'Nuclear weapons legitimize US policies'
Thu Sep 2, 2010 4:23PM
An interview with Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector
Scott Ritter is noted for his role as a chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, and later for his criticism of United States foreign policy in the Middle East.
Following is the transcript of Press TV's Autograph interview with Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector and one of the world's leading experts on arms control.
In his latest book Dangerous Ground: America's Failed Arms Control Policy, from FDR to Obama, Ritter tells a bold and revisionist account of the inseparable histories of the post World War II American presidency and nuclear weapons.
Unpacking sixty years of nuclear history, Ritter shows that nuclear weapons have become such a fixture that they define present-day America on economic, military, political, and moral grounds. And despite fears of global nuclear proliferation, the greatest threat to international stability, Ritter argues, is the US's addiction to nuclear weapons.
Ritter : Let's understand that it was the US that introduced the nuclear weapons to the world and it is the only nation in the history of the world to actually use nuclear weapons in a time of war.
There is a myth that we [the United States] used nuclear bomb to help shorten the war against Japan and thus saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives by shortening that war.
But the reality is Japan was on the verge of surrender prior to United States' use of nuclear weapons and a review of the documents of the time shows that the key decision makers, especially in Truman administration, were convinced that using the nuclear bomb against Japan wasn't about bringing Japan to its knees, it was about making a statement to the Soviet Union so that the US could control the post-war competition that was going to occur between the West and the Soviet Union. It was about saying we have the nuclear bomb and now we are going to deter you from undertaking any actions which are detrimental to our interests.
If you look at that time, there was a gentleman, George Kennan, who plays a very important role in the development of strategies. He was an American diplomat who served in Moscow. In 1962, he wrote the Long Telegram which was a document that now has insinuated into American history. Long Telegram said that the United States and the Soviet Union were incompatible and that the United States needed to prepare for a lengthy confrontation with the Soviet Union.
On the surface it sounds pretty dramatic but the reality is, if you look at the content of the Long Telegram, it was written as the result of Soviet Union's unwillingness to cave in to American demands that the Soviet Union accept the American post-war economic recovery program. The Soviet Union said, "No, we have our own, we don't want to become prisoner to the dollar, we have our own economic interests and we are not going to play a part in this." so the Long Telegram was written in response to a Treasury Department's question.
George Kennan himself was shocked that the Long Telegram became the centerpiece of the argument that we must contain the Soviet Union. He said this is much ado about nothing, this was a minor issue that we have now turned into a militarized conflict in which the American nuclear weapon is the trumpet card we hold over to the Soviet Union to prevent them from carrying actions, actions that they never intended to begin with.
We said that we are going to use the nuclear weapons to deter Soviet Union's global expansion but the Soviet Union, at the end of the World War, was not a nation that was capable of global expansion, they were more interested in solidifying their borders, especially their borders in Europe, you had the issue of Germany, the issue of Poland where there was a long history of conflict.
So we created a policy of deterring the Soviet Union that was based on a threat that never existed, but because the Soviet Union never expanded, suddenly that policy [deterrent policy] became a "successful" policy and what made it a success was the nuclear weapon component.
So from that point on, the US has believed that the nuclear weapons provide the legitimacy to whatever polices that are put in place; policies of deterrent, policies of containment, … and without these weapons, the US believes, these policies never work.
But the truth of the matter is that nuclear weapons never deterred anything, we talked about deterring the Soviet Union and yet we had conflict in Europe (Soviet Union invaded East Germany, Hungary, Czech Slovakia), we had a war in Vietnam, in Korea, conflicts in Africa, conflicts in the Middle East, and nuclear weapons did not stop any of these wars. Nuclear weapons are just a myth that we have been addicted to.
Press TV: Despite the fact that five or six decades have passed since the development of the first nuclear weapon, the problems are the same, as you write in book, "The politics of fear trump factual reasoning."
Ritter: This again comes down to the issue of deterrence: the feeling that nuclear weapons give us the ability to deter policies or actions on the part of other nations or other non-nation entities that without nuclear weapons they might feel that they can go forward with, but is a false policy and has been false from day one.
When we had nuclear weapons and we were the only nation that possessed nuclear weapons, we thought that American nuclear supremacy gave us security but then the Russians developed the nuclear weapons and now what were we deterring? We weren't deterring Russian actions; we were deterring Russian utilization of nuclear bomb. Therefore, the methodology of deterrence went from American unilateral supremacy to what was called "Massive Retaliation", because we still had more nuclear weapons than the Russians. So we said if you use nuclear weapons against us, we massively retaliate, and guess what, the Russians didn't use nuclear weapons and we said, "Wow, this policy works."
Then the Russians built more nuclear weapons until they were on par with the US so we changed our deterrence. Deterrence isn't singular, deterrence is an ever changing concept, a concept that is not based on anything real or discernable; it is fabrication of threats, exploiting fear of a threat that doesn't exist. We have a deterrence since 1961 that is called "Mutually Assured Destruction" that tells the Russians that you cannot win a nuclear war against us because if you attack us, we will destroy you.
The problem with "Mutually Assured Destruction" is that no American politician can survive politically by embracing that because it is a policy that says our deterrence depends on me taking actions that destroy my country so we changed it. In the 1980s we have "prevailing policy," the concept that we can fight and win a nuclear war, that becomes our deterrence, so even if you have nuclear weapons, we have developed our abilities to the extent that we can preempt you and sustain nuclear conflict and win so deterrence went from supremacy, to parity back to supremacy against a threat that never existed.
The Soviet Union disappeared at the end of the World War II and we have this massive nuclear arsenal designed to fight and win a nuclear conflict against whom? So we need to create a new enemy. It was hard to create a new enemy 1990s but after 9/11 we have a boogieman called "international terror".
Take a look at what not only the Bush administration did but also what the Obama administration has done. In the Nuclear Security Summit that was held in April this year, the Obama administration said the number one threat to the US is the nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists; now there are no nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, so it is a hypothetical threat to begin with but the entire nuclear policy of the US is being restructured to deal with this threat that doesn't exist, we need a new deterrent model to deter a threat that doesn't exist.
The new national security strategy of the US that was just released last month again focuses on nuclear weapons. It also focuses on rogue nations getting hold of nuclear weapons and it names them too, North Korea which already has nuclear weapons and Iran, which we claim, is pursuing nuclear weapons. So we are devising an entire nuclear strategy to deal with these three issues: nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, a suspect nuclear program in Iran and a small and ineffective nuclear weapons program in North Korea.
The reality is, though, we have in place a nuclear weapons infrastructure that is still geared for the Cold War. During the Cold War, none of these threats would have ever registered. We were dealing with a massive exchange potential between the US and Soviet Union and the last thing we cared about was a developing program in Iran or North Korea or this hypothetical threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, but today, now that the Soviet Union has been removed, we are suddenly taking these non-threats and elevated them to a point that they represent, according to the Obama administration, the gravest threat to the security of the American people and the only way that we can effectively deal with these threats is through our possession of nuclear weapons and the restructuring of the nuclear weapons policy to deter the potentials that these threats pose.
Press TV : So we are facing these threats from these so-called rogue nations and terrorists developing nuclear weapons. But the so-called threat of Cold War tendencies and Russia is still there. We could argue that US President Barak Obama came and took a Kissinger approach to the issue and said that we can basically cooperate with Russia on the nuclear front. How did it work out? Where are we right now and where do we stand?
Ritter : When the Cold War ended, that should have been one of the grandest opportunities in modern history to fundamentally change the way the world functions and to change how America interfaces in the world. Mikhail Gorbachev recognized that these potentials existed and he implored the US, he implored then Secretary of State James Baker, he implored then President George Bush Sr. not to exploit the collapse of the Soviet Union for American unilateral advantage but rather to recognize that the Soviet Union was gone and to work with Russia and other states that would emerge to create a new world order.
But the first thing the US did with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we declared victory, we said we won the Cold War and in doing so we legitimized this military establishment that we had in place saying our victory came because of this establishment there is no real need to do away with this establishment.
NATO was an organization solely created for the purpose of maintaining the Soviet Union in Europe, it was a defensive organization. Rather than disbanding NATO, what we did was to expand it by bringing in the former Soviet bloc nations of Eastern Europe and we expanded right up to the Russian borders.
This was a violation of the agreement that the US made with the Russians, that we wouldn't exploit Russian weakness. The other thing is that we treated Russia as a defeated nation, we sent in teams to reshape Russian politics to exploit Russian economy and the end result between the expansion of NATO and this western exploitation of Russian weakness, it engendered a tremendous amount of resentment on the part of Russians who started to view the West as a threat to Russia's security and so even though the Cold War resulted in the determination of the Soviet Union as a threat, American policy, during the 1990s and the decade that flowed since the end of the Cold War, basically created the conditions in which Russia now views the United States and NATO as a threat.
Press TV : How far has the Obama administration come in its efforts in regard to nuclear disarmament?
Ritter : President Obama in April 2009 gave a visionary speech in the Czech Republic in which he spoke about the potential world free of nuclear weapons and that was a fantastic speech and I think there was a lot of hope he could build on the speech to actually implement his vision maybe not during his presidency but to create a foundation of work that would allow future generations to get rid of nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately he has fumbled this opportunity to such an extent that you may not be able to recover from this. He has fumbled first and for most by failing to exploit a window of opportunity that existed with Russia in terms of meaningful arms reductions. The Strategic Arm Reduction Treaty which had been negotiated back in the 1990s, signed in 1991, came in force in 1992, expired in December 2009. The Obama administration allowed this treaty to expire and then it took him months to renegotiate a new treaty vehicle with Russia.
Now this treaty vehicle on the surface appears to be substantive, it talks about significant reduction of nuclear weapons but the reality is this treaty vehicle operates outside a larger framework of arms control that the Obama administration allowed to slip away or failed to reconstitute.
Press TV : We also see numerous references to the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty. Was that perhaps the closest that the United States and Russia got to a full nuclear disarmament?
Ritter : I think when we examine the history of arms control; we are going to see a number of missed opportunities, especially in the field of nuclear disarmament. The ultimate missed opportunity was in 1945 when the United States had the opportunity to nib this whole problem in the bud and even after using nuclear weapons against Japan to come to Russia and say this is what a nuclear bomb is, this is the technology, this is the design, now you have it, there is no need for you to do it, we are going to get rid of it and we are going to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons but we chose not to do so.
Another opportunity came in the 1960s when Kennedy and Kroshov, in the aftermath Cuban missile crisis, both developed a mutual respect for one another and there is an opportunity for those two leaders. Had Kennedy gone into a second term, those two leaders would have achieved meaningful disarmament. Unfortunately President Kennedy was assassinated and Kroshov was out of office a year later.
The next one came in 1996 when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronal Reagan sat down in Reykjavik; it was a historic meeting where the two leaders were actually on the verge of getting rid of their entire nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, missile defense got in the way. But there was a byproduct of Reykjavik agreement, they did come up with an agreement on getting rid of the entire category of nuclear weapons and it was the first time that we were not just limiting the size of a nuclear arsenal we were getting rid of nuclear weapons.
That was the importance of the INF treaty; it created the conditions to actually eliminate nuclear weapons and it was a good foundation upon which we could build toward the future and that is why the START treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, was so important because it began the process of reducing the nuclear arsenals but again arms reductions have to take place within a framework of arms control. This requires things such as an anti-ballistic missile treaty, it requires the Unites States signing into the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty which we still have not done and so until we start dealing with arms control as a larger pitcher, this concept of nuclear reductions as representing the only aspect of arms control that we are concerned about, is a flawed policy.
I think the Obama administration is wrong in dealing solely with the issue of nuclear reductions. They are going to have to deal with all the other myriad of policy issues that impact this, to create the conditions in which nations are going to be willing to give up nuclear weapons.
Press TV : Dangerous Ground is based on more than a decade of Ritter's experience analyzing intelligence risks. You pinpoint the major challenges to international security in the post-Bush era and present a blueprint for confronting them. You also offer a series of concrete proposals ranging from the creation of international cores of weapons inspectors under the aegis of the United Nations to call for the US to abandon the unilateralist actions of the Bush years that any incoming administration would be wise to heed. Can you elaborate these proposals?
Ritter : I think the most important aspect of building a blueprint of disarmament, especially when we talk about the nuclear disarmament, is to ensure that the central theme is the elimination of the role that nuclear weapons can play.
As long as you feel that nuclear weapons have legitimacy, then you cannot speak of getting rid of nuclear weapons. Right now American nuclear policy is based upon the concept that nuclear deters, that with nuclear weapons we can deter other people from doing things that we do not want them to do. As long as we believe that is a valid policy, we are going to continue to retain nuclear weapons and so are other nations.
We are going to have to eliminate the viability, we have to eliminate the role of nuclear weapons, we are going to have to envision a world in which we interact with other nations, sometimes in a confrontation manner without nuclear weapons, without the need to fall on this nuclear crutch and that is the first thing: to eliminate the viability of that.
The way you do that, though, is not just to sign a treaty here and sign a treaty there. You have to insinuate the entire concept of a nuclear free military throughout the structures of government which means we are going to have to build governmental institutions that focus on this task.
One of the biggest mistakes that the United States in the history of arms control has made is to eliminate the arms control in disarmament agency or ACTA. It was created by John. F. Kennedy in the 1960s to pursue an arms control agenda and it was eliminated in 1990s under Bill Clinton as a compromise with conservative elements who were anti-arms control. They said you have to get rid of this agency.
It is time to recreate the arms control disarmament agency to insinuate throughout the bureaucracies of the United States, this notion of an America free of nuclear weapons. You also wanted to build international institutions that legitimized nuclear activities and delegitimized nuclear weapons. Now we speak of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as being one such vehicle but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a fundamentally flawed agreement, not necessarily in what it intends to do but in how it is being implemented, the largest case in this point is the approach that we are taking toward Iran, a nation which is pursuing legitimate nuclear activity under Article 4 of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but this legitimate nuclear activity is being denied by the Security Council on the behest of the United States.
We condemn Iran for doing that which is permitted to do under the NPT but we turned a blind eye, for instance, to Israel, which refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty but has a massive nuclear arsenal and uses this nuclear arsenal to threaten other nations.
Another example is India, another nuclear weapons capable state which refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; but in an effort to have better economic relations with India, the United States has entered into a bilateral nuclear deal which gives India all the rights of an NPT state in terms of acquiring a nuclear technology without paying any price and without requiring India to sign the NPT.
So at the end of the day, this fundamental backing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which should represent the vehicle in which the international community moves forward on the issue of nuclear disarmament has been undermined by the United States because at the end of the day the United States does not really care about the rest of the world. We only care about how we impose ourselves on the rest of the world and unfortunately it means that we use vehicles such as the NPT to further unilateral American policy at the expense of the best interest of the rest of the world.