weapons states to fulfill their pledge.

Nevertheless, this is not the charge I have asked Senator Nunn to accept. Instead, his purpose will be devoted to a more limited objective but not less worthwhile: to take pragmatic and effective steps to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction as comprehensibly and as urgently as is feasible. For that undertaking, there should be the broadest possible support. We do not need to develop consensus on weapons elimination to develop a common purpose to make step-by-step progress to diminish the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

The initiative-efforts aim to be a catalyst for action in both the U.S. and around the world. We should not miss this opportunity to make the world a safer place for all of us.

Thank you very much.

It is now my great honor to introduce Senator Nunn.


SAM NUNN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thank you very much, Ted.

I first want to thank Ted Turner for taking on this important, in my view, crucial mission, and for the trust, Ted, you've placed in me in giving me the opportunity to work again in an area that I spent so much of my Senate career involved in.

I can think of no private undertaking of greater importance to future generations than the one we are launching here today.

I have great admiration for Ted Turner's tremendous accomplishments in the private sector and for his leadership in philanthropy. Ted is a visionary and a genuine catalyst for change for the better. His leadership in communications has made the world smaller. He now charges us to make the world safer.

The initiative Ted has asked me to lead, which we are calling the Nuclear Threat Initiative, is committed to the mission of strengthening global security by reducing the risk of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and by preventing their spread. We will also work to help build the trust, transparency and security that are preconditions to the fulfillment of the Non-Proliferation Treaty's goals and ambitions.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world has faced a challenge without precedent in history: the collapse of an empire containing thousands of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and thousands of tons of the materials needed to make additional such weapons.

In addition, tens of thousands of scientists and engineers who know how to make these weapons have a very hard time figuring out how they're going to provide the basic necessities for their families.

The United States government, more than any other government by far, has responded to these threats with a program, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, designed to help the former Soviet states, including but limited to Russia, secure and safe...


NUNN: ... Senator Domenici, who could not be with us this morning, but who also was, and continues to be, a real leader.

After 10 years of hard work by an awful lot of dedicated people -- and I tip my hat to those people who've worked in this Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and its counterparts, whether in Defense and Energy or in the State Department, because they've done a tremendous job -- and we've dismantled some 4,000 nuclear weapons, and we've built better safeguard systems in Russia and much of the former Soviet Union.

But when you look at the threat, it is clear that our response, and the world's response, has not been proportionate to the threat, nor has it been proportionate to the opportunity. What we face today, 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is a situation that despite our efforts may be, in fact, more dangerous than during the Cold War in the sense of a nuclear or weapon of mass destruction use, not in the sense of a global war, but in the sense of the use of these horrible weapons.

The Soviet successor state of Russia faces dire economic conditions that have forced a severe cutback in the government's maintenance of its nuclear infrastructure, including its nuclear warning, surveillance and control system.

Nuclear workers, whether they are soldiers attending nuclear weapons deployed in the field, or scientists who designed and built these weapons, often go for months between paychecks without basic necessities, like heat and food and proper clothing.

The cumulative affect of this deterioration in Russia has greatly increased the risk of a nuclear accident, or a dangerous and deadly miscalculation. or the prospects that a nuclear worker will compromise nuclear materials or sell know-how across borders to a terrorist group out of economic desperation.

More over, elsewhere in the world, after nearly a 30-year gap -- thankfully, a 30-year gap -- two new states have recently entered the nuclear arena, with tests conducted by both India and Pakistan, and as Ted said, this is probably one of the most dangerous spots on the face of the globe today.

Contrary to what many people believe, the threat posed by these weapons to our security and to the world's security remains very high. It is time for us, in cooperation with our friends and our allies -- and I emphasize in cooperation, because that's the only way it can be done -- it's time to take the responsibility to address these urgent security threats in a renewed and invigorated way.

As our name implies, we intend to focus on the nuclear threat which by scale and scope is the greatest of the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. But as our mission statement provides, we intend also to address the biological and chemical weapons' threat which are, in fact, more likely to be used.

Our work will be organized into three principle geographic program areas: the United States, Russia and the former Soviet Union and other regional areas of proliferation concern such as Northeast Asia, South Asia, as well as the Middle East.

In the United States, we will attempt to generate greater public support, understanding and governmental attention to the subject of threat reduction and to bring greater resources to bear, both domestically and internationally to meet these challenges.

In Russia and the former Soviet states, the initiative will concentrate on projects to improve the safety, the security, the accountability and the transparency of weapons of mass destruction -- weapons, materials, as well as know-how.

In the regional arena, we will help build international awareness about the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction by strengthening international, non-governmental organizations, and by promoting international dialogue on ways to reduce weapon-of-mass- destruction dangers.

Education will form an important component of this initiative and it is essential for our regional efforts. In this regard, we plan to support educational activities that inform and engage students, the public, and governmental leaders on issues related to nuclear and other weapons.

The emphasis of this initiative will be on action, making real and significant progress to reduce the most significant threats.

We intend to be a catalyst and to encourage change in reducing the pressure on the nuclear trigger and increasing warning time for leadership decision-making in stemming proliferation, in enhancing the safety, security, and accountability of weapons and materials, and in reducing the chances of international -- of intentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

We plan to focus on direction -- or direct-action activities and not limiting our role to making grants for studies, education, or advocacy, although there would be some of each.

KAGAN: We have been listening to former Senator Sam Nunn, speaking from Washington, D.C. He will be leading up a new group started by our CNN founder Ted Turner. It's called the Nuclear Threat Initiative. It's a new charitable organization that is committed to the global threat of nuclear and other weapons, including biological and chemical weapons as well.

Both Ted turner and Senator Nunn making the point that, even though the Cold War is long over, that threat is still very much out there.



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