“The peace movement changed the terms of debate”
Telephone interview with Christopher Paine
Conducted by Lawrence Wittner (State University of New York at Albany) Charlottesville, VA, September 14, 1999
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Christopher E. Paine is a longtime peace activist. From protests against the Vietnam War while at Harvard University his main focus shifted onto the struggle against nuclear tests and weapons from the late 1970s on. In 1979, he came to Washington as a researcher for the Council on Economic Priorities and helped organize the “Campaign to Stop the MX Missile”. Alongside his involvement in various peace groups he also served as the director of the Washington office of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) from 1983 to 1985.
In the following years Paine was a consultant to Princeton University’s Project on Nuclear Policy Alternatives, a Research Fellow-in-Residence at the Federation of American Scientists, Washington, D.C. and a staff consultant for nuclear nonproliferation policy with the Subcommittee on Energy, Conservation & Power in the U.S. House of Representatives.
From 1987 he worked for Senator Edward Kennedy, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he assisted successful efforts to end US production of plutonium for weapons and underground nuclear test explosions. He joined the staff of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 1991, where he is today director of the NRDC’s nuclear program.
In this 1999 interview Paine acknowledges his role as a “link” between the popular disarmament movement and the traditional arms control community. His work in Congress and his involvement with peace groups also made him keenly aware of the movement’s difficulty to sustain its grass-roots existence and at the same time heed the imperative to forge ties with the political establishment; an ongoing internal discussion he describes as an “imponderable”,
Paine attributes the reversal of Reagan’s arms control policy in large parts to the Freeze and anti-nuclear movement, who served as a “counterpoise” to the administration’s position. He concludes, “it wasn’t the traditional arms controllers in the Democratic Party or in the arms control establishment that really fought Reagan effectively. It was this grassroots peace movement that changed the terms of the debate.”
“The first thing I did when I came to Washington was help organize something called the Campaign to Stop the MX Missile [in late 1979]. That was a pretty broad coalition of groups. It involved not only the traditional peace groups, but ranching and environmental groups out West. . . . First we defeated the basing mode in the Great Basin. . . . And then we pared down the missile deployment from 200 to 50. So I would say that that campaign obviously had quite a bit of influence. Had it not existed, I doubt that the MX missile would have been stopped. . . . Reagan . . . pretty quickly flipped over to opposition to the MX basing mode. He had inherited a cockeyed plan from the Carter administration. Reagan initially supported it, but then opposed it on the initiative of his friend, Paul Laxalt, the Senator from Nevada.” Reagan then decided “to go and put the MX missile in silos, and then . . . Round Two of that struggle was to try to kill off the silo deployment. And we didn’t manage to do that, but we did get it pared down to 50.”
Asked if Reagan and the administration were upset by having it pared down to 50, CP replied: “No. I mean, they certainly fought it. But you have to remember . . . this was about the time he launched the Star Wars initiative and started talking about eliminating ballistic missiles entirely. So he personally, I don’t think, was terribly distraught, if he . . . even understood what was happening. It’s not clear he really did actually understand very much about the details of arms control. But certainly people in the Pentagon and the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy worked very hard to preserve the MX.” Asked if DOD was disturbed, CP replied: “Oh sure. They fought hard for it. It took many, many votes, over several years. . . . It was a long battle.
In the end, we worked very closely with an up-and-coming Congressman called Les Aspin, and helped him make his reputation, so that he subsequently became chairman of the Armed Services Committee and, then, Secretary of Defense. I got to know Les pretty well. I worked with him for many years. He was like the drunken driver trying to walk the yellow line — when they give you the sobriety test. . . . He was always wobbling on one side or the other! You could never get him to walk the straight and narrow.
I consider the formation of the Nuclear Freeze movement, which I had something to do with, again a big coalition effort, this one even bigger than the MX one, this was a popular movement in the best sense of the term. And I think it had a lot to do with reversing the tide of Reaganism . . . in defense policy and reinstating arms control. After all, the defense budget increases peaked in 1985 and then trended downward after that. The across the board denunciations of arms control that Reagan started his administration with — I think largely as a result of the Freeze movement and the antinuclear movement in Europe — while those weren’t immediately successful in achieving specific arms control objectives, certainly reversed the political dynamic in the United States. In 1985, Reagan was busily negotiating arms control agreements. . . .
There was a spectrum of views in the Reagan years among the Reagan appointees, ranging from outright rejection of arms control and denunciation of arms control agreements, to what you might call hard bargainers — people who thought they needed a lot of negotiating leverage to deal with the Russians. I don’t want to make any big claim, but I think that the Freeze movement certainly sensitized a whole generation of people to the consequences of nuclear attacks and the consequences of irresponsible government behavior. Imagine if the public response to Reagan’s brandishing the nuclear sword had been to ignore it. One can imagine a catastrophic failure of foreign policy in the 1980s, and perhaps even a nuclear conflict. But the fact is that that movement came on at the right time, as sort of the counterpoise to Reagan. It really, I think, convinced a lot of people among the Republicans that that sort of nuclear war fighting tack was not popular with the American people. And that they had to change their rhetoric and maybe even change their actions. I think that may have influenced Reagan in launching the SDI, as his alternative. The Freeze movement sparked a national debate on the morality of deterrence, the Catholic bishops got involved (there was the Pastoral Letter). All those things . . . , I think, fundamentally reversed the tide of . . . the first year of the administration. The nuclear war-fighting . . . that whole approach, was fought against and pretty well reversed. So I have to give the peace movement credit. It wasn’t the traditional arms controllers in the Democratic Party or in the arms control establishment that really fought Reagan effectively. It was this grassroots peace movement that changed the terms of the debate. And the result was that the pendulum came back to the Center, and we reinstated establishment arms control. . . .
There were obviously links. I was one of those links between the popular movement and the traditional arms control community. And I was always trying to push the traditional arms controllers to do more and ally themselves more firmly with the people in the streets. . . .
I actually started working on it when I was at FAS — sort of a new concept of how to do arms control, how to give voice to popular sentiments. And that was what I call a legislative, reciprocal arms control initiative. The problem had always been, in getting the Congress to act, in this field, when they think they have a choice between urging the President to negotiate a treaty, which could take decades, or some kind of unilateral act, such as cutting off appropriations. And we’d gone through a pretty bruising battle over the B-1 bomber in the late `70s and had . . . , we thought, stopped that aircraft, as a unilateral act. But, of course, the Reagan administration came in and reversed it, got all the tooling out of storage, and built the B-1. And so there were different limitations to both approaches. Just calling in Congressional resolutions for treaty negotiations was ineffective, because Reagan didn’t want to negotiate. And unilateral actions, such as just chopping appropriations, were effective, but could be reversed and, also, were open to the charge that they were unilateral, that the U.S. was unilaterally disarming, and that was a pretty paralyzing charge to make against most politicians in that era. They were very scared of that. So we came up with this other formula, which is that the U.S. would undertake some unilateral restriction on its own programs or activities, usually involving budgetary restrictions, on condition that the other side reciprocated and did so in a verifiable way. So that verifiable reciprocity through legislative action was the formula.
And we tried it first with an ASAT — an anti-satellite — moratorium. The first year the anti-satellite weapons moratorium came before the House, it failed. And, the second year, I believe it was in `85, it passed, because it was couched in this reciprocal formula. That gave me the idea to try the same thing the next year on nuclear testing. I had basically come up with this formulation, and it had worked for the ASAT ban, and I tried it again the next year on testing. And, at that point, the whole arms control community was working on a sense of the Congress resolution relating to renewing test ban negotiations. And I said: `That’s not going to go anywhere. People are hard over [ ? ] against that. They’re not going to renew negotiations. And, if they did, it would be negotiations you wouldn’t want!’ So I drafted this amendment for Representative Markey, and he started shopping around. Through a combination of circumstances . . . it just took off. It gathered a tremendous amount of momentum, in terms of supporters on the Hill. But, even then, most of the groups and most head-counters in Congress were predicting that it would fail. It might be a close vote, but we were going to lose. And when that amendment came up for a vote, one of the reasons it succeeded — and it succeeded by the largest margin of any arms control vote in the history of the Congress — was, in the intervening weeks, Les Aspin had emerged as a front-runner for the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, and, in order to get the support of a group of about 70 liberal Democrats, who represented an organized caucus . . . within the Congress at that time. . . . He wanted our support for the chairmanship. So Pat Schroeder, Ed Markey, and I . . . walked into a meeting with Les and he wasn’t there. . . . We were all sitting around and I think Ed said: `Why don’t we just tell him that he’s the lead co-sponsor of this amendment, when he walks in. We’ll just tell him that’s what he has to do. And, it will be clear that, if he wants our votes for the chairmanship, he’s got to fight for this thing.’ So he walks in, and I hand him the amendment. And I said: `Les, read this.’ . . . And somewhere in there, Ed said to him: `Les, we drafted you. You’re going to do this, right?’ And he goes: `OK, I’ll do it.’ So his name goes on the head of it. And I guess in the week preceding the vote I worked with his staff, and I refined a `Dear Colleague’ letter that was finely tuned to Les’s kind of politics. And we got that thing to the floor, and it passed overwhelmingly. . . .
In May of that year  . . . I went with Tom Cochran, Frank von Hippel, Charles Archambeau, and another guy from the Geological Survey — we went over as a team — to see if we couldn’t negotiate some kind of verification of Gorbachev’s unilateral moratorium. This had been something that Cochran had proposed. . . . I’m not sure how much he [Evangelista] captures of the political fallout from our negotiating this agreement to install seismic monitors in Kazakhstan. I came back, and on the day of the vote, in the Speaker’s Lobby of the House of Representatives, I set up . . . big charts and maps showing exactly where we installed these stations, and making the case that this test restriction that was up for a vote was indeed verifiable. And that reciprocal verification could be accomplished. A lot of members came by, and looked at it, and I stood there and explained to them what was going on. And then the NRDC-Soviet Academy project was mentioned in the floor speeches. Ed Markey waved the first seismogram from these stations — he had it in his hand and he waved it around: `Here’s the first seismogram from a station, an on-site cooperative monitoring station in the Soviet Union, in the Evil Empire. They’re not as bad as you think.’ I think that certainly swayed some people who were skeptical about the possibility that we could secure cooperative verification, for private organizations had already achieved it. Because I was part of both groups — the scientific-technical team that went to Russia and, also, being on the Hill — I could kind of bring the two strands of those efforts together, and emphasize the synergy. It worked, and that restriction passed.
And then it passed for the next two years. So it passed three years in a row in the House, indicating to anyone who wanted to see that there was a large and strong support in the country for a comprehensive test ban. And in the course of conferences with the Senate, we obtained — I guess you’d call them — concessions — they weren’t really that much. The Senate seemed to get the best of the House in most of those conferences during those years. Aspin never really fell on his sword in order to preserve the test moratorium. But we did get small things that proved significant later. One of them was, in the first year, 1986, President Reagan promised to restore test ban negotiations. Then there was this qualification that he had to get a protocol to the threshold test ban treaty first, before he could move on to the next stage in reducing nuclear tests. But, nevertheless, he had again reinstated the status quo of U.S.-Russian talks on testing issues. And then the second concession, which came . . . the next year that restriction passed, was called the nuclear test ban readiness program. This directed the Department of Energy to prepare the nuclear weapons stockpile for a CTBT. Of course, they refused to do it, even though it was the law of the land. Jeff Duncan of Ed Markey’s office and I was working for Kennedy then, we jointly authored that thing, and got it through the conference. And there was tremendous opposition, from conservatives on the Senate Armed Services Committee and from DOE. I remember a classified briefing once . . . the next year, about six months later, when the DOE came up. We had asked for a briefing on how they were going to implement the legislation, and they came up and basically said they weren’t going to do it. Of course, they then regretted not doing it, because four years later they passed a comprehensive test ban, and these guys hadn’t done very much to get the stockpile ready for a nuclear test ban. Anyway, . . . they were forced to divulge to Senator Kennedy and Representative Markey and other members who were interested a considerable amount of data regarding the status of the nuclear stockpile. It became important several years later to have that information. . . . What I was trying to do was to demonstrate to the members that the safety and reliability issues that had often been raised as an argument against the test ban were finite. They weren’t permanently lasting arguments against the test ban. If there were such problems, they could be rectified by the upgrades incorporating the weapons, and we could move ahead to a complete and total ban.
Which is what we did, in 1992. I left the Hill in June of `91, and by December of `92 we had ourselves a comprehensive test ban. . . . Kopetski certainly got the ball rolling in the House. Basically, the political dynamic was the House testing restrictions that I had worked on passed the House `86, `87, and `88. And then there was kind of a political hiatus when the new administration came in. They indicated that they would continue with the testing talks and so forth. So there was less of a political will to keep doing this. Also, the prospects in the Senate didn’t improve. They were getting worse. So `92 would have been the first year post-Soviet Union, and that created an opportunity for someone in the House, and Kopetski was the one who seized it: `The ball game’s over! We don’t need to do this any more.’ There was a whole new argument that had nothing to do with the technology, the technical arms control issues, or the non-proliferation argument. . . . And Kopetski seized on that, and got quite far . . . in getting co-sponsors on this test moratorium thing. The defect of it was it was only for one year. And there was no parallel vehicle in the Senate.
So the question became: how to conference this out. That’s where Hatfield and Exon and Mitchell wanted to work up something that would actually deal with this testing problem long-term. They knew they would be conferencing something with the House, but they didn’t want to just have a moratorium because a moratorium just simply kicked down the road all the inevitable decisions that would have to be made about whether, in fact, the United States could stop. And what was the condition of the stockpile? And what needed to be fixed? And so forth. And the Senate had developed a kind of culture of depending on a few conservative members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the right views on nuclear testing. People like Senator Domenici and Senator Reid — from New Mexico and Nevada . . . — could . . . dominate the debate because the Department of Energy would feed them material, and then they’d get up on the floor and recite these horror stories about how our weapons would turn to Swiss cheese if we didn’t continue the tests. And there were very few other members who were up to debating that and actually undermining their credibility. While I was working for Kennedy, he did it. But, as soon as I left, he stopped doing it. And no one really took his place, except Senator Hatfield. . . . We used to call him `St. Mark.’ He was very pure. He made the broad brush political arguments, and moral arguments, and he always talked about his experience as a young serviceman going to Hiroshima and so forth. But he never really could deal very effectively with the technical arguments. So he wasn’t very strong in debate. And he wasn’t very strong in outreach and recruitment of other members. He just kind of offered moral leadership; he wasn’t a great legislator.
So he got some help. He had the majority leader, Senator Mitchell, and he got the chairman of the Strategic Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, Jim Exon, who had been a hawk all the way through the Cold War. . . . He [Exon] went to the Nevada test site — for some reason the Department of Energy invited him out to the Nevada test site — in the spring of 1992. And Jim Exon had been impressed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. So he went out there, and they gave him the big briefing and the tour. They showed him all the tunnels and everything. And it had just the opposite effect of what [the DOE expected]. . . . They showed him the Sedan Crater [ ? ] at the Nevada test site, which is this huge crater from a nuclear excavation experiment. . . . But he was sincere, he was a sort of sincere hawk, and now he went out there and he was really impressed by this great crater and the tunnels. And he said: `Why do we have to do all this?’. . . And he came back thinking: `We’ve just got to stop this! These people are just inventing work for themselves. We can’t do this any more because we don’t need to do it any more.’ So he became an advocate of the test ban, which was a huge turnabout. I don’t think he ever voted for any of our amendments. . . . But he made the switch, and he became a leader. . . . Senator Nunn opposed the test ban. . . . But because the subcommittee chairman [Exon] was now . . . getting involved in the amendment . . . this inhibited Senator Nunn. And he didn’t take a leading role opposing the amendment. . . . That gave the effort a boost.
And then it was a question of negotiating the details: what the amendment would say. I actually had a lot of interactions with Exon’s staff and Hatfield’s staff and Mitchell’s staff in putting the amendment together. And we fashioned something that we felt could pass the Senate, create an opportunity for a finite number of additional tests after a brief moratorium, but it was by no means certain that these tests could be conducted because the amendment set up pretty stringent criteria for conducting these tests. So we were prepared for the eventuality that the amendment was such that it could function under a future Republican or Democratic administration. We weren’t sure, but we thought there was a big opportunity to just press ahead with the moratorium if the Democrats got elected, but at that point we were thinking maybe Sam Nunn was going to be Secretary of Defense, so we’d have to deal with his preoccupations, and knew that he wanted to do at least some of the tests. But what happened was the amendment passed, and in the conference with the House — the House just had a temporary moratorium, they didn’t have any of this other stuff — actually dictated an end to testing, and a timetable for reaching a comprehensive test ban, and then the complete cutoff of all tests by September 30, 1996. None of that was in the House bill. This was stuff that the Senate had added through a process of negotiation between the three principals and talking to outside groups and so forth. We fashioned something that really could work. It addressed head-on the issues of safety and reliability of the weapons. What the amendment did was to create a very high bar for additional tests. It said you can only conduct a test if you intend to make the modifications to improve safety or reliability.
So it called the nuclear establishment’s bluff. For the last several years, they had been putting out studies saying this warhead was unsafe, and that one was unsafe, and we need to modify this, and modify that, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it all turned out to be pretty much hot air, because when push came to shove, they didn’t want to make the modifications. It would cost several billion dollars. And we set up a cost-effectiveness criterion. We said these changes had to be cost-effective at the margins in order to make them. So, in the end, the Joint Chiefs elected not to modify the Trident missile system and the Trident warhead to make it safer. And that cut out a lot of tests. And then the Air Force decided not to modify the air-launched cruise missile to make it safer, because they said the radiation exposures in re-manufacturing the warhead would exceed the risk of plutonium dispersal from an accident. So it was more dangerous to re-manufacture the weapon than to just leave it where it was. And on and on. Then a lot of the weapons that were involved went off nuclear alert, so they didn’t have to do those. So the amendment really worked very well. It was a legislative vehicle that was perfectly attuned to the politics of the time.
And when Clinton extended the unilateral moratorium, and then decided upon the advice of his experts and consulting with the Chiefs and everything, he really didn’t want to do these extra tests. So he could just go directly to a comprehensive test ban treaty negotiation. And that’s what he did. . . .
In order to harmonize the restrictions in the Senate and the House, the House passed their one year moratorium and then the Senate passed the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell bill on the Defense Authorization Bill. And then they were supposed to go to conference on that. But we were getting to the end of the year, so the Senate put the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell bill in a slightly modified form on the Appropriations bill. So then the House had to do the same thing. . . . And then the President [Bush] was faced, in an election year, with vetoing the energy and water appropriations. And he wasn’t willing to do that because it contained the money for super-conductor and super-collider, among many other projects. And those are pork barrel projects that would be bad in an election year to veto. . . . That was good strategy. I think Aspin was the one who figured that one out.” But Kopetski “certainly played an active role, and I remember after the restriction passed, some time in November or December, we had a reception . . . and gave awards to Kopetski and Aspin for their work.
It’s not [quite a victory of] the movement. The movement is mediated here by the Congress. . . . That’s how our government functions. It is true that Congress can be influenced, to a degree, by popular sentiment. It’s the only branch of government where that is part of daily life.”
Asked which nuclear disarmament groups worked on pushing the test ban legislation through Congress in 1992, CP replied: “Most of the arms control community worked on it at that point. It was a big priority for them. I’d say that the PSR was probably one of the key groups working the test ban issue at that time. . . . The groups don’t necessarily work directly with the members [of Congress]. They work through a coalition, usually. It was called the Monday Lobby Group, and the Monday Lobby Group has various sub-groups. And this is done for two good reasons. One, your lobbying is always more effective if it’s coordinated with other groups. But also to prevent this problem of people trying to grab credit. And, if you’re working in a coalition, everybody is working together. It’s difficult to go out and suddenly grab credit for yourself, although certainly groups try to do it. It creates a more harmonious working environment. That Monday Lobby has been around — or its predecessor was functioning — when I came to Congress in `79. So it’s a long-established institution in the arms control community. And the chief head-counter was . . . a very curious fellow named David Culp.”
Asked if the shutdown of U.S. govt’s nuclear facilities resulted from movement pressure or from the fact that they were a mess, CP responded: “It’s both. The shutdown was largely due to a huge maintenance backlog, just a breakdown of these facilities. But there were also various proposals for replacement facilities or to modify these facilities or to extend their life. And the arms control, peace, and environmental organizations all worked together to block those projects. We blocked something called the Special Isotope Separation Plant, which would have been a brand new high tech laser isotope separation technique for producing plutonium, in Idaho — . . . a $2 billion facility which we blocked early in the Bush administration. It was kind of a holdover from the Reagan era. . . .
As we were working on the big picture things, like the test ban, we were constantly battling small things: new nuclear warhead designs, new plutonium facilities, proposals to build this, that, and the other thing. . . . That’s one of the things that the Natural Resources Defense Council specializes in: blocking objectionable nuclear facilities. A new production reactor — that was another one that was very hard fought.”
Asked which groups played major roles in blocking the restoration of nuclear facilities, CP replied: “There you have to look at something called the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability — which was previously called the Military Production Network. That’s a grassroots coalition of regional and locally-based organizations that are grouped around the nuclear production facilities. The MPN has played a big role in all those fights. The Natural Resources Defense Council, of course, on anything involving a major nuclear facility. The NRDC was almost invariably involved in all of those fights. Physicians on some things. SANE/Freeze, but . . . at some point they had kind of an identity problem” and adopted “a very broad peace and disarmament agenda, so they never seemed to really constrain themselves to a particular campaign. I think their members participated in lots of different campaigns, but I don’t recall the national organization playing a leadership role in any of them. . . . And then there’s the big environmental organizations. The Sierra Club has played a role in these fights,” as have, “to a limited degree, some of the other environmental groups. It depends on what the specific issue is.”
The impact of the movement on the USSR: “The testing question . . . on the Russian side had a rather disappointing outcome, in the short term, which is that they returned to testing. And so, just as we were unsuccessful on our side, Velikhov and his allies in the short term were unsuccessful on their side. And the Russians did return to testing. I lay some of this out in the history of the vote on the Senate side when the first Kennedy-Hatfield restriction was defeated, and why it was defeated. And what happened was that, ultimately, Gorbachev wanted to forge an understanding with the American government and with Reagan. And the unilateral Russian test moratorium was a lever on the Russian side — good propaganda in the classic tradition of Soviet propaganda but also a lever on the U.S. side. And when that lever had spent itself and had not accomplished the desired aim, which was to get the Americans into a moratorium, or at least into comprehensive test ban negotiations, Gorbachev flipped back to an establishment arms control track.
Because what Reagan was offering was negotiations on a protocol for the threshold test ban treaty, to improve the verification, and that was supposed to be the path to subsequent meaningful negotiations on testing. And the Russians weren’t actually at that time interested in a comprehensive test ban, despite their propaganda. Gorbachev might have been, but the Russian nuclear establishment was interested in some kind of a threshold or quota agreement. So they had diverse objectives, and split bureaucratic incentives on their side. . . . Second, the [Reagan] administration offered them a renewal of `test ban negotiations’ — not really CTB negotiations, but they really weren’t interested in CTB negotiations. So that was fine with them. And finally Reagan offered them something called the joint verification experiment, which was their reaction to our private verification experiment. The administration rushed to prove that they, too, could do cooperative monitoring. But they weren’t going to cooperatively monitor a test ban. They were going to cooperatively monitor nuclear testing. [Laughs] Typical Reagan administration reaction. The nuclear hawks . . . were so crazy and so anxious not to be outdone and to regain the initiative that they proposed joint monitoring of nuclear explosions — not of a nuclear ban, but of nuclear explosions. And they were going to do this on an ongoing basis — basically indefinitely into the future under the threshold test ban. Of course, a public relations disaster for nonproliferation which, of course, these people didn’t care about. But it became a cause celebre in the laboratories, this joint verification experiment. And, on the Russian side, the former Russian energy minister, Viktor Mikhailov, said that this was the highpoint of his career — this joint campaign with American nuclear weapons scientists, monitoring each other’s nuclear explosions. The nuclear establishment in Russia went for it hook, line, and sinker. And that pleased the Reagan administration no end. . . .
When I was working for Senator Kennedy and we installed those NRDC [seismic monitoring] stations in Russia, NRDC didn’t have the money to keep them going. They were very expensive. . . . So the question was how to take the NRDC breakthrough and keep it going, and make sure those stations were available to a future test ban monitoring network, should there be a test ban. . . . So . . . perhaps as early as `87, I started working on transferring the NRDC stations to IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions and Seismology), which is a U.S.-led university consortium, funded by the National Science Foundation. But not only by the National Science Foundation. Almost all of their money for work in Russia and foreign countries came from the Air Force and from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). So I managed to get these NRDC stations transferred over to IRIS and to get the Air Force to pay for them! [Laughs.] Which was something of a coup. . . . We managed to get Air Force money and DARPA money funneled through the National Science Foundation for the stations in Russia, and we not only maintained them, we continued to add stations throughout this period. So there was a seismic monitoring network that was functioning and running when the test ban began. . . . They’re still running. They’re still there. They’re part of the CTB monitoring network.”
Over the decades, “the Russians have been frequent advocates of moratoria, usually for propaganda purposes. They’d propose a moratorium that couldn’t be verified on something they weren’t planning to do, but the U.S. was far enough ahead that it might actually slow the U.S. down if the U.S. conducted it. So there was something to the rightwing critique of moratoria, as proposed by the Soviets. They were usually quite self-serving and designed to allow them basically to catch up.” So the source of Gorbachev’s N-testing moratorium is unclear.
“The [U.S.] legislative effort that began in 1986 to legislate a test ban — the Russians were aware of that before it even happened, because I went over there and briefed them on it and the strategy in the U.S. Congress. . . . They were well aware of what the Congress was hoping to accomplish. They weren’t sure we could do it. Velikhov proposed to Gorbachev that he pursue a moratorium that would encourage the American Congress to reciprocate, and the thing would snowball. And the problem was it didn’t snowball that far on the American side. We might have been able to trap the Russians earlier than we did in a test ban, `cause they would have been hoisted on their own rhetoric. And that would have actually reinforced Gorbachev’s political position internally. If this whole moratorium gambit had actually succeeded for him five years earlier than it did, there might have been a different political outcome. It would have been an amazing success. He could have gone before his own nuclear establishment and said: `Look, this strategy worked. The strategy of reconciliation and arms control worked. We’ve got the Americans to do what they swore they’d never do, which is to stop testing.’ But, at some point, Gorbachev realized it wasn’t going to work, and that Congress was not strong enough to beat back Reagan and Bush on this issue. So he resumed testing.”
Asymmetric response to SDI: “I think that certainly the context — going back to Jeremy and Frank von Hippel, working with Velikhov, early in the decade . . . and the formation of the Committee of Soviet scientists and all that — . . . had an influence. I can’t say it was definitive. But it certainly had an influence.”
The Committee of Soviet Scientists: “We were impressed by their sincerity. The fact that we knew that there were very diverse views, for example, on the question of defenses. It was by no means clear which way the Soviet Union was going to go. . . . There was still a strain [of belief in anti-missile defense], a significant strain, and we saw it because Velikhov took us to some of their research facilities and their abandoned ABM projects. And we saw how the gonzo scientific community in Russia functioned. We thought we had it bad in our nuclear weapons proposals; they had even wackier weapons proposals they were trying to build. . . . They were seeking a reaction to SDI that wouldn’t bankrupt the Soviet system or wouldn’t lead Russia into some sort of crisis nuclear deployment that was unstable. They were trying to defuse the issue. And I think, based on their conversations with people like Dick Garwin and Jeremy Stone and Frank von Hippel and others that they understood that this might or might not be the ultimate direction American policy takes. That the American system is by no means monolithic, it gyrates all over the place. . . . So the Russians could look at this and say: `This is just another temporary deviation, but Americans will come back to stable deterrence . . . . We just need to sit tight and wait.’ And I think there were a number of Russian scientists who felt that way. But certainly they were also trying to build a base against their own lobby which was pushing for vigorous defensive deployment on the Russian side. And they were trying to get beyond this debate over defense and into nuclear arms reduction. That was their ultimate agenda: to get to deep reductions. That was certainly the ultimate agenda among the U.S. scientists, as well.”
Asked if the Soviet scientists ever referred to the mass antinuclear campaigns in the West, CP replied: “Not that I recall. I think in some private discussions about strategy I certainly pointed out those things, and they acknowledged them. Certainly in Velikhov’s case, with respect to the test moratorium, Gorbachev extended the moratorium explicitly in order to encourage the U.S. Congress. He didn’t provide enough time. If he’d waited another 6 or 9 months, it might have worked. But he did provide some time for a favorable U.S. response, and that was an explicit part of his strategy.” Altho CP doesn’t recall how he learned this, he thinks it was probably via Velikhov or other Soviet scientists. Also, “after the Russians resumed testing and more or less resumed official test ban negotiations on Reagan’s terms, I had a conversation with a Soviet diplomat — because I was back in Washington at that point — and he indicated that a decision had been made in Moscow to shift the focus from the Congress to the White House.”
On the Reagan administration’s response to the ND movement’s efforts to influence Soviet policy: “That’s a very interesting part of the story. And that has been written up pretty well by Phil Schrag” in Listening for the Bomb. “There was obviously intense opposition to any kind of private citizen diplomacy. That had always been denounced by the Reagan officials as an interference in the affairs of state. And they were surprised and shocked by NRDC’s ability to get into Russia and install these [seismic monitoring] stations. . . . They tried to shut down the private seismic monitoring cooperation by denying visas and so forth. And we got over that through contacts that NRDC had at very high levels in the administration. Our chairman of the board at the time, Adrian DeWind, who’s an old-time peace activist . . . and a partner at Kraveth, Swaine, & Moore, he was friends with the Under Secretary of State, Whitehead. So he just went to Whitehead and said: `Come on. Let’s play fair. The administration may disagree with us on policy. But you can’t take a disagreement on policy and use that as a vehicle for denying visas and denying export licenses and all that stuff.’ And Whitehead wound up supporting our project — very quietly supporting the project within the Department of State — and got us what we needed to get going.
There were split views. I’m sure there were people in ACDA. Reagan had pretty much polluted ACDA and flushed out and fired the good people and put in his own people, but there were still a lot of career people . . . there who supported the test ban….
There was a lot of overt hostility from the administration towards our project, no question about it. The seismologist — not Archambeau but the other guy from the Geological Survey — was forced to basically write a retraction, a public mea culpa. They really discouraged anyone in the government from cooperating with us. But it didn’t keep people from doing it. And the people who were most enthusiastic about it — not so much about the seismic project but the two projects that followed (the warhead verification work and the visits to production facilities) were the intelligence community. They were very friendly to us. They cooperated with us. There was a substantive two-way flow of communication about the Russian nuclear weapons complex and what it was doing and what it might do in the future. . . . They helped us sort out locations of facilities, production histories and all that stuff. . . . So there wasn’t a negative attitude across the government. Once you got away from the political level — the Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney level — and you got down to professionals in ACDA or professionals in the intelligence community or even professionals on the Hill, there was much more interest and openness to it.”
On the Democrats and the ND movement: “Any politician who doesn’t use a movement for his own political ends is a stupid politician. That’s what you want them to do. That’s how you define success, in terms of moving politics. You want politicians to pick up your message and use it as their own.” As to diluting the message or muzzling movement leaders, “Kennedy and Hatfield never did that. Kennedy and Hatfield were pretty good leaders. . . . I knew a guy who was a very able computer scientist, he left his job, and he took a low-paying job with the Freeze, and he worked for two years. And a lot of people did that. There was real commitment. To do that, you’ve got to believe that what you’re working on is going to make a difference. Whereas a politician who’s been at it for decades is going to take a different view. They have to. And the view that they take is: `This may pan out, it may not. But it’s a horse I’m going to ride for as long as it has legs.’ And that’s what you can expect from them. And they can add to the movement. Ed Markey devoted the bulk of his time for two or three years to that thing. He helped to build it, as well as capitalize on it. And Kennedy likewise. The thing really didn’t have the national visibility that it got as soon as Kennedy and Hatfield came aboard and wrote their paperback book and gave speeches and gave it the kind of luster that it didn’t have before.
This is a debate I’ve had with people in the Freeze movement — it’s a perpetual debate in the peace movement. When does a grassroots movement forge ties with the political establishment? Should it wait and develop a completely independent power base, running the risk of spending itself without any political impact? It’s an imponderable. You don’t know the answer in advance. So you just have to do what’s best for you at the time. And . . . I’d been . . . a lifelong political activist. Started out in the antiwar movement during high school. So I had a lot of political experience at that point. And, by the late `70s, I knew something about political movements. I certainly made the judgment that no political movement lasts very long in the American body politic, and it seems as though each one, in each generation, is lasting a shorter time. And we were entering a period in which political movements were even hard to identify, much less generate. . . . And so it was by no means clear that the Freeze would just go on and continue to build and build and build. One had to capitalize on the momentum that you had, when you had it. But there are other more idealistic people in the movement who said: `Let’s just keep it as a grassroots movement, stay out of Washington, don’t try to do anything, and just continue to build our base.’ I said: `Well, movements need forward momentum, they need small victories, they need a sense that they’re growing and getting attention. And they just aren’t going to build by themselves beyond a certain point.’
And . . . despite all the skepticism among the grassroots activists about the press, about Washington, in fact the media reflection of the movement and the political reflection of the movement far outpaced its actual strength. This sort of misled some activists to think that they were stronger than they were. And a lot of them were kind of disillusioned and shocked by how quickly the movement evaporated. Certainly, in its early stages, the press coverage boosted the campaign enormously and inflated it, gave it a national platform it otherwise wouldn’t have had. And it’s complex to sort that relationship out. The Freeze, quintessentially — unlike the earlier movements, I think — was very largely symbiotic, and had a very productive relationship with the media. And might not have grown to the full extent that it did without that coverage. I think perhaps it wouldn’t have. There was a natural base for it among the peace and disarmament community, and it had grown out of that mainly in the churches by the time the national media discovered it. But the combination of the Freeze movement and the Ground Zero efforts, which staged all those events around the country — alerting the press and the public to the danger of nuclear war — that really gave the movement a boost, too. And that, and Reagan’s own hostile rhetoric, inflammatory rhetoric, it all came together and worked to feed the Freeze campaign.”
On the Clinton administration: “The Clinton administration did not come in wedded to a comprehensive test ban. In fact, quite the opposite. Clinton probably didn’t have any views. And Gore supported a low threshold ban. The story of how we got to a comprehensive ban — we got there just by the nick of time, because we lost the Congress in `94. So between `92 and `94, a lot of hard work took place by a lot of people to drive Clinton into the CTBT. Of course, what we’ve witnessed since `94 is basically the destruction of arms control under the Clinton administration. It’s not just Jesse Helms. It’s Clinton — more than anybody in the Clinton administration, he’s responsible for it. . . . Instead of fighting and making a principled case and carrying it”
[The tape ends here; the rest of the transcript is constructed from interview notes.]
to the public, Clinton did virtually nothing and adopted the rhetoric of his opponents.