“American Scientist on a ‘Glasnost Tour'”
Interview with Frank von Hippel
Conducted by Lawrence Wittner (State University of New York at Albany) Princeton, NJ, August 22, 1999, with correction and gap-filling by Frank von Hippel, July 4, 2009
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Frank von Hippel is an American scientist and longtime anti-nuclear activist. From 1979 to 1984 von Hippel served as the chair of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and was on the editorial board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from 1991 to 1993. The following years, he served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Today, Frank von Hippel is Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security, which analyzes the technical bases for nuclear arms control and nonproliferation initiatives.
In this 1999 Interview, von Hippel details his initial involvement with nuclear weapons issues and his early organization of a nuclear reactor safety study in 1974. His commitment to the study of nuclear issues was accelerated by the Reagan administration’s focus on nuclear armament in the early 1980s, when he decided that, “this was the time to get into U.S.-Russian arms race issues.”
Von Hippel became successively more involved as the FAS officially re-engaged with Soviet scientists on arms race issues in 1983, a low point in Soviet-U.S. relations. He details the Soviet scientific apprehensions in the aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s “Stars Wars” speech and describes his experiences with the consequently founded Committee of Soviet Scientists led by Evgeny Velikhov.
Von Hippel outlines the fruitful cooperation between the American and Soviet scientific community in order to sustain the Soviet nuclear testing moratorium by developing and installing effective verification processes and considers the establishment of foreign monitoring of nuclear tests inside the Soviet Union a significant achievement. These verification procedures, he believes, paved the way for the later congressional successes of the early 1990’s and helped alter American perceptions of the Soviet Union.
Von Hippel’s recollections elucidate the fact that a shared scientific interest rendered the Iron Curtain remarkably permeable allowing von Hippel and other American scientists to take a “glasnost tour” of Soviet nuclear facilities in the Summer of 1989. Visiting a plutonium production facility, a laser test side and given the “incredible” opportunity to do scientific detection of a Soviet nuclear warhead, von Hippel is convinced of the unique importance of this historic moment, judging that, “it will never happen again.”
[The sound quality on the audiotape was sometimes very poor. Thus, the transcript, in places, is based on LW’s interview notes.]
“My grandfather [James Franck] was involved in the Manhattan Project, so I was attuned to nuclear issues. And I guess I was always focused on nuclear weapons issues. But I didn’t become active until I actually became involved myself in the nuclear energy issue. That happened as a result of my time as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Stanford, from 1966 to `69. . . . A couple of my graduate students . . . co-organized something they called Stanford Workshops on Social and Political Issues. And one of them recruited me into being the faculty advisor for a workshop on government science advising. . . . And, as a result of that workshop, that student and I wrote a book called Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena. . . . One of our case studies . . . was on the Union of Concerned Scientists, which launched itself in 1969 and . . . was more interested in arms race issues than in nuclear power issues. But their first issue was . . . the question of the adequacy of the emergency core cooling systems on U.S. nuclear power reactors. . . . Joel [Primack] and I wrote an article called “Public Interest Science” for Science magazine — that’s the first chapter in my book Citizen Scientist — and it appeared in 1971. And I was invited to spend a year at the National Academy of Sciences, as a result of that article. They might have wanted to straighten me out. But I was incorrigible. And I thought that the area which would be easiest for me to break into . . . would be the nuclear reactor safety issue. It had been opened up by the UCS effort, and I thought that it really needed a more establishment look at this issue. I tried to get the Academy of Sciences interested, but they said it was too hot for them to initiate on their own. . . . So I went to the American Physical Society, which was at a relative peak of its activism . . . . In 1974, I organized a reactor safety study, via the American Physical Society, as a summer study. That study made quite a splash, … in part because of something I did which was to find a major error in the draft Reactor Safety Report that the Atomic Energy Commission had just published. . . .
But I quickly moved up what I considered the food chain of nuclear issues. On the basis of that work, Princeton invited me to come here to join the research faculty, and I was on that for ten years before I moved to the teaching faculty. Here he met Hal Feiveson, who was concerned that the proposed commercialization of plutonium breeder reactors would increase the availability of separated plutonium leading to nuclear weapons proliferation. We pulled together others for studies that, among other things, discovered that the projected growth of N-power was vastly exaggerated. Those studies got us into the proliferation area. And, then, in 1980, when Reagan was elected and people in his administration started making statements about being able to fight and win a nuclear war, Hal and I and many other people in the country decided that this was the time to get into U.S.-Russian arms race issues.”
The Federation of Scientists protest over the exiling of Andrei Sakharov to Gorky in 1979 “was Jeremy [Stone]’s show. (Stone was President of the FAS at the time.) It was his personal campaign. I was chairman of the FAS . . . `79 to `84, and so Jeremy consulted me on these things. But this was his initiative. . . . He did have a major impact in galvanizing the Academy of Sciences to engage with this issue. . . . I really became more involved when we decided that we would re-engage with Soviet scientists on arms race issues because things were getting so dangerous in the arms race. My first trip to Moscow was at Jeremy’s initiative. We responded to an open letter written by a group of Soviet academicians which asked, after Reagan’s March 1983 Star Wars speech: `You American scientists helped persuade us to support the ABM treaty and that limiting anti-ballistic missiles was a good thing. Have you changed your mind?’ As far as I know, we [the FAS] were the only group that responded and said `Yes,’ We were still against missile defense. That led Velikhov’s group to invite us. . . . and us to suspend our Sakharov boycott]. In fact, as I recall, our boycott call was not for a full cutoff. It was only for some scientists not to cooperate, not for all scientists not to cooperate. We wanted them to feel the disapproval of the U.S. scientific community. . . . “
The ABM [anti-ballistic-missile] debate of 1969-1973 “was the last gasp, really, of the FAS grassroots activism. There were FAS chapters that were actively involved in it. It was being played out on a local level, at sites where the Army was proposing to site interceptor bases . . . . But, after . . . the ABM treaty, the FAS became a staff-driven organization. That really was Jeremy’s preference. He engineered it. Since about that time” there’s been no further recruitment of members and “a slowly declining membership. . . . We do have elections,” though.
According to Jeremy, the Union of Concerned Scientists “actually started as a chapter of FAS. I don’t think anybody at UCS remembers that. I don’t think it was a meaningful relationship. The UCS was created at about the same time that Jeremy was shutting down the chapters. UCS was originally a Cambridge, Mass.-based organization, and focused on nuclear energy safety, which is an issue which was difficult for the FAS to handle, because so many of the nuclear pioneers were members of the FAS. My own positions on the breeder reactor caused some difficulty. Today, [within] the UCS, I guess that 20 percent of its effort is in the weapons area, and maybe 80 percent is in energy and environment.” Although UCS didn’t develop local chapters, “a key in their development was the direct mail fund-raising campaign. . . . The UCS did become quite a bit larger than FAS, and it now has offices in Berkeley, Cambridge, Chicago and Washington.” Although public interest organizations grew in the 1970s, “FAS didn’t grow in a comparable way.” Jeremy did a lot of fundraising and “spent a lot of his efforts on substance” rather than membership; as a result, FAS is now one of the small public interest groups in this area. “UCS is a misnomer. It really isn’t a union of concerned scientists. Henry [Kendall], its founding chairman, would try to organize a letter or petition or something like that with scientists, and was pretty good at that. But I think if you look at their . . . membership . . . you’d probably find that they’re not heavily in the scientific area, that they really are concerned citizens, the kind of people who join environmental organizations. And that, to some extent, would explain the public concerns about environmental issues has been more sustained and more broad-based than the concerns about nuclear issues, and UCS has tended to move with that interest. The FAS membership is also not entirely scientists. There are life scientists, and economists, and so on,” though “it’s still pretty heavily natural scientists.”
Committee of Soviet Scientists: “The driving power was Velikhov. He really was the heir to Artsimovitch and Millionshikov, who had been engaged in the discussions with U.S. scientists that . . . helped educate the Soviet government and laid the basis for the ABM treaty. . . . The galvanizing event for their [CSS’s] creation was President Reagan’s Star Wars speech in March 1983. . . . They had a meeting in the spring of 1983 under the auspices of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to discuss this issue . . . and then they invited us to meet with them in November 1983. It was a very tense time between the U.S. and Russia. In fact, tenser than I realized at the time because there was an exercise going on in Europe — a nuclear exercise [Able Archer] — which really had them very worried that it was preparations for an actual nuclear attack. . . . And I remember being asked: `Why do you want to attack us?’ Jeremy thought that this was some kind of an orchestration; Jeremy was very suspicious. And justifiably so, to some degree. But there was real concern.
I must say I was really taken, very quickly, by Velikhov. We met first in Moscow, and then we flew down to Tbilisi to continue our meeting. And I remember that Gromyko’s son, Anatoly Gromyko, was part of Velikhov’s committee — he faded out pretty quickly — but wanted our interaction to be very visible, with the media and TV people there. Gromyko started posturing for the media. And I remember saying to Velikhov, this isn’t getting us anywhere, and his just waving the media away and shutting up Gromyko. Then we started to talk and brainstorm seriously, in a way that became characteristic of my interactions with him. So that was our introduction. Actually, I had met Velikhov once before that, at a meeting that the International Physicians held, in Holland, the previous spring. . . .
That was two years before Gorbachev came into power. But it turned out Velikhov and Sagdeev were talking to Gorbachev even before he came to power. . . . Sagdeev, when he was active in the Committee, was Velikhov’s lieutenant. And, later on, Sagdeev would be Velikhov’s successor. . . . Kokoshin was also a lieutenant. And the third one was Sergei Kapitsa, who was very well known as a popularizer of science on television. . . . We . . . had quite a few meetings in the fall and the early spring, with Velikhov’s committee. And I think during this pre-Gorbachev period our major role was to help educate them about arms control. And in parallel, the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. Academy of Sciences” was also doing this job with another Velikhov-chaired Committee under the Soviet Academy of Sciences. “The key guy in this education of the Soviet scientists, in my view, was Garwin, because the Star Wars issue was so central and because Garwin was the leading technical critic of Star Wars. The organization [CSS] was for real — it wasn’t a front, I’m convinced — and Velikhov really took chances. I remember Kokoshin told me how much he admired Velikhov for his bravery, for his willingness to go in and accost any Soviet official up to the very top.
Gorbachev’s first initiative in this area was a nuclear testing moratorium, starting in August 1983. I’m quite convinced that Velikhov and Sagdeev were centrally involved in convincing him to do that. I think Gorbachev may have been motivated — viewing himself as . . . the heir to Khrushchev — especially to get a test ban. And he was disappointed, I think, at how little the world noticed the moratorium. The difference being that testing was no conducted underground and there was no fallout as there had been from atmospheric testing in Khrushchev’s time. And, since the U.S. didn’t stop testing, Gorbachev was under a lot of pressure that the USSR should resume. My first interaction with Velikhov on this issue was in October 1985. Velikhov and I met at the Niels Bohr Centennial in Copenhagen. The Reagan administration, among other things, was saying: `Well, maybe they (the Soviets) are testing – we might not be detecting low-yield tests.’ And Velikhov said: ’Maybe we could invite an outside group to come in and monitor our test site.’ And then I went over in April 1986 with a group organized by Parliamentarians for Global Action — it was under another name at that time — to meet with Foreign Minister Shevardnadze. At that point, Velikhov and I developed this idea of holding a workshop on monitoring the moratorium. . . . The meeting with Shevardnadze was an attempt to persuade him to keep on with the moratorium. And Velikhov was very much a part of that — working from the inside, and also later on working with us to get the message to Gorbachev that, in fact, he was accomplishing something by continuing the moratorium. . . . The organization of the monitoring occurred in a meeting that Velikhov and I organized the following month (May 1986) in Moscow The NRDC went in very quickly to set up portable seismographs around the test site at Semipalitinsk, Kazakhstan after that May meeting. They were in there by July, taking seismic recordings. And Velikhov told me that he went into a Politburo meeting to discuss this, and there was a big debate about whether it was too intrusive. At the end, everyone left and Velikhov was with Gorbachev alone. Gorbachev said: `Well, maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ And Velikhov . . . said: `There’s only one problem, boss; they’re already there!’ In fact, the first seismograms were shown later that month in July , at an . . . international meeting with in Moscow scientists from around the world assembled to talk about the test ban. – After the meeting, some of us met with Gorbachev, again in an effort to persuade him to stay the course on the nuclear moratorium. Not give up. . . . Velikhov asked me to be the spokesman for the foreign scientists. . . . So sustaining the moratorium and establishing foreign monitoring of it inside the Soviety Union was one of the major achievements of this Velikhov group.
In my view, that monitoring broke through the verification barrier which had been erected by U.S. weapons labs, who had claimed that an underground test ban would not be verifiable because of Soviet concealment measures. . . . They argued that we’ve got to have seismic stations inside big countries like the USSR. And here we had these seismic stations in the USSR. . . . Somehow that just took the steam out of the whole verification argument. . . . The Congressional pressure against nuclear testing really dates back to that period. The Democratic Congress was empowered to really go after the administration as a result of that verification issue being taken off the table. And the key person from the Congressional side of this story is Chris Paine. . . . He was working on the Congressional staff during that period, first with Ed Markey (who was key to getting resolutions passed in the House) and later with Senator Kennedy. And the ultimate result of the Congressional efforts between 1986 and 1992 was . . . the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell amendment” in the Senate and the Kopetski action in the House. “I . . . see those events really being launched by the NRDC monitoring in Russia. . . .
There were two other major efforts made” by “Velikhov’s Committee of Soviet Scientists. One was the decision by Gorbachev to have what he called an asymmetric response to Star Wars. That is respond to the US program with countermeasures rather than initiate a competing Soviet Star Wars program — although the U.S. tried to maintain that there was, in fact, a Soviet Star Wars program — they couldn’t afford one. And Committee of Soviet Scientists became sophisticated enough that they understood the arguments, especially that there were many different ways that a space-based anti-missile system would be vulnerable — to decoys, to direct attack on itself, and so on. They really bought into the argument that it would be much cheaper just to invest in countermeasures. And this led to this critical Gorbachev statement that they were going to have an asymmetric response, and that resulted in there not being any anti-ballistic missile system race. The U.S. didn’t have anybody to race with. And that was critical, I think, in taking the steam out of the Star Wars program [in the USA]. . . . Sagdeev and Kokoshin were the ones who put together that analysis. There actually was a book [ ? ] they put together. But it was a joint effort, in the sense that a lot of the analysis was American [ ? ], especially from Garwin.
And a third area was nuclear winter. . . . Of course, Carl Sagan got that launched in the US. But they [CSS] joined in, and made it bi-national after a time. The produced their own book on that area. That’s an effort that I’ve always been a little ambivalent about because nuclear winter was, I think, over-hyped. I was actually in on the organization of the meeting on this event on the U.S. side, with Carl Sagan, but I got out of it, because I just thought he was not qualifying things scientifically, things he should have been qualifying. And later on there were some articles that said: `Well, it wouldn’t be a nuclear winter. It would be a nuclear autumn.’ It turns out that that would be bad enough because even though we might not freeze, crops are very sensitive to summer frosts. So there really was something to it. But nuclear autumn was not the original version that Carl was promoting — and which the Russian Committee also promoted. I think that really was more of a classical type of (from their point of view) propaganda . . . than their work on the other issues I’ve been talking about.
So, after that, the Committee actually changed its name. Sagdeev succeeded Velikhov, and then Sagdeev really faded out as . . . his personal plans with Susan Eisenhower started developing. He sort of faded out and left the Committee in the control of a apparatchik. . . . When I first met him [the apparatchik], he said: `Let’s talk about how you guys can help me get a Volvo.’ And so our relationship was never quite the same after that. . . .
There was one more . . . major event. It really was more Velikhov and less Committee, that happened in the summer of 1989. That’s when I launched a major joint project co-sponsored by the FAS and the Committee in which the FAS team carried more and more of the weight. But there were a couple of staff members of the Soviet Committee — Oleg Prilutski and Stan Rodionov — who did a considerable amount of work. And that had to do with the question of how to detect nuclear warheads, could you verify controls on nuclear warheads? That came out of the Soviet desire to control sea-launched cruise missiles. And the U.S. saying: `How can you tell the difference between a sea-launched cruise missile, a conventional and a non-conventional sea-launched cruise missile? There’s just no way.’ When the INF treaty was ratified in 1987, Senator Helms actually asked: `Well, this is all very nice. We’re destroying these . . . INF missiles. But what about the warheads?’ The G.H.W.Bush Administration response was, basically, that there’s no way that you can control nuclear warheads, in a way which is acceptably non-intrusive [ ? ].
Well, that got me mad. Ted Taylor, a former nuclear-weapon designer, was still working with us at that time . . . and we basically decided to make a joint FAS-Soviet Committee effort to study this question of the technical basis for verifying the dismantlement of nuclear warheads. . . . And we produced a book, Reversing the Arms Race: How to Achieve and Verify Deep Reduction in the Nuclear Arsenals . . . in 1989. Most of the analysis had been done by 1989. . . . Velikhov actually had gotten himself in an embarrassing position.” In the autumn of 1987, at the time of the signing of the INF treaty in Washington, “Gorbachev said the Soviets had discovered a way to detect nuclear warheads from a considerable distance in kilometers. And we didn’t think that was credible. It turned out that that had been an idea that somebody in the Soviet Academy had relayed to Gorbachev via Velikhov. . . and it turned out to be bunk. So . . . part of Sagdeev’s interest in doing this study with the FAS was to disassociate himself from this. So, anyway, we did this study, and then Velikhov found a way to extricate himself from this by having a demonstration not of the original idea that had been proposed, but the way that we had found that you could detect the warheads from a much shorter distance. So he actually arranged a demonstration, with the NRDC. The CSS partnership was with the FAS for the analysis, but the NRDC did the demonstration. Velikhov got permission for us to do the demonstration with a Soviet warhead, on a cruise missile cruiser in the Black Sea, and said to us: `Come on and demonstrate that you can detect this. . . .’ And so we actually, in July 1989, . . . demonstrated that by putting an gamma-ray detector on a cruise-missile launch tube, that you could see that there was a nuclear warhead in the tube. And then the Russians showed that they could actually even detect the neutrons emitted by the plutonium in the warhead from a helicopter. . . .
We had some Congressmen and journalists along, and Velikhov took the group on a tour of a couple of other Russian facilities. But the demonstration of warhead detection was an incredible thing by itself. It will never happen again, I’m convinced. I’ve been involved in the government-to-government discussions of warhead detection, and they would never let anybody make those measurements again. In fact, it was Gorbachev personally that apparently overruled Yuli Khariton, the head of one of the Russian nuclear weapons labs and the counterpart of Oppenheimer. Gorbachev said to him: `Give Velikhov a warhead.’
I had been pushing with him [Velikhov] a cutoff on the production of fissile material (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) for nuclear weapons. . . . I had written an article on that, in 1985. . . . The Russian censors had blocked the publication of this article in the Russian edition of the Scientific American for two years because I showed that you could estimate how much plutonium the Soviet Union had produced. . . . But Velikhov actually then got them to publish it in 1987. And then he persuaded Gorbachev to support a cutoff treaty. The Soviets had been against this ever since the U.S. had started pushing the idea as a bilateral measure under Eisenhower. . . . Because the Soviets saw it — and it was true at that time — . . . [as] a way for us to lock them into an inferior position. . . . When they pulled even with us in the eighties, it took some high-level decision to actually reverse that position. Velikhov got Gorbachev to do that. I think it was in 1989.
So (on that same summer 1989 trip to the Soviet Union) . . . Velikhov decided to take us to . . . the first plutonium production facilities which were being shut down. Gorbachev had announced that the Soviet Union had ended production of highly enriched uranium and was going now to start shutting down plutonium plants. And so we were the first foreigners who ever went to this city, which was then called Chelyabinsk-65 and is now called Ozersk. . . .
A second stop on this “glasnost” tour was at a laser test site in Kazakhstan. . . . John Pike at FAS, had gotten engaged with this issue. The evidence that the Reagan administration was giving for the Russians having a Star Wars program was this ‘killer laser’ . . . at an ABM test site in Kazakhstan. So John Pike said to Velikhov: `A good way to defuse this is to invite some people to see this . . . killer laser.’ So Velikhov managed to get permission also for us to visit this site. And there’s no doubt that there wasn’t a killer laser there. In fact, we took lots of pictures. And when we got back, someone from the U.S. Livermore nuclear-weapon laboratory took a look at the pictures of the lasers that the Soviets actually had at the site and snorted: `Toys!’ They were nothing like the million-watt laser the U.S. was testing at the time.
And, in all this traveling around from one place to another, we were flying in the Minister of Defense’s personal airplane. I asked Velikhov: `How did you get this personal airplane?’ He said: `Well, he’s up for confirmation in the Supreme Soviet, and he needs every vote he can get.’
So that was the last big thing that Velikhov did. And we published the book, Reversing the Arms Race, but neither Sagdeev nor Kokoshin put much energy into the book. In the end, Sagdeev didn’t even read it. I had him as a co-editor, but I put him second. . . .
International Foundation for Survival and Development of Humanity: “It was very interesting, but it didn’t accomplish much, except getting Sakharov his first trip out of the Soviet Union. The origin of that was Velikhov was very impressed by how quickly the NRDC was able to get funding for its seismic monitoring. He said: `Wow, these foundations are great things. Maybe we should have one.’ With Jerome Wiesner, a former President of MIT and Science Advisor to President Kennedy, and then on the Board of the MacArthur Foundation, [he] set up this foundation — and Wiesner, of course, was on the foundation board. And they also got David Hamburg, the President of the Carnegie Foundation to contribute. And there were a number of areas that we were going to be active in, and we were active in for a while. One was human rights. Sakharov was a founding member of the board. It was actually in January 1987. This was at an extravaganza that Velikhov organized, on the anniversary of Gorbachev’s speech of January 1986 about the abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2000. . . . Velikhov organized this huge multi-ring circus with a scientists’ conference, a writers’ conference, an actors’ conference, and a doctors’ conference. There was a public meeting with Gorbachev, where a spokesman for each of the conferences made a presentation. I spoke for the scientists.
Some actually useful results came out of that conference. One came out of the fact that I had met some of the Pugwash group working on non-offensive defense at a Pugwash meeting the summer before and became quite interested in what they were doing and their views, and I decided to try to get . . . their message to the Russian government. Basically, it was to get away from the tank confrontation in Central Europe and move toward less threatening, more defensive postures. Kokoshin picked it up, and I invited 2 or 3 of the West European proponents of non-offensive defense to the scientists’ conference. I was organizing the scientists’ ring of the multi-ring circus. We had a panel on non-offensive defense. Also, with Kokoshin’s help, I worked the idea into my talk to Gorbachev. It may have been that that helped plant the seeds for Gorbachev’s announcement at the UN in December 1988 that the USSR was unilaterally withdrawing 5,000 tanks from Eastern Europe. …
But, anyway, one of the things initiated at that January 1987 meeting was this International Foundation, which Gorbachev blessed. And that was just after Sakharov had been released from Gorky. . . . The Foundation board had a committee on disarmament (I think Sagdeev and I were the co-chairs of that), on human rights (Sakharov had the lead on that), environment (the then head of Greenpeace, David McTaggert, was key in that area, and he tried to set up a Soviet Greenpeace organization at that time). . . . My committee [produced] a pamphlet on the comprehensive test ban . . . and a pamphlet on accidental nuclear war, an exercise which may have helped get Senator Nunn galvanized” and he had a Congressional commission study done on the issue. Sakharov’s committee made “an effort to help the Soviet Union set up laws related to the treatment of prisoners. . . . But . . . the weakness of Velikhov was that he was pretty indiscriminate, and the Russian he had appointed to head the Foundation staff turned out to be an operator. . . . So we [the Western board members] got very nervous but the initiatives that this individual was talking in the Foundation’s name and, after we were unable to get rid of him, voted to dissolve the International Foundation. Velikhov didn’t accept this, and in fact the International Foundation lived on for some time” as “a Russian organization.”
The key Soviet scientists who FvH really trusted to get things done in the arms control area: “At the senior level, it was Velikhov as a political leader, with Sagdeev, Kokoshin, and Kapitza. . . . Then there were three excellent staffers, and they were Oleg Prilutski and Stanislav Rodionov, and Elena Loshchenkova, the original staff director. There were more people who were members, they had maybe a dozen members of this committee. But they appeared at meetings and disappeared. They weren’t really involved in a very substantive way. . . .
The conversation that Jeremy Stone had with Sakharov at that meeting before the conference of January 1987, it turned out that both Jeremy and Sakharov were on the same wavelength as far as the Star Wars-START I connection. The then Soviet position was: `We’re not going to go ahead with START I unless you guys back off on this Star Wars stuff and respect the ABM treaty.’ And both Sakharov and Stone thought that Star Wars in the end wouldn’t come to much, and that it was critical to take advantage of the opportunity with Gorbachev to nail START I down. And so, in fact, what they both proposed — and, of course, Sakharov was more visible in proposing this — what came to be called the `Sakharov gambit,’ which was: `We’ll sign, but our signature is only good as long as you guys respect the ABM treaty.’ So it reversed the connection. And, in fact, after Sakharov made the statement at the plenary of our scientists’ conference [January 1987], he and Kokoshin then, in a side room, had a debate for the Soviet media on this. Kokoshin was arguing, defending the then linkage (i.e. that the USSR would not sign START I until the U.S. promised to limit Star Wars); and Sakharov was making his point (that the USSR should sign but make its continued adherence dependent upon the US Star Wars program not threatening the Soviet deterrent). And, ultimately, a few months later, the Soviet position changed and Gorbachev adopted Sakharov’s position.
After that, I can’t think of much that Sakharov did in the nuclear area. Except there was an interview that he gave, a couple of days before he died, where he said some very important things about the test ban: how important the test ban was, and that reliability was not an issue, and he urged . . . that the Soviet Union maintain its moratorium on testing, as a way to get a comprehensive test ban.”
The Pugwash movement: “They were important in the runup to the ABM treaty. . . . After that, . . . there were a couple of working committees that were important. One was working on the verification of a chemical weapons ban and one was working on non-offensive defense (discussed above). And those were both, I think, cutting edge. Aside from that, I don’t think so. . . . As other groups moved in, cutting edge work was done by other groups. For a while, in the sixties and seventies, Pugwash was the only game in town. By the time I joined, I found the plenary meetings quite dull. I think the action was in the more focused working groups.” In terms of nuclear weapons issues, Pugwash appears to have lost the initiative “to other groups.”
Impact of the ND movement on Gorbachev: “The idea that the U.S. was not a military-industrial complex, that there really was another political faction which could make itself felt in these issues was impressive, and gave him hope that they could cut a deal and end the arms race. The U.S. Nuclear-weapons Freeze movement was especially important in that regard . . . The votes by the Congress in that period for calling for a test ban tend to indicate that the Reagan administration wasn’t speaking for the whole U.S. political establishment when it came to nuclear arms control. . . . But it’s just my sense, rather than direct evidence.”
On Georgi Arbatov: “He was a funny guy. I remember we had a discussion with him about Sakharov, and he told us to bug off!”
Impact of the ND movement on the Reagan administration: “In the Reagan administration, we were seen as a problem. There’s no question about it. I was in fact involved with the Freeze movement as well. The NRDC monitoring of the Russian test site was most unwelcome inside the Reagan administration. We were seen as playing the Soviet game. . . . Later on, there was a famous quote that Frank Gaffney [made] . . . quite explicitly about the use of the threshold test ban. He acknowledged that claimed that the Russians were violating the threshold test ban was a very clever delaying tactic to block progress toward a nuclear test ban. There was a whole war that went on . . . between some of the academic seismologists and the AFTAC (Air Force Technical Applications Center) seismologists, about whether Russia was cheating or not. . . . Ultimately, the academics won, and it was shown that they were right by the cooperative calibration tests that were done in 1987.”
Reports to U.S. officials: “I wouldn’t even have known who to talk to, because I was a complete outsider. I think Cochran and Paine [of NRDC] were more familiar. I think the U.S. Pugwash people would report. But I don’t think the Reagan administration wanted to know. To the extent that they could, they would block us. So I didn’t really bother myself. Actually, Jeremy did work the Reagan administration through Paul Nitze. That was on. . . U.S. policy with regard to the ballistic missile defense. And, during some of our visits to Moscow, we did a few times go and talk to the embassy people.”
The NRDC: “It was originally an environmental organization that was set up by 5 or 7 graduates of Yale Law School around 1970. They have been mostly environmental — clean air, clean water kinds of activities. The nuclear activity came through Tom Cochran. He came straight out of his physics Ph.D. and decided that he wanted to get into the environmental area. He started at the Resources for the Future, and they hired him to do a critique of the Atomic Energy Commission’s environmental impact statement on plutonium breeder reactors [ ? ] . . . in the middle seventies. . . . When Tom was finished . . . he joined NRDC to work on this. Initially, he was more focused on the environmental issues . . . safety issues than nuclear-weapon proliferation issues. . . . There was a concern, within the NRDC . . . ; `All our supporters agree that protecting the environment is a good thing, but this [focus on the weapons] might split our supporters.’ They were quite conservative people. So they sort of felt their way in that area. . . . Tom actually educated himself in a very clever way about nuclear weapons. He saw that everybody working on these issues would . . . pick through the Congressional hearings and look for facts that they could use. And he said: `Well, why doesn’t somebody do that for everybody?’ And so he started the Nuclear Weapons Databook series. . . . He educated himself and also did a tremendous service to the community. That was the first [NRDC] project in the nuclear weapons area, and it was something that people couldn’t really object to. And then the activist stage . . . may have been launched with the seismic monitoring project [in the USSR]. That made a tremendous splash. And it didn’t cause a split in the NRDC. . . . I would guess, though, that in terms of resources, the nuclear program of the NRDC probably wasn’t 10 percent. Nevertheless, that program was probably comparable in scale to the FAS.”