U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Report of a CFR-Sponsored Independent Task Force
President Obama has called for the eventual global abolition of nuclear weapons, but they will remain a fundamental element of U.S. national security in the near term. The CFR Task Force report makes recommendations on how to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. deterrent nuclear force and puts forth measures to prevent nuclear terrorism and strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Task Force co-chairs William J. Perry and Brent Scowcroft will discuss the report’s main findings and recommendations.
The report is available on CFR’s website at http://www.cfr.org/nuclear_weapons_policy. Hard copies will be available at the meeting.
JACKSON DIEHL: Thank you very much. It's great to be here this morning.
Let me just start by providing the usual reminder that we need you to turn off, and not just put on vibrate, all cell phones, BlackBerrys and wireless devices to avoid interference with the sound system.
Secondly, this meeting is on the record, so everything here -- that's said here can be quoted. What we're going to do is start with a brief conversation with our two chairmen and then turn it over later to questions. And I just want to remind you of the final council rule that when you want to ask a question, simply raise your hand. And please identify yourself before asking your question.
As Kay King said, this task force report comes in at a particularly opportune time. We had this weekend a nuclear test by North Korea that has magnified the challenge of nonproliferation that the new administration faces. We have ongoing strategic negotiations with Russia for the first time in many years on nuclear weapons. And as the Post reported this morning, both India and Pakistan are intensifying their efforts to produce -- or expand their nuclear arsenals and produce new delivery systems for them.
I think one useful aspect of this report, as I read it, is that it's very well focused on near-term issues. I saw that the task force report concluded that the geopolitical conditions that would permit the global elimination of nuclear weapons do not currently exist, and I -- the task force members disagreed on whether or not Barack Obama's goal of zero nuclear weapons was realistic or even desirable.
But they did identify a lot of specific steps that the administration can undertake to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons in the near term, such as negotiations with Russia and China, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a new treaty ending the production of fissile material for weapons.
Now, to discuss this today we have the two chairmen of the task force, two men who are well known to everyone here, I think.
General Brent Scowcroft was national security adviser to two presidents, President Ford and the first President Bush.
He is now the resident trustee of the Forum for International Policy.
Dr. William Perry was secretary of Defense under President Clinton from 1994 to 1997. He's now a professor at Stanford, and serves as co-director of the Preventive Defense Project, which is a research collaboration between Stanford and Harvard.
Just to start off the discussion, I'd like to begin by asking Dr. Perry if you could talk about the ways in which the Barack Obama administration's policy so far on nuclear policy issues corresponds or not with the recommendations of the task force.
WILLIAM J. PERRY: I guess the first comment you're asking would be that the Obama administration's nuclear policy is a work in process; and in particular, the Nuclear Posture Review has not been completed. Indeed, our task force report should be seen as an input to that. But the administration has made rather -- several very explicit statements of policy, and I can compare with that.
For one thing, at a meeting in Munich, Vice President Joseph Biden stated he wanted to reset -- press the "reset" button on our relations with Russia. We talked about that quite a bit in the council, though, before he said that, and we strongly agree with that, that restoring positive, strong relations with Russia is extremely important. We'll say more about that later.
Then President Obama's speech in Prague laid out some very specific tenets. Now, again, the speech was given after our report was concluded, so when I compare what we say, I'm doing this retrospectively now. But a main focus of our report was that we did face new threats today -- proliferation, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear terrorism; but that in addition, dealing with these threats, we had to hedge against the possibility of the old threats reemerging. Our report was very clear on that, and I think President Obama was very clear on that point. So we're in complete agreement there.
In his speech, he made the point that this is a global problem, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is critical dealing with the problem; the U.S. ought to support the NPT, and we ought to get more resources for its main arm with regard -- which is the International Atomic Energy Agency. And our commission fully agrees -- our task force fully agrees with that point.
He made the point that success in dealing with these new threats did require the United States and other nuclear powers to make progress in disarmament. Here we agreed with that, but I must say some of our members felt that link was weak, and other members felt -- myself included -- felt it was a strong link.
So there was a difference of -- some difference of view on that point.
He said -- and we agree -- that a great danger in nuclear terrorism, that lies with the civilian nuclear power and the loose fissile material that's associated with that. We strongly agree with that and give some recommendations about how to deal with that problem.
I think a really major tenet in his speech was that he said that the United States seeks and is willing to work for a world without nuclear weapons.
And here the commission had different views. I strongly agree with that, of course -- you know some other things that I have written -- but some of the commission members believed that while this was a desirable goal, it was not feasible, and a few of them actually believed it was not feasible or that -- pardon me -- it was not desirable. So we did have a difference of views on that issue.
But all of us agreed on the conclusion that we -- until we reached that goal, we needed to maintain a safe, secure, reliable nuclear deterrence. And we gave some detail about how we could achieve that safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrence, which he did not discuss in his speech but presumably will be in the Nuclear Posture Review.
DIEHL: General Scowcroft, you may want to follow up a little bit on that, but I'd also like you to ask you to focus on the conversations with Russia that are now going on. We have a deadline at the end of the year for extending the current verification measures, at least for the START Treaty.
I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what is realistic to expect in terms of the negotiations with Russia this year on nuclear weapons. What is the minimum we need to achieve? What is the most we can expect? How much linkage should there be to some other issues that are mentioned in the report, such as missile defense or Iran?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you.
Let me make just a brief comment about Charles Ferguson, our study director, who unfortunately couldn't be here. He did a Herculean amount of work on this study.
We had a study group of strong-minded people, and there were a variety of views on all of these issues. And the report was written several times before we could come out with what I think are very good, very sound conclusions, and I don't think it's waffled report. But Charles Ferguson did a tremendous job on it.
As Bill said, the code word that the administration used, to Russia, the reset button, we hardly agree with.
And that's one of our strongest recommendations, in the study, in dealing with Russia, because we saw not only the substance of it but the fact that here is a way to reach out to the Russians and try to get them engaged, because in the area of nuclear weapons, Russia is a superpower.
Between us, we have over 95 percent of all the nuclear weapons in the world. So this is a natural way to go. And it gives the Russians the sense that they're co-equals again and they're participants in this great enterprise.
Now, it's not going to be easy. It's easier to say the reset button than it is actually to get started, because there's been a long hiatus. I think there are several things we need to accomplish.
First is the technical piece and that is the arms-control regime that we established, with the Russians, at the end of the Cold War, is running out. And we need to fix that. So there are some technical fixes that have to be done, in terms of numbers and types and counting rules and those things to go. And so that's the first thing that needs to be done.
Second, I think that we need to start on the task which was really begun in START I and START II but didn't -- that is to sort of reclass the nuclear arsenals of both sides -- toward greater stability, toward less incentive to use in a crisis -- those kinds of things.
Now, we didn't deal with that in any detail in the study. But I think that in terms of follow-on, in negotiations with Russia, maybe not the first time, because we've got to fix these treaties. But then we should go not just numbers. But what kinds of forces should the two have, in order to stabilize nuclear deterrence and to assure that nuclear weapons are never used?
It won't be easy. It is pretty easy at the top levels to agree that we're going to do this. But the negotiators on both sides are going to be -- it's going to be very hard to reengage. Perspectives are very different. When we started -- when we started arms control, it was a very different attitude.
The Russians right now, because of the deterioration of their conventional forces, are where we probably were in 1950, '51, feeling they have to rely on nuclear weapons to make up for a conventional deficiency. So we've got a lot of renewing to go on before we can get back into the kinds of discussions that we had at the end of the Cold War.
Just a word on the president and his statement about a world without nuclear weapons. We do have a difference. We did have a difference in the study group. And Secretary Perry is a supporter of it. I'm a skeptic. I'm a skeptic for two reasons.
First of all, I think it gets -- tends to get in the way of practical steps to ensure that -- what we both sincerely agree with: as systems, our nuclear weapons are never used. And it's easy for idealists to say to jump -- "Well, let's go to zero now, and let's just -- none of this nonsense." And I -- so I think we have a number of practical things we have to do first.
Secondly, if I recall what the president actually said, a commitment to return to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons -- well, to me that's World War I and World War II, the kind of world. So I think we need a more serious investigation of this issue before we commit to a goal. I don't know whether it's the thing to do or not.
But we didn't focus on that in the study, and I -- but I thought -- we just thought to talk about it in the beginning.
PERRY: Except for this point of disagreement on this, I say I agree with everything that Brent Scowcroft has just said, particularly relative to the Russian reset button.
Want to add a gloss to that. I was in Russia about two days before the summit meeting in London and met with President Medvedev. I did not quite know what to expect about the Russian reaction to this reset button. They could have been cynical or skeptical.
He was quite positive and had no reservations at all about it, stated very clearly the goal of getting to a new START Treaty, and he said by the end of year. He emphasized, that and he said -- no reason why we cannot achieve that.
In a sense, I thought he was using us as a dress rehearsal for his upcoming meeting with President Obama. So I thought it was particularly interesting from that point of view. But I was very encouraged with the many points that he made during that meeting.
On the other hand, I had that evening a dinner with an old friend from Russia that I've known for about -- more than 30 years, a member of the Duma. And he said it's not going to be so easy. There are many people in Russia who do not -- not only don't want the treaty, but more importantly, do not want to reestablish cordial, friendly relations with United States. They see their best interest is in maintaining a hostile relationship.
So that's an important note of warning. It won't be as easy as we had hoped in Russia, as well as the obvious problems in this country, not the least of which will be getting a two-thirds-plus-one vote in the U.S. Senate. So I see some pretty tough times ahead of us in achieving the goals that both President Obama and President Medvedev have stated.
DIEHL: I wonder if we can move on to the issue of nuclear terrorism, which is covered quite a lot in the report. We've had this issue front and center for eight years now. It is, in many ways, the most serious threat we face. And yet a lot of what the administration is doing and a lot of what the report is covering is about things that are a little bit tangential to that, whether it is reductions with Russia, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, stopping proliferation in other countries.
I wonder if I could ask each of you to comment a little bit about whether the threat of nuclear terrorism has diminished or gotten greater since September 11th, and whether all these other initiatives that we're working on don't serve to distract us a little bit from the measures that directly relate to that threat, such as the fissile material production ban you talk about in the report.
PERRY: I'll start off by observing that I do believe nuclear terrorism is a very serious threat. It's the most likely way a nuclear bomb will end up in one of our -- being detonated in one of our cities.
So it's something we have to take very seriously.
The good news is that the nuclear terror group, even the most well organized and best financed group, cannot on their own make a nuclear bomb from scratch. They have to get either the bomb or the fissile material from a -- from a nation state that has the capability of doing that. So our focus, then, ought to be on keeping them from getting that bomb and fissile material.
When we are concerned about proliferation -- for example, to North Korea or to Iran -- we are concerned about the possibility that the nuclear terrorists might get a bomb from one of those nations, not that North Korea or Iran is going to be firing a nuclear warhead at us. The greater danger is that the bomb or the fissile material will leak from one of those countries. So that is the reason for pushing hard on it. I do not see the proliferation concern as a distraction, but I see it as related intimately to that goal.
But a separate issue from the proliferation issue is the civilian nuclear power and the fact that fissile material that could be used in making a bomb exists in large quantities around the world because of the nuclear power program. We really know how to deal with that problem, but we're having a very difficult time politically of getting countries to agree to take the safe -- security action they need to take to keep that material from leaking out.
So it is a very important problem. And it's independent of -- I do not consider the others as a distraction, because we have to move in both these paths in parallel.
SCOWCROFT: I agree with everything Bill said. Nuclear terrorism is a -- really is a serious problem, but it's nuclear and it's terrorism. And what you need to do is prevent the materials from being acquired by the terrorists, and that leads you directly to nonproliferation. And so I think that that is the focus.
I certainly agree that the most likely use of a nuclear weapon is by terrorists. So far, we've been very lucky, because in the Cold War, controls -- especially in the Soviet Union -- on numbers, on security of fissile material, on all these things, was very, very loose.
Now, we have taken a number of steps to secure that, and we need -- we need to go a lot further. But I think the goal is the security of the material to make a weapon. And as Bill says, power is one element of it. We can control it. But politically it's -- politically, it's going to be difficult.
PERRY: I think one of the groups that has been working seriously on this problem for many years is the Nuclear Threat Initiative, located right here in Washington. And I see Laura Holgate here, who has been a champion of getting the fissile material under control around the world -- and not just theoretically, but actually conducting several important projects which scooped up loose fissile material in places around the world where the probability of a terror group getting it was unacceptably high.
SCOWCROFT: And one of the problems of the Iranian situation, for example, is, let's assume they really don't want to make a weapon, but if they're free to enrich uranium to weapons grade, then you'll have others who want to do it just for protection, or whatever. And then you have a tremendous danger of terrorists getting ahold of a fissile material, and then making a bomb is relatively easy.
DIEHL: What about negotiations with other states? We've talked about Russia, but the report spends a lot of time on China. And then we also have the question of India, and particularly of Pakistan which, as we were reporting in the Post this morning, is accelerating its effort, apparently, to create more nuclear weapons and vehicles to carry them. What is -- in some sense, negotiations with those countries would be breaking new ground to the extent that it covers arms control and nuclear arms control. What can the administration aim for, and what should it aim for with China and Pakistan?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I think we need to start -- we can't do it all at once. And we need to start, I think, with the Russians. That's where we start. With the Chinese, we are -- we have a long way to go, because we started back in the '60s to talk with the Russians. At the height of the Cold War, we started to talk about our nuclear arsenals. We have not had that conversation with the Chinese. And the arsenals are very different. The Chinese had a minimum deterrent policy.
So we have a long way to go with the Chinese.
I think the first thing to do is to sit down and talk about nuclear weapons and talk about their uses and before we get into the detailed negotiations we can have and should have, with the Russians. And I think that's true of other nuclear powers.
Let's start with the Russians. And also to me, it's important to start with Iran, because if we don't put a cap on proliferation now, we could easily face 30 or 40 countries with that capability. That is not a better world. So I think we need to work step by step on it.
PERRY: I'll say something about Pakistan, which in some ways poses one of the greatest dangers of nuclear materials leaking out. And when I was secretary, I made a special visit to both Pakistan and India, urging them not to go forward in the nuclear-weapons program, because of the dangers I thought it would create, not just for the world but for those two countries in particular.
Obviously I was unsuccessful in that mission. What should the goal of the administration be today, in dealing with Pakistan? It's pretty complex. First of all, it's important. Anything we can do to help maintain the stability of the government is important, because the worst possible outcome is for an insurgent group dominated by the Taliban to overthrow their government.
They could go in. We'd have a government with the Taliban likely controlling more than 100 nuclear weapons. So that's the first issue, which is indirectly related to nuclear weapons but very importantly influences the outcome.
Beyond that, we should be urging them to stop increasing their arsenals or build more fissile material. And beyond that, we should be trying to find ways to help them increase the security of the fissile material and the nuclear weapons they have.
So those are three very real objectives which our administrations could have and should have, in dealing with Pakistan.
DIEHL: Before I go to questions, I do want to bring up the question of North Korea, which of course isn't addressed centrally in the report but is central to the question of non-proliferation that you take on in the report.
Secretary Perry, you were secretary of Defense during the previous crisis with North Korean in 1994. It led to an agreement with the North Koreans, in which they were supposed to stop their nuclear program.
Fifteen years later, here we are again. And it seems we've had two administrations that have both tried making deals. We've tried threats. We've tried sanctions. Nothing seems to work.
I mean, where do we go from here? And if we can't stop this, what are the implications for nonproliferation elsewhere?
PERRY: The danger of a North Korean nuclear -- in my judgment, is not the danger that they're going to necessarily fire a nuclear missile against us, and our focus on that, I think, is inappropriate. It is that they will proliferate either the material or their weapons. That's the danger. And so we ought to keep that firmly in mind when we decide what our policies are in dealing with North Korea. That's what we're trying to prevent.
Beyond that, there's a very real danger that their example will be contagious; that as it is seen by Iran, for example, that North Korea can move forward in this path and gets only mild reprimands for doing so, then it will be an important lesson to them; and as Iran and North Korea move forward with their nuclear weapon program, that half a dozen other countries in the world will see this as a model which they will follow. And this will essentially be the end of the nonproliferation regime, I fear.
What should the United States do about this? First of all, we should not accept a nuclear North Korea. There's some talk about that in this town, some talk about it in other capitals in the world. We should not accept. The dangers that I cited are real, and they're serious, and so we should not simply accept them.
Secondly, I do not think we should return to business-as-usual six-party talks. We should recognize that the six-party talks, the way they have been conducted, under the conditions they've been conducted, have failed.
You can argue about the theory of diplomacy as much as you want, but the fact is, from the time the six-party talks stopped to today, that the North Koreans have built or six or eight nuclear bombs and they've had two nuclear tests. That can hardly be considered a successful outcome. So returning to that model does not seem to be the right model.
Having said that, I do believe that diplomacy still has a chance of success, but only if it is robust and only if the robustness includes some meaningful coercion components.
I recognize that diplomacy has a much steeper hill to climb now than it did in 2003, because they now have a bomb. In 2002, 2003, our goal was to keep them from building -- making plutonium and building a bomb. Now our goal is much more difficult. It's to get them to give up the plutonium and the bombs that they already have. Anyway, it does not take a nuclear expert to know that's going to be a much more difficult goal to achieve.
Also, the coercive options that were available in 2003 are not open to us now. For example, then we had the option of stopping the production of plutonium. Now the plutonium has been produced and is located somewhere; we know not where. So that option has now disappeared.
I think our first step is to get an unambiguous and clear condemnation by the U.N.
And I know the administration is working on that as we speak.
Secondly, what are the coercive elements that we can consider right now? Well, it seems to me the one that can be most immediate and with real bite to it is stopping the money transactions of the North Korean leadership. This is not just economic sanctions in general. Most of the sanctions we have applied to date affect the Korean -- North Korean people more than they affect the leadership. We need to get something that puts a bite into the leadership.
And I think we guys are willing to do that. But when I say "we," I don't mean just the U.S. alone. This has to be an international effort.
So along with this strong condemnation by the U.N. has to be an understanding by the people who are doing the condemnation that this is not just an exercise in words, that we ought to have some meaning put to it. If that is not sufficient -- and it probably will not be -- then we need to consider even stronger measures.
We're discussing, already, stopping the transfer of nuclear- related materiel and equipment to North Korea. That's a dangerous action. I mean, it has risks associated with it. Allowing North Korea to proceed to a nuclear program has risks associated with it. So we got to balance those risks and make some sort of a judgment about it.
Beyond that, there are other actions that could be taken. I am not recommending them, but I think we should at least be considering them. We should stop any further nuclear tests. We could have stopped this last nuclear test, had we chosen to do so. We could have stopped their first one had we chosen to do so.
That requires a military action. And I'm not recommending military action. But somewhere in the -- in this series of coercive actions, which is an -- we have to imagine an escalation. And if the ones that are less -- not military do not succeed, we have to be able -- willing to consider the other ones.
And finally, they have a nuclear weapon now, but they have not developed it yet with a carrier -- you know, tested it with a carrier. That's a very difficult technical step. It requires testing. We could stop the missile testing also, if we wanted to.
So the -- a whole set of coercive options available to us. We should look at them carefully. We should consider this careful escalation. But most importantly, we have to get some agreement and some support from the other countries involved.
Most critically important, of course, is China. On any of the economic sanctions, if we cannot get China as supporters, they will not be effective. So diplomacy -- a first stage of the diplomacy is working with the other nations who are affected by this at least as much as we are.
SCOWCROFT: I agree with what Bill said. Let me just add one point. We have never been able to figure out, in the over 15 years of negotiations we've had in North Korea -- is what their goals are. Is their goal to become a nuclear-weapon state?
Or are nuclear weapons trading materials for a security regime in which North Korea would feel secure?
Now it looks like that is the becoming clearer, and they're deciding on -- that their goal is a nuclear-weapon state. I think that makes a big difference in the Chinese attitude, for example. And I certainly agree with Bill that the real leverage, economic leverage, on North Korea rests with China. North Korea is heavily dependent in a number of key areas on China.
China has additional problems. They don't want a chaos -- chaotic situation in North Korea, with hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across their border.
So I think sitting down with them is what we've now learned and what we now see as the apparent North Korean direction. The Chinese, I think, don't want a nuclear North Korea any more than we do or maybe not quite as much as we do.
And therefore, I think the possibility of unified action in a series of steps -- we need to be mindful of Chinese concerns about the political state in North Korea and their fears there. They need to be mindful of ours. I think there's a possibility now, with some skillful diplomacy, to exercise one or more -- several of the options that Bill Perry has recommended.
But we now have a new situation, I think, that has not appeared before, and it seems clear that we now have additional leverage and reason to get cooperation from our friends from the five parties of the six-party talks.
PERRY: I think I would add one point to that: that I believe their goal has not always been the same. When I had a detailed discussion with a North Korean in 1998 in Pyongyang, I thought our goal at that time was enhanced security and an enhanced economic benefit to the country, and that the goal of becoming a nuclear-weapon state was in the background, not in the foreground.
I think that's changed in the last 10 years -- in particular, having actually gone ahead now to make the plutonium and conduct the tests. And I think that was through a series of missteps on our -- part of the United States and other nations.
Now, having achieved that, I think it's going to be much harder to get the change. And I think they may now have assumed the goal of becoming a nuclear power. And it'll be being very, very difficult to dislodge them from that goal without strong coercive measures.
SCOWCROFT: Well, I don't necessarily disagree. But even the result in the last agreement, where they agreed to start dismantling their plant, gave you the impression that maybe this was reversible and that they would -- they would trade it for a security regime. Now I think it's becoming quite apparent. And I think that's useful in discussions with the Chinese as well.
DIEHL: Okay. We're going to open it up for questions. We have roving microphones. And I just want to remind you to please identify yourself before you ask your question. I don't know if any of the other commission members want to start with anything.
Okay. Yes. Barbara.
QUESTIONER: Sure. Hi. Barbara Slavin from the Washington Times. I wanted to ask both our distinguished speakers whether anything about the Obama administration's new attitude is emboldening any of this, or whether you see these as policies that were entrained before Obama came in.
And also talk a little bit about the issue of Iran. We've talked about North Korea now in detail. Obviously, the Iranians are watching what the North Koreans are doing, but do you think there is still a possibility to stop the Iranians short of nuclear weapons or a nuclear-weapons capability? Or has that train left the station? Thanks.
SCOWCROFT: Well, to start with, with the Iranian question, I don't happen to think it's too late on Iran, but I think what it will take is very close cooperation among the perm-5 plus one. And that includes especially the Russians.
And we have been in a position where the president has stated publicly -- the administration -- previous administrations stated publicly, we cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. But we are building a defensive missile deployment in Eastern Europe for when they do.
Now, if you're the Russians, you might be a little suspicious about what's going on here. So, but I think one of the things we can do is, go to the Russians very frankly and say, look, neither of us want Iran to have nuclear weapons.
And when I met with President Medvedev, he said, we noted that the Russians launched a missile -- the Iranians launched a missile. That concerns us, because we're within range.
So there is a willingness there. They don't want a nuclear-armed Iran. And I think if we can work with the Russians, to avoid it, then of course there's no need for the missile deployment in Eastern Europe.
And it seems to me that -- I don't know if it will work. But I don't think we have exhausted the possibilities, by any means, to dissuade Iran from going ahead.
Iran is not a monolithic country. There are different currents, different groups in there with different goals. And with some really skillful diplomacy, I think, we can make progress. And I think President Obama has indicated his interest in pursuing that kind of diplomacy.
PERRY: I agree with Brent's statements. I would put a somewhat different gloss on it though.
I think it is too late to have a goal of stopping them from enriching uranium. They are enriching uranium. They built thousands of centrifuges. They have stated it as a national goal. They have large, strong national support for it.
I don't think an Iranian government can stand if they give up that goal. Therefore I think that's a red line which has already been crossed and which is -- you can't take them back over that red line.
If that is correct, then the goal we should have is a goal of having full transparency in what they're doing, enriching uranium, so that we would have a good year or more warning, if they ever crossed that line, and could act accordingly and have a plan, a serious plan, for what we would do, if they crossed that red line.
SCOWCROFT: I'm not quite so ready to give up on that one.
As a matter of fact, the Russians have proposed a nuclear enrichment plant for the uraniums in Russia.
The problem I have with transparency in a program inside Iran: As soon as they perfect the whole thing, they kick out the inspectors. So it seems to me we ought to try.
And we and the Russians have done a lot of things in supplying nuclear fissile material to power plants and so on. We haven't worked together to the degree we can. And I think an international regime that would guarantee fuel supplies to any who meet the IAEA criteria, located in a neutral country, or in Russia or wherever, is something we ought to try; not necessarily just focused on Iran, but a general statement welcoming the development of nuclear power; bring the IAEA in. And if the U.S. and the Russians did it, it would be an additional -- I don't know if it would work, but it seems to me we ought to try something like that.
PERRY: Yeah, I'm in favor of trying that. And I want to have a plan, if it does not work, that what we do in that case.
QUESTIONER: And if the Iranians don't -- (off mike)?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I would rather start this way, rather than "what if." And I think, especially with Iran, if you say, "Well, we'll sit down with you for six months and if we don't have an agreement then --" that's playing into the Iranians' hands. They are artful negotiators -- some people say rug merchants. I think we need -- we need to get them to sit down and talk and, in the course of that, try to play on the differences inside the administration. I think that the people who really run the country, the mullahs, are interested in a secure Iran. They're not interested in a revolutionary Iran, necessarily. We need to find that out.
PERRY: I think that's entirely correct, and I support both points that Brent has made. What I would like to see is that if those, for whatever reason, fail, I want to see a serious plan, a serious plan for how we respond to that failure.
SCOWCROFT: I don't disagree with that.
DIEHL: And what about this question of whether -- what some of what we're seeing now, especially by the North Koreans, is either a response to the Obama administration's initial policies or some kind of attempt to test what the new administration will do?
SCOWCROFT: I think that we'd be foolish if we didn't think the Iranians are looking to see what happens now with respect to North Korea. The two are connected. I think the North Koreans are less concerned about what happens with Iran, but the other way around, I think, is quite clear.
So if we turn the other cheek again on North Korea, it will seriously damage the chances for success with Iran.
PERRY: On that point, I want to specifically highlight the connection between North Korea and Iran, the technical connection in their nuclear program. I think it's very dangerous, and a specific goal we and our nonproliferation allies ought to have is a way of stopping that kind of traffic and exchange of technical material and equipment.
DIEHL: Yes, sir.
QUESTIONER: Jeff Pryce, Steptoe & Johnson. Thank you for the report. We've talked about diplomacy and we've talked about terrorism, but in between, as I think we just mentioned, is a network of covert sharing of technology, with the implicit or covert support of governments. I'm thinking particularly of A.Q. Khan's network, which shared technology between North Korea, Pakistan, Libya, Iran, Chinese technology. And the story is that network has been rolled up, but it's a cautionary tale. And I wonder if you could talk about how we deal with those kinds of networks of covert sharing of technology with semi-state support.
SCOWCROFT: You're the expert.
PERRY: I think that's a very good point and a very serious problem. For one thing, I support the initiative the last administration called the Proliferation Security Initiative, PSI, and the recent moves to strengthen that initiative, including the adding of South Korea to the PSI.
But that deals substantially with ship traffic. That does not deal with the problem of airplanes flying between North Korea and Iran.
To deal with that problem, I think, we need cooperation from China.
And so it comes back again to the point we've made several times before. In dealing with this problem, we have to have a common threat assessment with China and a common strategy on how to deal with it with China.
So to have a serious counterproliferation program, dealing with Iran, dealing with North Korea, the first step is diplomacy with China, where the first goal of that diplomacy is getting a common threat assessment, and the second goal is getting a common strategy for how to deal with it. I'm not suggesting that's going to be easy. But I would say, that's where I would start.
DIEHL: Yes, sir.
QUESTIONER: (Inaudible.) Henry Stimson Center.
I'm taken with General Scowcroft's contrast, stating that pursuit of elimination of nuclear weapons, as a long-term goal, is unrealistic. But the pursuit of stable deterrents, in a proliferating world, is realistic.
I think we could be successful with the Russians in establishing stable deterrent postures. That doesn't touch the more realistic scenarios about how nuclear weapons might be used, looking at the North Koreans, the utter recklessness of their behavior, in the past week.
In addition to the threat that they'll transfer material, there's a threat that they'll be emboldened and renew their objective of destabilizing the south with -- (inaudible) -- and so forth. (Inaudible.)
We have to assess that there's at least a 50-50 chance Iran will develop nuclear weapons. And there are so many scenarios in the Middle East, in which nuclear use would be possible, to say nothing of further proliferation there, that the U.S.-Russia relationship is virtually irrelevant to that.
So this contrast -- calling the long-term goal of disarmament unrealistic but deterrents in a proliferating world realistic -- is one I wonder if you could --
I think -- I don't see how declaring a long-term goal of zero helps us, in any of the detailed problems.
Because 95 percent of all the weapons are owned by the United States and Russia. Get rid of those and we've dealt with most of the problem, according to the rest of the world.
I think it -- it distracts us. Like, I think the -- during the Cold War, the nuclear freeze, those moments, "let's just do away with the whole thing" got in the way of useful measures that we took with the Soviet Union to reduce the chances that a war that neither of us would like would start because of the character of the weapons itself. And I think that's what we ought to concentrate on.
And so I just don't think zero enters into the problems that we're facing now. The things that we both advocate both go in the same direction and -- whether we end up with the ultimate goal or not. But I think if we focus on the ultimate goal, it will be a dangerous distraction from what we need to do.
And countries like -- India historically has had the position, "Well, don't tell us what to do. You guys have all -- this weapon -- you get rid of yours first." That's what we need to -- we bring in an additional argument if we focus on zero now.
PERRY: Brent and I have discussed this issue many times, and as you can see, we have not succeeded in reaching convergence on it. (Laughter.) My view is really just the opposite of what Brent has expressed: that expressing a goal of zero and moving seriously towards it -- not just "expressing it," but "and moving seriously towards it" -- I think not only facilitates the nonproliferation goals that we have, but I do not think they can be achieved without it.
It is not that expressing this goal and moving toward it influences Iran or North Korea. It does not. What it does is it influences other countries whose support we need in trying to deal with Iran and North Korea. That's why it is important to me, and that's why I support the goal.
SCOWCROFT: You see, what we -- what we agree on is a regime where nuclear weapons are never used. Now, are they never used because of the kinds of restrictions we have or because there aren't any? Makes a big difference, probably, but not necessarily.
I think a world without nuclear weapons is a more dangerous world, because we cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. And there are going to be bad guys in the world, and in a world without nuclear weapons, the guy who first develops and gets a dozen of them or so is a superpower.
So I don't -- I think the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons is the world that we've been living in, and the 20th century is a good example of it.
Now -- now, well, let me make the point -- and it's a totally unprovable point -- we have not had a "world war III." India and Pakistan had three wars with each other. Since nuclear weapons, there hasn't been one. Now, that's not proof of anything, but all I'm saying is if we focus on just -- even if we get there, it's going to be a long, long way. And we ought to do what we can, forcefully, to make sure nuclear weapons are never used. We can do that a lot sooner than we can get to zero.
PERRY: And that much we agree on.
SCOWCROFT: That -- I mean, that we do agree on: zero nuclear -- I mean -- (laughter) -- no nuclear use.
SCOWCROFT: No nuclear use.
PERRY: I accept. (Laughter.)
DIEHL: Yes, in the back there.
QUESTIONER: Tom Graham, Thorium Power Limited. I would like to ask the co-chairmen the question on the worst-case side.
Bill, I think you mentioned Pakistan and the threat of a Taliban- led insurgency. What practical policy options would the United States have if that insurgency looked as though it was likely to succeed in the relatively near future, or if in fact it did succeed? It seems to me this is an issue that ought to rank with Iran and North Korea in terms of the seriousness of the threat to the United States.
SCOWCROFT: I don't want to -- I don't want to say -- don't think the U.S. government is not concerned about that issue. I think Pakistan is probably the most difficult problem we face now. Let's just say the nuclear weapons at the present time, at least I'm confident, are secure. I think they're secure as long as the Pakistani army is a unified, cohesive force.
If it isn't, then something else might need to be done. But I don't want to say any more than that.
PERRY: Let me talk about a worst-case scenario which doesn't even involve Pakistan, the simple case of one nuclear bomb, in one city, detonated by a terrorist. We focus on the fact that this would cause a catastrophe of 50 to 100,000 people killed, which is true. But beyond that, we had a workshop a year or so ago in Washington called The Day After: What would happen after this bomb went off? What would we do? What would the response be?
In our scenario, one bomb in one city, we assumed that the terror group who detonated this would not only claim responsibility, but would say, "By the way, we have five other bombs planted in cities in the United States and they're going to be going off once a month from now on unless such and such demands are met." They might even name the five cities.
And I'll leave it to your imagination what happens in those five cities, or even other cities in the United States, once they've demonstrated that they could detonate and would detonate one bomb. Even if the threat were not true, the chaos -- the economic, the political, the social chaos -- that would occur would be fantastic.
So you don't have to go very far to come to what I consider a worst-case scenario, which is why the emphasis in our country should be very strongly on preventing that from happening. And the only way we know to prevent it with any confidence at all is to keep the terror group from getting the bomb and fissile material. And that's why these counter-proliferation measures are so important.
QUESTIONER: Extended deterrence issues in Japan seem to be coming to the fore now because of the North Korean issue. Is it possible that the discussion in the U.S. about zero nuclear weapons and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban is sending, perhaps inadvertently, signals to Japan -- or Turkey or other countries that might be potential proliferators -- that extended proliferation in the future may be less certain than they perceive it has been thus far?
SCOWCROFT: Let me answer that, because it's in my interest to be on the other side.
No, I don't think so. I don't think so. And one of the things that our study does that we have not discussed today is say, as long as we have nuclear weapons, we have to make sure that extended deterrence gives confidence to our allies, and that we maintain the deterrent in tip-top shape.
Japan; there's a lot of talk in Japan now. I think it is less the extended deterrence itself than, well, it's our responsibility to take care of North Korea, and we're failing. And therefore they have to do something themselves.
I don't think that the Japanese will come to that conclusion, because it would be an erroneous conclusion. So I don't think whether or not we're talking about zero, in the United States, has much to do with extended deterrence, either in Asia or in Europe.
PERRY: I agree with Brent's comments there.
But I would add to it that in our report, we spent considerable time talking about what the United States has to do to sustain safe, secure, reliable forces to provide that deterrence and that extended deterrence. And there are many recommendations made.
But they basically boil down to maintaining the health and vitality of our weapons laboratories. We have absolutely first-class scientists and first-class leadership at those laboratories today.
But the problem of sustaining our nuclear weapons that were designed 20-30-40 years ago gets harder each year. And we have so far responded, to the increasing difficulty of that task, by decreasing the funding and decreasing the staff at our weapons laboratories.
That is a mistake, and we made a clear recommendation that the United States should reverse that policy, get back to a policy of sustaining the strength of these laboratories.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Don Bandler. With regard to shipping on the open seas, how concerned are you about the ability -- our ability to inspect and to make sure that we're not getting small -- relatively small but deadly weapons into ports in the United States?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I will let the secretary of Defense talk to that. I was much more confident until I saw what the pirates were doing in the Gulf of Aden.
PERRY: I think any policy which depends on defending the United States from a nuclear terror attack by stopping the ships that carry the bomb into the harbors is a policy that is very low confidence. We have had, for decades, a policy of stopping drugs from being shipped into the United States, and you can judge for yourself how successful that has been.
That's why I emphasize the importance -- and stopping proliferation is to deal with the -- to get at the source, to keep the nuclear materiel, nuclear weapon, from falling into the hands of the terrorists in the first place.
If they get it, everything we do after that -- I'm not saying we shouldn't try to do things after that -- but anything we do after that has a relatively low confidence of success. So we should fight this problem at its source, keeping the nuclear weapons and the fissile material out of the hands of the terrorists.
SCOWCROFT: But this PSI, I think, has been relatively successful with respect to North Korea. It --
PERRY: That is a somewhat different issue, though. That --
SCOWCROFT: Well, but isn't that what we were talking about, partly? Yeah.
SCOWCROFT: Yeah. I think that's -- that's a combination of intelligence in North Korea plus interception of suspected targets. And that's gone, I think, relatively well.
PERRY: And let me reinforce that point. I support the PSI initiatives of stopping the shipment of fissile material or equipment from one country to another country. And I also support Brent's view that the success of that program depends not just on having the ships to do the interception, but good intelligence to tell you which ships to go after.
DIEHL: Yes, all the way in the back.
QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report. Secretary Perry, you've always been quite frank in recommending the possibility -- the necessity of military action to stop the North Koreans from doing something or to try to compel them into doing something we want. I'm wondering if at this point, given their apparent capabilities to at least make a dangerous explosion, given their rising threats on South Korea, that talk of military action needs to be considered as perhaps more of a leverage effort to get the Chinese to do what we all hope and pray they might be able to do, or do you really mean it?
And if you really mean it, what do you say to the South Koreans, who point out that Seoul is, you know, within artillery range of the border? How many people are we willing to kill in South Korea, (in other words ?), to protect ourselves?
PERRY: Let me make a very clear and unambiguous statement. I am not recommending military action against North Korea today. I'm not recommending that. What I'm recommending is that we put together a clear and comprehensive policy and strategy (for coercive ?) diplomacy that would involve consideration of escalating options as you go along; and that in that concept, at least, at the end of the line of escalation would be some military options.
You could not execute options those options -- any of those options -- without considerable discussion and in some cases concurrence from affected allies. Any military action against North Korea, the consequences of that are going to be immediately felt in South Korea. So, quite clearly you'd have to have a clear concurrence with the South Korean government on any such actions. So it's a complicated action.
But I want to make clear that I am not recommending we conduct a military action against North Korea today. So I want to draw that distinction between what I was saying (and/in ?) that policy.
SCOWCROFT: I remember in 1994 when Secretary Perry was wrestling with this problem, I gave him some cover by recommending military action against the North Korean reprocessing plant. At that time, it was a relatively simple military operation and would take out the one thing that they had fairly easily. It's a very different situation now, and I agree with his comments completely.
PERRY: That option has not been available to us really since 2003.
SCOWCROFT: That's right.
PERRY: When we allowed the North Koreans to do the reprocessing to get their plutonium. Once we had let that happen, they crossed the red line, and that option no longer became as useful for us. So that really is an important distinction here.
But I must say that when I was the secretary, and when we were negotiating with North Korea in a pretty tough -- in a dangerous period, Brent Scowcroft's op-ed recommending military action I found to be very helpful. (Laughter.)
SCOWCROFT: That's why I did it, Bill. (Laughs, laughter.)
DIEHL: Yes, sir.
QUESTIONER: Just a follow-up question.
DIEHL: Would you identify yourself?
QUESTIONER: Colonel Daktar (sp), Foreign Policy Association and president of Indian Veteran Officers Association here.
Looking at and considering all the questions which have been asked so far, and just a follow-up question, what are the preventative measures in place to prevent Taliban or al Qaeda to buy up the launching pad and just one missile from North Korea, because North Korea is doing it quite far?
SCOWCROFT: Was the question what measures are in place to prevent the Taliban from buying a missile from North Korea?
QUESTIONER: Yes, sir.
SCOWCROFT: Well, they have to get it to the Taliban, and that's what PSI is all about. And the preventive measures are PSI and the intelligence that goes with it, which is designed to monitor North Korean shipments. Now, if you try -- if you do it by air, we do not have the same kind of assurance. There's no question about that. But it's not zero, still.
QUESTIONER: Is -- (off mike) -- from Pakistan?
SCOWCROFT: I'm not equipped to say how much we know about the A.Q. Khan network. We know a lot. I don't know how much we know. But we've identified many of the key parts of that network, to stop them.
DIEHL: We've got time for one more question. Before we take it, I just want to remind everybody that this session has been on the record.
QUESTIONER: Robert Murray, CNA. How important do you think it is that we -- for robust diplomacy -- that we understand the people, politics, the interests of North Korea and Iran? And how well do you think we do understand those, if it is important?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I think -- I think it's important, because unless you understand as much as is possible, about what the motivations are and what the internal debate is, it's very hard to craft a strategy which takes advantage of it.
And you know, Americans have a tendency to think everyone else thinks just like we do. And therefore we do in response to what we -- what our situation would be. And that frequently is very wrong. And the essence of skillful diplomacy is understanding the thought processes of the people that you're dealing with.
It's a very imprecise and very difficult thing. We do it better in some places and not -- North Korea, I think, defies it. I think if you could get the Chinese to speak frankly, they would say, they don't have a clue what's going on there. And so I think it's very difficult.
It is not easy in Iran. But it's easier. We know a lot more about Iran. We had great relations with Iran 30 years ago. So there we need -- we have some background which we haven't always relied on very much.
PERRY: This is difficult under the best of circumstances. But when we do not have official dialogue, with Iran or North Korea, it becomes difficult and nearly impossible.
So I'm strongly in favor of maintaining a dialogue, with those two countries, even if it's not making progress in any tangible sense of the word. At least there's a way of understanding them better.
In the absence of that dialogue -- (inaudible) -- track-two dialogue with both the North Koreans and the Iranians. I do it not because I think it's a highly effective way of getting that understanding. I think it's better than nothing. But I'd far prefer to have a robust official discussion and dialogue with the two countries.
DIEHL: Dr. Perry, if I could just follow up on one thing with you. You've said in your remarks that you thought it was time to give up on the six-party talks, that they simply haven't worked. You also, however, have said a few times that China is the key, in many ways, to resolving the problem with North Korea.
And I'm just wondering, because many people assume that if you drop the six-party talks, the alternative is bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea; how do you keep the Chinese involved? How do we use their leverage if we abandon the forum where they are the chairman?
PERRY: Jackson, I'm glad you asked that, because it gives me a chance to clarify something I said which could be misunderstood. I am not negative about the six-party talks. I think it's an excellent venue. It brings together all the people that are most intimately involved. So I applaud the venue of the six-party talks.
What I was saying is that we should not proceed business as usual. The approaches that have been used in the past to the North Koreans in the six-party talks has been unsuccessful, and it's because it's not been accompanied by any strategy for how to deal with them, or any strategy which involved real diplomacy, and real diplomacy involving, as I indicated, some coercion elements.
So I think, however we proceed on this, the six-party talks venue can be a useful -- (inaudible) -- but the first step is to get a real strategy for how to deal with the North Koreans, try to bring the other five parties to -- the five-party talks in on that strategy, and most importantly, try to get China some degree of commonality with it.
But whether the talks with North Koreans (received ?) two, three, four or five other nations, I think that the venue of the six-party talks is a reasonable venue for conducting them. Even with the six- party talks, there have been bilateral discussion between the United States and North Korea, and that's as it should be.
DIEHL: And if can just follow up one thing with you -- (word inaudible), you made a very interesting remark just now about, often, when the United States looks at other countries, we assume that they think like us. And, you know, both with Iran and North Korea, our assumption has been for years now that they are willing and able to make some kind of a deal with us, which is a very American idea, after all, the idea of a grand bargain.
Is it possible -- and yet that's been no real -- certainly no success along those lines. Is it possible that we've just misconceived in thinking that a deal was the right way to pursue this?
SCOWCROFT: Yes, of course it's possible. But I don't think we should ever come to that conclusion lightly. When you get in trouble, force looks like a clean way to cut through all the fog and resolve the problem. But the use of force always creates a new environment, and the problem is never the same at the end that it was in the beginning.
So I think we need to be more patient rather than less patient on that score, because force sometimes is necessary, but it should not be a first choice, should be a last choice, because it is so environment- changing. Just the use of force creates its own world.
PERRY: Let me support strongly the point that Brent has just made. The reason neither of us is recommending military action to deal with the problems we're talking about is not because we don't have the capability to perform military action; it is because there are a whole -- always a host of unintended consequences of military action, which are never fully thought through and which you cannot fully think through. And sometimes, if anything, the consequences are worse than the problem you're trying to deal with.
DIEHL: (Inaudible) -- the last one.
QUESTIONER: I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School, and I also run an Energy Conversation here in town. I want to follow up on this discussion of understanding the others. And when I was growing up, we had the National Defense Education Act, and many people learned both the language and what was going on in the Soviet Union. Is anybody proposing something like that now? I mean, we make all these assumptions on how people are going to respond, but we don't understand anything about them. And unless we start asking how might they address this and have some real foundation, I think we're in for trouble.
SCOWCROFT: That's a long way from our report. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: I -- I --
SCOWCROFT: But let me just say during the Cold War, we had a number of important regional studies, not only studies of the Soviet Union but studies of different areas in the world. Those, my impression is, are really drying up, and I think that's a tragedy.
PERRY: I agree.
DIEHL: And on that note, I want to thank everybody for coming out and very much thanks to our task force chairs. (Applause.) Thank you.
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