Ban Nuclear Weapons- a conversation with Joseph P. Cirincione, Tom Collina, and William Perry.
I’d like to welcome all of you students
who took this course– this was the last and final week
of the course.
I thank you for taking the course.
I thank you for sticking through it,
gaining the knowledge you’ve gained.
Today, I’m joining Joe Cirincione and Tom Collina,
and we’re going to try to answer the questions– address
the questions– which you ask about this 10th week.
It not only has to do with the issues that come up
in the 10th week, we’re looking back to the whole issues
involved in the course itself– why we set up this course,
why you took the course, and what
you might be able to do having taken
this course with the knowledge that you’ve gained.
Aren’t nuclear issues too complicated
and technical for average citizens to have
any meaningful impact?
I think nuclear policy can be intimidating,
and nuclear weapons are complicated technical machines.
But the core issues are pretty simple– war and peace.
Are you willing to risk the destruction
of the planet for your national security or foreign policy
And repeatedly in American history,
we’ve seen people engage on a mass level like this,
particularly in the 1980s, when we
saw large-scale demonstrations around the world
about nuclear policy.
And even now, today, you see hundreds, thousands
of people writing their representatives,
involved in rallies, involved in meetings,
involved in movements for new diplomatic instruments.
So they’re intimidating, yes.
But at the core, this is a pretty simple issue
to get involved with.
And I would just add, I think for the American people
to decide how do they want to spend their resources,
or is nuclear weapons what they want
to spend their money on– say, a trillion dollars
over the next few decades– or are there other things
they want to spend their money on– for example, students
and student loan debt.
Is that where this money should go?
So ultimately, these issues are very simple bread and butter
issues of what are our priorities as a nation.
This is why the nuclear danger is
called an existential threat.
The word “existential” is sometimes used loosely,
but in this case, it is precise.
Our very existence hinges on our ability to come to grips
and deal with this problem effectively.
What do you think about the October 2016 UN resolution
to begin negotiations on a treaty that
would outlaw nuclear weapons?
How likely is it to pass, and what sort of impact
could it have?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve gone through an evolution
on this ban treaty idea.
When I first heard it, I was against it.
I thought it was a threat to the existing
non-proliferation treaty regime.
I thought it was a long shot.
But as I saw the enthusiasm of the supporters of this
and as I saw country after country come in and supported
this– what did they get, 123 countries of the United Nations
supporting it– I began to be neutral on the issue.
And now I’m decidedly in favor of it.
I think it’s a good thing that 100, 150 countries
can come together and negotiate a treaty
to ban nuclear weapons.
The fact that the nuclear weapons states are not
part of it is a problem, but this
can be a very effective pressure point on those nuclear weapon
states to take steps that they’ve been reluctant to take
over the years.
It’s also a great way to involve other nations in the effort
to reduce and ultimately eliminate
nuclear weapons because other nations tend to think, well,
it’s only the nuclear powers that
can do anything about this.
But in fact, nations that don’t have
nuclear weapons and the people, the citizens of those nations,
can get involved in promoting a global ban on nuclear weapons
through the UN.
So as Joe said, it’s a great way to organize internationally
and bring more pressure upon the states that
have nuclear weapons.
And if there’s a nuclear war, it’s
going to affect every country on Earth.
And a lot of these countries are saying,
“We want a vote in this.
It’s not just up to you who have the weapons.”
I think that’s the main point, in my mind.
My reaction initially was pretty much the same as yours.
I thought, what’s the big deal about it?
It’s just words.
But the words are other countries saying,
“We are affected by this, too.”
If there’s a nuclear war between the United States and Russia,
it affects not just the United States and Russia.
It affects the whole world.
The whole existence of the planet
really is at stake in this.
So other countries have a stake in it.
They ought to have a say in it, and this is their opportunity
to make that statement.
And I would just add one criticism of the global ban
is that it by itself won’t result
in the elimination of nuclear weapons.
And that may be true, but that doesn’t
mean that the process of building support
for the global ban doesn’t bring more pressure on the weapon
states, and therefore have a valuable role to play.
I agree we should reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons,
but it seems like we need to keep some for deterrence.
How many should we keep?
What kinds should we keep?
One of the key questions is how many do you need.
So the US has about 5,000 in its active stockpile now.
Russia has about the same.
That’s widely considered overkill.
You don’t need thousands of nuclear weapons.
There have been studies over the years,
and one done by the Global Zero Commission
a few years ago ended up with the number 450.
They thought you could reduce down
to about 450 total weapons of all kinds,
and still have plenty for deterrence.
Anybody would be foolish to attack us if we had the ability
to respond with 400 weapons.
In fact, China, as the largest country in the world,
has come to the conclusion that 200 is fine for them–
that that’s a minimum deterrence that works, and they’re right.
We are not going to attack China even
though we have 10, 20 times the number of nuclear weapons they
It turns out 200 is plenty to deter even a great power.
And in terms of what kinds of weapons do we need,
I think it’s clear that we don’t need
land-based ballistic missiles anymore.
In fact, we’re less safe with land-based ballistic missiles
because they’re on high alert, they’re
vulnerable to mistaken launch, accidental launch,
particularly with a president who
we don’t trust the temperament of that president to deal
with these weapons in a crisis.
So it’s not just the numbers of weapons,
it’s the kinds of weapons, how they’re configured.
Some are more dangerous than others.
And we’re fortunate that the nominee for Secretary
of Defense, General Mattis, or soon to be nominee,
favors or has questioned the role of ICBMs.
So this is a potential opening for a nuclear policy
change– a new Republican administration
coming in, possibly with a Secretary of Defense who’s
willing, at least, to question the triad.
The triad is not the holy trinity.
It isn’t necessary that we keep the structure as we enter
deeper into the 21st century.
And we have a former Secretary of Defense
who feels the same way about ICBMs.
So I don’t know if you and General Mattis
are thinking about having some discussions about this.
We have been in the same conferences
where we discussed this question.
So we have had a chance to talk back and forth about it.
I don’t know the extent to which he influenced
me or I’ve influenced him.
In any event, we reached more or less
the same view on this issue.
I would just add one point to the very good points
that the two of you made, and that
is when we talk about numbers of weapons,
we’re usually talking about the numbers
of weapons covered by treaties.
Beyond that, we have other thousands
of weapons that are in the stockpile,
but not counted there and reserved.
And beyond that, we have tactical nuclear weapons which
are not covered by the treaty.
And while we know how many so-called tactical nuclear
weapons we have– we call them regional theater
nuclear weapons– the Russians have many more.
We don’t know how many they have–
probably in the thousands.
And they have– not only have them,
but they have stated an intention to use them
under certain conditions.
What’s called a tactical nuclear weapons
is sometimes a weapon with a yield of the Hiroshima bomb.
There’s not much of a difference between the yield
of a strategic weapon or a tactical weapon.
It’s just the range of the delivery vehicle.
Does it span the oceans, or does it just
span the next-door mountain range?
And we should note that our tactical weapons are now
in Europe, where many people, including President-elect
Trump, have questioned whether we’re spending too much money.
I would call those, really, regional nuclear weapons.
Some people call them tactical.
But beyond those regional nuclear weapons,
the Russians have what I would really
call tactical nuclear weapons– weapons that
are designed to be used on the battlefield
to fight a nuclear war.
And the key issue that that tends to evade was summed up
best, I think, by President Reagan and President Gorbachev
when they said a nuclear war cannot be won and should never
And the people who are promoting tactical weapons
are simply setting that aside and say, these don’t count.
Well, they do count.
They do count.
We might be able to do something about nuclear weapons
in our own country, as in the United States,
but what about other countries?
How can we have any effect on countries like North Korea?
Lots of times, I get questions about the countries
that we face, like Pakistan has about 100 weapons,
or North Korea maybe enough to build 10 weapons.
And the question is, how do you get them to disarm?
And it really starts with the countries that
have the masses of weapons.
As long as big powers are clinging to these weapons,
either for perceived security needs or prestige,
then other countries are going to cling to theirs.
So it’s only when you’re in a situation,
I think, when everybody is moving down
to reduce nuclear weapons and ultimately
on a path of disarmament, that you
can get the kind of cooperation from the smaller nations
to freeze their arsenals.
We’d like North Korea, India, Pakistan
to freeze their arsenals, and eventually to roll them back.
It’s very hard to make the point to another nation
that you do not need nuclear weapons for your security,
when we not only by our statements, but by our actions,
indicate that we do need them for our security.
So all nations have to come to some sort of understanding
that nuclear weapons are a threat to everybody,
and we have to find a way together to bring them down.
It’s like trying to convince somebody not to smoke when you
have a two-pack-a-day habit.
It’s not going to work.
Not only are we saying that we need them for our security,
but we’re investing a trillion dollars in nuclear weapons
over the next few decades.
We’re telling people they’re valuable.
If countries aren’t seeing that as a sign
that we think these are really valuable,
I don’t know what would.
Putin has been making threatening statements
about nuclear weapons.
Do we have any chance of working out future nuclear agreements
Ironically, the election of a Republican as President
of the United States increases the likelihood
that we’re going to get a nuclear arms deal.
Donald Trump has been inconsistent
on a number of issues, but one that he’s
been absolutely firm on is his desire to improve relations
He says it over and over again.
I think this is one of his core principles.
Any improved relations with Russia are almost by necessity
going to have a nuclear component there.
So you may see a situation under Donald Trump that
proved impossible for President Obama– that
is, a new relationship with Russia, an agreed reduction
in nuclear weapons.
In fact, it’s only been Republican presidents
that have gotten deep cuts in nuclear weapons,
despite some of your best efforts.
It was Ronald Reagan.
It was HW Bush.
It was W. Bush who made the biggest reductions
in nuclear weapons, whereas Clinton and Obama sort
of trimmed the force.
Having said that, while I certainly
agree that we need to try to get an agreement with Russia,
if President-elect Trump were to try and fail,
I think the United States should go its own way
and independently reduce US forces, even
if Russia does not, because the United States can defend
its security with much fewer nuclear weapons
than we have today.
The military has said as much.
About one third reduction would still secure US security.
We would try to get the reduction.
Try to get the reductions.
But if Russia isn’t willing to go along,
we should be willing to go independently.
Don’t let Russia veto our nuclear policy.
And then this is the kind of approach
that President Bush– both President Bushes before–
took to good effect.
We have issues– I have issues– with many of the actions
that Russia has taken in the last decade,
as well they have issues with actions that we have taken.
But one thing I have no problem at all about
is understanding that what they do with nuclear weapons–
their policies, their weapons they build,
the way they threaten to use them
and say, well, all of those intimately affect
our security in a way– this can be considered independently
of those other issues.
We need to find a way of being able to deal with Russia
on nuclear weapons seriously and significantly to reduce
that threat to all of us.
Whatever we think about what else
they’re doing in the world, somehow we
have to be able to find a way to what mathematicians
call separate the variables.
The variable of how they’re behaving in Ukraine
is an important issue which we have to deal with,
and we have different views on that,
and we’re going to continue to have different views on that.
But we have to have the same view on the threat
that nuclear weapons pose to all of us.
And all during the Cold War, when
we had sharp, sharp differences with the Soviet Union,
we still talked to them about the nuclear issues.
Even when they were aiding the North Vietnamese that
were killing American soldiers every week,
we still talked to the Russians, the Soviets,
about nuclear issues.
It’s the issue of nuclear proliferation.
The issue of nuclear terrorism is an issue with the United
States and Russia– have common views,
and therefore we ought to be able to find
a way of discussing that with them
and finding ways of acting in our mutual interest
in those fields.
But at the same time, the myth persists
that the United States and Russia
must have equivalent amounts of nuclear weapons.
We’ve sort of maintained this parity
with Russia which requires the United
States to keep– frankly, keep more weapons than we want
And it’s time to question that need of parity
and say, “Do we really need to have the same amounts?”
Right– the fallacy of parity.
Donald Trump says he wants to get rid
of the Iran nuclear deal.
Can he do that, and what would happen if he succeeded?
So Tom and I work with the Ploughshares Fund.
We’re a foundation that raises money from the generous people
and gives it to the best people in the field working on issues.
The key issue that I’m working on right now with Tom
is preventing Donald Trump from dismantling the Iran deal.
Now, the president can do that.
He could go in, and with the stroke of a pen,
he could overturn a decision that President Obama has made.
Now, that would have traumatic repercussions
for the ability of a president to negotiate any new deal,
but he still might do it, or he might
let the deal die by neglect.
The president has to take actually offensive action.
He has to waive US sanctions in order
to stay in compliance with the deal,
or he may have people in his administration
who are going to provoke Iran– are going to try and push
Iran in the region with the hopes of triggering
some violation on their part that would lead
to the collapse of the deal.
I think most national security experts
think this would be a complete disaster.
In fact, what you’ve seen in the last few weeks
is even people who oppose the deal, like Senator Bob Corker,
like Senator Cardin, like Senator Schumer who
oppose the deal, are now coming out saying,
“We got to keep the deal.”
We have differences with Iran, but this rolls back and caps
their nuclear program.
It’s a vital component of US national security.
And I think one of the reasons why
people who opposed the deal are now supporting keeping the deal
is that they see that the consequences of trashing
the deal will be awful.
Of course, Iran could resume its nuclear program,
but the United States would not be
able to build the international coalition of sanctions
that was so effective before.
So we’d have Iran resuming its program.
We’d have no effective sanctions regime.
So the main option would be war.
And here we see a real possibility
in this scenario of US-initiated war in the Middle East of just
So this is one of the things about the Trump administration.
You really don’t know what they’re going to do.
The degree of uncertainty, of unpredictability,
is at an all-time high.
So even what the candidate said on the campaign
trail might not be what he does.
So even while we’re getting people
like the director of the CIA saying
to the incoming president, “Keep the deal,”
this is a President-elect who’s not taking his intelligence
So does he care what leading national security experts say?
It’s an unknown.
This is the role of civil society.
This is where people who are listening to your course
can play a role, weighing in on this, telling
their representatives in elected office
that they want to keep the Iran deal– do everything we can
so that President Trump does not dismantle this.
The people with whom I’ve discussed this issue who
are opposed to the deal– I asked them,
“What do you support?”
And they support, they say, a renegotiation of the deal.
I’d just like to make it as clear as I possibly can
that renegotiating the deal is a complete fantasy.
It will not happen.
It cannot happen.
The reason we got the deal in the first place is we
got the support of nearly all the
leading nations of the world.
The European nations, China, Russia
all supported the sanctions which we put on which
made the deal possible.
If we now unilaterally pull out of the deal,
the support for those sanctions is going to evaporate.
Without the sanctions, Iran has no real reason
to want to negotiate– no motivation
to negotiate– a new deal.
And therefore, the alternative to the deal–
the consequence of dropping the deal– the alternative
One of them is to simply accept Iran getting nuclear weapon,
and the other is a military action– a war with Iran.
Both of those alternatives are so
bad that we must understand that the deal we have
is the only deal we’re going to get,
and we ought to move forward with it.
In fact, one of the turning points in the Senate debate
in the summer of 2015 when they were debating
this was when the– our closest allies
came down and talked to the senators.
The ambassadors from the United Kingdom,
from France, from Germany came and told the senators,
“If you walk away from this deal, you walk away alone.
This is a multilateral agreement.
It’s not up to you whether it stays or gets
enforced or is renegotiated.”
That had a profound effect on the senators.
I hope that kind of sentiment prevails again.
The United States has a powerful influence,
and should have a powerful influence,
on what happens in the world.
But we are not unilateral, and these actions
do involve support of other nations.
Walking away from this deal also walks away from that support.
I think the real danger with President Trump, if he’s smart,
is that he won’t rip up the deal because he won’t want the blame
for the deal to fall apart.
But at the same time, the administration
can do things under the radar that
start to mess with the deal that start
to make it seem as if Iran is not meeting
its requirements that erodes support for the deal,
and that could be just as damaging, ultimately.
And there were hardliners in Iran
that want to kill the deal.
So you may see this intentional or unintentional collusion
between the hardliners in the US and hardliners in Iran
to kill the deal.
So the deal is in a very, very fragile state right now.
So even if the president supports the deal
theoretically, if the CIA director doesn’t
support the deal–
Which he does not.
–which he does not.
The nominee for the CIA director is against the deal.
–and starts putting out intelligence assessments
saying that Iran is not abiding by the deal, that
could be real trouble.
Donald Trump has said he would be OK with countries
like Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia
getting nuclear weapons so we won’t
have to be responsible for a nuclear umbrella
to protect them.
Why not try this?
Well, I think the idea of letting
other countries, additional countries,
get nuclear weapons is just a terrible idea that’s
almost not worth discussing.
But because President-elect Trump has raised it,
we have to discuss it.
If additional countries get nuclear weapons,
it raises all the prospects of their neighbors wanting
nuclear weapons and proliferation cascades,
as we talked about.
So if South Korea gets nuclear weapons,
does Japan want nuclear weapons?
What does that do to security in the region?
If Iran gets nuclear weapons, does Saudi Arabia
want nuclear weapons?
What does that do to security in that region?
Plus the fact that you get the possibility of those countries
losing control of their nuclear weapons–
launching them by mistake or the materials
in those countries getting out to terrorist groups–
any number of reasons.
Additional nuclear nations is a bad idea.
And of course, traditionally, bipartisan support
of administrations over time has been
to go the opposite way– to reduce
the number of nuclear weapons in the world towards reducing
nuclear weapons, period.
Well, to be fair to President Trump,
this is a minority view in the expert community.
There have always been some experts
who have said proliferation is a good thing.
Nuclear weapons are stabilizing.
They prevent war.
So any student has taught this– Ken
Waltz is the famous proponent of this theory.
But it’s never been US national security policy.
In the 71 years of the nuclear age,
no president has ever encouraged another country
to get a nuclear weapon, even our allies.
We didn’t want the United Kingdom
to get a nuclear weapon, or France or Israel.
We opposed those programs, and that’s
been the consistent policy.
Donald Trump would overturn 71 years
of American– of bipartisan American security policy
if he actually encouraged a country to get a bomb.
Those who argue what can be wrong with South Korea getting
nuclear weapons to defend themself fall victim to what
I would call– chess people call–
the fallacy of the last move.
If South Korea gets nuclear weapons,
that is not the last move.
That’s the stimulus for Japan to get nuclear weapons, for Taiwan
to get nuclear weapons.
And by the way, what is China doing
while South Korea and Japan are getting nuclear weapons?
They are, of course, increasing their nuclear arsenal.
What it leads to, effectively, is a nuclear arms race
in the Far East.
And what are other nations– for example, the Middle
East– doing when that happens?
So it is the fallacy of the last move to just look at one nation
and say, what problems are going to be for doing this?
The problem’s going to be it’s going to stimulate
a whole set of other actions.
And it’s based on the fallacy that nuclear weapon
spread is inevitable.
That’s what Trump said, or that it’s increasing.
No, it’s exactly the opposite.
More countries over the last 30 years
have given up weapons and weapons programs
than have tried to get them.
In fact, we’re down to the last hard case.
The Iran deal rolled back Iran’s program,
put it in an iron box for at least 15 years.
We’re down to North Korea.
If we can cap North Korea’s program, maybe even
start contemplating some rollback,
you’ve basically solved the proliferation problem.
I write in my book, Nuclear Nightmares,
that this could be the end of proliferation.
There aren’t any other countries champing at the nuclear bit.
There aren’t any other countries with big nuclear programs.
We can actually solve this problem.
We’re very close to doing so.
Which makes it all the more ironic
that President Trump would talk about trashing the Iran
deal when we’ve essentially solved this one.
He could spend his time focusing on North Korea
instead of recreating problems that have already been solved.
Well, this might be another breakthrough.
This might be where Donald Trump can do something that President
President Obama, in my opinion, mistakenly
chose not to negotiate with North Korea.
It wanted to set preconditions before the negotiations could
Donald Trump has said he wants to talk to Kim Jong-un.
It could be a disaster.
It could be a breakthrough.
It could give Kim Jong-un– and you
know about this more than other– sort of the prestige
that he wants in exchange for satisfying our security
concerns, capping the program, no new weapons, no better
weapons, no export of weapons technology.
I think we probably lost our opportunity 15,
20 years ago to cause North Korea to abandon nuclear weapon
But we still have the opportunity
to take great and important measures
to reduce the danger of the arsenal they already have.
And I think the ability to negotiate now
should revolve around what Dr. Sig Hecker has referred
to as the “three nos”– the no new nukes, no better
nukes, and no transfer nukes.
If we were able to accomplish that, we in and of itself
reduce the danger, and it also gives a platform
to which we then might be able to take the next step
and reduce the no nukes at all.
What will be the likely differences
in nuclear policy between an Obama administration
and a Trump administration?
Biggest thing to understand about what nuclear policy will
be in the Trump administration is
that we have no idea what nuclear policy will
be in the Trump administration.
There are just too many unknowns and too many variables.
There’s too many competing actors.
Some people who have very hard-line positions
will be in the Cabinet.
Some people who think that nuclear weapons don’t
address our fundamental threats are going to be in the Cabinet.
We have no idea how this is going
to play out, which is all the more reason to pay attention–
to watch this, to intervene.
The kinds of things that we do outside the administration
can have a tremendous impact on what happens inside.
But we do know one thing, which is on January 20,
President Trump will have control of the nuclear codes.
He will be able to launch US nuclear weapons
within four minutes or so.
Now, this was also true of President Obama.
But we as a nation, as a world, were much more comfortable
with President Obama having that role than President Trump.
And so the question becomes, are there
things that President Trump himself can
do to reassure the world that he will not
take dramatic steps there?
Are there things that Congress can
do to try to rein in some of this sole authority
that President Trump will have?
And I think that’s an area that certainly Ploughshares Fund
wants to explore with our partner groups.
Are there things we can do that reassure the world
and ourselves that we will not get into a catastrophe?
So there’s a member of Congress, Ted Lieu in California–
has introduced a resolution– wants to introduce it–
With Senator Markey.
–with Senator Markey in the Senate
to say that Congress has to approve the first use
of nuclear weapons.
If the president wants to use a nuclear weapon–
maybe it’s against a hardened target in ISIS,
maybe it’s to threaten China– if he
wants to do that, he has to get congressional approval.
Congress has the sole authority to declare war,
and that should include nuclear war.
This issue simply brings up a problem
that really has existed for many decades,
and that is that while our Constitution requires Congress
and authorizes Congress to declare war,
in the case of nuclear weapons, that
issue– that authority, in fact–
has evolved to one person, which is the president.
So I think that issue alone, whoever’s
president, that issue alone needs
to be very carefully examined.
But again, what makes it salient today is
that we’re getting a president who has shown,
I think, an unusual amount of temperament instability.
That has really created a large amount of concern.
Again, you’re right.
Any president is in the same situation.
But I’ve never seen a presidential election
where a finger on the button has become such a prominent issue.
And there are things that Trump could
do if he had outside pressure– and we’ll
get to this as, to what people can do.
I would say really, though– would
say that any time and any president, the system which
we now have which requires the president, if he’s awoken
at 3:00 in the morning, to make a decision
to launch a nuclear weapons in five minutes
is an unreasonable demand to make of any president, whatever
his temperament, whatever his experience,
whatever his knowledge of how nuclear weapons work.
That’s just an unreasonable position
in which to put any president.
Yeah, and there’s no reason for it.
This is a relic of the Cold War–
this idea that you had to launch your nuclear missiles
before they could be destroyed by the other side.
But we have spread out our nuclear weapons.
We have them in submarines that are undetected.
We have them in bombers that can be launched in the air
without actually firing their weapons.
So there’s no reason why a president
has to be given this kind of authority now.
That’s the kind of debate we have to have.
So let’s not tie this problem just to one president.
It’s a problem which has existed for decades.
The discussion has been brought up because of this president,
but it’s a problem which has existed for decades.
It needs to be addressed seriously,
whoever the president is.
And it gets to the core issue of democracy in this country.
Who decides this?
Why do we give this most important decision of all
to one person?
Why is that?
And it gets right back to the question of do we need
land-based ballistic missiles anymore because–
Which are the most dangerous.
–that’s the system that gives this four-minute decision
time that is so unreasonable and unsustainable.
It’s not the bombers.
It’s not the subs.
It’s only the desire to sort of preserve the ICBMs
before they are destroyed.
But if we didn’t have the ICBMs, then you
can lengthen out the decision process.
You could ride out before a strike,
or at least see if there was actually a strike
and it’s not a mistake and you’re
launching based on the mistake of a failed electronic warning
The reason that the ICBMs are the crux of this issue which
force us into the position in the past
to consider giving the president that authority– that
has been the issue in the past.
That’s why some of us, myself included,
have argued that we ought to phase out our ICBMs.
That idea, by the way, is advanced most effectively
and most forcefully in this recent publication
of Ploughshares– “10 Big Nuclear Ideas
for the New President,” one of which– just one of which–
is the idea of re-examining the idea of not rebuilding our ICBM
And this report, by the way, is available on the Ploughshares
website and other places.
Well, I want to give you credit for this.
This was a terrific report.
You edited this report and you got
some of the best minds in the business,
including Secretary Perry, including Dianne Feinstein, Ed
Markey, Adam Smith, Jim Cartwright,
the former commander of our nuclear forces.
So it’s chock-full of practical suggestions of how we
can improve nuclear security.
Along those lines, what are the opportunities
for nuclear nonproliferation advocacy?
What are the key issues, and who are the key players?
Well, I would say one is President-elect Trump
is coming into the White House with big ideas about what
he wants to do on defense.
He wants to spend more on defense.
He wants to do more on infrastructure of the United
He has a lot of ideas that require a lot of money.
The question is, can the government
afford all these things?
And if not, priorities will have to be made.
Choices– hard choices– will have to be made.
And so President Trump will be inheriting
the trillion-dollar arsenal rebuild plan
from President Obama.
And so here is an opportunity for President Trump
to rethink this plan and find ways–
and there are many– for example,
phasing out ICBMs– of saving hundreds of billions of dollars
and still ensuring US security.
So I think there’s a key opportunity here for President
Trump to take a bold move.
He says he’s a change agent.
Let’s have him change things for the better,
throw out Cold War thinking, and look at this afresh,
save hundreds of billions of dollars,
and keep the United States safe– in fact, safer
than we would have been otherwise.
Yes, and this is one of the sort of silver linings
of the election.
I’ve often told people that if I voted my interests,
I would vote Republican for president
because it’s Republicans in our system
that have the political space to make these kinds of decisions.
If President Obama were to move to cut a major nuclear weapon
program, he would get hammered by the Republicans.
He did get hammered.
He did get hammered.
We just saw it happen.
They stopped him.
But if a Republican does this, he brings at least half
the Republican Party with him, all the Democrats come,
and so the Republicans can do things the Democrats can’t.
So a possibility– I would say a hope– is
that he keeps the Iran deal, he improves the relations
with Russia that lead to nuclear reductions,
he negotiates with Kim Jong-un and arrives
at a cap of the program, and he decides
he’s going to save some money by cutting some
of these unnecessary nuclear programs
and putting it either into conventional forces
or social programs.
But that’s the hope.
All this is to be decided.
And let me tie the policy issues to the funding issues.
In this Ploughshares report, one of the articles
has to do with my recommendation we phase out the ICBMs.
And I concede that we could save hundreds of billions of dollars
by doing that.
But that was not my primary reason for arguing.
I argued the danger of the ICBMs were the reason
to consider phasing out the ICBMs.
But the issue of $100 billion here, $100 billion
is not a trivial issue.
And the question often comes out,
what will the military say about this?
And the answer is it all depends.
What it depends on is whether the budget is
constrained or not constrained.
If they have an unlimited budget,
they will support building ICBMs.
But if they see that building the ICBMs
is going to take away from the conventional forces, which
really make a difference in how our military responds
in case of warfare, they will have a different view.
I think that’s exactly right.
When the Joint Chiefs have to choose,
they usually don’t use nuclear because they recognize
that these weapons have very little
to do with the actual threats we face.
And my experience is that the only people who
are promoting nuclear weapons and promoting policies for more
nuclear weapons are those with a direct financial, a political,
or a professional connection with the program.
So the military commanders in charge of our nuclear weapons
favor keeping and want more.
The guys in charge of the conventional forces–
not so much.
They’re quiet on this.
And if the pie is growing, they’re
more than happy to keep peace by giving money to nuclear.
But if the pie is shrinking, which it is currently,
then that’s where the choices have to be made.
You cannot buy your destroyers and frigates and aircraft
carriers if you’re also building a nuclear-armed sub at the same
There just isn’t enough money.
You have to choose.
I learned a lot during this course, but it’s hard for me
to see what I should be doing now.
I would like to help in the efforts
to decrease the nuclear dangers discussed in this course,
but what can one person do?
For people who want to make a difference on nuclear policy,
it’s hard to do it by yourself.
You need to join with other people that
are trying to make a difference on nuclear policy.
You need to organize– need to get involved.
People generally have time or they have money.
Some people have both.
If you have time, there are great organizations
you can get involved with.
Ploughshares gives grants to the best organizations
in the field.
And so there are things that people
can do in terms of getting involved on college campuses,
speaking to their members of Congress
to explain how important these issues are, getting educated
If you’re not from the United States,
people often wonder how they can get involved,
or if they’re in a country that doesn’t have
nuclear weapons themselves, I think
this is a interesting case of the global ban idea.
People in other countries can work with their governments
to support the global ban on nuclear weapons
so that idea moves forward.
So there are many ways for people to get involved.
They just need to take the initiative
and not think that they can do it by themselves.
They need to get together, organize.
So Ploughshares is kind of a clearinghouse
for all these organizations.
We fund the best in the field.
So if people want information, they
can go to ploughshares.org– go to our website–
and they can see who we fund, they can read stories
about these people, and they can decide maybe they
want to contribute to Ploughshares,
maybe they want to contribute to these other groups,
or maybe they want to get involved.
If you’re a student, Global Zero has chapters– campuses
all around the country.
If you’re a physician, Physicians
for Social Responsibility organizes physicians
to weigh in on the health issues that nuclear weapons obviously
If you’re a member of a state legislature,
we have– there’s an organization called
WAND, Women’s Action for New Direction,
that has 700 women legislators in House of Representatives
and senates at state level around the country.
One of our board members, Gael Tarleton,
is a member of the Washington State chapter of that.
Federation of American Scientists,
Union of Concerned Scientists are
great at organizing the scientific community.
And so I think that’s the key– is joining up
with other people in your situation
to help do this, or become a member of the Council
for Livable World and get involved,
write emails, do letters.
And finally– and this comes right to your sweet spot–
you can decide you want to make a career in this field.
We all started off doing something else.
I was a psychology major.
You were studying the technologies
right after World War II, as you two–
And so we didn’t choose to go in this field.
We sort of got forced into it, and then we made careers out
I’ve been here in Washington for 35 years
working on nuclear policy, and I think I’ve made a difference.
I think the kinds of things we’ve
been able to do, especially since Tom joined
the staff here– do things together–
you can make a real difference.
You can make a real impact.
Policies happened because of things that we did.
In fact, my story is that I did, actually, intentionally
join this field 25 years ago during the Reagan years,
when things were quite scary.
And as Senator Markey said the other day,
history doesn’t repeats, but it rhymes.
And there are things about the Reagan years
that are familiar today.
And so my hope is that that’ll bring new young people
into this field because we need new people to get into this
and want to reduce nuclear dangers and get involved.
I would just add one thing to what Tom and Joe just said.
To the people who are taking this course,
the first thing you have to do is
get educated on what the problems are.
You just don’t go shooting off with wild ideas.
Get educated on what the– and this course
has been a grand way of doing it.
But to continue– or other courses you can take.
You continue to study the issues.
Once you really have studied it and have the background,
the intelligence, the knowledge that you know what actions you
want to happen, then you’ll find one person by himself
or herself– cannot take that all by– you have to associate,
affiliate yourself, with groups that are doing that.
Ploughshares is an excellent example of such a group.
NTI is another group.
And both Tom and Joe mentioned other groups
you might be concerned with.
So first of all, get educated.
And then secondly, knowing what you want to do
and having the background that it
can support why you want to do that,
then affiliate with somebody who are working hard
to make these things happen.
Then you can make a difference.
And some of you might even end up
wanting to be professionals in this field yourselves.
And those of you who feel that way,
I encourage you to do that.
Joe said it very well.
He did not start off with the idea
of being a nuclear– I did not start out that way.
But if you are so moved, join us.
We have lots to do, and we can– need lots of help
in getting that done.