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STANFORD UNIVERSITY — They fought the Cold War with diplomacy and politics. Now they’re using publicity and activism to battle the most dangerous legacy of that era: nuclear weapons.

Former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former defense secretary William Perry and former senator Sam Nunn spoke to a group of Stanford students Nov. 12 about the need for nuclear-armed countries to reduce their weapons before they’re sold to or stolen by terrorists.

“If nuclear weapons are used, it will produce a level of catastrophe that we have never seen,” said Kissinger, who was national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations. “If this happens, the world would be a different place.”

That Kissinger and his cohorts are talking about banning nukes is nothing new. The so-called Gang of Four garnered a tremendous amount of attention in 2007 when the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed they wrote calling for a world without nuclear weapons. They made their point again in a second piece that ran in the Journal earlier this year.

What is remarkable, though, is their dogged commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. Their ideas – and the urgency behind them – are captured in Nuclear Tipping Point, a documentary produced by the Nuclear Security Project in an effort to raise awareness about nuclear threats and stir a call to action that will reduce those dangers.

The film was screened during the Stanford event, which was sponsored by Stanford in Government and moderated by Phil Taubman, a consulting professor at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

“You have to make the public aware,” Perry, SEP ’74,  who served as President Clinton’s defense secretary, urged. “What you can do as students is get ahold of this video, show it and play it and get a discussion going. Get the word out. We can build a grassroots effort here.”

The film, which features the four men offering their insights into today’s landscape of nuclear threats, instills a sense of fear and awareness of how devastating an attack would be if a nuclear weapon fell into the hands of terrorists.

“As nations like Iran and Pakistan and North Korea get nuclear bombs, then the probability increases that one or more of those bombs will fall into the hands of a terror group,” Perry, who is co-director of the Preventive Defense Project at CISAC and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, says in the film.

Shultz, President Reagan’s secretary of state from 1982 to 1989, a professor emeritus at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and a distinguished Hoover fellow, follows up on Perry’s thoughts:

“If you think of the people who are doing suicide attacks, and people like that get a nuclear weapon, they are almost by definition not deterrable. And if you have terrorists get something, then you don’t even know the return address.”

Shultz recounted his well-told tale of how he was “handbagged” by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was irate at Reagan’s nonproliferation talks with the Soviet Union. But, Shultz said, political will has changed.

“Her reaction was fairly typical,” Shultz said. “There’s a willingness to reexamine the issues now. The steps now look doable. There are things you can do to get there, and that gives it a sense of reality.”

And while he and his colleagues acknowledged the elimination of all nuclear weapons won’t be achieved anytime soon, they highlighted what has happened during the past two decades to move the world a few steps further away from nuclear holocaust.

Even as the nuclear ambitions of countries like Iran, North Korea and Pakistan pose serious concerns, several nations have abandoned the nuclear weapon programs, Nunn said. The world’s nuclear superpowers – the United States and Russia – have agreed to the goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and both countries have reduced their nuclear inventories by two-thirds.

“It’s not all gloom and doom,” said Nunn, the one-time senator from Georgia who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1986 to 1995. “We have had a lot of fresh developments in the last 20 years.”


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Also on Stanford Knowledgebase:

  1. GOP Members Gird for Battle Against Fossil Fuels
  2. George Shultz reflects on a meaningful life, whether he wants to or not
  3. Does the World Need Nuclear Energy?

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