Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

March 3, 2014

BRIAN HOWEY: Bipartisan lessons from Sam Nunn, Dick Lugar

Senators' weapons reduction program still making difference.

(Continued)

It wasn’t quite the same as U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, wheeling from cocaine parties to House conferences where he figured out how to steer millions in appropriations to fund the mujahedin. That was the story in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, Nunn and Lugar were able to attach an amendment to a funding bill for $400 million. There was no way it would have survived a straight, up-or-down vote. “What had been wildly opposed in September 1991 was passed in December 1991,” Nunn said.

Nunn and Lugar had spent years developing relationships not only in Congress, but with the Soviets. Around a round table in Nunn’s Capitol Hill office, the two found themselves with Soviet military leaders who told them, “‘You need to know that security is breaking down around nuclear weapons aimed at you. Our troops are not getting paid, and that’s why they are deserting,’” Lugar recalled.

The Indiana Republican and the Georgia Democrat found themselves in Moscow, as it careened into financial crisis with unpaid military and weapons researchers overseeing an array of loose nukes, chemicals and biological weapons stored behind chain-link fences with padlocks and in chicken coops.

“We went to see Boris Yeltsin, and he told us in no uncertain terms” Ukraine would have to give up its arsenal. Lugar and Nunn subsequently met with Ukraine President Leonid Kravchuk. The Indiana Republican suggested divesting the arsenal might bring a $150 million check from the U.S. “At a press conference with two reporters, one radio, one print, Kravchuk said he had just been offered $175 million,” Lugar said.

“I came to see President Bush and he was very sad over his election defeat to President Clinton, but he wrote a letter to Kravchuk offering $175 million. Every single one of those weapons went to Russia,” Lugar said, with much of the highly enriched uranium recovered and shipped to the U.S. to fuel nuclear power plants. “It made a huge difference.”

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