Some two years ago Jonathan Schell, a staff writer on The New Yorker, caused a considerable stir with The Fate of the Earth, 1 a book he had written with the passion of a man who had unexpectedly become aware of a hideous prospect which neither he nor the ordinary American citizen had apparently grasped, before—even though it had been expounded for well over two decades in book after book, popular and specialist, as well as in widely distributed United Nations publications.
Having painted an awe-inspiring picture of a world destroyed by nuclear bombs, Mr. Schell ended his short book with an essay called “The Choice.” Its final paragraph opened with a purple passage in which we were warned that only two paths lie before mankind.
One leads to death, the other to life. If we choose the first path—if we numbly refuse to acknowledge the nearness of extinction, all the while increasing our preparations to bring it about—then we in effect become the allies of death, and in everything we do our attachment to life will weaken: our vision, blinded to the abyss that has opened at our feet, will dim and grow confused; our will, discouraged by the thought of trying to build on such a precarious foundation anything that is meant to last, will slacken; and we will sink into stupefaction, as though we were gradually weaning ourselves from life in preparation for the end….
“The task we face,” he wrote, “is to find a means of political action that will permit human beings to pursue any end for the rest of time…. In sum, the task is nothing less than to reinvent politics: to reinvent the world.” But this, Mr. Schell admitted, was not his business. His job was to define the problem: “I have left to others those awesome, urgent tasks, which, imposed on us by history, constitute the political work of our age.”
As it turns out, he has been too impatient to wait. So in The Abolition, Schell addresses “the question of deliberate policy—specifically, the question of how we might abolish nuclear arms.” To start with he spells out again “the chief features of our predicament.” He therefore goes over ground covered by his earlier book, and in doing so reiterates many a point that those who bought The Fate of the Earth will have already noted.
In that book he painted a picture of an earth devastated by nuclear explosions, of flames raging through the ruins of cities, of hundreds of millions of dead, of survivors beset by genetic defects. Now, referring to his more recent reading, he writes that we also have to consider the consequences of a world plunged “into a frigid darkness for several months” by the failure of the sun’s rays to penetrate the smoke which had filled an atmosphere already loaded with toxic chemicals. People and animals would freeze and starve and—he quotes Paul Ehrlich—“virtually all land plants in the Northern Hemisphere would be damaged or killed.”
Like Jonathan Schell, we must all hope that man’s knowledge of the environmental consequences of a nuclear war will never be based on experience; indeed, that it will always remain surmise.2
To accept uncertainty is essential in facing the nuclear peril honestly, and to learn to make judgments, and to act on them, in the midst of uncertainty is the beginning of wisdom in dealing with the nuclear predicament.
But almost in the same breath Schell reminds us that in his earlier book he warned that “we have no choice but to address the issue of nuclear weapons as though we knew for a certainty that their use would put an end to our species.” The nuclear peril is something that was “instantaneous in its appearance,” something that is “unlimited in its scope… everlasting in its staying power,” something that is now lodged “at the very heart of international decision-making.” But—and here comes the rub—it is all but impossible to reconcile, from the point of view of action, Einstein’s view that the peril will be with us until world government abolishes sovereign states with the view, associated in the United States with the name of Bernard Brodie, 3 that in a nuclear world safety is to be found in the fear of nuclear retaliation, in “a balance of terror,” and with the associated concept of nuclear deterrence, which has deliberately led—in Schell’s view—to the nuclear arms race. It would be a reassuring thought if this were indeed the only explanation for the “race.”
Schell then goes on to explain that deterrence has now revealed the
unresolvable contradiction of “defending” one’s country by threatening to use weapons whose actual use would bring on the annihilation of one’s country and possibly of the world as well. And the emergence of the contradictions was in turn propelled…by a recognition—this time on the part of nuclear strategists rather than citizens at large—of what a doomsday machine really is, and what it means to intend, in certain circumstances, to use one.
Hence “the crisis in public confidence and the crisis in policy,” which in a sense
are part of a single, deeper crisis. Both, in their different ways, are responses to the fantastic, horrifying, brutal, and absurd fact that we human beings have actually gone ahead and wired our planet for its and our destruction.
Schell is one the side of the angels. Not only would he never “press the button” but, and here he would go further than the Catholic bishops, his “unwillingness to support the use or the threat to use nuclear weapons is unconditional…it is as wrong conditionally as it is eternally.” The “peace movement” does not go far enough. The task is to find “a way of abolishing nuclear weapons that does not require us to found a world government, which the world shows virtually no interest in founding.”
Jonathan Schell’s way is set out in the final and shorter section of the book, headed “A Deliberate Policy.” For those who might have been led to expect some shattering revelation, it will prove a sad letdown. Schell seems to move blindly in circles over ground with which he is unfamiliar but which, in fact, has been explored ceaselessly over the years. The answer with which he ends all but negates the noble sentiments that were expressed in his first book, and that are repeated in the first part of this one. The first step toward the goal of nuclear “abolition” has, we learn, already been taken. We cannot allow ourselves to be wrecked on the rocks of world government, so we shall necessarily continue to live in a state of nuclear deterrence.
According to Schell, the “most honest argument in favor of the possession of nuclear weapons…is that upholding liberty is worth the risk of extinction.” Now our task is “to preserve the political stalemate—to freeze the status quo,” at the same time as we “avert a nuclear holocaust.” That is his solution. But whose status quo; who are “we” who will preserve the stalemate; how is that to be done?—all these are questions that the reader can ask. Schell provides no answers. All that he demands is that the superpowers should agree to abolish nuclear weapons, the abolition to “be enforced not by any world police force…but by each nation’s knowledge that a breakdown of the agreement would be to no one’s advantage….”
There is no need to follow Schell further in his luxurious circumlocutions. His message is straight and clear: agree to agree, and in the meantime, don’t fool around with the doomsday machine. Those who may have hoped that he was going to reveal the road to man’s deliverance will be left high and dry, and I fear that the professionals who have been concerned over the past thirty years or so with the problem of reaching agreement will not find any new guidance in what he has to say.
Alas, the same is true of Jonathan Schell’s fellow evangelist, Freeman Dyson. Dyson is a romantic—even a fantasist. This is strange for a man whose brilliance as a mathematician and physicist was manifest by the time he had reached his early twenties. Dyson, like Schell, wants to save the world. If he were running the United States “as an absolute monarch,” he would rid his country of nuclear weapons by an act of unilateral disarmament, and “accept the risks of leaving the Soviet Union as the only major nuclear power in the world.” He couldn’t be clearer about this view. He supports his prescriptions with sweeping, but often dubious, generalities, and makes assertions that are sometimes outrageous. And unlike Freeman Dyson the scientist, Dyson the savior has failed to check many of his presumed “facts.”
For example, who told him that “the first and most important fact to remember about Russian generals is that they start out by reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace,” or that “the Soviet Generals still regret that Stalin would not allow them to preempt Hitler in 1941”? How comes it that Dyson’s admiration for Gandhi and his policy of satyagraha leads him to believe that the cessation of British rule in India represented a bloodless victory for the Mahatma when, in fact, he, the preacher of nonviolent resistance, was very much alive during the period when hundreds of thousands of Moslems and Hindus murdered each other, when the subcontinent split into two, and later, after his death, into three warring sovereign states? And who are the Indians who “today have still not forgiven Gandhi for depriving India of the glory of winning its freedom properly in a national war of independence”? And in what fictional world did Margaret Thatcher pay a state visit to see Chairman Brezhnev in Moscow? She met Kosygin at a Moscow airport during a brief stopover on the way to the Tokyo economic summit. But her first known official visit to that city was earlier this year to attend Chairman Andropov’s funeral.
What Freeman Dyson has given us is not so much a book as a patchwork of articles in which, over the past fifteen years or so, he has told us mainly what he feels about the East-West hostility that divides the developed nations of the world. He has “never seen a shot fired in anger”; but nonetheless, he says, he is partly a warrior and, because he lives in two worlds, “the world of the warriors and the world of the victims,” he is “possessed by an immodest hope that [he] may improve mankind’s chances of escaping the horrors of nuclear holocaust” by helping “these two worlds to understand and listen to each other.”
Freeman Dyson is the product first of an illustrious and ancient English public school, Winchester, and second of Cambridge University, which he left, after a curtailed wartime two-year course, just before his twentieth birthday in 1942. Then began what he calls his “career as a military expert.” Total mobilization was the order of the day in the United Kingdom, and those scientifically trained were directed to jobs by an administrative body presided over by the late C.P. Snow. Dyson was sent to the Operational Research Section at RAF Bomber Command, from where, he tells us, he was sent as “scientific adviser” to the officer commanding No. 3 Group of the Command—a certain Air Vice-Marshal Harrison. Harrison, a senior officer who had survived the First World War, did not want advice in detail on “the technical problems of operating a force of bombers.” Hardly surprising, one might say, since presumably the twenty-year-old Dyson knew nothing at the time about bombers or bombing operations.
He tells us that he soon became Bomber Command’s expert on air collisions, adding that he “knew much more than most of the operational officers about the general course of [Bomber Command’s] campaign” and “much more than the cabinet ministers in London about the details of our operations. I was,” he says, “one of very few people who knew what were the objectives of the campaign…. I was sickened by what I knew. Many times I decided I had a moral obligation to run out into the streets and tell the British people what stupidities were being done in their name.”
All this sounds very fanciful to me. According to the official history of Operational Research (OR) in the RAF,4 Bomber Command’s ORS had a staff of forty-eight scientific officers and thirty-four assistants, of whom a few, but not Dyson, are referred to by name. It is of course possible that even a junior member might have known in advance about the command’s nightly operational plans, but he would most certainly not have known what it was that the relevant cabinet ministers knew. In those days I had many dealings with Dr. B.G. Dickens, the head of the whole ORS section—particularly in relation to those matters that appear to have sickened Freeman Dyson—but at no time was it revealed to me that any of Dickens’s staff were anything but utterly loyal to the policies of their commander in chief, Sir Arthur Harris.5 As the scientific adviser on air planning to Air Chief Marshal Tedder, General Eisenhower’s deputy, I had the task of leading the attack, at the technical level, on the policy, favored by Harris, of bombing German cities, and of urging the alternative policy of focusing on the destruction of the communications network of northwest Europe. I should have been delighted to know that Dickens had someone on his staff who was advising him against the policy that the rest of his team so valiantly upheld.
Dyson’s other experience of the world of warriors, whom he sees as belonging to a world that shares “a common language and a common style,” are the military men who in his “career as a military expert” consult him and other academics about technical problems of one sort or another, and about the technicalities of the arms race and arms control. His world of victims consists of the people he meets when he attends meetings of peace groups. “The most memorable of our meetings,” he tells us, “was an all-day affair which kept the Nassau Presbyterian Church packed from 11 AM till 9 PM. The star of the show was Helen Caldicott, the Australian children’s doctor who has become a full-time fighter against nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons.” “My task,” he goes on, “is to explain them [the warriors and the victims] to each other, to fit together the split halves of our world into a single picture.” He therefore starts his book with an “Agenda for a Meeting of Minds,” in which he lists thirteen questions, such as: “Do nuclear weapons help to keep the world at peace?” “How do we deal with the Russians?” “Do we wish to make weapons more destructive and less usable, or less destructive and more usable?”—questions which he warns can have no definite answers, and some of which he does not even attempt to answer.
Years ago, Britain’s present poet laureate, John Betjeman, wrote a poem called “The Wykhamist” about an unnamed fellow Oxford undergraduate. Wykhamists, for some reason I never have understood, have a reputation for being out of the ordinary. The poem opened with two lines that are often quoted in some English circles:
Broad of Church and broad of mind,
Broad before and broad behind….6
The subject of the poem, who later became a cabinet minister, was certainly broad of mind. So, clearly, is his fellow-Wykhamist, Freeman Dyson. Aunt Sallys are put up and merrily knocked down. Dyson writes charmingly about his family; he has read widely and quotes extensively even if sometimes irrelevantly from an extensive range of writers. But, in the end, his argument boils down to very little, and that little is remarkably similar to the little with which Schell ended. A policy of nuclear deterrence, so Dyson declares, is ethically unacceptable. Limited nuclear war is illusory. Both are “incompatible with Soviet concepts and therefore incompatible with comprehensive arms control agreements.” So having set out a number of alternative “concepts” as the basis of military policy, Dyson declares, as though it were a new thought, that the US should look to a “defense-dominated balance of non-nuclear forces rather than to an offense-dominated balance of nuclear terror as the ultimate basis of our security.” “A shift to non-nuclear strategy is conceivable,” so he believes, provided it gets “strong support inside the military establishment as well as outside,” and provided that “a powerful voice could arise within the military establishment, saying that weapons which can never be used for any rational military purpose are not weapons, that the whole nuclear apparatus is merely a distraction from the serious business of nuclear defense.” In the meantime, the US and the USSR must adopt a policy of “live-and-let-live.”
Is it conceivable that Freeman Dyson does not know that the problem of creating an effective non-nuclear defense has been in the forefront of NATO discussion from the very start? Does he not know that numbers of prominent military men have already raised their voices in the way he recommends? And that they include not only General Arthur S. Collins, Jr., to whom he refers, but also several other American, French, German, Soviet, and British generals and admirals—admittedly most of them after they have left office? And that nothing has changed as a result? Little more than a year ago, a former chief of the British Defence Staff, when asked the blunt question on TV—“Field Marshal, would you press the button?”—replied with the single word “no.” The forthright antinuclear pleas of such famous figures as George Kennan—from whose writings both Schell and Dyson quote extensively—Einstein, and Bertrand Russell have also gone unheeded. Are the women of Greenham Common now going to disperse knowing that Dyson and Schell have declared that “live-and-let-live” and the “status quo” should become the order of the day?
A far greater sense of political reality characterizes the book by Robert Jervis, a professor of international relations at Columbia. Even if one were so disposed, one would have difficulty disputing his concluding statement “that nuclear weapons have so changed our world” that much of what is regarded as strategic truth today no longer makes sense.
Wars between sovereign states occur when “peaceful discourse”—or when threats of war to disturb a state of presumed peace—fail to solve some critical dispute, and when the “aggressor” is confident that the price he will have to pay, in death and destruction, is worth the political and territorial “gain” he is seeking, and when the defender takes the view that it is worth fighting in order not to lose, however forlorn that hope may be.
But all such elaboration of Clausewitz’s traditional doctrine relates to a non-nuclear world. Were two nuclear states to resort to war, both would lose; neither could expect to escape immeasurable destruction. Jervis quotes President Eisenhower as having told a Republican critic of his disarmament policy that “even assuming that we could emerge from a global war today the acknowledged victor, there would be a destruction in the country [such] that there would be no possibility of our exercising a representative free government for, I would say, two decades at the minimum.”
In the hope of discovering logic behind them, Jervis examines different formulations of American nuclear policy as presented by secretaries of defense, and by armchair strategists. He rightly concludes that “much of the strategic rationale put forward may only be window dressing.” In my view it has never been anything but that. Robert McNamara, when he was secretary of defense, was under no illusion that his official policy of so-called flexible response changed anything in substance. Even during the early Sixties the chances were that NATO’s assumed ability to defend against a Soviet intrusion, at whatever level of firepower commanders deemed appropriate, would most likely end in “massive retaliation.” The academic analysis of different so-called strategic nuclear policies is already a sterile exercise.
During the twenty years or so that I myself was professionally involved in these matters, weapons came first and rationalizations and policies followed. Soon after the NATO alliance was formed, free-falling atomic bombs were introduced into the Western armory. Their addition to what was already there was not demanded by some new strategic theory. They were brought in because they were the most powerful destructive agents that were then available. I believe that even if the members of NATO had met the conventional force goals they had set themselves in Lisbon in 1952, nuclear weapons would still have been developed and deployed. In 1950 I was invited by United States officials to help set up an experimental inquiry which had as its aim the elucidation of the antipersonnel effects of “small” nuclear weapons. At the time there was no military “operational requirement” for nuclear artillery shells, demolition munitions, or mines. First came the weapons; then they had to be fitted into a presumed tactical doctrine, which in turn had to be fitted into an illusory strategy, usually elaborated by armchair warriors.
The recent story by the weapons physicist Sam Cohen of his futile efforts to get the “neutron bomb” accepted as a useful addition to the NATO arsenal illustrates the normal process by showing one of the infrequent exceptions to it.7 In that case, most of those who had to make the decision did not agree, and the neutron bomb was tested but not deployed. I forget how many sales talks I had to listen to from a Pentagon scientist as he tried to persuade me when I was chief scientific adviser for defense in the UK that a small nuclear weapon called the Davy Crockett, which could be carried by an infantryman, was a war-winner. I was not the only one who failed to see the strategic merit in distributing nuclear weapons so widely that control over their use became impossible. To this day there may be “rules of engagement” for the release of nuclear weapons. There are no rules, as Jervis fully recognizes, for disengagement. It would not matter which side fired the first shot, or the first salvo. From that moment the initiative for what happened next would pass to the other side.
Jervis’s discussion of the strategic futility of the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons—ground-launched cruise and the Pershing II missiles in response to SS-20s—is particularly illuminating. As he puts it:
the whole line of argument that it is necessary to rectify the imbalance in theater nuclear weapons undermines the two linked cornerstones of Western policy: nuclear war cannot be limited to Europe, and the Russians are deterred by the perception that Europe and the United States cannot be separated. Why is parity in tactical nuclear forces (TNF) needed unless NATO is planning to be able to fight a nuclear war which would not involve the superpowers’ strategic forces?
This passage echoes Henry Kissinger’s much quoted 1979 admonition that the European allies of the United States should not keep asking the US “to multiply strategic assurances that we cannot possibly mean or if we do mean, we should not want to execute, because if we execute we risk the destruction of civilization.8
The deployment of cruise and Pershing II was intended to be a necessary additional political, even if not military, assurance. It has clearly not been regarded as such by the whole of NATO Europe. Nor, as Mr. McNamara has pointed out, is there much reason to suppose that the Russians would take one view were American weapons based on European soil to be fired onto Soviet territory at the start of a nuclear war, and another were they launched from the American mainland or from American ships or aircraft.
The paradoxical result of these deployments has been to instill a sense of insecurity in the minds of many thousands of Europeans. Not only has it encouraged the peace movement; it has also produced serious strains within NATO. It is whistling in the dark to suppose otherwise. Even at this moment it is not certain that deployment in the Netherlands will go ahead in accordance with the plans that were accepted by the NATO Council of Ministers in 1979. What is more, it has reawakened among the West Germans a realization that they could be caught up in a nuclear exchange in whose initiation they would have played no part. That is why a spokesman for Chancellor Kohl’s Christian Democratic party recently proposed that the quasi-independent nuclear armories of the United Kingdom and France should become part of the same force as the 572 new missiles that the US is deploying.
This proposal inadvertently conceded the Soviet insistence that the nuclear armories of the UK and France have to be taken into account in any balance of numbers of intermediate-range weapons—a central issue which led to the breakdown last December of the Geneva INF talks, and which no doubt the Soviets will use to further their views in any future talks—if there ever are any. The spokesman for Kohl’s party also proposed that Bonn should have an “equal voice” if the “use” of nuclear weapons were ever ordered, a suggestion that the USSR was quick to denounce, and that also reopens an issue which had presumably been settled when West Germany in 1955 became a member of NATO, and when she agreed never to become a nuclear power. Not surprisingly, the Bonn government has since disavowed its spokesman. The Soviet Union may have done its best to undermine the 1979 NATO decision, but the much-stated view that it has failed—because deployment has gone ahead and that this represents a victory for NATO—is altogether too superficial a reaction.
In his book, Freeman Dyson observes that “Americans who have to deal with strategic issues tend to regard the British and French forces as unimportant nuisances, contributing nothing to international security and complicating the negotiation of arms control agreements.” He tells us that the British nuclear force is spoken of “as a useless relic of vanished great-power status.” To which Americans he refers, I do not know, but he is certainly not stating a view that is shared by the Soviet leaders. Why, otherwise, would the British and French nuclear weapons have become so important an issue in the Geneva talks?
Nor is it a view that has any meaning if one takes account of the realities of NATO. France became an independent nuclear power because General de Gaulle, in line with his predecessors, was not willing to trust the security of his country to the US or to allow the world to be dominated by the bipolar hegemony of the US and the USSR. Knowing little and caring less about nuclear technicalities, he thought atom bombs were just a necessary armament in the modern world. The United Kingdom became a nuclear power, first because British scientists had been pioneers in the development program that led to the bomb, and second, because the UK too was fearful of allowing the security of Western Europe to depend on a United States which, at some time or other, might go “isolationist.”
The decision to proceed independently of America was taken by Attlee’s postwar government after President Truman had made it plain, in November of 1945, that America’s wartime cooperation with the UK had to end, a presidential decision which then became enshrined in the McMahon Act of August 1946. A few months after Attlee had authorized the construction of a pile to make fissionable material, he was ready to abandon the project. At a meeting in October of 1946 he was persuaded to continue by his foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin.9 Attlee himself was always conscious of the importance of his decision but, as his biographer records him as saying, “If we had decided not to have it, we would have put ourselves entirely in the hands of the Americans. That would have been a risk a British Government should not take. It’s all very well to look back, and to say otherwise.”10
“Otherwise” has been said, and has continued to be said—in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. But in 1945 no one spoke about “deterrent strategy” or about any other kind of nuclear strategy. I doubt if anyone in Whitehall had heard of Bernard Brodie,11 any more than it has been my experience that British political leaders religiously read the outpourings of American armchair strategists. To those who took the decisions, the atomic, and later the hydrogen, bombs were simply immensely powerful weapons which, if they had the means, nations just had to have. In spite of the UK’s continued reliance on the US for the purchase of missiles, that is how it is today, and how it became entrenched in the Nassau Agreement of 1962 when President Kennedy agreed to sell the UK Polaris missiles against the advice of some of his closest associates.12
So far as the UK and France are concerned, Schell’s status quo is likely to continue. This is partly because those who represent the European member states of NATO are not heartened by warnings that if it were to come to a war the United States would be unlikely to risk its own destruction in order to share in Europe’s. More important, the NATO leaders believe that America’s open belligerency gives cause for concern about the way things are going, and particularly about political reactions in their own countries. Many of the ordinary people of Britain do not share what seems to be the official American view of the danger of the threat that the USSR poses to their security.
Nor do many who may be more immediately informed about political and strategic issues. Nowhere does the NATO Treaty refer to the USSR by name. It declares that those party to it “are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples,” and that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”13 While there has been talk of widening the geographical area to which the NATO writ applies, there has been no formal action to do so. I doubt if the worries about Soviet interests and alliances in Central and South America, which seem to keep President Reagan awake, disturb the sleep of the leaders of Norway. Nor, I suspect, could one find many informed and independent political commentators in, say, West Germany, to agree with the President that the fact that there are some two thousand military Cubans in Nicaragua constitutes “a crisis at [the US’s] doorstep.”14
I personally doubt even more whether the citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany are as interested in President Reagan’s crusade against communism as they are in fostering good relations with their German brothers who have lived as an organized communist state for nearly forty years. The scenarios of the nuclear analysts seem always to imply that East German soldiers would readily kill West Germans, and vice versa. I doubt the Germans are so confident.
Of course there may be some among the women of Greenham Common or among the Greens of Germany who uphold the communist faith. But I am sure that while most of the protesters are not sympathetic to communism they also do not give a hoot about the jihad against communism President Reagan has proclaimed. What worries them is the picture of trigger-happy Americans. They don’t want to be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. I also suspect that many would regard as obscenely cynical my view that the deployment of land-based cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe makes not an ounce of difference to the basic strategic situation. No matter what nuclear weapon is fired, from where it is fired, or to whom it belongs, we are all—East as well as West—hostage to what happens next. What difference if instead of 572 new missiles on the side of the West, or 300, or 500 SS-20s on that of the USSR, the numbers had been 472, 200, and 400? Who on earth, on the basis of what military reason, decided on the numbers?
There is hope, but it does not lie in empty prescriptions. The basic fact, but one I fear that is lost in the eloquent expressions of faith provided by both Schell and Dyson, is that nuclear weapons are not controllable armaments for warfare, but uncontrollable instruments of destruction. The main point that has to be got across, and that could be got across, is that no political differences would ever be settled by the destruction that a nuclear war would cause—the differences would have become meaningless in the ocean of new problems that would emerge.
Schell’s prescription for bringing about a saner world—that “the key is to enter into an agreement abolishing nuclear arms”—is frivolous nonsense. What have successive presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and Politburo members been trying to do these past thirty years? In a world where depthless suspicion separates the USSR from the US and, to a lesser extent, its partners in NATO, negotiations are not as easy as Freeman Dyson implies in his description of Averell Harriman’s success in getting a partial test ban treaty agreed to in 1963. It is true, as Dyson claims, that Harriman’s negotiations lasted only two weeks, that technical matters were not discussed, and that technical advisers did not join in the talks. The only voices that were heard were those of Averell Harriman, Andrei Gromyko, and Lord Hailsham, for Dyson seems to have forgotten that the United Kingdom was also party to the treaty. They were the only voices to be heard because at definitive meetings such as the one in Moscow in 1963, only the leaders of delegations (and the interpreters) speak.
But “experts” were there. Frank Long and Carl Kaysen were with Harriman. I sat at Hailsham’s side throughout the two weeks. And what I know, and what Averell Harriman surely also knows, is that before we got to Moscow there had been five years of detailed and laborious technical talks between the “experts” of the three countries. What he must also remember is that during those years, talks that began in a hope shared by Eisenhower, Macmillan, and Khrushchev—that a comprehensive ban on all tests could be achieved—ended with only a partial ban.
Complete success seemed to be assured after the first round of technical talks. But then the Soviet Union refused to consider on-site inspection of suspicious seismic events, disturbances that might be caused either by an earthquake or by an underground nuclear test. The American scientists showed lively imagination in thinking up ways by which the Russians could cheat. The result was that before we packed our bags for Moscow it had been agreed to eliminate from the talks all the truly contentious issues. More than that, President Kennedy had already made his pact with the Joint Chiefs—that there would be no let-up in the design or testing of new warheads.15 The Chiefs and their allies in the Senate would never have settled for less, and the president could not defy them.
If Freeman Dyson’s story of the test ban talks is faulty, he wisely quotes Harriman as observing in testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—he does not specify the occasion—that
These matters have got to be left to the political leaders of our nation. The expert is out to point out all the difficulties and dangers…but it is for the political leaders to decide whether the political, psychological and other advantages offset such risks as there may be.
This is only too true. It is where hope lies. The political leaders of the two sides can and must be encouraged to realize that increasing the extent and variety of their nuclear deployments has not brought additional security over the years, and that, whatever defensive systems they try to develop, no “experts” could ever be able to guarantee them immunity from massive destruction in a nuclear exchange. Those are the two basic propositions on which would-be saviors of the world should concentrate. The state of nuclear deterrence will continue so long as nuclear weapons are there, but only the mutual acceptance of these two propositions could stop the nuclear arms race. And until they are accepted, the military-industrial-scientific complex of both superpowers will continue to thrive, while the women of Greenham Common and antinuclear protesters in other countries will rough it outside whatever perimeter fences they are allowed to gather. In the meantime, too, debt, poverty, and starvation will be part of the status quo, in which Africans will fight each other, the Middle East cauldron will boil, and the unemployed of the industrialized countries and the vast millions of the third world continue to “live and let live.”
June 14, 1984
Knopf, 1982. ↩
A commission under the auspices of the International Council of Scientific Unions is now reviewing the evidence that relates to these matters. ↩
Bernard Brodie, in The Absolute Weapon (Harcourt Brace, 1946). ↩
Origins and Development of Operational Research in the Royal Air Force (London: HMSO, 1963). ↩
Harris has just died in his ninety-second year. ↩
John Betjeman, Collected Poems, third edition (London: John Murray, 1970). ↩
Sam Cohen, The Truth about the Neutron Bomb (William Morrow, 1983). ↩
Quoted in M. Jobert, International Herald Tribune, October 22, 1979. ↩
The story of this meeting is told in the recently published monumental biography of Bevin by Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (Norton, 1984). ↩
Kenneth Harris, Attlee (Norton, 1983). ↩
Patrick Blackett, later Lord Blackett, a Nobel Laureate who was president of the Royal Society had. He was not only a distinguished physicist but also a man experienced in the realities of war. In his book Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy (London: Turnstile Press, 1948) he took issue with Brodie on a number of points. ↩
George W. Ball, The Past has Another Pattern (Norton, 1982). ↩
Excerpt from Preamble and Article 5 of text of North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington on April 4, 1949. ↩
International Herald Tribune, April 17, 1984. ↩
Herbert York, Race to Oblivion (Simon & Schuster, 1970). ↩