Richard Lugar is a former Republican senator representing Indiana in the United States Senate. He is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the Nunn-Lugar law, which helped to secure nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union states.
How big is current nuclear arsenal in the United States?
Well we have a large nuclear arsenal, as does Russia. These are the two large arsenals left over from the Cold War. Fortunately we have had agreements, arms control pacts. START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) One, START Two, now the new START treaty, which is so important. You’ve got American boots on the ground again in Russia. So we can examine really and verify what was occurring and the new START treaty is working well.
Having said that, I’ve been in Russia in September. And we need to have what is called an umbrella agreement. By that I mean an agreement that gives us the authority and the Russians the authority to continue on our work beyond next June; legal authority. This is important because there are many situations in which I’ve visited Russia this year; in which they want to continue destroying the nuclear missiles and the warheads and the rest, out in Siberia, knocking out all of their chemical weapons, as they should under the Chemical Weapons Convention, as we are. Both countries behind the years we promised to get there.
There is good progress there. I mention all this because there are other weapons situations in the world in which the Russians should be interested. My own tries of diplomacy have been to say we are two great powers. We have, for example, an interest in the safety of the so called chemical weapons outside of Syria, or inside of Syria as the case may be, and encourage really cooperation and thinking about plans for destruction of those weapons so they are not in the neighborhood in perpetuity. We ran into problems, certainly, in trying to pin them all down in Libya. And we’re still searching for what is left; much smaller stocks of chemical weapons or other weapons that may have been dispersed.
So I think the question of weapons is still there, but it’s one in which the large powers, Russia and the United States, are moving towards control and cooperation. The other dilemmas of course are that there are nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan; nuclear weapons in China, as well as in Russia. So that’s quite spread there in that part of the world. The threat always that Iran will finally develop a nuclear weapon, or more, that Israel probably has nuclear weapons.
The question then is: Does this mean Saudi Arabia or other countries are likely? Probably not on the face of it; but at the same these are countries, unlike the U.S. and Russia, who have a long standing agreement on how to deal with mutually assured destruction; maybe the rules of the game are far less certain. Although one can say that with India and Pakistan there has perhaps been less threat of warfare between the two, even given the Mumbai incidents and the constant problems in Kashmir.
I would cite also all of the nuclear is the more dramatic situation of existential attack, and it is very grave. The fact is that chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction are less observable; and at this point, in areas where we perhaps have not been at least as thorough in our examination. I cite, for instance, a year ago in November I went to two countries in Africa, Kenya and Uganda, that have laboratories in which very humane situations are occurring. Pathogens are being created of Marburg disease for example or other various threats that can be spread-by al Qaeda, by al Shabab, other terrorist organizations.
These laboratories that I’ve examined, and the reason I’ve been asked by the Defense Department to go, did not have any security around them. So the question was not violating the sovereignty of Kenya and Uganda; but working with their governments to say, “You really ought to have security around these situations.” We really cannot afford the threat of a large annihilation of population through the spread of these sorts of weapons.
The same sort of situation we’ve done in the country Georgia- a very fine laboratory apparatus, which works with Walter Reed in sharing pathogens and examining what is happening in the world. But also with the WHO, World Health Organization. I’m eager to try and work with our State Department and our defense department to make certain that in the Philippines, in Vietnam, in Indonesia; to take examples in another sector of the world: our embassies and the embassies, and the departments of those governments, are equally as alert. I don’t want to borrow trouble, but I would just say that nuclear weapons are not the only ways that military forces or governments have devised to get their will. The need to constantly be alert to this, so for our own benefit, and that of our lives, it’s I think very, very important.
What is the U.S. currently spending to maintain its nuclear arsenal? In your opinion, is it money well spent, or can we maybe save a few bucks?
The Congress debated the issue of the replenishment of our stock or at least making certain that it was ok. About 10 billion dollars was mentioned as the figure-not on an annual basis, but perhaps the total expenditure to make certain those stocks were in good supply. I think that’s in the ballpark of the amount of money that’s likely to be spent in the near future.
In terms of actual defense regarding chemical and biological weapons,what are your thoughts? Are we prepared or can we do more?
Well I believe that our defense against chemical and biological weapons is really going to come from our relationships with a myriad of countries. Hopefully countries that are friendly to us; even those that are not friendly, that they understand the mutual benefits of this. In other words, in setting up these laboratories and ways of detecting whether their our developments going on in various countries, whether there are things in the air that might indicate that someone is doing something somewhere-some evidence. Or all of the ways in which we, through our intelligence sources, try and track down who the scientists are that may be going to various countries, who is setting up the various jobs.
That is the best defense that we have presently. And I stress that in Africa and Asia: these are areas that perhaps we have not looked at as closely, because we were concentrating on the former Soviet Union-Russia and other countries that have split off- and properly so. This was a great mass of this material, of all three kinds of weapons of mass destruction. Now there may be evidence elsewhere. So without trying to accuse anybody, the fact is that in a very friendly way, we had our in, in a scientific way, day by day, keep looking for traces.
Have we taken the proper precautions to prevent a nuclear weapon from entering the country in an unconventional fashion? How can we combat that possibility as well?
I believe a lot of precautions have been taken so there would not be the entry into the United States of a nuclear weapon. But we start once again at the borders of other countries, for example I can remember inspecting a border with Ukraine. There was always the possibility of something passing through- not a weapon but perhaps some ounces of nuclear material or some other aspects of this. We have been picking up these ounces and pounds and what have you in countries all over the world for many, many years.
Once again it’s a question of first class intelligence observation. The better we are able to refine our knowledge of who is doing what, we are in better position. That’s true not just with weapons of mass destruction; this is true in our overall defense posture, generally. In other words, there is not a debate going on, but there is recognition that even in Afghanistan for example, or the war we’ve just fought in Iraq or maybe elsewhere; the use of drone aircraft as opposed to thousands of troops on the ground may be more effective at eliminating terrorists or specific enemies or specific problems. This is a new concept and it leads to questions of privacy even in terms of our own law enforcement in the United States. I’m just suggesting that we are developing ways in which we may be able to cut down the number and exposure to American human beings, as our troops-but at the same time be able to get rid of the bad stuff, or the bad people as the case may be.
If Iran were to get a nuclear weapon, what impact would that have on other countries and other countries that are pursuing nuclear capabilities?
If Iran develops a weapon, and this seems certain, the debate will continue as to what military actions should be taken by anyone to disrupt the program. A lot of it is in caves as we know, and no conventional bombing might take care of all this. Now it would certainly disrupt the program. But to say the least it would disrupt not only the Middle East but, the world. So without going through the ramification of the cut off of oil supplies or tax upon other countries or whatever may occur.
So there will be the question of even that you must do that attack, because the next central problem for Israel or other countries in the Middle East, or can it be contained? Is it a situation that we had with Russia for many, many years in which they had a huge arsenal and we did too; but we did not utilize these weapons and we’re grateful that there were no mistakes made or accidents in the process? So in other words, can the weapons be contained? I think that debate will continue week after week, months after months; and I don’t know what the conclusion will be but there will be strong advocates for both policies.
In the meanwhile there will be persons in our own country advocating attack, advocating intervention. And there will be others who will say, “Hold on here, we already are extended in terms of our armed forces and our budget.” We’re in the process of so called pivoting toward a Far East strategy. People say that’s not exactly true, we’re not going to abandon the Middle East or our European friends, and we ought to pay more attention to Latin America come to think of it and people close to home. But how do you do all of this on the budgets we have for the armed forces given the debt situation we have in our own country?
So my own prediction is that we will probably be using less armed forces, less boots on the ground; more intelligence-drone strikes or other methods of the sort. And my own hope is that we will not deliberately create other wars, that is by our own particular activity.
In your opinion, have the sanctions been effective at curtailing the program at all in Iran?
Well they’ve been effective in making life very unpleasant in Iran. Reports of a huge drop in terms of exports by Iran, therefore a huge cut in the income of the country is certainly observable by everybody. Likewise, as the banking sanctions come in, it’s harder and harder for Iran to move money anywhere, much as with the case with North Korea when we opposed those sorts of sanctions with regards to nuclear programs there. Having said that, there is no evidence at the top, that the Ayatollahs and others have stopped the program. They’ve been deterred by computer situations in which we bollixed their program. They may have been slightly deterred by the fact that people are paying more attention in terms of international energy inspections.
But when it comes down to it, there still is a feeling that they’re rolling onward. There is more and more highly enriched uranium-at least at the twenty percent level. The question is, when does somebody try a breakout to ninety-five percent or some other action of that sort?
Was Libya a successful template for intervention, or in itself as a successful operation by NATO? What’s the long game in Egypt for the U.S.? What is the outcome you are hoping for?
The Libyan intervention in my judgment was really one of a kind. It was a situation in which the French and the Italians, our NATO allies, have had long time historical interests in the country. They strongly encouraged us to become involved. The Arab League passed resolutions condemning what was happening in Libya. That was different. Other nations decided to take a sort of stand likewise. Having said all that, I was the one who raised the question of what was our specific national interest in Libya.
There was never really a satisfactory answer by President Obama. I had the opportunity in the situation room one time to actually ask that, and then I came in on a teleconference. He said that’s not really the question, it’s a humanitarian situation in which people are suffering from the Qaddafi rule and so forth, and they were. And he assured my no boots on the ground, no active people fighting there in Libya with American uniforms on. However, we could refuel the aircraft of our NATO allies, which we began to do.
I raised the question: What will be the cost of this in the midst of our own budget crisis? Well the President felt it would all be over fairly soon. In a relative sense he was right, but probably a billion dollars was expended in this, through behind the scenes movement. Having said that, Qaddafi did leave, the government came, a free and fair election was held this fall. Having said that there are still situations in which tribes in Libya are not reconciled to the central government. The central government is having a very difficulty time, even though it has oil wealth and potential for income, making a go of it. And no one really knows exactly what the future of that government may be.
Whether there will be religious groups in Libya that come in and tear down the Roman shrines and other things, as sometimes is reported even in Bengazi. Or whether there will be a tapering off of this sort of feeling that is tribal and religious. We don’t know. But for the time being, at least Libya has worked out reasonably well, given the change of government and all the cross currents that were there.
Now nearby in Egypt, the question is a very large country that dwarfs obviously Libya in size and scope, maybe Egypt perhaps has 80 million people. We have been fascinated from the beginning by the young people in Tahrir Square who were calling for a change and we admired their idealism. But the facts of life are the young people are not in the political scene at all presently. You really have the old types: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
For the moment, the Muslim Brotherhood group has moved along in a reasonably responsible way in regards to overall governance of the situation. The United States has been disappointed, we’ve had democracy builders that we send regularly to places all over the world, to help with ballots and free and fair elections, arrested-people in jail and so forth. This came as quite a blow in terms of our own idealism about bringing democracy everywhere.
Having said that, we are certainly entertaining the thought of continuing to try and provide economic assistance for Egypt; on the basis that given the turnover of government and all that has followed, the income coming into Egypt has declined precipitously. Furthermore, world food costs-and Egypt is a very large importer-are cause to even greater strains. What I often ask our own diplomats is what’s going on back in the hinterlands, where there are poor people, old people; who in the past received benefits from the governments. Maybe Mubarak was buying them off, but at the same time he is not the only authoritarian government who tries to keep the peace with food subsidies; and some of the food subsidies stopped and could very well be a part of the revolution, it came from the fact that people were really frightened in regard to basic food and how they were going to exist.
I think that still is the case, whoever is in the government. So the question will be, ‘can we as the United States, at least turn over some loans, some debt, that Egypt has to us in other forms, so there is at least some assistance.’ No one really knows how long it will be before the tourism situation comes back, or normal American investors go to Egypt now. Americans have been touring Egypt more regularly now on a business basis. That’s optimistic, that they somehow will decide that the government is sufficiently stable.
But the constitution is still to be framed; and how the parties fit together is still pragmatically-the current government has worked out fairly well with the military, but remains to be seen on other subjects; mainly the relationship with Israel next door, how that works; whether the same feelings with regard to the Sinai or the Palestinians or others remain stable. We all hope so because it’s a big country and it means a great deal to the stability of the Middle E