But, as Lugar and Nunn explained, their bipartisan pitch was self-survival. Billions of dollars for disarmament wasn’t a gift in foreign aid, it was critical for the security of the United States.
The men also talked of the origins of their friendship. It was Nunn, long fearful of how close the world’s superpowers were coming to mutual destruction, who reached out to Lugar.
The Georgia Democrat needed the Indiana Republican to convince President George H.W. Bush and Senate Republicans of the wisdom of his plan. In the final two days of the 1991 session of Congress, Nunn and Lugar succeeded in squeezing into the federal budget the first $400 million appropriation for the disarmament program.
In the bitter primary of 2012, members of Lugar’s own party pilloried him for being a champion of compromise. His longtime unwillingness to embrace partisan ideology likely cost him the election.
But it didn’t cost him his legacy. The Nunn-Lugar program that provided money and expertise to disarm chemical and nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union has since been expanded.
It has provided the umbrella under which chemical weapons in Libya were destroyed, equipment and expertise to neutralize the chemical weaponry of Syria, and the money to secure biological agents in laboratories in Asia and Africa.
I thought of my dinner companion as Lugar and Nunn voiced their worries about new threats of mass destruction that face the world. And the critical need for the world’s leaders — those in Congress included — is not to be blinded by ideology to their obligation to humanity.
“We’re in a race,” said Lugar, “between cooperation and catastrophe.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.