The U.S. Institute of Peace is deeply saddened by the loss of former Senator John Warner, a military veteran and leader renowned for his willingness to seek peace both globally and across the aisle. Warner served in World War II, the Korean War and went on to serve as undersecretary and secretary of the U.S. Navy before entering politics and becoming the second longest-serving U.S. senator in Virginia’s history.

John Warner

“Senator Warner leaves behind an inspiring legacy of bipartisanship and distinguished public service,” said Lise Grande, the president and CEO of USIP. “The Institute remains deeply grateful for his longtime support of our mission and the countless contributions he made to peace and security.” 

On the Forefront of U.S.-Soviet Diplomacy and Détente

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1927, Warner joined the Navy shortly after graduating high school and served during the tail end of WWII. He eventually completed his undergraduate degree at Washington and Lee University and began law school — but left to join the Marines and serve in the Korean War, eventually returning to complete his law degree. His military service would come to profoundly shape his political views and his fervent desire to foster peace.

Warner was appointed undersecretary of the Navy in 1969 by President Richard Nixon and subsequently became secretary of the Navy in 1972. During his six years in these posts, Warner helped make unparalleled contributions to global security during a dangerous and uncertain period of the Cold War. Warner chaired the U.S. delegation tasked with conducting a series of historic talks with the Soviet Union, which culminated in the U.S.-USSR Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) at the 1972 Moscow Summit. INCSEA proved notably successful at maintaining peace and preventing conflict at sea between the two world powers — with the agreement still in place today, 49 years later, between the United States and Russian Federation.  

First elected to the Senate in 1978, Warner quickly developed a reputation for independence and pragmatism. Among Warner’s many remarkable bipartisan endeavors during his distinguished 30 years in the Senate was launching the Congressional Working Group on Nuclear Risk Reduction alongside Senator Sam Nunn. In 1982, the group proposed the formation of “crisis control centers” in the United States and Soviet Union to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. These proposed centers would exchange information on ballistic missile launches, nuclear accidents or incidents at sea. The discussions initiated a joint experts’ study group between the United States and USSR, which subsequently led to the signing of the 1987 agreement establishing nuclear risk reduction centers in Washington and Moscow.

Peace and Dialogue in Politics

Warner eventually became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he drew on his military experience to shape defense and foreign policy and emphasized efforts to avert the spread of violent conflict and pursue paths of peaceful resolution.

In 2006, as the U.S. military was involved in the Iraq war, Warner played a key role in supporting Representative Frank Wolf’s efforts to put together the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), which was facilitated by USIP at the urging of Congress. Later that year, USIP published the ISG’s comprehensive report on the situation in Iraq and its implications for the United States and the Middle East. The report had a profound effect on the national dialogue regarding the Iraq War.

“Over the course of his 30 years in the Senate, Senator Warner emerged as an important leader on a number of critical U.S. priorities, from building consensus on matters of foreign policy and the military to advocating for action on climate change,” said Ambassador George Moose, the vice chair of USIP’s board. “Above all, he represented America’s highest ideals and most important values.” 

Toward the end of his political career, Warner reached across the aisle yet again to co-sponsor the 2007 Climate Security Act with Senator Joe Lieberman. While not enacted, the bill sought to create a national cap-and-trade scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a 2009 interview with the American Security Project, Warner drew attention to how climate change was quickly becoming a threat to peace and stability around the world. He said during his time as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, “More and more [retired military] people would say to me, ‘We’ve got to take a look at this climate change. If it continues as it is and worsens, we’re going to be called on in more incidents to provide troops for humanitarian causes … or where governments are toppled as a consequence of lack of food or water or energy or all the other things associated with natural disasters.’”

In the years after leaving the Senate, Warner continued to push for moving the country and the military toward alternative energy and stressed the threat climate change posed to global and U.S. security.

A Beloved Friend and Mentor

Warner was an ardent supporter of USIP’s mission. Honoring USIP on its 20th anniversary, Warner, as the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined two Democratic senators — Tom Harkin and Daniel Inouye — in introducing S. Con Res. 109. The resolution recognized and highlighted the Institute’s numerous contributions to peace education and conflict resolution, as well as its role as a “source of innovative ideas and practical policy analysis on peacemaking in zones of conflict around the world.”

Senator John Warner and J. Robinson West tour USIP’s headquarters construction site, 2009
Senator John Warner and J. Robinson West tour USIP’s headquarters construction site, 2009

The following year, Warner also sponsored legislation to expand the Institute’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to include the two adjacent Navy buildings. Those buildings now house the George H.W. Bush Peace Education Center and the William Jefferson Clinton Center for Peace & Technology. To recognize Warner’s contributions and the vital role the U.S. military plays in building peace around the world, the Institute has named the walkway connecting our headquarters to the former Navy buildings the John Warner Peace Bridge.

“Senator Warner embodied what it means to put country before party,” said Stephen J. Hadley, the chair of USIP’s board of directors. “USIP was honored to name a bridge on our global campus the John Warner Peace Bridge, because that’s who he was — someone who worked to bridge divides, both in politics and in peace.” 

In accepting the naming honor, Warner said he was deeply humbled and wanted to share the recognition with the many veterans in Congress who had supported USIP’s work. He said the remarkable bipartisan legislation to fund and build the Institute was a result of the Greatest Generation’s memories — of their shared history, sacrifices and respect for one another.

“Not only was Senator Warner a great statesman and legislator, but he was also a beloved mentor to those of us fortunate enough to have worked for this wonderful man,” said Judy Ansley, a member of USIP’s board and former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Senator Warner considered his staff family, and it was my honor and a privilege to be part of this extended Warner family. We will miss him dearly.”

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