Critical Issues Before the Democracy


Franklin A. Long, 1987

Franklin A. Long is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and of Science in Society at Cornell University. He is Chair of the Committee on International Security Studies of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Today Professor Long shares some of his central views on the quest for peace.

Whiteley: Professor Long, a theme that’s recurrent in your writings is that citizens need to be more involved in both national security concerns and arms control concerns. I’d like you to take those one at a time and elaborate on your meaning. First, national security.

Long: National security is one of those concepts that is important to governments and to people. It has become significantly more complicated in recent years, especially because of the nuclear - the advent of the nuclear age. Nowadays people are not content to think of national security only as a military problem, or something that the military will solve. People now are inclined to say that if you wanted to apportion national security you might say that it has components like sovereignty, which really means survival as a nation; stability, which means the sense that you’re under control and that you can predict the future; and adaptability, which really means you can respond to new directions politically and technologically. And you see, of those three, it’s really only the first that’s purely military or almost purely military, even there political activities enter.

From a military point of view the really striking thing, of course, is that how very drastically our normal security has dropped because of nuclear weapons, because we have an opponent who can obliterate us with nuclear weapons if he for some crazy reason chooses to, and of course we can do the same thing reciprocally. Now, if either of us does this it’s a road to suicide, but that doesn’t mean that the possibility isn’t there. And we do depend on the military for that. On the other hand if you take something that you might call civilian security where you mean harmony, health education, welfare, working relations among other nations so that you’re not isolated - those are things where the military enter in only very modestly, if at all. And there are ones in which there are sometimes some little conflict between those priorities and the national survival priority. Now the latter is terribly important. One has to say that to expect a military to play a major role there is surely right.

On the other hand there are real conflictual elements between these various components of national security. The fact that the military is very costly, that the United States is spending over $300 billion a year on it is certainly of some consequence, and the fact that two million and more Americans are in the military services and are therefore not involved in productive activities (civilian activities) is another cost. So there are costs. And our big national deficit rather suggests that you can see a demon.

And the problem really then is what can one do to minimize those costs, maintaining the focus on national survival but also being sure that you think of the other components of national security. And that I think is where arms control comes in because arms control is fundamentally a different approach to the same question of national survival. And you can see it in a very simple way with nuclear weapons.

Clearly one way to survive is to have very large numbers of nuclear weapons that represent a very strong deterrence, and our opponent presumably has a very strong deterrence; all this is the costly unstable worrisome components of military security as we now see it. That the arms control direction in principal says let’s cut that way down in significance, let’s cut the number of nuclear weapons way way down, let’s enhance our national survival probabilities by having very small numbers of nuclear weapons, and very much better working relations. And it’s that area which arms control is involved in. Now, it’s an area which troubles people who have been used to depending simply on the military, and I think it’s fair to say that anybody thinking seriously of arms control as a way to go has to think very seriously exactly how it does fit in with national survival.

Whiteley: Well let’s take the Reykjavik Summit and the legacy from that as a for instance of how arms control can lead to some level of increased national security.

Long: Well the important thing about Reykjavik was to point out the two heads of state (normally something less than friendly states, I might note), nevertheless, heads of those two states could get together, could very quickly decide that arms control represented an area of very high priority and one in which they both had desires to make progress. What was particularly striking to me was medium moderately serious discussion of the notion of very drastic cuts of nuclear weapons, and that I think would make a real contribution to national survival. Now, that’s the brass ring of arms control, but at least now one sees that the brass ring maybe is there and that one might hope to get it. So that it really I think will inspire a lot more interest and effort in arms control and that would be a very good thing.

Whiteley: Keeping national security as a criteria, what’s possible in reductions in ballistic missiles and still maintaining national security. How should citizens think about that problem?

Long: Let me go back to what was a very interesting occasion that followed that Summit, and this was a great big several hundred people international discussion of arms control in the Soviet Union, in Moscow a few months back. It was one that was sponsored not simply by the Russians, but by a group of people from several nations, but it was clear the Russians had a significant part of the buildup of the program. And this particular topic of very drastic cuts in nuclear weapons was one of the four main topics of that particular session.

And I was very struck by one quite able Soviet scholar by the name of Kokoshin who had looked at this possibility and said, "Well, how might we do it? We might move to 50% reduction in nuclear weapons, and sort of pause there and regroup. We might move in another stage to 75% reductions in nuclear weapons, and we might in a third stage move to 95%. And all along he was thinking what does it mean, not merely to us, but what does it mean to the rest of the world? What must the other nuclear nations, the ones that now have very small numbers - France, the United Kingdom, China, for example do?" And he’d really thought about that. It was a serious analysis.

Whiteley: Is this new in terms of Soviet/American dialogue about arms control?

Long: Not new in the sense that the unofficial discussions of arms control have frequently dealt with exactly these questions; not even new in the sense of official discussions, but the official ones have not really up to now been very serious. And it is interesting that we, the United States, seem to be putting an element of seriousness into drastic reductions in nuclear weapons with our very recent proposal at Geneva. And since the Russians had already indicated an interest, it looks as though perhaps it’s going to be serious.

Whiteley: What about a second component of the discussions at Reykjavik, what about the - what are called the INF or intermediate-range weapons?

Long: Yes. Well, they always represented something of an anomaly I might say, because clearly with the vast numbers of strategic weapons whose ranges can clearly be shortened there never was any doubt that there were plenty of nuclear weapons around to use in Europe if parties in a war felt they were useful. So that adding the short-range was a little bit of gilding the lily, and it was primarily the Soviet initiative in bringing in the SS-20 especially. It did not really, in the most literal sense, modify the threat that the West Europeans faced, but it was an upping an ante really, and there was a strong feeling that something needed to be done. And so it was that that led the United States to put in Pershing II’s and cruise missiles, effectively another brand short-range weapons to counter the Soviet. And recognizing that it didn’t really make all that much sense, recognizing that there was some even sense of additional hazard because of those things, it was plausible to make the case that they ought to be removed. What’s striking to me is how relatively rapidly the Soviet Union and the United States have moved to cut them down and maybe to eliminate them in that theater; with luck, maybe eliminate it throughout the whole world.

Whiteley: Let’s move to what citizens ought to think about that. While perhaps not unprecedented there has been more expert difference of opinion about whether it’s in the national interest of the United States to remove those weapons from Europe, and whether European confidence in the American willingness to defend them in a conventional war, has come up in claims and counter-claims that are highly technical come to the fore. How should citizens think about that kind of debate and analysis when the experts fundamentally disagree?

Long: Well, the disagreement of course is substantial even in Europe, maybe mostly in Europe. And it does represent a problem which is quite clearly political, that questions of your instinctive feel for security has lots of political elements in it and it’s clear that the Europeans are troubled that something new is being put into the picture, and that ‘new’ is a decrease in weapons. And they can’t help but ask the question, "Where does that leave us?" And the responses have been mostly political. My own reaction is that that particular concern of the West Europeans will probably calm down considerably because they have a more important concern, which I could turn to maybe. But in the meantime it does face the political problem - it does cause a political problem for the United States because, do we move on that negotiation with strong resistance within the European countries? Now I think we have decided (we apparently have decided by the way the negotiations are going) that we will move to try to eliminate these, feeling that the mixed feelings that do exist in Europe, and bear in mind there’s a strong arms control disarmament group in Europe who greatly welcome this move, so that there are mixed feelings in Europe. And I think we’ve about decided that politically it makes sense to go ahead even though there is some uncertainty about how the Europeans feel.

Now, as far as local reaction, there’s a little bit of the same thing. Some people who are unhappy if we are seeming to sell our allies in Europe down the river, and then others who are unhappy had a sense that, "Are we modifying by this quite minor move, really, the nuclear balance?" So that there’s a local political problem. I don’t think it’s anything like so serious as this as the European one, and I personally think that both are calming down and that both will in the end welcome a treaty that removes those weapons.

Whiteley: You mentioned it’s a minor matter. Why is eliminating a set of a whole category of missiles from Europe a minor matter?

Long: Well, I meant that obviously comparatively. I mean if you eliminate several hundred nuclear weapons that could bomb cities and destroy them that’s not minor of course. But the real point is that the major problem the Europeans face is a conventional war problem, and it has to do with the very large deployment of forces at the Iron Curtain, between East Germany and West Germany, for example. And there is a strong feeling in Europeans which I think is understandable and legitimate that those very large Soviet forces that are deployed right up against that Iron Curtain, those represent an offensively oriented force which is exceedingly uncomfortable and quite probably very dangerous. So that that I think is the major problem that they face, is that to avoid the possibility, the remote possibility of conventional war from these two large sets of forces deployed against each other.

Whiteley: I’d like to go to another theme that’s recurrent in your writings and that is the role of new military technologies, and ask you to explain how those impact arms control.

Long: Interesting question. There’s no doubt that the United States has taken a position internally that our best hope in a continuing competition with the Soviet is to stress our greater capability in technology. And I think it’s a legitimate greater ability and that there is some reason to say, "Can’t we help our cause considerably by focusing on technology?" Well, I think the answer has been yes, overall; it is clearly somewhat dangerous because it’s a characteristic of technology that once a particular side invents something new and important the other side sees it and can follow along pretty quickly. And if you look at the history of new technologies in the race, the military technology race between our country and the Soviet Union, it is almost invariable that what we do they do a few years later. And so the problem is that means that the race is never ending, and that’s why again, why a stronger focus on arms control to try to calm that race down, to lower its importance, looks to me like it’s very desirable.

Whiteley: You called for a freeze. What are the components of a freeze in the national interest as you think about it?

Long: I have been somewhat skeptical of the desirability of just a flat national freeze - freeze everything. I think it’s complicated enough so that - and difficult enough to do - so that I’ve always felt that that was a fine slogan, but pretty hard to carry out, and maybe even dubious if it were done in all in one step. So the sort of freezes that I like to think about are freezes of perfectly obvious things that would make a difference. I like very much the idea of freezing nuclear weapons tests. I like a comprehensive nuclear weapons test ban for example. I like the idea of a freeze in the production of fissionable materials, of plutonium and enriched uranium, again as something which is clean, reasonably well verifiable, and the kind of thing that doesn’t immediately change the dangers of the war, but has a good long-range future. So what I would hope would be yes, we emphasize freezes, but we do it selectively so that we do have some sense that they’re (a) in the right direction, (b) are verifiable. I think those are the important ones.

Whiteley: Let’s take this notion of verifiability and first ask what is the impact of new military technologies on verification?

Long: One of the great inventions since we started negotiating with the Soviet Union was the invention of verification by what’s called ‘national technical means.’ And what that means very simply is that we write a treaty where both sides want verification all right, but each side says look, I’ll verify you with my capabilities to the level I think I need to; you verify me with your capabilities to the level you think, and we make our own choice, our own decisions. The trouble is - and it’s a great idea and it’s been very successful really - it’s also - we got better at it primarily because of space-based systems that can photograph and otherwise help verify. Even so, there are some things that you can’t get from verification so that you find yourself asking for additional verification which usually has to be negotiated and has some sense of equality about it. And let me give you a very simple example.

We worry if we have a ban on chemical weapons, weapons of chemical warfare; we worry about will there be production under roofs that we can’t verify by these national technical means, and there is a feeling that well, it is a problem and can’t we set up some mutual system in which each side can send inspectors into suspected manufacturing places to see what’s happening. And that too is a good idea. It’s just much more complicated to negotiate because not only do the military worry about that kind of verification a little bit, but so do the civilians who don’t really like people from another country wandering into their plants and looking them over. Nevertheless, we have really made mutual decisions to use that kind of verification, and we’re right in the middle right now of serious negotiation on a chemical weapons ban which would carry that sort of more obtrusive verification necessarily.

Whiteley: How should your fellow citizens think about letting Soviet inspectors into defense plants that our own civilians are not allowed in?

Long: Well, in a curious way they probably would be less worried about that particular intrusion than the commercial companies would be worried about the almost identical intrusion. And the difference is that the military are quite conscious of the benefits from it in the way, if a good treaty can be written, and compliance can be assured by that sort of verification. The civilian manufacturer feels rather put upon. He’s not really a party to the treaty; he doesn’t as an industry benefit very much by the treaty, and yet at the same time he finds foreigners coming into his plant to look over their shoulders and see what their doing. And he worries about the commercial impact of that.

Whiteley: Is there a role for third party verification?

Long: There certainly is. It has been started already in the question - a very interesting question that showed up with production of fissionable materials was might there be diversion of the inevitable production of fissionable materials in peaceful nuclear power plants, of the kind now that there are a great many around the world. And there is a possibility. And to take care of that the countries of the world agreed to turn to a third party; namely the International Atomic Energy Agency, and have them verify whether there was any diversion of fissionable materials away from the peaceful uses activities. And it’s called not verification, but safeguarding; but that’s what it is. And I think that’s an excellent precedent. I think there will be more uses of third parties.

Whiteley: With increased new military technologies, will national means of verification, national technical means be adequate as you view it without intrusive on-site inspections?

Long: Two different points; one is a technical one and the other one is a political, even emotional one. Technically, you could do a great deal with national technical means and even there there will be certain things like the one I just mentioned on chemical production, possible production of chemical warfare weapons in commercial plants in some surreptitious way. National technical means are not enough, so that you do really need for technical reasons, some enhancement of national technical means. But the other point really is political. How much verification you think you need clearly depends upon your assessment of how likely it is that your opponent will refuse to comply. And if you think he’s dubious and looking for a way to get some kind of short-range benefit, then you worry a good deal and you insist on a high level of verification. Sometimes there’s even the suspicion that asking for a high level verification has a direct political implication in that that’s one way to see to it that a treaty is not reached, is to request too high a verification.

Whiteley: How much is too high?

Long: Nice question, and of course I don’t know. Let me remind you of an old case. Years ago back in the early 1960’s there was a very real chance we could negotiate a comprehensive test ban with the Soviet Union, almost - what seemed like almost all of the major things had been settled. The remaining thing was the possibility of on-site inspections. The general idea was that something happened, let us say in the Soviet Union, and maybe it was an earthquake, maybe it was an underground nuclear test. And the question was, "How could we verify whether it was an earthquake or a test?" And we had some information we would get from long-range seismic detection, but there was a strong feeling that we needed to be able to go there and look and see whether somebody dug into the ground or drilled a hole or something. And so we were requesting on-site verification. The Soviet were very resistant. Very late in the game they finally, painfully said look, "You’ve been insisting that the lowest possible number of on-site inspections that you want annually is seven; we’re prepared to offer three." It was a breakthrough. And negotiations began again; they in the end failed because as somebody pointed out they forgot about the number five. But in any case they failed. But it was very close, and what was really missing was how useful those on-site inspections would have been under the best conditions, and the answer is not very. And so that was a lot of fuss, a lot of fury about something whose utility was at least somewhat dubious.

Whiteley: And there was ultimately not an agreement.

Long: And there was ultimately not an agreement.

Whiteley: This leads to another theme that’s recurrent in your writings and that is that there are sensible steps for national security and arms control that nations can take unilaterally. What do you have in mind?

Long: Well, you can do all sorts of things unilaterally. In fact, most things you do in an area of national security you do do unilaterally. You unilaterally up military budgets, or you unilaterally drop budgets, or you unilaterally develop and deploy a weapon, or you unilaterally get rid of a weapon that you think is obsolete. All these things are intended to be done unilaterally and it’s exactly the same is true of your opponent. We’re in an interesting case where reciprocal unilateral moves really aim toward arms control, and taken by one nation with an eye on the other saying look - "Look what I’ve done. Why don’t you do something like that?" That’s especially easy if you’ve got a two-party game, and that’s just what we’ve got. We and the Soviet Union are really the two principal players here. And so the possibility of phased reciprocal unilateral steps becomes relatively more simple in that two-party game than normally.

And it has been played; a very dramatic example was when President Nixon back in 1969, after a good deal of internal study, decided that biological weapons of warfare really were pretty uninteresting and it would be nice to get rid of them possibly if you could. What he did was to go on TV, unilaterally say abandon biological weapons for the United States. He said we’re no longer going to produce them, we will destroy the production facilities, we’re going to destroy our stockpiles, we’re going to stop doing research on them. And the only research we’ll do is defensive in case somebody else has deployed them. And having made that flat unilateral statement, which was a bold and an interesting one, it took only three more years before there was an international treaty with about well over 100 nations signing onto it. And fundamentally, so far at least, biological weapons have kind of disappeared as a major issue, really catalyzed by that single unilateral step.

Whiteley: Professor Long, thank you for sharing with us today your insights on the ways to a safer nuclear world.