Lessons for the Future from the Crucible of Experience

Event Report by Matt Werner
May 24, 2005

United Nations, New York – On May 24th, the Global Security Institute presented a panel of outstanding experts whose unique experiences at the center of the nuclear weapons crisis qualify them to offer insights for the future. Robert McNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ted Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Advisor to President Kennedy, and Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., a senior U.S. diplomat and current Chairman of the Bipartisan Security Group, addressed several hundred people -including NPT delegates, NGO experts, and concerned citizens – on “Lessons for the Future from the Crucible of Experience.” Global Security Institute President, Jonathan Granoff, moderated the panel.

In his opening remarks, Robert McNamara stated very bluntly, “If I were to characterize U.S. and NATO nuclear policies today.I would say in one sentence that [they] are immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, very, very dangerous.and destructive of the nonproliferation regime.”

To watch the event, please click here

To watch the morning press conference, please click here

To view a United Nations report about the press conference, please click here

McNamara is very concerned by the continued Cold War nuclear posture taken by the U.S. He said, “Despite the end of the Cold War some 15 years ago, U.S. nuclear weapons policies today are essentially what they were when I was Secretary of Defense 40 years ago.”

McNamara was not optimistic about the possibility for a successful Review Conference. To the degree that he believed that the Review Conference would fail to address the issues of Iran and North Korea, McNamara said, “it will be a failure. The problem is not just North Korea and Iran, but if those countries continue their present programs, other nations are bound to follow.” In addition, he said, “I’m proud of the U.S. and what it has accomplished in the world and contributed to the world, but I do not believe that this Conference or the world should permit the U.S. to stand in the way of achieving action that is in the interest of humanity as a whole.”

McNamara proceeded to outline a plan for addressing non-proliferation concerns such as North Korea and Iran and suggested ways to bolster the NPT and reduce nuclear dangers globally. Key points included:

* Proliferation concerns such as North Korea or Iran should be referred to the UN Security Council

* The UN Security Council should outlaw possession of nuclear weapons by any nation not currently possessing them

* The U.S. and Russia should remove their nuclear weapons from hair-trigger status

* The 5 nuclear weapons states should make statements clearly outlining their polices for no first use, negative security assurances, commitments to Article VI of the NPT, and end current programs to develop new nuclear weapons

With respect to intervening in states such as Iran and North Korea, McNamara stressed the need for diplomacy and leadership, stating that diplomacy rather than military intervention is the only possible path to effectively dealing with rogue states that threaten the non-proliferation regime.

Ted Sorensen, former Advisor to President Kennedy, recalled Kennedy’s inaugural address when he stated, “We must abolish weapons of mass destruction before they abolish us.”

He credited President Kennedy with his recognition of the importance of U.S. leadership in addressing the growing concerns posed by nuclear weapons, particularly through international law. He said, “We were fortunate that John F. Kennedy was president of the United States [during the Cuban Missile Crisis] because he believed in international law; he rejected advice that would have precipitated a Third World War, he took steps to make certain that we communicated and ultimately negotiated with the Soviet Union, and obtained the withdrawal of those nuclear missiles under UN and other inspection, and that crisis ended without the United States firing a single shot.”

Responding to concerns that the NPT Review Conference was being stalled due to procedural rather than substantive debates, he cited the lessons learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis, stating that “so far, neither side has kept that [core] bargain, but I don’t think that it’s too late to try, because this Conference is not about pieces of paper. It’s not about procedural wrangles.at any time [during the Missile Crisis], nuclear weapons could have come plunging through that roof [in the White House] and exterminated us all.”

Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., who led U.S. negotiations to sign the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, reiterated the importance of the NPT and its role in global security. He said, “Certainly since the end of the Cold War, the NPT, because of the broad international cooperation it requires and the controls that it places on the spread and the numbers of nuclear weapons has been and remains the principal bulwark against nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

The backdrop of the current nuclear situation and the importance of the NPT were put into perspective when Graham stated, “In the early 1960’s some studies predicted that there would be 25-30 nuclear weapon states with nuclear arms integrated into their arsenals by the end of the 1970’s. Today more than 40 countries have the capability to build and produce nuclear weapons. In a world with nuclear weapons so widespread, every conflict would run the risk of going nuclear, and it would be impossible to keep nuclear arms out of the hands of terrorist organizations.”

Graham highlighted the important balance between disarmament and non-proliferation embodied within the NPT bargain. “If the nuclear weapon states appear to be living up to their end of the NPT’s central bargain, they will have a much better chance of persuading non-nuclear weapon states to restrict access to the [nuclear] fuel cycle,” Graham stated.

Addressing concerns that the U.S. would not reaffirm its previous commitments to strengthen the NPT and adhere to its disarmament requirements, Graham asserted that, “There would have been no permanent extension of the NPT if these commitments had not been made by the nuclear weapon states [in 1995]. To ignore them is to undermine the continued political viability of a permanent NPT.”

Given the erosion of the core bargain, Graham’s outlook for the future of the NPT was bleak. “The NPT has never seemed weaker, or its future less certain, and if the Treaty should fail, it is too complex ever to be resuscitated. The nuclear nightmare world that President Kennedy feared likely would become a reality. The NPT central bargain simply must me resurrected and implemented.”

In his closing statements, Graham cited current IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei who said, “We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction and acceptable for others to rely on them for security. If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction.”

Jonathan Granoff ended the panel discussion with a few closing remarks about the importance of democracy and U.S. leadership with respect to the nuclear issue.

He said, “We have a democracy deficit. The people of the world overwhelmingly in all of the polls demonstrate a commitment and a caring for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and a process has been set forth under the NPT to make the world safer, to lower the risk of use, to lower the political value (of nuclear weapons), and that process is being rejected. Therefore, it is upon those of us who value democracy, to.find ways to push it up the ladder.(to gain higher political attention).”

Furthermore, Mr. Granoff is dismayed by the lack of leadership by the United States. He criticized the U.S. for failing to honor its commitments to pursue nuclear disarmament, warning that if such commitments are ignored or treated with impunity, then the U.S. runs the risk of losing the trust of other nations. Decrying the rejection of U.S. commitments made in 1995 to gain the extension of the NPT and at its Review Conference in 2000, he said, “why should anybody believe any commitments we would make today.If the entire discourse of trust breaks down, then we will move very quickly from the power of law to the raw law of power. And that is totally unsustainable in a nuclear weapons world.”

To read a copy of Robert McNamara’s speech, please click here.

To read a copy of Robert McNamara’s article in Foreign Policy Magazine please click here.

The event received widespread media coverage, which can be viewed by visiting the following sites:

Google News

Yahoo News

Associated Press

Washington Times


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