Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn.jpg
22nd United States National Security Advisor United States Senate Majority Leader
Assumed office
January 20, 2009
President John McCain
Deputy Thomas E. Donilon
Preceded by Stephen Hadley
United States Senator from Georgia United States Senate Majority Leader
In office
November 8, 1972 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by David H. Gambrell
Succeeded by Max Cleland
Chairman of the Armed Services Committee United States Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1986 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by Barry Goldwater
Succeeded by Strom Thurmond
Personal details
Nationality Flag of the United States American
Political party Democratslogo Democratic
Spouse(s) Colleen O'Brien Nunn
Children Michelle Nunn
Brian Nunn
Alma mater Georgia Tech
Emory University School of Law
Religion United Methodist
Military service
Service/branch United States Coast Guard
Years of service 1959-1968

Samuel Augustus Nunn, Jr. (born September 8, 1938) is the current National Security Advisor and American lawyer and politician. Currently the co-chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a charitable organization working to reduce the global threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Nunn served for 24 years as a United States Senator from Georgia (1972 until 1997) as a member of the Democratic Party. His political experience and credentials on national defense reportedly put him into consideration as a potential running mate for Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election. There was speculation that he could have been the running mate of Democratic candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Nunn has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Secretary Robert Gates in the Defense Department Position if Gates were to choose to step down in the future.

Early life

Nunn was born in Macon, Georgia and raised in nearby Perry, and he grew up with family connection to politics; he was a grandnephew of the Congressman Carl Vinson.

Nunn is an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. In high school, Nunn was a standout athlete, captaining the school's basketball team to a state championship.

Nunn attended Georgia Tech in 1956, where he was initiated as a brother of Phi Delta Theta. He transferred to Emory University the next year and received his undergraduate degree in 1960. He then received a degree from the Emory University School of Law in 1962. After active duty service in the United States Coast Guard, he served six years in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and served for a short time as a Congressional staffer.

Nunn returned to Perry to practice law and manage the family farm. Later, Nunn would serve as the president of the Perry Chamber of Commerce.

In 1989, it was reported that Nunn had a drunk driving accident in 1964. This report occurred during the hearings of ex-Senator John Tower to be confirmed for United States Secretary of Defense. Nunn was opposing Tower due to Tower's alleged drinking problems.

Political career

Nunn first entered politics as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives in 1968. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1972, defeating U.S. Sen. David H. Gambrell in the Democratic primary and U.S. Rep. Fletcher Thompson in the general election. Nunn retired from the Senate in 1996, offering a lack of "zest and enthusiasm" as justification, though analysts have offered the Democratic party's perceived shift to the left as a major factor.

During his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Nunn served as chairman of the powerful U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He also served on the Intelligence and Small Business Committees. His legislative achievements include the landmark Department of Defense Reorganization Act, drafted with the late Senator Barry Goldwater, and the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which provides assistance to Russia and the former Soviet republics for securing and destroying their excess nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. To date, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program has deactivated more than 5,900 nuclear warheads. He was supposedly a top choice to be Secretary of Defense or State in 1992 and 1996 and in a prospective Gore cabinet in 2000.

In 1991, Nunn, along with Senators Edward Kennedy, Bill Bradley, Carl Levin, sent letters to President Gorbachev requesting further information about the shooting down on Sept. 1. 1983 by the Soviets. KAL 007 had been carrying 269 passemgers and crew, among the 61 Americans and a sitting member of Congress, Democratic representative from Georgia, Larry McDonald.

Overall, Nunn was a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who often broke with his party on a host of social and economic issues. He strongly opposed the budget bill of 1993, which included provisions to raise taxes in order to reduce the budget deficit. Nunn also opposed President Bill Clinton's proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the military. In 2008, Nunn endorsed a new Pentagon study to examine the issue of gays serving openly in the military: “I think [when] 15 years go by on any personnel policy, it’s appropriate to take another look at it — see how it’s working, ask the hard questions, hear from the military. Start with a Pentagon study.”

He voted in favor of school prayer, capping punitive damage awards, amending the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget, and limiting death penalty appeals. On certain issues like abortion, the environment, gun control, and affirmative action, Nunn took a more liberal line. He consistently voted in favor of increased immigration. One of his most controversial votes was his vote against the Gulf War.

In September 1994, Sam Nunn, former President Jimmy Carter and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell were asked by President Bill Clinton to go to Haiti in order to force the departure of the military dictator Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras. In 1994 Clinton publicly demanded that the Haitian government step aside and restore democratic rule. Clinton deployed a large military force to surround the country in September 1994. Just before the troops reached Haiti, Clinton sent a delegation led by Carter, Nunn and Powell to urge Cédras to step down and leave the country. Cédras agreed and surrendered the government, and he and his top lieutenants left the country in October. Just days later, American forces escorted the country’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, into the capital. Afterwards, Clinton lavished praise on Nunn's delegation for averting a military strike on the nation. "As all of you know, at my request, President Carter, Gen. Colin Powell, and Sen. Sam Nunn went to Haiti to facilitate the dictators' departure. I have been in constant contact with them for the last two days. They have worked tirelessly, almost around the clock, and I want to thank them for undertaking this crucial mission on behalf of all Americans," Clinton said.

Upon his exit from the Senate, Nunn was the recipient of bipartisan praise from his colleagues. Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia concluded, "Senator Nunn quickly established himself as one of the leading experts in the Congress and, indeed, all of the United States on national security and foreign policy. He gained a reputation in our country and, indeed, worldwide as a global thinker, and that is where I think he will make his greatest contribution in the years to come, wherever he may be, in terms of being a global thinker. His approach to national security issues has been guided by one fundamental criteria: What Sam Nunn believes is in the best interest of the United States of America."

Post-Congressional career

In addition to his work with NTI, Nunn has continued his service in the public policy arena as a distinguished professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. There, he hosts the annual Sam Nunn Policy Forum, a policy meeting that brings together noted academic, government, and private-sector experts on technology, public policy, and international affairs to address issues of immediate importance to the nation.

Additionally, Nunn serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. At CSIS Nunn and former Senator and United States Secretary of Defense William Cohen have joined together for a series of public roundtable discussions designed to focus Americans on the seminal issues that the United States must face. The Cohen-Nunn Dialogues plan to feature top thought leaders, public policy experts, prominent journalists, and leading scholars. The purpose of this series is not to replace the current presidential campaign debate, but to supplement it.

Nunn also is a retired partner in the law firm of King & Spalding. He is an Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy.

He is a board member of the following publicly held corporations: Chevron Corporation, the Coca-Cola Company, Dell Computer Corporation, General Electric Company.

Senator Nunn's membership in Augusta National Golf Club became the focus of a campaign by women seeking membership in the exclusive all-male club in 2002. The club had admitted its first African-American member in 1990, but was still closed to women. The Club chose to air the Masters without commercials rather than succumb to the pressure to open admissions to women.

In 2005, Nunn teamed up with former Senator Fred Thompson to promote a new film, Last Best Chance, on the dangers of excess nuclear weapons and materials. The film aired on HBO in October 2005. He gave a full presentation outlining his goals at the Commonwealth Club of California. In the broadcast, subtle comparisons are made between Nunn's career as elder statesman and that of Jimmy Carter, noting that they are both from Georgia and both were farmers before launching their political careers.

Nunn -- along with William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and George Shultz -- has called upon governments to embrace the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, and in two Wall Street Journal opeds proposed an ambitious program of urgent steps to that end. Nunn reinforced that agenda during a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Oct. 21, 2008, saying, "I’m much more concerned about a terrorist without a return address that cannot be deterred than I am about deliberate war between nuclear powers. You can’t deter a group who is willing to commit suicide. We are in a different era. You have to understand the world has changed.

Personal life

Nunn is married to the former Colleen O'Brien and has two children, Michelle and Brian. Nunn met his future wife at the U.S. Embassy in Paris while she was working as a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In 1987, Chrysler Corporation came under scrutiny for selling new vehicles which were driven by company executives before the odometers were connected. Lee Iacocca, Chrysler's CEO, didn't think too much of the scandal at the time, until Sam Nunn spoke with him about his own recently purchased Chrysler Fifth Avenue. Within days after meeting with Mr. Nunn, Iacocca launched a detailed investigation into the claims, and extended warranties - and apologies - to numerous current Chrysler owners.

Multiple nominations for Nobel Peace Prize

Along with Republican Senator Richard Lugar, co-author of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction, Nunn's work to "strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons," has resulted in at least three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, 2002 and 2005.

In 2008 he received the Hessian Peace Prize for his commitment on nuclear disarmament and for combating nuclear terrorism.

Speculation of 2008 presidential or vice-presidential candidacy

On August 19, 2007 Nunn said he would not decide on a presidential bid until after the 2008 primary season, when presumptive nominees by both parties would emerge. However, speculation over a Nunn White House bid ended on April 18, 2008, when he endorsed Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama.

Despite having publicly declared his lack of interest in being a candidate for vice president, Nunn continued to be mentioned by some political pundits and politicians as a potential running mate for Obama.

In an interview published June 4, 2008 by the Guardian, former President Jimmy Carter said that he favored Nunn, a fellow Georgian, as Obama's possible choice for Vice President. Peggy Noonan, a columnist and former Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush speechwriter also expressed her support for Nunn.

In an interview with CNBC on August 22, 2008, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said that he favored Nunn as Obama's choice for Vice President.

After Senator Joe Biden was selected as Obama's running mate, speculation began to swirl that Nunn could be a possible Secretary of Defense in an Obama administration, given Nunn and Obama's shared goal of securing loose nuclear weapons.

McCain Administration

National Securty Advisor


Throughout the presidential election of 2008, many rumours swirrled that Nunn would be either involved in a Obama or McCain Administration. On December 1, 2008 then-President-elect McCain announced Nunn as his selection for National Security Advisor. The National Security Advisor is appointed by the President without confirmation by the United States Senate. McCain said that:

... his [Nunn] position as a a leading expert in the United States Congress, in fact all of the United States on national security and foreign policy. His reputation as a global thinker will be one of my Administration's greatest assets on national security and foreign policy matters for the years to come.

The pick was met with surprise and praise from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, calling it a wise appointment, and would be the second high-profile Democrat in McCain's administration on foreign policy matters.


Nunn assumed the post when McCain was sworn into office on January 20, 2009.

In Februrary 2009, Nunn toured Asia, visiting countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Korea and Japan, a move which earned him the nickname "Other Secretary of State". Throughout 2009, he has been present at McCain's war councils along with Secretary of State Joe Lieberman, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, head of CENTCOM General James Mattis, commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, General David Petraeus and United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Zalmay Khalilzad. He would also work closely with President McCain on reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to prevent further nuclear proliferation.

There has been some speculation that if Secretary Robert Gates were to step down in the future that Nunn could be a possible replacement for the post as Secretary of Defense.

See also

Offices held

Legal offices
Logo of the United States White House Preceded by:
Stephen Hadley

United States National Security Advisor
Since January 20, 2009

United States Senate
Seal Of the Unites States Senate Preceded by:
David H. Gambrell

United States Senator (Class 2) from Georgia
1972 – 1997
Served alongside: Herman E. Talmadge, Mack F. Mattingly, Wyche Fowler, Jr., Paul Coverdell

Succeeded by:
Max Cleland
Preceded by:
Barry Goldwater

Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee
1987 – 1995

Succeeded by:
Strom Thurmond
R-South Carolina
Party political offices
Democratslogo Preceded by:
Chuck Robb

Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council
1988 – 1990

Succeeded by:
Bill Clinton

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