russian roulette

navigation, see below for text
frontline online

assessing arms control agreements

admiral stansfield turner

...The armageddon threat has diminished....And 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. 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'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 it.

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 one...?"

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 perfection....

more about turner...


How relevant are any of the arms control treaties that we've signed with the Soviet Union and with the former Soviet Union at this point?

Well, it's a good question about whether arms control as we knew it during the cold war is over. We have a holdover agreement from the cold war, START II, that the Russian parliament has refused to ratify for years and years and years now. That has stalled the whole process of strategic disarmament, to the great dismay of everyone, including myself. And it may be that the Russian parliament will never ratify START II. I regret that, if that's the case, but I think we need to pick ourselves up and move on, because the cause of containing and controlling the dangerous technology of nuclear weapons has to go on. And in a way, maybe it will be a good thing, because our thinking is still tied to those agreements and therefore still tied to the cold war. So maybe if we realize that we have to enter a new era, we will enter a new era....

Does that mean you support the idea of National Missile Defense as articulated by President Clinton and Secretary Cohen last week?

If North Korea obtains a ICBM capability and a nuclear weapons capability, or Iran or another state of that kind does, then I think we're going to have to take some steps against it, of which a National Missile Defense will be one. That's a sad state of affairs if it occurs, but looking ahead, it's reasonable to predict that they might. In that case, we will need a National Missile Defense.

...I've been involved in missile defense programs as a physicist since 1979. And I can absolutely assure any Russian that the system we build will be lucky to be able to intercept a North Korean ICBM. It's certainly not going to be able to intercept all of the Russian ICBMs. So their ability to deliver nuclear missile warheads to the United States will not be affected by the National Missile Defense, and that was the essence of the ABM treaty. So if they're thinking rightly, in technical terms, the Russians shouldn't be worried about a National Missile Defense.

So this isn't Star Wars we're talking about?

No. This is not Star Wars at all. This is a ground-based limited system that will, if it's lucky, intercept a few ICBMs from a rogue state. It would stand no chance against the Russian nuclear arsenal, even after START II or beyond.

more about carter...

matthew bunn

One of the problems that we have is that the United States and Russia see the post-cold war world very differently. The United States government basically concluded: "Well, we won the Cold War. Russia isn't anywhere near as powerful as we are any more. Russia must understand that." And so all of these old issues of balance of power, balancing how many warheads there are on each side, missile defenses, alliances expanding and so on, they shouldn't really matter that much to Russia because they know we're not going to attack, so it's not really a big issue. And we pursued all those policies, thinking that the Russians wouldn't see them as big issues.

Whereas from the Russian point of view, they felt weak, and they saw our strength growing, and they saw that as a conscious effort on our part to seize superiority while they were weak, and wanted all of the trappings of superpower equality that they had had in the old days in the arms control world. And our unwillingness to provide those trappings or to understand their need for them, or how they saw it from their perspective, that they really saw a threat to their security from us, I think, has been part of what has soured the political relationship so substantially. Because, you know, they look at us and they see missile defenses maybe getting built. They see unwillingness to reduce our strategic weapons as fast as they would like to reduce. And they think, "Well, why do they want to keep hold of all those strategic weapons?" They see us expanding NATO in their direction, and then refusing to offer any kind of legally binding commitment that we won't even move nuclear weapons into those new NATO states, closer to their border. They see us continuing to talk about expanding NATO even further, maybe right up to their very borders, and maybe not offering any assurances that nuclear weapons won't be put into those states either. And they look at all of these things, while looking at their own strategic forces, which are in a terrible state -- hardly any of them on alert at any given time, terribly vulnerable to a possible attack -- and they say, "We're in a very vulnerable military situation."

And if the shoe were on the other foot, I think you would see some very great concern in the United States as well. I think it's very unlikely, as a Russian colleague pointed out to me, that if the shoe were on the other foot, that the US Senate would ratify START II, if our strategic situations were reversed. Nonetheless, I think START II is very much in Russia's interest to ratify, and I hope they do ratify it. But I think the politics would be so difficult if we faced the kind of situation the Russians face. I find it hard to imagine how you could get START II ratified in that situation....

Does it matter? Stan Turner last week said that because of the shift in the balance of power, arms control agreements have been made irrelevant. We can do pretty much what we want.

I think that's just wrong. I think it's very important to have a verified, controlled reduction in the number of nuclear weapons on both sides, to make sure we understand how many nuclear weapons there are, how many of them are still on alert and pointed toward us, where are the rest of them, what's being done with all of them. I think that's very, very critical, and that arms control can play a very important role in making that happen.

more about bunn...

general vladimir dvorkin

What is the status of START now in Russia?

Well, there were big hopes in December of last year [that] the State Duma would ratify START II. Everything was ready for that to happen. However, the strikes delivered by the United States and Britain on Iraq moved this issue some time into the future. Now, we are trying to prove to our deputies that that should in no way be in the way of ratification of START II, [but] vice versa, the strikes should speed up the ratification, but it is a very hard thing to do.

Can you describe for us the fight you face in trying to persuade the deputies that this is a good idea in light of the current political situation?

We have had this debate for almost six years in Russia. We are trying to convince the deputies that this treaty is in the interest of Russia because it would provide for a nuclear balance between Russia and the United States at a lower, acceptable level which would be economically advantageous to Russia. And that balance is necessary, not in order to deter United States from attack, but in order deter any kind of new confrontation or a new arms race. However, without this treaty, the START II treaty, this balance will not be achieved. Furthermore, we should start thinking about START III, and the President has already negotiated that. That is why the usual set of arguments that are put forward by those who are opposed to START II agreement are really groundless and they have nothing whatsoever in common with the positive results that this treaty is going to bring or is supposed to bring about....

What are the arguments that the opposition is putting forth against START?

Well, you really cannot say that in a few words. I actually have a paper that deals with these arguments in detail. There are about eight to ten major arguments such as, for example, the opponents say that this treaty is going to cause a collapse of the structure of the nuclear forces of Russia. The opponents also say that the United States is going to have a much great[er]... ability to increase and build up its nuclear forces compared to Russia. So, I go through these arguments in much detail and I prove that they are groundless as something that can be used against the ratification, but you know that the Parliament is a Parliament. There is not much you can do. But, now we probably say of course that we do have democracy. But, I can tell you that if we still had the totalitarian regime, we would have ratified this treaty ahead of you....

more about dvorkin...

general eugene habiger

What are the Russian concerns that are stalling the ratification of START II?

...The Duma has three primary concerns about the ratification of START II. The number one concern is our breakout of the ABM treaty. The Russians are paranoid that we will come up with that golden beebee that would negate any kind of Russian capability....The President, I think, did the exactly right thing in giving Yeltsin a heads-up a day or two before the State of the Union message, that this was going to be in his State of the Union address....But I will tell you, this is going to be a tough one, pursuing this National Missile Defense System. The Russians are going to take this with a great deal of emotion, because this is a gut issue with them....

Second, the Duma is very, very much concerned about this upload terms of us being able to put more warheads on our missiles. Because when the Russians go to the START II and START III regimes, they're going to have missiles that the[re's] no way they can put more warheads on. They're all going to be single-warheaded missiles. And the third area that the Duma is very much concerned about in terms of START II ratification is adequate funding of the Russian nuclear forces. Russian nuclear forces makes Russia a superpower. I think one of the reasons why the Russians are so heavily involved in space, manned space. It puts them in that category of "no one else can do this; therefore we are a superpower."

How important is that to them?

Very important. They're a very proud people. And they fervently believe that they have a place in the international arena as a superpower. And they're clinging to some of those bastions from their Soviet days.

more about habiger...

home . atomic suitcase bombs . a close call? . a nuclear smuggling scenario . russia's nuclear complex . debating the future . interviews . readings
join the discussion . synopsis . links . press . tapes & transcripts
frontline online . pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation