Thought Leader: Richard Lugar

October 3, 2012

As part of the Carnegie Council Centennial Thought Leaders Forum, Carnegie Council's David Speedie spoke with Richard Lugar, a former Republican Senator from Indiana. First elected to the Senate in 1976, he is the longest-serving Senator in Indiana's history and the longest-tenured Republican member of the Senate. He is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I know that your early childhood memory of being a Boy Scout—and reaching great heights, by the way, in that movementyou’ve always held positions where, it seems to me, that ethics matter, whether it be the code of conduct of a Boy Scout, a member of the U.S. Senate.

What does moral leadership mean to you personally?  What do you understand by moral leadership?

RICHARD LUGAR: It's informed by my faith. I'm a member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, a founding member, with our family, of the church. But from boyhood, Sunday school, church every Sunday, the oratorical contests, people suggesting, "You ought to go into the ministry," and so forth. Whether I ever should have or not, I took seriously discussions and studies in theology. I come from a standpoint that this is my faith. This is what I believe I ought to be doing on behalf of my family and the people around me and the world, for that matter. It has, I think, been the right course.

This is always more difficult in political situations or dealing with other countries or other regimes and other faiths, for that matter. I think, even if you have strong convictions, you always need to be a good listener. You always need to be looking for avenues that are going to bring some hope, some progress to a great number of people.

I have found that one avenue has been in what I would say is sort of the "feeding of the world" movement, trying to think through, from my background in agriculture and managing a 604-acre farm for my family for years since my dad died 50 years agowe have corn, soybeans, and hardwood trees. It’s close to Indianapolis, downtown. People come to celebrate Earth Day and all sorts of things there.

We began to talk about how do you move, as we have on that farm, from 40 bushels to the acre for a corn crop to about 170 nowso in my lifetime, a fourfold increase on the same land. A critical problem for African states and some Middle Eastern situationshuge debates over genetically modified seed, for example, with purists sometimes in European capitals saying, "We don't want any part of this seed. It would, as a matter of fact, poison our citizens and maybe the ground," and so forth.

Yet everyone welcomed the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, the fact that the Chinese finally had a chance to eat and exist. My dad predicted that that wasn't going to be the case, that there would always be a need for our farm because the folks in China would never figure out how to do it. But they did.

But even now, a huge debate aroundit's an ethical and moral question, although I don't claim each one of us is perfectly right on each seed. But the fact that we want to make sure that everybody on the earth, at a time when we are exploding in population, exploding in demands on our food situation, has an opportunity to eat is very important.

This moves right along, it seems to me, with weapons of mass destruction. On the one hand, we are trying to contain an existential disaster, on the other hand, in a positive way, figure out how the corn, the beans, the wheat, other things can get to people and how they can learn how to grow it. I applaud the Gates Foundation and USAID [United States Agency for International Development], doing some great things. But these are small efforts, relatively, to what has to happen on this earth.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Two other quick things. One you have just led into, and that is the question of a global ethic. I think obviously we're in a situation where there is a recognition that there is at least a moral minimum of how we conduct ourselves as a planetary species, as it were, a concern for the planet, everything from climate change to feeding people in Africa and elsewherein sub-Saharan Africa. Is this how you see the global ethic? Is this a global code of conduct, whether it be seeing adequate provisions for people, protecting them from nuclear annihilation? Is this how you might approach the idea of a global ethic?

RICHARD LUGAR: I do approach it in a positive way, that we ought to be thinking about nutrition for every human being, keeping people alive so they have a chance to learn and to be productive. I couple this with an intense interest in energy development of all sorts, energy that makes it possible for people really to have lights or heatin other words, having gotten some food for people, then to try to help them stay alive, given the elements and the changes of weather and climate in this world.

How to do this, thinking about CO2 and the atmosphere and the whole quest for a situation in which—climate change, I think, is apparent. How it all bobs up is still a mystery to most of us. But the fact is that we are all going to affect each other's lives in the various ways that we handle the food problem and the energy problem.

So even as, in a humane way, we're attempting to provide these basic elements of life, we have to be sophisticated enough to understand the science and the political judgments, therefore, that have to be made, which are very tough for countries, which have various different ways of going about things and are not really prepared to compromise any more than Republicans and Democrats are on the Senate floor.

DAVID SPEEDIE: That bad, huh?

RICHARD LUGAR: Nonetheless, it's that kind of a quest. So there are many opportunities, and you try to move where you find them and then set good examples of how things might change constructively and press on with others to make the argument.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Final question. We are, after all, the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, set up by Andrew Carnegie, as I mentioned earlier, almost 100 years ago, along with Carnegie Corporation, which is where you and I first met, of course,and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. All of these institutions are celebrating a centennial either now or in the coming year or so. They all had, of course, a mission to promote global peace.

Andrew Carnegie was optimistic in this regard, a little bit like you. He didn’t think it would happen today or tomorrow, but he thought it was certainly worth the effort and the effort would prevail. In fact, in setting up the Endowment, I think he made it part of the articles of incorporation, as it were, that when this has been achieved, you may move on and apply resources elsewhere. Of course, we're all still in business.

Is world peace possible? Carnegie envisioned this 100 years ago. Looking 100 years from now, or 50 or whatever, do you see the chance of a peaceful world?

RICHARD LUGAR: I do. I think we really have made considerable advances from the time I described when the Soviet Union broke up, for example. Whether people in the United States or the Soviet Union were acquainted with the destruction that might face them imminently, that was the case.

We have moved, thank goodness, well beyond that. We have moved away from nuclear annihilation, mutually assured destruction. Whatever may be the battles going on in the world nowand they are numbersthese are reasonably small and manageable in comparison to total annihilation of the United States and the Soviet Union that we faced, whether we understood it or not. I think we do in perspective.

And I don't want to diminish for a moment Arab Spring or winding down the Afghanistan exercise or the South China Sea presently or a good number of things where there are people who are in arguments. But at the same time, these are within the realm of being solved, or at least contained. We need to be assiduous in our solutions.

DAVID SPEEDIE: On that uplifting note, thank you, Senate Lugar. It has been a great pleasure and privilege.

RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you, David.

For a longer version of this interview, click here