BEIJING - With respect to nuclear weapons, "the emperor has no clothes." He never has had clothes and he never will. 1 will explain here why I hold this view and why I believe the five declared nuclear powers should begin now to debate long-term nuclear force objectives for themselves and for other nations. As we reach the turn of the millennium, it is time to ask why we can't put the genie back into the bottle: Why, if nuclear weapons have no military use, can we not return to a non-nuclear world?
In 1993, Presidents Yeltsin and Bush agreed to substantial reductions in nuclear forces below the levels of START I. There are today approximately 40,000-50,000 nuclear warheads in the world, with a destructive power over one million times that of the Hiroshima bomb. Assuming that these reductions are implemented, the stock of nuclear warheads of the five existing nuclear powers would be reduced to approximately 12,000 weapons by the year 2003. The danger of nuclear war - the risk of destruction of societies across the globe - will have been lowered but not eliminated. I doubt if any survivors could tell the difference between a world in which there had been an exchange of 12,000 warheads instead of one in which 40,000 were fired. Can we not go further? Surely the answer must be yes.
CLOSE CALL IN CUBA
By the conclusion of the third meeting, in Moscow in January 1989, it had become clear that the decisions of each of the three nations, immediately before and during the crisis, had been distorted by misinformation, miscalculation, and misjudgment. I shall cite only four of many examples.
First: Before Soviet missiles were introduced into Cuba in the summer of 1962, the Soviet Union and Cuba believed the US intended to invade the island in order to overthrow President Castro and remove his government. As I shall discuss more fully below, we had no such intention.
Second: The US believed the Soviets would not move nuclear warheads outside the Soviet Union - they never had - but in fact they did. In Moscow, we were told that by October 1962, although the CIA at the time was reporting no nuclear weapons on the island, Soviet strategic nuclear warheads had, indeed, been delivered to Cuba, and their missiles were to be targeted on cities in the US.
Third: The Soviets believed the missiles could be introduced into Cuba secretly, without detection, and that when their presence was disclosed, the US would not respond. Here, too, they were in error.
Fourth: Those who urged President Kennedy to destroy the missiles by a US air attack, which in all likelihood would have been followed by a sea and land invasion, were almost certainly mistaken in their belief that the Soviets would not respond with military action. At the time, the CIA had reported 10,000 Soviet troops in Cuba. At the Moscow conference, participants were told there were in fact 43,000, along with 270,000 well-armed Cuban troops. Both forces, in the words of their commanders, were determined to "fight to the death." The Cuban officials estimated they would have suffered 100,000 casualties. The Soviets expressed utter disbelief that we would have thought that, in the face of such a catastrophic defeat, they would not have responded militarily somewhere in the world. The result would very probably have been uncontrollable escalation.
By the end of our meeting in Moscow, I believe we had agreed we could draw two major lessons from our discussions: First, in this age of high-technology weapons, crisis management is dangerous, difficult, and uncertain. Due to misjudgment, misinformation, and miscalculation of the kind I have referred to, it is not possible to predict with confidence the consequences of military action. Therefore, we must direct our attention to crisis avoidance.
Some of us - particularly President Kennedy and I - believed that the US faced great danger during the missile crisis. The Moscow meeting confirmed that judgment. But during the Havana conference, we learned that we had greatly underestimated the danger.
Later we learned that in November 1992 there was published in the Russian press an article which stated that, at the height of the crisis, the Soviet forces on the island possessed a total of 162 nuclear warheads, including at least go tactical warheads. Moreover, it was reported that on October 26, 1962 - the moment of greatest tension - warheads were moved from their storage sites to positions closer to their delivery vehicles in anticipation of a US invasion. When Malinovsky, the Russian Defense Minister, received a cable from General Pilyev, the Soviet Commander in Cuba, informing him of the action, he sent it to Khrushchev. Khrushchev returned it with "Approved" scrawled across the face of the document. Clearly there was a high risk that in the face of a US attack - which many in the US government, military and civilian alike, were recommending to President Kennedy on October 27 and 28 - the Soviet forces would have decided to use the nuclear weapons rather than lose them.
We need not speculate about what would have happened in that event. We can predict the results with certainty.
Although the US forces would not have been accompanied by tactical nuclear warheads, no one should believe that had US troops been attacked with such weapons, the US would have refrained from a nuclear response. And where would it have ended? In utter disaster.
More and more political and military leaders are accepting that basic changes in the world's approach to nuclear weapons are required. Some are going so far as to state that the long-term objective should be to return, insofar as practical, to a non nuclear world. That is, however, a very controversial proposition. Many leading Western security experts - both military and civilian - continue to believe that the threat of the use of nuclear weapons prevents war. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor, has said with reference to a proposal for eliminating nuclear weapons: "It is a plan for making the world safe for conventional warfare. I am therefore not enthusiastic about it." A report of an Advisory Committee, appointed by the former US Secretary of Defense, Richard Cheney, and chaired by Tom Reed, a former Secretary of the Air Force, made essentially the same point. However, even if one accepts their argument, it must be recognized that their deterrent to conventional force aggression carries a very high long-term cost: the risk of a nuclear exchange.
John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State in the Eisenhower Administration, already recognized this problem 40 years ago. He proposed, therefore, to "universalize the capacity of atomic thermonuclear weapons to deter aggression" by transfering control of nuclear forces to a vetoless UN Security Council. Dulles' concern Of 1954 has been echoed in recent years by a number of other security experts:
- A committee of the US National Academy of Sciences, in a report signed by General David C. Jones, the retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated "nuclear weapons should serve no purpose beyond the deterrence of nuclear attack by others. The committee believed US and Russian nuclear forces could be reduced to 1,000 to 2,000 warheads.
- The Spring 1993 edition of Foreign Affairs carried an article signed by another retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Crowe, which concluded that by the year 2000 the US and Russia could reduce strategic forces to 1,000 to 1,500 warheads each. The article added "Nor is 1,000-1,500 the lowest level obtainable by the early 21st century."
- In August of 1993, General Andrew Goodpaster, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces in Europe, published a report in which he said the five existing nuclear powers should be able to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles "to no more than 200 each" and "the ultimate would be a zero level."
These three reports should not have come as surprises.
For nearly 20 years, Western military and civilian security experts have
been expressing doubts about the military utility of nuclear weapons.
But they have spoken so softly that few are aware of their remarks. This
is what they have said:
- Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, speaking in Brussels in 1979, made quite clear he did not believe the US would ever initiate a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union: "Our European allies should not keep asking us to multiply strategic assurances that we cannot possibly mean or if we do mean, we should not execute because if we execute we'd risk the destruction of civilization."
- Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense in the Nixon Administration, was reported in The Washington Post of April 12, 198 2 as saying: "A worldwide zero nuclear option with adequate verification should now be our goal .... These weapons ... are useless for military purposes."
- Helmut Schmidt stated in 1987, in a BBC interview: "Flexible response [NATO's strategy calling for the use of nuclear weapons] is nonsense. Not out of date, but nonsense... The Western idea, which was created in the 1950's, that we should be willing to use nuclear weapons first, in order to make up for our so-called conventional deficiency, has never convinced me."
- General Larry Welsh, retired Chief of the US Air Force and previously Commander of the Strategic Air Command, has put the same thought in these words: "Deterrence depended on someone believing that you would commit an act totally irrational if done."
- In July 1994, General Charles A. Horner, chief of staff of the US Space Command, stated: "The nuclear weapon is obsolete. I want to get rid of them all."
BOTTLE THE GENIE
With totally contradictory views regarding the role of nuclear weapons held by the Brzezinski's and Reed's on the one hand and the Schmidt's and Laird's on the other, should we not begin immediately to debate the merits of alternative long-term objectives for the nuclear forces of the five declared nuclear powers? We could choose from among three options:
- A continuation of the present strategy of "extended deterrence." For the US and Russia this would mean each would be limited to approximately 3,500 warheads, the figure agreed upon by Presidents Yeltsin and Bush.
- A minimum deterrent force - as recommended by the committee of the US National Academy of Sciences and supported by Admiral Crowe - with each of the two major nuclear powers retaining no more than 1,000 to 2,000 warheads.
- As I strongly advocate, a return, by all five nuclear
powers, insofar as practicable, to a nonnuclear world.
©Robert S. McNamara