INT: So do you think that during the course of the Cold War, any of the presidents would actually have authorized the use of nuclear weapons?
ST: No, I don't think they would have, even during the Cold War.
INT: Could you put that into a whole sentence for me, or put it into a sentence saying, "I don't think any of the presidents..."?
ST: I don't think any of our presidents, even during the Cold War, would ever have been the first to use a nuclear weapon. We had promised that to our European allies, and Charles de Gaulle stood right up and said he didn't think we would ever do it. Henry Kissinger, after he left office, stood up and said he didn't think we would ever do it. And I certainly hope we would never do it, and I hope the Europeans hope we wouldn't do it, because it would be suicidal for them. It was a misleading doctrine. We talked about a "nuclear umbrella" over Western Europe. By that, Europeans understood that if there was a war inside this umbrella, and it was going badly for Europe, the United States would launch nuclear weapons outside the umbrella to Moscow, and Moscow would respond to the United States, and Europe would be in reasonably good shape. We saw it quite differently: there was this umbrella; if there was a war in here, we were going to launch the nuclear weapons inside the umbrella, between Eastern and Western Europe, and that would be an utter catastrophe for an area as small as Europe. So neither one of us were being realistic.
INT: But although we would all hope that they wouldn't actually launch these weapons, and in fact you believe that the presidents wouldn't have done it, doesn't that make a sort of mockery of the whole Cold War, doesn't it turn it into a con, if you like?
ST: Well, one has to recognize that part of the inanity of the doctrines of nuclear weapons during the Cold War is that it's a game of bluff, and one can often say that the fact that we had pledged to use nuclear weapons in defense of Western Europe, frightened the Soviets from starting a conventional war with Western Europe. It may well have been a useful bluff. Today, it's a risk that we don't need to take; we don't need to bluff by maintaining this doctrine that we would go first. And there are severe disadvantages in maintaining all of these doctrines of the Cold War that we are still clinging to: like, we have to be equal to Russia; like, we might go first, or that we might be vulnerable if the other side went first. One of those major problems is that it inhibits our dispensing with the terribly dangerous legacy of the Cold War in the nuclear field: the fact that in 1997 there are some 37,000 nuclear warheads somewhere out there in the world, largely between Russia and the United States, and those in themselves pose a danger to all mankind, because there may be accidents, there may be miscalculations, there may be all kinds of reasons. Some of those start going off, and that would be a catastrophe in itself. Beyond that, there is the problem of the proliferation of these weapons to the Iraqis and the Iranians and the North Koreans. Now what is the problem we're having today with stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, for instance to Iraq? We have United Nations sanctions on Iraq, but there's a great controversy whether we should enforce those as rigorously as the United Nations is trying to do. France, Russia, China, are all anxious to lift those sanctions, because they want to do business with Iraq. We want them to put that commercial opportunity aside, in favor of suppressing Iraq's capability to build weapons of mass destruction. As long as the United States and Russia maintain immense arsenals, we are in a weakened position to persuade the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese and others from selling things to Iraq, Iran, others, that might help them become nuclear powers. I believe it's imperative for the United States and Russia today to reduce our nuclear arsenals rapidly. Now we do this through an arms control process that is very, very slow: we negotiate treaties on a bilateral basis, and then we have to have those treaties verified by our parliaments, and then we have to go out and physically cut up the weapons, destroy them, and that all takes a great deal of time. We've made a lot of progress: we have come down from 70,000-some nuclear warheads in the world to 37,000, but we can't sleep any more easily on 37,000 than we could on 70,000, so in the absolute it's no progress at all; in the relative, it is progress. We've got to move that absolute much more rapidly than we're doing, and we can't do it through this.. negotiated arms control process. It is slowing down: we and the Russians agreed in September to postpone by five years the completion date for the current treaty. And, you know, that treaty, if it's ever executed, will only take the world down to 22,000 nuclear warheads or something like that. I mean, it's.. again progressive in the relative, but not meaningfully in the absolute.
INT: START II sets out that each side, each superpower should have about 3,5000 warheads each, but the Pentagon decided, back in a review in 1994, that what America needed was 10,000 warheads still. Why did they decide that they needed quite so many?
(Wait for airplane to pass. A bit of chat.)
INT: So, START II set out that what we needed was each superpower to have 3,500 warheads, but in fact the Pentagon review in '94 said that what America should have is 10,000 warheads. So is America still anticipating or still prepared to go to war?
ST: We have to be very cautious about what we read in the media, because they are not very discerning in this area. Yes, we have a treaty called START II, which says that each side will have between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads. Well, you have to read the fine print. Those are strategic warheads - that's intercontinental - and they are warheads that are actually mated to a weapon. We are allowed, under the treaty, to have back-up warheads that are not mated to weapons, and so the United States is planning to keep 3,500 on weapons, 3,500 as back-up in case any of those break down or deteriorate. On top of that, what are called tactical nuclear warheads - shorter-range and smaller-size weapons - are not covered by the treaty at all, and the United States is planning to maintain another 3,000 of those. These are numbers that are perfectly open; the American Government is forthright in saying that we are really going to have 10,000 nuclear warheads under this START II treaty. Well, that's just so beyond what we could possibly need; and again I would like to suggest that unless we get our numbers down, we are not credible in telling the rest of the world we're going to keep 10,000 nuclear warheads, we're going to keep a doctrine that we'll use them first if it's in our interests to do so, and despite the importance that we have hereby placed on nuclear weapons in the arsenal of the most powerful military power on earth, all of you out there - Iraq, Iran, North Korea - you're not entitled to have one or two or ten, because they're not of importance to you, they're only of importance to us, and that is so inconsistent that our position is weak in discouraging other nations, like Russia, China, Germany, France, from selling components to these people that could help them develop weapons of mass destruction.
INT: OK. Are the warheads - when they're decommissioned, are they dismantled as well?
ST: Yes, over time you take the warheads apart and remove the fissionable material, plutonium or uranium, and have to store it separately, and we don't have a real good system for what we do with it in the long run. But you first take the warhead off the missile, and then you cut up the missile, and then you disassemble the warhead into various component parts. Now we must find a way to accelerate the process of reducing these weapons, and I suggest a program that I call "Strategic Escrow". In this, the United States takes the initiative and it removes perhaps 1,000 warheads from our weapons, and puts them in storage a couple of hundred miles away, with Russian observers there to count what goes in, or if anything comes out. We then hope the Russians will follow that lead, take 1,000 of theirs and put them in storage, with American observers, so we know that 2,000 warheads here still exist. Neither one of us has fewer weapons than we had yesterday, but we have 1,000 less chances of accidents and such forth. But most importantly, if you've got this process going of putting weapons in escrow, we would do another couple of thousand and they would do a couple of thousand. In a very few years, you could have the American and Russian arsenals down to, say, 1,000 warheads that were still sitting here on weapons ready to shoot. That would be a tremendous improvement for the world; it would demonstrate a real intent on the part of these major nuclear powers to devalue these weapons. At about 1,000, you would have to bring in China, France and Britain, because they have hundreds of warheads in their arsenals. I think that would not be all that difficult to get them also to put their warheads in escrow. We're not asking them to divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals, we're only saying, "Do what we're doing: put them under observation, separated from their launch vehicles." Then we have a world of zero nuclear weapons ready to fire, we have a world of observation, so that if anybody starts to reassemble weapons, you know about it, you get the mechanisms of diplomacy into action. But most importantly, you want that positive capability to reassemble, because if somebody cheats, you think somebody's cheating, or Saddam Hussein goes out and gets ten weapons somehow, you just reassemble enough to say, "Mr. Hussein, you don't have any advantage over us. In fact, you use those ten weapons and you're in real serious trouble, because we've just put 100 back together again." This could be a long-term stable position for the world, and while you're sitting with all these weapons in escrow, the START process continues, and through it you keep cutting up the delivery vehicles, until you come to some number that you all agree upon - maybe 200, 500; the number is not terribly important - and you end up with five nuclear powers, each with 200, let's say, warheads sitting over here in escrow, and 200 delivery vehicles sitting over here being maintained and ready to go: a much more stable situation.
INT: It sounds like an eminently sensible idea.
(A bit of discussion re: questions to follow. Change tape.)
INT: We touched on the subject of proliferation. Can you tell us what security issues, if you like, the world faced with the break-up of the Soviet Union?
ST: Well, the Soviet Union, when it broke up, was in a bad financial, economic state; it's gotten worse since then, and that means the Russians have not been able to maintain their nuclear establishment the way they should. We worry that that lack of maintenance could lead to accidents, could lead to mistakes, like the command and control system giving them a false indication that an attack is coming; and it could lead to the theft or the sale of nuclear weapons themselves or complements, like fissionable material, because they're broke and not paying the guards adequately, and such forth, they're not maintaining the security perimeters around some of their nuclear installations. It's a serious situation today that we need to correct.
INT: And there are reports of weapons going missing as well.
ST: There's a report from a Russian general named Lebed that there are some small, what he calls "suitcase-sized" nuclear bombs unaccounted for. Most people think that's probably an exaggeration, but it does remind us that the overall security of nuclear facilities and complements and weapons in Russia today leaves a lot to be desired.