QUESTIONING NUCLEAR ARMS
DECEMBER 4, 1996
On Wednesday, two retired American generals called for the immediate reduction and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. Margaret Warner takes a closer look at the pros and cons in this latest twist in the nuclear arms debate.
MARGARET WARNER: Nuclear weapons have been used in war only once--51 years ago-- when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final days of World War II. In the decades since then, many more nations have developed or acquired nuclear weapons. Most of the world's estimated 35,000 nuclear warheads are controlled by the U.S. and Russia. But there are six other nuclear states as well: France, Britain, China, Israel, Pakistan, and India. The world's closest brush with nuclear war came in 1962, during the Kennedy administration, when the Soviet Union installed missiles in Cuba that were capable of hitting the U.S. with nuclear weapons. The showdown brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of war before Moscow was persuaded to remove the missiles. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviets kept increasing their number of nuclear warheads, though in later years, the pace at which their stockpiles grew was negotiated in various arms control treaties. Both countries operated under the theory that their best protection from nuclear attack was to maintain a nuclear force strong enough to annihilate any aggressor. In the 1980's, President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev began for the first time negotiating actual reductions in their nuclear arsenals. Since then, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia have cut their stockpiles nearly in half. Yet, the Cold War's end and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union have also raised fears about the security of the remaining Russian stockpiles. Today, two retired U.S. generals said that the reductions negotiated up till now are not nearly enough. Retired Air Force General Lee Butler, former commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
November 18-22, 1996
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A PBS Frontline report- Loose Nukes: Investigating the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism.
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A Frontline interview on Nuclear proliferation with General Charles Horner.
GENERAL LEE BUTLER, U.S. Air Force (Ret.): Is it possible to form a global consensus on the propositions that nuclear weapons have no defensible role, and that it's true weapons of mass destruction, the case for their elimination is a thousandfold stronger and more urgent than for deadly chemicals and viruses already widely declared immoral, illegal, subject to destruction, and prohibited from any further production. I am persuaded that such a consensus is not only possible, it is imperative.
MARGARET WARNER: A similar statement is expected tomorrow from another group of retired generals from 17 nations, including the U.S. and Russia.
MARGARET WARNER: Two views now. They come from Retired Air Force General Charles Horner--who will be joining in the statement tomorrow; he was the allied Air Force commander during the Gulf War--and James Schlesinger, who was Secretary of Defense in the Nixon administration. Welcome, gentlemen. General Horner, why have you decided to join General Butler in issuing this call?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER, U.S. Air Force (Ret.): I don't think I'm necessarily joining General Butler. I think General Butler and I both see the diminishing utility of nuclear weapons and the need to develop some post-Cold War national strategy that addresses the problem of nuclear weapons and their proliferation.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with what he said today, that we ought to be aiming toward the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I think it's important we have some coherent strategy, and fundamental to that strategy needs to be some goals. And certainly one goal that we need to examine is the complete elimination. Whether or not we get there or not is another matter.
MARGARET WARNER: But it's still worth pursuing.
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: It's worth having reasonable goals to pursue.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons is a reasonable goal?
JAMES SCHLESINGER, Former Secretary of Defense: It is an unachievable goal, and it is a perilous, potentially perilous, goal. Happily, it is unachievable, because if it were not, it would be quite dangerous to the country.
MARGARET WARNER: And why is it perilous?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: It is perilous because the smaller nuclear weapons inventories group, the greater is the premium on having just a few nuclear weapons. Under those circumstances, the inhibition on the use of nuclear weapons would diminish. The chief inhibition on the use of nuclear weapons today is the knowledge that there are powers--most notably the United States--that are in a position to retaliate if weapons are used. We no longer have an initiation of nuclear use, as we did during the period of the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union appeared to be so formidable, but we must continue to have a deterrent to deter the use of nuclear weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you feel about that point about the utility of a nuclear deterrent in this new world?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I certainly agree with the Secretary with regard to the fact that nuclear weapons, the genie's out of the bottle, they're always going to be around, either virtually or in reality. And so that is a problem that has to be addressed. But I think also the idea of using nuclear weapons to deter nuclear weapons works within the sense of say Russia or the Soviet Union against the United States. But the idea of using nuclear weapons to deter say an irrational actor, or an actor who's rational enough to believe that no American president would use nuclear weapons on him really decreases the utility of them as a deterrent factor. The other point, keep in mind, is every time you use a nuclear weapon, it's most effectively used against cities, killing of women and children. So I believe, fundamentally, you have to deter against people having nuclear weapons, but you must do that with very strong conventional forces, such as B-2's and laser- guided bombs and things of this nature. We now have conventional strength that really can offset a very limited nuclear strength.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, it is true that we have vastly improved in terms of our conventional capabilities. We are now dominant in that area, and, therefore, we now prefer to use nuclear--conventional capabilities to nuclear capabilities. The problem is that other nations and extremist groups that are not national groups don't necessarily want to play in accordance with our rules or new rules. That includes the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, whose chief of staff recently observed about the Gulf War that the only lesson of the Gulf War is that you never fight the United States without nuclear weapons. The Israelis, who are in a perilous position in their own view, are not likely to surrender their nuclear weapons, because a few generals in the outside world, a few Russian and American generals have decided that it's improper. They will not trust the verification capacity of the United Nations that has done so well against Saddam Hussein and prospectively against Rafsanjani.
MARGARET WARNER: But you're both saying that the biggest danger is from the non- traditional nuclear states, or even non-states, but you're saying, Mr. Schlesinger, that you think having a powerful deterrent force still is most effective, and you're saying, it's not effective. I mean--
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I'm saying that nuclear weapons, their utility as a deterrent force goes down very rapidly under a whole host of given circumstances. In the Gulf War, for example, we had to be very careful on our use of precision munitions in the Baghdad area. Well, does that mean then that we'll be quite willing to go in there and use a nuclear weapon to level Baghdad in order to impress a point that we do not want these weapons to proliferate? I think the point that the Secretary brings out about the whole host of new threats that are occurring around the world drives the need to come to grips with possession of nuclear weapons and the whole nuclear weapons question. And that's what I want to see put on the agenda. I want to see people arguing how many, instead of just accepting the idea that these things have great utility, because they have less and less and less utility.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: There is the possibility of better control. There is the possibility of reduction in numbers. We ought not and we cannot totally achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are some actors on the international stage that cannot be deterred, but there are other, traditional actors, who are likely to be deterred. Recently, during the Taiwan Straits crisis, one of the Chinese generals--this has been exaggerated in the press--but he did say--he did say kind of provocatively that Los Angeles was more important to the Americans than Taiwan. The Chinese, as The New York Times indicated yesterday, rest their military prowess on this limited nuclear capability. They are not going to be persuaded to give up, but they can be deterred.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with what Mr. Schlesinger said, that this goal is unachievable?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I agree that we must always be prepared to live in a world where there are a limited number of nuclear weapons, but that should not keep us from trying to work towards eliminating those remainders. With regard to countries like China, Britain, France, Israel, it's important that we begin the effort to reduce nuclear weapons, as we have in Start I and Start II, and that we continue that working with these people. Now, China is a rational country. We may find at some point in time we have reached a point where we can escalate down their arsenal, as well as Russia and the United States, and the other people. Another thing to keep in mind. If we don't work this issue, we face situations like where India and Pakistan fight each other, and they use nuclear weapons. Now, we as a nation may not care whether they do so, but the fallout from those attacks will land on our nation and severely damage the economy of the whole world. That's why it's important that we begin the effort to reduce nuclear weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: So what are you saying now that this administration and the current military establishment should be doing that it isn't doing, in terms of working this issue, as you put it?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I think fundamentally we have to recognize that we need new national security policy, and that policy has to go from the Cold War policy of deterrence and containment and the existing Cold War armies that are still in the field in the ballistic missile silos and on submarines and work towards reduction of those forces beyond where we are now at Start II. Then I think we have to have some rational--
MARGARET WARNER: Start II being the most recent, but still--
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: --unratified in Russia--the treaty with Russia.
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: And as we go down, we're going to have to include more and more nations into this, and we're going to have to work the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as a part of this very much.
MARGARET WARNER: And you don't see that kind of commitment currently?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I don't see a rational strategy that addresses these issues.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What's your view of that?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: We need, as General Horner says, to re-look national strategy and military strategy in the wake of the Cold War, but we must recognize, as General Horner indicated, that that genie can never be stuffed back in the bottle. You cannot expunge from the mind of man the knowledge of producing nuclear weapons. Indeed, there's more and more fissile material around the world, most notably in the Russian arsenal. This is what is referred to as "loose nukes." Those will continue to be a problem, and we are going to have to guard against that in all the foreseeable future.
MARGARET WARNER: General Horner, let me close by asking this: You spent a lifetime in the military. When did you start coming to this view?
GEN. CHARLES HORNER: I came to the realization that nuclear weapons had very little utility during the Gulf War, when I realized that even if Saddam Hussein used a nuclear weapon on us, we would have to retaliate on a conventional basis. And then later, when I became the owner, so to speak, of the land-based ICBM force, and I saw the vast amount of money and resource that was involved in maintaining the large Cold War level of nuclear weapons, I said there's got to be a better way. And then finally, I said this is not going to be an easy process. We're going to have to build trust, we're going to have to recognize this is a different world. We're going to have to recognize that we'll always be living with things like virtual weapons, as the Secretary said. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't begin the journey, and it's going to be a long journey. It takes longer to get rid of a nuclear weapon than it does to build one. So we're talking about decades, or maybe even half a century, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't begin to develop the vision and the goals needed to progress on this issue. It's too important to the world.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Now, let me add one word to that. A problem that you have is that we are using nuclear weapons not only to deter the use of nuclear weapons but Sec. Perry said recently that if Saddam Hussein were to use chemical weapons aga inst us, that we'd reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response. If we are going to do as General Horner says, we are going to have to learn to deter the use of chemical weapons and biological weapons, and not just assume that the nuclear weapons are there to respond not only to nuclear attacks but to other attacks, as well.
MARGARET WARNER: So I take it that--
JAMES SCHLESINGER: There's confusion in our policy, and we need some of this new thinking.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.