"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
International Group Issues Call For Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

January/February 1998

By Craig Cerniello

One hundred and seventeen international civilian leaders from 46 nations, including former President Jimmy Carter and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, issued a statement February 2 calling for the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. In connection with the release, retired General Lee Butler, former commander in chief of Strategic Air Command, delivered a speech sharply criticizing U.S. reliance on nuclear deterrence.

The statement on nuclear abolition, which was presented by Butler and former Senator Alan Cranston at the National Press Club in Washington, recommended that six measures be undertaken immediately: the removal of nuclear weapons from alert status, the separation of warheads from delivery vehicles and the placement of the warheads in secure national storage facilities; a halt to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons; an end to nuclear testing, pending entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; the immediate commencement of U.S.-Russian negotiations toward further nuclear arms reductions, regardless of whether START II is ratified by the Russian Duma; an "unequivocal commitment by the other declared and undeclared nuclear weapon states to join the reduction process on a proportional basis as the U.S. and Russia approach their arsenal levels, within an international system of inspection, verification, and safeguards;" and the development of a plan for the "eventual implementation, achievement and enforcement of the distant but final goal of elimination."

In addition, the 117 leaders identified several measures that should be explored "to determine whether they are presently appropriate and feasible." First among these measures is the idea of repatriating nuclear weapons deployed outside of sovereign territory (U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe). Other measures to be examined include a commitment to the no first use of nuclear weapons; a ban on the production and possession of long-range ballistic missiles; and accounting for all materials required to produce nuclear weapons and placing them under international safeguards.

In discussing the statement, Butler noted that there have been a number of significant developments toward the ultimate goal of nuclear elimination since the 61 international generals and admirals released their statement in December 1996. (See ACT, November/December 1996.) For instance, he pointed out that the United States and Russia had agreed at Helsinki to reduce their strategic arsenals to the 2,000 to 2,500 warhead level under a START III agreement, that the Clinton administration is currently studying various "de-alerting" options for U.S. strategic forces and that nuclear-weapon-free zones are spreading throughout the world.

Prior to the release of the civilian statement, Butler spoke at length on the role of nuclear weapons and made two key points. "First, I have no other way to understand the willingness to condone nuclear weapons except to believe they are the natural accomplice of visceral enmity. They corrode our sense of humanity, numb our capacity for moral outrage, and make thinkable the unimaginable," he said. Second, Butler offered a scathing critique of the concept of nuclear deterrence. "Deterrence failed completely as a guide in setting rational limits on the size and composition of military forces. To the contrary, its appetite was voracious, its capacity to justify new weapons and larger stocks unrestrained," he stated.