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Dismantling nuclear arsenals likely to be long process, panelists say

STANFORD -- Although their use as deterrents has been reduced, nuclear weapons will be with us for a long time, a distinguished panel of former world political leaders and foreign service specialists suggested at Kresge Auditorium on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Views of what should be done about the large arsenals of the United States and Russia ranged widely however on the panel of dignitaries assembled by Hoover fellow George Shultz, former secretary of state. The hawkish Bob Hawke, former prime minister of Australia, said the burden of proof falls on doves to show that the world would be safer without the weapons. He doubts they can.

On the other end of the spectrum, Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of West Germany, contended that the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain should move swiftly to get their stockpiles down to "almost zero." He said each nuclear power needs only one long-range weapon to deter any of the others from launching an attack of their capital.

"Tens of thousands of weapons ought to be dismantled," he said, because history had provided a window of opportunity to reduce the barbarism that has escalated since World War I into attacks on civilians, rather than combatants. In the post-Cold War era, he said, "any strategy of nuclear retaliation or flexible nuclear response is hazardous, immoral and irresponsible."

Nuclear deterrence refers to the policy of the United States and its allies developed during the Cold War to deter an attack by the Soviet Union by maintaining a credible threat to respond. Maintaining the credibility required both escalating technical capabilities and displaying a consistent attitude that convinced Soviet leaders that Western leaders were indeed willing to use nuclear weaponry. Noone any longer believes that Russia or the United States would use the weapons against each other, speakers said, but nuclear deterrence remains ingrained and has been taken to new extremes by Russian policymakers.

"We're still stuck in the deterrence trap," said James Goodby, who has negotiated arms reductions for the United States, including the first-ever agreement to on-site inspections. "Until we escape from it we will not be able to say that American-Russian relations are like those that exist between two normal democracies."

No negotiations between Russia and the United States on nuclear weaponry have taken place since 1992, and Goodby left his post this summer as the Clinton administration's negotiator to be a visiting scholar at Stanford's Institute for International Studies, which sponsored the panel discussion. Americans, he said, no longer worry about a nuclear threat from Russia, but they are concerned about terrorism, including the possibility of nuclear terrorism, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons to "rogue states." He is trying to convince Americans, he said, that progress on resolving those problems is far more likely if Russia and the United States can get on with reducing their nuclear arsenals.

Rozanne Ridgway, another veteran foreign service officer, attempted to explain why the weaponry remains, five years after the implosion of the Soviet Union and 10 years after she was part of Shultz's negotiating team at the Reykjavik, where Gorbachev and Reagan first raised the possibility that the two nations could get to zero nuclear weaponry.

"People underestimated the enormity of the arsenals that have been built up and the attraction of the theory of arms control and deterrence that guided the people providing our national security for so long," she said.

Nuclear deterrence is not an effective strategy to use against rogue states or potential terrorists, she said, because "a critical feature of rogue states is they are rogue in their thinking." And to the degree that Americans or Russians think nuclear deterrence works against those other threats, she said, "we increase the threat to ourselves."

Yet she contended that deterrence remains a "legitimate function" of the weaponry as long as there are significant nuclear arsenals. On the American side and probably on the Russian side, she said, "nobody's going to be preaching" elimination of the weaponry as long as the other arsenal exists. That means the weaponry can be phased out only through "step by step" negotiations, she said.

Alexander Bessmertnykh, the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union, who was with Gorbachev at Reykjavik, said Russia now has a different approach. "We went further than the [Western] teachers of nuclear deterrence wanted," he said. Russian government policy is that the weapons are useful strategic deterrents on the international, regional and local levels. Russians believe they will have the weapons, he said, "for the foreseeable future, and that means almost forever."

Like Ridgway, Bessmertnykh advocated negotiating down the number of weapons gradually. The two nations also "have to declare that nuclear proliferation has already occurred," he said, in order to "pull out of the shadows" those countries that have the ability to put together a nuclear capability within several months.

Australia's Hawke urged proceeding with "extraordinary prudence," because eliminating the two largest arsenals would just "stimulate desire" for weaponry among rogue states. "Nuclear weapons will not be dis-invented, and whether we like it or not, it's going to become relatively easier and a lot cheaper to obtain access to a technology that has been around 50 years."

Geoffrey Howe, a member of the British House of Lords who was part of NATO negotiations as foreign secretary, said he was struck by how muted the debate over nuclear weapons had become in his own country and elsewhere. When the deployment of cruise missiles was being debated during the Cold War, he said, "it practically tore my whole family apart." Now, he said, "real people, including politicians," talk little about nuclear issues. British citizens who opposed post-Cold War nuclear tests by the French, he said, "were more upset that they were French than that they were nuclear."

Eliminating nuclear weapons entirely requires developing better surveillance and detection technology, he said, but in the meantime, the United States and Russia need to "recapture their roles as world leaders," in order to make the weaponry "less salient" and to persuade China to enter into their negotiations.

Goodby spelled out some of the steps that he would recommend to the Clinton administration. To persuade the Russian Duma to ratify the START II treaty, the United States should begin working on a framework for a START III agreement that would make it unnecessary for Russia to finance new missiles in order to reach parity with the United States. That framework should:

  • Provide deeper reductions in deployed nuclear warheads than the 3,000 allowed by START II ­ perhaps down to 2000 ­ and compromise with the Duma by extending the START II compliance date to the first quarter of 1997.
  • Require that "excess" nuclear warheads be dismantled and placed in secure, jointly monitored storage.
  • Require dismantling substrategic nuclear warheads, thousands of which pose "potentially serious command and control and custody problems" if they are re-deployed with Russian combat units.
  • Require storage of warheads now loaded in land-based ballistic missiles ­ what Goodby referred to as "cocked pistols." Removing these warheads, he said, would "remove the launch-on-warning mentality" among command authorities who are still under enormous time pressures in emergency situations.

In summarizing the panel, Shultz said it seemed clear that the United States and Russia "not only need to get the number of warheads down but construct the kind of relationship that leads people to believe they don't need them."

To groups advocating full nuclear disarmament now, Goodby said, "I don't think we know yet how to do that, either technically or politically."

A text of Goodby's prepared remarks can be found on the World Wide Web at



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