Statement by US General Butler 12/4/96

General Lee Butler, USAF (Retired)
Wednesday, December 4, 1996
Washington, D. C.

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 abolition.

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 at risk.

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 war.

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 their use.

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 possibly control.

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 II Agreement.

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 objective.

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 Destruction.

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 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 in Omaha.

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 strategic deterrence.

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

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