Nearly a quarter of a century ago Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn put forward, in a monumental work entitled World Peace Through World Law, their ideas for a program of universal disarmament and for a system of world law to replace the chaotic and dangerous institution of unlimited national sovereignty upon which international life was then and is now based.

To many of us—and I think particularly those of us who had been in the practice of diplomacy—these ideas looked, at the time, impractical, if not naïve. Today, two decades later, and in the light of what has occurred in the interval, the logic of them is more compelling. It is still too early for their realization on a universal basis; but efforts to achieve the limitation of sovereignty in favor of a system of international law on a regional basis are another thing; and when men begin to come seriously to grips with this possibility, as I think they will, it is to the carefully thought-out and profoundly humane ideas of Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn that they will have to turn for inspiration and guidance.

However, my purpose is not to deal with the historical significance of this vision of the future, in its entirety, but rather to recall one passage of it which has obvious relevance to the present moment. This is a passage which occurred in the final sections of Grenville Clark’s preface to the substantive parts of the book; and it concerned nuclear weaponry. After describing the appalling dimensions of the nuclear weapons race, even as it then existed, he went on to express his belief that if the various governments did not find some way to put a stop to this insanity, the awareness of the indescribable dangers it presented would some day, as he put it, “penetrate the general masses of the people in all nations” with the result that these masses would begin to put increasing, and indeed finally irresistible, pressure on their governments to abandon the policies that were creating this danger and to replace them with more hopeful and constructive ones. And the dominant motivation for this great reaction of public opinion would be, as he saw it, “not fear, in the ordinary sense, but rather a growing exasperation over the rigidity and traditionalism which prevent the formulation of adequate plans to remove so obvious a man-made risk.”

How prophetic these words were. The recent growth and gathering strength of the antinuclear-war movement here and in Europe is to my mind the most striking phenomenon of this beginning of the 1980s. It is all the more impressive because it is so extensively spontaneous. It has already achieved dimensions which will make it impossible, I think, for the respective governments to ignore it. It will continue to grow until something is done to meet it.

Like any great spontaneous popular movement, this one has, and must continue to have, its ragged edges, and even its dangers. It will attract the freaks and the extremists. Many of the wrong people will attach themselves to it. It will wander off in mistaken directions and become confused with other causes that are less worthy. It already shows need of leadership and of centralized organization.

But it is idle to try to stamp it, as some have done, as a communist-inspired movement. Of course, communists try to get into the act. Of course, they exploit the movement wherever they can. These are routine political tactics. But actually, I see no signs that the communist input into this great public reaction has been of any decisive significance.

Nor is it useful to portray the entire European wing of this movement as the expression of some sort of vague and naïvely neutralist sentiment. There is some of that, certainly; but where there is, it is largely a reaction to the negative and hopeless quality of our own cold war policies, which seem to envisage nothing other than an indefinitely increasing political tension and nuclear danger. It is not surprising that many Europeans should see no salvation for themselves in so sterile a perspective and should cast about for something that would have in it some positive element—some ray of hope.

Least of all does this neutralist sentiment necessarily represent any timorous desire to accept Soviet authority as a way of avoiding the normal responsibilities of national defense. The cliché of “better red than dead” is a facile and clever phrase; but actually, no one in Europe is faced with such a choice, or is likely to be. We will not be aided in our effort to understand Europe’s problems by distortions of this nature. Our government will have to recognize that there are a great many people who would accept the need for adequate national defense but who would emphatically deny that the nuclear weapon, and particularly the first use of that weapon, is anything with which a country should or could defend itself.


No—this movement against nuclear armaments and nuclear war may be ragged and confused and disorganized; but at the heart of it lie some very fundamental and reasonable and powerful motivations: among them a growing appreciation by many people of the true horrors of a nuclear war; a determination not to see their children deprived of life, or their civilization destroyed, by a holocaust of this nature; and finally, as Grenville Clark said, a very real exasperation with their governments for the rigidity and traditionalism that cause those governments to ignore the fundamental distinction between conventional weapons and the weapons of mass destruction and prevents them from finding, or even seriously seeking, ways of escape from the fearful trap into which the cultivation of nuclear weapons is leading us.

Such considerations are not the reflections of communist propaganda. They are not the products of some sort of timorous neutralism. They are the expression of a deep instinctive insistence, if you don’t mind, on sheer survival—on survival as individuals, as parents, as members of a civilization.

Our government will ignore this fact at its peril. This movement is too powerful, too elementary, too deeply embedded in the natural human instinct for self-preservation, to be brushed aside. Sooner or later, and the sooner the better, all the governments on both sides of the East-West division will find themselves compelled to undertake the search for positive alternatives to the insoluble dilemmas which any suicidal form of weaponry presents, and can only present.

Do such alternatives exist?

Of course they do. One does not have to go far to look for them. A start could be made with deep cuts in the long-range strategic missilery. There could be a complete denuclearization of Central and Northern Europe. There could be a complete ban on nuclear testing. At the very least, one could accept a temporary freeze on the further buildup of these fantastic arsenals. None of this would undermine anyone’s security.

These alternatives, obviously, are not ones that we in the West could expect to realize all by ourselves. I am not suggesting any unilateral disarmament. Plainly, two—and eventually even more than two—will have to play at this game.

And even these alternatives would be only a beginning. But they would be a tremendously hopeful beginning. And what I am suggesting is that one should at least begin to explore them—and to explore them with a good will and a courage and an imagination the signs of which I fail, as yet, to detect on the part of those in Washington who have our destinies in their hands.

This, then, in my opinion, is what ought to be done—what will, some day, have to be done. But for this country have the change will not come easily, even in the best of circumstances. It is not something that could be accomplished from one day to the next by any simple one-time decision. What is involved in the effort to turn these things around is a fundamental and extensive change in our prevailing outlooks on a number of points, and an extensive restructuring of our entire defense posture.

We would have to begin by accepting the validity of two very fundamental appreciations. The first is that there is no issue at stake in our political relations with the Soviet Union—no hope, no fear, nothing to which we aspire, nothing we would like to avoid—which could conceivably be worth a nuclear war. And the second is that there is no way in which nuclear weapons could conceivably be employed in combat that would not involve the possibility—and indeed the prohibitively high probability—of escalation into a general nuclear disaster.

If we can once get these two truths into our heads, then the next thing we will have to do is to abandon the option to which we have stubbornly clung for thirty years: the first use of nuclear weapons in any military encounter. This flows with iron logic from the two propositions I have just enunciated. First use of these weapons has long been rendered irrational by the ability of the USSR to respond in kind. The insistence on this option of first use has corrupted and vitiated our entire policy on nuclear matters ever since these weapons were first developed. I am persuaded that we shall never be able to exert a constructive leadership in matters of nuclear arms reduction or in the problem of nuclear proliferation until this pernicious and indefensible position is abandoned.

And once it has been abandoned, there will presumably have to be a farreaching restructuring of our armed forces. The private citizen is of course not fully informed in such matters; and I don’t pretend to be. But from all that has become publicly known, one can only suppose that nearly all aspects of the training and equipment of those armed forces, not to mention the strategy and tactics underlying their operations, have been affected by the assumption that we might have to fight—indeed, might wish to fight—with nuclear weapons, and that we might well be the ones to inaugurate their use.


A great deal of this would presumably have to be turned around—not all of it, but much of it, nevertheless. We might, so long as others retained such weapons, have to retain them ourselves for purposes of deterrence and reassurance to our people, and other peoples. But we could no longer rely on them for any positive purpose even in the case of reverses on the conventional battlefield; and our forces would have to be trained and equipped accordingly: that is, to defend us successfully with conventional weapons. Personally, this would cause me no pain. But let no one suppose that the change would come easily. An enormous inertia exists here and would have to be overcome; and in my experience there is no inertia, once established, as formidable as that of the armed services. Far-reaching changes may also be required in such things as discipline, training, and above all method of recruitment of the ground forces.

But there is something else, too, that will have to be altered, in my opinion, if we are to move things around and take a more constructive posture; and that is the view of the Soviet Union and its peoples to which our governmental establishment and a large part of our journalistic establishment have seemed recently to be committed.

On this point, I would particularly like not to be misunderstood. I do not have, and have never had, any sympathy for the ideology of the Soviet leadership. I know that this is a regime with which it is not possible for us to have a fully satisfactory relationship. I know that there are many important matters on which no collaboration between us is possible, just as there are other matters on which we can collaborate. There are a number of Soviet habits and practices that I deeply deplore, and that I feel we should resist firmly when they impinge on our interests. I recognize, too, that the Soviet leadership does not always act in its own best interests—that it is capable of making mistakes, and that Afghanistan is one of those mistakes, and one which it will come to regret, regardless of anything we may do to punish it.

Finally, I recognize that there has recently been a drastic and very serious deterioration of Soviet-American relations, and that this may well be exacerbated by any worsening of the Polish situation. This deterioration is a fact in itself and something which it will not be easy to correct; for it has led to new commitments and attitudes of embitterment and suspicion on both sides. The almost exclusive militarization of thinking and discourse about Soviet-American relations that now commands the Washington atmosphere and a good deal of our press—a militarization which, it sometimes seems to me, could not be different if we knew for a fact that we were unquestionably to be at war with the Soviet Union within a matter of months: this in itself is a dangerous state of affairs, which it is not going to be easy to correct. so I don’t think I underestimate the gravity of the problem.

But, all this being said, I must go on and say that I find the view of the Soviet Union that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective but dangerous as a guide to political action.

This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another great country; this routine exaggeration of Moscow’s military capabilities and of the supposed iniquity of Soviet intentions; this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another great people—and a long-suffering people at that, sorely tried by the vicissitudes of this past century; this ignoring of their pride, their hopes—yes, even of their illusions (for they have their illusions, just as we have ours; and illusions, too, deserve respect); this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of Soviet conduct and our own; this failure to recognize, finally, the communality of many of their problems and ours as we both move inexorably into the modern technological age; and this corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims: these, believe me, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power; they are the marks of an intellectual primitivism and naïveté unpardonable in a great government. I use the word naïveté, because there is a naïveté of cynicism and suspicion just as there is a naïveté of innocence.

And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions—until we correct our tendency to see in the Soviet Union only a mirror in which we look for the reflection of our own virtue—until we consent to see there another great people, one of the world’s greatest, in all its complexity and variety, embracing the good with the bad—a people whose life, whose views, whose habits, whose fears and aspirations, whose successes and failures, are the products, just as ours are the products, not of any inherent iniquity but of the relentless discipline of history, tradition, and national experience. Above all, we must learn to see the behavior of the leadership of that country as partly the reflection of our own treatment of it. If we insist on demonizing these Soviet leaders—on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear or hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction—that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them—if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else—either for them or for us.

These, then, are the changes we shall have to make—the changes in our concept of the relationship of nuclear weaponry to national defense, changes in the structure and training and spirit of our armed forces, changes in our view of the distant country which our military planners seem to have selected as our inevitable and inalterable enemy—if we hope to reverse the dreadful trend toward a final nuclear conflagration. And it is urgently important that we get on with these changes. Time is not waiting for us. The fragile nuclear balance that has prevailed in recent years is rapidly being undermined, not so much by the steady buildup of the nuclear arsenals on both sides (for they already represent nothing more than preposterous accumulations of overkill), but rather by technological advances that threaten to break down the verifiability of the respective capabilities and to stimulate the fears, the temptations, and the compulsions of a “first strike” mentality. We are getting very close to that today.

But it is important for another reason, too, that we get on with these changes. For beyond all this, beyond the shadow of the atom and its horrors, there lie other problems—tremendous problems—that demand our attention almost as urgently. There are the great environmental complications now beginning to close in on us: the question of what we are doing to the world oceans with our pollution, the problem of the greenhouse effect, the acid rains, the question of what is happening to the topsoil and the ecology and the water supplies of this and other countries. And there are the profound spiritua problems that spring from the complexity and artificiality of the modern urban-industrial society—problems that confront the Russians and ourselves alike, and to which neither of us has a yet responded very well. One sees or every hand the signs of our common failure. One sees it in the cynicism and apathy and drunkenness of so much of the Soviet population. One sees it in the crime and drug abuse and general decay and degradation of our city centers. To some extent—not entirely but extensively—these failures have their origin in experiences common to both of us.

And these problems, too, will no wait. Unless we both do better in dealing with them than we have done to date, even the banishment of the nuclea danger will not help us very much.

Can we not at long last cast off our preoccupation with sheer destruction—preoccupation that is costing us our prosperity and preempting the resources that should go to the solving of our great social problems, to the progress of our respective societies? It is really impossible for us to cast off this sickness of blind military rivalry and to address ourselves at last, in all humility and in all seriousness, to setting our societies to rights?

For this entire preoccupation with nuclear war is a form of illness. It is morbid in the extreme. There is no hope in it—only horror. It can be understood only as some form of subconscious despair on the part of its devotees—some sort of death wish, a readiness to commit suicide for fear of death—a state of mind explicable only by some inability to face the normal hazards and vicissitudes of the human predicament—a lack of faith, or better a lack of the very strength that it takes to have faith as countless of our generations have had it before us.

I decline to believe that this is the condition of the majority of our people Surely there is among us, at least among the majority of us, a sufficient health of the spirit—a sufficient affirmation a life, with all its joys and excitement and all its hazards and uncertainties, permit us to slough off this morbid pre occupation, to see it and discard it is the illness it is, to turn our attention in the real challenges and possibilities the loom beyond it, and in this way to restore to ourselves our confidence in ourselves and our hope for the future of the civilization to which we all belong.

This Issue

January 21, 1982