Sec. Carter, who hosted the ceremony in the Pentagon auditorium, was also present at the creation of the Nunn-Lugar program. As a young Harvard professor, he presented a white paper to a group of Senators convened by Lugar and Nunn on the perilous conditions in the disintegrating Soviet Union in late 1991, which convinced the lawmakers to back the legislation. Later, as a Pentagon official, he helped implement the program.

In their remarks, Lugar, Nunn and Carter recalled how in 1991, the Soviet Union was rapidly coming apart under the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, who barely survived a coup attempt in August of that year. Soldiers were deserting, scientists weren’t getting paid and there were growing fears that nuclear weapons or fissile material would be sold to terrorists or rogue states. It became clear that “deterrence alone would not protect us,” Carter told the 100 guests at the ceremony.

Lugar and Nunn recounted the difficulties they had in getting the legislation passed, then getting it funded, and the extensive personal diplomacy needed to persuade Kazakhstan and Ukraine, as well as Belarus, to give up the large nuclear arsenals they had inherited after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Over the years, the program has deactivated more than 7,600 nuclear warheads and destroyed more than 2,500 nuclear-tipped missiles. It has also destroyed more than 4,000 tons of chemical weapons agents and secured more than 50 biological weapons sites and labs.             

At the ceremony, five former Pentagon officials were given the first annual Nunn-Lugar Trailblazer Awards: Dr. Gloria Duffy, Laura Holgate, Dr. Susan Koch, Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall, and Jane Wales.  Carter praised them as the working-level officials in the Defense Department responsible for getting the program off the ground and implementing its novel provisions.

Carter also announced that the Secretary of Defense’s conference room, reserved for high-level meetings, such as when the president comes to the Pentagon, has been renamed the Nunn-Lugar Conference Room. He said he hoped it would inspire the same kind of “visionary statesmanship” that led Lugar and Nunn to create the Nunn-Lugar program.

See photos from the event here.

Watch the event here.