Q: Lessons to be learned from fifty years of nuclear history?
JLG: The lessons to be learned, I think, are first of all that it's very hard to
figure out what to do with a nuclear weapon once you have one. And the
superpowers never completely figured that out. Lessons to be learned. It's
very important to think in terms of the common danger that weapons can pose to
both sides, even if the weapons have been accumulated for use against the other
side. Weapons themselves can become a threat, rather than a source of
security. And I think that danger would be there whether we were talking about
nuclear weapons, but it could extend to other kinds of weapons as well.
Lessons to be learned in terms of certainly the importance of communication on
both sides, certainly the importance of conveying intentions clearly on both
sides, certainly the importance of trying to anticipate how the other side will
react in certain situations. I think also, lessons in terms of the importance
probably of looking at the Cold War more as an anomaly than as a model for the
future. The Cold War was a very unusual period in world history, and I think
it would be quite dangerous to try to draw too many lessons from it and try to
apply them too automatically to the situations that we confront today, in what
is really a very different kind of world.
Q: But we're not quite out of the box yet. As long as large numbers of
these weapons exist, there is a danger that somehow, at some point, this will
all blow up in our faces.
JLG: A large number of weapons do exist. There is great danger. And that's why
I would favor a strategy moving toward the total abolition of all nuclear
weapons, provided such a thing could be verified adequately.
Q: The scientists very early on said that this is a completely new
situation and it needs new thinking, and that we have to change our ideas. Is
there evidence that we are doing that?
JLG: Well, I think the most interesting evidence is the number of military
leaders - General Butler, Admiral Turner, others, the group that signed on to
the collective proposal last year, looking toward the eventual complete
abolition of nuclear weapons under proper verification procedures. If you have
people whose career it was to deal with these weapons, to handle them, to
manage them, to think about how they could be used, the fact that these people
have now come out into the vanguard of the group calling for total abolition, I
think, tells you something. [It] tells you simply that they're dangerous. It
tells you that they are blunt instruments. It tells you that they are not
easily adapted to precise objectives. It tells you that they're still highly
Q: So what we have to do now is wait for the politicians to catch up?
JLG: I think that's quite often the case. Yes.
back to Interview Transcripts