russian roulette

navigation, see below for text
frontline online

interview: ashton carter

He was the Assistant Secretary of Defense under William Perry in the  Clinton administration. He prepared and presented the Nuclear Posture Review in 1993, and was directly involved in Project Sapphire and the removal of nuclear missiles from the Ukraine.  He is currently at the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

Do you remember where you were when the Soviet Union collapsed, when they pulled down the statue of Lenin and the flag came down in Red Square?

Yes. We were here at Harvard, working on an analysis of what the end of the Soviet Union meant for the nuclear arsenal [of] the Soviet Union. ashton carterThis would be, we realized, the first time ever that a nuclear nation disintegrated and essentially underwent revolution. First time ever in the atomic age. So we were looking at a new phenomenon, and a scary phenomenon. Scary in a way that was totally different from the fears we had of a nuclear exchange during the Cold War. And those of us who worked on U.S. nuclear command and control programs (which I had done for many years) realized that the command and control system has lots of good technical gimmicks in it to stop people from doing things they shouldn't do with nuclear weapons, but at root it's a human system. It depends upon the reliability of people. And our command and control system and the Soviet command and control system never was designed for a revolution. It was designed for a nut here, a nut there, a cult here, a cult there, a rogue here, a rogue there. Not for a revolution. So no custodial system could be designed to completely safe in this situation. So that's what was going on in my mind as the otherwise happy story of the demise of the Soviet Union went forward.

Moreover, and more importantly, that's exactly the thinking that was going on in the minds of Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Dick Lugar. [In] fact, Sam Nunn was in Moscow shortly after the coup against Gorbachev. He spoke to Gorbachev. And Nunn, who knows an awful lot about nuclear matters, particularly nuclear command and control, recognized the problem, and came home and was very concerned about this problem. And we got together, those of us here at Harvard, and Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar. And that was the origin of the Nunn-Lugar program [in] 1991.

And it took you two years to get it off the ground?

Yes. Originally, there was quite a bit of resistance to any assistance to the former Soviet Union, even assistance to safeguard nuclear weapons. People still had the Cold War attitude, and they thought, "Well, these are Soviets, and Moscow's bad, and why would you ever assist anyone from the Soviet Union?" So in those days, the whole idea was controversial. And of course, people didn't realize the problem. They were used to the old Cold War nuclear problem, not to the post-Cold War "loose nukes" problem. So it was a hard sell for Nunn and Lugar.

Can you describe in a broad sense what is the Nunn-Lugar program?

The Nunn-Lugar program is an effort whereby money is taken from the U.S. defense budget every year and allocated to helping the states of the former Soviet Union eliminate and safeguard nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. ... Specifically, Nunn-Lugar has many large engineering projects throughout Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere. They're helping safeguard a weapons storage site. They are helping give new research opportunities to scientists who used to work on chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. They are digging up missile silos, chopping up missiles, chopping up old bombers, helping--as in Project Sapphire--secretly to remove fissile material from places where it shouldn't be. In all of these ways, we are trying to contain the weapons of mass destruction legacy of the former Soviet Union. ...

One of the things that critics cite, particularly with the recent economic instability, is that with the growth of corruption and graft in Russia, we can't be sure that a lot of our materials are in fact getting to where we mean them to go. How do you respond to that charge?

When the Nunn-Lugar program got going, the Pentagon lawyers would come to me frequently and wag their finger in my face and say, "If so much as one nickel of this Nunn-Lugar funding ever gets diverted to the black market, you here in the Pentagon will be testifying for the rest of your lives about it." And of course this put a great chill on us. One consequence of that chill what that in general we don't give cash out; we provide material assistance. So, for example, in Ukraine, in order to eliminate the missiles that were in Ukraine, we built a facility to chop up the missiles. So we can see where every nickel of our money goes. It goes to building that facility. We're not doling out cash. And we have a system of audits and examinations to make sure that the money isn't diverted. And so far, there have been no diversions. Certainly none that I'm aware of. And we've had good cooperation with our partners. But early on, it was a very scary proposition to deal with what was a "wild west" situation of revolution, new countries, everything up for grabs. ...

I would counsel people who are worried about nuclear weapons not to worry that the Russians are going to think we're attacking them.  They should worry that some Russian somewhere is going to be too hungry, poor, too angry at his government ... and going to take a nuclear weapon, or  some fissile material, and use it in some illicit fashion.  That's the new danger. For me, the meaning of the Nunn-Lugar program will always be captured by the progress at Pervomaysk, which is a place in Ukraine where the brand newest U.S.S.R. ballistic missiles had just been deployed when the U.S.S.R. ended. We set out under Nunn-Lugar to eliminate those brand new missiles. And when we first went there, we helped with removing the warheads from the missiles. That was the first step. Then we went back again, and we removed the missile from the silo, the missile itself, and destroyed the missile. The third time we went back, we blew up the silo and restored the site. And the fourth time, and the time I'll never forget, is when Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, Russian Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev, and Ukranian Minister of Defense Valery Shmarov, planted sunflowers atop that place where a missile silo car[raige] holding a missile carrying 10 warheads, brand new ones, designed for us, had once been. Instead, they planted sunflowers. This wasn't a flight of fancy. It turns out, sunflowers is a cash crop in Ukraine, because they press the sunflowers to make sunflower oil. But once a missile field was turn into a sunflower field, those kind of results, that's real security for the dollar. ...

Can you describe what the problems with the Russian command and control structure were that you were looking at?

As the Soviet Union was disintegrating, at hundreds of sites throughout Eastern Europe and all the 15 states of the former Soviet Union, in all of these locations, were bunkers where there were nuclear warheads. There were factories where there was uranium and plutonium. There were missile silos where there were missiles, hundreds of locations throughout Eurasia, each and every one of these representing a potential risk for proliferation or for terrorism.

Now, when all that belonged to the Soviet Union police state, we never worried for 50 years that any of that would get out. But now, this empire had become lots of different countries. We had never even heard of many of them. And for the first time, there arose the prospect that a military officer would rebel, take nuclear weapons, would decide to sell a nuclear weapon or fissile material to a rogue state, would decide to divert a nuclear weapon to a terrorist.

So the problem was that there were nuclear weapons in all of these locations, in a region that was undergoing fundamental political and economic turmoil. In whose hands would those weapons end up? Our objective was to make sure that each and every nuclear weapon and every ounce of fissile material ended up in the custody and strong control of the government of Russia, not any of the other states that grew out of the former Soviet Union, not any of the Eastern European states, let alone terrorists or rogue generals or anybody else. That was the problem and that was our objective.

One of the things that happened when the Soviet Union became Russia plus Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, was that Ukraine became the second or the third most powerful nuclear superpower. Had you joined the government by then?

Ukraine became a state shortly before the Clinton administration took office, and, therefore, I took office. And on the territory of the new state of Ukraine, right smack in the center of Eurasia were more nuclear weapons than France, China and the United Kingdom had combined. And so, had Ukraine kept the nuclear weapons that were on its territory when the music stopped and everybody sat down and the Soviet Union was over, they sat down with 2,000 nuclear weapons. That would have made them the third most powerful nuclear nation on earth. We thought that ... was a very, very dangerous thing ... and so one of our highest priorities was to set out to make sure that all the nuclear weapons on Ukranian soil went back to Russia and were dismantled.

Wasn't there a threat at one point in Ukraine when some military soldiers surrounded the arsenal and said, "get out of here?"

There were some dangerous stand-offs between the Russian authorities, formerly Soviet authorities, headquartered in Moscow, and the fledgling new state of Ukraine. We were concerned that in this contention between the old imperial capital and the new state, nuclear weapons would get mixed up in that contest, and might become hostages or even used, one side against the other. We were also concerned, of course, that this was the early stages of a revolution that might lead anywhere. So it was not a good idea to have nuclear weapons mixed up in a revolution. Much better to get them out of that situation.

Did Russia come to the U.S. and ask for help? How did that contact begin?

The new Russian government that took over from the Soviet government was initially itself not really aware of the "loose nukes" problem. So I think the U.S. government had a lot to do, and Nunn and Lugar had a lot to do with creating the awareness on the part of the Russian government that this was a serious problem. Once the Russian authorities woke up to the danger, they cooperated with us, and ultimately with the governments of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, to make sure all those thousands of nuclear weapons went back to Russia.

How do you do that? You've got somebody who's been your enemy for 50 years, and you're going to say, "Hey guys, where are your nukes?" How do you open that conversation?

We had to deal in a totally new way with the Russian government, and also with the Ukranian government, which was a brand new government, had never governed before. They had never had any international relations before. The crucial thing for dealing with the Ukranian government was to convince the Ukrainians of what we were convinced of, namely that they would be better off without nuclear weapons but with the international community on their side as they tried to build a new state, than if they kept nuclear weapons, in which case we and no one else in the international community could support them. So better off to have no nuclear weapons and friends, than nuclear weapons and no friends.

Now, to make that convincing, you can't just preach at them. You have to help them build a concept of their own security that they can believe in. That's why we got the U.S. military working with the Ukranian military, with purely conventional weapons, to help the Ukranian military stand up on its own feet, be proud, and feel that it could protect its own country without nuclear weapons. We also had to, through the Nunn-Lugar program, assist the Ukrainians in getting rid of their nuclear weapons. That's a costly project. It's a jobs issue in Ukraine. Just like it's difficult to close bases in California, it's difficult to close bases in Ukraine. People are employed there. You have to take care of the people of the community. So all of this, we had to assist in. So those two ingredients were crucial: first, helping Ukraine establish itself as a European state in its own right, and secondly, materially helping them through Nunn-Lugar to get this job done.

How did you approach the Russian military?

... Well, once again, the "loose nukes" problem is our first concern, but it's not the first concern of the Russian military. The first concern of the Russian military was dealing with the breakup of the Soviet Union, with its own budget problems, with its own need for reform. So there was no way you could deal with the nuclear problem in isolation from all the other problems with the Russian military. So we thought it was important to have a military-to-military relationship that was broader than Nunn-Lugar. We had exercises where our troops and Russian troops would get together and work together. We worked very hard to get the Russians into the Bosnian peacekeeping force. So that we were doing things with them that really signified the end of the Cold War. And in that context, they would cooperate with us on the loose nukes issue. But it was way at the top of our list. But you can understand why, for Russians, it was not at the top of their list. ...

In broad terms, how did you convince them that this was in their interest--or convince our military? I can't imagine that our military would have been any more interested in joining with former enemies in order to create peace. It seems like you had bureaucratic inertia operating against you on all sides. How did you overcome that?

Well, when we started the Nunn-Lugar program, it seemed like everyone was against us. People in Congress said, "How can you be helping the former Soviet Union?" People in the former Soviet Union were still mistrustful of us, and we had to build new relations with them. In the Pentagon, who were supposed to execute the program, no one had ever worked with these states. They were the enemy. The Pentagon has difficulty, as you know, buying airplanes in California and computers in Massachusetts. You know about the toilet seats that cost too much, and so forth. That's the fabled Pentagon acquisition system. Now, take that acquisition system to Pervomaysk, Ukraine, and give it a program there. Well, that was a very big challenge. So both in Congress and in the states we were trying to assist, and in the Pentagon itself, there were barriers to implementing the Nunn-Lugar program. They all had to be overcome.

How did you do it?

What we had on our side, in getting the Nunn-Lugar program over all these barriers, was the inherent logic of the program. The program was good for American security. It was defense, as we said, by other means. And if you could get people to understand that they were spending defense dollars in a way that, dollar for dollar, protected Americans much more than any other dollar we spent in the defense budget, then you could get some progress. ...

At what point did you sense a shift in the Russians' thinking --because you said initially they weren't worried about loose nukes--from more self-absorbed to wanting to cooperate?

Well, initially, when we suggested there was a danger of loose nukes, the Russians responded very proudly. And they said, "We have had nuclear weapons for 50 years. We've never made a mistake yet. It is insulting to us to imply that we might lose control of them." And we tried to make the argument to them that this was no insult, that most of their custodians would of course behave properly, but there were bad apples in every barrel. There were bad apples at our barrels here in the United States, as well. But for the first time, their arsenal was put under [the] stress of economic collapse--I wouldn't trust in those circumstances either. So it was no insult to them to be concerned about this. Once they understood that we were not accusing them or insulting them, that was a very important step.

Secondly, we were offering to assist them to improve the situation. We were offering essentially material, money and help. And that tends to help people ... focus their attention, as well.

... Initially the Russian military resisted acknowledging the danger of loose nukes. But over time, we worked with them on so many projects in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and also in Russia, that their trust in our good will and their knowledge that we were not insulting them, grew. So our relationship with the Russian military, between the Department of Defense of the United States and the Ministry of Defense of Russia, is very good. And we have very good programs to combat loose nukes there.

The difficulty has been between the U.S. authorities and the Atomic Energy Ministry of Russia. There, we've never created the same relationship of mutual confidence. And so we have many more programs under Nunn-Lugar to safeguard weapons, bombs, than we do with the Ministry of Atomic Energy to safeguard fissile materials. And in the coming era, this new era we're going into, the second post-Cold War era, where we have to put our energies is on the fissile materials, not just the bombs.

Minatom is like our Department of Energy. Why is there more mistrust there than there is in their Ministry of Defense?

The U.S. government began establishing its relations with the Russian military earlier than it began establishing relations with the Atomic Energy Ministry of Russia, and, therefore, we've made more progress. Moreover, we have lots of other common interests with the Russian military. Our troops and Russian troops are shoulder to shoulder in Bosnia today. So there were other things helping us build a relationship with the Russian military. The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry is something of a throw-back, in Western terms at least. It is still working in a way that our Atomic Energy Commission was in the 1950s and 1960s. ... They're working on projects that we have regarded as either dangerous from a proliferation point of view, or not economically sound, ... for example, breeder reactors. So the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, there's more of a mismatch between them and us than between the Russian military and the U.S. military. ...

Well, in addition to solving the "loose nukes" problem, the other principle job we thought we had in dealing with the collapse of the Soviet Union was to establish a good cooperative relationship with the Russian military, because we knew that political leaders might come and go; there might be good political leaders, bad political leaders, ones we liked, ones we didn't like. This was a country in revolution. It's still a country in revolution. None of us knows who the next president of Russia will be. And the Russian military as an institution would be there, whoever was in power. And it was important to our security, which they could threaten, that the Russian military have some confidence in the U.S. military, and in the idea that we really had put the cold war behind us and didn't regard them as an enemy--and moreover, not only didn't regard them as an enemy, but wanted to cooperate with them in areas such as peacekeeping in Bosnia. So military-to-military contacts and the relationship between the post-Cold War militaries is one of the most important things we can be doing. ...

And Nunn-Lugar is also paying for that?

Yes. Nunn-Lugar has contributed to military-to-military contacts also.

As economic instability in Russia worsens, I'm picking up a sense that the Russians have that imperialist Americans are coming over and spending all this money. Most of the money is going to American defense companies, not to Russia. I understand it's easier for us to track it that way. But how do we escape this notion that there might be an increasing backlash from the Russians against the U.S.?

Well, there's no question [that] there's an increasing backlash in Russia against the United States, and that we're entering the second post-Cold War era, very different from the first. In the first post-Cold War era, by and large, Russia and the United States were euphoric about their new partnership. And they had a overwhelming common objective, which was to eliminate the past, the Cold War legacy. And that, they set out to do together, arm in arm.

As time went on, it developed that their interests coincided in that venture but not everywhere. And you can see that we've had disagreements in Kosovo with the Russians. We've had disagreements in Iraq with the Russians. And generally speaking, the Russians understandably feel that because of their current economic circumstances, they're not getting as much respect in the world, and not able to play as large a role in the world as they once were. That's a reality. And we need to recognize that reality if we're going to continue to have Nunn-Lugar-like cooperation with Russia.

So I believe that the Nunn-Lugar program needs to be re-invented; that it was the right thing for the first post-Cold War era, and its objectives remain right for the second post-Cold War era, but we're going to have to do things in a different way. And we're going to have to do things in a way that is acceptable to our Russian partners, because it's their country and these are their materials, not ours. So we need their cooperation, and we're going to have to meet them halfway.

What would that mean, in real terms?

It means giving Russians a greater role in project design, in project selection. Doesn't mean giving them cash. Of course they'd like to have cash. We'd all like to have cash. But we're talking about joint projects like in the first Nunn-Lugar era, but giving them a greater role, a greater say, and not just coming over with our money and our programs and saying, "Hey look, this is the way it's going to be." They have pride. It's their country. They have views that we should listen to.

Do you have any concerns about the current command and control issues of the strategic arsenal in the former Soviet Union? And if so, what are they?

Although there are a number of ways that nukes could get loose, some of them are evocative of the old nuclear exchanges: Somebody deciding that they want to launch a strategic nuclear weapon at the United States. That's something to worry about, but I think it's far, far less likely and, therefore, less worrisome than a much more mundane and simple scenario where a few guards at a location where there are tactical nuclear weapons or fissile material decide that they want to accept an offer of a terrorist group or a rogue nation to give them many millions of dollars for one nuclear weapon, or for some fissile material. ...

How worried are you about that scenario?

I never thought that we would get to 1999 from 1991 without a instance of loose nukes. When I was in the Pentagon, I would wake up every morning, and the first thing I would do was look at the intelligence about whether a diversion had taken place. I never expected to get through my time there, let alone to now, without an example of loose nukes. Now, knock on wood, as far as we know, there has been no example yet of loose nukes. But we're very lucky to have gotten as far as we are. And consider the fact that the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. The half-life of uranium is 713 million years. How many turns of the wheel of history will go by before this stuff decays on its own? It's a longlasting danger.

How involved were you in the negotiations leading up to the decision to de-target that Clinton and Yeltsin signed in 1994?

I was assigned to discuss with the Russian military the mechanism by which they would de-target, and to describe to them the method by which we were [going to] de-target. And a Russian general, now dead, sadly, who became a good colleague over time, would come to my office and we would discuss it. And he would describe what they were going to do, and we would describe what we were going to do. We understood--he understood and I understood--that de-targeting was a way that our presidents could express the fact that the Cold War was over, and there was no need any more for Moscow and Washington to be targeting one another with their missiles. But my Russian colleague and I also knew that de-targeting could be re-targeted rather quickly. ... The analogy has frequently been made to changing the channel on a TV, and it's not that different from that. So these missiles can be re-targeted. ... De-targeting symbolized the fact, which is a fact, that the Cold War was over, and that neither Moscow nor Washington viewed the other as an enemy. As a political, symbolic statement, that's a very important, very powerful statement. That doesn't mean that in a mechanistic fashion, it's not possible for Russian missiles to be targeted against the United States again, or U.S. missiles to be targeted against Russia. The importance of detargeting was the symbolic political one, not the mechanical military one.

But a year later, we have the scare of this Norwegian missile launch. In January 1995, the Norwegians launched an American rocket, which was picked up on Russian radar as a Trident submarine launch. Were you aware of that scenario in the Pentagon as it was going on? Or at what point did you become aware that it had happened?

Well, we were aware very shortly of the circumstances of that launch, and what the Russians said about the actions they had taken. In my own judgment, that was not as dangerous a situation as many have inferred. I think fundamentally Russia knows that we're not going to attack them with nuclear weapons, that no crisis of the kind that could develop in the Cold War, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, is likely to develop between the United States and Russia in today's circumstances. So I would counsel people who are worried about nuclear weapons not to worry that the Russians are going to think we're attacking them. They should worry that some Russian somewhere is going to be too hungry, too poor, too angry at his government, too frustrated at the continuing turmoil there, and is going to take a nuclear weapon, or take some fissile material, and sell it or use it in some illicit fashion. That's the new danger. And that's the danger we really need to worry about.

Tell me about Project Sapphire and your involvement and what happened the actual night that those nukes got moved.

Well, it came to our attention that in a certain location on the steppes of Central Asia, in the brand new country of Kazakhstan, there was some bomb grade material left over from the former Soviet Union. Moreover, we had some evidence that there were Iranian agents who were interested in this material. We began working intensively with the government of Kazakhstan and the government of Russia, which knew this stuff because it had been there during the Cold War, to get that material out of Kazakhstan as soon as we could.

And so on a night late in 1994, we flew in some C-5 Giant U.S. Air Force transports to Kazakhstan loaded this 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium on the transports, and then the transports took off. And so that they wouldn't have to land anywhere, we wouldn't have to tell anybody about this--it was a covert operation--they flew and were refueled in the air from tanker aircraft, all night, until they landed at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, also in secret. There, we removed the highly enriched uranium from the airplanes, put them on special trucks that were unmarked but very secure trucks--don't ever hijack one of these trucks; you'll be in big trouble if you do--and these special trucks took the material down to Oak Ridge, Tennessee (where, during the Manhattan Project of World War II, the first highly enriched uranium was made) and put in vaults. And during all of this time, the operation was a secret. It wasn't until just before the material went into Oak Ridge that the inevitable leaking started in Washington.

How many bombs can you make out of 600 kilograms of high enriched uranium?

Oh, you can ... easily make 30 Hiroshima or Nagasaki size bombs out of 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium.

How far ahead of the Iranians were we on that deal?

If the material hadn't been removed by the United States, and were still there in Kazakhstan, in what was essentially a very lightly guarded facility, there's every reason to believe that the Iranians or some other country or group would have eventually found it, and might have stolen or diverted it.

... By the way, this was not the only location throughout the former Soviet Union where there were Sapphire-like stores of fissile material. ... And all of those cases where we've been able to identify them, we have tried to make sure that that material is removed and safeguarded.

So are you now convinced that there is no more fissile material in those countries?

No. I think there are still some areas to worry about in the former Soviet Union, that we are and should be working hard on. And moreover, just because the material's in Russia doesn't mean it's safe, because Russia itself, as we all know, is a country in revolution, profound social and economic revolution. So fissile material caught up in that swirl is a danger, even if it's in Russia.

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.

I understand that [Maziukov] in 1996 stated that given the way the economy was going, they wouldn't be able to afford to maintain more than 500 of their strategic nuclear weapons under any scenario. Is this true? Do you remember him saying this?

Yeah, yeah.

Do you believe him?

I believe that the Russian budget will not support a strategic force as large as the one they planned to have under START II. Therefore the Russians are going to reduce their arsenal anyway. Moreover, getting a little closer to home, it is quite expensive for our military, even though it has much more money, to maintain the forces that we have. So I think both sides are fated to reduce their strategic arsenals, for simple budgetary reasons. And they don't need arsenals this large. The Cold War is over.

So why not de-alert them all?

De-alerting is a perfectly good idea, and I have nothing against it in principle. But the question is whether it should take precedence over elimination of weapons, in our thinking or in our dialogue with the Russians. I don't think it should. I would love to see Russia de-alert its arsenal. I think that would be safer. I would not mind if the United States de-alerted at the same time. So one could imagine an agreement whereby they de-alert and we de-alert. We enjoy the benefits of their de-alerting; they enjoy the benefits of our de-alerting. Now, who's going to negotiate that agreement? Is that agreement going to be ratified? They haven't ratified the START II agreement in years. So I think, since we have a limited ability to capture the attention of Russians--whose attentions are towards survival these days, not towards arms control--that we need to stick to the essentials, which is eliminating nuclear weapons, not fiddling with them.

So de-alerting is a valid concept, and in a different age, during the Cold War, it might have made a great deal of sense. I don't think it makes a great deal of sense in the post-Cold War world, or at least I wouldn't give it a lot of priority. If it happens, that's terrific. I have no objection to it.

How do we eliminate a technology like nuclear weapons? The technology is always going to be there. You can't put that genie back in the bottle, as some people say.

People will always know how to build nuclear weapons, henceforth. ... There is no final solution to the nuclear danger, or, by the way, to the danger of biological or chemical weapons. It will be with us, and in fact it will expand as knowledge expands, and the power that each of us has to do things expands. So this is a question of whether we annihilate ourselves, is something that humankind is going to live with as long as there are human beings. And there's no way to get rid of it. One simply has to manage it constantly, earnestly, vigorously, in the way that Nunn-Lugar and other efforts have tried to do in this particular era.

What motivated you to start talking to the Russians about an early warning sharing system?

... Well, we have this marvelous system that can detect any missile launch, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. Nobody else has that. The Russians don't have it, and there's no way they're going to be able to afford to have it. Yet we believe that they should have confidence that they would know in advance if anybody was launching a missile against them. So this is a way that, at no additional cost to ourselves, we can decrease the probability that Russia at any time feels wrongly that it's under attack from missiles from somewhere. So this is a way of easing crisis stability for the Russians at no cost to ourselves. ... this is something we can do to enhance their security and their sense of security. And the more they feel secure, the less likely they are to take some step that might be dangerous. So this is in our interest, too. ...

How is that going to work?

A center will be set up that will have Russian officers and American officers in it, and information will come both from the Russian side and from the American side. The Russians do have some warning technology. And they'll pool and exchange that information ... in real time. ...

You wrote in Foreign Affairs that you thought the danger of tactical nukes and fissile materials was the most dangerous security threat facing the U.S.. Have we done enough about it? Are we spending enough, given what the threat is?

We've done a great deal since the end of the Cold War to deal with loose nukes, but it hasn't been enough. And we can't stop now, because these weapons and these materials are here for a long, long time. And Russia's going to be here for a long, long time. We're going to need to keep going. I believe we should expand these programs, both in their scale and their scope. ... I think the amount of money spent on Nunn-Lugar has all been well spent, but when you consider the tiny fraction of the defense budget represented by it, and the huge security value to America that's come from it, you can easily see why an expenditure much larger would have been warranted, and is now warranted. So it should be expanded.

More than National Missile Defense?

The Nunn-Lugar program has provided more protection to the United States, dollar for dollar, than any program in the U.S. defense budget, including National Missile Defense. ... National Missile Defense has its own place, ... and we may have to build a National Missile Defense if we get threatened. And that's a tool we can use also to protect ourselves. But your missile defense is a defense of last resort. And we need to be out there in Russia, dealing with the "loose nukes" problem; in North Korea, dealing with their problems; in Iraq, dealing with their problems--so that we don't get to the point where the only defense we have is a National Missile Defense.

You call this "preventive defense" in your book. Describe what that theory means, and how it would apply here.

Well, preventive defense is a concept that former Secretary of Defense William Perry and I are advancing in a book about to appear. Preventive defense is like preventive medicine. Typically in defense, we wait until the patient gets sick, and then we deter, and if necessary, defeat the problem. Preventive defense, like preventive medicine, tries to get out in front of security problems, to stop them from becoming military threats, so that you don't have to deter and defend yourself against them. So as we look around the world today, we say, "The Cold War is over, so what's the problem?" Well, the problem is not that there's another Soviet Union out there somewhere, but there are lots of things that could be as dangerous to us as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, if we don't handle them properly. Loose nukes in the former Soviet Union is one of those problems. And the only way to deal with it is preventive defense. If we allow dangers like the "loose nukes" danger to develop into full blown military threat, the only protection we'll have is ... to build our traditional defenses. And we can do that. And we have a very strong defense. But obviously, it's desirable to stop disease from occurring, rather than to have to cure disease. That's what preventive medicine is about. We should be proactive in the world to stop threat from [developing].

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