WASHINGTON — George Bunn, a leading figure in the field of arms control who helped draft and negotiate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, limiting the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide, died Sunday at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 87.
He had spinal cancer, said his son Matthew.
In 1945, while serving in the Navy, George Bunn was on a ship bound for Japan when atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
‘‘He was convinced that the atomic bomb saved his life,’’ Matthew Bunn, an arms control specialist at Harvard, said Thursday. ‘‘Yet he devoted most of the rest of his life to the effort to bring the fearsome power of nuclear weapons under international control.’’
In the early 1960s, George Bunn drafted the legislation that created the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Kennedy administration. Mr. Bunn was the first general counsel of the agency, which was designed to be independent of the interests of the military and State Department.
‘‘George, by being the person who drafted the legislation for the arms control agency, was central to this whole era where arms control in our government had an independent voice,’’ said Thomas Graham Jr., who later served as general counsel of the agency and helped negotiate a series of arms reduction treaties.
Mr. Bunn had a key role in developing the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963 but was best known for developing the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. After drafting it, he hiked in the mountains near Geneva with his Soviet counterparts, jotting down ideas while riding a cable car and ultimately coming to an agreement.
When the treaty was signed in 1968, President Johnson appointed him as the US representative to what is now the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, which seeks to limit nuclear weapons.
‘‘He was an inspiration to all of us who followed and worked on arms control in the US government,’’ Graham said.
George Bunn was born in St. Paul. His father was a law professor, US judge, and justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1945, Mr. Bunn served in the Navy. He graduated from Columbia University law school in 1951. Even then, he had the goal of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. He worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in the early 1950s before joining the Washington law firm known as Arnold & Porter.
As an attorney, he defended government workers accused of having communist sympathies and handled a restaurant desegregation case in the District of Columbia.
Mr. Bunn left Washington in 1969 to teach at the law school of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He eventually became the school’s dean.
From 1982 to 1986, he taught at the National War College in Newport, R.I. Mr. Bunn joined the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University in 1986.
He published a history of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ‘‘Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians,’’ in 1992 and co-authored many articles.
His marriages to Fralia Hancock and Anne Coolidge ended in divorce. In addition to his son, Matthew, of Watertown, Mass., Mr. Bunn leaves two children, Jessie of San Francisco and Peter of Barneveld, Wis.; and two granddaughters.