George Bunn believed that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II saved his life. Yet that same event drove him to become an arms control negotiator who helped draft the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, which limited the spread of nuclear weapons.
A consulting professor at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) for two decades, Bunn died April 21 at his home in Palo Alto from spinal cancer. He was 87.
Bunn was on a Navy ship headed for Japan in 1945 when the atomic bombs fell. With the war over, he returned to the United States to begin graduate work in physics. Around this time, his father gave him a copy of the Acheson-Lilienthal report, which argued that the only solution to the nuclear problem was to establish an international agency to control all nuclear activities. "Seeing the destruction of World War II, envisioning the destruction that could be caused by a war fought with nuclear weapons and having the vision of global nuclear control laid out by Acheson-Lilienthal made him think that's what he wanted to devote his career to," explains his son Matthew, a nuclear nonproliferation scholar at Harvard.
Bunn understood that controlling the bomb would require treaties, and negotiating treaties would require lawyers. He dropped physics and enrolled in law school at Columbia University. From 1961 to 1969 Bunn was the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where he played a key role in drafting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He later served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Geneva Disarmament Conference and taught at the U.S. Naval War College and the University of Wisconsin Law School, becoming dean in 1972.
Active in Democratic Party politics—he was an Adlai Stevenson delegate in the 1960 Democratic convention—Bunn also worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and drafted the order that desegregated all AEC facilities.
In 1986, Bunn joined CISAC as a consulting professor, lecturing and continuing his research into arms control. He published extensively and co-edited U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Confronting Today's Threats with Christopher Chyba, a professor of international affairs at Princeton who worked with Bunn as a former CISAC co-director.
Bunn was predeceased by his former wives, Fralia Hancock and Anne Coolidge. He is survived by his children from his first marriage, Matthew, Peter and Jessie; and two granddaughters.
Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.