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General Lee Butler's Speech and His Joint Statement with General Goodpaster

December 4, 1996
General Lee Butler, ex-commander of the Strategic Air Command, called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons at a National Press Club luncheon on December 4, 1996. He also issued a Joint Statement with General Goodpaster.

The next day a statement was released with the signatures of dozens of generals and admirals from seventeen countries, including Russia and the United States, that called for deep reductions in nuclear stockpiles.

General Lee Butler, USAF (Retired)
Wednesday, December 4, 1996
Washington, D.C.

Thank you, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me say first that I'm both professionally honored and intellectually comforted to share this rostrum with General Andrew Goodpaster. He has long set the standard among senior military officers for rigorous thinking and wise counsel on national security matters. He has been a role model for generations of younger officers, and most certainly was for me. His views of the risks inherent in nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use have long been a matter of public record. I found them very compelling as I made the long and arduous intellectual journey from staunch advocate of nuclear deterrence to public proponent of nuclear abolition.

This latter role is not one that I ever imagined nor one that I relish. Far from it. It have too much regard for the thousands of men and women who served under my command, and the hundreds of colleagues with whom I labored in the policy arena, to take lightly the risk that my views might in any way be construed as diminishing their service or sacrifice. Quite to the contrary, I continue to marvel and will always be immensely gratified by their intense devotion and commitment to the highest standards of professional discipline.

I would simply ask them to understand that I am compelled to speak, by concerns I cannot still, with respect to the abiding influence of nuclear weapons long after the Cold War has ended. I am here today because I feel the weight of a special obligation in these matters, a responsibility born of unique experience and responsibilities. Over the last 27 years of my military career, I was embroiled in every aspect of American nuclear policy making and force structuring, from the highest councils of government to nuclear command centers; from the arms control arena to cramped bomber cockpits and the confines of ballistic missile silos and submarines. I have spent years studying nuclear weapons effects; inspected dozens of operational units; certified hundreds of crews for their nuclear mission; and approved thousands of targets for nuclear destruction. I have investigated a distressing array of accidents and incidents involving strategic weapons and forces. I have read a library books and intelligence reports on the Soviet Union and what were believed to be its capabilities and intentions...and seen an army of experts confounded. As an advisor to the President on the employment of nuclear weapons, I have anguished over the imponderable complexities, the profound moral dilemmas, and the mind-numbing compression of decisionmaking under threat of nuclear attack.

I came away from that experience deeply troubled by what I see as the burden of building and maintaining nuclear arsenals; the increasingly tangled web of policy and strategy as the number of weapons and delivery systems multiply; the staggering costs; the relentless pressure of advancing technology; the grotesquely destructive war plans; the daily operational risks; and the constant prospect of a crisis that would hold the fate of entire societies at risk.

Seen from this perspective, it should not be surprising that no one could have been more relieved than way I by the dramatic end of the Cold War and the promise of reprieve from its acute tensions and threats. The democratization of Russia, the reshaping of Central Europe....I never imagined that in my lifetime, much less during my military service, such extraordinary events might transpire. Even more gratifying was the opportunity, as the commander of US strategic nuclear forces, to be intimately involved in recasting our force posture, shrinking our arsenals, drawing down the target list, and scaling back hugh impending Cold War driven expenditures.

Most importantly, I could see for the first time the prospect of restoring a world free of the apocalyptic threat of nuclear weapons.

Over time, that shimmering hope gave way to a judgment which has now become a deeply held conviction; that a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons is necessarily a world devoid of nuclear weapons. Permit me, if you will, to elaborate briefly on the concerns which compel this conviction.

First, a growing alarm that despite all of the evidence, we have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason, transcending time and space, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants. Second, a deepening dismay at the prolongation of Cold War policies and practices in a world where our security interests have been utterly transformed. Third, that foremost among these policies, deterrence reigns unchallenged, with its embedded assumption of hostility and associated preference for forces on high states of alert. Fourth, an acute unease over renewed assertions of the utility of nuclear weapons, especially as regards response to chemical or biological attack. Fifth, grave doubt that the present highly discriminatory regime of nuclear and non-nuclear states can long endure absent an credible commitment by the nuclear powers to eliminate their arsenals. And finally, the horrific prospect of a world seething with enmities, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and hostage to maniacal leaders strongly disposed toward their use.

That being said, let me hasten to add that I am keenly aware of the opposing arguments. Many strategists hold to the belief that the Cold War world was well served by nuclear weapons, and that the fractious world emerging in its aftermath dictates that they will be retained...either as fearsome weapons of last resort or simply because their elimination is still a Utopian dream. I offer in reply that for me the Utopian dream was ending the Cold War. Standing down nuclear arsenals requires only a fraction of the ingenuity and resources as were devoted to their creation. As the those who believe nuclear weapons desirable or inevitable, I would say these devices exact a terrible price even if never used. Accepting nuclear weapons as the ultimate arbiter of conflict condemns the world to live under a dark cloud of perpetual anxiety. Worse, it codifies mankind's most murderous instincts as an acceptable resort when other options for resolving conflict fail.
Others argue that nuclear weapons are still the essential trappings of superpower status; that they are a vital hedge against a resurgence of virulent, Soviet-era communism; that they will deter attack by weapons of mass destruction; or that they are the most appropriate choice for response to such attack.

To them I reply that proliferation cannot be contained in a world where a handful of self-appointed nations both arrogate to themselves the privilege of owning nuclear weapons, and extol the ultimate security assurances they assert such weapons convey. That overt hedging against born-again, Soviet-style hardliners is as likely to endanger as to discourage their resurrection. That elegant theories of deterrence wilt in the crucible of impending nuclear war. And, finally, that the political and human consequences of the employment of a nuclear weapon by the United States in the United States in the post-Cold War world, no matter the provocation, would irretrievably diminish our stature. We simply cannot resort to the very type of act we rightly abhor.

Is it possible to forge a global consensus on the propositions that nuclear weapons have no defensible role; that the broader consequences of their employment transcend any asserted military utility; and that as true weapons of mass destruction, the case for their elimination is a thousand-fold stronger and more urgent than for deadly chemicals and viruses already widely declared immoral, illegitimate, subject to destruction and prohibited from any future productions?

I am persuaded that such a consensus is not only possible, it is imperative. Notwithstanding the uncertainties of transition in Russia, bitter enmities in the Middle East, or the delicate balance of power in South and East Asia, I believe that a swelling global refrain will eventually bring the broader interests of mankind to bear on the decisions of governments to retain nuclear weapons. The terror-induced anesthesia which suspended rational thought, made nuclear war thinkable and grossly excessive arsenals possible during the Cold War is gradually wearing off. A renewed appreciation for the obscene power of a single nuclear weapon is coming back into focus as we confront the dismal prospect of nuclear terror at the micro level.

Clearly the world has begun to recoil from the nuclear abyss. Bombers are off alert, missiles are being destroyed and warheads dismantled, former Soviet republics have renounced nuclear status. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has been indefinitely extended, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is now a de facto prohibition, and START II may yet survive a deeply suspicious Duma. But, there is a much larger issue which now confronts the nuclear powers and engages the vital interest of every nation; whether the world is better served by a prolonged era of cautious nuclear weapons reductions toward some indeterminate endpoint; or by an unequivocal commitment on the part of the nuclear powers to move much greater urgency toward the goal of eliminating these arsenals in their entirety.

I chose this forum to make my most direct public case for elimination as the goal, to be pursued with all deliberate speed. I firmly believe that practical and realistic steps, such as those set forth by the Stimson Center study, or by the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, can readily be taken toward that end, But I would underscore that the real issue here is not the path - it is the willingness to undertake the journey. In my view, there are three crucial conditions which must first be satisfied for that journey to begin, conditions which go to the heart of strongly held beliefs and deep seated fears about nuclear weapons and the circumstances in which they might be used. First and foremost, is for the declared nuclear weapon states to accept that the Cold War is in fact over, to break free of the norms, attitudes and habits that perpetuate enormous inventories, forces standing alert and targeting plans encompassing thousands of aimpoints.

Second, for the undeclared states to embrace the harsh lessons of the Cold War; that nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous, hugely expensive, and militarily inefficient; that implacable hostility and alienation will almost certainly over time lead to a nuclear crisis; that the failure of nuclear deterrence would imperil not just the survival of the antagonists, but of every society; and that nuclear war is a raging, insatiable beast whose instincts and appetites we pretend to understand but cannot possibly control.

Third, given its crucial leadership role, it is essential for the United States to undertake as a first order of business a sweeping review of its nuclear policies and strategies. The Clinton administration's 1993 Nuclear Posture Review was an essential but far from sufficient step toward rethinking the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world. While clearing the agenda of some pressing force structure questions, the NPR purposefully avoided the larger policy issues.

Moreover, to the point of Cold War attitudes, the Review's justification for maintaining robust nuclear forces as a hedge against the resurgence of a hostile Russia should now be seen as regrettable from several aspects. It sends an overt message of distrust in an era when building a positive security relationship with Russia is arguably the United States' most important foreign policy interest. It confides force levels and postures completely out of keeping with the historic passage we have witnessed in world affairs. And, it perpetuates attitudes, which inhibit a willingness to proceed immediately toward negotiation of greatly reduced levels of arms, notwithstanding the state of ratification of the START II Agreement.

There you have, in very abbreviated form, the core of the concerns which led me to abandon the blessed anonymity of private life, to join my voice with respected colleagues such as General Goodpaster, to urge publicly that the United States make unequivocal its commitment to the elimination of nuclear arsenals, and take the lead in setting an agenda for moving forthrightly toward that objective.

I left active duty with great confidence that the imperative for this commitment, and the will to pursue it, were fully in place. I entered private life with a sense of profound satisfaction that the astonishing turn of events which brought a wondrous closure to my three and one-half decades of military service, and far more importantly to four decades of perilous ideological confrontation, presented historic opportunities to advance the human condition.
But now time, and human nature, are wearing away the sense of wonder and closing the window of opportunity. Options are being lost as urgent questions are unasked, or unanswered; as outmoded routines perpetuate Cold War patterns and thinking; and as a new generation of nuclear actors and aspirants lurch backward toward a chilling world where the principal antagonists could find no better solution to their entangled security fears than Mutual Assured Destruction.

Such a world was and is intolerable. We are not condemned to repeat the lessons of forty years at the nuclear brink. We can do better than condone a world in which nuclear weapons are accepted as commonplace. The Price already paid is too dear, the risks too great. The task is daunting but we cannot shrink from it. The opportunity may not come again.

December 4, 1996

Joint Statement on Reduction of Nuclear Weapons Arsenals: Declining Utility, Continuing Risks.

As a senior military officers, we have given close attention over many years to the role of nuclear weapons as well as the risks they involve. With the end of the Cold War, these weapons are of sharply reduced utility, and there is much now to be gained by substantially reducing their numbers and lowering their alert status, meanwhile exploring the feasibility of their ultimate complete elimination.
The roles of nuclear weapons for purposes of security have been sharply narrowed in terms of the security of the United States. Now and in the future they basically provide an option to respond in kind to a nuclear threat or nuclear attack by others. In the world environment now foreseen, they are not needed against non-nuclear opponents. Conventional capabilities can provide a sufficient deterrent and defense against conventional forces and in combination with defensive measures, against the threat of chemical or biological weapons. As symbols of prestige and international standing, nuclear weapons are of markedly reduced importance.

At the same time, the dangers inherent in nuclear weapons have continued and in some ways increased. They include the risks of accidents and unauthorized launches - risks which, while small, nevertheless still exist. Seizures or thefts of weapons or weapons materials and threats or actual use by terrorists or domestic rebels, are of additional concern. Moreover, despite the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear weapons could spread to additional nations, with risk of their use in crisis or war. And if they should spread, the risks of accidents and of unauthorized, inadvertent, or deliberate use will spread as well.

We believe the nations that possess these weapons should take the necessary steps to align their nuclear weapons policies and programs to match the diminished role and utility of these weapons, and the continuing risks they involve, joining in reducing their nuclear arsenals step by step to the lowest verifiable levels consistent with stable security, as rapidly as world conditions permit. Taking the lead, U.S. and Russian reductions can open the door for the negotiation of multilateral reductions capping all arsenals at very low levels. Added safety and an enhanced climate for negotiations would be achieved by removing nuclear weapons from alert status and placing the warheads in controlled storage. These arrangements should be applied to all nuclear weapons, discarding the distinction between tactical and strategic weapons, limiting nuclear warheads rather than launchers, and subjecting all weapons to inspection and verification measures.

The ultimate objective of phased reductions should be the complete elimination or nuclear weapons from all nations. No one can say today whether or when this final goal will prove feasible, but because the phased withdrawal and destruction of nuclear weapons from all countries' arsenals would take many years, probably decades, to accomplish, time will be available -- for work on technical problems, for political progress in ameliorating the conflicts and political struggles that encourages countries to maintain or to acquire nuclear weapons, and for building confidence in the system of safeguards and verification measures established to support the elimination regime.

We believe the time for action is now, for the alternative of inaction could well carry a high price. For the task that lies ahead, there is need for initiatives by all who share our conviction as to the importance of this goal. Steady pursuit of a policy of cooperative, phased reductions with serious commitments to seek the elimination of all nuclear weapons is a path to a world free of nuclear dangers.


General Andrew J. Goodpaster, U.S. Army (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) (1969-74)

General Lee Butler, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), former Commander-in-Chief, United States Strategic Air Command (1992-94); former Commander-in Chief, United States Strategic Command (1992-94).


December 5, 1996

We, military professionals, who have devoted our lives to the national security of our countries and our peoples, are convinced that the continuing existence of nuclear weapons in the armories of nuclear powers, and the ever present threat of acquisition of these weapons by others, constitutes a peril to global peace and security and to the safety and survival of the people we are dedicated to protect.

Through our variety of responsibilities and experiences with weapons and wars in the armed forces of many nations, we have acquired an intimate and perhaps unique knowledge of the present security and insecurity of our countries and peoples.

We know that nuclear weapons, though never used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, represent a clear and present danger to the very existence of humanity. There was an immense risk of a superpower holocaust during the Cold War. At least once, civilization was on the very brink of catastrophic tragedy. That threat has now receded, but not forever -- unless nuclear weapons are eliminated.

The end of the Cold War created conditions favorable to nuclear disarmament. Termination of military confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States made it possible to reduce strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, and to eliminate intermediate range missiles. It was a significant milestone on the path to nuclear disarmament when Belarus, Kazakhastan, and Ukraine relinquished their nuclear weapons.

Indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 and approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the UN General Assembly in 1996 are also important steps towards a nuclear-free world. We commend the work that has been done to achieve these results.

Unfortunately, in spite of these positive steps, true nuclear disarmament has not been achieved. Treaties provide that only delivery systems, not nuclear warheads, will be destroyed. This permits the United States and Russia to keep their warheads in reserve storage, thus creating a "reversible nuclear potential." However, in the post-Cold War security environment, the most commonly postulated threats are not susceptible to deterrence or are simply not credible. We believe, therefore, that business as usual is not an acceptable way for the world to proceed in nuclear matters.

It is our deep conviction that the following is urgently needed and must be undertaken now:
*First, present and planned stockpiles of nuclear weapons are exceedingly large and should now be greatly cut back;
*Second, remaining nuclear weapons should be gradually and transparently taken off alert, and their readiness substantially reduced both in nuclear weapon states and in de facto nuclear weapon states;
*Third, long-term international nuclear policy must be based on the declared principle of continuous, complete and irrevocable elimination of nuclear weapons.

The United States and Russia should -- without any reduction in their military security -- carry forward the reduction process already launched by START: they should cut down to 1000 to 1500 warheads each and possibly lower. The Other three nuclear states and the three threshold states should be drawn into the reduction process as still deeper reductions are negotiated down to the level of hundreds. There is nothing incompatible between defense by individual countries of their territorial integrity and progress toward nuclear abolition.

The exact circumstances and conditions that will make it possible to proceed, finally, to abolition cannot now be foreseen or prescribed. One obvious prerequisite would be a worldwide program of surveillance and inspection, including measures to account for and control inventories of nuclear weapon materials. This will ensure that no rogues or terrorists could undertake a surreptitious effort to acquire nuclear capabilities without detection at an early stage. An agreed procedure for forcible international intervention and interruption of covert efforts in a certain and timely fashion is essential.

The creation of nuclear-free zones in different parts of the world, confidence-building and transparency measures in the general field of defense, strict implementation of all treaties in the area of disarmament and arms control, and mutual assistance in the process of disarmament are also important in helping to bring about a nuclear -- free world. The development of regional systems of collective security, including practical measures for cooperation, partnership, interaction and communication are essential for local stability and security.

The extent to which the existence of nuclear weapons and fear of their use may have deterred war -- in a world that in this year alone, has seen 30 military conflicts raging -- cannot be determined. It is clear, however, that nations now possessing nuclear weapons will not relinquish them until they are convinced that more reliable and less dangerous means of providing for their security are in place. It is also clear, as a consequence, that the nuclear powers will not now agree to a fixed timetable for the achievement of abolition.

It is similarly clear that, among the nations not now possessing nuclear weapons, there are some that will not forever forswear their acquisition and deployment unless, they, too, are provided means of security. Nor will they forgo acquisition if the present nuclear powers seek to retain everlasting their nuclear monopoly.

Movements toward abolition must be a responsibility shared primarily by the declared nuclear weapons states -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; by the de facto nuclear states, India, Israel and Pakistan; and by major non-nuclear powers such as Germany and Japan. All nations should move in concert toward the same goal.

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 is 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.



Johnson, Major General Leonard V.. (Ret.) Commandant, National Defense College
Kristensen, Lt. General Gunnar (Ret.) former Chief of Defense Staff FRANCE
Sanguinetti, Admiral Antoine (Ret.) former Chief of Staff, French Fleet
Erskine, General Emmanuel (Ret.) former Commander in Chief and former Chief of Staff UNTSO (Middle East), Commander UMFII (Lebanon)
Capellos, Lt. General Richard (Ret.) former Corps Commander Konstantinides, Major General Kostas (Ret.), former Chief of Staff, Army Signals
Koumanakos, Lt. General Georgios (Ret.) former Chef of Operations INDIA
Rikhye, Major General Indar Jit (Ret.), former military advisor to UN Secretary General Dag Akmmerskjold and U Thant
Surt, Air Marshall N.C. (Ret.)
Sakonjo, Vice Admiral Naotoshi (Ret.) Sr. Advisor, Research Institute for Peace and Security
Shikata Lt. General Toshiyuki (Ret.) Sr. Advisor Research Institute for Peace and Security
Ajeilat, Major General Shafiq (Ret.) Vice President Military Affairs Muta University
Shiyyab, Major Gen. Mohammed K. (Ret.) former Dep. Commander, Royal Jordanian Air Force
van der Graaf, Henry J. (Ret.) Brigadier General RNA Director Centre Arms Control & Verification, Member, United National Advisory Board for Disarmament Matters
Breivik, Roy, Vice Admiral Roy (Ret.) former Representative to NATO, Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic
Malik Major General Ihsun ul Haq (Ret.) Commandant, Joint Services Committee
Gomes, Marshall Francisco da Costa (Ret.) former Commander in Chief, Army; former President of Portugal
Belous, General Vladimir (Ret.) Department Chief, Dzerzhmsky Military Academy
Gareev, Army General Makhmut (Ret.) former Deputy Chief, USSR Armed Forces General Staff
Gromov, General Boris, (Ret.) former Duma international Affairs Comminee; former Commander of 40m Soviet Arms in Afghanistan:former Dept. Minister, Foreign Ministry, Russia
Koltounov, Major General Victor (Ret.) former Deputy Chief, Department of General Staff, USSR Armed Forces.
Larionov, Major General Valentin (Ret.) Professor, General Staff Academy
Lebed, Major General Alexander (Ret.) former Secretary of the Security Council
Lebedev, Major General Youri V. (Ret.) former Deputy Chief, Department of General Staff, USSR Armed Forces
Makarevsky, Major General Vadim (Ret.) Deputy Chief, Kouibyshev Military Engineering Academy
Medvedev, Lt. General Vlad-rmr (Ret.) Chief. Center of Nuclear Threat Reduction
Mikhailov, Colonel General Georg - (Ret.) former Deputy Chief, Department of General Staff, USSR Armed Forces
Nozhin, Major General Eugene (Ret.) former Deputy Chief, Department of General Staff, USSR Armed Forces
Rokhlin Lt. General Lev (Ret.) Chair, Duma Defense Committee; former Commander, Russian 4th Army Corps
Sleport, Lt. General Ivan (Ret.) former Chief, Department of General Staff, USSR Armed Forces.
Simonyan, Major General Rair (Ret.) Head of Chair, General Staff Academy
Surikov, General Boris T., (Ret.) former Chef Specialist, Defense Ministry
Tehervov, Colonel General Nikolay (Ret.) former Chief, Department of General Staff USSR Armed Forces
Vinogradov. Lt. General Michael S. (Ret.) former Deputy Chef, Operational Strategic Center, USSR General Staff
Zoubkov, Rear Admiral Radiy (Ret.) Chief, Navigation, USSR Navy SRI LANKA
Karunaratne, Major General Upali A. (Ret.) USF, U.S.A. WC (Sri Lanka)
Lupogo, Major General H. C. (Ret.) former Chief Inspector General, Tanzania Armed Forces
Beach, General Sir Hugh (Ret.) Member, U. K. Security Commission Carver, Field Marshall Lord Michael (Ret.) Commander in Chief for East British Army (1967-1969), Chief of General Staff (1971-73) Chief of Defense Staff (1973-76)
Harbottle, Brigadier Michael (Ret.) former Chief of Staff, UN Peacekeeping Force Cyprus
Mackie, Air Commodore Alistair (Ret.) former Director Air Staff Briefing
Becton, Lt. General Julius (USA) (Ret.)
Bums, Maj. General William F. (USA) (Ret.) JCS Representative, INF Negotiations (1981-88) Special Envoy to Russia for Nuclear Weapon Dismantlement (1992-93)
Carroll, Jr., Rear Admiral Eugene J. (USN) (Ret.) Dept. Director, Center for Defense Information
Cushman, Lt. General John H. (USA) (Ret.) Commander, I. Corps (ROK/US) Group (Korea) 1976-78)
Galvin, General John R., Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1987-92)
Gavler, Admiral Noel (USN) (Ret.) former Commander, Pacific
Horner, General Charles A. (USAF) Ret.) Commander, Coalition Air Forces, Desert Storm (1991); former Commander U.S. Space Command
James, Rear Admiral Robert G, (USNR) (Ret.)
Kingston, General Robert C. (USA) (Ret.) former Commander, U.S. Central Command
Lee, Vice Admiral John M. (USN) (Ret.)
Odom, Gen. William E. (USA) (Ret.) Director, National Security Studies, Hudson Institute; Dep. Asst and Asst Chief of Staff for intelligence (1981-85); Director, National Security Agency (1985-88)
O'Meara, General Andrew (USA) (Ret.) former Commander U.S. Army, Europe
Pursley, Lt. General Robert E., USAF (Ret.)
Read, Vice Admiral William L. (USN) (Ret.), former Commander, U.S. Navy Surface Force, Atlantic Command
Rogers, General Bernard W. (USA) (Ret.), former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander (1979-87)
Seignious, II, Lt. General George M. (USA) (Ret.), former Director Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1978-1980)
Shanahan, Vice Admiral John J. (USN) (Ret.) Director, Center for Defense Information
Smith, General William Y., (USAF) (Ret.) former Deputy Commander, U.S. Command Europe Wilson, Vice Admiral James B. (CSN) (Ret.), former Polaris Submarine Captain

Source: The Henry Stimpson Center

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