What Richard Lugar Accomplished for U.S. Foreign Policy

The Republican senator, just voted out of office after 36 years, helped shape a number of crucial policies, including a program that removed nuclear weapons from three countries.

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Senator Richard Lugar, right, and the chief of Russia's Federal Munitions Agency Zinovy Pak toast each other during a visit to chemical weapons destruction site in the Ural Mountains in this 2002 photo. / AP

While Republican primary voters in Indiana treated Richard Lugar harshly this week, history is likely to view him far more generously.

Richard Lugar entered the Senate in January of 1977 as an ambitious politician and has achieved the status of a statesman. He has been perhaps the most influential U.S. senator in the realm of foreign policy since Scoop Jackson. Soft-spoken, deliberate and steady, Lugar has worked for nearly 36 years with presidents and lawmakers from both parties to solve difficult problems. In the realm of foreign policy, the two-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has many major accomplishments: promoting arms control, containing nuclear proliferation, trying to fashion coherent American energy policies, confronting the global food crisis and generally greasing the machinery of U.S. foreign policy.

Disarmament's Brand Name

There is little doubt that Lugar's central legislative accomplishment is the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act. Working with Democratic senator Sam Nunn, he developed a plan to begin securing and then dismantling weapons of mass destruction in the Soviet Union as it was collapsing in 1991. Facing an indifferent administration and opposition from many in Congress, the two senators were able to cobble together a modest program that was acceptable to President George H.W. Bush and legislators.

Nunn-Lugar, which has grown over twenty years, provides U.S. funding and expertise to help the countries of the former Soviet Union (and now other nations) safeguard and dismantle their stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, related materials and delivery systems. Among other things, the program helped achieve the removal of all strategic nuclear warheads from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Lugar proudly observes that the program has eliminated more nuclear weapons than the combined arsenals of France, China and the United Kingdom.

While Nunn played a central role in developing the program, he retired from the Senate in January of 1997. Since then, Lugar has been the program's chief advocate on Capitol Hill. He has kept it going and even expanded it. Many serious analysts describe the program as a major achievement, worthy of being referred to in the same breath as the Marshall Plan. Nunn and Lugar even were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lugar also played a major role in helping secure Senate approval of important arms-control treaties over the last several decades, including the START treaties, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement, and the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

Always Out Front

In 1986, Lugar's leadership on legislation that imposed economic and political sanctions on South Africa marked a turning point in the U.S. response to apartheid and represents one of Lugar's finest moments in the Senate. He helped persuade the Reagan administration to embrace a more forceful role in opposing apartheid. That same year, he also helped persuade the Reagan administration to recognize Corazon Aquino as the winner of the disputed presidential election in the Philippines against incumbent Ferdinand Marcos.

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John T. Shaw is a vice president and congressional correspondent for Market News International. He is the author of Richard G. Lugar: Statesman of the Senate: Crafting Foreign Policy From Capitol Hill, recently released by Indiana University Press.

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