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December 5, 2012

OUR VIEW: Lugar helped to create safer world

The U.S. Department of Defense honored U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn this week with its Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Pentagon’s highest civilian honor.

The award recognizes two decades of efforts to help the former Soviet Union secure its stockpiles of weapons, and it underlines the hope that the work will continue in spite of Lugar’s approaching departure from the U.S. Senate.

“We cannot let our guard down,” President Barack Obama said during a speech at the National Defense University in Washington.

Calling efforts to fight nuclear terrorism one of his top priorities as president, Obama praised the 20-year-old Cooperative Threat Reduction program that has provided billions of dollars in equipment and know-how to help former Soviet bloc nations safeguard and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons.

Obama cited the “extraordinary progress” that’s been made in securing nuclear materials and thanked the Democrat Nunn and Republican Lugar for their leadership. He called the two men “visionaries” who “challenged us to think anew” about ways to secure nuclear stockpiles produced during the Cold War. He called the two models for bipartisan cooperation, who showed great integrity, decency and leadership over their long careers.

The program helped to deactivate more than 7,600 nuclear warheads. The program Nunn and Lugar created played a major role in preventing deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands while the Russian government was facing a severe money crunch amid an economic meltdown and political turmoil that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The program is set to expire this spring, and Russia has said it will not be extended without a major overhaul. Obama expressed a willingness to do that.

“Let’s update it,” he said. “Let’s work with Russia as an equal partner. Let’s continue the work that is so important.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta presented the award, heaping praise on his former congressional colleagues.

“We can say that the course of history changed for the better because these two men helped the nation confront the threat of nuclear proliferation at the end of the Cold War,” Panetta said. “The world would have been, without question, a far more dangerous and threatening place were it not for these two patriots.”

Nunn and Lugar represent the kind of bipartisan cooperation that is so hard to find in today’s political environment. Their work should be celebrated. It should also be imitated.

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