The Case for Nuclear Abolition
Is the goal of nuclear abolition an impossible dream or is it an achievable objective, essential to our future safety? A group of distinguished political and military leaders meeting as the Canberra Commission in 1996 addressed that question and reached this conclusion: "...the proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used - accidentally or by decision - defies credibility...the only complete defense is the elimination of nuclear weapons..."
Why then is the world not moving rapidly to rid itself of this monstrous danger? My remarks tonight will address two major points in answer to this question. First, the primary reason is the absence of the political will (and wisdom) to abandon the misbegotten concept of nuclear deterrence. This lack is most evident in Washington, DC, where our leaders cling to the fallacy that U.S. nuclear superiority strengthens national security and provides a major means of influencing and controlling international affairs.
The second point to be made is that there is no valid military, technological or political reason not to abolish nuclear weapons. The nay sayers, those who claim that abolition is impossible, assert endlessly that military considerations, or technological limitations or political realities will defeat abolition. These are assertions - not facts. Given the will and wisdom to work toward abolition, all issues can be resolved under the rule of law in a cooperative world community.
This having been said, abolition is essential, it is not going to happen unless and until there is a massive change of policy in Washington, DC. Without American leadership, not only is abolition dead in the water, but nuclear proliferation will continue to pose a great and growing danger in the world. The absence of U.S. leadership now is particularly alarming because we led efforts in 1995 to extend the Non-Proliferation Treaty indefinitely. The extension was deemed critical to U.S. security. In order to inspire non-nuclear states to agree, we entered into a formal statement of "Principles and Objectives For Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament" with the four other nuclear powers. Even more clearly than Article VI of the NPT itself, this statement reaffirmed the nuclear powers' commitment to:
"The determined pursuit by the nuclear weapons states of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons..."
In direct conflict with this unequivocal pledge to disarm, President Clinton barely two years later, in 1992, flatly renounced any intention to do so. In Presidential Decision Directive #60, parts of which were revealed to the media, he determined that nuclear weapons would remain the cornerstone of U.S. security indefinitely. This directive also set forth a number of other policies that are directly contrary to the goals of non-proliferation and nuclear abolition.
He reaffirmed America's right to make first use of nuclear weapons and intentionally left open the option to conduct nuclear retaliation against any nation which employs chemical or biological weapons in attacks against the United States or its allies. He went on to direct the maintenance of the triad of U.S. strategic forces (long range bombers, land-based ICBM's and submarine-based SLBMs) at a high state of alert which would permit launch-on-warning of any impending nuclear attack on the U.S. This is the dangerous doctrine which puts thousands of warheads on a hair trigger, thereby creating the risk of starting a nuclear war through misinformation and fear as well as through human error or system malfunction. Finally, his directive specifically authorized the continued targeting of numerous sites in Russia and China as well as planning for strikes against so-called rogue states in connection with regional conflicts or crises. In short, U.S. nuclear posture and planning still remain essentially unchanged seven years after the end of the Cold War. the number of weapons are lower but the power to annihilate remains in place with our 7,000 strategic and 5,000 tactical weapons.
This doctrine would be bad enough alone but it is reinforced by continued efforts to extend and enhance the capabilities of the U.S. nuclear forces. A major element of this process is benignly labeled the Stockpile Stewardship Program. This program costs more than $4 billion per year to maintain weapons security as well as test and replace weapon components to insure full wartime readiness of approximately 12,000 strategic and tactical bombs and warheads. In March this year the U.S. Air Force dropped two B61-11 bombs from a B-2 bomber on a target in Alaska to complete certification of a new design for earth penetrating weapons, clear proof of U.S. intentions to improve its nuclear war fighting capabilities.
Furthermore, the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently resumed the manufacture of plutonium triggers for thermo-nuclear weapons while the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is preparing a new capability called the National Ignition Facility where conditions within an exploding nuclear device can be simulated. Supplemented with continuing sub-critical explosive tests in Nevada and extremely sophisticated computer modeling experiments the U.S. can employ means not available to other signatories of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to develop and validate new nuclear weapons designs.
To give even more evidence of the powerful influence of pro-nuclear deterrent advocates, the U.S. will decide this year on how and when to resume the production and stockpiling of tritium, the indispensable fuel for thermo-nuclear explosions. The fact is that the military has enough tritium on hand today for all of its weapons until the year 2006 and enough for 1,000 warheads and bombs until at least the year 2024.
All of these is being done at immense cost. Seven years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. is still spending more than $30 billion each year to maintain and enhance its nuclear war fighting capability. This approach to nuclear deterrence is an affront to every non-nuclear state which accepted our promise to disarm and as inducement to extend the NPT. It is not only a direct violation of both the letter and spirit of the NPT, it is a provocation which jeopardizes the goal of non- proliferation. the clear message is that the foremost nuclear power regards its weapons as key elements of security and military strength, a signal which can only stimulate other nations to consider the need to create similar capabilities. Did the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests this year reflect the U.S. example? In some measure, yes! Are there more Indias and Pakistans in our future? Almost certainly yes, unless we lead the world away from indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons as purported elements of national security and power. America must lead or abolition is doomed.
How and where do we lead, then? Here we almost suffer from an embarrassment of riches. Jonathan Schell has provided great insight in "Gift of Time." Admiral Stansfield Turner focuses on technical and force level issues in "Caging the Nuclear Genie." The Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and Peace Action this year published "Road Map to Nuclear Abolition." The proceedings of the 45th Pugwash Conference edited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Joseph Rotblat address "Towards a Nuclear - Weapons - Free World."
Scientists are even down to precise levels of detail in how to monitor and verify a nuclear abolition agreement. The point is, many highly intelligent people have already done a great deal of work to pave the route to nuclear abolition. The problem is really not can it be done, nor how to do it, but to decide that abolition is the only wise course of action. As I have already argued, that decision must be made in the United States because it will not happen without American leadership.
Let me put it another way. Nearly two years ago I joined with 61 other Generals and Admirals from 17 nations all signed a call for nuclear abolition. In that appeal we frankly confessed that the final solution was beyond our grasp. This is what we said:
"The exact circumstances and conditions that will make it possible to proceed, finally, to abolition cannot now be foreseen or prescribed."
Having confessed the difficulty of reaching the goal, we then went on to identify the practical, achievable tasks which can and should begin today. Each step would lead to reduced readiness to fight, fewer weapons with which to fight, better control of those that remain; and above all, confidence in the process which will enable all nations to join in the final elimination of nuclear weapons.
Let me briefly describe the steps in terms of their military significance and value.
The United States must also lead strongly in constructive proposals to achieve a cutoff in the production of weapons grade fissile material. A tragic fact is that there is an awesome glut of plutonium and highly enriched uranium in the world today. The best current estimates are that there are 225 metric tons of plutonium and 1,750 metric tons of highly enriched uranium of weapons grade. Finding secure, environmentally safe storage for huge quantities of these dangerous materials until an acceptable means of final disposition can be developed is not a trivial problem in achieving nuclear abolition. It is illogical and wasteful to go on producing more fissile material to compound the problem. Here, at least, the United States is already setting a good example but we must be prepared to induce others to cease their production, particularly Russia.
The next step is for the U.S. to declare formally that it will never again be the first to use nuclear weapons. The deliberately threatening tenor of Presidential Decision Directive #60 is destabilizing in that it suggests that we might make early use of our nukes, even against a non-nuclear state. This is yet another example of how U.S. policy imperils the non-proliferation regime.
After these positive steps away from preparing for nuclear war, the U.S. must propose immediate negotiations with Russia on a START III agreement with a ceiling of no more than 1000 strategic warheads on each side. In truth, the Russians can never afford to implement the START II 3000-3500 warhead level and they strongly favor much lower numbers. It is criminal to negotiate them up instead of down in the numbers as we did in START II.
Simultaneously with START III negotiations, practical arrangements to take all U.S. and Russian nuclear forces off of strategic alert must be developed. It makes absolutely no sense to keep nuclear weapons ready to launch on five minutes notice when there is no conceivable reason to fire them at all. Three years ago we saw the Russians nearly panic when they failed to take notice of our announcement of the scheduled launch of a research rocket from a site in Norway. For a brief period President Yeltsin and his defense officials considered the need to respond to a missile attack but fortunately stopped short of a retaliatory launch of their ICBMs. Both sides should be ready and anxious to eliminate the possibility of similar human or system error provoking an actual nuclear strike in the future.
To further reduce the level of danger by providing even more time to evaluate potential threats, the actual physical separation of nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles should begin under supervision by U.N. teams composed of members from non-nuclear states. the de-mated warheads should be moved to storage in facilities suitably distant from launch sites. Security and accountability at the remote sites would be maintained by U.N. teams also.
Once START III levels of weapons have been agreed, the actual physical disassembly of excess warheads and bombs would be accomplished under close supervision by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) teams until only the number of permitted weapons remained. All fissile material removed would be accounted for and stored under IAEA control. To the extent that disassembly of weapons is already proceeding in Russia and the U.S., it is proving to be an expensive burden for Russia. Here, for once, the U.S. is playing a constructive role through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, otherwise known as Nunn - Lugar, and providing financial assistance and aid in accounting for, storing and maintaining security over Russian Fissile material. The roughly $400 million per year invested in this effort is the best money the Pentagon spends, far better than $2 billion each for B-2 bombers and nuclear submarines.
Having completed this much of the build-down process the two nuclear giants would have reduced their nuclear warfighting forces by approximately 85% and, equally importantly, effectively rendered the remaining 15% inoperable for periods measured in months rather than minutes. International supervision would give full and timely warning of any attempt to restore the operational capability of remaining strategic forces.
It is at this point that China, France and the U.K. would be brought into the reduction process and enter into arrangements under which all nuclear weapons would be progressively reduced to lower and lower levels. It is encouraging to note that the U.K. is already reducing its nuclear posture and China has committed itself to reduce and ultimately eliminate all its weapons in concert with Russia and the U.S. The de facto nuclear states, India and Pakistan, would also be included in the final elimination arrangements. Israeli cooperation is one of the factors which cannot now be foreseen nor prescribed but positive international security guarantees might offer some promise when the nuclear abolition process is a well advanced reality. Certainly Israel could not hope to stand alone against the entire world community of nations once the goal of abolition has been adopted and is being implemented.
At this point I believe that the abolition effort would have achieved a critical mass of political and military substance that would generate universal support to find solutions to the sensitive end- game problems of getting to zero weapons. Abolition would no longer be an unrealistic goal but a clearly achievable means of ending the dangers of nuclear war. It would, above all, create a genuine global non-proliferation regime under which non-nuclear states would willingly forgo efforts to develop their own nuclear capabilities, secure in the knowledge that the nuclear states were finally living up to their obligations under Article VI of the NPT.
Even in such a halcyon world there would always remain the possibility that another Saddam Hussein could arise and attempt to pursue a covert nuclear weapons program. As we know from relatively recent North Korean and Iraqi examples, however, it is impossible to conceal all evidence of such a program very long.
In today's world where some nations may legally possess thousands of weapons it is very difficult to build a consensus for action against a nuclear want-to-be. However, in a world entirely without nuclear weapons, there would be immediate recognition of the need for prompt, decisive measures to halt the threat to peace. Once violations of the NPT were detected a strong consensus among all nations without nuclear weapons would support timely concerted political, economic and, if necessary, military actions against the offender to end the violations long before he could achieve any significant military capability to build or employ nuclear weapons.
Here I must emphasize that the steps I have outlined are not necessarily the only route to nuclear abolition, nor do they alone guarantee success. I have a strong conviction that they do describe a practical, progressive approach to abolition which is achievable with imagination, persistence and strong American leadership. Necessary agreements will not be easily or quickly achieved but once the will exists, progress will develop a momentum that could lead to surprising success earlier than we can now conceive.
Often in gathering like this one I am asked why I believe strongly, passionately that we must all work together for nuclear abolition so let me offer a personal statement to add weight to this belief.
During the horrible confrontation with the Soviet Union we called the Cold War, I frequently stood nuclear alert watch on aircraft carriers. For a period of time my assigned target was an industrial complex and transportation hub in a major city in eastern Europe. Although destruction of that target would have done little to defeat the Soviet Union, it was only one of dozens of comparable targets to be attacked by aircraft from the two carriers in the U.S. Sixth Fleet. My bomb alone would have resulted in the death of an estimated 600,000 human beings. Multiply that 40 or 50 times and you can understand what the two carriers alone would have done, and that was only a fraction of the planned destruction to be wreaked by hundreds of aircraft and missiles from NATO bases in Europe.
Later I served as Director of Military Operations for all U.S. forces in Europe. There I was responsible for the security, readiness and control of 7,000 U.S. nuclear weapons available for use by NATO forces. Despite the obvious fact that those weapons would never defend Europe, only destroy everything there, the U.S. was then urging NATO to add neutron bombs, Pershing II missiles and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles to the European arsenal.
It is from these up close and personal experiences that I came to understand that nuclear weapons are truly unusable, worthless for any rational military purpose. If a war is ever warranted, it is to achieve some identifiable objective and to prevent, or end, evils greater than war itself. But fought with nuclear weapons the war destroys whatever the objective might have been and there is no evil greater than the barbaric, indiscriminate destruction which the weapons would inflict on the earth and all who inhabit it.
It is this conviction that sent me to Rome, New York, in 1982 and brings me here tonight. If the weapons exist, ultimately they will be used. We humans turned the 20th Century into the most violent period in the history of the world. For our children and their children we must bring an end to the danger that nuclear weapons will make the 21st Century even more destructive.
In a recent conference at the Center for Defense Information, Jonathan Schell made this eloquent statement: "Nuclear abolition would resonate in every domain of human life. It would be the beginning of our long overdue farewell to arms. If we succeeded then the ground, the abused earth itself, would steady beneath our feet. We would stand straighter and taller on the solid ground. We would begin to give substance to the old words which have been waiting for so many thousands of years for their fulfillment, for they shall beat their swords into ploughshares. Those are ancient longings long denied but we now have the opportunity and the gift of time to satisfy them."
In less eloquent but equally heartfelt words, the 62 Generals and Admirals closed their call for nuclear abolition with this call for action: "We have been presented with a challenge of the highest possible historic importance: the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The end of the Cold War makes it possible - the dangers of proliferation, terrorism and a new nuclear arms race render it necessary. We must not fail to seize our opportunity. There is no alternative."
Eugene J. Carroll, Jr., Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.)
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