Go to Home Page
 

Key Issues Ethics Issues Prepared Remarks to the Olaf Pale Intl Center

Prepared Remarks to the Olof Palme International Center for Vice Admiral John J. Shanahan, USN (Ret.) Director, Center for Defense Information
Stockholm Sweden, 6 March 1997

In 1948, as a junior officer in the U.S. Navy, I took part in Operation Fitzwilliam , a classified exercise to determine the effects of nuclear explosions on fully operational and fully manned

Printer Friendly


warships. In 1949, I was involved in two additional nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Even with my personal experience with 3 major nuclear tests, it is difficult, yes, almost impossible to describe the awesome power, the devastation, the contamination, and the sheer horror and unlimited brutality of such a weapon.

I knew then, but didn't realize it, what I know now, that nuclear weapons have no place in the weapons inventories of any nation and there must be an organized serious international effort to rid the world of this weapon of mass destruction. You now know why I signed the Statement on Nuclear Weapons by International Generals and Admirals , why I today support the work of the Canberra Commission and the position of General Butler and General Goodpaster on the ultimate goal of nuclear abolition, and why the Center for Defense Information has been calling for reductions and the elimination of nuclear weapons for many years -- long before it became politically acceptable.

The goal must be the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons with near- and mid-term reductions in all nuclear stockpiles. An increasing number of people are recognizing that nuclear weapons are not acceptable as instruments of war; that their only utility is to deter the use of a large number of nuclear weapons by other nations. Only four nations could launch such an attack on the United States today and two of them are among our closest allies -- Britain and France. The other two are Russia -- who receives U.S. aid to help them destroy many of those nuclear weapons -- and China -- who is armed with no more than 500 weapons, only a handful of which the Chinese could employ against the United States directly.

We do not need to maintain a first strike posture to deter the use of nuclear weapons by these four countries, only a retaliatory force, and only for as long as any nation has significant numbers of nuclear weapons. Thus, if the United States worked together with the Russians, the Chinese, the British, and the French to reduce nuclear arsenals globally, with the ultimate aim of eliminating them, there would be no need for any of these nations to maintain a costly and dangerous nuclear deterrent.

All other threats to the United States can be met with conventional weapons.

You don't need nuclear weapons to deter or retaliate against a nation armed with only a handful of nuclear weapons. After all, we have demonstrated that the United States can destroy targets with its vast array of powerful non-nuclear weapons. In the words of then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, nuclear weapons are "a wasted investment in a military capability that is limited in political or military utility," and that the United States has "ways of responding and punishing conventionally" to attack, that nations "would not wish to see us use." [24 September 1993]

Non-nuclear weapons are also a more credible deterrent. To be credible, you must have demonstrated a willingness to use your weapons. In 52 years, we've used nuclear weapons twice. We've used non-nuclear weapons more times than you or I could count. In the words of then Commander of U.S. Space Command, General Charles Horner, "[Nuclear] deterrence doesn't work outside of the Russian-U.S. context." [15 July 1994] Nuclear weapons did not inhibit Argentina to fight a nuclear-armed Britain over the Malvinas or Falkland Islands. Nor did a single one of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal prove useful in deterring Saddam Hussein; nor in fighting wars in Korea or Vietnam; or in quelling unrest in Somalia or Bosnia.

My call for working toward the elimination of nuclear weapons is based on realism not idealism. As a former fleet commander, it is clear to me that you can't fight a war using nuclear weapons. Yes, war is about killing people and destroying things and nothing does this more completely than nuclear weapons. The problem is, the indiscriminate and uncontrollable nature of nuclear weapons makes them unusable. Even though we faced military defeat in Vietnam, not one of our 30,000 nuclear weapons was used. The reason is simple: If you use nuclear weapons, you destroy everything that the war is about. You contaminate the very land over which you are fighting to control. You destroy the industry and wealth, you erase the history, you murder the innocents. Nobody wins if nuclear weapons are used.

While these facts are well recognized, the thinking in the Pentagon hasn't changed much. We continue to arm, train, and equip ourselves to fight a war using nuclear weapons. In 1997, the United States will spend some $24 billion to maintain the capability to deliver some 7,000 strategic nuclear warheads anyplace in the world on minutes notice. Our land-based ICBMs, our bomber force, and our SLBM submarine fleet are ready -- but for what purpose? Where are the targets? Do we need deterrence a thousand times over? It is imperative that Pentagon planners and politicians recognize that the world has changed since 1989.

The eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is called for in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Working to fulfill this obligation will further our non-proliferation goal. In negotiating and signing the NPT Treaty more than 25 years ago, the non-nuclear weapons states made a bargain with the five nuclear weapons states. They gave up their right to nuclear weapons in exchange for access to the peaceful application of nuclear power and for positive steps toward disarmament by the nuclear weapons states. The nuclear weapons states recommitted themselves to this goal in the Principles and Objectives Statement , adopted at the NPT Review and Extension Conference in May 1995. In this document, the nuclear weapons states reaffirmed their commitment to "the determined pursuit...of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons...." If the nuclear weapons states do not act to live up to their end of the NPT bargain, we cannot and should not be surprised if non-nuclear weapons states reconsider their adherence to this valuable treaty. The entire non-proliferation regime could fall.

The United States and the other nuclear weapons states must recognize one simple fact: we cannot forever maintain a world in which some nations possess nuclear weapons while others may not. The United States cannot continue to develop and produce improved nuclear delivery systems, to maintain the ability to fight a nuclear war, and to justify the use of nuclear weapons while at the same time expect nations whose security is threatened by our actions to eschew nuclear weapons forever. Instead of clinging to weapons to deter their use by others, we should be actively working to delegitimize nuclear weapons. The security interests of the United States would be better served by living up to its promise to work in concert with the other nuclear weapons states to reduce and eventually to eliminate nuclear weapons.

My position and that of my fellow signatories to the Generals and Admirals letter is really not radical. It is, after all, the official policy of the United States government and has been since Truman was in the White House. Nevertheless, the reaction to our letter in the United States has been troubling. The journalists, the politicians, the policy analysts, and nuclear weapons hawks have largely missed our point, mostly by design. They have focused their criticism on our ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons while ignoring our near term recommendations, the purpose of which is to reduce the dangers of accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear weapons.

Some believe we are advocating the unilateral elimination of nuclear weapons. While the U.S. could unilaterally reduce our nuclear stockpile further without harming U.S. security, elimination can and should only happen in conjunction with the other nuclear armed and nuclear capable states.

Many people have called our goal unrealistic. I guess they have forgotten what President Eisenhower said back in 1956:

"If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war include almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man's intelligence and his comprehension...would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution." [President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Press Conference, Washington, DC, 14 November 1956]

Nobody knew how to bring down the Berlin Wall, but that didn't deter us from reaching that goal. Nobody knew how to put a person on the moon, but that didn't stop President Kennedy from establishing that goal and it sure didn't stop the American space program from taking the baby steps necessary to make that giant leap a reality. While it's true that nobody knows exactly how to reach the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, we do know a variety of steps which will lead us in the right direction, that will help build the kind of world in which elimination is truly possible. The many steps have been laid out in the Generals and Admirals letter, in publications by the Center for Defense Information and other groups, and spelled out in greater detail in the Canberra Commission's Report.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the journey has been delayed because the destination has been called improbable by an influential and vocal opposition. This opposition has confused the issue by emphasizing what they characterize as the impractical goal of nuclear weapons abolition with what the supporters are after. That is the interim actions and regimes which will make the world a safer place today and which will be the foundation for a nuclear weapons free future.

Some have suggested to me and others that we should downplay or forget altogether our ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the planet in order to achieve our short term goals of de-alerting nuclear weapons, of reducing nuclear stockpiles further, of improving the safety and security of nuclear weapons and weapons materials. Perhaps that would help us accomplish some minor short-term goals, but we believe it would hinder future efforts aimed at not only deeper cuts in arsenals but also in increased openness and improved safeguards.

Additionally, only by remaining committed to zero will our greater non-proliferation goals be served. Regardless, it's not as if we're saying anything all that radical or new. Our goal is the same as that of all five declared nuclear weapons states -- "the determined pursuit...of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons...." [Principles and Objectives Statement, May 1995]

But, how committed is the United States to that goal. According to State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns, "successive administrations have committed themselves to" the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, "but, of course, we must live in the real world. We must live practically. We must prepare practically for the security of the American people and our allies around the world who are relying upon the United States to provide for their security." At that briefing Burns was asked by a reporter: "Q: Therefore, the Administration plans to keep some of its nuclear weapons indefinitely?" to which he responded a straightforward "Yes." [4 December 1996]

Many Americans today are unconcerned because they have forgotten or don't understand that nuclear weapons continue to endanger their lives and the future of the planet. For many of them, the threat posed by nuclear weapons disappeared when the Soviet Union crumbled and the Berlin Wall fell. Granted, the number of nuclear weapons worldwide has been reduced from a Cold War height of some 70,000 weapons, but there still exists some 40,000 nuclear weapons on the planet today; 97 percent of which are controlled by the United States and Russia.

We've all heard that the START II Treaty will decrease U.S. and Russian arsenals to 3,500 nuclear weapons. That is grossly misleading. The START II Treaty merely limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia each plan to maintain some 10,000 deployed and stored, long- and short-range nuclear weapons. Assuming that the START II Treaty is ratified by the Russian Duma and fully implemented, by the year 2003, there will still exist about 23,000 nuclear weapons worldwide. There are no plans being formally discussed to further reduce these weapons. However, there is good reason to believe that certain agencies in the U.S. Administration are looking beyond START II. Hopefully, this will be on the agenda when President Clinton meets with President Yeltsin in Helsinki.

Still others have responded to the Generals and Admirals letter quite favorably. Some point to it as support for their own efforts to alter U.S. nuclear policy. The staff at CDI continues to work with many of the signers of the letter as well as with like-minded people on Capitol Hill. We also work with three coalitions who are dedicated to this important topic: the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, the Abolition 2000 caucus, and a newly-formed and influential Committee on Nuclear Policy. Many prominent Americans are identifying with this new and important committee.

These groups are not alone in wanting real change in U.S. nuclear posture and doctrine. In October 1996, two months before the Generals and Admirals Statement, Congressman Floyd Spence (R-SC), chair of the House National Security Committee, released a committee report entitled The Clinton Administration and Stockpile Stewardship: Erosion by Design . The report is completely at odds with what we see as a mood swing just beginning in the United States. The report criticized the Administration for even the slightest arms control measures. For example, it claimed that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty "is clearly threatening the nation's long-term ability to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile." The report also criticizes the Clinton Administration for the lack of concrete plans to resume the production of tritium, for the shrinking size of the nuclear weapons complex, and for the United States' inability to produce plutonium pits on a large scale. According to Congressman Spence, "In my mind, it's no longer a question of the Administration's benign neglect of our nation's nuclear forces, but instead, a compelling case can be made that it is a matter of erosion by design."[NSC Press Release, October 30, 1996] With political leaders like Spence fighting the Administration on every little arms control measure, those who favor reduced reliance on nuclear weapons and deeper cuts in the arsenals have a lot of work to do.

Proponents of nuclear abolition also must overcome the push for NATO expansion. Talk of expanding this military alliance which was formed to protect a weakened Western Europe from Soviet influence and invasion, has already hindered the Russian Duma's consideration of ratifying the START II Treaty. Moreover, it may jeopardize efforts aimed at deeper reductions. In October 1995, then-Senator Sam Nunn gave a moving speech warning about the dangers of NATO expansion:

"I recall very well when the United States and our allies felt we were overwhelmed with conventional forces by the former Soviet Union. How did we respond? We responded by building up tactical nuclear forces. We responded by deploying thousands of tactical nuclear forces because we did not have the artillery tubes to meet the conventional challenge. Are we confident the Russians would be so different from us if they truly have a nationalistic surge and end up believing the NATO enlargement is a threat to them? I am not confident that would not be their response as it was ours years ago. The security of NATO, Russia's neighbors and the countries of Eastern Europe will not be enhanced if the Russian military finger moves closer to the nuclear trigger."

The window of opportunity for deep reductions and a lessening of the nuclear threat would then be closed. In the words, again of Sam Nunn, "we must avoid being so preoccupied with NATO enlargement that we ignore the consequences it may have for even more important security priorities."

Although the immediate response to the Generals and Admirals letter in the United States has been lukewarm, we must not allow this to dampen our efforts. Recall the words of President Eisenhower who said that:

"Controlled, universal disarmament is the imperative of our time. The demand for it by the hundreds of millions whose chief concern is the long future of themselves and their children will, I hope, become so universal and so insistent that no man, no government anywhere, can withstand it." [Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address to the Indian Parliament, New Delhi, 10 December 1959]

Controlled, universal nuclear disarmament remains the imperative of our age. We have a unique opportunity and the window may not be open for long. For the first time in more than 45 years, the elimination of nuclear weapons seems like a distinct, if distant, possibility. Just as the longest journey begins with a single step, it is time for the nations of the world to begin this journey toward eliminating the nuclear threat for all time. And, as the nation which invented the nuclear weapon and as the only nation to have used it in war, the United States has the prime responsibility to lead the world forward, toward a world in which the mushroom cloud is only a nightmare of the past.

There are a number of unilateral steps that the United States could take to jump start the process.

  • The United States could remove the warheads from all missiles and bombers to be eliminated under the START II Treaty. This would not jeopardize U.S. security. It would still leave the United States with 3,500 strategic warheads deployed on ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers, all ready for war.
  • President Clinton could make U.S. command and control more transparent so as to improve confidence that the United States truly does not target Russia or any non-nuclear weapon state that is a signatory of the NPT Treaty.
  • Furthermore, the United States could bring home the more than 400 U.S. Air Force tactical bombs currently deployed in Europe and cancel the subcritical nuclear tests that the Department of Energy plans to conduct at the Nevada Test Site.

While unilateral actions can get the denuclearization process moving, multilateral efforts are required to make the process work. Some of those multilateral efforts include:

  • separating warheads from delivery systems;
  • placing those warheads and missiles into safe, internationally-monitored storage;
  • dismantling all tactical nuclear weapons;
  • eliminating the thousands of strategic warheads that the United States and Russia plan to maintain in storage indefinitely;
  • cutting further the deployed strategic arsenals of all five declared nuclear weapons states;
  • banning the production of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium for any purpose; and
  • enforcing strict controls on all fissile materials worldwide.

We must work together to create a world in which it is possible for all nations to agree not to develop, build, acquire, maintain, or use nuclear weapons. We will all be far safer in a world without nuclear weapons.

For more information on the elimination of nuclear weapons, please contact Andrew Koch at CDI

Original location: http://www.cdi.org/issues/armscontrol/palme.htm