Implications of the Reykjavik Summit on Its Twentieth Anniversary: Conference Report

Implications of the Reykjavik Summit on Its Twentieth Anniversary: Conference Report

by Sidney D. Drell, George P. Shultz

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In October 1986 in Reykjavik, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev agreed on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons-a historic agreement that ultimately led to the end of the cold war. Since that time, the nature of the nuclear threat in the world has changed, but the twenty-year-old lessons of Reykjavik may well help us achieve the goal of a modern world free of


In October 1986 in Reykjavik, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev agreed on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons-a historic agreement that ultimately led to the end of the cold war. Since that time, the nature of the nuclear threat in the world has changed, but the twenty-year-old lessons of Reykjavik may well help us achieve the goal of a modern world free of nuclear weapons.

Drawn from presentations at the Hoover Institution's conference on the twentieth anniversary of the Reykjavik summit, this collection of essays examines the legacy of that meeting between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The contributors discuss what the lessons of Reykjavik can mean for today's nuclear arms control efforts, covering topics ranging from an explanation of President Reagan's role in creating trust at Reykjavik to the importance of preserving a missile defense system today to a discussion of a key lesson learned: the importance of negotiating with enemies.

Along with these insightful essays, the book includes the actual, previously secret classified transcript of the discussions between Reagan and Gorbachev. Taken as a whole, the contributions in this collection reassert the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and underscore the need for new practical measures for achieving that goal.

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Implications of the Reykjavik Summit on Its Twentieth Anniversary

Conference Report

By Sidney D. Drell, George P. Shultz

Hoover Institution Press

Copyright © 2007 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8179-4843-6


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A World Free of Nuclear Weapons

George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn

NUCLEAR WEAPONS TODAY present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. U.S. leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage — to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.

Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence. The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.

North Korea's recent nuclear test and Iran's refusal to stop its program to enrich uranium — potentially to weapons grade — highlight the fact that the world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era. Most alarmingly, the likelihood that nonstate terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing. In today's war waged on world order by terrorists, nuclear weapons are the ultimate means of mass devastation. And non-state terrorist groups with nuclear weapons are conceptually outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy and present difficult new security challenges.

Apart from the terrorist threat, unless urgent new actions are taken, the U.S. soon will be compelled to enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence. It is far from certain that we can successfully replicate the old Soviet-American "mutually assured destruction" with an increasing number of potential nuclear enemies worldwide without dramatically increasing the risk that nuclear weapons will be used. New nuclear states do not have the benefit of years of step-by-step safeguards put in effect during the Cold War to prevent nuclear accidents, misjudgments, or unauthorized launches. The United States and the Soviet Union learned from mistakes that were less than fatal. Both countries were diligent to ensure that no nuclear weapon was used during the Cold War, by design or by accident. Will new nuclear nations and the world be as fortunate in the next 50 years as we were during the Cold War?

LEADERS ADDRESSED THIS issue in earlier times. In his "Atoms for Peace" address to the United Nations in 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower pledged America's "determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma — to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life." John F. Kennedy, seeking to break the logjam on nuclear disarmament, said, "The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution."

Rajiv Gandhi, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on June 9, 1988, appealed, "Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million: the end of life as we know it on our planet Earth. We come to the United Nations to seek your support. We seek your support to put a stop to this madness."

Ronald Reagan called for the abolishment of "all nuclear weapons," which he considered to be "totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on Earth and civilization." Mikhail Gorbachev shared this vision, which had also been expressed by previous American presidents.

Although Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev failed at Reykjavik to achieve the goal of an agreement to get rid of all nuclear weapons, they did succeed in turning the arms race on its head. They initiated steps leading to significant reductions in deployed long- and intermediate-range nuclear forces, including the elimination of an entire class of threatening missiles.

What will it take to rekindle the vision shared by Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev? Can a worldwide consensus be forged that defines a series of practical steps leading to major reductions in the nuclear danger? There is an urgent need to address the challenge posed by these two questions.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) envisioned the end of all nuclear weapons. It provides (a) that states that did not possess nuclear weapons as of 1967 agree not to obtain them, and (b) that states that do possess them agree to divest themselves of these weapons over time. Every president of both parties since Richard Nixon has reaffirmed these treaty obligations, but non-nuclear weapon states have grown increasingly skeptical of the sincerity of the nuclear powers.

Strong non-proliferation efforts are under way. The Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and the Additional Protocols are innovative approaches that provide powerful new tools for detecting activities that violate the NPT and endanger world security. They deserve full implementation. The negotiations on proliferation of nuclear weapons by North Korea and Iran, involving all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and Japan, are crucially important. They must be energetically pursued.

But by themselves, none of these steps are adequate to the danger. Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev aspired to accomplish more at their meeting in Reykjavik 20 years ago — the elimination of nuclear weapons altogether. Their vision shocked experts in the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, but galvanized the hopes of people around the world. The leaders of the two countries with the largest arsenals of nuclear weapons discussed the abolition of their most powerful weapons.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE? Can the promise of the NPT and the possibilities envisioned at Reykjavik be brought to fruition? We believe that a major effort should be launched by the United States to produce a positive answer through concrete stages.

First and foremost is intensive work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise. Such a joint enterprise, by involving changes in the disposition of the states possessing nuclear weapons, would lend additional weight to efforts already under way to avoid the emergence of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran.

The program on which agreements should be sought would constitute a series of agreed and urgent steps that would lay the groundwork for a world free of the nuclear threat. Steps would include:

• Changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time and thereby reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon.

• Continuing to reduce substantially the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them.

• Eliminating short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed.

• Initiating a bipartisan process with the Senate, including understandings to increase confidence and provide for periodic review, to achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking advantage of recent technical advances, and working to secure ratification by other key states.

• Providing the highest possible standards of security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-usable plutonium, and highly enriched uranium everywhere in the world.

• Getting control of the uranium enrichment process, combined with the guarantee that uranium for nuclear power reactors could be obtained at a reasonable price, first from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and then from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or other controlled international reserves. It will also be necessary to deal with proliferation issues presented by spent fuel from reactors producing electricity.

• Halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce; and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.

• Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.

Achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons will also require effective measures to impede or counter any nuclear-related conduct that is potentially threatening to the security of any state or peoples.

Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America's moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.

We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal, beginning with the measures outlined above.

The Nuclear Threat

Mikhail Gorbachev

THE ESSAY "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," published in this newspaper on Jan. 4, was signed by a bipartisan group of four influential Americans — George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn — not known for utopian thinking and having unique experience in shaping the policies of previous administrations. It raises an issue of crucial importance for world affairs: the need for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

As someone who signed the first treaties on real reductions in nuclear weapons, I feel it is my duty to support their call for urgent action.

The road to this goal began in November 1985 when Ronald Reagan and I met in Geneva. We declared that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." This was said at a time when many people in the military and among the political establishment regarded a war involving weapons of mass destruction as conceivable and even acceptable, and were developing various scenarios of nuclear escalation.

It took political will to transcend the old thinking and attain a new vision. For if a nuclear war is inconceivable, then military doctrines, armed forces development plans, and negotiating positions at arms-control talks must change accordingly. This began to happen, particularly after Reagan and I agreed in Reykjavik in October 1986 on the need ultimately to eliminate nuclear weapons. Concurrently, major positive changes were occurring in world affairs: A number of international conflicts were defused and democratic processes in many parts of the world gained momentum, leading to the end of the Cold War.

As U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations got off the ground, a breakthrough was achieved — the treaty on the elimination of medium- and shorter-range missiles, followed by agreement on 50% reduction in strategic offensive weapons. If the negotiations had continued in the same vein and at the same pace, the world would have been rid of the greater part of the arsenals of deadly weapons. But this did not happen, and hopes for a new, more democratic world order were not fulfilled. In fact, we have seen a failure of political leadership, which proved incapable of seizing the opportunities opened by the end of the Cold War. This glaring failure has allowed nuclear weapons and their proliferation to pose a continuing, growing threat to mankind.

The ABM Treaty has been abrogated; the requirements for effective verification and irreversibility of nuclear-arms reductions have been weakened; the treaty on comprehensive cessation of nuclear-weapons tests has not been ratified by all nuclear powers. The goal of the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons has been essentially forgotten. What is more, the military doctrines of major powers, first the United States and then, to some extent, Russia, have reemphasized nuclear weapons as an acceptable means of war fighting, to be used in a first or even in a "pre-emptive" strike.

All this is a blatant violation of the nuclear powers' commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its Article V is clear and unambiguous: Nations that are capable of making nuclear weapons shall forgo that possibility in exchange for the promise by the members of the nuclear club to reduce and eventually abolish their nuclear arsenals. If this reciprocity is not observed, then the entire structure of the treaty will collapse.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is already under considerable stress. The emergence of India and Pakistan as nuclear-weapon states, the North Korean nuclear program, and the issue of Iran are just the harbingers of even more dangerous problems that we will have to face unless we overcome the present situation. A new threat, nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, is a challenge to our ability to work together internationally and to our technological ingenuity. But we should not delude ourselves: In the final analysis, this problem can only be solved through the abolition of nuclear weapons. So long as they continue to exist, the danger will be with us, like the famous "rifle on the wall" that will fire sooner or later.

Last November, the Forum of Nobel Peace Laureates, meeting in Rome, issued a special statement on this issue. The late Nobel laureate and world-renowned scientist, Joseph Rotblat, initiated a global awareness campaign on the nuclear danger, in which I participated. Ted Turner's Nuclear Threat Initiative provides important support for specific measures to reduce weapons of mass destruction. With all of them we are united by a common understanding of the need to save the Non-Proliferation Treaty and of the primary responsibility of the members of the nuclear club.

We must put the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons back on the agenda, not in a distant future but as soon as possible. It links the moral imperative — the rejection of such weapons from an ethical standpoint — with the imperative of assuring security. It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious.

The irony — and a reproach to the current generation of world leaders — is that two decades after the end of the Cold War the world is still burdened with vast arsenals of nuclear weapons of which even a fraction would be enough to destroy civilization. As in the 1980s, we face the problem of political will — the responsibility of the leaders of major powers for bridging the gap between the rhetoric of peace and security and the real threat looming over the world. While agreeing with the Jan. 4 article that the United States should take the initiative and play an active role on this issue, I believe there is also a need for major efforts on the part of Russian and European leaders and for a responsible position and full involvement of all states that have nuclear weapons.

I am calling for a dialogue to be launched within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, involving both nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, to cover the full range of issues related to the elimination of those weapons. The goal is to develop a common concept for moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

The key to success is reciprocity of obligations and actions. The members of the nuclear club should formally reiterate their commitment to reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons. As a token of their serious intent, they should without delay take two crucial steps: ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty and make changes in their military doctrines, removing nuclear weapons from the Cold War-era high alert status. At the same time, the states that have nuclear-power programs would pledge to terminate all elements of those programs that could have military use.


Excerpted from Implications of the Reykjavik Summit on Its Twentieth Anniversary by Sidney D. Drell, George P. Shultz. Copyright © 2007 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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Meet the Author

Sidney D. Drell is a senior fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution and professor of theoretical physics (emeritus) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. He coauthored The Gravest Danger: Nuclear Weapons with James Goodby. George P. Shultz, the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution, served as U.S. secretary of state under Ronald Reagan.

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