Two former top generals urge nuclear disarmament

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two retired generals who once oversaw America’s nuclear arsenals are now urging disarmament. “We believe the time for action is now, for the alternative of inaction could well carry a high price,” they said.
Joining them in an unprecedented appeal to U.S. and Russian leaders to forge a global consensus to reduce nuclear arsenals “to the lowest verifiable levels,” are some 60 former generals and admirals from around the world. Among them is Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s ousted security chief, Alexander Lebed, and retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles A. Horner, who commanded coalition air forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
“A world free of the threat of nuclear weapons is necessarily a world devoid of nuclear weapons,” declared retired Gen. Lee Butler, who until 1994 headed the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls the nation’s intercontinental nuclear forces.
He was joined by retired Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster, a former supreme allied commander in Europe, at an address to the National Press Club on the dangers of nuclear war.
“With the end of the Cold War, these weapons are of sharply reduced utility, and there is much to be gained now by substantially reducing their numbers and their alert status, meanwhile exploring the possibility of their ultimate complete elimination,” they said in a statement.
After the disappearance of the Soviet Union and a sharp fall in international tensions, the need for nuclear deterrence between the two superpowers has vanished, the statement said. It is also impossible to envisage the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear opponents, it added.
“Even as symbols of prestige and international standing, nuclear weapons are of markedly reduced importance,” it said.
While their military usefulness has steadily declined over the years, the risks inherent in maintaining nuclear arsenals have increased, Butler and Goodpaster warned. These include risks of accidental launches, theft or seizure by terrorists.
“Taking the lead, U.S. and Russian reductions can open the door for the negotiation of multilateral reductions capping all arsenals at very low levels,” the joint statement said.
Butler described his conversion from a staunch advocate of nuclear weapons to a public proponent of their abolition as a “long and arduous intellectual journey.”
After spending the last 27 years studying every aspect of America’s nuclear policy, Butler said he became deeply troubled by its staggering cost — which he put at more than $4 trillion — the “grotesquely destructive” war plans and the immense risks associated with routine daily operations.
“No one could have been more relieved than I was by the dramatic end of the Cold War,” he said. “Most importantly, I could see for the first time the prospect of restoring a world free of the apocalyptic threat of nuclear weapons.”
Responding to the plea for nuclear cuts, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Wednesday said the administration had given high priority to curbing the threat of nuclear weapons.
The United States and Russia already have withdrawn thousands of tactical warheads from Europe and are currently dismantling large portions of their strategic arsenals, he said.
But at the National Security Council, spokesman David Johnson stressed that nuclear weapons would remain “the cornerstone” of America’s deterrent strategy for the foreseeable future.