russian roulette

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can the u.s. and russian military leaders trust each other?

general eugene habiger

You said you were impressed with the quality of the Russian military officers and their professionalism.


Is that professionalism a sufficient safeguard, given the current economic crisis?

I think it's one of the pillars of the safeguards. What I've found in my dealings with Russian officers -- both in the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army -- is individuals who are Russians first. They understand the cold war's over. I saw no indications that they were sour grapes, that they lost the war. They love their motherland....

The people who are involved in nuclear weapons are dedicated; they're professional; they're screened. They understand what they're doing. They understand the consequences if they don't do their jobs adequately and at the very best of their ability. They're family-oriented. General Yakoulev, who's the commander-in-chief of their Rocket married to a pediatrician. He has a daughter 12 and a daughter four. Dedicated family man. Much like many of our military officers here. Very easy to get along with. They express themselves well. They're well read. And it was a pleasure to get to know these people. And when you get to know these people, you develop a level of confidence and trust. So when they look you in the eye and say, "Okay, Habiger, what you're seeing is representative of our nuclear weapons storage sites," I believe them.

You took General Yakoulev into a Trident submarine.


I know he also saw the missile silos, but what seems to have amazed the military men was that you had taken him inside the Trident.


Why did you do that?

Because I wanted to show him that we were totally and completely open; that we had nothing that we wanted to keep from them. The primary purpose in taking him to Bangor, Washington, to the sub base area, in addition to taking him in the submarine and show him the quality of people and the condition of our equipment, but also to take him to the nuclear weapon storage site there, to show him how the United States Marines guard that facility. And again, there was a alternative method in my madness, [that] is that they would reciprocate. And they did, in less than 90 days. I went back over, and they took me to a submarine base. And again, it's to build that confidence. Being able to come back and say, "Been there, done that. And let me tell you what I saw...."

General Dvorkin also stressed trust, and he said, "Once we got to know each other and shed our ideological skin, we discovered that we were all humans underneath. And it made me wonder how we had ever been enemies for so long in the first place."

I can understand that. And I would reflect with the same kinds of thoughts or words, that we have so much in common. Our values are so very much alike. Because of those early exchange programs, we've come such a long way. And I'd like to think, in the coming months and the coming years, that we will go even further. Now...the next step is to get this to lower levels. In other words, start working on the seed corn of our military leadership five or ten years from now, down to the major and lieutenant colonel and the colonel level. And we're doing that. We've got an exchange program with missiliers. The Russians sent over a delegation of their line lieutenants and captains, and they spent a very delightful week at one of my missile facilities. And we're going to send a similar group over to one of their missile bases. And it's what we call a shadow program, where they just kind of shadow their counterparts around for a week or so....

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admiral stansfield turner

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.

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The argument is made that the personal relationships with the Russian military, the trust engendered between the militaries is what will save us in the end, more than all these technical things.

Military officers from different countries, when they meet each other, tend to sort of fall in love, become mutual admiration societies, at the expense of realities. To say that you now trust the Russian military command and control system because some Russian general told you from the bottom of his heart that's the case, strikes me as most unrealistic. Will that same general trust his own subordinate commands without going and checking and seeing the hands-on situation, not once but repeatedly? That situation is never stable. Any commander knows that if he doesn't inspect regularly, he's going to be misled because [of] the strong bureaucratic incentives to report the good news and not report the bad news. Therefore it seems to me to be dubious if not ludicrous to put your trust in the capacities of Russian generals to deliver on this.

Now, having studied fairly carefully the August crisis of 1991, when the military was asked to do some things like go down and close down the White House in Moscow, where Yeltsin was, as President of the Russian republic, standing up against the emergency committee which was trying to impose a repressive regime in the Soviet Union, the generals didn't trust each other. One of the reasons the military couldn't act was, no general trusted the other. They were all double-dealing each other....

I think one who knows the climate very well inside the milieu in the Russian military ranks could be very cautious about believing that these generals can deliver on that. Let's suppose they mean it. Even if they mean it, I don't see administratively how they could deliver it. Therefore I don't find...this assertion very credible....

Let me just say one more thing. Any time there's any political stress, where generals have become good friends, they quickly forget friendship and seek interests. Would you want to trust your interest being protected purely by subjective friendship relationships with a large nuclear power that it sometimes might not be friendly towards you? I think that would be a very imprudent policy....

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Let's talk about the storage facility we're building at Mayak.

Mayak is a huge room. It goes on and on for acres. There will be eventually...about 3,000 [poles] as I recall the plans. And I saw some of the building of those. There may be on each pole 8 buckets of plutonium. The problem is how, in these poles, to be able to test the status of that material over the course of time. Ultimately, this is all encased not only with concrete but with whatever materials mankind has developed, because we have never seen a storage situation contemplated for that [amount of] plutonium....So there are technical dangers as well as opportunities here. But that's what it is. And my advocacy is that as soon as we complete this one in 2002, we had better build another other things are dismantled. And that is important to know, because simply destroying a warhead means you have some leftovers. You have the fissile material. What happens to that...?

We've been discussing with no resolution the verification process, transparency. In Mayak particularly, there seems to be some hesitancy about allowing Americans into the facility.

Yes. There's a lot of hesitance because Mayak is next to one of these closed cities, that however many there were, at least ten, and we're now describing these in American journalism as places where tens of thousands of people lived for years with no communication the outside: no telephones, no telegraph....We were brought into it in November. We took pictures of it. We sort of tried to test out how they were doing it. But that's a very preliminary thing. We have people on the ground in the Cooperative Threat Reduction Nunn-Lugar Program who are doing this professionally all the time, who have access. But we had the case in which the American Consul who was with us was denied access. We had to leave him outside the gate. We're still not at a point where, even with official persons who have some reason to be there, there is easy access. So you're right. Verification all the way along the line is a very, very important subject, as well as the status of the material that we're trying to protect.

So there's still a lot of distrust on their part?

Well, there is a feeling that they are a sovereign power and that they have often different foreign policy objectives. And although we may have a mutual fear of nuclear or chemical or biological destruction, they want us to still realize that they are Russia, and that they have a course to follow and a sense of pride and nationalism, and that they're at a point in which they don't want to be taken advantage of. And they have a feeling constantly we are doing that, that we are impressing our will at a time of great weakness. And they resent that.

And so the whole relationship in many ways is sour. It is not a happy ship as you have meetings on various sundry things. At the very moment we're working very cooperatively on this storage, we are alleging that the Russians are helping Iran with missile technology, perhaps even the development of nuclear elements for that missile technology, which is even more serious [and] we are sanctioning various firms in Russia. So in these trips on Nunn-Lugar, I've also been delegated to meet with Mr. Koptev at the Space Agency, as many Americans do, and say, "Cut it out." But they have not. And they've said essentially, "We're not doing the things that you are alleging. And even then, we're a free country now. We're not totalitarian. No way for us to keep track of all of these businesses who may be doing this. We're a poor country too. We need the exports. We need the money...."

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matthew bunn

Can you explain what transparency is?

The law under which Congress provided the Defense Department with money to do things like building the storage facility at Mayak says, if we're going to build a facility like that for the plutonium and the uranium from dismantled weapons, we need to be allowed to have enough inspection and access to that facility to know three things. One, that the material came from nuclear warheads, so that it really is stuff from dismantled weapons that we're storing there. Number two, that it's safe and secure while it's there. And number three, that it's not then being returned to nuclear weapons after being stored there. And we've more or less agreed on number two and number three. But how do you verify that an object that shows up at a storage facility actually came from a dismantled nuclear weapon, without exchanging the design details of that nuclear weapon's component that's inside it? Well, the Russians have decided now that they aren't even going to store the actual components of nuclear weapons at this facility. What they're going to do is crush them down or melt them down into some unclassified form before shipping to this facility. Well, that of course makes it even harder to figure out that this now unclassified slug of metal plutonium or box of plutonium oxide actually came from a weapon. So the United States is now asking for inspection upstream from the storage facility itself, at the facility where they would do that conversion from the component. And that's what's being a big obstacle. And unfortunately, the United States hasn't thought of doing the obvious, which is offering to allow the Russians to have similar inspection when we're converting our plutonium components into unclassified oxide. I think, if we offered that kind of reciprocity so that it was a genuine "tit for tat" situation, that the Russians would be much more willing to play along with the kinds of access that we're asking for....

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