Last updated on April 15th, 2017Unless you are a World War II history buff, you may have missed the fact that the island of Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands played an important role in ending the war. After the United States invaded the island in July 1944 and seized it from Japan in the Battle of Tinian, the military constructed one of the world’s largest airbases of World War II—four runways in North Field and two runways in West Field. Nearly taking up the island’s thirty-nine square miles, the runways were primarily built for the advanced propeller-driven heavy bomber B-29 Superfortress that supplanted the inferior B-17 Flying Fortress. Used toward the end of the war in the American firebombing campaign and nighttime incendiary bombing missions on Japanese cities and military installations, the B-29 gave the United States a decisive strategic advantage in defeating Japan: It could make a round trip flight from Tinian to Tokyo in approximately twelve hours. On one of its final flights, it would carry the Atomic bomb “Little Boy” and drop it over Hiroshima.
“Little Boy” was delivered to Tinian Island on July 26, 1945, on the cruiser Indianapolis (sunk four days later by the Japanese), and assembled and loaded onto a re-configured B-29—the Enola Gay, named after the mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. After Colonel Tibbets maneuvered the Enola Gay over a bomb-loading pit, he flew out of North Field at 2:45 a.m. local time on August 6, with his cargo and two crew attendants who would arm the bomb for its release. Flying nearly 1,600 miles to Hiroshima, the crew detonated the approximately 9,700-pound uranium bomb at 8:15 a.m. local time over Shima Surgical Clinic, known thereafter as ground zero. At an altitude approximating 1,900 feet (600 meters), the bomb produced an explosive force equal to between 13 to 18 tons of TNT. An estimated eighty staff and patients at Shima Surgical Clinic died immediately. They were among the many thousands who were going about their business on the streets of Hiroshima and were killed by the blast.
Estimates of the death rates and infrastructure damage from “Little Boy” vary, depending on the source of information. Some sources state that total vaporization from the blast extended to one-half mile in diameter, instantaneously killing 66,000 to 70,000 people out of a population of between 310,000 to 350,000. (Some put the figure as high as 90,000 dead on August 6.) Put another way, 30% of the population was killed by the blast; firestorms extended to three miles; and 69% of Hiroshima’s buildings were destroyed, causing injuries and deaths from collapsing structures and debris. Because the epicenter of the bomb was above the center of the city, a high percentage of doctors and nurses were killed or injured. A Department of Energy report noted that by the end of 1945 the death toll was probably over 100,00 people, and within five years the “total may have reached 200,000.” 4.7 square miles of the city were destroyed.
Vaporization, incineration, shadows burned onto walls, firestorms and strong winds, radiation sickness—these were the immediate effects of the explosion of the atomic bomb. Many would swiftly perish from severe burn trauma. Others would die within a week to ten days from symptoms doctors would soon recognize as “atomic disease” or “radiation sickness”: fever, nausea, diarrhea, spontaneous bleeding of the gums, and loss of hair. Some would live only to suffer from the long-term effects of radiation sickness—leukemia and other forms of cancer. In Zero: The Case for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, David Krieger quotes Miyoko Matsubara, a hibakusha, or survivor of the blast, who was thirteen years old when she saw “Little Boy” descend while she was “clearing debris with other students in her middle school class.” After the bomb exploded above the city, she fell to the ground unconscious. When she regained consciousness, she “…realized that my face, hands, and legs had been burned, and were swollen with the skin peeled off and hanging down in shreds. I was bleeding and some areas had turned yellow. Terror struck me, and I felt that I had to go home. And the next moment, I frantically started running away from the scene forgetting all about the heat and pain.” Three days later, the United States detonated “Fat Man”—a plutonium bomb—over Nagasaki.
No one born after 1945 can wish away Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although no nation since August 9, 1945, has used nuclear weapons either in a war or a conflict—not during the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War or Iraqi War—the threat is always present. During the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, for example, the United States and the U.S.S.R came within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear exchange, the closest any two nations had come during the Cold War. Fortunately, President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev pulled their countries away from the brink of a nuclear war. This is not to say that two future leaders could reach the same outcome, or that a regional conflict could not flare into a nuclear exchange, or that terrorists could not gain access to fissile material and explode a dirty bomb in New York City, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, Shanghai, or a city in the Middle East. With the first use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, clearly something different and more dangerous had entered the equation of warfare.
This is the message in The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban The Bomb by Philip Taubman: Something different and more dangerous had entered the equation of warfare. The Partnership is not a polemic. It does not espouse an ideology. It is, rather, a highly readable and important book composed by a levelheaded former New York Times reporter who has thought deeply about his subject. This is a good thing—Taubman’s equanimity. Otherwise, the subject matter—Hiroshima and Nagasaki; an estimated 65,000 to 70,000 global thermonuclear weapons at the peak of the Cold War in 1986; the doctrine of deterrence known as MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction); stolen and unaccounted fissile material—could give a potential reader reason not to engage. Fear and denial would be reason enough. In Taubman’s hands, however, this potential reader would learn that since Hiroshima, thousands of people and hundreds of world leaders have aspired to zero-nuclear weapons. Today, included in the mix, are Five Cold Warriors around which The Partnership pivots. It is an inspirational story for a generation that knows little about the history of atomic war, as well as for those who understand that terrorists pose a considerable danger to the safety and stability of a country’s nuclear arsenal. It is also an important story for those who are already working to change the trajectory of nuclear proliferation and decrease the chance of a regional nuclear war or a future nuclear holocaust.
The Cold Warriors are older statesmen who were deeply immersed “in building, managing, and wielding America’s nuclear arsenal during the Cold War,” but who, in the last six years, have coordinated a brilliant global campaign to move governments and citizens toward a world without nuclear weapons. Ranging in age from seventy-four to ninety-two and with decades of government service stretching from President Richard Nixon’s administration in the 1970s to President Bill Clinton’s administration in the 1990s, they published their breakout op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal on January 4, 2007, under the headline “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” Their message: The world can no longer sanction the existence of nuclear weapons. Fusing “the five men in common cause,” Taubman writes, “is their conviction that the world stands at a nuclear pivot point. If urgent steps are not taken to rein in nuclear weapons and prevent the spread of nuclear technologies and fissile materials, they believe, a catastrophic attack is virtually inevitable.” The men signed the WSJ op-ed: George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Sidney Drell, a behind-the-scenes partner in the campaign and the fifth Cold Warrior, played an important role in the discussions leading up to the publication of the op-ed.
The five men are not known to have been utopian thinkers during their government careers: George Shultz as secretary of state from 1982 to 1989; William Perry as secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997; Henry Kissinger as secretary of state from 1973 to 1977; and Sam Nunn as United States Senator from Georgia from 1972 to 1997. As a theoretical physicist and arms control expert, Drell was advisor and consultant to the government for four decades in both nuclear weapons policy and arms control. Each of the five men had been deeply involved in building and/or maintaining America’s offensive and defensive warfare capabilities, including nuclear weaponry. Drell helped to build “the next generation of spy satellites” and design intelligence-gathering systems. Perry and Nunn spearheaded the effort to build a “new generation of smart, nonnuclear weapons and intelligence systems,” including the F-117 stealth fighter jet, the B-2 stealth bomber (which can carry nuclear weapons), laser-guided bombs, and airborne radar systems. Perry guided the development of the Trident submarine, which carries thermonuclear warheads. All of them—Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, Nunn, and Drell—were connected with managing America’s nuclear arsenal and maintaining nuclear parity with the former Soviet Union at some point in their government careers. As public servants, their intention was to make America safe during the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union, but they also wanted to ensure that a nuclear weapon would not be used on their watch. Taubman quotes Perry’s reasoning: “‘My work has always been motivated by the fear—by the clear understanding of how dangerous nuclear weapons were. And the fear that they were going to be used, and also a clear understanding of how catastrophic the results would be if they were used. I don’t think people understand that, even today.’”
In the 2007 Wall Street Journal article, the Cold Warriors ask the question: “Will new nuclear nations and the world be as fortunate in the next 50 years as we were during the Cold War?” Citing the deterrence doctrine of mutual assured destruction as essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn warn that it is an obsolete historical artifact with no purpose in today’s global world. Consider the dangers, they write, of an alarming new round of nuclear weapons states, including North Korea (which has nuclear weapons) and Iran (which is trying to develop them), as well as the increasing danger of terrorists using nuclear weapons to wage war and thus creating new security challenges.
They recall both the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that binds nuclear weapons states to the goal of disarmament, and the Reykjavik summit in October 1986 when Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev “galvanized the hopes of people around the world” and almost agreed to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. The authors ask: “Can the promise of the NPT and the possibilities envisioned at Reykjavik be brought to fruition?” In the spirit of the NPT and Reykjavik, they identify the “urgent steps that would lay the groundwork for a world free of the nuclear threat” including: 1) increasing the warning time on deployed nuclear weapons; 2) substantially reducing the size of nuclear arsenals in nuclear weapons states; 3) eliminating forward-deployed short-range nuclear weapons; 4) ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); 5) ensuring the “security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-usable plutonium, and highly enriched uranium (HEU) everywhere in the world”; 6) controlling the uranium enrichment process and dealing with proliferation issues; 7) “halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally”; and 8) “redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.” Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, and Nunn end the article thus: The effort to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons “could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.”
This would become their mantra—bold vision, concrete actions—whenever and wherever they spoke about “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”: at lectures or conferences; in sessions with world leaders; with the president or legislators. In an ongoing and deepening partnership, they will publish four future Wall Street Journal op-ed pieces.
The response to the 2007 article was electric. After all, Taubman writes, “the message was unmistakable: four eminent Cold Warriors, setting aside ideological and political differences, favored a radical break with postwar defense strategy.” An AP story highlighted Kissinger’s role: “‘Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and three other prominent American security experts urged the United States on Thursday to lead in the creation of a ‘world without nuclear weapons.’” And it struck a nerve with the United States’ “national security fraternity.” Taubman writes: “It was one thing if Max Kampelman [an arms negotiator in the Reagan administration] favored the abolition of nuclear weapons, quite another if George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn endorsed the idea. This was the heart of the foreign policy establishment talking, two mainstream Republicans and two benchmark Democrats breaking with their clans to embrace a quixotic cause that had inspired plenty of soaring presidential rhetoric over the years but little serious consideration.” Within months, the authors had compiled a long list of statesmen and former Republican and Democratic government officials who supported the initiative, including a majority of former secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, and national security advisers. As 2007 rolled into 2008, the leading presidential contenders would also get involved. Shultz and the other Cold Warriors wanted to know where the candidates stood with respect to nuclear weapons, and they wanted endorsements for their initiative—the Nuclear Strategic Project (NSP)—from John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Globally, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” generated wide interest and serious attention. The authors received supportive letters, messages, and offers of participation, including from President Gorbachev who wrote, in an article in the Wall Street Journal at the end of January 2007, “As someone who signed the first treaties on real reductions in nuclear weapons, I feel it is my duty to support their call for urgent action.” Sonia Gandhi, head of India’s Congress Party, weighed in also on the hundredth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance movement. In doing so, she drew attention to the WSJ article itself, which had quoted her late husband Rajiv Gandhi’s appeal for nuclear disarmament at the UN General Assembly in 1988: “‘Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million: the end of life as we know it on our planet earth. We come to the United Nations to seek your support. We seek your support to put a stop to this madness.’” From around the world, national leaders expressed their support. Conferences were organized and articles were published exploring how to turn the bold vision into action.
The turnabout from Cold Warriors to Champions of “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” surprised many who had been working in the disarmament trenches. This was not a new vision. Even before “Little Boy” exploded over Hiroshima, the United Nations Charter, signed on June 26, 1945, in San Francisco, referred to disarmament in Articles 11 and 47. Throughout its sixty-eight years of existence, the United Nations has placed disarmament of weapons of mass destruction on its agenda, as a corollary to the principle in its preamble “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” On January 24, 1946, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first resolution to create the UN Atomic Energy Commission, one specific goal of which was to eliminate from national armaments “atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” Since 1959, when the General Assembly called for nations to make every effort to achieve general and complete disarmament (GCD), hundreds of resolutions have been adopted toward this end. In 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), highlighted in the Shultz-Kissinger-Perry-Nunn article, opened for signature and entered into force in 1970. As “a landmark international treaty … to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament,” the NPT “represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear weapons States.” In 1995, the NPT was extended indefinitely, proving its importance to holding signatories’ feet to the fire to move toward a world without nuclear weapons. In 1996, the International Court of Justice, the judicial body of the United Nations, unanimously advised: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” The NPT has been signed by 190 nations.
In the field of disarmament, the important actions taken by the United Nations cannot be overstated. In the hundreds of resolutions adopted, the message could not be clearer: Nuclear weapons states—get rid of your nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear weapons states—pledge never to acquire them. This is a difficult thing for the world to agree to when you consider that nine nations are nuclear weapons states, and of the nine three are non-signatories to the NPT, one will neither deny nor confirm possession, and one is trying very hard to become an NWS.
Perhaps the United States government was naïve to believe it could maintain a monopoly on nuclear weapons when the U.S. tested Trinity, its first plutonium bomb, on July 16, 1945. This belief turned out to be a fantasy, however. On August 29, 1949, the U.S.S.R. tested its nuclear bomb, an implosion-type nuclear device, and the nuclear arms race took off, as nations envied the power that came with possessing nuclear weapons. Since 1949, seven nations have been added to the nuclear roster: the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), China (1964), India (1974), Pakistan (1998), North Korea (2006), and Israel (possibly in 1979). Iran may be the newest nation to add to the roster—in the future. (The U.S., Russia [formerly the U.S.S.R.], the United Kingdom, France, and China are all signatories to the NPT. India and Pakistan are not. Korea withdrew in 2003. Israel will neither confirm nor deny.)
There have been instances, however, when some countries have chased the bomb but reasoned that nuclear weapons stood them in no good stead. Countries including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Libya, South Africa, and Ukraine have dismantled their nuclear weapons programs. Nuclear weapons programs in Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Sweden, and Taiwan are now defunct. Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was destroyed. In the southern hemisphere, Nuclear-Weapons Free Zones (NWFZ) extend from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. Under the auspices of the United Nations to further its goals toward non-proliferation and disarmament, the countries in these regions have ratified treaties confirming they are completely free of nuclear weapons. In the northern hemisphere, five former nations of the Soviet Union in Central Asia have declared themselves to be a NWFZ. It has been a long trek for the countries in Nuclear Weapons Free Zones. Latin America and the Caribbean began the process in 1967 and completed it in 2002. The countries in Africa and Central Asia became NWFZs just four years ago, in 2009.
It is true that global nuclear weapons stockpiles have been significantly reduced in the last twenty five-years, thanks to both international and bilateral arms reduction treaties and private and public sectors working valiantly toward reducing global stockpiles of nuclear weapons. You need only to take a look at the “Table of Global Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles, 1945-2002,” on the National Resources Defense Council website to see how far the world has come since 1986 when the total global nuclear weapons arsenal was an estimated 65,056 weapons. Today, total global nuclear weapons stockpiles are estimated to be around 17,300, with the United States and Russia sharing 90 to 95% of that total. Taking a closer look at the years between 1945 and 1966, however, you will see how dangerous the world had become because of resistance on the part of the United States and U.S.S.R. to reverse the growth of its nuclear weapons arsenals. In twenty-one years, the United States’ arsenal grew from six nuclear weapons in 1945 to a total estimate of 31,700 in 1966. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had one nuclear weapon in 1949 and by 1966 it possessed 7,089. Fast forward twenty years and the tables had turned. The Soviet Union had eclipsed the United States by almost double: 41,000 (rounded off) to 23,000 nuclear weapons in 1986. According to the NRDC, at 65,056 total global nuclear weapons, 1986 was a peak year, although some sources claim there was a total of 77,00 nuclear weapons in global arsenals in 1991.
The reduction in global nuclear weapons arsenals since 1986 is astonishing when you compare 2013 numbers to 1986. Today, the United States has around 7,700 total nuclear weapons and Russia around 8,500. Thanks to the New START Treaty signed on April 10, 2010, and entered into force on February 5, 2011, President Barack Obama and then President Dimitri Medvedev of Russia agreed to limit their governments’ nuclear weapons arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 800 deployed and non-deployed missile launchers by 2018. During the last two years, both countries have begun the necessary reductions.
But how do you get to zero nuclear weapons if the arsenals of both countries and those of other nuclear weapons states might add up to around 2,500 deployed weapons in 2018? This is too high a number for those who have committed their lives to disarmament. It is too many for the five Cold Warriors who have also dedicated themselves to eliminating nuclear weapons. Twenty-five hundred nuclear weapons are more than enough weapons to destroy life on the planet as we know it.
How did they get to this point—these men whose careers placed them at the center of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War and twenty-some years later in the middle of a campaign to free the world of nuclear weapons? As Taubman tells it, the story is one of crisscrossing paths, direct and indirect links, pairings between the men over the years as they “handed critical levers of American foreign and defense policy back and forth across administrations” to ensure “that its nuclear weapons were reliable and could be swiftly and accurately delivered to targets across the Soviet Union by missiles or bombers.” It is the story of men who have arrived at the last decades of their lives and want “to take a final run at tackling problems that had haunted them for years and eluded resolution while they were in power.” It is, simply, a story of five men who want to change the world.
It could be said that the summit meeting between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 12, 1986, started George Shultz on a journey toward envisioning a world free of nuclear weapons. Shultz was Reagan’s secretary of state during the massive military buildup during Reagan’s administration in competition with the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. The arms race went hand in hand with MAD, or “the nuclear balance of terror.” In other words, the United States maintained “a massive nuclear arsenal, ensuring it could retaliate against a Soviet attack with sufficient firepower to destroy the Soviet Union.” What Shultz did not know when he became secretary of state in 1982 was that “Reagan abhorred the idea of nuclear war, and came to office determined to replace the nuclear balance of terror with some saner strategy, up to and including the elimination of nuclear weapons. But he lacked a nuanced strategy to achieve that goal.” On the surface, a military buildup to terrorize another country in order to exact in exchange the elimination of nuclear weapons seems deeply incongruous, and perhaps it is. Nevertheless, when Gorbachev became president of the Soviet Union in 1985, Shultz encouraged Reagan to work with Gorbachev. According to Taubman, Shultz saw in Gorbachev a partner who could help Reagan achieve his dream of reducing “the threat of nuclear war and even to abolish nuclear weapons.” This insight—a “positive reading of Gorbachev”—Taubman claims, was, perhaps, Shultz’ “signal achievement of his long government career.”
Gorbachev also had his reasons to work with Reagan: Gorbachev wanted “to stabilize relations with Washington and to reposition Moscow as a force for peace and arms control.” Although some of his pronouncements were interpreted as propaganda, “he recognized that the political and economic costs of forcibly maintaining an empire in Eastern Europe were unsustainable.” Reagan and Gorbachev did not accomplish much when they met in Geneva in November of 1985, but Shultz saw a good chemistry between them, which would later advance their agenda in Reykjavik. Shultz also had a positive working relationship with Gorbachev’s foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnaze, another plus in arms control talks. This congenial relationship would bode well for the four men when they met again in October 1986.
The story of Reykjavik would be incomplete without mentioning the startling proposal Gorbachev made in January of 1986 “to go to zero nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by the year 2000.” It was a detailed proposal, something Reagan had not produced, even though he had also wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons. At the arms control talks months later in Geneva, Reagan’s administration offered a counterproposal “that called for an initial 50 percent reduction in strategic, or long-range, nuclear weapons and the eventual elimination of all ballistic missiles.” It also included a soft compromise on missile defense (Strategic Defense Initiative or SDI), but SDI was a deal breaker for the Soviet Union president. The Geneva talks did not progress, Gorbachev grew impatient, and he proposed meeting with Reagan in Reykjavik in September or October.
Taubman calls the Reykjavik meeting a “wild-card summit.” It had none of the formality of top-level summits: unconventional location, little to no script, few aides in the conference room, except for Shultz and Shevardnadze. Taubman writes: “Reagan and Gorbachev followed their core instincts rather than their briefing books. Reagan, the dreamer, wanted nothing more than to make deep cuts in nuclear weapons while protecting his cherished missile shield. Gorbachev, more the pragmatist, sought a landmark agreement to reduce nuclear weapons so he could concentrate on domestic political reforms, but he was unwilling to accept Reagan’s missile defense plan.” On October 11, 1986, each man put his proposal on the table: Gorbachev offered “a 50 percent cut in strategic, or long-range, weapons…” and eliminating “Soviet and American intermediate-range missiles in Europe.” He suggested that Reagan’s missile defense plan be limited to the laboratory, a big concession if Reagan agreed. His proposal was much closer to the American proposal, but Reagan wanted Gorbachev “to replace the ABM Treaty with a new agreement that would impose few constraints on the development of missile defenses.”
These first discussions between them, Taubman writes, “vaulted the meeting to an improbable plane where Soviet and American leaders were talking seriously about radical cuts in their nuclear arsenals.” Although they came close to agreeing on massive cuts—the death knell to MAD—they still could not agree on missile defense. Then it happened. Reagan said this to Gorbachev, as quoted by Taubman: “‘Let me ask this: Do we have in mind—and I think it would be very good—that by the end of the two five-year periods all nuclear explosive devices would be eliminated, including bombs, battlefield systems, cruise missiles, submarine weapons, intermediate-range systems and so on? It would be fine with me if we eliminated all nuclear weapons.’” Gorbachev answered: “‘We could say that, list all the weapons.’” Reagan proposed preparing a treaty that Gorbachev could sign when Gorbachev visited Washington in the future. Then, the clincher happened: Gorbachev wanted Reagan to agree to restrict missile defense to the laboratory. He would “‘be ready in two minutes to sign the appropriate formulation and adopt the document.’” Reagan would not budge. The meeting ended in an impasse. Reagan and Gorbachev apologized to each other: They could not pull off this once-in-a-lifetime agreement to abolish nuclear weapons. Taubman writes: “The only president to seriously embrace the goal during the Cold War was undone by his own quixotic quest to build a missile shield.” Ultimately, on December 8, 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to eliminate intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The Senate ratified it on May 27, 1988, and it came into force on June 1. Significantly, it was “the first Cold War agreement between the United States and Soviet Union that would eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.”
One of the definitions of “network” is “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.” There could be no better example of a “network” as the one the five Cold Warriors assembled throughout their twenty-five to thirty years of working together or of knowing about each other inside or outside Washington. It seems apparent that had it not been for their crisscrossing paths, the partnership may not have happened in the way that it did or may not have happened at all. Whether it was as a pairing between Drell and Perry, Drell and Kissinger, Drell and Nunn, Drell and Shultz—and the overlaps among them—their paths crossed in just the right ways to advance their ultimate goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
Drell had been a key player in the professional and social network the men had sustained throughout the years, and, as such, he played a central role in the dynamic partnership that would go public in 2007 in the WSJ op-ed. Drell had known Perry for years, as both of them had been involved in national security programs. He had known Kissinger since 1961. He knew Nunn, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, because he had appeared before the Committee on numerous occasions. He did not meet Shultz until 1989, when Shultz returned to California after his stint with the Reagan administration. The friendship with Shultz became central to their success as a partnership. They became friends and influenced each other’s thinking about nuclear weapons. For Shultz, nuclear weapons were not “a legitimate instrument of war.” For Drell, who had been an expert on nuclear technology during the Cold War, arms control had become a moral issue. Taubman quotes Drell: “‘It is my personal conviction,’” he said of his thinking then and now, “‘that the scientific community—not each individual but as a whole—bears a responsibility, a moral obligation, to project the implications of the technological changes initiated by our scientific progress, and to help citizens and their governments shape their practical applications in ways beneficial to all society. This responsibility is most cogently manifest in dealing with nuclear weapons, whose enormous destructive potential leaves so little margin for error.’” Both men began to see the similarities in their thinking. As a partnership among the five men began to coalesce, Shultz would play the “paterfamilias of the group,” the one who would hold things together. Drell was the technological expert and the one who knew everyone else.
After 9/11, those who had been deeply involved in developing and managing nuclear weapons saw an unwelcome likelihood that terrorists could access fissile material, build a bomb, load it onto a truck, and dump it in the center of Times Square. Whereas eliminating nuclear weapons had been a prominent idea in disarmament circles and among some arms control experts in Washington in the 1970s and 1980s, it received less attention in the 1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War. 9/11 changed the thinking on nuclear weapons. Disarmament memos, proposals, and conferences began to heat things up. None other than Max Kampelman, an aging, unsung arms control negotiator from 1985 to 1989 with the Reagan administration and a friend of Shultz, stepped in and jumpstarted the conversation to abolish nuclear weapons. Four years after 9/11, the five men and Kampelman would find themselves working together toward a common goal. Taubman quotes Nunn saying this to Kampelman in 2007: “‘You were the inspiration for the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn Op-Ed, and you should be very proud of the discussion you have stimulated.’” The networking had worked fabulously.
Kampelman was Reagan’s chief arms control negotiator and had worked with Shultz at the State Department. A contrarian with Washington insiders who were appalled at Reagan’s near-fatal agreement with Gorbachev to abolish nuclear weapons at Reykjavik, Kampelman was instead…thrilled. Defense planners and other power brokers could not conceive of a world without nuclear weapons: The weapons were the “ultimate guarantor” of the country’s security since Hiroshima. But you could not erase 9/11, and the only way to ensure that a nuclear 9/11 never happened was just to get rid of them. As Kampelman was devising his strategy to get disarmament on Washington’s agenda, the other members of the partnership “were independently growing more alarmed about nuclear threats” and formulating their own responses.
Had Taubman provided a social network diagram or a timeline to show how the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn-Drell partnership progressed or intersected with or diverged from Kampelman’s strategy, you could see how the intricate dance of competing personalities and egos adjusted to each other as they worked toward a common goal. Nevertheless, selecting the highlights in Taubman’s chronological narrative of the years between 2001 and 2007 yields a picture of brilliant men communicating, strategizing, organizing, and breaking through barriers of political and policy differences and old thinking.
Fast forward from 2001 to 2003. Nunn flew out to California to meet with Shultz and Perry at Shultz’ home in Stanford to go over some “recommendations for steps to reduce the risk of an accidental or unauthorized missile launch” that he and his Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) colleagues had prepared. (Nunn had started the non-profit organization with Ted Turner before 9/11.) Nunn also included this talking point: “‘Would also like to explore your willingness to become engaged in a broader discussion on further steps that can be taken to reduce the danger posed by our strategic force postures.’” Taubman considers this meeting to be the precipitating factor in the partnership: “Though Nunn, Shultz, and Perry didn’t realize it at the time, the discussion that evening was the start of a series of conversations that led to the 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed article.” Taubman quotes Nunn: “‘That’s where it started.’”
In 2004, Nunn asked Shultz, who had been an informal adviser to President Bush when he was first elected to office, to write a memo to the president listing the recommendations that Nunn and his colleagues at NTI had prepared, including taking nuclear weapons off high alert and “‘preventing terrorists from acquiring a nuclear weapon.’” The president did not respond. Toward the end of 2004, they tried again, this time through Condoleezza Rice. Again, they hit a dead end. Enter Max Kampelman, who “unexpectedly introduced the idea of abolishing nuclear weapons into NTI discussions.”
In 2005, Kampelman met Steve Andreasen, a consultant at NTI and “the top nuclear weapons and arms control aide in the Clinton White House.” Kampelman impressed upon Andreasen that the bold vision of no nuclear weapons was of utmost importance. Indeed, for him it was the only goal. Andreasen and Kampelman worked together on a “no-nuclear initiative” that outlined “a series of steps that would produce a phased drawdown of nuclear arsenals by the nuclear weapons states.” They were also talking with Drell. Nunn knew about their collaboration. In California, meanwhile, Drell and Shultz were brainstorming how they could rekindle the spirit of Reykjavik. In December 2005 they settled on “a conference in late 2006 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Reykjavik summit meeting and to consider how the spirit of the Reagan-Gorbachev talks might be rekindled and applied to current nuclear issues.” At the same time, Taubman recounts, Perry was also thinking that something bold had to be done; the steps that had been taken during the 1990s were not enough, given the dangers of the 21st century. He felt that “‘people are not enough concerned about the danger, and we were heading towards a much more dangerous situation. So I thought something dramatic, some dramatic change was needed to reverse that trend.’”
At the end of 2005, Taubman writes, “The core pieces were in place to generate a major new arms control initiative. Kampelman and Andreasen were developing the big idea—abolishing nuclear weapons. NTI and Nunn were coming to the realization that an audacious move was needed to advance their main goal: the threat reduction agenda. They also recognized that a cross-party alliance with Shultz might be very helpful. And in California, Shultz, Drell, and Perry were mulling over what could be done to reduce nuclear arsenals, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and stop terrorists from getting their hands on a nuclear warhead.”
In 2006, things came together gradually. Kampelman wanted Shultz to sign an op-ed calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons he had prepared for publication. In the end Shultz said no. Kampelman went ahead and published the article in the New York Times on April 24, 2006, under the title “Bombs Away.” Toward the end of the article, he compared the world that “is” to the world of “ought”: “An appreciation of the awesome power of the “ought” should lead our government to embrace the goal of eliminating all weapons of mass destruction.” It impressed and inspired Shultz, Taubman notes.
Shultz, Perry, Nunn, and Drell were still holding back on abolition. If they were to embrace Kampelman’s bold vision of “ought,” they wanted to see the concomitant practical steps. Andreasen came to the rescue and “prepared a memo exploring how a goal of zero nuclear weapons might be linked to more concrete steps to reduce nuclear threats.” Nunn and NTI were also beginning to realize that the bold vision needed the steps, and likewise, the steps needed the bold vision if anything were going to persuade the public, defense planners, members of Congress, and the president. They had to rethink their “vocabulary.”
On June 27, 2006, Nunn, Shultz, Perry, Drell, and other invited colleagues met at the Hoover Institution, the sponsor of the upcoming Reykjavik conference. As the discussion progressed, the participants came around to talking about a world free of nuclear weapons. At its conclusion, Shultz wrote both a summary of the discussion and a memo to President Bush. As Taubman observes: “Shultz, Perry, Nunn, and Drell no longer seemed fearful that the grand goal might distract attention from concrete steps. Indeed, they were coming around to the idea that the goal would attract support for the steps.” They weren’t ready to come out and say: Get rid of those weapons, as Kampelman had in his “Bombs Away” op-ed, but they had finally agreed on the steps and goal. Taubman quotes Nunn: “‘I would say that’s when we had an understanding that all three of us really were generally in the same frame of mind. We had a meeting of the minds. I would call it a merger of the vision and the steps.’” This was also the pivotal moment when Kissinger would be brought into the partnership. “The quartet of Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, and Nunn,” Taubman writes, “would give a bipartisan or nonpartisan sheen to the memo. Given the rock-solid defense credentials of the four men, anything they jointly favored would instantly command attention in Washington and abroad.” Shultz showed Kissinger the memo at a retreat a few days later. The response was positive. Kissinger knew all the players and had good relationships with them. He had known Drell the longest; he was close to Shultz; he had worked with Perry and Nunn. He would think about it. It was important.
On October 11, 2006, the Reykjavik Conference began at the Hoover Institution. Kampelman—one of the invited speakers—returned to the theme of “Bombs Away.” An aging, gaunt Kampelman spoke passionately: “‘What is needed today is a Reagan-esque initiative designed to enlarge the diplomatic canvas so that all nations can be convinced that the global elimination of nuclear weapons is in their national interest. The elimination of all nuclear arms is an ‘Ought’ that must be proclaimed and energetically pursued. It is time for us to get behind that essential ‘Ought’ and shape it into a realistic ‘Is.’” A few years later, Perry said he had re-evaluated his position after the Reykjavik conference: “‘All of my concerns had been brewing the few years before that. I could see the dangers evolving. I could see nobody doing anything about them. And I knew that something needed to be done. And as I sat through the Reykjavik conference, it became clear to me that this is the catalyst we need to move.’” Kampelman convinced Shultz and Perry to publicly endorse the idea of abolishing nuclear weapons. The “ought” had become an “is.”
Andreasen was assigned the task of writing a draft report on the Reykjavik conference. In it he married the vision and the steps—integrating Kampelman’s “expansive vision of a nuclear-free world” with Nunn’s practical steps of getting there, and thereby restoring “that elusive goal to a marquee role it had not enjoyed among veteran foreign policy experts since Reagan and Gorbachev discussed it at Reykjavik in 1986.” The audience for the paper seemed to be already-initiated policy makers, but Shultz had something else in mind: an op-ed piece in the WSJ. Shultz knew Perry was almost a sure signatory. He didn’t know if Nunn was. He hoped Kissinger would be, although he knew Kissinger was “nervous” about signing on to abolition. In the end, the four men would sign the op-ed, after lengthy discussions, proposed revisions, and Kissinger’s stylistic interventions. And Drell? Shultz encouraged him to sign it, but Drell thought his name would not add to the prominence of Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn. Given that he worked closely with Shultz to get the partnership off the ground and added a technological expertise matched only by Perry, he should have signed.
According to Nunn, Shultz was the visionary, the leader, and quarterback who brought the five men together into a working whole. He noted, “‘If there was ever a group project, that was really a group project…. George was the quarterback, clearly. There’s no question about it. Probably nobody else would have had the patience he did to do it. I give him immense credit.’” The authors did not expect the op-ed to have resonance beyond foreign policy circles. As Taubman states, “How wrong they were.”
It is interesting to note how deeply the Cold Warriors influenced the debate on nuclear weapons during the 2008 presidential race. Take, for example, an article in the December 2008 issue of Arms Control Today. In September 2008, the magazine had received Barack Obama’s Q&A responses on the issue of “key-weapons-related security issues” and how he would address them as president. Here is the first question he was asked to answer: “Dozens of senior U.S. statesmen, led by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), are urging the United States to lead the world toward nuclear disarmament through such steps as ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBC), rendering nuclear forces less ready to launch on short notice, and eliminating tactical nuclear weapons, including U.S. bombs stationed in Europe. Do you support the goal of nuclear disarmament, and what actions should be given priority to make progress toward that objective or to reduce global nuclear dangers?”
Five months earlier, Sam Nunn had endorsed Obama for the presidency, citing his judgment and vision to be the Commander-in-Chief. Obama, in turn, invited Nunn to serve on his National Security Foreign Policy team. Looking to Nunn as an expert on the issues of non-proliferation and terrorist threats to America’s national security, surely Obama grasped Nunn’s work in the previous twenty years: the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) law he wrote with Senator Richard Lugar in 1992 (CTR secured and destroyed the nuclear weapons in the former Soviet republics with American financial and technical assistant); the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit organization he co-founded with Ted Turner in 2001; and his collaboration over the years with Shultz, Drell, and Perry, leading up to the 2007 WSJ op-ed. Nunn’s endorsement of Obama served an essential purpose for the partnership: They needed the next president to implement their vision. Whether it was Obama, whom Nunn signed up with, or McCain, whom Shultz worked with, the Cold Warriors could say to either, “‘We can help you. Here are these papers on key subjects, which are a starting point. And here are these people, who know something about those subjects and they’re willing to come and work.”
The subject of nuclear weapons was not new to Barack Obama. When he was a senior at Columbia University in 1983, he wrote an article titled “Breaking the War Mentality” for Sundial, the campus magazine. The article was largely about two student activist groups on campus—Arms Race Alternatives and Students Against Militarism—but at the end of the article he wrote this: “… the old solutions of more weapons and again more weapons will no longer be accepted in a Europe that is already a powderkeg waiting to go off; and it is an invitation to work towards a peace that is genuine, lasting and non-nuclear.” Clearly, the twenty-one-year old Barack Obama had already been thinking of zero nuclear weapons.
As Taubman notes, “Obama was not a nuclear weapons novice when he opened his presidential campaign in 2007….” That year, he made several campaign appearances in which the abolition of nuclear weapons was an important part of his speeches. As he did so, he cited Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn as leading the way toward a world without nuclear weapons. On October 2, 2007, in Chicago, he would give a breakthrough speech on the subject. At DePaul University, Obama was forthright: “‘Here’s what I’ll say as president: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.’” Unilateral disarmament was not what he had in mind, as some disarmament groups had long advocated, but he was willing to spend political capital on implementing a strategy toward a non-nuclear world—a strategy that looked very much like the one the partnership had developed: committing the U.S. to abide by the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty; taking “ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert”; and reducing stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material. His campaign aides had notified the four partners in advance that he “would embrace their cause in the Chicago address.”
Leading up to the Democratic presidential election in 2008, Obama would continue to stress his commitment to working toward a non-nuclear world: in a speech at Purdue University in Indiana in July; in Berlin to an audience estimated at more than 200,000 people, also in July; and at the presidential debates with John McCain in September. In his first written response to the Arms Control Association Q&A (see above), he wrote, as quoted by Taubman: “‘As president,’ Obama said, ‘I will set a new direction in nuclear weapons policy and show the world that America believes in its existing commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work to ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons. I fully support reaffirming this goal, as called for by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn, as well as the specific steps they propose to move us in that direction.’”
It couldn’t get better for the four Cold Warriors and Drell. Clearly, Obama was in their camp. Furthermore, Obama’s endorsement of the partners’ vision was more than a talking point. Ben Rhodes, an aide at the time, said that Obama looked to them “‘as a source of both substantive input and inspiration….’” After all, the men had spent their adult lives in the service of their country, and they commanded years of knowledge and understanding of and insight into national security policy. Other disarmament groups had been advocating for a non-nuclear world long before the partners got involved, but the five men had two things going for them: They had the attention of the establishment and a road map for public consumption. In making “nuclear disarmament a signature initiative of his presidency,” Obama unequivocally agreed with them.
During his first term, three major events marked his commitment to eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons. On April 5,2009, in a speech to an audience of 20,000 in Hradčany Square, Prague, he said the United States not only had a moral commitment to rid the world of nuclear weapons but also a practical commitment to take the steps abolition would require: No less than the peace of the twenty-first century was at stake. In a passage illustrating Obama’s astute understanding of how nuclear weapons threatened that peace, he said: “Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered on a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point where the center cannot hold.”
On September 24, 2009, two months after his Prague speech, Obama gaveled an historic session of the United Nations Security Council on non-proliferation and disarmament to order. At this session, the United Nations unanimously approved a United States-draft resolution that, Obama said in his introductory remarks,,
“enshrines our shared commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. And it brings Security Council agreement on a broad framework for action to reduce nuclear dangers as we work toward that goal. It reflects the agenda I outlined in Prague, and builds on a consensus that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have the responsibility to move toward disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.” This was the first time a president of the United States had chaired a Security Council meeting.
Finally, when President Obama and former-President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START Treaty on April 8, 2010, in Prague, it was the first arms control agreement to take effect between the two powers since 1994. Entering into force on February 5, 2011, it replaced the 1991 START I Treaty and superseded the 2002 Treaty of Moscow (Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty or SORT). Although Obama and numerous supporters of the treaty had to twist arms in the Senate to get enough votes to ratify New START, its passage was a major foreign policy goal of his first term and an accomplishment that the Cold Warriors could also savor. One could say Obama had kept the headlights not only on the partnership’s vision but also on the vision of so many thousands of others who have worked in the field of disarmament since Hiroshima.
What does nuclear weapons disarmament look like today?
The partnership published their fourth op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on March 6, 2013: “Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Risks: The pace of nonproliferation work today doesn’t match the urgency of the threat.”
Compared to the 2007 op-ed, the tone here is more urgent and emphatic. The state of disarmament is not in good shape, according to Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, and Nunn (the order in which they signed the op-ed). “Nuclear dangers remain all too real,” the authors write, in spite of the considerable progress that has been made over the years in reducing nuclear stockpiles between the U.S. and Russia. Relations between the two nations are frayed; North Korea, Iran, and suicidal terrorist groups present numerous unpredictable risks; and “the large and growing number of nuclear adversaries” confronting “multiple perceived threats” increases the chance that nuclear weapons will be used. Inaction is not an option; thus, “creative approaches” are imperative. They write, “Near-term results would lay the foundation for transforming global security policies over the medium and long term.” The authors delineate four areas “requiring urgent consideration: securing nuclear materials to prevent catastrophic nuclear terrorism”; removing “all nuclear weapons from the prompt-launch status”; reducing “New START levels of warheads and launchers”; and launching a U.S. “verification initiative” that allows for “enhanced transparency.” The authors emphasize the need for greater transparency, as it sets “an important base line for all nations and can facilitate future verification of nuclear materials and weapons.” Surely, the authors had hoped for more progress in the five years since they published their first op-ed in 2007. The 2013 op-ed does not make for pleasant reading: The threat is too real and the risk too high. Both nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states need to entertain a new dialogue.
On June 19, 2013, three months after the partnership’s op-ed appeared in the WSJ, President Obama spoke at the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. There, he called for renewed negotiations with Russia to reduce both nations’ deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to a third below the 1,550 permitted in New START. This total would be around the number of nuclear weapons in global arsenals in 1954. He also called for reducing U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe; continuing to secure global nuclear materials; working with Congress to ratify the CTBT (an effort on hold since 1999 when the U.S. Senate refused its advice and consent); and negotiating a treaty “that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.” Interestingly, Obama repeated in this speech the essence of what he had written in the Sundial thirty years before: “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons.” In the Sundial he wrote: “…it is an invitation to work towards a peace that is genuine, lasting, and non-nuclear.”
After Obama’s Berlin speech, Sam Nunn reiterated his long-standing argument that a world free of nuclear weapons is the only option: “When a large and growing number of nuclear-armed adversaries confront multiple perceived threats, the risk that deterrence will fail and that nuclear weapons will be used increases dramatically…. It is also very difficult to reduce nuclear risks globally, and set an example encouraging nonproliferation, when Washington, Moscow and Europe are postured for mutually assured destruction on a planet-ending scale.”
Arms control might not be so easy now that Russia has granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the CIA and NSA computer specialist who leaked top-secret mass surveillance programs to The Guardian, and President Obama has canceled a summit meeting with President Putin in Moscow scheduled for September. Even if the summit were to take place, it is not clear Putin would change his objections to the American missile defense plans, or his mind about the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Gorbachev and Reagan signed in 1987 which Putin has called a mistake. It does not look any better in the United States Congress. Republicans are resisting further nuclear arms cuts and insisting the country’s weapons be upgraded and fully modernized. The partnership cannot be too happy with this turn of events.
Arms control advocates criticized Obama’s disarmament speech in Berlin as too modest to change the facts on the ground. They note that even if nuclear weapons were cut by a third, the United States would retain its nuclear triad of missiles, bombers, and submarines. One thousand nuclear weapons are still on high-trigger alert, more than enough weapons to destroy every major city on earth. The CTBT seems to be DOA, even more so now than in 2010 when it was defeated in the Senate. Will President Obama push for its ratification in his second term? The cost of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems in the U.S. arsenal is $31 billion a year. Going down to 1,000 would save $58 billion over the next decade. In addition to deployed weapons, the United States and Russia still maintain a combined arsenal of 11,000 nuclear weapons as backups. Reconstitution—maintaining “the ability to produce new weapons” in case “a rogue country goes nuclear at some point”—appeals to pragmatists like the Cold Warriors, but it is anathema to many disarmament advocates. The United States has so far refused to participate in the UN High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in September 2013, and the postponed conference on the Middle East NWFZ has not yet been convened, as it was agreed to at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.
The world needs a new dialogue to address the existential dilemma of nuclear weapons. As long as nuclear weapons exist, they pose a dire threat to both humankind and the earth. Since the United States bombed Hiroshima, presidents, scientists, educators, arms control advocates, physicians, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, and thousands of individuals in myriad countries have influenced the dialogue on disarmament. A Cold War mentality continues to be strong in some quarters, regional conflicts between nuclear weapons states constitute a major concern, and nuclear terrorism is a real threat. Surely, if there were an easy answer to getting to zero nuclear weapons, the world would have discovered and implemented it by now.
Still, Taubman’s story of five men who formed an alliance advocating a world without nuclear weapons is more than just a blip in the long journey toward global zero. Theirs is a life story, one of conversion and transformation, a journey from the technological world of “the hydrogen bomb, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the miniaturization of nuclear warheads…” to a world of zero nuclear weapons. As “champions of disarmament,” George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and Sidney Drell have looked long and hard at our present world of 17,000 nuclear warheads. This is not how they want to leave it for the children of today and the grandchildren of tomorrow.