Statement by US General Butler 12/4/96
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB REMARKS
Thank you, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let
me say first that I am both professionally honored and intellectually
comforted to share this rostrum with General Andrew Goodpaster.
He has long set the standard among senior military officers for
rigorous thinking and wise counsel on national security matters.
He has been a role model for generations of younger officers,
and most certainly was for me. His views on the risks inherent
in nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use have long
been a matter of public record. I found them very compelling as
I made the long and arduous intellectual journey from staunch
advocate of nuclear deterrence to public proponent of nuclear
This latter role is not one that I ever imagined nor one
that I relish. Far from it. I have too much regard for the thousands
of men who served under my command, and the hundreds of colleagues
with whom I labored in the policy arena, to take lightly the risk
that my views might in any way be construed as diminishing their
service or sacrifice. Quite to the contrary, I continue to marvel
and will always be immensely gratified by their intense devotion
and commitment to the highest standards of professional discipline.
I would simply ask them to understand that I am compelled
to speak, by concerns I cannot still, with respect to the abiding
influence of nuclear weapons long after the Cold War has ended.
I am here today because I feel the weight of a special obligation
in these matters, a responsibility born of unique experience and
responsibilities. Over the last 27 years of my military career,
I was embroiled in every aspect of American nuclear policy making
and force structuring, from the highest councils of government
to nuclear command centers; from the arms control arena to cramped
bomber cockpits and the confines of ballistic missile silos and
submarines. I have spent years studying nuclear weapons effects;
inspected dozens of operational units; certified hundreds of crews
for their nuclear mission; and approved thousands of targets for
nuclear destruction. I have investigated a distressing array of
accidents and incidents involving strategic weapons and forces.
I have had a library of books and intelligence reports on the
Soviet Union and what were believed to be its capabilities and
intentions...and seen an army of experts confounded. As an advisor
to the President on the employment of nuclear weapons, I have
anguished over the imponderable complexities, the profound moral
dilemmas, and the mind-numbing compression of decision-making
under the threat of nuclear attack.
I came away from that experience deeply troubled by what
I see as the burden of building and maintaining nuclear arsenals:
the increasingly tangled web of policy and strategy as the number
of weapons and delivery systems multiply the staggering costs;
the relentless pressure of advancing technology; the grotesquely
destructive war plans; the daily operational risks; and the constant
prospect of a crisis that would hold the fate of entire societies
Seen from this perspective, it should not be surprising
that no one could have been more relieved than was I by the dramatic
end of the Cold.War and the promise of reprieve from its acute
tensions and threats. The democratization of Russia, the reshaping
of Central Europe ... I never imagined that in my lifetime, much
less during my military service, Such extraordinary events might
transpire. Even more gratifying was the opportunity, as the commander
of US strategic nuclear forces, to be intimately involved in recasting
our force posture, shrinking our arsenals, drawing down the target
list, and scaling back huge impending Cold War driven expenditures.
Most importantly, I could see for the first time the prospect
of restoring a world free of the apocalyptic threat of nuclear
Over time, that shimmering wave was, to a judgment which
has now become a deeply held conviction that a world free of the
threat or nuclear weapons is necessarily a world devoid of nuclear
weapons. Permit me, if you will, to elaborate briefly an the concerns
which compel this conviction.
First, a growing alarm that despite all of the evidence,
we have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons,
that the consequences of their use defy reason, transcending time
and space, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants.
Second, a deepening dismay at the prolongation of Cold War policies
and practices in a world where our security interests have ben
utterly transformed. Third, that foremost among these policies,
deterrence reigns unchallenged, with its embedded assumption of
hostility and associated preference for forms on high states of
alert. Fourth, an acute unease over renewed assertions of the
utility of nuclear weapons, especially as regards response to
chemical or biological attack. Fifth, grave doubt that the present
highly discriminatory regime of nuclear and non-nuclear states
can long endure absent an credible commitment by the nuclear powers
to eliminate their arsenals. And finally, the horrific prospect
of a world seething with enmities, armed to the teeth with nuclear
weapons, end hostage to maniacal leaders strongly disposed toward
That being said. let me hasten to add that I am keenly
aware of the opposing arguments. Many strategists hold to the
belief that the Cold War world was well served by nuclear weapons,
and that the fractious world emerging in its aftermath dictates
that they will be retained ... either as fearsome weapons of last
resort or simply because their elimination is still a Utopian
dream. I offer in reply that for me the Utopian dream was ending
the Cold War. Standing down nuclear arsenals requires only a fraction
of the ingenuity and resources as were devoted to their creation.
As to those who believe nuclear weapons desirable or inevitable,
I would say these devices exact a terrible price even if never
used. Accepting nuclear weapons as the ultimate arbiter of conflict
condemns the world to live under a dark cloud of perpetual anxiety.
Worse, it codifies mankind's most murderous instincts as an acceptable
resort when other options for resolving conflict fail.
Others argue that nuclear weapons are still the essential
trappings of superpower status; that they are a vital hedge against
a resurgence of virulent, Soviet communism; that they will defer
attack by weapons of mass destruction; or that they are the most
appropriate choice far response to such attack.
To them I reply that proliferation cannot be contained
in a world where a handful of self-appointed nations both arrogate
to themselves the privilege of owning nuclear weapon; and extol
the ultimate security assurances they assert such weapons convey.
That overt hedging against born-again, Soviet- style hardliners
is as likely to engender as to discourage their resurrection.
That elegant theories of deterrence wilt in the crucible
of impending nuclear war. And, finally, that the political and
human consequences of the employment of a nuclear weapon by the
United States in the post-Cold War world, no matter the provocation,
would irretrievably diminish our stature. We simply cannot resort
to the very type of act we rightly abhor.
Is it possible to forge a global consensus on the propositions
that nuclear weapons have no defensible role; that the broader
consequences of their employment transcend any asserted military
utility; and that as the weapons of mass destruction, the case
for their elimination is a thousand-fold stronger and more urgent
than for deadly chemicals and viruses already widely declared
immoral, illegitimate, subject to destruction and prohibited from
any future production?
I am persuaded that such a consensus is not only possible,
it is imperative. Notwithstanding the uncertainties of transition
in Russia, bitter enmities in the Middle East, or the delicate
balance of power in South and East Asia, I believe that a swelling
global refrain will eventually bring the broader interests of
mankind to bear on the decisions of governments to retain nuclear
weapons. The terror-induced anesthesia which suspended rational
thought, made nuclear war thinkable and grossly excessive arsenals
possible during the Cold War is gradually wearing off. A renewed
appreciation for the obscene power of a single nuclear weapon
is coming back into focus as we confront to dismal prospect of
nuclear terror at the micro level.
Clearly the world has begun to recoil from the nuclear
abyss, Bombers are off alert, missiles are being destroyed and
warheads dismantled, former Soviet republics have renounced nuclear
status. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has been indefinitely extended,
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is now a de facto prohibition,
and START II may yet survive a deeply suspicious Duma But, there
is a much larger issue which now Confronts the nuclear powers
and engages the vital interest of every nation whether the world
is better served by a prolonged era of cautious nuclear weapons
reductions toward some indeterminate endpoint; or by an unequivocal
commitment on the part of the nuclear powers to move with much
greater urgency toward the goal of eliminating these arsenals
in their entirety.
I chose this forum to make my most direct public Case for
elimination as the goal, to be pursued with all deliberate speed.
I firmly believe that practical and realistic steps, such as those
set forth by the Stimson Center study, or by the Canberra Commission
on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, can really be taken toward
that end. But I would underscore that the real issue here is not
the path - it is the willingness to undertake the journey. In
my view, there are three crucial conditions which must be satisfied
for that journey to begin, conditions which go to the heart of
strongly held beliefs and deep seated fears about nuclear weapons
and the circumstances in which they might be used.
First and foremost, is for the declared nuclear
weapon states to accept that the Cold War is in fact over, to
break free of the norms, attitudes and habits that perpetuate
enormous inventories, forces standing alert and targeting plans
encompassing thousands of aimpoints.
Second, for the undeclared states to embrace the
harsh lessons of the Cold War: that nuclear weapons are inherently
dangerous, hugely expensive, and militarily inefficient; that
implacable hostility and alienation will almost certainly over
time lead to a nuclear crisis; that the failure Of nuclear deterrence
would imperil not just the survival of the antagonists, but of
every society; and that nuclear war is a raging insatiable beast
whose instincts and appetites we pretend to understand but cannot
Third, given its crucial leadership role, it is essential
for the United States to undertake as a first order of business
a sweeping review of its nuclear policies and strategies. The
Clinton administration's 1993 Nuclear Posture Review was an essential
but far from sufficient step toward rethinking the role of nuclear
weapons in the post-Cold War world. While clearing the agenda
of some pressing force structure questions, the NPR purposefully
avoided the larger policy issues.
Moreover, to the point of Cold War attitudes, the Review's
justification for maintaining robust nuclear forces as a hedge
against the resurgence of a hostile Russia should now be seen
as regrettable from several aspects. It sends an overt message
of distrust in an era when building a positive security relationship
with Russia is arguably the United States' most important foreign
policy interest. It codifies force levels and postures completely
out of keeping with the historic passage we have witnessed in
world affairs. And, it perpetuates attitudes which inhibit a willingness
to proceed immediately toward negotiation of greatly reduced levels
of arms, notwithstanding the state of ratification of the START
There you have, in very abbreviated form, the core of the
concerns which led me to abandon the blessed anonymity of private
life, to join my voice with respected colleagues such as General
Goodpaster, to urge publicly that the United States make unequivocal
its commitment to the elimination of nuclear arsenals, and take
the lead in setting an agenda for moving forthrightly toward that
I left active duty with great confidence that the imperative
for this commitment, and the will to pursue it were fully in place.
I entered private life with a sense of profound satisfaction that
the astonishing turn of events which brought a wondrous closure
to my three and one half decades of military service, and far
more importantly to four decades of perilous idealogical confrontation,
presented historic opportunities to advance the human condition.
But now time, and human nature, are wearing away the sense
af wonder and closing the window of opportunity. Options are being
lost as urgent questions are unasked, or unanswered; as outmoded
routines perpetuate Cold War patterns and thinking; and as a new
generation of nuclear actors and aspirants lurch backward toward
a chilling world where the principal antagonists could find no
better solution to their entangled security fear than Mutual Assured
Such a world was and is intolerable. We are not condemned
to repeat the lessons of forty years at the nuclear brink. We
can do better than condone a world in whieh nuclear weapons are
accepted as commonplace. The prlce already paid is too dear, the
risks are too great. The task is daunting but we cannot shrink
from it. The opportunity may not come again.
General Lee Butler, USAF (Retired)
Wednesday, December 4, 1996
Washington, D. C.
GENERAL LEE BUTLER, USAF (Ret.)
General Butler retired from 33 years of military service
on February 28, 1994. He remained in Nebraska and joined Peter
Kiewit Sons, Inc., a privately held corporation headquartered
From 1961-1994 Butler was an officer in the United States
Air Force, attaining the rank of General in 1991. In the latter
capacity he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command
and subsequently Commander-in-Chief of the United States Strategic
Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. In this capacity, he
had the responsibility for all U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy strategic
nuclear forces which support the national security objective of
Butler is a 1961 graduate ofthe U.S. Air Force Academy.
He attended the University of Paris, France, as an Olmsted scholar
where he attained a master's degree in international affairs.
He and his wife Dorene have two children, both married.
They have two grandchildren.
Butler's military career included a wide range of flying
and staff positions. He served in numerous policy positions in
the Pentagon, the last being the Director for Strategic Plans
and Policy, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Butler currently serves as a member of the Council on Foreign
Relations as well as the Committee on International Security and
Arms Control for the National Academy of Sciences and the Canberra
Commission. He serves on numerous boards of Omaha civic orgazations.
General Goodpaster's Opening Remarks
Joint Statement with General Goodpaster
Statement of 60 International Generals
Anti-Nuclear Update |
Proposition One | Abolition