Council on Foreign Relations
RICHARD HAASS (president, Council on Foreign Relations): Good evening. We need a modicum of order before we can get going here. I’ll let Ash do all the housekeeping, but if people would turn off things electronic other than pacemakers it would be appreciated. I am pleased—I couldn’t be more pleased than I am to be here tonight to welcome Tom Schelling. Twenty years ago I was fortunate enough to go to the Kennedy School for several years to teach, and one of the real delights was having Tom as a colleague. He is a true man for all seasons. He’s a social scientist I would say at its best. He—I was going to say he’s got a curious mind, but that could be interpreted in many ways, but I mean in a good way—and an incisive mind, and he’s applied it to everything from missiles to cigarettes to drugs, if you will, the full range of weapons of mass destruction. (Laughter.)
Having him here at the council in the aftermath of his winning the Nobel Prize seems to me particularly appropriate. I did a little bit of homework—or, to be more accurate, I had a little bit of homework done for me—and it turns out we have got about 12 present or former members of the council who are Nobel Prize laureates, and we’ve got about 4,000 waiting to be so recognized. (Laughter.) So it seems to me to be the perfect forum.
It’s also particularly, I think, apt then to have Ash Carter preside, because Ash turns out to be one of the very few people I know who’s smart enough to appreciate and understand Tom’s thinking. So we are doubly blessed. Again, my role tonight is simply to welcome everybody, to turn you over to our most able presider. But, again, on behalf not just of me personally but really of the institution to congratulate Tom and to basically also congratulate those folks in Sweden for recognizing, I think, a great citizen and someone who has contributed to this society and to this country in so many ways, whether his work in government or his work in multiple universities. So, Tom, it’s a great personal and, if you will, institutional pleasure to have you here. Thank you. (Applause.)
ASHTON CARTER: Thank you, Richard. Welcome everyone. I am bidden to welcome you on behalf of the C. Peter McColough Series on International Economics. This series is sponsored by the council’s corporate program and the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geo-economic Studies. And I believe with that I discharged with what’s described as the housekeeping duties.
Let me turn to our guest and to our topic for this evening. Richard said something about Tom, and it sets up the first question that I ask Tom. And what we’ll do this evening is I’ll ask him some questions for about 25 minutes or so, and where I don’t (rouse ?) him adequately and to the end of a line of questioning, you all in the second half hour will have the chance to do better.
Our topic tonight is “The Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons: Prospects for Continuance.” It’s March 2006. The last time a nuclear weapon was detonated in anger was August of 1945—more than 60 years. And understanding this fact, this precious and really remarkable fact, is the theme of this evening. It is the theme that Tom chose when he spoke before the Swedish Academy and accepted the Nobel Prize—and he could have spoken about any of the topics for which he deserves a Nobel Prize, his thinking, as Richard indicated, having gone in so many different directions, he chose this one.
Tom, to set up the first question, I need to take you back a little bit—and this will be also something of an introduction of Tom—to the concept that he originated in the late 1950s which made such a big difference to nuclear strategy, and was one of the things cited by the Nobel committee. And it goes like this: people wrestled through the first decade of the nuclear age with, What do we do? What is the basis of strategy or safety in an age where there’s such horrible weapons? And there were basically two schools in the early days. One was that—well, these are weapons—they’re big weapons, but they’re weapons, and we can think about them and think about using them like we thought about other weapons. That was Camp I. Camp II said, Well, these aren’t like ordinary weapons—too big, too horrible for that—and what we need to do is get rid of them. That was the disarmament crowd.
Along came Tom Schelling and said, Well, there’s got to be some third way here, because they’re not ordinary weapons—they do break the bounds of conventional military strategy, but disarmament is a pipe dream, and so we can’t hang our hats on that. And Tom came up with a different theory. He said, This will stop use, which will save lives, but it doesn’t involve getting rid of the weapons, and it’s called deterrence. And deterrence is of course one of the ways you stop people from doing something you don’t want them to do, like attacking you. It’s only one way. You can try and talk them out of their anger, you can defend yourself, you can attack them first. But deterrence is one in which you say, If you attack me, the consequences of your attack upon me will be so horrible for you that you’ll wish you hadn’t. Deterrence, “deterrere”—“terror” is in the middle of that. It’s using fear to stop violence. And using fear to stop violence was this idea that Tom propounded and probed as a replacement for disarmament. He called it, as people called it then, “arms control” rather than “arms elimination.” You don’t try to get rid of them—you can’t get rid of them. The genie is out of the bottle. The toothpaste is out of the tube. You’ve got to do something else called “arms control.” And he said the following—here’s the idea - he said, “Arms control assumes deterrence as the keystone of our security policy.” And here’s the truly greater part—he says—“tries to improve it”—improve terror.
And there followed a long essay on how to make deterrence better, safer. And when he followed this line of meaning, you come up thinking—they came up with some directions that were strange at the time, maybe even strange still. He said, for example, it was safer, better, if the other guy had reliable weapons—your enemy had reliable weapons—because then he could retaliate—then he could be sure he could retaliate against you, and so he wouldn’t strike first. Tom said the following: “I emphasize the possibility that one can simultaneously think seriously about our military posture and about collaborating with our enemies to improve it.” Deterrence was the common interest upon which that could be based, he said. “This common interest,” Schelling wrote—this is 1960, now, the first of his four great books for which he won the prize—“This common interest does not depend on trust and good faith.” And then he adds one of these things that Schelling always does—very crisp and simple analogies. He said, “Ancient despotisms may have understood better than we do how to tranquilize relations between them while hating and distrusting. They exchanged hostages, they drank wine from the same glass, met in public to inhibit the massacre of one by the other, and even deliberately exchanged spies to facilitate transmittal of authentic information,” end quote. This is the kind of reasoning that led to the Moscow-Washington hot-line, to the proposition that we oughtn’t to build the large multiple-warhead missiles, even though they were better missiles—because then the other guy might think that his deterrent wasn’t safe, and that will increase the probability of war, to the thinking that missile defenses, at least for that era, were not constructive. So a lot of strange and interesting and very influential things came out of these ideas. That was then. And now is now. That was deterrence then. That was a situation in which we and the Soviet Union were in a deterrent situation.
The first line I want to pursue with you tonight, Tom, is now we are in the age of bin Laden and Kim Jong Il and whatever that amoebic multi-sided government of Iran can be called. Is deterrence as you propounded it, as you evaluated it then, relevant now? Can any of these people be deterred, or do we need a new idea and a new Tom Schelling for this era?
THOMAS SCHELLING: You just asked two different questions. First let me say, though, I appreciate the—(inaudible)—but you know I wasn’t uniquely responsible for all of that, as you decided. It happened that Joan Wohlstetter is here in the audience, and her father was equally responsible for this kind of development, and the deceased Bernard Rhody (sp).
CARTER: Where is Joan Wohlstetter, by the way? Your father was a very great man and mentor of mine.
SCHELLING: Her mother—
CARTER: I didn’t know her mother, but her father was a great man.
SCHELLING: Yeah. I think deterrence is especially relevant to the situation of Iran and North Korea, their deterrents.
CARTER: Their deterrence of us.
SCHELLING: Their deterrence of us. I tend to think that the most productive use of a nuclear weapon on the part of Iran or on the part of North Korea—
CARTER: I’m going to interrupt you for a minute. People are worried about the volume here. People can’t hear you. Is there somebody who can help us with the volume?
SCHELLING: I think it took a long time for the American government to learn to think about what nuclear weapons were good for and what they were not good for and what the responsibility was in holding them. It’s remarkable that Fred Ikle, who was recently an undersecretary of Defense, and before that director of Arms Control and Disarmament, did a study in 1959 in which he inadvertently discovered that there was nothing like a combination lock on American nuclear weapons. Anybody who got one could make it work. They weren’t even patrolled by police dogs. That got Secretary McNamara and the question, How do you make sure that if somebody mischievously steals or holds or gets hold of an American weapon for sabotage or for a Strangelove-like adventure, how can you keep it from being capable of being detonated? And that led over a period of years to being what they now call “permissive action links,” as well as I think designing within most of the nuclear warheads a GPS system to make sure that they won’t go off unless they’re in the location of the target they were designed for. It took us 16 years to think about that. I think it’s going to be important to help the North Koreans and the Iranians think about custody of nuclear weapons—how to make sure that if the wrong people get hold of them they can’t be detonated. I think they have to learn also such things as whether if they can’t trust all of their armed services they better find a better custodian for their nuclear weapons.
So what I want mainly is to help the Iranians to understand that these weapons are very, very nuclear deterrent, but they’ll be suicidal if they’re used for almost anything else.
CARTER: Eww, you’re—let me pursue this a little bit, because you’re—I don’t want to be in a deterrent relationship with Iran or North Korea. I don’t like what you’re saying, because deterrence with this Soviet Union was tolerable, but I’m not sure it’s tolerable to be deterred by North Korea.
SCHELLING:—(inaudible)—from. I have a hunch that the main reason that Iran wants nuclear weapons or North Korea wants nuclear weapons is to make sure that they will not be invaded by the U.S.A., the Soviet Union—I mean Russia—or Israel. I don’t mind being deterred, as long as we are not deterred by anything that I think is desperately important that we do. And I don’t think it’s desperately important that we invade Iraq. The alternative, if they don’t use them for deterrence, is to explode them somewhere. That’s what I don’t want them to do. I want them to learn that these things are useful for influence, but they’re probably no good for blowing up Los Angeles or Hamburg or Glasgow or any such place if they can learn to think that these are precious weapons for deterrence, too precious to give away to a terrorist, too precious to sell on the black market. They’re good because for Iran that means neither Russia nor the U.S.A. nor Israel can afford to attack.
CARTER: How do you deal, Tom, with the problem of North Korea or Iran being emboldened? I mean, here’s a shield behind which they can now act in ways that they couldn’t previously. For instance, take North Korea. We’re not going to invade North Korea anyway. It’s 22 million poor people—so it would win second prize to conquering North Korea. Nobody wants reunification in the Korean Peninsula now by force or any other way. So in fact we’re not going to attack them, so true. But they—if they come to have nuclear weapons, are they emboldened to take actions inimical to our interests or to have latitude that it’s not desirable for them to have?
SCHELLING: I don’t see why they should be emboldened, if you’re thinking they attack South Korea, what can we do? We’re going to be deterred because they have nuclear weapons. I think what we do, if we can ever get the hell out of Iraq, I think what we do is defend South Korea the way we did in 1950, ’51, ’52. We don’t have to be afraid that they’re going to be using nuclear weapons. If they use nuclear weapons, they’re finished, and they know it. They should be appropriately frightened. But any time North Korea uses nuclear weapons, either against South Korea or against the United States, they’re finished. I think they will know that. If they don’t know it, we must find ways to get them to thinking about it appropriately.
Now, this relates to India and Pakistan in an important way. Indians and Pakistanis defense intellectuals have been coming to places like Aspen, Colorado or the Institute of Strategic Studies in London, for 30, 35 years. They are as up to date in thinking about nuclear weapons policy as the Americans and British, the Japanese, the Germans, the French or anybody else. And I think Indians and Pakistanis are as up to date in thinking about deterrence as we are. I don’t think the Iranians have any defense intellectuals who have that kind of long experience in talking and thinking about what nuclear weapons are good for and what they’re not good for, and I think it’s crucially important we find a way to communicate to them—and I don’t think the U.S. government can do the communicating—I think it has to be done nongovernmentally. I think there have got to be ways for people like you and me to talk to people in Iran, if there are any, to think about what nuclear weapons are good for, and try to give them the benefit of 40 years of thinking in this country and a lot of other countries about the benefits and dangers of possessing nuclear weapons.
CARTER: Okay, if you can—suppose we figure out—I have my reservations about this—but we teach the Iranians and the North Koreans how to be responsible nuclear stewards, like Brezhnev was, how about bin Laden? Bin Laden says it’s a religious duty to get the bomb. Is there any way you can—and let’s suppose bin Laden gets the bomb. Do you take it for granted that he’ll light it off wherever he can get it in, or is there some—do these ideas of deterrence play any role with somebody like bin Laden?
SCHELLING: Well, there’s two sides to the question of how deterrence relates to bin Laden. One is, Can we deter him? I don’t know that we can. We can deter nations that might give him sanctuary. We may be able to deter a lot of people that might provide him financial assistance. I think probably it’s important. See, back in the 1950s and ’60s we had a much more dangerous enemy than bin Laden can ever possibly be. If bin Laden gets half a dozen nuclear weapons he can’t compare with the Soviet Union of 1960. He can’t destroy Western civilization. Back then we had a real adversary and the idea of trading with the enemy was not very popular. But we did manage, we the West—Americans, Canadians, Germans, British, French—we managed to talk to the Russians—to the Soviets, but mostly they were Russians—and persuade them of a couple of important things. The one was to persuade them that they should be prepared not to go nuclear instantly in case of a European war. The Soviet position was back in the early 1960s, Any war in Europe will automatically go nuclear. The word “automatically” was actually in the book that Marshall Sokolov published in 1962. And that statement was translated twice in the United States, and led to a lot of commentary that the Soviets were reading, which said, you know, if you believe that any war in Europe is bound to go nuclear, that becomes a self-confirming expectation, because if you know it’s bound to go nuclear, you’re not going to wait. And that’s a very dangerous doctrine. It’s a very dangerous doctrine for us to know that you have, because we like you won’t be able to wait. And that’s when Kennedy, with Secretary McNamara and then Lyndon Johnson with Secretary McNamara, began to persuade the NATO countries of Europe to develop the conventional capability to defend Western Europe. The Soviets continued to ridicule that idea, to deny any possibility to it. But they spent huge amounts of money developing a conventional capability in Europe. And here was the case that I call, with the exception of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, I considered it the most important arms control understanding ever agreed to between East and West; namely, both sides must have sufficient capability to confront each other militarily without having to go instantly to nuclear weapons. They denied it. They never acknowledged it. But they clearly agreed that it was their responsibility to develop the conventional capability. And I think that’s because we communicated—not directly—but we spoke, and they overheard, and they caught on.
When it came time to deal with ballistic missile defenses, the Soviet ideology and doctrine was defensive systems are benign—offensive systems are bad. Nothing wrong with ballistic missile defenses. Well, a lot of us decided ballistic missile defenses are probably destabilizing, because ballistic missile defenses are likely to work best for the attacking party. He knows when he’s going to attack, he makes sure that all of his defenses are on proper alert, that there’s no question whether it’s a false alarm when something comes in. We attack the other side, unprepared—maybe not all the defenses are in working order. They have to respond with a badly damaged disruptive force, and then our defensive system may work effectively. And that meant that ballistic missile defenses on both sides would increase the advantage of going first. And there was a case in which the Soviet leadership was actually persuaded by Secretary McNamara, in what must have been one of the most globally important speeches of all times. He met with the Soviet leaders, and they came to understand that we’re probably both better off if we avoid ballistic missile defenses.
Now, that leads me to believe that probably the important thing is to learn to communicate with—I wouldn’t say bin Laden necessarily himself, but whoever “they” are—I don’t think there’s a single (peak or pyramid ?) of terrorism. I think it’s important to try to learn to talk to them about what nuclear weapons are good for, if they ever get them, and what they’re not good for. And I have a hunch that it might be possible to persuade them to, that if some terrorist organization acquires a few nuclear weapons, it isn’t clear that if they acquire them they would know they weren’t bogus—it isn’t easy for them to persuade us that they have them. But it seems to me that we might feel that as long as they maintain a nuclear capability and don’t expend it in some kind of attack that they may sort of arrive at the status of an internationally-recognizable entity to be dealt with. And I would much rather they use their nuclear weapons to insist on negotiating or deterring something they didn’t want us to engage in, then that they say, Now we’ve got it—let’s go explode it on a population center.
CARTER: I’m sure there will be comments on that idea in the Q&A, which we’ll get to shortly, when I open up the floor. I want to explore one other idea with you, Tom, which is the idea that you propounded in your Nobel acceptance speech. And if our first word was “deterrence” and was Latin, this one’s Polynesian—it’s “taboo.” And you use the word “taboo.” I said that for 61 years—almost 61 years now—at the opening of this session—we’ve had nuclear weapons and no use. We’ve had—humankind has fabricated in the neighborhood I estimate of 200,000 nuclear weapons during these 60 years no one of which has been used in anger. They’ve been fabricated by nine separate governments, among which there have been by my count two revolutions and at least two coups d’etat. And just looking at our own relatively stable situation, we’ve had 11 different presidents, one assassinated, one resigned, another impeached. We fought nine wars in the course of which it is documented nuclear use was contemplated or at least discussed in at least five of those nine. And through all this, all these leaders, all these changes, all these weapons, all these wars, no use of nuclear weapons.
Now, I looked up “taboo.” Taboo is “a system of prohibitions observed as customs”—this is Webster’s. It goes on to say, “The authority of a taboo is unmatched by that of any other prohibition. There’s no reflection on it, no reasoning about it, no discussion of it.” Have we reached that point with the nuclear taboo, 60 years and because they haven’t been used nobody would use them in anger now? Is that what you were suggesting, or is that an accomplished fact or an aspiration?
SCHELLING: I use the word “taboo” because two weeks after the Eisenhower inauguration, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in the National Security Council meeting, two weeks after inauguration, said, and I almost have this by heart, “We must get rid”—how did he say it?—something about the moral authority of the use of nuclear weapons. “We must get rid of this taboo. It is based on a false distinction.” The history of this is in McGeorge Bundy’s book. And Dulles over and over used the word “taboo,” and he eventually got Eisenhower to say in any situation in which you can use these weapons on military targets for military purposes, I don’t see why you shouldn’t use them just as you would use a bullet or anything else. And the U.S. position in a NATO meeting in about 1954 was the U.S. position is that nuclear weapons by now have become conventional.
Lyndon Johnson, in 1964, in answer to a question relating to Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson said—and I know this by heart—“Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. For 19 peril-filled years, no nation has loosed the atom against another. To do so now is a political decision of the highest order.” I think he was awed by the 19 years. It’s 60 years now. He was awed by the 19 years. Question: Who respected that taboo?
In 1973, the Egyptians had two armies on either side of the Suez Canal. No civilians within tens of miles—perfect targets for nuclear weapons. And it wasn’t at all obvious that Israel was going to win that war. Golda Meier never authorized nuclear weapons—even as desperate as Israel was at that time.
The Soviets went through a demoralizing, bloody, gruesome war in Afghanistan without ever using nuclear weapons, and as far as I know never even contemplated using nuclear weapons.
Now, I think Golda Meier understood. By 1973 it was no longer 19 peril-filled years. It was more than that. I think she understood that if she used nuclear weapons sometime in one decade or two decades or three decades or four decades some of her enemies are going to have nuclear weapons, and if she used nuclear weapons against Egyptians somebody is going to have nuclear weapons to use against her military forces. And I think she probably appreciated the taboo that John Foster Dulles wanted to get rid of and that apparently awed Lyndon Johnson after 19 years of non-use. I think she understood the taboo was so much in her interest that though she was rich in nuclear weapons, illegally possessing nuclear weapons in the entire Middle East, she better not use them.
Let me tell you a story. It’s very interesting. In 1992, I was invited to be the first visiting professor of national security strategy at the U.S. National War College in Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. I had a seminar with 15 people from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines—I think I had one civilian from the State Department. And one day the question was s-- every meeting somebody had to bring an issue to discuss. The issue brought to discussion by a U.S. Army colonel was—remember, this is 1992, a year after the war in Iraq—he said, “It’s the year 2005”—that’s last year—“it’s the year 2000. Saddam Hussein has reconstituted his army, totally taking us by surprise he marches through Kuwait and goes down the gulf side of the Arabian Peninsula, wrapping up all the oil fields along the way. The U.S. responds as best it can, sending a couple of carrier task forces into the Gulf, and airlifting Army troops and equipment into the parts of the Saudi Arabia peninsula that were still available to us—and we end up with a beachhead of 10,000 troops, and we end up with two carrier task forces. And all of a sudden out of Iraq come half a dozen missiles with nuclear warheads that explode and kill approximately 10,000 Americans, completely destroys the beachhead, disabled the carrier task forces. What do we do?” And I sat there, and I didn’t say a word. I just listened to these—a colonel, a Navy captain, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps level officers to set forth what we should do. And they unanimously concluded—they unanimously concluded that we should simply declare war on Iraq, demand the unconditional surrender of their armed forces, and without ever using nuclear weapons defeat them militarily or enforce their surrender. And at the end of the hour and half, I said, “Why not use nuclear weapons?” Well, they were devotees of the taboo. They said, “The best way to make clear to any nation that uses nuclear weapons will be a pariah will offend the entire United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. The best way to make sure that nobody dares to use nuclear weapons is for the United States not to use nuclear weapons when they would have been convenient.”
Now, that’s the kind of thing that I think Golda Meier had in mind, and I think that’s what Lyndon Johnson had in mind. And I think the important thing is to communicate as best we can that attitude towards whoever is in charge in Iran or North Korea, and try to make it clear that if Osama bin Laden or any one of a dozen other terrorist organizations succeeded getting nuclear weapons—which I think is not going to be easy at all, but if they should succeed—that if they use them, and the use can be attributed to them, they are likely to stir up global antagonism against them for what they set in motion.
CARTER: Taboo, deterrence, bin Laden, Kim Jong Il. Let’s all—let’s open it to you now. Rod, you first. Please identify yourself and your affiliation.
QUESTIONER: Rod Nichols. Is the taboo so strong that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is obsolete and not needed? And, if so, how does that relate to the recent nuclear deal with India?
SCHELLING: I’m going to take that as two questions. The first one is the taboo so strong we don’t need the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I think it’s not quite that strong. But I used to argue—a lot of my friends and colleagues thought the United States should participate in a non-first-use declaration, or even a non-first-use treaty. And my argument against it was any U.S. president would be so inhibited about using nuclear weapons in any contingency that no treaty would be any more than adding a hemp rope to an anchor chain. The inhibition is as strong as it could be, and no declarations unilaterally, no treaties, no nothing could make it stronger.
And even if George Bush doesn’t believe that, I think if he were ever in a position to have to think about authorizing the use of nuclear weapons, he would kneel beside his bed in his bedroom and pray to God, because this would have been the most awful responsibility he could ever possibly have.
I still think the Non-Proliferation Treaty is important. Also, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Senate refused even to consider—not only it’s about nuclear testing—I don’t think the testing issue is all that important—but I think to get 182 nations reaffirming by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty puts another nail in the coffin of nuclear weapons, and I think that’s an opportunity we missed to get a global declaration that nuclear weapons are under a curse. And I think the important question is whether the U.S. government appreciates what I think is the case, namely that this taboo—a prime beneficiary of the taboo is the United States of America. The U.S. government is likely to think we are so rich in nuclear weapons it’s a shame not to be able to use them. But then my answer is, We are so rich in people and structures, it’s a shame to subject them to nuclear possibilities by not contributing what we can to enforce the taboo. So I’d say the Non-Proliferation Treaty is helpful. I think it’s still not only helpful, but helpful.
Now you raise a question about India, and I have to confess I haven’t yet made up my mind about India. I don’t believe the worst that I read in the op-ed pages about how this destroys it all. I think India can probably demonstrate that it can be trusted not to be irresponsible with nuclear weapons. We all have closed our eyes to Israel, and that apparently didn’t lead to any disastrous proliferation. And I don’t think any government took seriously the commitments of the United States and the Soviet Union to attempt nuclear disarmament on a significant scale. So I think there’s a certain amount of hypocrisy built into the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and if it can tolerate that much hypocrisy I think it can tolerate a little bit more.
QUESTIONER: Russia or the Soviet Union is—(inaudible)—for loose nukes and not taking very good care of either their fissionable material or their nuclear weapons. If as you say they are so aware of the dangers of that, what accounts in your judgment for their failure to be more vigilant and diligent about taking care of that, knowing that if it leaks out it could in some way rebound back against them?
SCHELLING: I think that’s a question that Ash Carter can answer better than I can. (Laughter.)
CARTER: I don’t accept the underlying—he says that, because I ran the Nunn-Lugar program for a number of years and talked to the Russians a lot about it. The Russians have run a perfect custodial system, as near as we know a perfect custodial system lo these many years, so they deserve a lot of respect for what they did. The concern that I had initially when the wall went down is that that was a system designed for a Stalinist society, in which people were not able to move freely and money didn’t move freely and so forth, and that a system designed for that social background was not appropriate for the open Russia that came later. And they needed to adapt their system more in our direction, which was designed for a free society. And these are no socio-technical—no amount of PALs—all the technical safeguards Tom rightly say we have on our nuclear weapons. Our custodial system is also socio-technical: it depends upon people and the trust of people and the way in which their incentives are aligned, and how much latitude they’re given to do things with nuclear weapons and so forth. So Russia needed to make those changes, and they have resisted making a lot of those changes, Mort. I’m not somebody who believes that on the weapons side as opposed to the fissile material side in Russia that they are heedless. They (hate ?) to be accused of poor performance when they can rightly claim that they’ve had perfect performance. They don’t like open up their kimono for us, because they believe they have military secrets and they don’t want us to have the run of their place. We operate our assistance to them in such a bureaucratic way that we—this is taxpayer’s money, right?—so if you’re going to spend the taxpayer’s money in Russia and you’re a public official, beware. Your lawyer will tell you that you’ll spend the rest of your life testifying if you lose so much as one nickel of that money. So we go to the Russians and say, We can’t stand it if we lose a nickel of this. We’ll all get lynched—it will be the end of the program. So you’ve got to tell us where every nickel goes. And they say, “Well, you know, you just can’t have the run of the place.” So there are deeper problems there that go beyond just Russian denial. I wouldn’t be much more worried about their materials, fissile materials out of weapons form than weapons. But, let’s face it, they have a perfect record.
That causes me to ask you something. I used to wake up every morning and look at the intelligence report that came to me—scared to death that one of these reports would say there are three Russian bombs out and in the hands of someone like bin Laden. Here’s the question to you, Tom. You try to put yourself—you’ve always been very big on the idea you have to put yourself in the shoes of the opponent. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a terrorist who has a nuclear weapon. Would you agree that’s it’s prima facie evidence that no Russian nuclear weapons have gotten out, that none have gone off, and that nobody has claimed they have one? Can you imagine a scenario in which somebody gets a hold of a bomb and doesn’t either use it or say, “I’ve got it—I could use it”—and just sort of—so would we know tomorrow if today a Russian bomb got out? Because whoever has it isn’t going to keep it secret. Yes or no?
SCHELLING: With a time lag of a year or two while they think about what to use it for. But I would say the evidence is strong that nothing’s been stolen, nothing’s been diverted, nothing’s fallen into the wrong hands. If anybody had acquired a nuclear weapon two or three years ago, by now they would have figured out some way to make use at least if not of the weapon of the knowledge that they possessed it. If it takes them a year to think about what to do, then I’d say as of—now, unless they acquired it in the last year or so—and it’s amazing because you know in all of these years in which there have been so many nuclear weapons around, and as Ash mentioned we had nuclear weapons in Turkey when there was an uprising, we had nuclear weapons in Greece when there was a coup against the regime—the photographs of jeeps containing what were purported to be nuclear warheads in the United States where the jeep driver had gone in to have lunch and left the bomb in the jeep—(laughter)—and, you know, nothing has ever gone off by accident. As far as we know, nothing has ever been stolen. Nothing has ever been used by a psychotic to try to start a war.
If I had—in fact, in 1976 I was in Israel and I wrote something, and I said, “Imagine this is 1945.” And I said, “In the next 20 years, no nuclear weapon will go off anywhere—either in anger, nor by accident, nor by mischief, nor by sabotage—who would believe me?” And that was essentially 20 years when I said that. Now it’s 60 years. Can you imagine there must be 30,- or 40,000 nuclear warheads in the world. None has been as far as we know stolen, none has been accidentally detonated. We’ve known that a few have dropped out of airplanes, and one fell in the ocean off the coast of Spain, and the U.S. ambassador went swimming to prove it wasn’t contaminating the water. But in just extraordinary 60 years—when I gave this lecture in Stockholm, the title of it was, “An Astonishing 60 Years,” and I quoted C.P. Snow, the distinguished novelist. In 1960 he was quoted on the front page of the New York Times as saying, “Unless the nuclear powers drastically disarm nuclearly, inter-continental thermonuclear war within the decade is a mathematical certainty.” Nobody thought that was outrageous. Nobody thought it as extravagant. Everybody accepted the fact that he was describing an imminent danger. Well, that decade he referred to has now been compounded four and a half times—unbelievable. See, when he was saying that, the Boston Globe had full-page ads for fall-out shelters that would be built in your front yard underground or in your basement. That was a time when the president of Harvard University appointed me to a committee to decide in case a nuclear weapons were detonated over Hanston (sp) Air Force Field, about 15 miles northeast of Harvard University, did Harvard have any structures that were useful as fall-out shelters, and if so who should be allowed into them. (Laughter.)
CARTER: Faculty first. (Laughter.)
SCHELLING: Faculty first. If I had said, “Oh, come on, nobody is going to use nuclear weapons for the next 40 years,” everybody would have thought I was out of my mind. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? What astonishes me is that there hasn’t been more notice of it. Twenty years ago, Alvin Weinberg, who was head of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory when they produced the fission for one of the first two bombs—I forget whether it was Hiroshima or Nagasaki—Alvin Weinberg, on the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima, has an eloquent essay in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, in which he said—he referred to a huge outpouring of emotions all around the world on the 40th anniversary of this enormous event. We didn’t have it on the 50th anniversary or the 60th anniversary—I think that’s because most of the people who were awed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki were either dead or no longer able to join the session. But he said, “Are we witnessing the sanctification of the Hiroshima event, its elevation into the status of a biblical event?”—like the flood. He said, “I can’t document this, but I think that the Hiroshima event has now become so sanctified that it’s the greatest possible emotional evolution we could ever hope for to make nuclear weapons essentially taboo.
Well, that was 20 years ago. And my impression is that it’s hard to find people who are as impressed as I am by the fact that for 60 years nothing has gone off.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Jonathan Chanis. If the chair would indulge me, I’d like to ask you if you could share some of your thoughts on the state of economics as an intellectual and academic discipline, because as this conversation evidences, your greatest following was really in political science, and a Nobel Prize in economics was won several years ago by a psychologist. And economists today are doing things on TV viewership and divorce and abortion—things that were left to sociologists 20 years ago. Can we expect things from economists on deterrence in the future? Where is the discipline?
SCHELLING: Well, I’ve been lucky. I got tenure at Harvard University—(laughter)—a long time ago.
CARTER: By the way, it makes us crazy that he went to the University of Maryland when he got the Nobel Prize, but that’s a whole other study—not at the Kennedy School.
SCHELLING: So, I’ve been able to do whatever I wanted to, and I think if you ask me what would I prefer to have been trained in for the career that I’ve had, I would say economics. Economics is a coherent body of theoretical models of behavior. Political science is moving in that direction. Sociology is moving in that direction. But I think political science, when I was in graduate school, was essentially an empirical eclectic kind of study, and you gathered evidence about a whole variety of things, but there was no fundamental core of theory to political science at the time—nor I believe sociology or even anthropology. So I think among the social sciences economics was unique in having a methodology and a body of theory and the concept of building models from testing them against empirical evidence. So I think my training as an economist is extremely helpful. But I got sort of interested in what my Stockholm sponsors call ”game theory,“ you know, they identified me as a ”game theorist.“ I’m not a game theorist. I’m a user of elementary game theory, and I produced a little bit of game theory, but I’m essentially a social scientist. But I decided that my interest was interactive decision-making. And I had five years in the government during the Marshall Plan days and the early NATO days and all involved with international bargaining, and that’s what led me when I left the government to decide that I was interested in bargaining theory. And that’s when I got interested in things like strategies of commitments and things of that sort. And the interesting thing is I got an honorary degree at Rotterdam University about four or five years ago, and it was all on account of my game theory. And they had several programs devoted to my contributions, and it turned out that all the things that they identified as my contributions I had done before I knew any game theory. (Laughter.) So I think I’ve had a good time, and I think I’ve used my economics training, but I haven’t been anchored to it.
CARTER: Evans—he just couldn’t be a physicist—just couldn’t make it. Evans Revere—I’ve got to say something about Evans Revere, who is now at the council. Evans and I have had the great privilege of going to Pyongyang together. And he is the U.S. government’s paramount expert on North Korea—bizarre place—and has dealt with them quite a bit, and is now at the council where he’s running the China Task Force. Evans?
QUESTIONER: Second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia.
CARTER: Believe me I know. I know, I know.
QUESTIONER: Dr. Schelling, I was wondering if I could draw you out on something you said earlier in your remarks with respect to North Korea. Let’s assume for an uncomfortable moment that we do develop a nuclear deterrent relationship with North Korea, but this is a country that knows no limits in terms of its ideological fervor, as Ash and I have discovered up close and personal, as they say. And let’s assume that North Korea in terms of its willingness to use nuclear weapons against the United States or an ally directly is indeed deterred in this relationship, but besides to transfer, as they have said that they might, nuclear material or even a weapon to another party, a proxy if you will. You suggested in your remarks that we should work with North Korea and others to—I believe the words was ”treat these weapons as so precious as not to do so.“ How do you do that? How do you work with a North Korea to convince it that its surreptitious transfer of these materials—something that we might not be able to track—is as equally dangerous for their existence as their attempted use of one of those weapons directly against us?
SCHELLING: You know, if you would come up here and sit in my chair, I could go back there and ask you that question. (Laughter.)
CARTER: I told you he was smart.
SCHELLING: I have only one, the negative part of the answer. I don’t think the U.S. government can embark on any such kind of educational campaign or negotiation. And I think for the time being it’s probably very hard for people like Ash Carter to go engage the appropriate North Koreans, if he can find the appropriate North Koreans, in a discussion of that sort. I think that—I mentioned earlier Indians and Pakistanis and of course Israelis have been part of the nuclear dialogue for 30 or 40 years, and as far as I know I don’t remember any Iranian ever at any one of the 50 conferences I went to on arms control and nuclear weapons strategy. I don’t remember ever an Iranian there. There could have been and I might not have noticed. But if this had been a North Korean, I would have noticed, so I know there never was. And the question is: How can you find people in North Korea who are capable of thinking about these things and having some influence and through what channels can you invite them into some kind of neutral territory. Maybe Americans shouldn’t try to do it. Maybe being American of makes one persona non grata.
I remember way back when the question was, Who should provide Iraq—this is back at the time the Israelis attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor. And the question was if the Iraqis did get nuclear weapons, should we give them the technology for permissive action links? That is for the—having them unable to detonate unless they receive an encrypted message from the person in authority? And I remember thinking, Well, the U.S. government can’t go offer them that. After all, that’s rewarding violators with the nonproliferation regime. But the French could do it. (Laughter.) So I think it’s important to try to (see ?) who can begin to engage some North Koreans in some kind of discussions about how they should think about nuclear weapons. Either they have them now or they’re going to get them in the future. And I think it’s unlikely that they are as sophisticated as the Indians and Pakistanis and Israelis, or Chinese or anybody else. But I think communicating with the enemy is terribly important, and I think it’s worthwhile thinking if we can’t do it, we Americans, who can?
CARTER: Historical fact: We in the late ’90s for India and Pakistan could not deliberately divulge to them information about use control devices. And so we put it on the web, and just directed their delegation—you can go on the web tonight in your hotel and we can put it there.
We have time for two more questions. Kim and—
QUESTIONER: Kim Davis. If we want to maximize the odds of having another 60 years of no use, should the United States be modernizing its nuclear force? Should it be enlarging it? Should it be reducing it? And, if it’s reducing it, how would you think about the irreducible minimum that we would need to maintain deterrence?
SCHELLING: On the last part of your question, what’s the irreducible minimum, I’ll leave that up to Ash Carter.
On the question should we be modernizing nuclear weapons, developing new capabilities? I would say only if we can do it so quietly that nobody notices. I think the administration should simply shut up on the issue of nuclear weapons—should never hint that nuclear weapons are considered available for use, even against North Korea or Iran. I can appreciate the fact that there may be a lot of reasons why I would like to see our nuclear capability drastically revised, maybe in the direction of smaller weapons, possibly cleaner weapons and so forth. But I think it will be very hard to do that and not have it be public and widely known. And I think if Lyndon Johnson were president he would say it is so important not to publicize that we think nuclear weapons are available for use the way Eisenhower said—I don’t know whether he believed it, but he said it. I think somewhat that we shouldn’t be caught planning on using nuclear weapons and designing new nuclear capabilities for that purpose and modifying our nuclear weapons. I think they should simply shut up about nuclear weapons, recognizing that except for a few things like ratifying the test-ban treaty silence is probably the best way to avoid undermining the taboo.
CARTER: Kori, you get the last question.
QUESTIONER: Kori Schake from the Hoover Institution. I think you’re surely right that the strongest powers in the order benefit from the taboo; moreover, that it is so sturdy that it would likely even govern retaliatory use; namely, we would channel our responses into conventional wars and that you—and that the right threat for countries we are most worried about is the threat about holding those who use it accountable—holding the regime accountable, holding rogue elements within the regime accountable. But where I run aground on the logic is that that seems to me to give them every incentive for us not to understand how their nuclear structures work, what kinds of controls they have, that you argued at the start of your talk is one of the most stabilizing tings we ought to be working for, the conversation about control and authority in a system. How do we structure the incentive so that the countries we want to hold accountable if they do use it help us understand who to hold accountable?
SCHELLING: Kori, that’s the question I would like to ask a group of people like you, because I think this is terribly important, and I don’t have the answer. I know nothing about the structure of the North Korean or the Iranian governmental system. I don’t know anything about whom they listen to, what they read in the West. I don’t know anything about how to reach them, if we want to reach them. And about all I can do is try to persuade people this is very important—first to decide whether we want them to be sophisticated about nuclear weapons and then if we do, as I think we shall—if we do, how to help them think about nuclear weapons—(short audio break)—there have been—(inaudible)—against the government or different armed forces in the nation who are pitted against each other. I think in Argentina at one time the Navy and the Army were essentially fighting against each other. I think the question who should have custody of nuclear weapons if you have nuclear weapons deserves a lot of very careful thinking, and I think these questions of technological security of weapons is very important. And essentially I think if you get people thinking about these issues, then they’re going to begin to think more carefully about, What are these weapons good for? Do we really want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, or do we really want to make sure that neither the Russians nor the American will ever dare invade us? Maybe the best thing is to hold these things in reserve, get the respect of those being a nuclear power, and making sure that nobody will ever invade us. Whether they can be taught to think that way, I don’t know. I was never one who thought that the Soviet Union, that the leaders of the Soviet Union would be so impressed by that taboo that they would go through such a horrendous, demoralizing military defeat in Afghanistan without ever considering the use of nuclear weapons. But people have said, Well, what were the appropriate targets in Afghanistan? Well, part of the answer—- they lost a huge number of aircraft that had to fly so low to find their targets that they could be shot down with these hand-held rockets that the United States had provided to their enemy. If they could have flown at 30,000 feet and dropped their weapon, they wouldn’t have worried about where those guys are—wherever they are, we’re going to kill them.
As far as we know—and I’m not sure that I would know if it were known, but as far as we know they didn’t even consider using nuclear weapons. So that I think that—I wasn’t surprised that Golda Meier didn’t use nuclear weapons, but I was astonished that the Soviets would go through such a dreadful campaign—(inaudible)—I think it is not out of possibility if the Soviets could arrive at what I would call a responsible attitude toward nuclear weapons, that the Iranians or even the North Koreans could.
CARTER: I’m going to bring this to a close with a benediction or a final thought on that theme, Tom. Your ideas are so powerful and have been so influential that I too hope that the North Koreans and the Iranians and bin Laden can be brought around to them. But on the whole I don’t want to experiment. So deterrence and taboos are a backstop when people whom I wish not to have nuclear weapons get nuclear weapons. So—and I know you wouldn’t agree with that, but it’s all to say that your ideas I hope are never put to the test, although I suppose they already are in North Korea. But they were put to the test, a very severe test, for 40 years of the Cold War after you developed them. We’re all in your debt for that. I think we know why this guy got the Nobel Prize from listening to him tonight. We’re grateful to you—I say this on behalf of the council—to all of you for coming, and especially grateful to Tom Schelling for the quality of his mind, the lucidity with which he speaks, and everything he’s done for national security for so long. So thank you, Tom. (Applause.)
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