Commencement Address by by Senator Richard G. Lugar '54, B.A., A.B., M.A.
Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Life Insulated From World Events Has Ended
We come to Granville today to celebrate a high moment in the lives of all who will receive diplomas and in the lives of all who have given love, inspiration, and support to these graduates. We say to the graduates, "You must do better than we have done. We will support your dreams because they are embodied in all that we have hoped for."
For generations, Denison University has shined brightly as a prolific contributor to the academic life, history, economy, and cultural achievements of our country. It has brought together teachers and students, good people who exemplified creativity and optimism for the future.
Most importantly for me, through the organizational politics of the Denison Campus Government Association, this university brought Char Smeltzer of Detroit into my life when we were elected Co-Presidents 50 years ago. We were married three years later. We remained close to Denison friends and revered faculty members even as we pursued adventures that took us far from the peace of this campus. Our remembrances of our student experiences, as well as our frequent return visits have maintained for us a picture of Denison as idyllic.
This is the third time that I have had the privilege to deliver the Commencement Address at Denison. I was asked to speak to the graduating class of 1970, while I was serving as the Mayor of Indianapolis, and to the class of 1978, during my first term as a U.S. Senator. The first address in 1970 was particularly eventful. Char had encouraged me to accept, but after the ceremony, she suggested that unusual circumstances might have prompted the invitation. We were surprised to learn that graduation would be held on the football field. We became even more disconcerted as we noted several female graduates wearing white slips rather than the conventional cap and gown costume. A substantial vat had been positioned on-stage in which stray fruit or other objects reaching the platform were deposited. The President utilized a handy towel to wipe peanut butter off of his right hand following a congratulatory hand-shake with a malicious graduate. I suspected that my alma mater had sought an alumnus as a commencement speaker so as not to expose a distinguished visitor from outside the Denison family to this level of excitement.
In brief, Denison was experiencing fall-out from the urban crisis and the anti-war movement of the time. An already difficult atmosphere on college campuses across the country had been exacerbated by the tragic shootings at Kent State University on May 4th of that year.
At the 1970 graduation, I attempted to describe for the graduates the serious reality of what was happening in our cities. I related personal experiences that I had as Mayor of Indianapolis in that volatile era. I mentioned rushing to emergency rooms at all hours of the day and night to comfort the families of police officers who had been shot, about locking up hundreds of citizens involved in burning down stores and neighboring houses, and about appearing on street corners and in church basements to preach the need for racial justice and the peaceful conditions required to effect those overdue reforms.
I was only thirteen years out of Denison when I was elected Mayor of Indianapolis. The liberal arts education that Denison gave me did not contain specific information on how to administer a city in crisis, quite apart from a city that was calm. Nevertheless, Denison prepared me for almost every person and event that I have confronted over a long and varied career in the military, in business, and in public service. That is the magic of this magnificent place that Char and I will love and cherish as long as we live.
It now seems strange to me that I cannot remember much strife in the Denison world of the early 1950s. I suspect that comforting isolation kept the world at a distance and led to pre-occupation with the wonderful people, studies, and events that were close to me.
At times, most of you probably experienced a similar sense of comforting isolation while on this campus. Yet during the past four years, you have witnessed historic and often tragic changes in the world. You have seen terrorists kill thousands of people in our country and destroy the World Trade Center and a part of the Pentagon. United States military personnel have conducted two difficult and costly wars in less than two years. You have sensed that the United States is trying to adjust to a new and very uncomfortable level of vulnerability.
These events, though distant from Granville, have fundamentally changed what it means to graduate from a prestigious American university. Even if you did not know anyone in the World Trade Center or anyone serving with U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, the prospects that your life will be insulated from world events has ended.
The experience of September 11, 2001, re-taught a grim lesson that our nation has periodically had to re-learn: trouble will find us whether we choose to be involved in the world or not. Because advances in transportation and communication have shrunk the world and because the United States is now universally regarded as the most powerful nation on Earth, this condition is inescapable.
The world is not benign if left alone. Eventually, any fight will find its way to the biggest kid on the block. An American decision to espouse isolationism would not cause terrorists to warn Americans away from their intended targets; nor would American disengagement cause foreign governments that perpetrate human rights abuses to promote social justice.
Our economic prosperity is tied to the prosperity of the rest of the industrialized world. Our environment is deeply affected by the practices of nations far beyond our continent and hemisphere. Even maintaining individual health, once the sole province of the family doctor, now depends also on international epidemiologists and globally marketed pharmaceuticals.
But the most serious incursion into the peace of our Midwestern lives is the potential intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is not just the security problem of our time. It is also the economic dilemma and the moral challenge of the coming age. On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the destructive potential of international terrorism. But the September 11 attacks do not come close to approximating the destruction that would be unleashed by a nuclear weapon. Weapons of mass destruction have made it possible for a small nation, or even a sub-national group, to kill as many innocent people in a day on our soil as national armies killed in months of fighting abroad during World War II.
Beyond the horrific loss of life, proposals to advance the standard of living throughout the world would be undercut by the uncertainty and fear that would follow a catastrophic terrorist attack. Investment would plummet, global equity markets would be depressed, the financial viability of transportation industries could collapse, real estate in major cities would lose value, and the exchange of people and ideas would be further encumbered.
The bottom line is this: for the foreseeable future, the United States and its allies will face an existential threat from the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Terrorist organizations have demonstrated suicidal tendencies and are beyond deterrence. We must anticipate that they will use weapons of mass destruction if allowed the opportunity. The minimum standard for victory in this war is the prevention of any of the individual terrorists or terrorist cells from obtaining weapons or materials of mass destruction.
Recently I published an article that outlined five campaigns that we must undertake to win the war on terrorism. I argued that the United States must improve diplomatic capabilities, enhance international trade, strengthen our alliances, support democracy and development worldwide, and expand our efforts to control weapons of mass destruction.
Each of the campaigns is essential. But I believe that the campaign to control weapons of mass destruction stands out as the most urgent. Terrorists armed with high explosives or firearms represent tremendous risk to society, but they do not constitute an existential threat. If we can control weapons of mass destruction — especially nuclear weapons — we can greatly reduce the risks of catastrophe.
The Cold War was an unconventional war, as is the war on terrorism. The irony of our situation today is that victory in the current war depends very much on cleaning up the remnants of the previous war. Even with incredibly effective campaigns to fundamentally change attitudes and political realities in the world, we cannot guarantee that terrorists will not strike. But we are not helpless. We can develop the international practices and norms that can almost guarantee that terrorists will not have access to nuclear weapons. In doing so, we can transform our world into a place that is more secure and more connected than it has ever been.
In an important article in The National Interest last Fall, Graham Allison and Andrei Kokoshin, former high-ranking Defense officials for the United States and Russia, respectively, made this very point. They wrote: "Though the world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials are vast, they are finite. The prerequisites for manufacturing fissile material are many and require the resources of a modern state. While challenging, a specific program of actions to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of the most dangerous groups is not beyond reach, if leaders give this objective highest priority and hold subordinates accountable for achieving this result."
As part of the global war against terrorism, the United States and its allies must establish a worldwide system of accountability for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In such a system, every nation that has weapons and materials of mass destruction must account for what it has, safely secure what it has, and demonstrate that no other nation or cell will be allowed access. If a nation lacks the means to do this, the international community must provide financial and technical assistance. This process will be expensive and painstaking, but international security and prosperity hang in the balance. We must commit the resources and political will required to preserve modern society and the futures of our children and grandchildren.
Some nations, after witnessing coalition military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq may decide to proceed along a co-operative path of accountability regarding their weapons and materials of mass destruction. But other states may decide to test the world's will and staying power. Vigorous and timely joint diplomacy by the United States and all cooperative nations would greatly increase the likelihood of peaceful outcomes. When nations resist such accountability and when all diplomatic and economic tools fail, however, the United States and other responsible nations cannot rule out the use of military force. While admitting this necessity, we should spare no effort to establish absolute accountability through peaceful means. In 1991, I joined with former Senator Sam Nunn to establish the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. This initiative brought Americans and Russians together to ensure the safety and destruction of the huge stockpile of weapons and materials of mass destruction left over from the former Soviet Union that were in jeopardy of theft or accidental use. The program has demonstrated over the last decade that extraordinary international relationships are possible to improve controls over weapons of mass destruction.
Working in concert, the United States and Russia have destroyed more than 6,000 nuclear warheads, any one of which could have destroyed a city the size of Indianapolis. In addition, we have dismantled hundreds of bombers, missiles, and submarines that were built to deliver nuclear weapons. The Nunn-Lugar Program is employing in peaceful pursuits tens of thousands of Russian weapons scientists who are no longer tempted to sell their knowledge. The program also has made progress toward protecting nuclear material, biological weapons laboratories, and chemical weapons stockpiles. Beyond statistics, the program has served as a bridge of communication and cooperation between the United States and Russia, even when other aspects of the relationship were in decline. It has improved military-to-military contacts and established greater transparency in areas that used to be the object of intense secrecy and suspicion.
Now we must not only accelerate weapons dismantlement in Russia, we must replicate our work with Russia in as many countries as possible and build a global coalition to support non-proliferation.
Many questions have been raised about the security of Pakistan's nuclear program and similar questions will be raised about India's. The exact status of Iraq's weapons and materials of mass destruction is still being investigated. North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya, and other nations present unique and difficult proliferation challenges. We cannot afford to be defeatist. Using the Cooperative Threat Reduction model, we should attempt to forge relationships to control weapons of mass destruction in previously reticent or hostile nations.
I believe that the United States has a window of opportunity to address proliferation threats around the world. We must make the safe storage, accountability, and destruction of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons a fundamental objective of American foreign policy.
Our power and status have conferred upon us a tremendous responsibility to humanity. If the world is to be secure and just and prosperous, the United States and individual Americans must devote themselves to international leadership. Among the graduates of 2003, many will devote their lives to furthering the idealism that embodies the United States. Some of you will choose the calling of diplomacy, politics, humanitarian work, or military service. You all must know as doctors and lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs, artists and economists, musicians and engineers, clergy and scientists that you can contribute greatly to achieving a more just and secure world.
This does not require conformity of thought or agreement with government policies. It does not require sacrifice of individual goals and dreams of family and material prosperity — though some may make those sacrifices. But it does require that each of you think beyond your immediate world and find within yourself the will to contribute. It does require that you understand how blessed you are to sit here today and how much our country will depend on you. And it does require you to understand that as we honor you as a graduate of one of the greatest universities in the most powerful nation on earth that you must have a global outlook and accept global responsibilities. I am convinced that the vast majority of American people believe that we have a moral responsibility to foster the concepts of opportunity, free enterprise, the rule of law, and democracy. I am confident that you will not be intimidated or defeated by those choosing terror and suicide. You will affirm the importance of the diploma you have earned today, growing in your ability to worship, to continue learning, to expand your capacity to love and to build a strong family. You will surely find excitement in serving others in a world without limits that now invites you to enter.