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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Richard Garwin and Sidney Drell by Francis Slakey and Jennifer Ouellette on 2006 May 10,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Background on their expertise with nuclear weapons development and policy; history of nuclear weapons development; circumstances for use of nuclear weapons; current nuclear policy; nuclear weapons as a deterrent for terrorists; non-proliferation; Iran, India, Pakistan, North Korea and nuclear weapons; development of new weapons technology.
I’m also associate editor for APS News.
Okay. That’s the one I wanted to know about.
But, I think we should start off with you telling our APS membership, who aren’t already familiar with you guys, if you could both take a moment to describe your background, just briefly, your expertise in the area of nuclear weapons development, and nuclear weapons policy.
And, you’ll just edit this and publish it more or less verbatim?
We were planning on two things, if you guys are comfortable. We were going to do some edits and then we would do a pass back with you.
Right, that’s what I understand.
To make sure that it’s right. But, we were also, if you’re both comfortable with this, we would put the entire discussion onto the APS website for anybody who might want to listen to it.
Do we get –- I would like a look at that before it goes on the website.
That’s the audio though?
Yeah, the audio.
Yeah, and if you want what we can do is we can post it on a separate site. You can both listen to it. If you’re both comfortable with putting this thing live then we’ll create the link for the transcript.
That’s right. I would like to have that step too.
It’s hard to edit audio.
Yes. But we can edit. It’s just not as meaty as written.
Well, we’ll just make sure that none of us say anything embarrassing, [Laughter] and it’ll be fine.
That’s fine. [Laughter]
So, let’s start off then with both of you just describing your background and your expertise in nuclear weapons development and nuclear weapons policy. I think just a brief description is all the APS membership needs.
Okay. I’m Dick Garwin. You can find my biography and a lot of papers at http://fas.org/rlg/. My work with nuclear weapons began in 1950, the first of many summers at Los Alamos, working primarily on design and implementation of nuclear weapons, and the first thermonuclear weapon, Mike, tested November 1, 1952. So, I’ve been a consultant to Los Alamos, essentially, all these years, and more recently since 1994, so to Sandia National Laboratory, and have worked the last fifteen years or so intensively on nuclear weapons in the JASON Summer Studies.
Great. Thanks Dick. Sid do you want to give a brief?
Yeah, I became first involved in national security work when JASON was organized in 1960. My intense work on nuclear weapons as opposed to more general intelligence and other issues really goes back to 1990 when I headed a study for the Congress on the safety of our nuclear arsenal. Then in 1994, ‘95 I headed several JASON studies which, in particular, looked at the issue of the importance of low-level nuclear testing and laid the basis for the comprehensive test ban. Dick was on that study too. And, between late 1992 and 1999 I led the President’s Council, that is the University of California President’s Council on National Labs, overseeing their responsibilities for both Livermore and Los Alamos. And so that, in addition to Washington Committees like PFIB and PSAC, which Dick knows about also, I’ve been heavily involved with continuing studies since the 1990 period.
I should add two things. Since 1980 I’ve been a member of the National Academy of Sciences CISAC, Committee on International Security and Arms Control, and it has, it was created to discuss, twice yearly, strategic matters, especially nuclear weapons with our Soviet, now Russian, counterparts, with the Chinese and others. And, okay, well that’s enough.
Well, thanks for the introductions. Before we get into current policy issues I thought it would be useful for APS members if you both provided just a bit of context. When nuclear weapons were first developed, under what circumstances would a president authorize the use of those weapons?
Nuclear weapons were a scarcity. We finished the war with maybe one nuclear weapon in August of 1945 and had relatively few. And, in fact, the people at Los Alamos had very different views, it turns out of the future. Hans Bethe, shortly before he died, commented that “Nobody at Los Alamos believed that there would be thousands or tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.” And yet, I gave a talk in November 2005, parallel to a November 1945 talk by Robert Oppenheimer, who in his speech to the American, to the National Academy and the American Philosophical Society said that, in 1945, “If there were to be a war between two nuclear-armed countries they would be used by the tens of thousands; by the thousands or the tens of thousands.” So, between these two people who were intimately involved in the creation of nuclear weapons, and Hans Bethe throughout his life afterwards, to have such different views is quite striking. But, nuclear weapons belonged to the civilian side, to the Atomic Energy Commission, for a long time before control was transferred in the field to the military, in part as a result or aided by the permissive action links that were then introduced. It’s the president though, in principle, who can release nuclear weapons. However, he can delegate that responsibility and authority to anybody he wants.
I would add to that that the additional period right after the war, the great effort was to try and control the spread of nuclear technology and nuclear weapons, and they were certainly under presidential control. But the first envisaged use was to confront the large Soviet army in Europe as NATO was being built. And they were a substitute for large manpower if the Soviets had moved west. But, when thermonuclear weapons increased the destructive potential of these weapons by factors of a thousand beyond Hiroshima and Nagasaki people soon realized that these are weapons of suicide and it was, I think, President Eisenhower who first said, in 1956, that, you know, “Because of their destructiveness war was no longer just exhaustion of the enemy and surrender but it had become destruction of the enemy and suicide.” Those were very close to his exact words. And so the whole policy at that point was to prevent their use. And so, that’s how the deterrent idea, based on mutual assured destruction, grew up, because there was no defense against them and there was absolutely the highest priority to see that they weren’t used, and so the idea of deterrence. Namely, having a capacity to respond to the worst possible attack upon you and destroy the attacker, therefore to convince him he would be committing suicide if he attacked you was the basis for our arsenal.
Yeah. Exactly right. And when Eisenhower came in, though, he regarded nuclear weapons as a “bigger bang for the buck.” And, that was just at the beginning of the era of tactical nuclear weapons, which paradoxically were encouraged by some of our physicist colleagues as a way of reducing the emphasis on bigger and more numerous strategic weapons whose only purpose would be to destroy society. But, in fact no good deed goes unpunished and pretty soon with the proliferation on our side and the Soviet side of tactical nuclear weapons, and the response of the reformation, reformation of the army structure to be less vulnerable to nuclear weaponry, the nuclear weapons used in combat would kill three tanks, five tanks, or whatever. That same nuclear weapon, used against a city could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And so, what we were doing was to proliferate in our two arsenals vast numbers of strategic weapons, only calling them tactical weapons, and those would be very bad if ever used in warfare. There would be no guarantee that if we used our tactical nuclear superiority and stopped Warsaw Pact armies on their march to the West that the Soviets wouldn’t escalate and use nuclear weapons to compel surrender by using them on cities, in fact. And, not only no guarantee; it was to my mind, absolutely certain that they would do that. And so, then there were all kinds of theories of escalation. But, to go back to deterrence, in 1945, especially ‘49 when the Soviets tested their first nuclear weapon, there was panic among the populace and an attempt by a far-sighted people even before that to obtain active defense against the aircraft that would deliver nuclear weapons. And pretty soon it became apparent that we could no effective defense. So, Bernard Brodie and others, strategists, said “Never mind. We can be protected even without defense if we maintain a survivable, commandable nuclear force so that the Soviet nuclear weapons would essentially be turned back upon themselves, that is with high assurance a use of nuclear weapons against the United States by the Soviet Union would result in the destruction of the Soviet Union. So, it was that tenuous, difficult balance, which was not a numerical balance at all, that was responsible for security for so many decades. Now it’s more difficult. If nuclear weapons are obtained by people without home bases or without values it’s hard to deter them when their only purpose may simply be to kill on the other side.
Good. Well actually, let me shift to present day. There’s no longer a Soviet Union. The threats that are out there have changed considerably. What is the current nuclear use policy? In what sorts of situations might the president authorize the use of nuclear weapons today?
I think the president has made clear, all presidents that they are weapons last-resort. I think that it’s clear, as Dick said, that having large arsenals makes no sense, large nuclear arsenals, against nuclear terrorists or rogue states. When you have suicidal terrorists the idea of deterrence is of questionable value and you have to ask yourself whether the actions of Al Qaeda or people like that are in any way affected by the fact that we have thousands of nuclear weapons. If you look at the potential enemies, whether it’s Iran or North Korea, you can’t think of more than a few dozen, or maybe a hundred, hundreds at most, targets that there exist. And so, the, what are nuclear weapons for, is really a big question right now. Deterrence, as defined during the Cold War, Paul Nitze, in 1976, was very different. He wrote approximately that “We need to be able to deliver three thousand megatons. After we were attacked, we had to have three thousand megatons surviving to destroy Soviet society. And, if they knew that, they would be deterred from attacking us.” That makes no sense today. And the question that you raised, “What are nuclear weapons for?” is a real one. And our biggest challenge today is not to avoid a nuclear holocaust with deterrence as it was with the Soviet Union. Our challenge today is to keep unreliable dangerous hands from getting theirs, getting nuclear weapons by stealing them or by getting the ability, the technology, for enrichment of uranium or making plutonium, keeping them from getting that technology and becoming nuclear powers. And that’s, of course, what we’re confronting in countries like Iran right now. So, I think that the current arsenals are just off-scale compared to the challenge we have of preventing dangerous people getting their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons.
But Sid, you just mentioned Iran, so let’s drill down into that a little bit deeper, because there was a report in The New Yorker recently, it was an article that Seymour Hirsch had written, and he said that the Bush Administration was, and I’ll just quote from Hirsch’s article, he said that “The administration was planning for a possible major air attack against Iran,” and he said that, “Nuclear weapons had actually figured into their thinking.” So, maybe you both could comment on that. The Bush, Bush dismissed that, but at the very least it raises an interesting question which is, do nuclear weapons have any role in situations like this? Could a president, should a president ever consider the preemptive use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state?
Well, my answer is “No.” In terms of a threat growing in Iran, clearly we’re in a diplomatic stage and we should be for quite a while because they’re not close to presenting a threat, and so anything we’d be doing would be preventive not preemptive. But our, in my concept and I believe the country’s general concept has been to have conventional forces and the intelligence and the ability to deliver them, and have them penetrate the earth that would destroy possible source of nuclear attack upon us.
Well, there are a number of points here. One problem is that this president and many people say, “We’ll never take any tool off the table.” So, we won’t promise not to use nuclear weapons if we attack Iran, and we won’t promise not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in general. On the other hand the United States has promised just that in the past and I think that is correct, that is it is not suitable, it’s not in our national security interest to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and we have had formal commitments to that regard, in that regard, negative security assurances which have encouraged people to remain members in good standing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. The current administration doesn’t want to limit its freedom of action in any regard. I think that is a very great mistake and may be reflected in the popularity numbers of the president, which would show good sense on the part of the U.S. population. Still, you have to ask, you know, “How big should be our arsenal? How many?” And, of course, every physicist will understand that the less useful the tool the more of it you need in order to accomplish the job. But, the side effects of using a not very useful tool are not abated by using many more of them. So, if we would, you know, to what extent would force against Iran be useful? Well, I testified in 1984, I recall, to the Senate Armed Services Committee and at that time we probably had fifteen thousand strategic nuclear weapons, and I pointed out that if you used the kind of economic targeting, that is you used, when you were using them, the ones first that would have the most effect, by the time you got down to the five thousandth nuclear weapon they do not do damage worth their cost. And, why would you consider doing that? And, in fact, the large numbers of nuclear weapons are a result of planning that uses them for purposes for which they are very ineffective, that is using three or five nuclear weapons to get, supposedly, a high probability of destruction of a designated target which may or may not be the target that you wanted to strike. So, be reasonable, if one can imagine a reason in the use of such weapons. There’s no justification in international law for preventive attack, that is, for keeping China from building its capability, or for that matter keeping Iran from building its capability. There’s justification for preemptive attack, that is, when you know for sure that they are going to attack you and you can prevent it. You can avoid it by preemption. Of course, the military plan for air attack, and they wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t do that. As I understand it, you know, when nuclear weapons figured in this option, you know, some folks, probably on the military side, were horrified at the cavalier approach to using nuclear weapons as if they were just another kind of conventional weapon, especially after there have been several serious studies, one by the National Academy of Sciences in April 2005, on robust nuclear earth-penetrating weapons that show definitively that the fallout from an underground explosion at a depth achievable by an earth-penetrator is just the same as it would be for the same yield weapon detonated on the surface. Of course you can use a weapon of five percent of the yield if you get it a couple meters, even as small as a couple meters, below the surface to strengthen the ground shock. But, Iran is a long way from having its three thousand or fifty thousand centrifuges. As the president says, “Now is the time for diplomacy,” but this a very strange diplomacy we are conducting with Iran where we refuse to talk with them let alone negotiate with them.
So then, more generally …
Let me ask, let me, let me just add a point here. The name of the game right now is to prevent proliferation. The Non-Proliferation Treaty, which extends into the indefinite future, calls upon the nuclear nations to reduce the salience of these weapons, reduce reliance on them, and what we say matters. And, that’s the, I for one don’t, at this point, worry about what Seymour Hirsch was talking about, that we’d use nuclear weapons, but what we say about the importance of them and what we might do is quite relevant to our effort to try and prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. And therefore I think the words on this one are very important, and this is, this I think is the challenge now, is to, is really to keep quiet on –- you don’t give away and say you’ll never use a weapon, because you can’t predict the future, not accurately, but I think being cautious in what we say, because certainly preventing proliferation and honoring the Non-Proliferation Treaty requirements seems to me the name of the game today.
Yeah, well I entirely agree, and since the 1980s you’ll find in my writings, you know, the statement and the commitment to reduce our nuclear weaponry, essentially immediately as of then or any time, to two thousand nuclear weapons and within a couple of years to one thousand nuclear weapons total, and that would include the stockpile from which you could make nuclear weapons as well. And that would be on the way to having a few hundred nuclear weapons in the world all together. That would contribute to international security and not just to the security of the United States. Now, only if we do that will the American officials and the American populous be concerned about even small numbers of nuclear weapons abroad. Right now people seem to take comfort in the fact that we have a hundred times as many weapons as do the British, or the French, or the Chinese essentially, and as many weapons about as does Russia. But, there’s no security in having vast numbers of nuclear weapons. There’s insecurity in our having vast numbers, and especially having vast numbers of not very well protected nuclear weapons in Russia, and encouraging other people to compete because their stockpiles will, in any case, be so small compared with U.S. stockpiles that we won’t worry about them as we should.
So, we don’t need the vast numbers? But at the same time …
But at the same time Sid you made that cautious remark where you said, “You don’t, you don’t ever want to say you’ll never use them because you can’t know what threats we may…
… face in the future”? So, that brings us back to the more general question which is, what is the value of a nuclear arsenal in the post 9/11 world? Do they have, do they have any –- let’s put a specific on the table. Do they have any ability at all to deter the action of terrorists or terrorist organizations, or states that assist terrorist organizations?
I would say that the, I can’t give an absolute answer that zero is the right number, but a very small number. I can’t think of any value to having more than a few hundred, just because there are no targets. The present administration …
Sid, could you take me through the reasoning that how those weapons could be used in a way that could deter the actions of states that assist terrorists?
No, I, I, I, I, if I had infinite confidence that I knew all scenarios coming I’d say we should get rid of all nuclear weapons, along with other countries.
But, I cannot, and but if I could, I would endorse a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. But because I can’t envisage every possible one, every possible scenario that’s coming I’m quite content to say I will never say “No first use.” What value does that have anyway? Because, if you have some nuclear weapons and you get in trouble why would anyone believe you that you wouldn’t use them [Laugh] if you had them. I think to say that you had no intention of using, them except for defensive last resort, and the numbers can get very small. I would like to have the world in which we get free of nuclear weapons. I really do look back twenty years ago to the Reykjavik summit where Reagan and Gorbachev really came to within a hair’s width of saying, “We’re going to get rid of all nuclear weapons.” I think it’s time to work toward that goal. I think we’ve, you know, the Bush and Putin summits of 2002 said over and over again, “The United States and Russia are no longer adversaries. We’re cooperating against the threat of terrorism.” And so we, the idea of deterrence based upon nuclear weapons against powerful countries, we have said is a thing of the past. And, we’re trying to escape the nuclear deterrence trap and I think that’s great. But, we’re in a process, and to go to the ultimate goal and say “zero” right now, obviously I’m hesitating a little bit. I want to see the process getting there. But if a dictator knows for sure that even if we have five, or ten, or a hundred weapons it’s not impossible that it would be a total suicide for him to act crazy. It might, while we’re sorting out this new world with terrorists and suicidal terrorists, have some value as a transition. And I think we’re at a transition stage now. Unfortunately, we’re in it much too slowly, because the president said “we’re going to have about two thousand deployed strategic weapons in 2012, but we’re going to have a total including warheads not deployed of approximately, according to any public statement, six thousand warheads. I mean, that’s insane by an order of magnitude because that, those numbers have nothing to do with the terrorist threat. They have a lot to do with other countries thinking that these weapons must be important if we keep so many of them, and therefore it is, it is counter to our efforts to prevent proliferation. And that’s why I think, there’s an urgency for us to be reducing these weapons by an order of magnitude quickly.
And Dick, could you reflect on that a minute? Do you think nuclear weapons –- what is the role of the nuclear arsenal in the post 9/11 world where the enemy is a terrorist, terrorist organization, states that assist terrorists? Do nuclear weapons have any role in deterring those sorts of groups?
Let me just take the “no first use” question, which of course then would prevent the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. CISAC, the National Academy CISAC, doesn’t often take policy positions but it argued in the 1990s in some important reports that we should have a no-first-use posture. That’s more important than a no-first-use treaty. Anybody can say anything in a treaty, and as it says, you violate it anytime you want. So, we should not intend to use weapons first. We should have a no-first-use posture, and yet people should understand that if some powerful country like Russia would say, “Aha, the United States doesn’t have biological weapons and they have a no-first-use treaty, and so on, we are free to destroy the entire population of the United States with a biological weapon because they can’t retaliate with BW, and they won’t retaliate with nuclear,” well they ought to understand that whatever our policy, the Congress can make a new policy [Laugh] and compel a nuclear response. And that’s why one can never promise no first use of nuclear weapons under those circumstances. But, if the education, if the posture, if the weapons themselves are unsuitable for first use, then the likelihood of using them first is reduced.
Now, what is the effectiveness? I know some people, highly respectable intelligent people who say that if it can be identified that states are in support of terrorism, not of a particular terrorist atrocity, but if they just support terrorists like those who commit 9/11 or nuclear explosion in U.S. cities, or BW, then all of those states who support terrorism should be targets for U.S. retaliation, if necessary with nuclear weapons. And, you know, to my mind that is a not-very-effective retaliation because it is a not-very-effective weapon against terrorism because it’s not credible. When it comes to it, would you want really to retaliate against states that are supporting terrorism to some extent? The United States has often used terrorism as a tool. When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan...; our Israeli allies, before they had a state, used terrorism. Terrorism is a tool. Terrorism is not something you can have a war against. You can have a battle against militant fundamentalism that uses terrorism as a weapon, but not terrorism itself unless you are willing to give it up on your side.
So, does that mean you believe that nuclear weapons don’t have any ability to deter terrorist organizations or states that assist terrorist organizations?
Well, they certainly don’t have any ability to deter a suicidal terrorism.
The question is the kind of organization that you have. I think the model of Al Qaeda as the source of terrorism in the world is really passé. We haven’t destroyed the, all the leadership of Al Qaeda but we certainly have reduced its central command role. On the other hand, people are so empowered, individually empowered with the Internet, with the ability to make explosives, with the ability to steal and use biological agents, or even nuclear weapons, that you don’t need an enormous central organization to do this. Therefore, it’s going to be difficult to deter. And, nuclear weapons, to my mind, are useless in this regard.
Okay. Let me introduce another word. Maybe this will help Francis, because Dick and I are agreeing on everything, I think you understand. A word that’s become very popular in a lot of Washington talk is the word “dissuade,” and people make a big thing about it being different from deterring. Dissuading or to discourage is something, that takes somebody from doing something like building up a nuclear capability. If we have, they had said, if we are so strong that they realize that they could never reach us then they might be dissuaded from trying to.
And so, people do use that concept to say, “Well, we would dissuade people from challenging our authority if we had a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, or large military forces.”
And do you think the weapons are capable of dissuading the enemy in that way?
Well, the problem is, I can’t motivate the enemy, [Laugh] but I can say that if you want to, it seems to me, as a physicist talking about politics, that you do much better in trying to dissuade them from being nuclear and relying on the weapons if you don’t emphasize their importance but you rather make the implied commitments of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of reducing our reliance on these weapons, not testing them, not improving them, not doing all these things we deny them from doing. Because, you know, having two different classes of countries in the world is becoming less and less acceptable to many countries. We have to, we have to persuade, if we’re going to prevent proliferation it takes international cooperation. It means a lot of nations, most of them non-nuclear, have to work in cooperation with us to prevent the spread of nuclear technology through sales, or through theft, and it’s these people we have to persuade that the world is better off without a lot of nuclear nations. And if we maintain big arsenals and say they’re essential, or we have new missions for weapons, whether they’re low-yield or penetrators, or what not, we’re inviting countries to follow our lead. And so, I think just saying “dissuasion may be of some value,” in a vacuum is useless. You have to put it in the context of what kind of world we’re trying to develop to prevent proliferation, to control and diminish these weapons. And that’s where you have the political balance coming in and it’s just a very difficult diplomatic game. It can’t just be addressed by talking about weapons and weapons numbers as if it’s in isolation.
Uhm-hmm. And, I did want to talk about reducing the size of the arsenal. But, before that I just want to probe this a little bit more. The weapons have, they’re no, they’re no longer, there’s no longer a Soviet Union to deter. They don’t have value in deterring terrorist groups, terrorist states. So, I’m trying probe you guys to find out under what conditions might nuclear weapons ever be used?
Well, you would certainly use them in response to attack by nuclear weapons. And, you know, little guys would like to have nuclear weapons to keep from being pushed around by big guys.
And they ought to understand that if they do that then they will really suffer themselves, disproportionately. But, we have to live in this world and more particularly we have to live with ourselves. That is, we have to regard ourselves as honorable. We have to regard ourselves as not asserting to ourselves rights that we deny other people. And so, one ought to think about the Golden Rule is we shouldn’t do things to others that we wouldn’t want them doing to us. So, I’m going to introduce something now on which Sid and I may differ, and that is a conventional global strike.
We differ. We differ. [Laugh]
Yeah. Well, he doesn’t know what I’m going to say. And, that is with the information that we have now, the accurate location of some targets and so on, with missiles that can reach anywhere in the world in forty minutes or less, it’s perfectly possible to use a conventional weapon, that is a one-ton bomb or whatever, delivered by ballistic missile, or for that matter a lump of concrete that will destroy some things out to a radius of a few meters or a few tens of meters, depending what it is. And, I would say, as a matter of proportionality that is if you have the right, if you are in support of some permanent coalition, in support of the United Nations, if you are protecting the national security in a way that can really be argued to be the right sort of thing to do and that anybody in that situation should do it, that we should have the capability for conventional global strike. And, we could use that, because it would have very little side affect physically. It might have enormous side affects politically. But, if we would use a nuclear weapon, even under circumstances in which there was very little side effects, because it was an isolated, isolated facility in the countryside under weather conditions when there would be not much fallout or destruction, it would be the use of a nuclear weapon. It would justify the use of a nuclear weapon by the other side or by friends of the other side. And that kind of escalation that is breaking the nuclear-weapon taboo seems to me to be much to be avoided.
I want to go back to Francis’ question, however, in a more specific way about the use of nuclear weapons. Let me go back to an earlier discussion in history when people talked about complete global disarmament as a great ideal. It seems to me that was very nice talk but what’s important was you can’t just talk about the goal. You have to talk about the process of getting there. And so, if you have a roadmap of how you approach more and more disarmament, that’s how you make progress. At Reykjavik, again I go back to the summit at Reykjavik at Iceland twenty years ago when Reagan, this is all, when Reagan and Gorbachev talked, because I think it was an incredibly important meeting. It built a, it started a relation of trust and it also started us for the first time on the downward patch of decreasing weapons.
What they did was they actually spelled out a path toward decreasing and then getting rid of nuclear weapons. First they said, “Let’s get rid of all the ballistic missiles, these fast flyers that can get to halfway around the world and deliver nuclear weapons in thirty to forty minutes.” And so, when I hesitate to answer your question about, “What is the purpose of nuclear weapons?” all I’m saying in my mind is I want the goal of getting rid of nuclear weapons because I think they’re of very little value. But, of greatest importance now is to initiate a process of getting there. And, I do that by, for example in my own view, and that’s why I disagree with Dick on this one, I would like to get rid of all long-range fast flyers, all ballistic missiles, which is what, in fact I have to say what Ronald Reagan was most wanting to do, because of the instability, the danger, the surprise-attack element of being able to deliver nuclear weapons thirty, forty minutes away, halfway around the world. And so, I answer you hesitantly on these things and I also worry about giving greater credence to the ballistic missiles, even with conventional warheads, because I see a process of getting toward the goal, which I think is the only rational goal when you think about it rationally. The trouble is the world is not totally rational. And so, I reduce reliance on these weapons. I don’t know what purpose they would serve but I, also I’m not quite arrogant enough to say “I know they have zero purpose, no first use, get rid of them,” and so forth. That’s my hesitancy. I want you to understand that.
Sure. Now, in addressing the purpose, you know, “What are the weapons for?” the Bush Administration, and Dick you mentioned this earlier, the Bush Administration warned that the U.S. lacks the weapon to hold certain hard and deeply-buried targets at risk and they proposed the robust nuclear penetrator, the bunker buster. And, both of you were part of that debate and maybe you can comment a bit on, just critique that weapon concept?
Well, I think it just doesn’t work in the sense that it’s really quite easy to build facilities that would be proof about any nuclear weapon that we have. A, because it would be so deep that the ground shock would be too small; B, because it’s location would be uncertain. And that’s just, the typical justification for a program is to say “Our current things,” whatever they are, airplanes, whatever, “are inadequate, and we need this new one.” And so, you show that there is something that cannot be achieved with existing systems and could be achieved with a future system. But, by the time we have that, we would have other facilities that would be out of range of those too. So, you know, if you go back to the more general question, “Why we have so many nuclear weapons?” In the McNamara, Robert McNamara era as Secretary of Defense with President John F. Kennedy, he defined the damage that needed to be done to deter, assured destruction, and then he was told by his analyst that three hundred one-megaton weapons delivered against targets in the Soviet Union would achieve that damage. So, why do we have thousands and many thousands of weapons? Well, because looking fifteen years out, the life of a weapon, or twenty years, the Soviets might have a ballistic missile defense or an air defense. They might have facilities that would destroy some of our weapons before they could be launched. So, if you take a factor three for each of these effectiveness then you could need ten times that many—three thousand one-megaton weapons.
In the Casper Weinberger era, as secretary of Defense, when Reagan was president, and I can see why this frightened President Reagan about nuclear weapons, the official secret directive was that we needed to have enough weapons so that there would be more Americans surviving than Russians in case it came to a nuclear war between us. And, I remember asking Casper Weinberger, you know, “If four Americans survived and one Russian would that satisfy?” and he said, “Yes.” So, it wasn’t enough [Laugh] to have any finite destruction of the Soviets. You had to have this arbitrary more Americans surviving. That’s in the edict itself. So, all kinds of crazy things. So, I agree that we need an approach to reductions. I would like to see the elimination. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. But, you don’t have to agree, even on the desirability of getting rid of all nuclear weapons to have all kinds of people join in a process that would reduce, unilaterally, U.S. weapons to a thousand or so. And, multi-laterally to a few hundred, while hoping and trying to put in place a process that would provide security with real nuclear weapons, whether you believe that [elimination] can be done or not.
Sid do you want to comment a bit on what the physics is behind the bunker buster and why it wouldn’t work?
Yes I do. Yes, I do. I do. First of all, just, I mean, Dick has already said some of the important things, namely that if you can bury a nuclear bomb a few meters under the ground and then detonate it you can get ten to twenty times as much over pressure, shock pressure to destroy an underground target. That’s the advantage. But, of course, if they build a target that’s just reasonably hard at a depth of a thousand feet, three hundred meters, that’s going to take still a hundred kilotons or so to do any damage. Now, if you build a target, say again of course, if you have a bunker-buster that can penetrate, they can very easily build their target two thousand feet deep. An underground building is not that expensive anymore, and in particular the easiest way to do is to go in the side of a mountain. But, accuracy is what’s important, knowing where the target is and having the right target. That’s good intelligence. If I go into a mountain with a tunnel and start burrowing in the mountain how do you know which direction I’ve burrowed after a while? Did I go left? Did I go right? Did I put some kinks in it? You’re not going to know where the target is well enough to do the, to do the kill.
To destroy an underground target, what you need is the best possible intelligence so that you see it being built, you find out where are, to the best you can, where the fundamental services for this, electricity, life support, is coming in and you put it out of, you functionally destroy it, not structurally, by either controlling the ground around it or by closing off the access ports. That’s the best you can do. So, it’s an overplay to say that a nuclear weapon is going to allow you to destroy deep underground targets. And by the way, we seem to have felt, up and through the Soviet Union days, when they had all their structures and what not, that we had a good deterrent. It strikes me as a little strange to say, in the new world where we’re talking about terrorist states, or Pakistan, or countries like that, Iran, that all of a sudden we can’t do it with our, with our weapons. And then again, there are ways of improving the ability of conventional munitions too. So, there are many things you can do. Always another weapon can give you some benefit. I can’t say zero benefit. It doesn’t guarantee success, but you have to weigh that against what its impact is on proliferation.
Because, if we say we need new weapons for new missions, how do we convince the other hundred and eighty-five nations in the world that they don’t need it too? And so, we are, we are shooting ourselves in the foot if, at least from my point of view, if you end up weakening your ability to prevent proliferation. And that clearly, right now, as I see what’s going on in Iran and North Korea is the overwhelming challenge we face right now. We’ve had a very successful non-proliferation regime for sixty-one years. During that time we built a norm of nonuse of nuclear weapons and of non possession of them. You know, only eight countries, the five declared nuclear powers, United States, Russia, China, France, and England; the three non-members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, because they got there too late, namely India, Pakistan, and Israel; and who knows what’s going on in North Korea. They’ve got the material. Whether they have the bomb I don’t know. But that’s an extraordinarily successful achievement for sixty-one years and it seems to me sort of maintaining the commitment, the diplomatic commitment to try and preserve that regime is very important, which by the way I have to say is one of the problems I have with this new Indian deal. Because we have just found, let them get away without meeting some of the requirements of the Non Proliferation Treaty in order to make this new deal with them.
Before we get to the India, let me just have a follow-up on the bunker buster. Because when Representative Hobson, chair of the committee that would have funded the bunker buster …
… when he cancelled it he said, among other things, he said he, “wanted to cancel it because some idiot might use it.” Could you both comment a bit on nuclear weapons and usability?
Well, Dick has already made the point these nuclear weapons have tremendous fallout effects. You know, the original idea was we were going to build a bunker buster and we’ll be able to destroy something underground with no side effects. That was just sheer nonsense.
Uhm-hmm. And on the other side, you can’t even destroy the things.
Unless it’s argued that the nuclear weapon would penetrate and it would, and it would sterilize the bugs and disintegrate, destroy the chemical weapons. But, these are just arguments. They are, in fact, invalid. The effective range for destruction, the heat from the underground shock falls off within just a couple of meters. So, unless you get the things into an open room where everything is arrayed it would not do that. It would disrupt. It would make a crater …
… and the stuff would come out into the atmosphere, which would probably not be all that bad except that it violates the argument, that eviscerates the argument …
… that was made in the first place.
Uhm-hmm. And Hobson made that comment, “Some idiot might use it,” he was referring to you don’t want to make nuclear weapons usable?
More usable. That’s right.
And maybe you both could comment on that?
Well, I agree completely that the most important, the dividing line to preserve is not crossing the threshold to using nuclear weapons. I think because once you do you’ve broken a taboo, and given the fog of battle, if you use one of low-yield, the other guy may think you used two of somewhat higher yield and the ability to prevent escalation, once you’ve crossed the nuclear line is very dubious. And, you know, previous terms of chief of staff, like General Davy Jones, said in effect, I don’t know what it means to talk about a limited nuclear war, because once you start, how are you going to stop? And by the way, just to put another number in to emphasize what Dick has already said, if I gave you just a one-kiloton bomb — what is it one-thirteenth or one-fifteenth of Hiroshima — the deepest I can now penetrate with it into hard, dry soil it would still, still cause a crater larger than the World Trade Center and put about a million cubic feet of debris up in the atmosphere. I mean, this is big effects.
Well, you asked an important question, which goes far beyond nuclear weapons. First, General Cartwright, the head of STRATCOM was no fan of the bunker buster. He says he doesn’t need it. He can have functional defeat of these underground facilities by controlling what goes in, what comes out, their communications, and so on. The question of not limiting the United States in anything that it does, not to limit our future options, is a tenet of this administration and to my mind is exactly wrong, because we do want to limit other countries, and in order to do that we have to accept limitations ourselves. So, I propose, you know, as a technical person that the more you want this underground penetrator, that is to go in a couple of meters before detonation, the less you want a several-year nuclear development program to strengthen the B-61 [the existing earth penetrator; the “robust earth penetrator” was to be able to penetrate rock or concrete]. And, if you really want that you just put a shaped charge in front of the existing nuclear weapon so it makes a hole in steel or reinforced concrete or granite and detonates in flight. But, people really wanted to do nuclear design. It wasn’t that they wanted to have an underground penetrator. Now, ideologues would like to get rid of the moratorium against testing. Laboratories aren’t particularly anxious to test nuclear weapons, but just the way we got rid of the ABM Treaty, (in my mind, totally, unnecessarily because we could have agreed with Russia that the very limited ABM that we are deploying against North Korea, or whatever, could be accepted under the ABM Treaty). So, they want to get rid of the taboo against nuclear testing, and the use of, and the taboo against use of nuclear weapons because American power will, in their minds become more credible if we show that we are willing to use nuclear weapons, that we are testing them, and people had better watch out for us.
Okay, just give me, give me a one-minute survival break I’ll be right back.
Okay. [Laugh] You’re raising, Dick you’re raising some great proliferation issues that I want to get to as well, the Indian deal, the CTBT. I want to explore the Non-Proliferation but first I wanted to touch on the other new weapon concept that’s been put on the table by the administration and that’s the reliable replacement warhead?
Yeah, well, let’s wait until Sid comes back. You’re going to have to repeat that for him too. [Laugh]
Yeah. I’m sure he’s going to have some comments on that as well.
Yeah. Right. [Tape paused] … the next twenty minutes.
So, right. Sid, before we get to the nonproliferation issues I wanted you to comment on the other proposal that the administration has for a new nuclear weapon and it’s the reliable replacement warhead, …
… and they have claimed several motivations for that. They said that there’s technical problems with maintaining the current stockpile. They said that there’s difficulty in recruiting people when they’re not being asked to design anything. And, they also are claiming that the current arsenal — is not sufficiently responsive. So, maybe both of you could comment a bit on that?
Well, I’ll respond by saying that I believe the current arsenal is quite reliable. I think it’s being maintained very well by a very strong Stockpile Stewardship Program which was put in at the time we undertook the moratorium on testing back in 1992, I guess it was. In 1994 the program was initiated to give many scientific challenges with new expensive and very advanced equipment for simulation. And, for ten years now the lab directors have annually reported to the Secretaries of Defense and Energy that our arsenal is reliable and safe, and they’re doing a very good job. It’s a big challenge. I’m associated with the labs. I will be involved with the new Los Alamos structure that’s been set up, as a member of the external Board of Governors, so I’m closely coupled in. I think the program is doing well. Now, if the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program is just another way of better focusing this Stewardship Program on what it needs to do to maintain the arsenal I have nothing against it. And, I think it’s important to know that the enabling legislation on that RRW Program has very, very powerful and restrictive words in it, and I think Mr. Hobson is responsible for them. And in particular, and I just have right in front of me in the compromise, what do you call it, the –- when the House and the Senate, …
… the, what they agreed on, in reporting out the authorization acts that “The conference reiterates the direction provided in fiscal year 2005 that any weapon design work done under the RRW Program must stay within the military requirements of the existing deployed stockpile, and any new weapon design must stay within the design parameters validated by past nuclear tests.” Now, that’s an extremely important statement because it means that you can’t go off into new fields and then a few years down the road find some general or admiral, or even a president, saying to you, “Gee, I can’t really trust my weapons. I’ve never tested them.” And, there’ll be pressure on resuming testing. It’s also that we don’t start making new weapons for new military missions or we invite other countries as we’ve said already, …
… both of us have said already, would invite other countries to become nuclear and renew their programs and test too. So, if RRW does what it’s intended to do it can be interpreted as a way of focusing, on retaining a stockpile which I believe is being maintained, is healthy, is safe, is a challenge to the scientists there, I don’t see the problem.
So, Dick, you had said, and I like this phrase, “If you want to limit other countries, then we have to be willing to limit ourselves.” Would RRW be going too far?
Well, this is another one of those propaganda activities. If you’re going to have then, enact legislation that really takes away civil liberties or whatever, you’re not going to call it the Civil Liberty Destruction Act of 19-whatever. [Laughter] You’re going to call it the Patriot Act. And so, if you’re going to do RRW you’re not going to say, you know, “Search for new weapon concepts.” You’re going to imply that what we’re going now does not result in reliable replacement warheads. In fact, it does. Under the Stockpile Stewardship Program, we do have replacement warheads. We are making them, and they are reliable. There’s no problem. Of course, it’s a requirement that any replacement warhead be reliable. But, if you go to the tri-lab report of May 2005 it really assumes its conclusions, and that is that it will cost more and more to have a Stockpile Stewardship Program, and Replacement Warheads under that; that we need to make a major change to a new kind of warhead that is easier to design, manufacture, and won’t require so much maintenance. You know, the labs could have done that twenty, thirty years ago. It was a requirement, military requirement. They didn’t do it. They would like to do it now because really, frankly, it’s something new. There is absolutely no economic analysis, you know. The whole reason to do this is cost, as to how much it would cost as a function of how many weapons in the stockpile. People assume there will be very large numbers. There’s no analysis as to, as these things are phased in. You have to maintain the old infrastructure for supporting the old weapons while the new ones come along. So, how much more will that cost? It’s not going to save money. It’s going to cost more money. But, more than that the tri-Lab paper, endorsed by the nuclear weapon leaders in each of the three labs, that is Sandia, Livermore, and Los Alamos, says that, “Not only do we have to have replacements for the existing weapons but we have to have a more flexible, responsive system so we can design new nuclear weapons to have different characteristics where required.” Now, even though the legislation says “No,” I call your attention the Charlie Savage article in The Boston Globe of April 30th, I guess it is, where he shows that in hundreds of cases the, President Bush, George W. Bush, has by his signing statements claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office. And this is what goes out as guidance to the federal government. These are not secret. These are published in the Congressional, in the Federal Record, and, you ought to look at them. I don’t know what he said when he signed this particular legislation, but it’s something that ought to be looked at.
Could you go do it now? Okay.
So, RRW is a perfectly reasonable program to explore what can be done, but to the extent that it says we can’t do these things under the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which absolutely allows all kinds of changes outside the nuclear package, that is the primary and the secondary, and allows a lot of changes in there too, the argument is that our weapons are designed too close to some failure cliff. But, in fact, aging does not move then closer to that cliff, and there are ways for compensating as, you know, JASON has long published, and the laboratories are finally implementing by adding more tritium or maintaining more constant amount of boost gas, …
… as the weapons age, or replacing the tritium more frequently.
And, in talking of “replacing,” [Laugh] …
or being destroyed not just as a state but as a people. You know, it is, in my opinion, warranted to have used nuclear weapons. And, that’s why we built nuclear weapons.
What I’m asking is, is what do you think the motivations are for North Korea and Iran?
Well, it’s very difficult. North Korea, of course, lost the economic battle in the 1970s and is one of the last surviving dictatorships, although it may become more popular in the future. And, they have a real fear of the United States. But, it’s a way for them to get power. They might want to sell them the way they sell their missiles, to get foreign exchange. You know, if you have nuclear weapons, why not make them an article of commerce? So, that might be their motivation. For Iran it’s certainly a matter of national pride and they’ve oft stated, you know, the statement that, “If Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons then the United States would not have invaded.” I don’t believe that. India has also said that, you know, in regard to the 1991 Gulf War. And, of course, India had a nuclear explosion in 1974 already. They already had nuclear weapons. But, they justify it by saying that “These big bullies around are going to do whatever they do, topple your regime, destroy all your people, unless they are deterred by nuclear weapons.” And, indeed, a few nuclear weapons in the hands of people who are willing to use them independent of what happens in response can be a powerful deterrent. However, those nuclear weapons are very likely, extremely vulnerable to destruction by preemptive strike.
Do you think that North Korea …
Can I –- did you want more answer on that question?
Well, I’m going to rephrase the question …
Do you think that the fact that North Korea and Iran are pursuing nuclear weapons means that our nonproliferation policies are failing in some way? I mean, is it inevitable that more countries will develop nuclear weapons or can it be prevented?
It’s not inevitable but it means that we have to focus much more seriously on nonproliferation, …
… and we haven’t done that. We’ve focused on, you know, freedom of action for the United States, …
… rather than on keeping other people from doing this. And the way to get people focused on nonproliferation is to say, “The United States has, as of now, three hundred nuclear weapons, not ten thousand nuclear weapons,” and then we’re going to see that other people don’t have nuclear weapons, that we are on a path toward reduction and collective security, and not this individual ownership of nuclear weapons, …
… which is bad for the neighbors as well as for us.
The governments have to want to survive, and they have to deal with domestic pressures as well as international ones. Certainly it helps a dictator, whose economy has failed and is very, is not providing for his people what he needs to provide, to say that “We can do what the big boys can do, and it’s essential that we build these weapons so that we can have a voice in the United Nations or in the world that comes from the respect we gain by showing our prowess, our technical prowess.” I think to some extent one has to analyze North Korea and Iran in terms of the government meeting its domestic base of power, whether it’s military or what not, but then again on the international one …
Nonproliferation policies are failing in some way. I mean, is it inevitable that more countries will develop nuclear weapons or can it be prevented?
It’s not inevitable but it means that we have to focus much more seriously on nonproliferation, …
… and we haven’t done that. We’ve focused on, you know, freedom of action for the United States, …
… rather than on keeping other people from doing this. And the way to get people focused on nonproliferation is to say, “The United States has, as of now, three hundred nuclear weapons, not ten thousand nuclear weapons,” and then we’re going to see that other people don’t have nuclear weapons, that we are on a path toward reduction and collective security, and not this individual ownership of nuclear weapons, …
… which is bad for the neighbors as well as for us.
The governments have to, want to survive, and they have to deal with domestic pressures as well as international ones. Certainly it helps a dictator, whose economy has failed and is very, is not providing for his people what he needs to provide, to say that “We can do what the big boys can do, and it’s essential that we build these weapons so that we can have a voice in the United Nations or in the world that comes from the respect we gain by showing our prowess, our technical prowess.” I think to some extent one has to analyze North Korea and Iran in terms of the government meeting its domestic base of power, whether it’s military or what not. But then again on the international one as one looks at the fact that the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are the nuclear, five original nuclear countries, that we throw our power around. We have clearly a preferred strength status in the world. It, and the North Koreans look and see that they’re failing, they’re clearly failing. Take North Korea in its geographical region, compared to what’s going on in South Korea, or China, and now Russia, and they look for some means of showing they can do something. And, they, it adds to their cachet. In Iran they, you know, it reminds you that the nuclear cooperation with Iran began from the United States when the Shah was in power. So, it goes back a long time. But, they’re living in a very troubled part of the world where there was Afghanistan with the Al Qaeda, and the Russians, the Soviets, there on one side, Pakistan on the other side doing its tests very close to their border, Israel having them. And that’s one of the real problems is that they’re, let’s say, in the middle of an area with nuclear powers, and they’re looking for ways to say, “Don’t mess with us. We can do this.” And, to the extent that we talk about axis of evil or seeking regime change we don’t make a very effective case against their going nuclear. And so, it’s a challenge which really requires the most, as I would call it, sophisticated, effective, open-minded diplomatic approach with carrots on sticks, …
Secure borders and what not.
And the Indian deal is taking nonproliferation the wrong direction?
Yes. To me it is, yes. I don’t know whether Dick agrees. If he …
Well, maybe you can give a little bit of background on the Indian deal as well?
Let me say specifically what you need to do. The big problem with the NPT is that it is that it is perfectly legal under the NPT to be a member in good standing of as a non-nuclear weapon state, to get support from, information and so on, from the nuclear weapons states in support of peaceful activities such as enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, and so on, you know, in principle for a nuclear power sector. And then after one has these facilities and, you know, has created a lot of low-enriched uranium, for instance, and practiced the spent-fuel reprocessing, and separated plutonium, many tons of plutonium, tens of tons in France and England who are nuclear weapons states, and in Japan too, then to abandon the NPT, totally explicitly, the way the United Stated abandoned the ABM Treaty, and in three months when it’s free of the strictures of the NPT and can then use the facilities and the materials for making nuclear weapons. Now, that’s got to stop. And, the way it stops is for countries who are members of the NPT to sign an additional protocol, that is a modification of the treaty, that anything that they have obtained as a member of the NPT, as a non-nuclear weapons state, will be returned or destroyed, materials and facilities, if they are no longer members of the NPT. Now this is very strongly limiting, self-limiting, and in order to do that these states have to be compensated one way or another, and you know, they have to be given security guarantees and what not. But, that’s what we need to try to do.
Now, the Indian deal goes totally in the other direction. India had light-water reactors with — no, I’m sorry — heavy-water reactors with heavy water from Canada, and I think fuel from the United States, and despite their having said that by the time they made their first bomb in 1974 all the Canadian heavy water had leaked out, it was a misuse of these facilities. India never signed the NPT, but these transfers were given with strictures against their being used in a weapon program. But, what has happened, fast forwarding, after the 1998 nuclear explosions of India and Pakistan, India has a program to build breeder reactors. And, you know, when Mr. Bush was in India and hastily finished the negotiation these breeder reactors were put on the military side so they would not be inspected, limited, or their product unavailable for military use, even though they were advertised by the Indians as the future of their civil nuclear power sector. They have not been — part of the deal was not for India to sign a material cutoff, or even to have a permanent moratorium on nuclear testing, or to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty. So, what we have done was to give India really all the benefits of a nuclear weapon state without any of the restrictions that would occur if they were a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now, what to do? India has nuclear weapons. India is not going to give up their nuclear weapons. But, I believe that we could, that what the Congress should do is not agree to this agreement until the breeder reactors are put on the civil side, at least, and, you know, all they need to do is to make such changes in them. The Indians will back out and we’ll have to renegotiate the whole thing, which would be a good deal in my opinion.
Yeah. I pretty much agree with what Dick said. It’s really a very important turning point. With the spread of nuclear technology it’s become clear that the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as negotiated, needs to be supplemented by further restrictions in order to keep countries from becoming latent or virtual nuclear powers. Because, the minute you can enrich uranium, forget even having a reactor for plutonium, the minute you enrich uranium you can make a uranium bomb. And what the United States has been emphasizing all along and properly so, is adding restrictions to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as having the Additional Protocol which says you have to be able to make challenge inspections to all suspect facilities, not just to declared facilities. There’s a Proliferation Security Initiative which has countries working together, cooperating to prevent the shipment of equipment, for example, that allows you to enrich uranium in centrifuges and these kinds of cooperative measures, which would prevent new countries from gaining the technology. Once you can enrich uranium civilian power, you’ve got the technology to make bombs and you don’t need as big an establishment to make a few uranium bombs as you need in order to produce significant nuclear power. So, that has become a problem and we, the president has quite, has put forward a proposal and Russia has put it forward also, and so has ElBaradei at the IAEA, that there should not be national control in new countries of the fuel, the enrichment or the reprocessing, that the fuel should be guaranteed but taken away after use; (i.e. only leased under control). Now, instead with the Indian deal, we have, instead of increasing the restrictions on the material, we have abandoned some of the requirements of the NPT by allowing them to have military parts of their system that are not, and civilian parts of their nuclear system, not under control, as Dick as spelled out.
And so, we have made an exception, and when we make that exception by saying, “India’s a good country. We want them to be part of the international nuclear system,” all that’s very good. China, Russia, somebody else can say, “Well we want another country to get the exception.” And so, we have set a precedent. We have set a very bad precedent that weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty just at the moment when it’s important for us to strengthen it to prevent the spread of this technology. And so, I think that, I think probably politically you’re not going to be able to kill this deal, but I think ways of trying to put restrictions on it, either by Congress refusing to go along totally with the request of the administration to change the law, which we operate under now when dealing with nuclear countries that don’t comply fully with the NPT. I think there are reasonable — there are some restrictions Congress could put which would be a killer to the deal, and they have to avoid them, but I think having the restriction that says we’re not going to build arsenals larger, that we’re not going to test. That, we’re going to work together cooperatively to fulfill the Reagan-Gorbachev dream of big reductions in weapons and so forth. I think some of these things should be put in the legislation by Congress. Otherwise, I, my own personal view is the gain of having India join in the nations under the Non-Proliferation regime with the, because of the exceptions, is probably doing, on a global scale, more harm to the future of the Non-Proliferation regime than benefit. But, that’s a political judgment.
Well, let me ask you one final question. Because both of you have been working these issues for decades now, how would you characterize where we are right now? Are we in promising times, critical times, are there opportunities, is it a dangerous time? How would you characterize it?
We have survived the Soviet empire’s confrontation and we avoided nuclear use, nuclear war during those years of the Cold War and I thought that’s a tremendous achievement and restricting the number of nuclear powers to eight is a tremendous achievement, as well as the precedent of nonuse of these weapons, even though we were engaged, and the Russians were in otherwise unwinnable wars, whether Afghanistan, North Korea, or Vietnam. We are now, I think, facing a very different and more difficult problem. That is keeping the most dangerous material and weapons out of the hands of very dangerous people for whom the conventional notion of deterrence doesn’t work. We have to put a, we have to maintain a strong community, working together cooperatively to prevent proliferation. And, I think it’s a, I think at the moment we’re really at a crossroads. If Iran and North Korea get away scot-free and have nuclear weapons, and the Indian deal stimulates other countries looking for exceptions like that, we’re going to lose some of the, if not all the benefits of the Non-Proliferation regime and the world will become very dangerous. It’ll be a different kind of danger. Not the nuclear holocaust, but it will be that with more countries and more confrontations nuclear weapons will get increasing relevance around the world and the likelihood of crossing the nuclear threshold, even at a low level, I think, will grow. So, I think we’re at a very dangerous point and I just urge the leaders of countries to continue to use diplomacy as creatively as possible, balancing carrots and sticks. I see no other course.
Yeah. I think that we are at a crossroads, that we are losing control, but the problem is diplomatic, and that we are not spending nearly enough to resolve this problem and not spending the money we spend effectively. So, when we try to secure materials, nuclear materials, plutonium and uranium in Russia, we don’t spend the money over there with the people who would the work. And things get tied up for years about liabilities to American companies. Well, we don’t have to have American companies doing the work there. What we do is to have, what we should do is to have the Russian’s do it themselves and they would be motivated to do it if the people who were actually doing the work got the money. So, this is a program on which we should spend $10 billion a year instead of a billion dollars a year. So, that’s important. I believe that we will see, within the next few years, one or more terrorist nuclear weapons explode in an American city, but it will kill 100,000 - 200,000 people, less than a tenth percent of the population. It need not destroy the country, but it’s going to be very bad, unless we take measures to survive the social disruption, the economic disruption that’s going to follow unless we have these measures in place. So, things are bad. They can get worse. But, there’s not the prospect of external destruction of our society, but only of a kind of autoimmune response, …
… by which we will destroy ourselves.
Jennifer, do you have any follow-up questions?
Yeah. I just have a quick one. I just want to clarify that you actually believe that at some point we may see a terrorist nuclear bomb go off in a major U.S. city? That’s a big deal. [Laugh]
I was wondering if maybe you could expound on that just a tad before we end here?
Well, I gave a lecture at the Argonne National Laboratory a couple of months ago, and in November 2005 at the American Philosophical Society, and that’s what I said then. I published it in some papers. So, that’s what I believe, because there are nuclear weapons available, there are improvised nuclear weapons. A gun-type weapon will have the same yields whether, you know it’s something that you can make to drop from an airplane or something that you assemble on your apartment floor in Manhattan. And unless we can change the motivation of people the technology becomes more and more available, and we certainly have not done enough to keep the materials from being available. A. Q. Kahn, Dr. A. Q. Kahn, who stole the Urenco centrifuge design for Pakistan, and the founder of their nuclear weapon program, was out there as a one-man — actually more than that, and the question of his government involvement has not been resolved — pro proliferation machine, selling technology to Libya and to other countries, including North Korea. So, there are people who benefit from this and against that the forces of defense are not very effective. So, we don’t have all that much time. Yes, I think the probability is fifty percent that within the next five years or so we will see such an explosion.
Let me disassociate myself from that view. I’m much more worried of some biological weapons or some sort of bioterrorism, because it’s so much easier and so much harder to detect. I really don’t, you know, I worry about a nuclear event but I can’t go along with fifty percent in five years. I just have to say that. And by the way, Dick’s previous remark reminds me of something. We never mentioned the word “Nunn-Lugar.” Dick was talking about the Nunn-Lugar Program and putting ten billion instead of one billion a year. That’s been a tremendously successful program. It’s at much too low a priority. It’s hung up, often, by industrial ridiculous red-tape things that are used. But, in fact last year, or maybe it was two years ago now, the 8 industrial leading governments have joined us and they now have committed a billion a year for the next ten years also. So, one should take measure, recognize that the easiest way for a terrorist to get a bomb is to steal one. [Laugh] There’s material for seventy thousand nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. Nunn-Lugar has been a great success. It’s, it should be given a higher priority and more money, but don’t forget the name Nunn-Lugar because that really was a …
… very important step.
I agree. Well, this has been a very informative ninety minutes. And, I think what we’ll do is Jennifer will transcribe some of this and turn it into …
… something for the back page of APS News, …
… and I’m guessing probably in the next few weeks we’ll get you something to take a look at.
I did not say anything that I don’t care, that I feel should not be published.
Well, you will definitely get a chance to review it. It’s all right. [Laugh]