Walking in the Shadow of a Statesman

By Kenneth Myers

The life of most congressional staffers is not a glamorous one. Countless hours are spent answering phones, responding to constituent correspondence and watching C-SPAN.  For a lucky few, the job is a series of-life transforming events that provide an opportunity to learn from some of the country’s great leaders and statesmen. I was very fortunate and forever grateful to have been one of those who had a front-row seat to history.

As a member of Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) staff for 15 years, I had the honor to support his vision and make important contributions to national security.  Sen. Lugar was a foreign policy maven and the E.F. Hutton of the Senate. His counsel was sought by Cabinet officials, presidents of both parties, leaders of foreign countries and international organizations.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, many in the West were focused on a peace dividend from the end of the Cold War. Sen. Lugar reached a different conclusion. He believed we were no longer threatened by the Soviet military strength, but by its weakness and failure to control the very weapons of mass destruction that had threatened the American people for decades.

In 1991, Sen. Lugar worked with Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat, to produce bipartisan legislation to address this threat. They convinced President George H. W. Bush and every administration since to support the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and address threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What followed was a staggering foreign policy success story.  

The Nunn-Lugar program removed all the nuclear weapons inherited by Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. The program eliminated more than 7,600 nuclear warheads, more than the combined arsenals of France, Britain and China. It also destroyed 3,000 missiles, 33 nuclear submarines, 155 strategic bombers and 1.5 million chemical weapons.

The program evolved over the years to address newly emerging threats around the world. Nunn-Lugar played a critical role in responding to the Ebola outbreak in Africa and the Syrian and Libyan chemical weapons crises; reducing threats from foreign laboratories housing dangerous pathogens; and assisting nations in intercepting weapons that cross their borders and other proliferation pathways. The senator entrusted me to monitor the program’s activities, identify ways to improve and expand the program, and defend it from its critics.

For nearly 25 years, Sen. Lugar traveled the world to convince allies and former enemies to cooperatively reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction.  I watched him visit weapons facilities, meet with foreign presidents, cabinet ministers, and military leaders, and secure diplomatic breakthroughs. Sen. Lugar’s vision and dedication inspired a generation of defense experts to dedicate their lives to creating a world safe from weapons of mass destruction proliferation. His efforts were recognized with four Nobel Peace Prize nominations and the Presidential Medal of Honor.

The senator was instrumental in my being appointed director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in 2009. I proudly served until 2016. DTRA is a defense and combat support agency that supports the Department of Defense and the U.S. government in combatting threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and ensuring nuclear deterrence. It is also DTRA’s responsibility to implement the Nunn-Lugar program and oversee the weapons dismantlement, material security and proliferation prevention programs.

When I joined PAE, I considered us a natural fit to win a seat on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program’s IDIQ contract. We deliver outstanding results in the most difficult of environments around the world.  When PAE responded to the Ebola crisis in Africa, we worked closely with the Nunn-Lugar program, and our border security work in North Africa is crucial to stopping proliferation. PAE’s people, experience, commitment and singular focus continue Sen. Lugar’s vision of reducing threats to our country as far from American shores as possible.

PAE recently became the first new Nunn-Lugar contract performer in over two decades and just last month, we were awarded our first task order. Today, PAE shares the pleasure and responsibility of executing the Nunn-Lugar program.  

On Sunday, April 28, Sen. Lugar died after a short illness. In the days since, hundreds of Americans and foreign leaders have expressed their condolences and sorrow in losing this diplomatic giant. The world will miss his intellect, vision, patient diplomacy and the positive impact he had on international security.

While the senator may no longer be with us, his lessons will carry on in those who had the chance to work with and be influenced by him. I am confident PAE will make Sen. Lugar proud in our execution of the Nunn-Lugar vision.

Kenneth Myers is PAE's Client Executive, Defense and Security