On October 24-25, the Hoover Institution hosted a summit focused on the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. Initially the brain-child of former Secretaries of State George Shultz, William Perry, and Henry Kissinger, as well as former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the project calls for “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” The conference, meeting for the second time, drew numerous experts on nuclear policy and national security. Portions of last year’s meeting, held on the 20th anniversary of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, can be viewed on FORA.tv.
This year’s closed-door conference featured six sessions held in the Annenberg Conference Room of the Lou Henry Hoover Building. According to the meeting’s agenda, Session I was titled “Force Reductions and Redeployment,” whose speakers included Stanford Professor David Holloway. Session II covered “Controls on Nuclear Weapons and Fuel” and was followed later that night by a six-party dinner discussion featuring Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, Nunn, Sidney Drell, and Max Kampelman.
Also in attendance was former Stanford President Gerhard Casper, as well as Professors Scott Sagan, Michael McFaul, and Steve Krasner. Former Interim CIA Director John McLaughlin, who took over after George Tenet resigned, was also present, as were Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute and Robert McFarlane, one of President Reagan’s national security advisors.
“The abolition […] of nuclear weapons is a vision mankind needs to have,” said Kissinger, adding, “I frankly don’t know how to do it, and I don’t think any of us know how to do it.”
“Without the steps, the vision is unrealistic,” Nunn conceded, “and without the vision, in my view, we will not get the cooperation.”
“Without the vision, you don’t see the steps,” said Shultz.
Kampelman, a retired diplomat, spoke of “the power of ought.” In this case, he said, “What the ‘ought’ calls for is to get rid of nuclear weapons.”
Shultz closed the discussion without fanfare in Marine Corps fashion: “Let’s stack arms and get the hell out of here.”
In an interview, Professor Casper told The Review: “The goal [of a nuclear weapon-free world] is of extraordinary importance and I am very much in accord. Apart from the obvious security threats, it is almost impossible for the United States and Russia to insist on nonproliferation as long as they themselves hug vast arsenals of nuclear weapons. Our credibility is much compromised.”
The goal of the conference, however, has been criticized as unrealistic and impractical. Professor Krasner—who, having just returned from Washington, D.C., is well acquainted with the divide between policy ideas and policy implementation—disagreed with the criticism.
“Theoretical goals and policy realities may not be exactly the right way to frame this issue,” Krasner told The Review. “This is a clash of ideas, not a clash between ideas and what might be called the difficulty of implementation,” he said, adding that the conference was clearly concerned with how to implement the goal.
The conference wrapped up on Thursday, October 25, with four final sessions: Session III: “Test Restraints and Verification,” Session IV: “Regional Confrontations and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation,” Session V: “Turning the Goal of a World without Nuclear Weapons into a Joint Enterprise,” and Session VI: “Getting to Zero.”
The Hoover Institution also released a copy of former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s letter to George Shultz, dated October 4, 2007. The letter reads, in part: “It was always Ronnie’s dream that the world would one day be free of nuclear arms. He felt that as long as such weapons were around, sooner or later they would be used….Ronnie had many hopes for the future, and none were more important to America and to mankind than the effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons.”
The former first lady concluded with a quote from the late president: “[Nuclear weapons are] totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, and possibly destructive of life on earth.”