UCI Libraries - The Quest for Peace Interviews: Vitalii Goldanskii Interview Transcript
UCI Libraries: Quest for Peace


Pespectives on the Path to Peace


Vitalii Goldanskii

Academician Vitalii Goldanskii is Deputy Director of the Institute of Chemical Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences and Chairman of the Soviet Pugwash Group. The international Pugwash movement was the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1997 in recognition of the importance of its continuing role, especially during the Cold War, in promoting understanding of critical issues and introducing fresh thinking to transcend nationality and rivalry, especially on disarmament issues and actions which would lower the risks of nuclear war. Today Academician Goldanskii shares his thinking on peace and security in the nuclear age.

Whiteley: Academician Goldanskii, in your writings and speaking you’ve singled out four achievements of the modern scientific revolution that are of extraordinary importance to the 21st Century. I’d like you to take them one at a time and share your thinking as they pertain to new Soviet perspectives on peace and security. The first is the atomic revolution.

Goldanskii: Well, let me first repeat just briefly the list of these main achievements of 20th Century, mid-20th Century: The atomic energy, space exploration, then the informatics. When I say that I include the computers, the micro-electronics, the cybernetics, the communications and so on, just using the word informatics. And the fourth is certainly the discovery of double helix and the formation of the new science of molecule biology. But let me now drop this extremely important field because what I’m going to speak about will be just three first points. Each of them has tremendous consequences for the destiny of humankind, and for the development (of solutions to) of international and domestic problems all over the world.

If we speak about atomic energy including nuclear weaponry then we have to say that the existence of such destructive weaponry, it has led to the completely new treatment of the problems of war and peace. At the present time we can speak that nuclear war is absolutely impossible because it can lead, and it will lead if it starts, to the total destruction of human civilization. And this is one of the main bases of the political new way of thinking.

Whiteley: You began your own work very actively on this as part of the Pugwash movement. What is that movement and how have you thought about the problem of nuclear weapons?

Goldanskii: Well, just the Pugwash movement was started on the base of the famous manifest of Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, written in 1955 and signed by Einstein a few days before his death. And I won’t quote exact words from that manifest, but the main sense of that manifest was that taking into account the appearance of this tremendously destructive new weapons, tremendously destructive force of modern scientific and technological inventions, one has to find just a new way of thinking, instead of thinking of the victory of some of the camps to which we believe we belong, we have to think that we all are just human beings and we have to think about the survival of the humankind. That was the main idea of this manifest.

And two years later in 1957, it was a meeting of 30 leading figures in the world of science in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada that was on the estate of a wellknown financial and industrial magnate, Cyrus Eaton, who was the sponsor of this first meeting, and that was the start of now world over recognized and known Pugwash movement of scientists; the international Pugwash movement of scientists which deals with scientific and political affairs and which is devoted mainly to the problems of disarmament, the problems of the danger of nuclear war: how to avoid these dangers.

Whiteley: Given your focus first on atomic energy and nuclear weapons as the first of the three major modern scientific revolutions that have impacted peace and security in the future, the second you’ve singled out is space exploration. What is that linkage to peace and security?

Goldanskii: Well, to answer this question I have to tell you before what I treat as the present and the future situation in international relations. To my belief, such a relations, they should pass through the three main stages. The first stage which is known under the word ‘nuclear deterrence’ (under the title of nuclear deterrence), this stage is to my point of view now obsolete.

Whiteley: What are the characteristics of that stage? This is a very important part of your thinking. I want to make sure it’s clearly understood. Nuclear deterrence for you appears to be obsolete, but what are its characteristics?

Goldanskii: Well, nuclear deterrence was based on the fear of retaliation, and the fear of retaliation was the reason to construct, to build more and more new weapons. And finally, our world is so overloaded with nuclear weapons that now we have approximately 50,000 warheads all over the world, and the total power in the megatons is more than 10,000 megatons, so we have just several tons of explosive for each per capita, for each human being on the earth. And this overarmament of our planet by the nuclear weapons under the conditions of certainly not the absolutely safe managing of these weapons, certainly not absolutely safe software of the computers which should recognize the pattern of the enemy, of the first attack, which will take the decision of what should be done. So all these factors, once they are brought together, they lead to the tremendous and ever increasing danger of accidental nuclear war. And it is clear now, not only for scientists, but practically for everybody that such nuclear war cannot be local war, it cannot be tactical war. Once it starts it certainly will be transformed into the global nuclear conflict which will bring the total destruction of human civilization. And therefore, it should be avoided at any rate, and therefore, I say that the nuclear deterrence which was based just on mutual fear of nuclear countries for each other should be replaced finally by mutual confidence and trust.

Whiteley: Okay. For you a stage of mutual confidence and trust is the third stage...

Goldanskii: Exactly.

Whiteley: Before one gets to the third stage, as you think about it, there are characteristics of a second stage, a verification regime. What are those characteristics?

Goldanskii: Yes, yes. That’s right. I was just going to tell you that we are not magicians and so we cannot go - proceed promptly from mutual fear from nuclear deterrence to the mutual confidence and trust. It’s absolutely Utopia. It’s impossible. Therefore, for my point of view the only way to reach this final third stage is to go through the period of what I call ‘verification deterrence.’ That means the period of very stringent mutual verification, different measures of control, safeguard of verification in all senses, including verification of Test Ban, verification of nuclear disarmament, verification of the elimination of chemical weapons, verification of the decreasing level of conventional forces, and so on. So verification deterrence at just gradually decreasing levels of armaments. And that verification should be based, and can be based, now in our times (nowadays), only just as the space exploration and use, and on the modern informatics. Therefore, I believe that these two achievements of modern science and technology which I name before: namely, the space exploration and the informatics. They’ve just formed the real base for the verification deterrence. That means that they will form the base of transition from the deterrence by nuclear armament, from deterrence by fear, to confidence and trust.

Whiteley: Confidence and trust in part has historically been based on entering into treaties, verifying that those treaties are being complied with. Yet June 22, 1941, a major treaty of the Soviet Union was broken and you lost 20 million people. What’s different about verification and compliance at this time in history that gives you some confidence that it’s possible to work toward a verification regime that has a higher level of confidence?

Goldanskii: Just the example of the 22nd of June 1941 is a very successful example to show that at the present time such event would be completely impossible. I cannot believe that now, in our times, when everything in the planet is seen from space, that you can just prepare such a tremendous invasion with 170 divisions, with many million troops, and that such preparation can remain unnoticed by another side. That means that at the present time the level, the technical level of verification, of remote control of what happens all over the world, is so highly developed that at the present time this sudden violation of treaties is no (no longer) more possible. And what is extremely important is that the verification and the confidence and trust, they are connected to each other by a kind of positive feedback. That means that the verification, once you are accustomed to the verification, once it is practiced year after year at different levels for different purposes, it certainly leads to increased confidence and trust. And vice versa. The increased confidence and trust gives you more possibilities for new verification measures because every side can evolve more and more in the problem of verification once it has confidence and trust in the opposite side.

Whiteley: Both the Soviet Union and the United States have war plans that call for the destruction of the other side. Both say that they would not do that, but the capability is there. You and other scientists are talking about the suicidal nature of that intention. Early in the nuclear age Mao Tse Tung said that the nuclear revolution was a ‘paper tiger.’ You know that is not so. As long as the capability exists, and both sides know the other has it, what is the part of that verification regime to move to lower levels of destructiveness? How would you begin to unwind all these decisions?

Goldanskii: Yet in fact we have to change completely old views because the old approaches, they were based on the admittance (consideration) of the possibility of victory in the nuclear war. They were based on the point that the side which plans (initiates) the war will gain (prevail in) that war. And there were some doctrines, some military plans, some phrases like ‘paper tiger,’ what you have mentioned before. And I think that nowadays we have to pass to the concept of sufficience. What should have each side? Is the weaponry, I hope, without nuclear weapons, without chemical weapons, and when we speak about conventional forces, just sufficient for defense, but not sufficient for the offensive, for the aggression. That means that military doctrines of both sides should be defensive doctrines rather than the offensive doctrines. And that approach was proclaimed recently in the Summer of 1987 by Warsaw Treaty countries, and I think that one of most important steps in the future would be just to compare military doctrines and to develop military doctrines of all sides in such way that they get more and more defensive doctrines.

Whiteley: In the nuclear age there has been a premium on the offense, so what you are calling for is a major change in how people think about the notion of security. Is common security possible, and what would that look like?

Goldanskii: I’m sure it is possible. And that’s again the problem of joint efforts. If there are reached confidence and trust, let us say between our two countries, it would be extremely important for global security if both countries joined their efforts in this verification and in preventive measures: How to avoid not only the global war, but also regional conflicts? How to stop already existing conflicts and how to avoid the appearance of new conflicts? And it doesn’t mean, certainly, that the problem of peace and war depends only on our two countries. That should be the effort of the whole humankind of the whole world. The whole world should join the efforts in trying to reach this confidence, this trust, the global peace and the security. And I can compare that with the situation where suppose that one day we see the danger of invasion of our planet by some just incomers (aliens) from other world. Then in this case I guess all - just all disputes, all quarrels within our planet will be taken as just negligible circumstances, and everybody will try to contribute as much as possible to the solution of the global problem. And at the present time we really have such global problems: how to fight the poor (poverty), how to fight the hunger, the underdevelopment, how to just avoid the self-destruction of our nature (environs) by human beings, just to keep our planet clean, how to solve ecological problems? So we really have many problems which have to be solved by joint efforts and should be solved in this way.

Whiteley: You’ve drawn attention to four modern scientific revolutions and both the United States and the Soviet Union take great pride in their contributions to all four. Beneath all four is a belief in technology as a way to make the world safer, to make it better, to eliminate the problems that have historically plagued mankind, and you’ve referred to a number of them there. And yet, in looking back at the legacy of the decade of the 1980’s, Chernobyl and the Challenger disaster will both stand out. What has that meant to your society as you’ve reflected on it? What are the lessons to be gained for humankind?

Goldanskii: The lessons should be quite serious. You see, to some extent, we have been accustomed to declarations that modern technology is absolutely safe, and we had no doubts about that. And what we thought about that, that really we shouldn’t care about that, everything will be okay. But in fact we witnessed these dramatic events and that shows us that from one side every technology, even the most modern, should be as foolproof as possible. At the same time we, the people, we should be as careful as possible with the uses of this modern technology. That’s the main lesson. We shouldn’t overestimate the safety; we shouldn’t base our plans for the future only on the low probability of some undesirable events. The bet (the risk) in this game of people with the technology is so high, if we speak about the future of the humankind, that even the smallest probability of disaster should be taken into account very seriously. And sometimes it should play the most important role in taking decisions.

Whiteley: Academician Goldanskii, thank you for sharing with us today your insights into the way to a more peaceful world in the nuclear age.

Goldanskii: I thank you very much. I hope that we’ll meet again.