Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Cooperative Threat Reduction


Good morning, good morning.  Great to see you all, and I’m sorry we’re not outside but it was going to rain, but this is our auditorium, which I think doubles as a bomb shelter—I’m not really sure but…

Twenty-five years ago this December, the flag of the Soviet Union – an emblem of nearly half a century of nuclear competition, confrontation, and crisis – was lowered for the last time at the Kremlin and elsewhere.  Today, we come together as a community to thank some of the forward-thinking statesmen and public servants who helped make that historic moment of change far less dangerous, and to learn lessons from their work as we work to shape another era of profound global change.

Senators Nunn and Lugar, partner nation representatives, and Defense Department personnel, past and present – thank you for coming this morning.  I also want to acknowledge Secretary Perry who was unable to travel here today.  I know we all wish he was here.

To appreciate the 25 years of CTR’s and its importance, we must go back in time to understand the danger that existed.  The then-Soviet Union possessed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and enough enriched uranium and plutonium for tens of thousands of more.  It also had 40,000 tons of chemical weapons and a deadly stockpile of biological agents ready for use.  These weapons were spread across the vast Soviet empire and in Eastern Europe too.  And as the Soviet Union reformed, then faltered, and began to disintegrate, control of this vast arsenal was thrown into doubt.

We were able to prevent that danger from becoming a threat; that’s clear now, but I can tell you that was far from clear then.  Why is that relevant for us in the Defense Department—you all, me, and the whole department--today?  We face similarly profound and seemingly insurmountable challenges today, and this history shows we can and we will overcome them.  These threats also require new thinking of the kind that CTR represents and new ways of operating, like I’m challenging our Department to show today.

This was a brand new problem in those days, brand new to history. Really required new thought. 

It was, first of all, the first-ever disintegration of a nuclear power. 

And second, while people had considered accidental nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis and Dr. Strangelove movie, they tended to think of the weapons systems themselves in that context, and the vital technological problems of first-strike capabilities, mutually assured destruction, and the like. 

But few, few appreciated nuclear command-and-control, custody, surety, and that command-and-control was more than a technical system, it was a human, social system that could not be immune to the disintegration of a society in which it was embedded.  I myself worked on command and control in my first job here at the Pentagon, at the height of the Cold War, a decade before the Soviet Union disintegrated. 

And Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar understood this, also, deeply from their work with Soviet Leaders on arms control over the decades before, and Sam and Dick knew that deterrence alone would not protect us against destruction in the new situation.  This new form of nuclear danger required something new.

Third, the very idea of the Nunn-Lugar program, which was to work with, and not against, the custodians of the former Soviet arsenal, also was novel.  After all, we had spent half a century bringing the Soviet Union to its knees…to help them, even fund them, to control the vast nuclear legacy of the USSR, seemed paradoxical to many, and it was controversial.

Here’s what happened next, as I remember it so clearly.

Sam and Dick saw impending chaos up close when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev briefly suffered a coup and was placed under house arrest in Crimea.  They began to assemble experts to design an approach to this new problem.  And I was among them, at the time collaborating from Harvard with a Stanford faculty member named Bill Perry.  We were funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and you’ll see the significance of that further in a moment.  Now Sam and Dick—there’s one story I’ll tell—asked me one morning to brief the Senate leadership on the program plan, which I did.  So, being young and new to this, I stood up and talked for a while, and after a while I said, “OK, that’s enough.” And I sat down and then I proceeded to observe what was to me a fascinating conversation among the senior senators.  Nobody noticed me and ushered me out for this conversation, and at the end of it, Sam came up to me and said, “Don’t ever tell anybody what you just saw.” So I won’t.  And I haven’t.

But, anyway, the Nunn-Lugar amendment passed and was enacted into law.  Shortly thereafter Bill Perry became Deputy Secretary of Defense and then Secretary of Defense, and I, as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, was put in charge of making the program work.

Now, let me tell you the role of our honorees today.  We brought on a number of people, whom we honor today, to handle different aspects of the program and they did it superbly and they made history:

Gloria Duffy, my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense—listen up, DASDs--was then in charge of negotiating agreements with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan and coordinating overall the program.  She’s now President of the prestigious Commonwealth Club of California.

Susan Koch was DASD in charge of coordinating the Nunn-Lugar program with our global arms control efforts.  She’s now a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction. 

Liz Sherwood-Randall was a DASD in charge of overall defense relationships with Former Soviet States, all 15 of them.  She is now Deputy Secretary of Energy and couldn’t be with us today.

And Laura Holgate.  Laura was my assistant at Harvard…she was responsible for managing the study effort that made our contribution to Nunn-Lugar.  And she flew the analysis I used at that Senate breakfast down the night before on what used to be the old shuttle at National Airport.  Laura later was Gloria’s successor as DASD for CTR.  She’s now a Special Assistant to the President and [Senior] Director of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism, and Threat Reduction at the National Security Council.

Jane Wales.  Jane was Chair of the Cooperative Security Program at Carnegie Corporation in New York, which David Hamburg [was] President of ... who saw the importance of this problem and funded our work.  She was later a Senior Director on the National Security Council and Special Assistant to the President at the White House helping coordinate CTR work with interagency partners.  Now, she is the CEO of the Global Philanthropy Forum, the President and CEO of the World Affairs Council, and Vice President at the Aspen Institute.

The achievements of Nunn-Lugar, Senator Nunn, Senator Lugar, our nominees today led to the denuclearization of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus..  It led to a safeguarding and destruction of fissile materials.  And it led to the destruction of nuclear weapons systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Together, with all that, the world came through a historic moment of change safely.  It certainly didn’t look likely or possible at that time.  It shows that visionary statesmanship by people like Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar – bipartisan, by the way – and superb execution by our honorees can do things that many think impossible.

The CTR framework continues today.  And I salute members of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency – past and present, some here today, and others watching out at Fort Belvoir – who carry on the mission.  It’s evolved.  It’s extended its focus to terrorism, not just disintegrated states.  It has extended its work to chemical and biological weapons.  And it has gone global, far beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.

Today, to mark CTR’s 25th Anniversary, we are dedicating what will now be called the Nunn-Lugar Conference Room in the SecDef corridor on the E-Ring, right across from my office.  That conference room, which we’ve all used, is henceforth the Nunn-Lugar Room.  That’s a space, as you all know, in the Pentagon, where we bring together to the Defense Department senior leaders, where President Obama has held National Security Council meetings, and where we meet with outside experts to discuss how our country and our military can meet the many challenges and opportunities we face in this strategic era.

From this day on, anyone who enters the Nunn-Lugar room – presidents and policymakers, military and civilian officials, scholars and business leaders – will walk past a plaque that reminds them of the forward-thinking programs, the bipartisan cooperation, and the enduring legacy of Senators Nunn and Lugar.  

And their example will inspire today’s leaders, and tomorrow’s, to take novel, even paradoxical steps, to develop new ways of thinking and operating to continue to keep the nation safe and leave our children a better world.  

We are also presenting the first Nunn-Lugar Trailblazer Awards to some of the members of the first team that helped bring the CTR program to life: Gloria, Susan, Liz, Laura, and Jane.  I traveled the world with this team, and many others, as we worked to realize the Nunn-Lugar vision and make the world safer.  With this award, we’re recognizing each of their contributions to history.  And we’re holding them up as an example to which we can all, and all of you in the audience, aspire…as we continue our work here to safeguard and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems worldwide, to protect our country, and to leave a better world

Thank you.