DURING 40 YEARS of Cold War, calls for complete elimination of nuclear weapons came to be discredited as just so much big-power propaganda. Both the United States and Russia piously repeated their fealty to this goal. But all along, they added to massive arsenals that constituted an irrational threat to all of humanity.
Now, seven years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear abolition is an idea on the way to rehabilitation. What better advocate could there be than retired Gen. George Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Air Command? As a pilot and later a four-star officer, he knew a world of strategic bombers on constant alert, of rapid sequence takeoffs, of hair-raising accidents, of war planning that assumed destruction in mind-numbing dimensions.
And so, General Butler is now pleading for the scrapping of all nuclear weapons. This would apply to the five declared nuclear powers -- the U.S, Russia, China, France and Britain -- and all "de facto" nuclear powers, including Israel, India and Pakistan. It was a call promptly endorsed by 61 generals and admirals from the larger powers, including Gen. Alexander Lebed, former head of Russian national security.
These military leaders, acknowledging their vision could take decades, conceded that rogue dictators and fanatical terrorists could find the material and the means to make nuclear weapons. But they held that this risk is far less dangerous than the inherent instability of a world in which certain nuclear powers tried to impose non-proliferation on all other nations.
General Butler was especially critical of the Clinton administration's failure to pursue nuclear arms reduction at a fast pace, saying this sent an "overt message of distrust" to Russia that is now manifested in the Duma's balking at ratification of the START II treaty. This treaty calls for each power to reduce its arsenal to 3,500 strategic weapons from 6,000.
Although Russian nationalists cite NATO's eastward expansion plans and the humiliation of their armed forces to justify their delay, a more technical reason is the burden of adding to the Russian inventory of long-range missiles under START II. To obliterate this problem, the administration could propose immediate negotiations on a START III treaty that would cut the numbers on each side to 2,000.
Despite Washington's tepid response, this is the moment to begin a worldwide discussion of a dream that is now more attainable than at any time since the nuclear age began. The alternative, said General Butler, is a world living "under a dark cloud of perpetual anxiety."
Pub Date: 12/09/96