Editors’ note: The following review was written by Lord Zuckerman shortly before he died on April 1. It was prepared for publication with the help of the physicist Richard Garwin.
The agreement reached by Gorbachev and Reagan in 1987 to relegate socalled intermediate-range missiles to the scrapheap not only marked the end of the era of East-West nuclear confrontation. It was also, even if unpredictably, the catalyst for the political, nationalist, and economic upheavals that have since engulfed both the old USSR and what used to be called Mittel Europa. The underlying causes of the turmoil and bloodshed that are now everyday news were, of course, always there. They had simply been suppressed by the rigid Communist system to which Gorbachev administered the coup de grâce when he and Reagan gave top-level recognition to the fact that neither military superiority nor national security can be measured by the numbers and types of nuclear warheads that a country possesses.
Previous attempts to dissipate the atomic shadow that Hiroshima had cast over the world, and to prevent an East-West nuclear arms race, had proved a dismal failure. The first resolution passed at the inaugural United Nations General Assembly in January 1946 had called for setting up an international Atomic Energy Commission to formulate measures that would ensure that nuclear weapons would never form part of national arsenals. The commission failed in its task, basically because the USSR was unprepared to allow the US to be the only power that knew how to make, and that already possessed, nuclear weapons.1
The discussions that followed in the mid-Fifties to try to prevent a nuclear build-up by way of an agreement to prohibit the testing of atomic weapons were also a failure, ending as they did in 1963 with a Partial Test Ban Treaty which, while it stopped radioactive pollution of the air and seas, did not disallow the underground testing of nuclear devices. Subsequently the US and the Soviet Union conducted some 1,100 underground tests. In recent years US and Soviet underground testing was kept below a threshold of 150 kilotons. By last autumn, the US, Russia, and France had adopted a moratorium on further testing, to last until July 1993.2
Within a period of forty years the two sides had built up arsenals which together contained more than 60,000 nuclear warheads. The Soviet warheads numbered some 45,000 at their peak in 1986. Only when a countercurrent was initiated by the 1987 INf agreement—in which both sides agreed to eliminate land-based, intermediate range missiles—did talk about nuclear disarmament start to become meaningful. The strategic arms reduction talks that had been grinding on fruitlessly since the early 1980s were abruptly ended when Bush and Gorbachev on July 31, 1991, signed a START I agreement which specified that—following a seven-year implementation period—the maximum number of intercontinental delivery vehicles on either side should be 1,600, and that they should carry no more than 6,000 “accountable” warheads. (This would have permitted as many as nine thousand US warheads to be deployed, since each bomber would be counted as carrying only a single warhead, while a bomber could in fact carry as many as ten warheads.) START I was followed by START II, which Bush and Yeltsin signed in June 1992, and which reduced the figure of 6,000 strategic warheads to between 3,000 and 3,500, to be reached by the year 2003. Both sides also agreed to pull back all short-range and other so-called tactical nuclear weapons such as artillery that had been deployed outside their national boundaries.
START I has been ratified by the US Senate and also been ratified by Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, three of the four republics of the old USSR in which strategic nuclear missiles are deployed, although Russia’s ratification is conditional on eventual ratification by Ukraine. Although the bilateral agreements between the US and these four republics have not been fully ratified by all concerned, high-level technical discussions are taking place between the US and Russia over security procedures, and arrangements are being made for the safe storage of the enriched uranium and plutonium that will be coming out of the tens of thousands of warheads that are to be dismantled.
Carrying out these agreements will take years—how many, no one knows. Casting a shadow over the disarmament process is the reluctance of Ukraine to agree to the early transfer of Soviet strategic weapons to Russia in return for compensation for the energy value of the uranium and plutonium in the warheads. There are also continuing struggles with the conservatives in the Russian Parliament over carrying out these agreements. The US insists that Russia is the sole successor to the USSR in matters concerning nuclear weapons, and that Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine should sign the nonproliferation treaty as states that do not possess nuclear weapons.
The goal of a nuclear-free world for which the United Nations called in 1946 certainly seems less Utopian today than it did before the two superpowers started on the path of denuclearization. Whether such a world is now desirable and, more important, feasible, is the theme of A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, which embodies the results of an authoritative study that was organized in 1990 by the council of the Pugwash movement, and which was carried out by a group of experts whose combined practical knowledge of the problems involved could not be bettered.
The appearance of the book could also not have been more timely. In 1995 the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970, is due for the critical twenty-five-year review at which the 157 states 3 now party to it will decide by a simple majority—which must include all five parties to the treaty in possession of nuclear weapons—whether it continues in force indefinitely, or whether it is only extended for fixed periods. In short, the nuclear shadow that now hangs over the international scene is no longer what it has been over the past few decades—the possibility of an East-West nuclear war that could utterly devastate the contestants and pollute with radiation the whole of the northern hemisphere. What is urgent now is the issue of proliferation—the danger of nuclear weapons being made by a country unsophisticated enough to use them against a neighbor, and the possibility of nuclear weapons being acquired by a terrorist organization.
That there are now no secrets about how to make a nuclear warhead, however, has in fact created a future more uncertain and possibly more menacing than it was in the days of the cold war, when we had become habituated to the knowledge that nuclear weapons exist, without much thought of what the consequences would have been had they been used. A handful of countries other than the five declared nuclear-weapon states are known or suspected to possess nuclear weapons, or to be in a position to make them as soon as they decide to do so.4 The unfinished saga of Iraq’s secret nuclear activities is not the only warning we have that trade in materials and equipment that could be used to make nuclear weapons has been brisk between suppliers and customers, even though both may have been party to the NPT agreement. 5
The projected dismantling of the bigger part of the US and ex-USSR atomic stockpiles (while still leaving behind nuclear arsenals sufficient to lay total waste to both states) means that vast amounts of plutonium will have to remain in storage for decades, even indefinitely, a target for potential proliferators despite whatever precautions are made to prevent illicit losses. Highly enriched uranium from dismantled weapons is easier to deal with since it can safely and cheaply be blended into other uranium to produce material that is useless for nuclear weapons but can be used as fuel for existing nuclear plants. In fact the US and Russia have agreed that during the next twenty years five hundred tons of uranium from Russian weapons will be transferred to the US in return for a payment of some $12 billion.
Joseph Rotblat, a veteran of the Manhattan Project and then a founder of the Pugwash movement of which he is today the international president, provides an opening historical chapter to A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World. His story reveals no new secrets, and ends by applauding Gorbachev’s courage in declaring6 as forcibly and effectively as he did the futility of regarding nuclear war as a means of achieving political, economic, or ideological goals. Others have said this before, but Gorbachev went further than any previous Soviet leader when he declared that “comprehensive, very rigorous verification is perhaps the most important element in the disarmament process.” The USSR would therefore, he said, allow whatever on-site inspection was deemed necessary by the US, words that have since been translated into deeds. There has now been a continuous series of technical exchanges between the two countries, even to the extent of the US beginning to assist Russia financially in the program to destroy warheads, and with US experts cooperating with their opposite numbers in designing safe storage bunkers for the plutonium removed from Russian warheads.
To a significant extent the reciprocal steps that have already been taken by the US and Russia in carrying out their bilateral agreements preempt some of the matters discussed in A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, in the same way as issues that were not apparent when the study was under way have now become pertinent. For example, what would happen should Yeltsin fall from power, and who would control the military forces? How coherent a state is Russia, let alone the Confederation? It is well to remember that decisions are not deeds and there is a long and uncertain period ahead before the agreements that have been made are actually carried out.
It is in the light of these uncertainties that the contribution by Carl Kaysen, Robert McNamara, and George Rathjens should be read. In “Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War” the authors ask what role will military force, and especially nuclear weapons, play in the emerging world order. All three were in powerful government positions in the Sixties, the decade when the East-West arms race gathered the momentum which carried it to the point when, according to their present account, the US and what was the USSR together possessed 97 percent of the tens of thousands of nuclear warheads in the world. In 1954, nearly forty years ago, John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s secretary of state, declared that the “approach to atomic parity” meant that general war threatened not only the destruction of the Soviet regime but also of Western civilization as a whole. When Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister, met at the end of the Fifties with Eisenhower, and after him with Kennedy, he told them that six to ten one-megaton strikes on British cities would be enough to put an end to the UK as an organized society. No more would be needed. (Careful analyses had shown that a one-megaton strike would utterly destroy a city as big as Birmingham, with a population of about a million.) The concept of deterrence had to be defined not in terms of numbers of warheads, but in the light of the extent of the destruction caused. That was the reality. Macmillan also argued that the idea of field warfare in which nuclear weapons were used by correspondingly armed opponents was nonsense. Minimal nuclear exchanges in NATO Europe would result in so much destruction and chaos as to prevent any orderly military operations—quite apart from thousands and thousands of associated civilian casualties.
When McNamara resigned as defense secretary in 1968, US strategic warheads on ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles totaled 1,700, but at the time of his appointment to that office by Kennedy there were already 44, arguably enough to serve as a deterrent threat to the USSR.7 For, as McGeorge Bundy rightly put it,
In the real world of political leaders…a decision that would bring even one hydrogen bomb on one city of one’s own country would be recognized in advance as a catastrophic blunder; ten bombs on ten cities would be a disaster beyond history; and a hundred bombs on a hundred cities are unthinkable.8
Yet, prominent though their respective positions, and trusted as they were by the two presidents whom they served, neither McNamara or Bundy nor Kaysen, nor even the presidents themselves had the political influence needed to stop the arms race or, once the USSR had built intercontinental missiles,9 to prevent the buildup of what was a useless superfluity of nuclear weaponry. These included socalled strategic, i.e., intercontinental weapons, and the “tactical” weapons—atomic mines, artillery, free-falling bombs—that it was presumed could compensate for a supposed “conventional” superiority of the Warsaw Pact powers.
The fact is that once the United States had begun to rely on nuclear weapons to counter the perceived Soviet threat, the issues that kept the race with the USSR going were essentially, as Carl Kaysen and his coauthor puts it, the
profound ideological antipathy and demonization of the other side, the lag between the decision to build new weapons and their deployment, worst-case analyses, Soviet secrecy and successful Soviet bluffs about the size and capability of their forces, and American belief in the possibility of sustaining technological superiority.
Kaysen and his coauthors write that the UK’s reason for becoming a nuclear power was overwhelmingly political, “without even an ostensible military rationale…” But this could be said to apply almost as much to the US. Spurred on by the mass media, the pressure exerted by the military, scientific, and industrial complex played an enormous part in fashioning the nuclear ethos of the US, with the USSR inevitably following suit. The rational views of Kaysen and his coauthors, and those of Bundy, were powerless to prevent the waste of billions of dollars on unusable or unneeded weapon systems. There were technically and strategically worthless attempts to devise ABM defenses. There were MIRVs—multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles which were developed during the Johnson administration and deployed in the Nixon administration, and which introduced the theoretical possibility that one side could make a preemptive disarming strike on the other. There was the infantryman’s “Davy Crockett” nuclear missile, the brain-child of men in the Los Alamos laboratory. Its development was encouraged by staff officers in the Pentagon who had no conception of the impossibility of controlling their use were ground fighting ever to break out.
Finally there was Reagan’s “space astrodome”—SDI—which was going to make it impossible for any Soviet ballistically launched warhead to escape destruction when on its flight to the US. This turned out to be an unworkable fantasy. Unlike Eisenhower, Reagan was an easy victim of the nuclear zealots, particularly in Livermore, supported as they always were by those congressmen and military chiefs who believed that anything that concerned the US nuclear establishment was worthwhile. The part played by unbridled scientists, engineers, and military chiefs should have been added by Kaysen and his coauthors to the list of factors which drove the arms race—not only in the US but also in the USSR and in the UK.10
Kaysen and his coauthors also refer to the “enormous expenditures of ingenuity and ink” that have been devoted over the years to the production of books and articles which have tried to show where and how nuclear armaments have a practical value. They conclude that the only plausible scenario for the use of nuclear weapons that has ever emerged is “a situation where there is no prospect of retaliation, either against a non-nuclear state, or against one so weakly armed” that it could not avoid being disarmed in a first strike. I share this view. By the end of the Fifties, when the US possessed more than ten thousand nuclear warheads, and the USSR several hundred, there had been occasion enough when NATO forces backed with US nuclear weapons might have intervened in a situation that was clearly a casus belli. But the USSR was not deterred from doing what it did—suppressing by force of arms the political changes taking place in Hungary and Czechoslovakia—by thoughts of Western nuclear superiority, while NATO governments failed to step in for fear of Soviet nuclear weapons being used in retaliation against cities in the West.
Once the level of “plausible scenario” had been passed, the East-West nuclear arms race had become wholly irrational. So strong was the popular myth of the omnipotence of nuclear weapons, and the corresponding but opposite belief that technologists might one day come up with a defense against an opponent’s nuclear weapons, that the declarations of Nixon and Kissinger that enough was enough conveyed no meaning either to pronuclear congressmen or to their military advisers or to the nuclear wizards in the weapons laboratories. When MIRVs appeared the myths were given a further boost—and money to convert them into reality. Even the technical failures to devise effective ABM systems, and their strategic futility, did not prevent Reagan in 1983 from launching his Strategic Defense Initiative. By the time he and Gorbachev got together in 1987 he had not given up his dream of building SDI; but he had apparently come to realize that the possibility of doing so was far too remote for him to put the continued existence of the United States at stake in furthering his ambition to destroy the “evil empire” of communism.11
Unfortunately for the prospects of nonproliferation, the widespread belief that nuclear weapons imbue countries with military strength is not likely to be dissipated by the fact that only five of the much greater number of industrialized countries that possess the knowledge and the capacity to make nuclear weapons deliberately decided to “go nuclear.” Equally, with the world situation as it is, the handful of countries (other than South Africa) that are or were suspected of having already made and stockpiled nuclear warheads—Israel in particular—or are working to that end—for example, Pakistan—are not likely to renounce the nuclear option. Pakistan has been at war with India three times since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, and seems determined to match its traditional adversary by also demonstrating a capacity to make an atomic bomb. Saddam Hussein was not deterred from invading Kuwait by the thought that the coalition of UN forces posed against him possessed nuclear weapons. One could well ask what would have happened if he had already secretly acquired his own, and if, instead of yielding to the counter-attack by the UN coalition forces, he had used them against Riyadh or a US aircraft carrier or Tel Aviv? What then? Would the US have relied on its Patriot defenses or would Baghdad have disappeared in retaliation?12 My own guess is that if Iraq had used a nuclear weapon, there would have been a nuclear response.
Israel, whose legitimacy is unrecognized by any of its neighbors other than Egypt, has so far prevailed against its neighbors on three occasions by conventional arms. But the day might come when, if attacked again, it treats its nuclear warheads as “weapons of last resort.” With no clear indication yet of a settlement of the Middle Eastern problem, it is difficult to imagine Israel abandoning the nuclear clear option if the alternative is that of being thrown into the sea by the more numerous forces of some new coalition of her Arab neighbors. And then what?
In his “executive overview” of the book under review, Frank Blackaby, previously director of the Swedish government’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), rightly points out that the idea of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (NWFW) could never be translated into reality unless all the existing nuclear weapon states agreed that such a world would be in their interest. What is equally likely is that if nuclear-weapon states persist in retaining their nuclear arsenals, even at greatly reduced levels, other countries will believe that they have good reason for doing so, and will seek to follow their example. In the long term, the logical alternative to a nuclear-weapon-free world is therefore one in which a larger number of countries than at present possess nuclear weapons—a situation in which the concept of deterrence would be less likely to prevail than it did during the cold war between East and West, and which, sooner or later, would very likely lead to nuclear weapons being used. “In the hands of smaller powers, nuclear weapons may be an extraordinary threat to the big,” write three of the contributors to the Pugwash book.13 This is precisely the situation that would have had to be faced had Saddam Hussein delayed his move into Kuwait until he could tip his Scud missiles with nuclear warheads.
During the years of the cold war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact I argued as strongly as I could in favor of the concept of “minimal deterrence,” and for small numbers of warheads, believing that no NATO or Warsaw Pact country would resort to the use of such weapons if doing so risked retaliation and the total destruction of a handful of its major cities—happily a risk that was never taken. Small numbers have a different significance in, say, the Middle East. But if logic leads to this conclusion, and so to an affirmative answer to the question whether a nuclear-weapon-free world is desirable, how do we get there? Does a firm treaty to ban chemical weapons in order to prevent their proliferation provide a model that applies to the even more dangerous weapons? Some contributors to the Pugwash study believe that the answer is yes, and that however many years it takes, in the end a treaty that establishes a nuclear-weapon-free world from which the parties could not withdraw would be the only way.
The optimism of those who believe that this might be achieved early in the next century is tempered by the reaction of others who have doubts. They cannot imagine that the five declared nuclear-weapons states—now eight, if what was the old USSR is, perhaps temporarily, counted as four—would delegate all their stocks of nuclear material to some central UN body when not only does a risk exist that one or other might secretly hold on to some of its nuclear weapons, but when it is also certain (now that South Africa has come clean about its past) that undeclared nuclear arsenals can already exist in countries other than Iraq, North Korea, and Pakistan, which are known to have nuclear weapons programs under way.
Marvin Miller, a former member of ACDA, and Jack Ruina, once head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Pentagon, tell us in their chapter that only a few kilograms of plutonium are needed to make a nuclear warhead, and Ted Taylor, once a staff member at Los Alamos, reminds us that just 60 grams of matter, when actually fissioned, produces a kiloton of energy. Their view is that a stable nuclear-weapon-free world would be possible only if there were no national ownership or control of dangerous nuclear materials.
If carrying out the bilateral US-Russian weapons-reduction agreement is regarded as a move toward attaining a level of “minimum nuclear deterrence,” one could readily agree with Frank Blackaby’s observation that for a number of years those who are in favor of seeing that such minimum levels are not exceeded would, in fact, be traveling the same road as those who are now calling for a nuclear-weapon-free world. But the part of the road not covered by these agreements presents tremendous difficulties.
As Gorbachev has emphasized, a nuclear-weapon-free world treaty needs the assurance of leak-proof verification, which would have to be carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization which at present lacks the power to deal even with Iraq or North Korea. All declared nuclear powers would have to subscribe to the treaty, as well as those undeclared states that are known to possess nuclear weapons. And there could be no withdrawal clause. The UN would have to be empowered to deal with violators, or with suspected violators who refuse to allow inspections that could take place at any time and at any place in a given country.
Moreover, estimates of existing stocks of military and civil fissionable material would need to be spot-checked against national inventories, and a running count kept of the output of civil installations. A number of internationally controlled and monitored depots—securely defended and “ring-fenced”—would need to be constructed for the indefinite storage of enriched uranium and plutonium removed from warheads. And that would have to be done in the knowledge that, outside the weapons field, there is no economic use for plutonium now that the prospect of civil breeder-reactors has receded into the distance. The list of requirements seems endless.
Most of the arguments for a nuclear-weapon-free world treaty seem so fanciful that I fail to see how the idea could be realized—certainly not until well into the next century. Furthermore, I find myself agreeing far more readily with the views expressed by Shalheveth Freier, a previous chief scientific adviser to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and head of its Atomic Energy Commission, who argues that it would be more fruitful to work for regional nuclear-weapon-free-zones—backed by the IAEA—than for a comprehensive worldwide UN organization that would insure a nuclear-weapon-free world. Freier writes:
Regional groupings should be promoted, in order to offset the artificial and incidental nature of many small states. Such regional groups may guarantee economic and social viability to such small states without infringing their sense of identity. In an interdependent world, such regional groups are in fact inevitable….
If regional collaboration of this kind becomes more widespread, that will certainly help to smooth the path for developments such as the outlawing of nuclear weapons. However, progress towards a NWFW should be possible even while there are still some regions of the world where conflicts are likely to break out. A fully peaceful world is not a necessary condition for abolition of nuclear weapons.
A sophisticated and informed citizen of a country surrounded by hostile neighbors who comes to this view notwithstanding his knowledge of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions needs to be listened to.
Francesco Calogero, a professor of physics at the University of Rome, and now the secretary general of the Pugwash movement, with which he has been long associated, regards the idea of any UN nuclear-weapon capacity—i.e., a nearly weapon-free world, in which only the UN possessed nuclear weapons—as wholly impracticable. In his view, “The eventual establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free world will only be possible when reliance on ‘nuclear deterrence’ is replaced by the recognition that nuclear weapons have no use whatsoever”—a fact which is already widely recognized, especially by the US and the former USSR.
We still have to get through the next two years and make certain that the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is given an indefinite extension, and this means that in order to buttress the NPT, what must happen in the near future is, first, an extension of the moratorium on testing—to which only the UK of the five declared weapon-states has so far refused to conform—and, second, a firm agreement about the number of tests that will take place before all testing is legally prohibited.
The excuse that occasional testing may be needed to assure the safety of stockpiled warheads has no scientific validity—it is merely a form of words which politicians have repeated year after year at the instigation of the weaponeers; it is sometimes associated with the ridiculous statement that testing must continue to ensure that the stockpiled warheads “work.” Other methods than nuclear testing are entirely adequate for this purpose. Neither excuse should be allowed to justify the resumption of testing or to stand in the way of a comprehensive test ban, which will be central to any effective control over nuclear arms in the future.
June 24, 1993
Immediately on his return to Moscow from the Potsdam conference, where he had learned that the Alamogordo test had been a success, Stalin ordered Kurchatov, the head of the USSR’s nuclear program, to resume work on the bomb, and not to permit anything to stand in his way: “Request all that you need. Nothing will be refused.” (“Kak dalali bombu,” Pravda, July 22, 1988, quoted in Robin Edmonds, The Big Three, Norton, 1991, p. 403.) ↩
Without providing any convincing reasons for the position it has taken, the UK has so far refused to accept the moratorium, even though the only testing ground available to it since the early Sixties has been the Nevada site in the US. ↩
North Korea has recently declared its intention to withdraw from the treaty, as of June of this year. ↩
South Africa has formally admitted that it had made six “tactical” bombs that have since been disassembled. ↩
And also to the 1977 Agreement of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. ↩
Both in his 1986 speech and in his book, Perestroika, published in England in 1987, the year of the INf agreement. ↩
Especially when we consider the existence in 1961 of some 3,080 nuclear bombs on 1,515 US strategic bombers based abroad. By 1968, a similar number of bombs and short-range air-launched cruise missiles were carried on some 480 strategic bombers mostly based in the US. In comparison, Soviet land-and sea-based missiles carried some 34 warheads at the beginning of 1961 (with 416 warheads on 104 strategic bombers). At the end of 1968, the corresponding numbers carried on Soviet bombers were: 1,047 missile warheads on strategic aircraft and 711 nuclear weapons. ↩
McGeorge Bundy, “To Cap the Volcano,” Foreign Affairs (October 1969), p. 10. ↩
It was clear they could do so in 1957, the year of Sputnik, although nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States were not deployed on submarines until 1958, or on ICBMs until 1960. ↩
I should add that whatever views they may have been duty-bound to express when in active service, I know of no major British military figure who, once he had retired and was free to speak his mind, would not have agreed with Gorbachev and Reagan’s statement that a nuclear war could not be won and should never be fought. ↩
So much political capital has been sunk in SDI, so many misleading and exaggerated statements about its R&D successes deliberately spread by those benefiting from its financial bounty, that after an estimated $30 billion already spent, the project was still being funded—some $3.8 billion was allocated in Bush’s final defense budget of $275 billion. Defense Secretary Les Aspin has announced the end of the SDI program, which has been renamed the “Ballistic Missile Defense Organization” and which will no longer report directly to the secretary of defense. However, its budget for the coming year remains $3.8 billion. Whether President Clinton will have the courage and the congressional support to be able to cut that figure further remains to be seen. ↩
During the cold war the strategic doctrine of the US was based, so we were constantly told, on counterforce targeting—not on “city-bashing.” But at least six counterforce military targets were in the Moscow area. In the UK, strategic missiles had to conform with what was called the “Moscow criterion”—they had to be able to hit the Soviet capital. ↩
Jack Steinberger, Essam Galal, and the late Mikhail Milstein. ↩