... The armageddon threat has diminished. But two other threats have arisen.
The first is one of accidents or miscalculation or loss of control in Russia,
and we get a small nuclear attack. The second is the "loose nukes" problem,
and that materials or weapons are taken out of Russia, and they end up in a
Iraq, Iran, a North Korea. And we have it then where an irresponsible Saddam
Hussein has these weapons, and the likelihood of their being used goes up. In
short, the magnitude of the threat is down. ... And the techniques for
countering the accidents in Russia or the deliberate use by a proliferator like
Saddam Hussein are different than the ways we dealt with the threat of
armageddon between the Soviet Union and United States.|
What happens to the arms control agreements?
The arms control agreements that we're dealing with today are almost irrelevant
to these two problems that I am mentioning to you. The arms control agreements
are irrelevant today because they're too small and too slow. We have an
agreement on the table now, START II. It's been there for six years. Our
Senate ratified it three years ago. A year and a half ago, President Clinton
and President Yeltsin agreed at Yeltsin's request that we slide the completion
date five years, to the end of 2007, because Russia couldn't meet the
timetable. The Russian Duma last month said, "We are again, for about the
sixth time, postponing consideration of the treaty until next April." They
don't want to pass this treaty because it's not a good treaty from their point
of view. So the treaty is probably dead. If they pass it, they're going to
pass it with reservations, I believe, about ballistic missile defenses. And
the President [in] the last few days has said, "We're going to build missile
defenses." So there's a head-on [collision] coming here. And if they pass the
treaty with a reservation about ballistic missile defenses, the Senate won't
re-ratify it because ... it's changed. But beyond that, not only just dragging
on interminably, it takes until 2007 to achieve anything.
But we'd be down to 3,500 weapons by then. Wouldn't that be preferable to
each side pointing the number that we're pointing at each other now?
That's the second problem with the treaty. It's too small. 3,500 doesn't get
us very far. ... And 3,500 is a phony number. ... We've got to get the
American public informed that the treaty does not take us down to 3,500
weapons. It does not, as the President said in his speech to the Congress,
take us down--or he said START III, the next treaty--would take us down to 80
percent of the Cold War levels. That is not true. The treaty has loopholes in
Number one, it only counts weapons, warheads that are mounted on delivery
vehicles, on missiles. And we have said quite publicly that if we allowed
3,500 mounted on vehicles, we're going to keep 3,500 spares. Now, they can be
mounted on those same vehicles with multiple warheads. The treaty does not
even touch what are called tactical nuclear weapons, smaller ones that are used
in artillery shells or by aircraft. ... But those weapons are not included in
the treaty. And we have said quite publicly, we're going to keep 3,000 of
those. You add that up: 3,500 real, 3,500 spares, 3,000 tacticals; you've got
10,000 weapons at the end of the year 2007 if the START II treaty is ever
passed. And if you would do a START III and get you down to 1,000, which is
very optimistic, and you have another 1,000 spares, and you have another 500
tacticals, you've still got an immense number of these weapons. ...
We cannot go to the world and say, "We're against the proliferation of these
weapons, and we want you to give up commercial advantage and not sell things to
Iran and Iraq and North Korea," if we sit here with a policy that, 9 years from
now, we're going to have 10,000 weapons, and a policy that we'll use them first
if it's in our best interest to do so. How can you look anyone in the eye and
say, "We, the most powerful nation in the world, need this, but you don't need
There was a scare about 3 years ago, when Norway launched a rocket.
No. We launched a rocket from Norway. It was an American
rocket. It was an exploration of the aurora borealis. And we had notified the
Russians that we were going to do this. They lost track of that notification,
and it's my understanding that they got all the way to Mr. Yeltsin when they
saw that rocket heading up into space, all the way with the codes, saying "What
do we do?" Now, that's dangerous.
You write about the 1980 US incident where our National Security Advisor got a call that there was a launch from Russia. What happened there? Are the Russians the only one who have had problems with their early warning system?
President Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was awakened 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning with the word that 1,000 missiles were headed to the United States across the Pacific. And he thoughtăthey thoughtăthis was a genuine nuclear attack on the United States. And they began to take bombers off. They began to put alert aircraft in the air, that is, the airborne command posts, and that kind of thing. And while this was going on, Brzezinski was deciding whether to call President Carter and ask him, "Do you want to give the order to counter-launch under this attack?" when he made one more check. And they called back and said [that] of the several warning stations that should have seen this incoming attack, only one had seen it. And therefore they discounted it because there was an error in that system. A computer failure. A training program [that had been] put in or something, instead of a genuine one. But that's terribly dangerous. I don't think President Carter would have launched. I really don't. But who knows?
General Habiger says that in the Norway incident the missiles never actually went on alert. They
just were on a procedure of communication that led up to Mr. Yeltsin being
I don't give a darn about what level of alert they were at. It was a totally
unnecessary alert. And when you start pulling off nuclear alerts, you're in
danger. And we're in particular danger today because the Russian early warning
system has broken down, in part because some of it's in countries that used to
be part of the Soviet Union but are not part of Russia today, and in part
because they're not maintaining it. And so they feel vulnerable. They feel
like they're not going to have warning. They're on higher hair-trigger alert
today probably than they were during the Cold War. So we've got to get away
from that. And I think that one of the first things we should do is take every
US weapon off of high alert. We have an absolutely insane policy in this
country. Had it now for 30 or 40 years.
Which policy are you referring to?
That is that if we see an attack coming from Russia, we are going to get the
President to decide to launch our counter-attack before this one lands from
Russia. That's 25 minutes. Now, when you take out time to evaluate this and
decide it really is coming, when you take out time at the end, between a
President's decision and the fact the missiles actually get off and far enough
away that they're not going to be damaged by the blast of the incoming attack,
the President's got somewhere between two and ten minutes to make this most
momentous decision. No President's going to do that. It would be insane to do
it anyway, because our counter-attack doesn't stop this incoming attack. It's
not intended to do that. And we don't need to worry about that attack knocking
out our missiles. Our missiles that count are in submarines out here at sea,
and they can't see those. So we can always counter-attack, no matter what they
do in that attack. ...
Why do we have this policy? What is this policy called?
The policy is called "launch under attack"--launch our weapons while they are
under attack, that is, before the attack has arrived. And we have this policy
because we have transmuted to nuclear strategy the theorems of conventional
military strategy. And one of the problems in conventional warfare is surprise
attacks, Pearl Harbors. It really makes you vulnerable. This is a different
case. And we have not appreciated that nuclear strategy is generically
different than conventional strategy. We just have got to get away from this
idea that we're under a threat of attack. If we would just get rid of those
land-based missiles anyway--we don't need them--then there's nothing for them
to attack, other than our cities and things. The excuse for launching quickly
goes away. And it's really just a US preoccupation with big land-based
missiles, which are obsolete. ...
The submarine is what has saved this country from nuclear war since the early
1960s. ... Because in the submarines we have more than enough to put Russia,
China, anybody out of business. And we want to get down now to a number that's
so much smaller than what we've got, like a factor of 100 lower. We've got
15,000 nuclear warheads in this country today. A hundred and fifty, 200 is
more than enough to threaten anybody in the world with enough damage to make
them say, "I'm not going to start a nuclear war." And that's what we want.
And if we get rid of the excess, we reduce these threats of accidents, we
reduce these threats of proliferation, and make the world as well as our own
country much safer. And the treaty process is irrelevant because it is too
slow and too small, as I've said.
And what we need instead is a process called strategic escrow. Now, under
strategic escrow, we take 1,000 warheads off of our missiles and we move them
into storage 200 or 300 miles away, so that you can't just put them back at the
drop of a hat. We ask the Russians to put observers here who count what goes
in, and if anything goes out. No authority to stop us, but there they are. If
we do that, Yeltsin has got to follow. He's got to put 1,000 in storage. Why?
Because his deputy in October announced that in ten years they're not going to
have the capability of firing more than about 500 nuclear warheads. They've
let the thing deteriorate, and they don't have the money to rehabilitate it.
We can go to zero alert, because we do have those submarines out there, and
they'll be able to fire back whenever we want.
But the Russians don't have submarines out there that can fire back?
Well, today they don't. They normally do. They normally, even with the
perilous conditions in Russia today, they've been keeping two submarines out.
I believe right now they don't. They're at pier-side alert. ... And it is a
troublesome thing that Russia, because it doesn't have submarines out, because
its early warning radar and other systems are not all in good shape, feels
nervous. And we don't want them to feel nervous. We don't want them to feel
on hair-trigger alert. So that's a reason I recommend we go away from
hair-trigger alert; we renounce it right now. That will not necessarily make
the Russians renounce it. But I can guarantee you, the Russians will not
renounce it if we don't. So since it does us no good and it pushes them to
retain it, let's get rid of it. And maybe then they'll come to their senses
and get rid of it too. And maybe we'll both use the Y2K problem as an excuse
for standing down this alert, and then leave it down.
Do you think we're at a special moment in history right now, where we
can do this?
We're at a very special moment in history, I believe, if we can just get away
from the old Cold War nuclear theology. Why are we at a special moment? One,
... our own Joint Chiefs of Staff are saying, "We're willing to trade in some
of this nuclear stuff for other conventional forces that we prefer," saying,
"We don't have a real rationale for the size we've got." So now let's look for
a rationale. And when you look for one, nobody will come up with 5,000-10,000
nuclear warheads. It's insane to think of that number of detonations being
necessary to protect our country.
We're at a special moment because the Russians have announced they're going
down to something like 500 nuclear warheads, no matter what happens. They
can't afford any more; that their whole establishment has deteriorated that
far. So that gives a great impetus to really take some action.
We're at a very special moment because in November the Germans announced they
wanted NATO to pledge it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons again.
I've been advocating that in spades for years. I went to people in our
establishment and said, "Why don't we pledge we'll never be the first to use
these?" And they said, "Well, it's because it would scare our European allies.
They want that guarantee." Here it's the principle and most vulnerable
European ally is now standing up saying, "I don't want that guarantee."
So it's a time of ferment. There are all these opportunities. President has
now come out for ballistic missile defenses, which are good. Only a question
of: What do we afford, and what capability can we technically build? But up
till now, they've been saying, "Oh, if we build defenses, the Russians will
keep more offenses, and therefore they won't comply with the arms control
agreements." Well, that's all undercut because the Russians have said, "We
can't keep more offenses. We're going to 500." So many of these false
theorems of nuclear warfare are crumbling today.
And I predict that we will find a way, but it's got to get around this treaty
process, because a treaty has got to be negotiated. Takes time. A treaty's
got to have this detailed verification, because it's a legal document and we're
very legalistic in this country. Because a treaty has to be ratified, and that
takes time, even in our country. Took three years to get the current treaty
ratified. And then a treaty has to be executed, and it takes time to go
through it because you've got to have this detailed verification while it's
being executed. ...
And something like strategic escrow, where you just put the warheads away, and
then when they've been put away, if you agree under a treaty that they can be
destroyed, you destroy them, but in the meantime, they're out of the way;
they're offline. And most of all, you've told your military, you've told the
world, "We are not counting on these weapons as our primary ... line of
defense." And there is no reason that the United States of America, moving
into the 21st century with more economic, political, military power
than any nation has ever had, need rely on nuclear weapons for its security.
We have all the other ways of doing this.
General Habiger was just describing 5 or 6 steps that the US has taken
unilaterally in terms of reducing warheads, and the Russians have not followed
suit. How do we know that if we decide to take 1,000 off the shelf, that they
would do so? What makes you trust them?
Because Yeltsin is in this position. If he doesn't find a way to make an
agreement with us to go downward quickly, we're going to have 10,000 warheads
ten years from now, and he's going to have 500. And he's not going to like
that prospect. In short, we can maintain any number we want into the
indefinite future. So if we make an offer for him to find a way to get down
quickly--and we're totally at loggerheads on the START process--strategic
escrow process is away around this. It's also a way around the treaties
because you don't have to have Congressional or Duma approval. This is just
changing the readiness. And it's no risk to us. If we put 1,000 here today
and Yeltsin says "niet," we [put] them back. There's no problem. We have not
put ourselves in any vulnerability if we go from 15,000 to 14,000. But if
Yeltsin does this, we do another 1,000 or 2,000, and we go back and forth. And
in a few years, not a decade, we're not down to 10,000; we're down to the
hundreds that are ready to fire. The rest of them are still there.
How do we verify that they are in fact still there?
Because we're allowed to put an observer there. He sits there 24 hours a day
and he counts what goes in and he counts what goes out.
But we're having major problems with the Russians now, just under the
Nunn-Lugar program in the Cooperative Threat Reduction, over the issue of
verification. We want total access to their stuff, and they won't let us
That's certainly true. But you see, that's where the treaty process is hurting
us. We're building a treaty that's going to allow us to go to zero. Well, you
have to have real verification for that. And we're building all that into
these treaties today, when it isn't necessary.
Let me give you a story, a real example. I'm Director of Central Intelligence,
1978. We're working on a treaty with the Russians called SALT II. I have to
tell the Senate how accurately our intelligence can check on the Russians for
every term of that agreement. And I've really struggled to come up with a
legitimate estimate. And I finally went to the Congress and said, "If they
cheat by about 1,000 warheads, we'll know it." Do you know how many warheads
they had at that time? Forty thousand. Now, at that time, knowing 1,000 plus
or minus was insignificant, it was good to have the provisions in the treaty,
in the sense that ... 5-10 years later, it would be good to have that degree of
ability to check. But we were wasting our time and effort in 1978, when it
didn't make that much difference. If we had known within 5,000 or 10,000, it
would have been enough for that treaty.
We're having trouble under Nunn-Lugar and such forth because we're insisting on
these detailed agreements for verification that will be necessary some
day, but not today. And under strategic escrow, you have easy verification.
Does the thing come in? Does it go out? I mean, warheads are not minuscule.
And there are ways to check that they aren't fooling us. I mean, we don't have
to get inside and tear it apart. We have detectors from the outside. We can
tell this is a genuine warhead.
What do they detect?
They detect the radioactivity inside. And therefore we can check without being
so intrusive that the Russians get upset that we're finding their technology
and they find ours and so on. It's a very simple process. ...
General Habiger told me that less than the treaties, what the militaries are
relying on is the person-to-person contacts that are being developed through
the variety of US-Russian military exchanges. Do you think that's enough to
maintain the safety of the world?
Oh, I think it's very good, and I understand what the General is saying. And
he helped develop a lot of that, and it's wonderful. But I don't want to count
on it. I think we've got to have more than informal military-to-military
relationships, because that's not going to stop the proliferation of these
weapons to other countries. That's the biggest threat today. That will help
with the accidents, and he was very much involved on the accidents because he
was in charge of ours. But he is not, I think, grappling with the
proliferation problem by those personal contacts.
You're in favor of a national missile defense?
I'm in favor of national missile defense, as long as we don't get carried away
and think we're going to have an impervious shield over this country [that
will] just completely take care of all these problems, because technically that
doesn't look feasible. Even if the technicians were able to promise us a
perfect shield, like President Reagan hypothesized, I would not count on it.
Not because of technology, because of what the German strategist Clausewitz
told us over 150 years ago: There is always friction in war. Things don't go
the way you plan. Something happens. A transistor breaks down. Somebody
doesn't push the right button. The weather interferes. The enemy does
something you didn't expect. So you never count on perfection. And with
nuclear defenses, or defenses against nuclear attack, you've got to have
You were an advocate for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program?
Yes, yes. ... I would go in and buy the whole Russian nuclear establishment,
whatever it cost. If we could do it, that would be the greatest bargain we
ever had. ... I think Senators Nunn and Lugar really came up with something
important here. Yes. If the Russians aren't going to spend enough money to
protect their nuclear establishment from being bought or sold or stolen, we
want to help them do that, because it's in our interest in the long run. So I
think that was a very foresighted program. I think we should be putting more
money into it today, because we're getting more and more reports that there
isn't the security that's needed over there.
One of the great benefits of my concept of strategic escrow is that it puts our
inspectors over there, our observers. And if the observers, who are just
counting what goes into Russian storage, happen to see there is no padlock on
the door, they'll say to the Russians, "You need a padlock," and the Russians
will say, "I can't afford it," and the American will say, "Here it is." I
mean, then we'll really know we're getting our money's worth.
But they don't want to let us over there. We're stuck at this observer
thing. And politically, they look at Desert Fox, they look at the announcement
on missile defenses, and they say, "You guys are going into attack mode
But you've got to remember, they don't have the power. You've got to remember
that they're in a difficult situation. They think they're still a superpower,
and they're not. And the adjustment is difficult. The adjustment they're
making to changing their thinking about nuclear weapons is much slower than in
this country. It's an ant's pace in this country, snail's pace in this
country. It's even worse in Russia. I was there six months ago, and their
thinking is very backward. But I take such delight in the fact that they have
had to acknowledge that they cannot maintain a large nuclear establishment into
Now, that means that one of these days they will have to wrench themselves away
from some of these false theorems of nuclear warfare that we taught them and
they have now clung onto. And so I don't worry about their bleating about the
ABM treaty. What are they going to do? Are they going to pretend that they
can maintain 5,000 nuclear warheads when they've said publicly they can only
maintain 500? No. They're going to have to face reality.
Now, I'd like to make it as easy for them as I can. I shouldn't even be
talking like this about "they are weak" and so on, because that really does
annoy them, and I don't want to annoy them, and I don't think our country ought
to annoy them. We particularly ought to remember that the way we exercise our
superior power with respect to Russia today could come back to bite us in 50
years, 75 years. We want to be as gentle but firm, as fair as we can with
them. But at the same time, let's remember, there's a limit to how much they
can resist in this program because they're going down, whether they like it or
not. And they don't want to be down at 500 and find us out here with thousands
and thousands of these nuclear weapons.