Lately, international arms control has looked like a cause fast falling out of fashion. Memories of the cold war are fading, the population thinks about nuclear danger less, and, in the United States, the new administration of George W. Bush expresses more interest in missile defence systems than in arms control agreements.
So those who see arms control as a matter of critical importance have reacted with enthusiasm to last week's announcement by Ted Turner, the wealthy founder of the CNN television network, that he will sponsor a major new arms control institute to the tune of $250 million over five years.
The non-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative will be devoted to reducing the threat of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction, Turner says.
He convinced former Senator Sam Nunn to become vice-chairman of the organization. Nunn, a Democrat who represented Georgia, in turn enlisted two prominent Republican senators, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Pete Domenici of New Mexico, to serve on the initiative's board.
Turner says that the new organization's mission is “even more urgent now as the nuclear threat seems to have fallen off most people's radar screens since the cold war ended”.
Nunn and Charles Curtis, a highly regarded former deputy secretary of energy who will be the organization's chief operating officer, have already met with defence ministers in Britain and France to win support for their work.
The new organization does not plan to duplicate existing government programmes, or provide grants directly to research in arms control. Instead, it will seek to raise public consciousness and understanding of the problems and to gain government support for arms control initiatives. “We intend to be a catalyst in education and to encourage change in reducing pressure on the nuclear trigger,” Curtis says.
One of the organization's priorities will be to support educational activities through universities, non-governmental groups and government agencies.
In an interview, Curtis emphasized the need to invigorate scholarship in arms control. “There has been a steady decline in arms control as a career path,” he says. Stanford University in California and Harvard still teach arms control, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has abandoned its programme.