- To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.
Transcript of R.L. Garwin interview by Ms. Allison Smith
CBC Morning (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) at 0815
A. Smith: North Korea isn’t the only country suspected of launching a nuclear weapon. A team of U.N. inspectors is currently in Iran to inspect its nuclear program. Iran, of course, was famously lumped in with N. Korea and Iraq as part of President Bush’s axis of evil. Here from New York is Richard Garwin. He helped build America’s hydrogen bomb and later served as a Scientific Advisor to several U.S. Presidents. He is now at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Garwin, do you think Iran has the capability to built a nuclear weapon?
RLG: Well unfortunately almost any country has the capability these days, because more than 50 years after the first nuclear weapons the technology is widespread. That is, the knowledge and many of the techniques. What’s lacking is the material— the highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium for building nuclear weapons.
And the lineup is: North Korea, according to a November CIA estimate, has already one or perhaps two nuclear weapons. And they could make half a dozen more with the material they have from a reactor that was canned by the U.N. and is still in North Korea.
Iraq spent billions and did not make really very much progress toward nuclear weapons.
Iran, with more money, no U.N. sanctions, has a "peaceful program". That is, they’re buying the completion of a reactor from Russia and Russia is likely to build four more. But Russia provides the fuel and now just in the last weeks Iran has shown the United Nations inspectors a facility for enriching uranium— they say to provide fuel for their reactors. Now they don’t need to do that. They don’t need to make their own fuel, Russia will provide it. But they have an interest and it’s their right. They can do it under the International Atomic Energy Agency rules if they reveal their activity. But people suspect that they want nuclear weapons even though they say that this is a peaceful activity.
A. Smith: I suppose wanting nuclear weapons, I suppose in many countries view is almost like a given. But in Iran’s case particularly what’s driving that do you think?
RLG: Iraq. That is in addition to the usual things— national pride, technological push. Iran cannot stand by and allow Iraq to acquire nuclear weapons without responding. This whole mess was foreseen 50 years ago and we spent a lot of effort, Canada included, in achieving the Non-Proliferation Treaty by which almost all the nations of the world decided themselves agreed not to have nuclear weapons but to rely on collective security and to be provided in return access to peaceful nuclear technology— nuclear power, nuclear medicine, nuclear industry. What we need to do now is really to put muscle behind the Non-Proliferation Treaty so that the United Nations decides once and for all what happens when a country which has signed the NPT, like North Korea, Iran, or Iraq, despite their signature goes ahead and builds nuclear weapons anyhow.
A. Smith: What kind of muscle are you talking about?
RLG: For Iraq which is under U.N. sanctions I think what the United Nations should do right now is to explain that anything which cannot be inspected will be destroyed. We don’t have to go to war immediately. That might RESULT in a war for disarming Iraq. But it’s more complicated with Iran and it should not be possible for a nation which abjures nuclear weapons under the NPT then to say okay I’m going to go ahead and build them anyhow. So economic sanctions.
Things which would make a nation think twice before doing this would be helpful.
A. Smith: You know we haven’t heard as much talk in some time about nuclear weaponry as we have heard over the past months I suppose. Do you think we are starting to see the sort of beginnings again of a nuclear arms race in a certain fashion?
RLG: Well to some extent. Except that U.S. nuclear weapons are in no way a counter to the development or deployment of a few nuclear weapons by others. And yet the United States has made nuclear weapons more prominent in its Nuclear Posture Review, looking for additional functions for more flexible nuclear weapons. Most of this really, to my mind, comes from ignorance of what we already have and the ability that we undoubtedly have to maintain our nuclear stockpile intact, healthy, without nuclear testing.
I think our future— the future security of the world— would lie in our reducing our numbers of nuclear weapons from the present 10,000 or so to about 1000. Makes no difference at all in how we would use them, and it would give support to our obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty in return for which other nations abjure reject nuclear weapons for themselves.
A. Smith: Mr Garwin I thank you very much for your expertise this morning.
RLG: You’re welcome.