General Butler's Speech to the National Press Club
Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Statement by International Generals and Admirals
Embargoed for Release, Dec. 5, 1996
We, military professionals, who have devoted our lives to the national security of our countries and our peoples, are convinced that the continuing existence of nuclear weapons in the armories of nuclear powers, and the ever present threat of acquisition of these weapons by others, constitutes a peril to global peace and security and to the safety and survival of the people we are dedicated to protect.
Through our variety of responsibilities and experiences with weapons and wars in the armed forces of many nations, we have acquired an intimate and perhaps unique knowledge of the present security and insecurity of our countries and peoples.
We know that nuclear weapons, though never used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, represent a clear and present danger to the very existence of humanity. There was an immense risk of a superpower holocaust during the Cold War. At least once, civilization was on the very brink of catastrophic tragedy. That threat has now receded, but not forever--unless nuclear weapons are eliminated.
The end of the Cold War created conditions favorable to nuclear disarmament. Termination of military confrontation between the Soviet Union and U.S. made it possible to reduce strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and to eliminate intermediate range missiles. It was a significant milestone on the path to nuclear disarmament when Belarus, Kazakhastan, and Ukraine relinquished their nuclear weapons.
Indefinite extension on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 and approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the UN General Assembly in 1996 are also important steps towards a nuclear-free world. We commend the work that has been done to achieve these results.
Unfortunately, in spite of these positive steps, true nuclear disarmament has not been achieved. Treaties provide that only delivery systems, not nuclear warheads, will be destroyed. This permits the U.S. and Russia to keep their warheads in reserve storage, thus creating a "reversible nuclear potential." However, in the post-Cold War security environment, the most commonly postulated nuclear threats are not susceptible to deterrence or are simply not credible. We believe, therefore, that business as usual is not an acceptable way for the world to proceed in nuclear matters.
It is our deep conviction that the following is urgently needed and must be undertaken now:
- First, present and planned stockpiles of nuclear weapons are exceedingly large and should now be greatly cut back;
- Second, remaining nuclear weapons should be gradually and transparently taken off alert, and their readiness substantially reduced both in nuclear weapon states and in de facto nuclear weapon states;
- Third, long-term international nuclear policy must be based on the declared principle of continuous, complete and irrevocable elimination of nuclear weapons.
The United States and Russia should--without any reduction in their military security--carry forward the reduction process already launched by START: they should cut down to 1000 to 1500 warheads each and possibly lower. The other three nuclear states and the three threshold states should be drawn into the reduction process as still deeper reductions are negotiated down to the level of hundreds. There is nothing incompatible between defense by individual countries of their territorial integrity and progress toward nuclear abolition.
The exact circumstances and conditions that will make it possible to proceed, finally, to abolition cannot now be foreseen or prescribed. One obvious prerequisite would be a worldwide program of surveillance and inspection, including measures to account for and control inventories of nuclear weapon materials. This will ensure that no rogues of terrorists could undertake a surreptitious effort to acquire nuclear capacities without detection at an early stage. An agreed procedure for forcible international intervention and interruption of covert efforts in a certain and timely fashion is essential.
The creation of nuclear-free zones in different parts of the world, confidence-building and transparency measures in the general field of defense, strict implementation of all treaties in the area of disarmament and arms control, and mutual assistance in the process of disarmament are also important in helping to bring about a nuclear-free world. The development of regional systems of collective security, including practical measures for cooperation, partnership, interaction and communication are essential for local stability and security.
The extent to which the existence of nuclear weapons and fear of their use may have deterred war--in a world that in this year alone has seen 30 military conflicts raging--cannot be determined. It is clear, however, that nations now possessing nuclear weapons will not relinquish them until they are convinced that more reliable and less dangerous means of providing for their security are in place. It is also clear, as a consequence, that the nuclear powers will not now agree to a fixed timetable for the achievement of abolition.
It is similarly clear that, among the nations not now possessing nuclear weapons, there are some that will not forever forswear their acquisition and deployment unless they, too, are provided means of security. Nor will they forgo acquisition if the present nuclear powers seek to retain everlastingly their nuclear monopoly.
Movement toward abolition must be a responsibility shared primarily by the declared nuclear weapons states--China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; by the de facto nuclear states, India, Israel and Pakistan; and by major non-nuclear powers, such as Germany and Japan. All nations should move in concert toward the same goal.
We have been presented with a challenge of the highest possible historic importance: the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The end of the Cold War makes it possible.
The dangers of proliferation, terrorism, and a new nuclear arms race render it necessary. We must not fail to seize our opportunity. There is no alternative.