Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
We encourage researchers to utilize the full-text search on this page to navigate our oral histories or to use our catalog to locate oral history interviews by keyword.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of George Keyworth by Richard Rhodes on 1983 July 21,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31887
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Views on the Strategic Defense Initiative of the Reagan era; concerns about destabilization of defense capabilities; development of defensive technology including laser weapons and particle beams; advances in computer technology; Ronald Reagan's Address to the Nation of March 23, 1983; Edward Teller's involvement; strategic perspectives on defense systems, defense budget, nuclear weapons, technological developments and superiority, unilateral disarmament, Soviet war policy.
Good afternoon, Dr. Keyworth, how are you doing? I’ve been working for the last couple years on a history of the development of the atomic and hydrogen bomb. I have a grant from the Ford Foundation and have done an enormous amount of background reading and interviewing most of the older, whatever they call them, older statesmen of the field, the atomic scientists.
I know someone you ought to talk to, because I am rather close personally to Edward Teller.
I talked to Dr. Teller.
One of my friends, I know quite well, went around for a couple of years and talked to most of the living people that time to try and unravel the truth about the kernel idea about the hydrogen bomb.
I talked to Stan Ulam a couple of weeks ago.
Well, if you talked to Stan, you talked to Edward. All you can possibly do is have a paradox to present. This fellow is a scientist, he [???] Lieutenant Colonel at WestPoint, but he’s been trying to unravel that exact paradox like a hundred other people.
What is his name?
He’s at WestPoint?
Yeah. You might give him a call, sometime.
Yes, I’m still kind of digging out material from the postwar period because there was just too much in 1945 to try and do it all at once.
There were some very strong personalities involved.
And after 38 years, well, Edward is probably just beginning to realize. I think he attributes the real idea as much to Fermi as to anybody else. And [???]. R. But it seems when the President proposed, I guess it’s now being called the defense [???] and especially when Dr. Teller seemed to be involved, I thought I would try to look into what had been a theme I had been trying to think about which is re: the search for technological security, for security through technology, which I guess it’s [???].
Well, I think it’s fascinating, let me put it bluntly. For three months I have been talking to either highly technical people or, how should I say, flakes, or those who just plain enjoy over popularizing science. And I don’t mean over, in the sense of exuberance, but I mean oversimplifying. And this is not a simple issue, and I think you are going to find, as time goes along, in the next couple of years, I think you will find lots of, far more intellectually profound discussions on the issue: it is an extremely complicated issue, it is not a trivial issue. To think about it demands a hell of a lot more intellectual capability addressing this thing. Otherwise, but let me…
What does it mean? It is not, it is not appropriately in the frame of a Star Wars exercise, and I think that’s a grossly misleading perception of the very pragmatic sense that drove the president to do this. But, let me right off the bat start off by telling you that you will approach the problem, maybe with more historical interest, but incorrectly if you assume that this idea, of the President’s, was driven by Edward or anyone else.
No, I understand that. I remember a passage in Scheer’s book back during the presidential campaign when the president was talking about this problem and his concern for the [???].
Well, you know, I have watched him and I have felt humbled because I have been studying [???] for many years and it’s always interesting to talk to the forester. But, you know, we learned a heck of a lesson in the last two years and we learned it from a rather pedestrian place in the whole defense area. We learned it from wrestling with the MX. I mean, there is a message there and the message is not simply survivability versus pure deterrence, and it is not technical implications, technical details, rather, of basing modes. The fact of the matter is that we adopted a doctrine of strategic deterrence that eventually became the so-called the doctrine of the sure destruction, when America had overwhelming strategic superiority. And, at that time, the soviets built, and you know as well as I do, gigantic missiles essentially in a large measure to compensate for the lack of sophisticated target capability, of course, [???] And, but you could have looked forward 20 years ago to a period when the Sovs would, by evolution, would bring that [???] down and what does the message today? The message today is that our strategic deterrent today is more unstable than it was 20 years ago, and 20 years from now, it is very likely to be much more unstable than it is today. Why? Because the land-based arm of the triad is compromised. The airplane arm of the triad, it doesn’t just call it something different. It, I don’t think it was compromised, I don’t think...
Um, I would say some technology with 10 units and I would say the cruise missiles with 2 units. The cruise missile was designed as a way to make a non-penetrating bomber, B-52, penetrate. On the other hand, a penetrating bomber, which is what a Delta ATD [???] is, truly gets to the heart of the matter. But an airplane takes 12 hours and has a very different form of deterrent value than does a very, very responsive weapon like a missile. To come down to it, of course, we basically rely upon our submarines today for strategic deterrent more than anything else. And if you just realize one number, that is the megaton bomb, detonated in water, will destroy a submarine in a diameter of about 14 miles. One megaton.
Never thought about that one. It’s not in the literature.
Remember, an SSA [???] team can carry a heck of a lot of SSAT, I mean a heck of a lot of one megaton bombs. You don’t really need high accuracy by doing this type of target. You can build relatively cheap missiles. Now, submarines, by the way, I should explain because I feel somehow compromised with an expert around. I was referring to Mario’s MIT training, because he has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT but he also is a submarine captain, has been, until very recently, so he is more expert than I, you may catch me if you wish, Mario, but I think if you look at submarines, they are essentially totally survivable today. It’s a good place to be in the event of a nuclear exchange. But, with the facts I gave you, if we ever learned how to even know was in some general area, you can attempt saturation bombing. And when you, [???] Tridents are enormously valuable targets. You can afford to expend a hell of a lot on a [???] that will take on a Trident. So all I’m saying is, I am certainly not minimizing the effectiveness of the submarine, or its long term effectiveness. What I am saying is to me, there is, I believe, to me and the President’s evolution of March 23rd speech, there was a sense of the future which the chiefs called when they talked to him a sense of strategic vision is required in face of today’s reality. This is not 1960, it is not 1970, and today we are stressed, very hard. The future looks destabilizing, more threatening, whatever you want to call it in the strategic sense, and the technological superiority that we have, the military experts call it force of multiplication, the U.S. has always had to sustain conventional parity in Europe and elsewhere, as being compromise. The Soviets have a T80 tank, for example, that is, for all practical purposes, as good as an M1. The technological gap has been narrowed, and yet, the gap between our industrial bases and our overall technological bases remains very wide, in spite of tech transfer and all, we are still a hell of a lot better than the Sovs are. Well, that’s why, I think, there is beginning to be a renewed interest in making better use of current technology in our military system. And it’s also why the President felt it was time to take a full vision forward and the speech began in the President’s earliest discussions with, about that specific speech, with us. It began as, “Let us think hard and ask our expertise, national expertise, to address the problem of moving emphasis on offense, or deterrence, to an emphasis on defense. And then it narrows specifically to the first task, which is ABM. And why first, and why, that is one family, one element in the family that would be required to move from emphasis on offense to defense and why ABM? Obvious, [???] besides the economy and other intangibles. What drives it is fear, and fear of what, fear of the most destabilizing and threatening weapon in anyone’s arsenal today. The most feared weapon is the ballistic missile. Its genocide, it’s not terribly discriminate and it’s fast. And, whereas computers can do, in 30 minutes can do an enormous number of calculations the human can’t make very many critical decisions in a 30 minute period. It’s frightening.
It also sounds as if we shifted at some point to thinking from [???] military equipment to how to protect our people. I was thinking about that larger issue all along.
Well, of course, that’s almost underlying [???] I think what the President is saying is we have, as a nation we have now committed to a program called strategic modernization program. And I think regardless of today’s arguments about the MX, I think basically this country’s strategic deterrent for the rest of this century is we can be well assured. The question is what we are going to do afterwards. And that’s really what the President came to. And I have been asked time and time again one simple question, that is the time ‘83, is it now a good time to attempt a development of a technological solution to making ballistic missiles obsolete? No more, no less. And the answer, to the best of my judgment, is yes. It is technically feasible. And I have been very critical of many, many ABM systems for a long, long time. And have been.
Did you work on one?
Did you work on one at Los Alamos, did I read that somewhere?
I have been involved in the nuclear weapons development program for a long time.
In general, yes.
Some of the elements that I was [???] in support of all the directive energy concepts for.
But not before that, [???] ballistic missile defense systems.
I was involved, back when I was a kid, virtually, in some of the effects of the spent warhead, which was the first neutron bomb, incidentally. Yeah, mostly.
Yes, I was responsible for an underground testing program before I came here, but I, on the other hand, to be completely correct, most of my career at Los Alamos was spent on fundamental research and nuclear reactions and nuclear physics, [???].
Is Charles Kramer still [???].
Used to be SAI.
He used to be [???].
On, my gosh, there must be two Charley Kramers. Charley Kramer was the 1970 decade genius in our weapons design program. Incredible guy. Absolutely stable, absolutely on of the heroes in the institution. And one day he just, has a shotgun.
I corresponded a little with his wife and she just couldn’t figure it out.
She still works here.
It was incredible. He was deeply religious, had a wonderful family, was loved and respected. But he also had gone to a doctor, off the record, a couple of days before with signs of stress. He was enormous; he was carrying enormous responsibilities in the laboratory. And, [???].
I didn’t mean to bring that up, but it occurred to me that you had been there and probably knew him [???]. I had just interviewed him two or three months before for a story and then [???].
[???] The nicest guy in the world you could think of, easygoing, thoughtful. Anyway, I think, I’m not trying to over complicate this matter, but I think you’ve got to realize the context in which the President [???].
No, that’s very good, those are things that I hadn’t really seen or thought through particularly the vulnerability or potential vulnerability of the submarine. It was clear from the literature that the Soviets [???] vulnerable before ours.
Well, but the point [???].
But the point they are making is they have to have some sort of system [???] right now.
[???] an article in the New York Times last fall trying to address this gently, that, the thing that scares me is that their rates, the problem of detecting a submarine is the [???] noise problem. You see, the sea has an odd background. And, however you do it, acoustically or non-acoustically, the signal’s a noise problem. And, the way you address the noise problems is the beta process, [???] process with beta. Well, we’re getting to the ability to process data is almost doubling annually and you know what geometric projections are. Where are we going to be, my gosh, just a very few years ago we were talking about 4k ram, you know, [???] memory. Now, if you remember just a year and a half ago, I think, the Japanese having beaten us on 64K rams. Now, the Bell labs, many months ago, and they showed me computers that were going out in the field to be installed that were enormously powerful, in little tiny boxes, pushing [???] technology. And [???] one capability in these little boxes, and I said it’s impossible. They showed me, opened it up and they showed me these [???] with two 56K rams on them. Now I find that people are joining together in cooperative r&d ventures to build four megabit rams. Now, where are we going to be in the year 2000, and that’s basically what scares me? And besides, a one-armed strategic deterrent means that the other side can focus entirely upon [???] and you only have a few projects. So, I just emphasize the word destabilizing in the future. Well, anyway, here we are. I have only addressed one part of the issue because I am a scientist. I can say that four years ago, had I been asked the same question, is now a reasonable time to try, I probably would have been much more negative.
Well, several things. Let me enumerate them. One is of course, that I just referred to: Data processing. Absolutely key in making enormous advances and the curve of, the rate at which we are making advances is increasing, not decreasing, as you would expect of something that’s been matured for a long time. Second, and I guess I think fundamentally is the single, the biggest technological trend that I can clearly grab hold of, is most concepts that people have conquered over the years require putting something very large in space. That very large thing might be an accelerator; it might be a giant laser, whatever it is, it is the source of directed energy, and it consumes energy and a) it’s vulnerable and b) the, its ability to defend itself requires energy. And in scenarios I have seen or envisioned that it consumes more energy in defending itself than the enemy spends in attacking you. You, basically, when you put something up in orbit, it’s the most vulnerable thing imaginable. You’ve got the background of space, very, very low noise, it can detect it very clearly, and it’s just as exposed as can be. And it’s predictable. You know exactly where it’s going to be at any moment. Now, that may sound very simplistic, but nobody has ever come up with a very good solution to that vulnerability. And recently, a number of technologies began to reach, let me try to put it this way. I think the physics has been solved in learning how to propagate a laser beam through the atmosphere, which means you can put a laser on the ground and all you need then for the mirror is the space and suddenly, mirrors are much simpler than the energy consuming part of the system of the laser itself, [???].
Well, let me come to that in a minute, because that’s part of the solution, but I think, first of all, mirrors are much less than lasers. Second of all, if a laser can be a short wave length, then the mirrors can be small in diameter, because there is a linear relationship, i.e. when you reduce the wave length by factor of 10, you can reduce the diameter of the mirror by a factor of IQ. They have the same focus. And that’s a very fundamental element. And 3 and 4 items are, we probably can develop mirrors that can be aimed the way phased ray radar is [???], essentially electromechanically. You don’t have to move the whole mirror. You know, phaser ray [???] radar will have a flat face and yet it can look, without moving, it can look right straight ahead, by just changing the electronic phase; by changing the changing the phase electronically. Well, you can do essentially the same thing with a mirror. And last, there are two ways of destroying something with a laser, one is to just boil the ray, we call that thermal kill. The other means is to whack it like a fist in the face and, that’s called impulse kill. You can put out your laser light in a very short pulse like a millionth of a second. And then you literally [???] you hit something hard, and that’s very hard to defend against, it’s very much more difficult to defend against. So, [???].
Ah, yes, good. Ok, Dr. Teller [???] talked about [???] deterrence, which is much more, [???].
Exactly, blowtorches versus hammers. And I would say that those things put together, and I could go on and on and say that there are other technical options, but those are the things that I would say remove, what had been for me, traditionally, impenetrable barriers. Things, I just did not know how to get over. Hurdles I did not know how to get over. Physics hurdles, yeah.
So, I think, basically, most of the hurdles from a scientist’s perspective and a [???] engineer perspective have been diminished drastically and I think it’s an eminently logical time to try right now. So, by the way, to identify the right way a laser particle beam, whatever, I think it’s just premature. I don’t think, I think whatever choice we make now won’t be the choice we’ll be on in a few years. I think the most important thing is to get a sense of competition going. Try several avenues in a competitive fashion.
Dr. Teller [???] mentioned that there were five or six proposals that were [???]. Can you list them at all? I was [???] that they were talking about the x-ray laser.
Some of the more obvious ones are [???] x-ray laser. Short-wave length x-ray lasers and short wave length lasers come two different kinds.
How short? X-ray or, [???].
No, visible light. A few tenths of a micron. And if you’re talking about shortwave length lasers, you can talk about two different kinds. One is called an exeimer, a, let us call it a conventional laser concept. And another one is called a free electron laser which involves a heavy electron accelerator also, not necessarily large, and very, very efficient, the latter. We know more about the exeimer than we do about the electron lasers, probably, but they are both very promising concepts.
Have you [???] the controlled fusion program. In fact, let me ask you a question, this is just something that I thought about one day, when I noticed in the 40th Anniversary issue of the Los Alamos magazine that radiator coupling was finally mentioned in the official publication in America, with x-rays, as the basis for the H-bomb. The first time I’ve seen it. But it occurred to me that it would have been possible to go from that to figuring out the diagnostic systems of underground testing by using the same basic idea, of using And that might very well have been a great idea of about how you use the same systems here to pump an x-ray laser, or whatever. [???].
No, not really, I will tell you this.
It didn’t happen that way?
That, certainly, that’s been part of the driving motivation for the laser fusion program. On the other hand, probably the very, very difficult one, but that is not a really very competitive approach to the fusion problem, but it is a very special approach to do some very pertinent physics of very high energy density, which means, and very high part density, however, [???] which means very hot systems, and very hot systems radiate x-rays.
Oh, OK. I thought that science had just come out of the corner or something.
Laser fusion is basically a science program for studying high energy and high power density physics. But, it really is not how the pump on x-ray laser came to be developed. [???] X-ray laser really is a rather logical concept. You use energy to pump a laser, which may be flash lamps, it may be electrical discharges, and if you want energy, what is the biggest energy source you know, especially if, when you need it for a short period of time? Nuclear explosion, of course. That’s really all there is to it. So, if two short wave length lasers concepts, bomb pumped x-ray lasers, we have another laser concept called chemical lasers, which are long wave length, but relatively mature in development at this time, and we’ve learned a lot from the program. And, I guess another one — one must have to look at is, of course, particle beams. Now we haven’t had very many breakthroughs in accelerator technology, the means of producing beams of particles of mass, but we haven’t tried very hard, and maybe the driving motive comes from the fact that the so-called lethality bf a beam of particles that possess mass is very, very hard to defend against. To pick an extreme, to pick an optimum, a neuron beam, a beam of neuron, deposits energy in a, in the, in a very, very, lethal fashion, simply deposits energy uniformly as it penetrates deeply in a material, not along the surface, and you just about can’t defend against that. Put inches of tungsten on the outside of the re-entry vehicle and it will just go right through. But, let me emphasize, you know how big the [???] accelerator is, of course the Los Alamos [???] physics facility for making neurons, you’ve got to have a couple of generations of major breakthroughs of particle accelerated technology. That’s naming a few of the most obvious ones right there that are pertinent. Lasers are mature, and they have the advantage of being able to reflect the laser light neatly and cleanly from optical [???] surfaces, which is just a very logical approach from today’s technology to the overall problem. But you asked me if laser fusion had played a role, I would say that one of the most interesting and certainly unforeseeable, unpredictable spinoffs from laser fusion is that we have learned a lot about making very, very short pulse lasers. Very short pulse but high energy lasers. And, that may very well be very important technology if the impulse kill, or the hammer of mechanism, kill mechanism looks attractive. The important thing now, really, is I explained the rudiments or some opportunities to you, but the important thing is that across the river, in that building over there, there are large number of bright young people, as well as experienced leadership over there, arguing day and night where, how the priorities should be arranged.
[???] would that report be out in the next several months?
It will be offered to the President in October and be incorporated as into the FIE budget. And in turn, we will inevitably give some serious thought to how to reprogram the 1984 budget to build up to it.
[???] planning program to follow up on the president’s proposal.
I think it will be exciting, because [???]
After all, the president did a very unusual thing on March 23. I think in the history of leadership, it’s not a very new thing, but in the U.S., it’s been a long time since we’ve seen classical [???] leadership. You know, I guess I almost get offended whenpeop1e talk about who put the president up to this, because the president, this was strictly the president’s own initiative, and it was, I will say, it was wonderful to see. But, if, I’m sure you’ve heard that from, it was a very real observation on the part of quite a few different people. But the president gave a speech, he addressed his philosophy and he gave it from the president’s eyes. Now, for the American people to see that philosophy and doctrinal change emerge as tangible technology over the course as time, will be very exciting to see. And, I’m hoping that it will even be, how do you say it, imagination capturing in the sense that Americans are excited about what they see in space and they are excited maybe even more so, excited about what they see happening in American industry in terms of home computers, [???].
I just got a [???].
Yeah, all of the marvelous things that we’re seeing. I just got my daughter one, it’s even lighter. Electronic typewriter, and people are just, they’re almost beginning to say, wait another year and we’ll have some, we’ll have anything. But they don’t see the same thing in the [???] And, I think the boldness, the sense of imagination and vision that I think we will see emerging in this program that will capture the public’s imagination.
Let me, if I may, know to what extent Dr. Teller was involved. Just simply, you remember his Wall Street Journal advertisement. He described that [???] almost an accidental phenomenon. Having been on a talk show, he mentioned he hadn’t seen the President since the inauguration. He then got a call; he came to talk to the President, to discuss technology and other things, talked about it with some other advisers. Basically, according to his version of the story and that ad. K. Let me offer something from a slightly different perspective, because I have only one advantage, I was there.
I watched the President, let me share with you something, I don’t remember the date, but back in the summer of 1981, when I was new and fresh here, and was discussing something else with the President, and the President was expressing his concerns about the strategic modernization program, that it was heavy on his mind at the time, and he just simply mentioned that men should be capable of better means for assuring national security and peace than for, [???]. I have quoted this many times and he said this spontaneously himself in a press briefing a few days after his speech. And I quote again, “We should be capable of better than two grown men standing facing each other with cocked .45s.” And I think that, to me, and it has been mine for 12 years, right around the development of nuclear weapons, I shared with him totally. Nuclear weapons are capable of genocide, and I think that the question he was asking was to me the essence of a presidential perspective. He’s the one who sits there with the responsibility that no one, except his predecessors and successors will ever fully appreciate. And, I will not forget it. [???] And sure, over the course of time, people from the high frontier, a group of people who have been motivated by the same sense of concern, many of whom knew the President, years and years ago, have talked with him about it, were [???] to talk to him about it. Edward, [???] I arranged that appointment, incidentally, and he came in and discussed with the President a number of things, he actually came to discuss the freeze movement first, but mentioned his concerns about potential options, action in the Soviet Union, and potential options in the U.S. that [???] . And the President has read lots and talked lots about it, and I watched it emerge as something that began long before I knew President Regan, and long before he was President Regan. So, really [???].
So you watched it emerge as a technology?
No, I watched it emerge as an idea in his mind. And I think if there was, I think the present status and future prospects are what drove the President. I don’t think there is any person or two people or three people whose presence or absence altered his course. I really, I think this developed from the President’s own sense of this country’s security.
And yet, he must have the, to realize at some extent [???].
Yes and no. You know, people have a hard time grasping what a presidential perspective is. And I don’t think that, I think, pardon my perhaps small sense of, I obviously respect Ronald Reagan, but I think the president, one of the president’s greatness elements of his greatness is the fact that he had an, he had an appropriate thresh hold for a president. My gosh, we went four years criticizing a previous president for a focus upon inability to distinguish micro from macro. And now we have a president who has a presidential respective and people say, my gosh, he doesn’t remember the date of a battle in Viet Nam. The President was not upset with the technical options; the president chose to ask a number of people whom he trusted whether there were a reasonable set of technical options. When he was assured that there were, he did not ask me or anyone else for a primer in nonlinear [???]. The president has a lot of faith in American ingenuity, he has a lot of faith in the technology to do it, he is washed with technology has come to this country for, say, 40 years. [???] And the need is based on that. What he saw was a need, he was that much more clearly than I did or anyone else did.
But he surely would not have made the statement if he didn’t feel it wasn’t possibly an answer to the statement [???]He was saying, in effect…
If you want to know what was going through the president’s mind, we’ve got to be very careful. That embodies a lot of the way the president thinks.
I talked with Fred York who said that he thought, for example, Secretary Weinburger had sent away with his technology [???] before anybody else came to town.
Yeah, [???] long before [???] came to town. I do not think anyone was an element in this. I emphasize. Now there’s another side to the issue. I said that I obviously was emphasizing the technical perspective of this. Well, I think it is entirely feasible. But there is the other side to the issue and that is the strategy. Look at the arguments we’ve heard. We’ve heard the arguments that it is destabilizing. We’ve heard the arguments that offensive systems are inherently flexible and defensive systems are inherently rigid, or inflexible. We’ve heard the arguments [???].
That sounds like an odd argument to me.
You’re talking to somebody who’s had to defend the [???]. But we’ve heard the arguments that this was another arms race. We’ve heard arguments that it can’t be done. We’ve heard arguments that it will break the bank. Think about what these arguments imply. I think what we’re looking at is traditional resistance to change. There is no reason; I believe that a scientist can say can justify a statement that it won’t work. First of all, it is not very well defined. Second of all, what it will cost is absolutely unknown today. And, remember, what we spend annually on strategic forces or future offensive forces today [???]. There’s a lot of money in that pot, in that budget paid, or whatever you want to call it. As far as destabilizing, you say it is destabilizing, I ask you to say destabilizing relative to today. The assumption most, those: claims are made by people who interpret today somehow as being stable, or mutual assured destruction as being fundamentally stable.
[???] destabilizing and deterrence.
Yes, we have a problem, but they’re going to have to propose a solution, and I do not believe that moving to defense, if you wish [???] is fundamentally destabilizing, but I think it is time to move to something fundamentally more stable. And I believe that this is the right and proper path.
I think the thing that makes people nervous is that transition point where we have nuclear weapons and defense systems. It would be easy to visualize that when we’re sitting in the Kremlin as the first strike victim [???].
Purely intellectually, let me ask of you three arguments ford that, if you wish. First of all, this nation did not find when the U.S. possessed a unique strategic superiority a unique deterrent [???]. We didn’t find that destabilizing.
We did not find that destabilizing. We were quite secure with it.
Yeah. [???] the Soviets, they worked very hard and fast.
Ok, then I’ll immediately go to number 2. I think the, our objective, an important consideration is America’s security. And when you worry about whether America’s security is to be achieved by a means that will provoke response and that means first strike on the part of the Soviet Union. Do not deny that the president has already taken steps to insure that we will main a strategic deterrence from now until any reasonable transition point to a more defensive posture. We will possess I think a virtual insurmountable deterrent to first strike Soviet attack. And a large measure, I’m referring to a submarine attack, which [???] very rapidly modernized. That’s very real. The Soviets virtually, well let us say, it is virtually inconceivable that the benefit that the Soviets could, expect to achieve from a first strike attack against the U.S. would be acceptable to them. So, that’s what deterrence is all about. I do those two, and simply, I would argue that the time is that is required to take this very bold technological step is a landmark. People argue whether it’s 20 years or 5 years. What you’re really hearing is the difference between developing a scientific tool versus a deployed system. And it will take a long time; it is taking us from 10-15 years to develop a new missile. And this is a much bolder step. It will take time to develop that and in the meantime, we have ample opportunity to negotiate stabilizing moves with the Soviet Union. The President has, as I think more and more people realize, has put an enormous amount of emphasis in trying and achieving not arms control, but arms reductions. And the President would like to see an environment, if you wish, or a set of incentives by which both we and the Soviets would find it in our own national security interest to agree to major reductions. Well, a major move, a major doctrinal change in defense, in this case, from offense to defense, is exactly provides exactly such a set of incentives. You may notice in the speech that there was a reference to conventional deterrence. And the implication being that this move inevitably places more emphasis on yet conventional military capability. And of course it does. You develop a technology; you provide the incentives for arms negotiations that will seek major reductions, the goal being zero, incidentally. And inevitably, you are back where you were before the invention of the nuclear weapon. The President said, “Ask the scientific community members to, those who developed the atomic bomb, to give us a technological means to render nuclear weapons obsolete.” Let me translate, put that in another sense. Put this potentially devastating, destabilizing genocidal weapon back in its box. And I would argue that no one has had the vision to propose that since the nuclear weapon was developed in the first place. I mean serious, responsible, acceptable means. Unilateral disarmament was a concept that could be discussed with intellectual soundness at a time when the U.S. had overwhelming, superiority. But many of those same people who argued destabilizing mutual shared destruction has worked and so on, are people who have long been advocates of the steps that are tantamount to unilateral disarmament. And I would go back and look at history, there is sociology in my world that is most understandable and one can easily empathize with. Scientists’ are not past people, they are old people like anyone else. And anybody who was involved in the development of the nuclear weapon had conscience to wrestle with, let’s say. And in wrestling with it after the war, a large faction of the very key figures began to embrace unilateral disarmament. Why are a lot of the, why do you think that so many doves are right smack out of the, I’m going to use that colloquialism, right out of the heart of the nuclear weapons development effort? Because they have generated a technological tool that changed the course of the world. And, they if you wish, wrestled with the philosophical implications of this and of course, arms control, what you must do is sit down like responsible people and negotiate arms control. Well, when the U.S. had 10 swords and the Soviets had 1 sword, a logical step to take was, if we will take one of our swords and throw it down on the ground and beat it into a plowshare, then maybe they will take either One or half and beat it into a plowshare and then we will have greater stability. Well, unilateral, what I’m trying to say is unilateral disarmament, and don’t look at me as if [???].
I’m trying to figure out who you’re talking about.
Well, obviously, I refuse to put this in the context of names, but if unilateral disarmament is a new concept to you, then I propose you go back and look at this, at the dispute of the last 30 years of defense in America.
I just feel that you’re using that term in a way that is not familiar to me.
Go back and look at this history of [???].
The [???] treaty, or…
Even the Bereft plans propose that we be the last ones out, you know.
You’re talking about two different things. You are talking about responsible, or, you are talking about proposals that have been made by governments. I am talking about the scientific community, which is where all of the majority of the criticisms and intellectual explorations of the president’s speech have been coming from. I am not referring to Sov 1, or anything else that’s unilateral disarmament. I am saying that back in the 50’s, a substantial number of the leaders in the nuclear weapons development program Manhattan Project began to embrace a philosophy of putting enormous emphasis on arms control and that since the Sovs were not, they were continuing to build then we should be the ones to take the first step.
Yeah. [???] proposed that by some previous [???].
Now, there’s one effective unilateral disarmament step that we did take. And I contend reasonably consciously, and that was for 15 years after we started putting Minutemen in, we deployed no new land based ICBM in spite of, now at the beginning it was because it was more than adequate. But later on, the Soviets developed generation after generation after generation after generation and we still put all of our emphasis on arms control.
Wasn’t that adequate? [???].
Every single Minuteman that sits out there and very few people will dispute this point. It’s one of the few things you can say about strategic trends that is irrefutable today. Every single ICBM that we possess on land today can be destroyed in a fraction of a second.
By a first strike? [???].
By 550 SS18 equivalents.
No, not equivalent on the other side. A big difference. This is not, it can wreak unacceptable devastation, either of us has a capability in first strike of wreaking unacceptable devastation, but what I am talking about is something the experts call counterforce capability. And the soviets have a number of [???] missiles and a large number of targets and we have not made an effort to develop a first strike capability. The soviets clearly have.
About a mandate. [???]. They can’t get it. They spent $100 billion on their air defense system, which today is virtually impenetrable by B52s, except with emerging improved missile technology, that’s why the strategic modernization programs. But, I don’t claim that the solution for each and every argument is simple. I said at the outset of this conversation, it is a very fundamental step that the president is proposing to take. I only contend that it is very much, it possesses the capability of a sustained stable deterrent by which two opposing societies can co-exist. Mind you, what I said before, it puts emphasis on conventional technology; conventional military.
It brings it back up.
Sure, it brings that back up in priority, and that requires a response on the part of the U.S., and it requires that the U.S. and our allies better deploy the thing that we do have that is markedly different from the Soviet Union, and that is a vastly superior industrial phase. It means that we do not build, we don’t, how do you say, we do not defend ourselves on the Soviets’ turf. We don’t look at that T80 tank and say we’ve got to have one. Instead, we look at their massed armor in Europe and say how, what is the best way to defend Europe against that. It is much more than just building tanks. It is using our technological superiority to build defensive systems against tanks. There are tanks, there are ships, there are men, there are spot munitions, there are airplanes, tactical air superiority, etc. In fact, we can do the job a heck of a lot better.
To me the whole issue is, each element of it is common sense; on the other hand, it is a very multi-perimeter problem. It cannot absorb the implications of the president’s speech with 5 minutes of thinking about it.
The analogy with the early hours, if you will, of the Manhattan Project it’s a [???] in the sense that it took a long time for us to figure that one out, we’re still figuring that one out in a way.
Yeah, but let me offer you one slightly different perspective. When we started the Manhattan project we were at war. And you can philosophize in the post war years all you want.
No, I mean several years from then, when the Hungarians were trying to get the government to be interested [???].
Do you go back and look at the history of that time; do you really think that FDR was not, in his mind, prepared for war?
Oh, indeed he was.
Of course he was. Well, granted, it did not occur on a given date and the date was certainly December 8, 1941. But, the fact of the matter is when he made the decision to go forward full blast with the development of the atomic bomb, we were at war. And when you are at war, independent of all the philosophical ramblings you go through in the course of post war years, the fact of the matter is, there one principle objective when you’re at war, and that’s to win. And to me, the use of the atomic bomb in Japan is something I have, with my 12 year old son, a few months from now, has been reading all kinds of things on this, and to me, it’s a very simple problem. We wanted to win. And we wanted to shorten the war as much as we possibly could and the genie was out of the bottle the day the fisherman discovered it, essentially. So, today, the question is something else, not as simple and clear. The question is two-fold: where are we today in terms of security and vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Where are we going to be in foreseeable future? That’s the question, I think, that drove the President to that speech. And thirdly, what can we do to do the job better, better in the sense that, the pragmatic sense, or more effective defense, better in the, sense of more enduring stability and thirdly, introduce an intangible, no, thirdly, a more moral basis for it. We are a society that likes to be right in the absolute sense and somehow, deep down, I, for one, feel that relying upon a doctrine of assured destruction is just not right. By the way, one thing you will hear constantly from experts is that why do we talk about mutual destruction? That’s a 20-year old concept. And we haven’t had that for a long time. We had a doctrine of flexible response. I would just say this. I understand the flexible response. I understand the so-called scoop, and the options available to the President. I also understand what, I understand what the man walking outside this building on the street feels about this, and I really think the difference between flexible response and assured destruction is a technical difference. By that, I mean, what is it we’re afraid of and when I say it’s not right, or it’s not moral, what do I mean. I mean we possess the ability; we have the ability to deter soviet aggression by wreaking unacceptable devastation on the Soviet Union, right? What’s the difference between unacceptable devastation and assured destruction? Not much, it’s a small degree. It’s certainly not a difference in kind. They have perhaps a doctrinal change that represents a shift in degree of the alliance to of our assured destruction. Not a change in kind. A more technical argument.
I would be more surprised, especially with the moral argument; maybe I would have been more surprised [???] capabilities anti-defense systems, right? Do you know what I’m referring to? When you were talking about the development of techniques for disabling a Soviet system, [???] He was discussing it with some of the people at the Pentagon who were working on it, who felt quite comfortable in saying that by the time the Soviets have a defense system of the sort we’re talking about, how they will know how to know yours down.
Well, that’s a sort of double whammy when you, think about it.
You know, I understand that, and that goes back to the argument about the defensive systems being rigid and offensive systems being f1exible. You know, let’s go back to the marginal line, or castles, it’s true. There were rigid systems and you had an offensive system that was the most flexible system that was ever created, a man. And, not to bring [???] into this, either.
I think you’re starting a real good argument, I think it could.be right.
Man is a very flexible creature and so he went around the marginal line and then over the walls of the castle. And then, look at a ballistic missile. A ballistic missile is unbelievable inflexible. It, the minute it is fired and leaves Soviet territory, it can be detected. It is traveling a very rigid trajectory. It is a ballistic missile, emphasizing the ballistic. It travels a very rigid trajectory. Yes, it can merge, and therefore, it has been often [???] individual places. But if you were to, the part where it took off and circle where it can attack, all the different targets, that’s a very very small angled comb [???] there. And the only think that, of course, makes it such a feared weapon is the speed at which it goes. Well, when you realize that transferring information at a billion bits per second, is not beyond comprehension at this time. That’s 1800 billion, 1.8 trillion, bits of information. And that’s sort of in realm with today’s technology. You can break that 30-minute path down to where you know almost precisely where that missile is at any given moment. I call that a very rigid system, extremely rigid. And probably, it measures; a ballistic missile is a very, very rigid system. And therefore, you can almost talk about attacking it with speed. And we can, nowadays, you can process the data fast enough, and I believe you possess the means to intercept it. Now, what are the Soviets going to do to counter us, or what are we going to do to counter their defensive systems? Well, you go back to the traditional arguments of 1968 and 1972. Remember, the pre-ABM treaty days, when we argued ourselves blue in the face about whether we should develop a very different concept of this terminal defense, or hard psyche defense, or whatever, [???] EMD, whatever you want to call it, [???]. When we were talking about penetration aids and [???] warheads and decoys and so on, penetration aids is a jargon for decoys. This is a very, very different situation. We are trying to address the hardest part to do anything about. We are trying to address a missile in the boost phase, when it’s a great big thing that is extremely visible because it is as hot as it can be, and therefore, it is very detectable by infrared detectors. And we’re trying to do it by developing defensive systems that are extremely powerful, that adding a little mass or a little cleverness just is not going to do it. What I’m trying to say is we’re not trying to propose doing something incrementally, we’re proposing to do something boldly different. That if affected, will not be easy to counter. And if it is easy to counter, I will claim it will not be effective, therefore will not be better.
That’s what’s disturbing. If we indeed are comfortable with the probability that we could take out a soviet defense system, then we eventually could take out one of ours, then eventually we are left with the same [???] back and forth. Not that there are any certainties in this life.
We’ve got a bit of perception problem because we’ve talked for so long, about how to defend the Minuteman deal, or how to defend Washington but yet I’m referring back to the 1968-1972 era, ENT, and we’ve looked for so long at the Soviet systems in Moscow, we think of that as being, some people think of that as being what the President was talking about. That is not what he was talking about. It is completely different technology. And, and one of the elements, and one of the elements that all of these bright people over there are trying to wrestle with is something that is not readily conquerable. Let’s make the assumption [???] will make in anything they encounter. Which I think is a very reasonable assumption. But, what you want to do is make sure that the expense, either literally commitment resources, or the commitment of manpower is so overwhelming that you just won’t take that step and it’ll be far more attractive to go to the arms, to go to the table and negotiate massive arms reductions. The President is asking for a change in the way we defend the country, not just a gadget.
Yes, but a technological.
But do it through technology.
I heard Dr. York last week talk about [???]. Do you know Dr. York? About a collective effort being essentially [???] in negotiation and technology. His concern for many years, as you know, has been in the direction of why don’t we wait a little more until the arms control approach. You know the answer to the question of course; it’s up to the Soviets as well as to us.
It’s not the only answer. One answer is even a simpler one. We’ve tried it for a long time; we’ve tried it in good faith. We’ve got a president right now who, I was astonished a few months ago at the breakfast that Newsweek had at their 50th anniversary. A big worldwide extravaganza. And they had a [???] of people who were not noted Reaganots there who were answering questions from this assembled body of distinguished people and press people. One of the questions was did somebody think [???] do you think the President is going to run again. And the response, I found, acutely accurate. He said, I think, paraphrased, at least, I think the only thing that would keep the president from wanting to run again would be obviously a lack of public support. Or, a major breakthrough in arms control. And personally, I think he was very perceptive. I think the president cares that much for arms control. I think it is the only thing I know of that would make him feel that he had accomplished what he came here to do.
I was surprised that people on the outside understood this. I think he’d feel that strongly committed. Yet, look at the problems he is faced with. Just ask yourself, if you took out your wallet and pulled out your driver’s license.
The tape ran out before Dr. Keyworth responded to my question as follows: That is to say, my question was, “That our deterrent is vulnerable. And he said as he said earlier on the tape, yes. I then said “you don’t subscribe to the notion that McGeorge Bundy proposed in an article “Foreign Affairs” a few years ago that just one bomb and one city is a sufficient deterrent. And at that point, disappointingly, Keyworth trotted out the old accusation that the Soviets don’t care as much for the lives of their citizens as we do, in the following monofact form, he said: that he had spent a lot of time in the Soviet Union and that the people he had talked to, the scientists in particular, always were clearly expressing, clearly expressed their deep hope and wish for peace. But, he said, the linkage between those scientists and the politburo is slight. And he said, look at history, the Soviet Union, or rather, the Russians, lost, he said, 17 million people in the first World War, 20 million people in the second World War, and depending on the source, he said, somewhere between 15 and 35 million people in the Stalin purges. And then he said the curious thing, “God that number is so hard to imagine.” He said you just take their body weight and multiply it by 35 million and it’s a staggering number. He seems to want to weigh the dead. Because he said what they also say is if there has to be another war, they want to win. So he really made two points. One, the leaders of the Soviet Union don’t care much for human life, and two, if there had to be a fight, the Soviets intend to fight to victory, at whatever cost, is the implication of his statement. Then when I again brought up the question of if we rely on technology, then the technology must sooner or later, fail us and we must find some other technology, which in general, he agrees with from a physical point of view. He said, but the point is to take us off that escalation track. He didn’t use the word escalation; he talked about geometric progressions and so forth. Take us off that track of constant technological competition by giving the Soviet Union good reason to sit down at the arms negotiation table. That is the business about Uri Andropov’s driver’s license in my wallet. What would I do if I had this as Keyworth sees strategic superiority or at least, superiority in terms of land- based missiles? Why would I sit down and negotiate with someone who doesn’t have such strategic superiority. But, Keyworth implied, if we have a defensive system that protects and therefore gives us a new kind of strategic protection and superiority that changes the balance and forces the soviets to the negotiation table which really doesn’t quite answer the question of the past record. The past record has been when we have achieved some gain or made some escalation in the arms race; the Soviets have done that, rather than attempted to negotiate. Negotiation arms control has been a separate track all along that seems to have gone up and down according to the key figures involved, as George Kennan points out in the Atlantic Monthly of a few months ago. In other words, one scenario is we build a defensive layer and the Soviets build a defensive layer. We find ways to counter their defensive system, they perhaps do or do not, Keyworth exuberantly thinks that somehow they won’t, find a way to counteract ours and we’re back essentially where we were at a higher level of cost. It struck me, and I used the phrase at the very end of our conversation, wishful thinking on his part, to assume that continuing the animosity that building a defense system is going to solve the problem by somehow forcing less animosity at the negotiations table. It doesn’t make sense, and it hasn’t made sense historically. The other curiosity which I simply note here for my own use is that he was extremely nervous throughout most of the conversation; in fact, he really continued to be throughout. I presume that’s because I represent the Atlantic Monthly in this instance, and he was concerned that what he was going to be saying would appear before its particularly influential audience. But I must add, there’s a great deal of validity to the argument that if it’s possible to develop defensive systems, we certainly should look into them, and look into them very seriously indeed. Regardless of whether one envisions the Soviets as whole-blooded monsters, who don’t care about how many of their people they kill, or as leaders not different from ours with far more reason indeed than we have with somewhat different sets of values about the relative importance of military force. Oh well, I’m not so sure that’s the case either, but the Soviet leaders may be more like President Reagan than they have been like any President who held office for many a year.