General Lee Butler's address to
The State of the World Forum
an international conference convened by the Mikhail Gorbachev Foundation
in San Francisco, California, October 2 - 6, 1996:

Thank you Alan, and good morning ladies and gentlemen. I must say at the outset that this is a singular moment in my life after 37 years in uniform. I'm honored to join you, to share the stage with such a distinguished group, and most particularly to stand next to the gentleman on my left. (Applause)

But I must also say that this represents a very conscious departure from a decision that I made upon retiring not to speak publicly on national security matters. When I became a private citizen and a businessman two and a half years ago it was my intention to close the journal of my military career and never to reopen it for reasons that are intensely personal. I might also say that after 28 moves and 34 years of married life, my wife enthusiastically endorsed that decision. Yes, I amend that resolution with considerable reluctance. My decision to step back into public life is prompted by an inner voice I cannot still, by a concern I cannot quiet, and by a growing alarm born of my former responsibilities, and a deepening dismay as a citizen of this planet with respect to the course of events governing the role of nuclear weapons after the Cold War.

I'm well aware from my discussions with Alan Cranston that you share this concern. However, as Alan has indicated that having served as the Commander in Chief of the United States Strategic Air Command and subsequently the United States Strategic Command with planning and operational responsibilities for all of America's strategic nuclear forces and many of its tactical forces, I may bring a perspective to this issue not normally heard at gatherings such as yours. Over the last 27 years of my military career, I was embroiled in every aspect, every aspect of American nuclear policy making and forced posturing from the counsels of government to military command centers, from cramped bomber cockpits to the suffocating confines of ballistic missile submarines. I have certified hundreds of crews for their nuclear mission and I have approved thousands of targets for potential nuclear destruction. I've investigated a dismaying array of accidents and incidents involving strategic weapons and forces. I've read a library of books and intelligence reports on the former Soviet Union and what we believed to be its capabilities and intentions, and I have seen an army of experts proved wrong. 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 consequences of decisions which would invoke the very survival of our planet.

Seen from this perspective, it should not be surprising that no one could have been more relieved that was I by the dramatic end to the Cold War. The reshaping of Central Europe, the democratization of Russia and the rapid acceleration of arms-control agreements were miraculous events that I never imagined would happen in my lifetime. Even more gratifying was the opportunity as the Director of Strategic Plans and Policies for all of the United States Military Forces and then as the Commander of its Nuclear Forces to be intimately involved in recasting our defense posture, shrinking our arsenals and scaling back huge impending Cold-War driven expenditures, and most importantly I could see for the first time the prospect of restoring a world free of the apocalyptic threat of nuclear weapons. Over time that shimmering hope gave way to a judgment which now has become a deeply-held that a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons is necessarily a world devoid of nuclear weapons. (Applause)

The concern which leads me to this forum, which compels me to speak frankly and openly in the company of serious minded opinion leaders is that the sense of profound satisfaction with which I departed my military career has been steadily eroded in the ensuing months and years. But now time and human nature are wearing away at the sense of wonder and closing the window of opportunity. Options are being lost as urgent questions are marginalized, as out-moded routines perpetuate Cold-War habits and thinking and as a new generation of nuclear actors and aspirants lunch backward into the dark world we so narrowly escaped without a nuclear holocaust.

What then does the future hold? How do we proceed? Can a consensus be formed that nuclear weapons have no defensible role? That the political and human consequences of their employment transcends any assertive military utility? That as 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 illegitimate? I would not be here this morning if I did not believe that such a consensus is possible. That it is imperative and that it in fact grows daily. I see it in the reports issued from highly respected institutions such as this. I feel it in the convictions of my colleagues on the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. It finds eloquent voice in the Nobel Prize awarded to Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences. And yes, a strident frustration in the vehement protest against the recent round of nuclear tests conducted by France. But from my view notwithstanding the perils of transition in Russia, enmities in the Middle East, or the delicate balance of power in South and East Asia, I believe that a swelling chorus of reason and resentment will eventually turn the tide. As the family of mankind develops the capacity for collective outrage so soon will it find avenues for collective action. The terror-filled anesthesia which numbed 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 taking a new hold on our consciousness as we confront the nightmarish prospect of nuclear terror at the micro level.

But where do we begin? What steps can governments take, responsibly recognizing that policy makers must always balance a host of competing priorities and interest..

First and foremost, is for the declared nuclear states to accept that the Cold War is in fact over. To break free of the attitudes, the habits and the practices that perpetuate enormous inventories, nuclear forces still standing alert and targeting plans encompassing thousands of aim-points.

Second, for the undeclared nuclear states to embrace the harsh lessons of the Cold War. That nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous, hugely expensive, militarily inefficient and morally indefensible. That implacable hostility and alienation will almost certainly over time lead to a nuclear crisis, and that the strength of deterrents is inversely proportional to the stress of confrontation and that nuclear war is a raging insatiable beast whose instincts and appetites we pretend to understand but cannot possibly control.

Third, with respect to present and prospective arms control agreements, given its crucial leadership role, it is imperative for the United States to undertake now a sweeping review, led by the White House, of 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 addressing a few difficult four-structure questions, the review purposely avoided the larger and more difficult policy questions. However, the review's justification for maintaining robust nuclear forces as a hedge against the resurgence of a hostile Russia is, in my review, highly regrettable from several aspects. It sends an overt message of mistrust in an era when building a positive security relationship with Russia is arguably the United States' single most important foreign-policy concern. It codifies force levels and postures completely out of keeping with the profound transformation we have witnessed in world affairs and it perpetuates attitudes which inhibit a willingness to proceed immediately toward negotiation of greatly reduced levels of strategic odds.

Finally, this morning to the question of the responsibility of this Forum, I want to record my strong conviction that the risks entailed by nuclear weapons are far too great to leave the prospects of their elimination solely within the province of governments. Highly influential opinion leaders like yourselves can make a powerful difference in swelling the tide of global sentiment that the nuclear era must end. I urge you, for example, to read the one-page statement from the Canberra Commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons which will be available to you in the library room following this morning's session. Better still read the Commission Report in its entirety, reflect on its recommendation, communicate with influential colleagues and with the Canberra Commission. Take an active role in debating and supporting the practical steps we set forth in our report, such as taking nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert and separating their warheads into secure storage. These are steps which can be taken now, which will reduce needless risks and terminate Cold-War practices which serve only as a chilling reminder of a world in which the principal antagonist could find no better solution to their entangled security fears than mutual assured destruction. Such a world was and is intolerable. We are not condemned to repeat 40 years at the nuclear brink. We can do better than condone a world in which nuclear weapons are enshrined as the ultimate arbiter of conflict. The price already paid is too dear. The risks runs too great. The nuclear beast must be chained. Its sole expunged. Its lair laid waste. The task is daunting, but we cannot shrink from it. The opportunity may not come again. Thank you.

Anti-Nuclear Update | Proposition One
Peace Park