Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

“United States Foreign Policy,” Ambassador George W. Ball

October 9, 1985

Video: “United States Foreign Policy” 

1:06:50 - Abstract | Biography


John Byrne: Welcome to the fourth annual Ava Helen Pauling Lecture for World Peace. Tonight before I introduce our speaker I would like to introduce one other individual and that's the individual who has made these conferences, these lectures possible, a very distinguished human being, a very distinguished alumnus of Oregon State University, Dr. Linus Pauling. Obviously we're pleased to have you here.

"The present state of things is the consequence of the past," Samuel Johnson. Each person contributes to history, each person, some on a local level, some on a regional level, some nationally, some on a worldwide basis. There are a fortunate few individuals in the world whose contribution to history is both broad and positive. Tonight we're privileged to have with us one of those fortunate individuals to address us. George W. Ball's contributions to world history have been positive and have certainly been of worldwide scope. This man is an example, I think to all of us, of an individual whose contributions may have started out modestly but through persistence and a common effort which occurred year after year, the contribution to history has been very significant.

George Ball obtained two degrees from Northwestern University, a Bachelor of Arts and then three years later a Doctor of Law. With a law degree he moved to Washington D.C., and if I were to list all of the experiences he had in Washington D.C. we wouldn't have time to hear from him tonight. He started in Washington with a Farm Credit Administration as a lawyer, as a bureaucrat, that was in 1933. A year later he served in the General Counsel's Office of the Treasury Department. He left for a while, practiced law in Chicago and returned in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, as Associate General Counsel of the Lend Lease Administration. In 1944 and '45 he spent much of the time in Europe as a civilian with the Air Force evaluating the strategic bombing activities and so on. In 1945 he returned to the United States as General Counsel of the French Supply Counsel and then he left government, again, set up a law firm which specialized in international law and commercial law, commercial relations and he sort of shuttled back and forth between Washington D. C. and Western Europe. As a result of his activities the European Coal and Steel Community was created and later the European Common Market.

In 1961 he was asked to leave private practice and join the government again, this time in the Kennedy administration. He joined as Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, and you can see how appropriate that was on the basis of his previous experience. But, in a very short time, they dropped the title "for Economic Affairs" and he served for essentially the next five or six years as the Under Secretary of State, the second person in charge of that particular agency. He then returned to private practice, was a senior partner in a banking firm, and then in 1968 he was asked by President Johnson to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Much of his experience, for those of you who are so inclined, is recorded in some five volumes of which he has prepared, five books, four of which have been published, one which is about to be published. These books are the Discipline of Power (1968), The Past has another Pattern - that's a memoir published in 1982 - Diplomacy for a Crowded World (1976), and then in 1984, Error and Betrayal in Lebanon. The forthcoming book entitled, The Passionate Attachment, discusses U. S. policy in the Middle East.

We're very fortunate tonight to have as our annual speaker, for the Ava Helen Pauling Lectureship, Ambassador George W. Ball. [6:42]

George W. Ball: I am particularly pleased to be speaking in a lecture in honor of Ava Helen Pauling because she was a lady that I always had enormous admiration, a very valiant lady, whose dedication to the cause of peace was sincere and effective.

I wanted to say a few words tonight about the United States foreign policy, but before I do I think I should point out that Dr. Byrne has just disclosed some sordid aspects of my life, which I have tried very hard to conceal, that is the fact that I have never been able to hold a job very long.

When I was going to speak about foreign policy some time ago, I asked an erudite journalist friend of mine if he could find some anecdote that would sum up effectively the current state of our foreign policy, and he said "I can only do it by referring to the most erudite source I know, which is a cartoon strip entitled Peanuts," with which I'm sure you're all familiar. Now in this strip, the leitmotif is the comments of a very pontifical young lady named Lucy, who is always holding forth to her fall guy, a very patient young man named Charlie Brown. And on this particular occasion she said:

"Now Charlie, in the world there are many great oceans. And on these great oceans there are huge ships. And quite enough of these ships carry passengers. Some carry many passengers and on the larger ships there is always a sun deck. It's on the sun deck that the passengers arrange their deck chairs. Now some passengers arrange their deck chairs facing toward the stern so they can see where they have been, others arrange their deck chairs facing toward the bow so they can see where they're going. Now Charlie, on the great ship of life, which direction will you arrange your deck chair? Placing forward or toward the stern?" And he said, "well you know I just can't seem to get mine unfolded." [10:00]

I thought this was a very apt summary of the current situation. During almost the entire long span of centuries, since homo erectus first came down from the trees and dropped his tail, man has been condemned to live in fear of natural forces. Obsessed by myth and religion, men and women have endured for centuries, the feeling that there were mysterious and incalculable powers, lying just beyond an undefined threshold of knowledge; powers that might destroy them if they press the outer limits of inquiry too far. Aeneus, Virgil suggests, would never have been subjected to the hazards of the high seas had man not discovered the art of navigation. Daedalus defied gravitation by inventing wings with which his son Icarus flew too near the sun and was destroyed. By pig-headily insisting on opening the box she had brought from Mount Olympus, Pandora released manifold evils in the world.

Well, in the Hebrew myth, Adam ate of the tree of knowledge and was in consequence ejected from Eden. In the classical credo, fate kept mankind in its place - to expect earthly improvement was to rattle the bars separating the human from the divine. Then with the advent of the Middle Ages, constraints grew tighter as the vocabulary changed. Burdened by the door of conviction that original sin had destroyed the hope for man's moral improvement, the church shared with the ancients a fear of scientific inquiry. A satanic curiosity might, the Ecclesiastics felt, drive men to develop theories about the material world and the universe that were at variance with the church's rigid and unchallengeable doctrine. So they burned Giordano Bruno and would have burned Galileo had he not recanted. Only the activities of a handful of dedicated men, confident of new-found knowledge derived from their own experiments and observation, prevented a total breakdown of the effort to penetrate further into nature's secrets. Instead, a few heroes in the 16th and 17th centuries defied both church and dynasty in their quest for truth.

Now, in spite of all impediments, humankind gradually evolved a concept of progress. Late in the Renaissance, Francis Bacon advanced the heretical thesis that rather than fearing nature, man could, by increasing his knowledge, diminish its hazard and increase his prospects for happiness. Descartes sharpened the argument by demonstrating that the laws of nature were invariable. What gave the theory of progress its value was, as Fontenelle pointed out, the postulate of an indefinite future. Depending as it did on invariable laws, progress was, he contended, both necessary and certain. Implied in the idea of progress was the obligation of men and women not merely to themselves and to their contemporaries but also the posterity to the generation yet to be born. By the end of the 19th century, with the popularization of Darwin's concept of evolution, optimism became the order of the day. Renan saw man perpetually achieving a more perfect state through the growing dominance of reason. Herbert Spencer, Darwin's principal exegete, envisaged that humankind would undergo an evolutionary adaptation to the point where he said, "ultimate development of the ideal man is logically certain." [14:12]

Thus, with the dawn of the current century, brightly laded with the prospect of man's perfectibility, educated humankind felt assured that not only it was here to stay but that it had a splendid future. Yet that mood did not long prevail, for two great civil wars in Europe set in motion forces that severely shook the belief in the inevitability, even the possibility, of progress. It was against such a background of anxiety that a bewildered world was first and abruptly confronted with nuclear weapons. When those weapons ceased to be an American monopoly, and became available to the ugly repressive Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin, men and women once more experienced an obsessive fear that human life might some day, indeed at any moment, perish in a pyrotechnic Armageddon. The advent of the nuclear bomb marked the end of Western and particularly American innocence. It inspired long thoughts about last things and renewed the ancient anxiety that man might be destroyed by his own excessive curiosity of nature.

I have recited all of this today because, as we are all aware, humankind once more lives under a Sword of Damocles. If there is a critical difference between man's current apprehension and apprehensions that haunted the sleep of men and women in centuries past, no longer do most people fear the wrath of an outraged deity nor, in discovering the secrets of nuclear power, did man open a Pandora's box and unleash catastrophe on the world. He simply developed an instrument that enabled him to do so. That distinction, I submit, is fundamental, for the threat implicit in the bomb differs in three distinct ways from the threat posed at an earlier time from myth and by religion. First, it is not derived from man's imagining but it is based on physical reality. Second, it rules out any chance to avoid retribution by invoking divine compassion, since the forces unleashed by the bomb cannot be placated. They're impersonal, inanimate, and immune from appeal or propitiation. Third, though men and women have now learned how to throw thunder bolts, no external force commands that they be thrown. We have thus preserved the values and the burdens of free will but we have not yet shown that we have either the will or wisdom to exercise that free will wisely. Everyday I am less sure of an affirmative answer as I see events rapidly restricting the reins of our free choice.

America and the Soviet Union have created so many nuclear warheads and so many ingenious devices for hurling them at one another that we both seem on the verge of losing control of our confections. In December 1953, when the Soviet Union and the United States between them had only two- or three-thousand nuclear weapons, President Eisenhower wrote in his diary of his, and I quote him, "Clear conviction that as of now the world is racing toward catastrophe, that something must be done to put a break on the movement." Well, we did not put a break on the movement. Today we and the Soviet Union have between us more than 50,000 nuclear weapons, not two- or three-thousand, but more than 50,000 nuclear warheads. And if we can't achieve some major understanding with the Soviets - and I think it is unlikely, so long as our government remains stuck in its present doctrinal rigidity - there will be many more than fifty-thousand ten years from now, provided of course that during that decade the process has not been interrupted by a definitive explosion.

Rather than being an object of policy, the nuclear bomb increasingly dominates policy. Any one of our warheads, even the tiniest battlefield weapon, could, by breaking the nuclear taboo, trigger an escalation of violence that might effectively wipe out our civilization. Because the first atomic bomb was developed under the stress of a great world conflict, the bomb was automatically classified as a weapon of war. That classification had at least momentary logic. So long as no one else had the bomb, the United States could use it, albeit at great moral cost, to achieve the political purpose of hastening the surrender of Japan with far less loss of American lives then was foreseen from a conventional invasion. Thus, for a brief moment, atomic bombs could properly be regarded as weapons - as instruments in the Clausewitzian view of war as an extension of politics. But once the Soviet adversary had also developed hydrogen warheads, and effective delivery systems, nuclear weapons lost any military usefulness. No longer could they be properly regarded as weapons of war. Instead, they were merely instruments for mutual suicide, unavailable for war fighting and useful only for their deterrent effect against an adversary's use of its own nuclear weapons. [20:00]

Now, as the huge arsenals on both sides are rapidly expanding, is it not time to confront some fundamental questions? Where is this escalation leading? How long can we go on piling one generation of nuclear weapons on another without someday precipitating a catastrophe?

Unhappily, these questions are not the questions being discussed in Washington today. Instead, attention is concentrated on how we can dismantle the Arms Control Agreements that we have painfully reached over the past thirty years, and thus free our hand to accelerate the Alice in Wonderland competition with the Soviets. That is certainly the prevailing trust of the interdepartmental group now engaged in shaping our negotiating position and the current talks in Geneva, and it accurately reflects the President's own views. After all, he's not only opposed SALT II, but he has persistently opposed every single arms control agreement negotiated with the Soviets during the past three decades.

I do not suggest, of course, that America is solely at fault for the perpetuation of this race - the competitors in every competition interact on one another and this is no exception. Still, it seems probable that our American side has taken more initiatives and produced more major breakthroughs in the advancement of nuclear weapons then has the Soviet's. For the most part, the Russians have had to run hard to catch up and then try to surpass us. Well, we have created an appearance of flightiness by our stop and go rhythm. Let's remember with chagrin, it is we, not they, who failed to ratify the SALT II Treaty which our government had signed after almost seven years of negotiation, leaving the haunting question whether any effective progress towards controlling nuclear arms is possible under our current political system. Nor should we fail to note that it was we, rather than the Soviets, who insisted on hanging multiple warheads on missiles at a time when we might have obtained a self-denying ordinance on both sides. But it is academic which party is more to blame. The important fact is that the race has now acquired a momentum of its own, propelled by the wishful naïvité of our political leaders and reinforced by the ingenuity and curiosity of scientists and engineers fascinated by the technical challenge of devising new ever-more sophisticated devices whose sole objective is to expand our capability for mass killing.

No serious American can long maintain illusions as to the dynamics of the current nuclear competition. I see little hope for humanity unless we can identify those areas where we and the Soviets have common interests and, on the basis of those common interests, reach some kind of modus vivendi that will permit us to devote far more of our finite resources to productive uses. For we share with the Soviets a wish for mutual survival. Their leaders are no more eager to be blown up than are our leaders in Washington. Given the modern opinions expressed by the new Soviet leadership under Mr. Gorbachev, one might hope for some kind of political reconciliation that would, while recognizing the implicit contradictions in our dispirit objectives, nevertheless provide substance for fruitful discussion between us.

But in view of the prevailing climate of opinion in Washington, I am far from optimistic. Those administration officials in the strongest position to influence policy have almost uniformly decided that no arms control agreement achieved up to date has accomplished anything of benefit to America, and that if we are to obtain any measure of security, our country had better get on the with the urgent business of out building and out spending the Soviets. That attitude is not only self-defeating, it puts us in the category of what Henry Kissinger has referred to as a "revolutionary power." The distinguishing feature of such a nation is, and I quote Kissinger: [24:35]

"Not that it feels threatened - such feeling is adherent in the nature of international relations based on sovereign states - but that nothing can reassure it, only absolute security. Neutralization of the opponent is considered a sufficient guarantee and thus the desire of one power for absolute security means absolute insecurity for all the others. Diplomacy, the art of restraining the exercise of power, cannot function in such an environment."

Now, when he wrote those words, Kissinger did not have in mind the United States. Yet there is much in the prevailing climate of today's Washington to suggest that the term is more and more applicable to the policies of our own country. The administration constantly harangues us with the scary advice that in spite of vaulting increases in our defense budget, we are still dangerously far behind. Thus, though our leaders repeatedly deny it, they are in fact frantically pursuing the will of the wisp of nuclear superiority. If America is to be safe, they contend, we most devote increasing proportions of our substance to the production of more and more complex and powerful weapons. At the same time, the President has put forward a plan which - he asserts with the appearance of sublime confidence - would neutralize nuclear power: the so-called Star Wars budget.

I have been actively involved and concerned with nuclear weapons problems for more than three decades. I have followed the metaphysical arguments and participated in endless discussions with our nuclear theorists and our military leaders. Since the President put forward his Star Wars proposal on March 23, 1983, I have participated in the public debate on the issue and have consulted the leading physicists and nuclear scientists. No one with whom I have ever talked, even government officials publicly committed to the administration line, honestly believe that we can ever achieve the President's fanciful objective of, to use his language, "rendering the Soviet missile force impotent and obsolete." They are embarrassed by his comments and the innocence disclosed by it, and they privately assert that they wish he would put on a different record. The most Americans can hope to achieve, they concede, is to build a nuclear deterrent that is sufficiently effective to - and the catch phrase is - "enhance the deterrent," which means, in simple terms, that may require the Soviets to launch even more missiles to assure that enough will break through to American targets. I find the hyperbole and hypocrisy of which deceptive promises of weaponless peace are now being dangled before the American public is not only shameless but unbecoming from the leaders of a great democracy.

Let us be quite clear about the problem we're addressing. During the whole long period in which weapons have been evolving, such respected students of strategy as Liddell Hart and Major General Fuller, have repeatedly pointed out that the advantage has shifted back and forth between the offense and defense in a macabre rhythm. The all-conquering medieval knight, weighted down by armor, was in due course stopped in mid-gallop by a masked archer and pike men. The castle lost its defensive invulnerability when besiegers found that shot propelled by gun powder can knock down its walls. The ironclad warship proved victim to the submarine and the mine. As the Encyclopedia Britannica reports, and I quote it:

"Generals of all armies were confident at the outbreak of World War I that the offensive power of the arms of 1914 would prevail in a few months. The machine gun had the leading part in turning the conflict into a stalemate. However, not until the last few moths of the war did the tank provide the victors with an offensive weapon capable of breaking the deadlock. Even so, a school of military thought held after the war that the defensive remain powerful enough to curve an aggression in the next conflict. That illusion was soon dispelled when the German armies of 1940 drove on to a succession of early victories." [29:42]

Now, what this means, Encyclopedia concludes, is that, and again I quote:

"Until the19th century offensive and defensive cycles were of long duration, but today that is no longer the case, since [in the Encyclopedia's language] improvements in weapons have come so rapidly since the Napoleonic Era, that the swing from one to another is a matter of only a few years or, under the conditions that prevail in the final decades of the 20th century, only a matter of a few weeks or months."

The lesson from all this can hardly be clearer. In the presence of a world of fast-paced change, there's a period of superiority of defense over offense, or vise-versa, is no longer than the life span of a junebug. Those who seek a solution to the East-West competition by concentrating on the development of defensive measures over a fifteen- or twenty-year period seem almost certainly doomed to make the same disillusioning discovery as did the shocked and befuddled members of the French general staff in 1914 who failed to understand the full impact of the machine gun, or their successors in 1940 who relied on the Maginot Line. They will find that such defense measures have become obsolete, even by the time they are developed. Thus, to believe that American technology can swing the nuclear pendulum back toward the defense and keep it stuck there is to put our trust in a magical force that can arrest all military motion. Not even lasers and computers are magical. Any Star Wars defense we might some day develop at exorbitant cost, perhaps a trillion dollars, would be a quickly depreciating investment. The Soviets would never sit idly by, watching us frantically struggle to build a shield behind which, as they would interpret it, we might safely launch a first strike. They would do what other nations have done when presented with comparable threat.

That does not mean that they would squander significant quantities of their finite resources in trying to develop defensive measure of their own. Instead, I think they would, at far less cost, concentrate on using technology that, for the most part, already exists, to design and build new devices to cutter our Star Wars defenses, no matter how bizarrely elaborate they might have to be. At the same time they would speed the process of escalation by drastically improving the quality and quantity of their offensive weapons, so that either by the mass use of missiles by new technical counter-bases, they would be able to overwhelm our system.

Finally, in the quite unlikely event that they should be finding themselves being outdistanced, one cannot completely reject the thought that they might strike preemptively, just as the Japanese chose to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941 because, as the Japanese records now make clear, by 1943 they estimated that America would have completed its battleship program and thus have gained decisive naval superiority.

Thus, one can see the Star Wars proposal, stripped of its mystical packaging, as merely another step toward escalation in the nuclear race. That is the conclusion implied in the recent study published by the Office of Technology of the Congress, a study that represents the views of a distinguished group of scientists and military experts. Nor does the administration pay attention to the dangers of a destructive change in the physical climate summed up in the term nuclear winter, which might result from even a partial nuclear exchange, or to a finding of the National Academy of Science of the probable medical catastrophe that such an exchange would produce. And of course, no one in the administration will admit that Star Wars will produce escalation. But the President's ideological rigidity and the administration's failure to take a broad view of possible negotiations, necessarily inspires a sense of helplessness and frustration in those of us who watch events from the sidelines, since our government has perfected a patented technique to rationalize and justify its blind obstinacy.

In some cases they tell us because we are far behind the Soviets in developing a particular kind of new weapon we must hasten to catch up. In other instances they take the position that we are so far ahead of the Soviets that we must protect our lead. Since most private American citizens lack the information or experience or scientific expertise to decide whether we are ahead or behind in any particular generation of weapons, our leaders go blithely forward, piling one system on top of each other, until now they are finally threatening to turn even outer space into a nuclear parking lot. Meanwhile, the Soviets respond in kind with the same upside-down logic. Just as our country has developed a major vested interest in building new weapons systems, so have the Soviets. In the United States an enormous industry derives part of its revenues from building nuclear weapons, while the competition around our military service branches stimulates the process. In Russia an overblown military section encourages escalation. [35:42]

To understand the pressures now at work in Washington, we can hardly do better then to recall the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man who was not only a President but had also been a General. Acutely concerned by the persistence of the naïve faith that we Americans can achieve security by some new system or gadget that would blunt the edge of the Soviets' sword, he observed that, and I quote him,

"There is a reoccurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. An action such as a huge increase in the new elements of our defense or a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research."

But, he wisely continued,

"In holding scientific research and discovery in respect as we should, you must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy itself could become the captive of a scientific technological elite."

Now, as a military man of long experience, Dwight Eisenhower was well-aware of the historic and ineluctable pendulum swing from offense to defense and back again, and he was sufficiently mature not to believe in the promise of a magic wand that would stop Soviet missiles in their tracks.

The lesson of all this to me is clear enough: we shall never achieve real security from the Soviet threat by a new gimmick or by a new technical fix, no matter how ingenious or technologically sophisticated. Nor will we achieve security merely by discussing respective weapons counts in an atmosphere of distaste and suspicion. We must approach the problem in a wider context that reflects some effort to build a relationship with the Soviets based on real common interest. That will require, among other things, that we reverse forty years of thinking about the international system that envisages the United States as constantly and acutely threatened by the Soviet Union.

Ever since the second World War, our policies have been distorted and perverted by an exaggerated perception of the Soviet threat that has had very little relation to the actual military ballots. Indeed, as we now know, that threat was generally perceived as most severe during the period when the balance was most heavily tilted in favor of the United States, in the late 1940s and the 1950s.

So what is the basis for this fear? Why can we not recognize that though the Soviet system differs from ours, the two superpowers still share many common objectives? The immediate problem today arises in large part, I suggest, from the fact that in his obsession with oversimplification, President Reagan has formulated our differences in ideological or, more accurately, in theological terms. His view of the world drama recognizes only two players as deserving top billing - America with its noble commitment to righteousness and free enterprise, pitted in relentless conflict with Russia, the Evil Empire, the focus of evil in our time that worships the anti-Christ of Marxist-Leninism. The implication of this Manichean creed is that our nation should not do deals with the devil. The only way to cope with evil is to fight it. Thus, as Ronald Reagan said in the early 1960s, and these are his words,

"We are being told that we can sit down and negotiate with this enemy of ours, that there's a little right and a little wrong on both sides. How do you compromise between good and evil? How do you say to this enemy that we can compromise our belief in God with his dialectical determinism? How do you compromise with men who say we have no souls, there is no hereafter, there is no God?" [39:55]

To achieve a political agreement that will inject some sanity into the grotesque aberration of the arms race will require that we break out of our ideological cage and that we abjure this formulation of the problem in theological terms. Finally, that we establish with Moscow a degree of mutual purpose far greater than that which now prevails. We will accomplish nothing in the summit conference or in arms control negotiations in our current mood of bristling confrontation, nor will we improve our posture by a muscle flexing in an effort to demonstrate to the Soviets that we are more powerful and competent than they are.

Since all of the Congress is now being asked to decide to appropriate money for research, I am sure many of you may well be asking, why then is the Soviet Union so upset about it? Still, there is more contention to be dealt with; if Moscow is so upset with the Star Wars project it must be because it sees itself unable to compete. In other words it is argued that the Soviet leaders are reacting from weakness. Now, that is a theme song of administration spokesmen that is far from true. In fact the Soviets simply see the United States as embarking on a foolish course that can be costly and dangerous and open the door for unlimited escalation. Thus, it is only natural that they should seek, through diplomacy, to forestall the creation of a new destructive competition in which they would feel compelled to engage in, vigorously so, should we refuse to give up the Star Wars project.

If we're not prepared to provide the basis for a possible deal, arranging for the representatives of two great nations to sit around a green baize table is not diplomacy but logistics. So long as the President persists in his refusal to use the Star Wars project as an element in negotiation, then no progress is possible. So long as he insists on that position, administration spokesmen are talking nonsense when they imply that we might nevertheless persuade the Soviets to reduce their ICBM arsenal or at least restrict the addition of new systems. How can any belief be any more fatuous or more disingenuous? Even administration casuals should recognize that facing the loudly trumpeted threat of an American ABM system, the Soviets must inevitably insist on keeping full-freedom to build all the offensive missiles required to overwhelm that system.

Meanwhile, let us not be put off when proponents of Star Wars ask in injured tones, "but why all the excitement? After all the President is not proposing to deploy or even test his projected missile defense system." All they're asking, they say, is that Congress appropriate thirty-billion dollars over the next five years to finance the research necessary to, and I quote him, "Provide the evidentiary basis for an informed discussion on whether and how to proceed in the system deployment." Now, no doubt some have a taste for such clouded prose and indeed some members of Congress seem willing to be seduced by it - where it gives them a facile justification for going along with the White House - but it is clearly a trap all the same.

The central point is that the President is not treating the Star Wars proposal as merely an expanded nuclear defense research program, such as the United States and the Soviet Union have been conducting for some years. Had the administration chosen to regard the project in those limited terms, it could have increased the defense budget quietly without precipitating a major argument. But instead, the President chose to announce his project to the listening world in rhapsodic prose as a seminal change in policy. Moreover, the new Star Wars policy - so the Secretary of Defense equally asserts - has now become not an optional program but central to our whole defense effort, whatever that means. Moreover, the administration is not just asking for an additional million or so for the fiscal year but announcing a five-year program estimated to cost thirty billion dollars, with the expectation among the knowledgeable in Washington - experience may show that figure may be shown to be underestimated by at least fifty-percent or even more, and that's hardly small change even for the Pentagon.

It is not surprising that the Soviets are reacting loudly and firmly. They understand America well enough to know what is contemplated is not merely an increase in appropriations for research, but a critical change in United States policy, and that it will set in motion the driving forces that will quickly acquire every increasing momentum while building up more and more powerful vested interests in the testing deployment of such a system. So even if some Americans seem tempted to pass this program off as merely prudent intensification of research, the Soviets are not that gullible. They understand full-well that once we've spent such a vast sum together with additional billions for the normal overruns, any President will be under almost-irresistible pressure to continue the testing and development of the system no matter what thirty-billion dollars of experimentation might indicate about success or failure. Although for Americans the Star Wars program is rapidly acquiring a life and momentum of its own, our Western European allies are now having long second thoughts about it. They are only just now beginning to analyze and comprehend the program's full implications. And as that process continues, I think it's safe to predict that all or most of them will ultimately come down on the side of opposition, as France has already done. [46:30]

The tragedy of the current moment is that the coming weeks could well be a time unique in history, when by acting flexibly and with imagination we might well make serious progress not merely toward controlling the expansion of nuclear arsenals but towards substantially reducing the destructive missiles on both sides. To an extent unprecedented in Soviet chronicles, Chairman Gorbachev is showing a willingness to free himself from ideological constraints. And if our leaders would respond with sufficient pragmatism, if they would consider carefully the deep cuts proposal Mr. Gorbachev has announced, and if they would put the Star Wars project on the negotiating table along with the other elements of our nuclear arsenal, we might then stand a good chance of reversing the arms race and making the world a far safer place to live. But, if they miss this opportunity, if they persist in going forward to try and build a new fanciful instrument of escalation, no one can predict where it might all end, though the odds indicate that at some future date our civilization would end with a truly Earth-destroying explosion.

It's ironical and sad that just at the moment the Soviets have acquired a chief of government, young, flexible and apparently ready to talk rationally, our American leaders behave as though frozen like the ancient mammoths in a chill ice-cap of rigid ideology. An ideology based on wishful assumptions, implying a belief in magic that impels them obdurately to try to foist on America a flawed project deceptively packaged to create an illusory prospect of a Hellsian [?] future. It's time, I suggest, for our country to rouse itself and look reality squarely in the eye. The date of the summit conference is almost upon us, events are in the saddle and riding mankind at an accelerating gallop. Time is of the essence and speed is imperative. Thank you. [48:57]

John Byrne: Well, thank you very much Ambassador. Now, the Ambassador said he'd be willing to address some questions. So, we'll take a few minutes for questions.

[Audience question #1]

Well I find it hard to advise you on a matter which so much concerns the institution, but, I can only point out that there are a number of universities…where substantial members of the scientific faculty have taken the position that they don't want any part of this Star Wars research.

[Audience question #2]

Well I think it's a great shame that this is not the position that we're taking. It certainly worked in 1963 – that's the one reason we got even a partial test ban treaty was because we unilaterally announced a suspension and the Soviets joined us. It's a technique which I think we shouldn't ignore. But the answer from the Pentagon is what you always would expect from the Pentagon – "we have a lot of things we want to test right now, so why should we agree to give up testing for the moment?" Of course, this is the available answer that is constantly being given – either we're too far ahead or we're too far behind. Or we have a program that we want to achieve in order to complete the program. It's the most frustrating business in the world because it's so simple-minded and so very hard to answer. [52:06]

[Audience question #3]

I don't think there's any conspiracy to suppress it, but I think they're getting a little weary of the fact that anything of this kind gets an automatic rejection and they don't consider it news.

[Audience question #4]

Well, I don't know – unfortunately there's not another presidential election for three years. But there is an off-year election for the Congress next year, and I think this is an occasion to make the point.

[Audience question #5]

Well, I think that's a splendid question. As I see it, the action of the United States in rejecting the jurisdiction of the World Court so far as Nicaragua is concerned, is consistent with a pattern which I deplore – a pattern of increasing disdain for international law or the rule of principle. We saw it in the Nicaraguan situation, in…the mining of the harbor by the CIA. We've seen it in the UN now repeatedly, ever since 1970 but particularly since the Reagan administration came to power. When I was in the State Department, up until 1970, the United States had never used a veto. We had the veto power under the United Nations charter as one of the five major powers, but we never used it. Up until that time the Soviet Union had used its veto 109 times. Since 1970 the Soviet Union has used its veto power nine times and we have used ours forty.

This indicates, it seems to me, a very definite change of attitude on the part of the United States, because a veto is a negation of the whole theory of the international collective body. And if we insist that we have to have our will on matters where we're completely out of phase with the rest of the world and with the other leading members, then I think we're showing a disdain for international law which is coming from a nation which has always prided itself on abiding by the rule of law. It's not only inconsistent, but I think its very unworthy of the United States and it is leading a detestation, a contempt, for the United Nations which I personally find deplorable. We're in a position where if we pursue a course of interposing our veto every time something occurs that we don't like, then it's a negation of the whole theory of the United Nations. And we're simply showing how far out of step we are on certain issues with the rest of the world, and I think this is a very serious blot on our leadership.

Instead of deploring this, the reaction of the American public, by and large, has been to heap condemnity on the United Nations; to call it, in the words of that great stand-up comic who happens to be the mayor of New York, "a cesspool, a den of iniquity." These are words which, I must say, he can use them and nobody complains. I think that the degradation of the international institutions is something that we should be very much ashamed of, because we've enormously contributed to it. [57:00]

[Audience question #6]

Well, I think the implication of the action is simply to show again that we think the United Nations is not worthy of American support to the degree that it's had in the past. I think that if we look at what the United Nations can do, given the realities of the world situation, I think we ought to do what we can to build it up and support it. After all its one major contribution, above all others, has been to bring a billion people from colonial dependency to theoretical independence in the space of a little more than twenty years, with a minimal amount of breakage and dislocation around the world. That is an enormous feat, and I assure you it could never have occurred if the United Nations hadn't supervised the operation and given the training to the new young leaders in the Third World countries who are emerging and will be the key figures in their countries in the future - some training in the arts of forensic diplomacy.

Having served in the UN, I'm fully aware of its limitations. Its never been able to do what many people hoped it could do in 1945, because it was patterned after the council of the League of Nations, and the expectation was that the Security Council, comprised as it was at that time of the five major powers, would be able to crack the heads together of small countries who got into quarrels, and try to administer some rule of law in relation to the countries around the world. But actually what has happened is that once the great schism occurred, the Iron Curtain came down, it didn't prove possible for the great powers to unite, except in rare instances. We were, for a period of time, able to carry out the decolonialization policy, but we weren't able to use it effectively in Viet Nam, we weren't able to use it many other situations, largely because the veto power exists and the Soviet was prepared to use it, and now we're prepared to use it. And again, I suggest to you, this is a deplorable kind of diminution in our position as a power that presumes to abide by the rule of law. [1:00:20]

[Audience question #7]

Well, I suppose it's the latter. I think the Pentagon has an enormous influence for a variety of reasons. One of them is that no one in the Congress wants to reject what the Pentagon says because no one wants to be accused of not being fully supportive of national defense. Then there's the fact that there are a great many weapons plants in a great many Congressional districts and this obviously has its impact in determining the wisdom of the Congress. But I agree with you that these songs are getting very repetitious, very trite and very tired. And I don't know, I wish I could give you an easy answer on how you break the cycle, I think you can only do it by education and by a lot of people speaking out, and I wish more of them would do it.

[Audience question #8]

There's obviously great merit in what you say. I think if we examine these doctrinal pronouncements very carefully, and compared them with the spirit of the Bible, that we could come to some very different conclusions.

[Audience question #9]

Obviously the pattern that was established in 1963 for the partial test ban treaty was a very good pattern, and the Soviets have now made the same kind of proposal on the temporary moratorium on testing and we, in my judgment, ought to take them up on it, and see if that can't be turned into a solid agreement as in '63 we did with the partial test ban treaty. Unfortunately at that time we didn't go ahead and make it a comprehensive test ban treaty, largely because of the Pentagon's interference and opposition. And a silly quarrel over whether the Russians offered four on-site inspections and the Pentagon was insisting on seven. And that's what happened. Otherwise, if we'd had a comprehensive test ban treaty at that time, it could have changed the whole competition, in a very material way in my judgment.

[Closing remarks by John Byrne] [1:06:50]


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