Michael KreponGeorge Bunn

George Bunn, a gentle spirit with a fixed resolve to help make the world less hospitable to nuclear weapons, died on Sunday. In an earlier post, I referred to George as a norm builder — one facet of a life well-lived. Some of the others can be found in this obituary released by Stanford University:

George Bunn, one of the world’s most revered advocates for a world without nuclear weapons and a consulting professor at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation for two decades, has died.

“Negotiator of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, professor at Stanford, world traveler, mentor to many young people fighting the good fight for a world without nuclear weapons – and my father,” said his daughter, Jessie Bunn. “Let’s remember him with love and funny stories.”

A memorial service will be held this summer in Palo Alto, where Bunn still played his flute and sang in the church choir, and home to Stanford University, where he could be seen riding his bike to his office in Encina Hall well into his 80s.

His family said Bunn, 87, died of spinal cancer on Sunday.

Bunn studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and joined the Navy toward the end of World War II. In 1945, Ensign Bunn joined the crew of the USS Logan, a Navy troop transport ship bound for the invasion of Japan. The atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented that tour.

“As he was to have been part of the force to invade Japan, he was convinced that the atomic bomb saved his life – yet he devoted most of the rest of his life to the effort to bring the fearsome power of nuclear weapons under international control,” said his son, Matthew Bunn, himself a nuclear nonproliferation scholar at Harvard’s Belfer Center.

Bunn was a leading figure in the early days of nuclear arms control in the 1960s. During the Kennedy administration, he drafted the legislation that created the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and became the agency’s first general counsel.

He is best known for having helped negotiate the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the landmark international compact that helped to curtail the use of nuclear weapons worldwide… Bunn later became U.S. ambassador to the Geneva Disarmament Conference, and taught as the U.S. Naval War College and the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he also served as dean.


  1. Eric Croddy (History)

    I met George Bunn a couple of times many years back. One of the nicest, most pleasant souls I’ve ever encountered. While sad of course that he has left us, I am consoled by what an extraordinary life he lived.

  2. Magoo (History)

    I had the pleasure and honour of meeting George in 1995 during the month long NPT Extension Conference. As I learnt during our numerous exchanges he was a thorough gentleman and intellectual giant, who diligently guided me – and others – through the intricacies of the history and evolution of the disarmament movement in general and the NPT in particular.
    In particular he enlightened me on the intricate negotiations to rope Germany and the Soviet Union onto the NPT, and the part he played to iron out the bumps caused by the: 1958 Technical Cooperation Agreement between the US and UK; and the problem of Soviet Nuclear deployments in the Warsaw Pact states and Western Europe. This was brought about by secret bilateral agreements that actually violated Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT by accepting the deployment of US & Soviet nuclear weapons on the territories of the Non-Nuclear Weapon states (NNWS) in Europe and technical cooperation for development of nuclear arsenal between the UK and the US – both Nuclear Weapon States.
    George actually negotiated these additional agreements making him party to the fraud foisted on the NNWS party to the NPT.
    In our part of the world we have a saying (translation) “Having killed 900 mice the cat goes to Hajj for atonement”, that fits the likes of George perfectly. Having built the plinth and pillars of the nuclear weapons systems and structure he converted to “fighting the good fight for a world without nuclear weapons”.

  3. willaim sprecher (History)

    I worked for ACDA between 1964-1967 as a junior analyst. Both George Bunn and Thomas Graham, Jr. advocated major reductions in nuclear weapons. An unclassified report I wrote that was published in 1966 by ACDA was sent to our Geneva, Switzerland arms control delegation at the behest of our representatives. Those conferences set the stage for real nuclear arms control.


    William M. Sprecher
    Leesburg, Virginia 20176

  4. Bradley Laing (History)


    —I know this has nothing to do with George Bunn, but I felt that this would be the easiest way to inform you about the book title.


    Friendly Fire: Nuclear Politics and the Collapse of Anzus 1984-1987 by Gerald Hensley. (AUP, $45)

    It was a bit of a surprise because this was the very thing we were refusing to do for the Americans,” Hensley told the Weekend Herald. “And had we given the Americans that right, of course we’d have been like Denmark and the others and visits would have continued.

    “She on the whole didn’t respond, but he said ‘well, New Zealanders see the British as different from the Americans and we wouldn’t dream of asking the British what they had on board’.”

    Lange’s relationship with Thatcher could have got off to a worse start were it not for Bruce Brown, the deputy High Commissioner in London at the time of the Prime Minister’s speech at the Oxford Union debate about nuclear weapons. According to Hensley’s research, Brown not only removed some potentially offensive references out of the speech that Margaret Pope had drafted, but he removed some ad-libbed comments from a transcript prepared for Thatcher ahead of a subsequent meeting with Lange.

  5. Geoff Forden (History)

    As many people have remembered, George Bunn was a great statesman and scholar. To me, he was an important mentor and friend while I was a science fellow at Stanford’s CISAC. He always had the time to chat about what I was doing and always interested, even if I was working on something far from his primary interest. I cannot tell you how important that was to someone just starting out. The world is a lesser place without him.

  6. krepon (History)

    Some of the most effective proponents of nuclear arms control and disarmament were headed for Japan when the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II. Two who immediately come to mind, besides George, were Senators Mark Hatfield and Dale Bumpers.

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