Ep 388: Ken Adelman - Fmr. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. & Arms Control Director
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:38] So we're here today on Titans of Nuclear with Ken Adelman, who's an author, but also the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Arms Control Director for Ronald Reagan. Ken, welcome to Titans of Nuclear.
Ken Adelman [00:01:49] Well, thank you very much, Bret.
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:51] We'd love to hear about your incredible career. But why don't you start us off at the beginning? Tell us, where were you born?
Ken Adelman [00:01:58] I was born in Chicago, Illinois, at a very early age, let me say, and on the south side of Chicago. And then went to Grinnell College in Iowa, right in the middle of Iowa.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:11] And do you remember any formative experiences growing up that would have led to the career that you've chosen?
Ken Adelman [00:02:17] Well, after the career that I have chosen... And chosen is making too much of it today; the truth is the career that just happened, the truth. Then I look back at it, and on Tuesday mornings at Bryn Mawr Grammar School, we would have a drill to go down the hall and get on our knees and go in to put our heads in the locker because there was a going to be a Soviet nuclear attack on Bryn Mawr Grammar School.
Ken Adelman [00:02:56] And I remember doing that a few times and then asking Ms. Sinnett, our teacher, "How do we know that the Soviets are going to attack on Tuesday morning at ten o'clock Chicago time?" And she assured me that the principal, Ms. Mulroy, knew about that. And then I asked her, "Well you know, my head is in the locker, but my fanny's still in the hall. So won't that get burned up and destroyed?" She said, "No, as long as your head is in the locker, you're safe." So, that was kind of an early dealing that I had with nuclear weapons, I guess.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:39] Yeah. It seems like a lot of people had similar experiences around that era. But it is interesting to see you kind of tie it back to what would come later. So, how did things progress throughout college and afterwards?
Ken Adelman [00:03:52] Well, I went to Georgetown for graduate school in foreign service. I was interested in international affairs and foreign service. And then by chance, I needed a government job and joined the Commerce Department and then the Office of Economic Opportunity. And a very young Don Rumsfeld was in charge of the office. 28 year old Dick Cheney was Special Assistant. We had Bill Bradley there. We had Christie Todd Whitman there. We had Frank Carlucci. We had all kinds of wonderful people there. And that was all by chance. From then on, I worked for Rumsfeld three times in my life. We became very good friends with the Cheneys for many, many years and have the friendship now, I'm happy to say.
Bret Kugelmass [00:04:52] But how? How? You're skipping over the details of how you developed expertise in political relationships.
Ken Adelman [00:05:00] Well, I don't know if it was expertise in political relationships, but I did get a master's and a doctorate from Georgetown University. We went over to Africa. And because I was a dependent husband, my wife was in the Foreign Service, I was one of the first dependent husbands in the Foreign Service. And people said, "Oh, well, that must have been humiliating." I said, "No, it was delightful." I was happy to be a dependent husband and I would love to return to being a dependent husband. And it was a glorious time. We had two and a half years in Zaire, made more glorious by the fact that the Ali-Foreman fight was in Zaire at that time. And so I translated... Translated in loose terms... for Muhammad Ali, who was in Kinshasa for the heavyweight fight.
Ken Adelman [00:05:51] And then when I got back, I found out that the people I had worked with before were now in the White House. Don Rumsfeld, was Chief of Staff of the White House. Dick Cheney was number two. And the day we got back, the Cheneys gave us a welcome back lunch in the White House. And it was quite kind of amazing. Soon thereafter, Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense, and he asked me to be his special assistant and help him on all the testimony and speeches he had.
Bret Kugelmass [00:06:26] But so he asked you to be his assistant. How do you... I guess I'm still looking for, like, the meat. I mean, because I'm sure many people want to learn how do you, like, rise to positions of power?
Ken Adelman [00:06:39] Well, that's what I told you, Bret, at the beginning. I don't think there's any great formula, it would seem. And my situation is very fanciful and all by chance. I mean, there's no real intention that, "Oh, I'm going to work for Don Rumsfeld and he's going to be Secretary of Defense someday." I mean, it never happened that way. Or, 28 year old Dick Cheney was going to amount to much of anything.
Bret Kugelmass [00:07:08] Okay, okay. I see. So, maybe I was just missing the timeline. So what you're saying is you developed these relationships with people before they had significant power and then just kept those relationships.
Ken Adelman [00:07:17] Yeah, they weren't even working in foreign affairs. They were working on the war on poverty. And so, it was all a bunch of luck.
Bret Kugelmass [00:07:25] Okay, I see. I see. Okay. Keep taking us then through your career.
Ken Adelman [00:07:29] So then, we lived in Africa. Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense and asked me to do his speeches for him. And I said, "That sounds like fun." It was kind of fun. And so, it was the second time when I was working for Rumsfeld. And then when I was at Georgetown, one of my professors, my favorite professor was Jeane Kirkpatrick. And I really liked her. And then, Ronald Reagan seems like the nominee in 1980. I was asked by Dick Allen, just by chance again, because he read an article that I had written, would I join the advisory committee for candidate Reagan? I said, "I'm not much of a joiner. It doesn't sound like it's very interesting to me." And Jeane Kirkpatrick urged me to do it and not be a pill about it. So I said, "Okay, I'll do it.".
Ken Adelman [00:08:28] And so, then Jeane wanted me to work with her at the U.N. and to be her deputy up there. I explained that I was in Washington with the two girls in school. My wife was working in Washington, and I really didn't care that much about going to New York and joining the U.N. She hired somebody else. And then in the April of that year, which was 1981, she called up out of the blue, said, "Ken, this is Jeane." And I said," Hi, Jeane, how are you?" And she says, "I want you to be my deputy." I said, "Jeane, you asked me that in November. I told you I wasn't very interested. Besides, you've got a deputy. You hired somebody." She says, "Well, I know I hired somebody, but I don't like him and he doesn't like me." And so I said, "Well, that's two problems." And so she said, "Why don't you come up, spend the day, bring Carol with you. And have you ever been to the U.N.?" I said, "No." And she says, "Come up, walk around with me all day. You'll learn about the U.N. And we'll see." I said, "Well, that sounds kind of nice whether I end up there or not. Sounds like kind of fun.".
Ken Adelman [00:09:44] So, we toodle up the next morning, spent the day with her going around the Security Council, the General Assembly, the U.N. building. And that night she gave a dinner with some members of the staff. And after dinner, she sat on the couch and she says, "As Mahalia Jackson once said, is you is or is you ain't?" And I said, "Well, it's all right with me. You have to talk to Carol, here. She'd have to be disrupted in all kinds of professional and personal ways." And so, we talked about it and it was a go. So, I spent two years at the U.N., had a wonderful, wonderful time. And then, Ronald Reagan decided that the existing Arms Control Director that he had hired, Gene Rostow, a very nice man, was not doing the job he wanted him to do, and he asked me to take that job.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:50] Help me understand how these things work. Like, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., what are the goals for that job?
Ken Adelman [00:10:57] The goals for that job under President Reagan were to represent American interests in a very forthright manner and to take on the third world that was in that time very much aligned with the Soviet Union, at least in many ways we saw it. Take on the Soviet Union, take on the U.N. as being very unfair. And so, we did a lot of what's called rights of reply. So, when someone gave a speech criticizing the United States, we'd pop up and defend ourselves. And as Ronald Reagan described it, when he came up to the U.N. and met with us, it was kind of to take off the sign on our back that said, "Kick me." That's how Reagan thought of it. Before that time, it would have been a lot of the U.N. ganging up on the United States and the United States representative being reluctant to be forceful. And just stand up, clearly, explicitly for American interests.
Bret Kugelmass [00:12:07] Were there like specific goals during your time there that you set out to accomplish?
Ken Adelman [00:12:14] Yes, I was in charge, Jeane put me in charge... Besides her deputy, she put me in charge of the third committee, which was on disarmament and arms control. And what we did up there in terms of the nuclear issue was to really strengthen the Non-proliferation Treaty. This is the one area where the Soviet ambassador and my counterpart, the number two, and I saw eye to eye because we both wanted to strengthen the Non-proliferation Treaty. So, we worked measures up there to do that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:12:54] What were those measures and which countries were the trouble countries?
Ken Adelman [00:13:00] Well, to have resolutions at the United Nations supporting the Non-proliferation Treaty, urging countries to use peaceful means of nuclear power, that's fine, but not to go in and have nuclear weaponry. And at that time, we were fearful of India and Pakistan. Israel was kind of a covert. North Korea, we were fearful of, but there was not any activity at that time that North Korea was getting nuclear weapons. So, all these were countries that we were watching besides like South Africa, now forgotten, was very tempted to get nuclear weapons.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:49] Didn't they have nuclear weapons and they gave them up?
Ken Adelman [00:13:51] Well, I don't know that, okay? They were certainly down the road to getting nuclear weapons. And that was at the end of the '80s. I don't know if they ever acquired nuclear weapons or not.
Bret Kugelmass [00:14:06] So it says Non-proliferation Treaty, but how does it actually stop countries from getting them if they want to get them?
Ken Adelman [00:14:15] Well, it has no enforcement mechanism. What it says in basic is that there is a legitimate goal for peaceful use of nuclear energy. And we are going to help countries that want to have nuclear power, but that we very much... The Treaty says when you sign here, you are pledging not to have a nuclear weapon, not to build a bomb. Now, some countries have signed and violated that, like North Korea, quite clearly. I think Iran signed. Others didn't sign. India never signed, Israel never signed. So, they never violated it, but they broke the spirit of the international community because the international community wanted a restraint on nuclear weapons.
Ken Adelman [00:15:21] And let me just tell you, Bret, that it's not very well known, but the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, done under President Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, is one of the most successful treaties in the world. Why do I say that? Because in 1962, President Kennedy gave a speech and he predicted that by the 1970s there would be 20 nuclear weapons states. When Kennedy predicted that, there were five, the five major powers at the U.N. When the 1970s happened, there weren't 20 nuclear weapons states, as Kennedy predicted. They were, I think, seven. Okay?
Ken Adelman [00:16:09] Well, one of Parkinson's best laws is the success of a policy is best determined by the dire consequences that do not happen. And this was a case where, compared to the expectations, at least, that President Kennedy had about nuclear proliferation and countries that would get the bomb, this has been a roaring success.
Bret Kugelmass [00:16:38] Now I'm asking maybe not for the policy, but just your perspective. Given everyone you've spoken to and everything that you've been a part of, what's actually stopping there from being more nuclear weapons? Is it just fear that the U.S. will get really mad and like use all of our weight to hurt the country in other ways. Let's say Sweden, they certainly have enough scientists there and have... Like, they know enough that Sweden could become a nuclear power over a weekend if they wanted to. What's stopping, maybe not Sweden because they're just too nice or something, but what's stopping a country like that? What's actually stopping it? Because these pledges, these pieces of papers, these promises, I understand they would look bad if they broke that, but like, what's the real method that we're using to keep that number down to, what, like eight or nine right now?
Ken Adelman [00:17:36] Well, it's a very good question, Bret. I think there are various answers to that. Number one is they don't feel a dire need to do so, okay? Why is that? Because of the nuclear, what we call the nuclear umbrella of the United States, that we have their security. In the case of Sweden, it's going to be reinforced by, I believe, July when they join NATO, formally and feel that within NATO, or at least with Sweden getting a status that's kind of next to NATO, that their security will be protected in some manner.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:20] Okay. So, it's still security...
Ken Adelman [00:18:24] There are other factors. I think one factor is that their country signed a treaty and if they're going to... If they're a free country, a democracy, then they don't want to be shown as clearly violating, okay? So, then they would withdraw. When they would withdraw from a treaty that they had signed, people would say, "Come on, that's bad form. That really is a bad thing." The alternative would be just to break it, which they could easily do, and being still a member of that treaty. But the advantage of a free country is that they have lots of outside institutions that would investigate and report on it. There's the press, their opposition party, there's the parliament, et cetera.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:19] Sure, but if it was in their best interest... Yeah, I guess I'm wondering if there are some like... If the U.S. is doing something other than just signing the treaty to make sure that countries don't pursue nuclear programs.
Ken Adelman [00:19:37] A lot of times we have helped them on their peaceful nuclear energy.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:41] Yeah, exactly. So, that's definitely one.
Ken Adelman [00:19:44] That's right.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:46] That's a great one, right?
Ken Adelman [00:19:47] That would stop if they were shown to be developing a nuclear device, that's for sure. Secondly, there are various ties that we would have to countries that when they go nuclear, we stop those ties. With India, it was all too temporary, if you ask me, but there's a whole list of conventional weapons and sharing of technology and sharing cultural, etc., that stopped after India became a nuclear power.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:25] Yeah. Are there countries that you worry about today where it's like our economic and our defense relationships are not probably not strong enough to stop them if they felt it was really in their best interest? Like, Turkey or something. I don't know, I'm just making something up. Or Kazakhstan or something in the Middle East where it's like, yeah, we do some business... Moreso with Turkey, obviously, and they're NATO. Okay, so maybe that's not the best example. Maybe like, Kazakhstan. What do they care if we put economic sanctions on them? If they really thought it was in their best interest... And they have nuclear scientists, I think they've got some former nuclear facilities also. If they were really afraid that, like, Georgia was going to invade them or something and the U.S. wasn't extending our umbrella to them, how would we stop them from developing nuclear weapons?
Ken Adelman [00:21:19] I think the biggest worry today, Bret, would be, first of all, obviously, North Korea having clear nuclear weapons and testing them, et cetera. On the verge of nuclear weapons, I think the main threat would be an unraveling of the existing institutions and presumptions that we have. If the Arab countries were going to see that Israel's policies are far more antagonistic towards its neighbors, toward the Palestinians within occupied Israel, they would really get very fearful that and think that they needed to bolster their own defense more. That would be Saudi Arabia. That would be Egypt.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:18] Egypt? Yeah, like, why doesn't Egypt have nuclear weapons? Like, we're not particularly nice to them and vice versa.
Ken Adelman [00:22:26] We give them a few billion dollars a year, so.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:28] Okay, so that's the way we're doing it.
Ken Adelman [00:22:30] We are particularly nice to them.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:31] I see, I see. I see. We're paying them off, in that case.
Ken Adelman [00:22:34] We're paying them off and we have a defense sharing with them that we give them weapons. We have overall diplomatic relations that are very nice now.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:49] And is there like a giant chart on a whiteboard somewhere in government where it's like, "Here are the 190 countries. Here's our strategy for each one. Okay, this one, we're going to use mostly economic tools. This one, we're going to use groups like NATO. This one, we're going to use defense relationships. This one, we're going to use threats." Is that like plotted out somewhere?
Ken Adelman [00:23:10] No. What is done is that there is a determination on the non-proliferation and the spread of nuclear weapons as part of the overall relationship with that country. So, we would like to do everything we can to keep the ties with that country so that there isn't more push for getting the bomb.
Bret Kugelmass [00:23:37] Okay, so it's just all the above. It's not like very strategic, like, someone deciding, "This is our Japan strategy. This is our Australia strategy."
Ken Adelman [00:23:45] Yes, but this is our Japan strategy in terms of trade, in terms of defense cooperation. You know, are there any signs that Japan would go nuclear? Because it certainly has the technical capability to do so.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:01] And they're in a hot spot of the region also.
Ken Adelman [00:24:04] Yeah. And there would be regional. If North Korea steps up it's nuclear arsenal a lot and its threats towards Japan, if the United States steps down on its relationship with Japan, if China steps up on its threats to Japan, then the Japanese would figure, "No one's going to come to our aid. We're going to have to come to our aid." And when that happens, it's very nice to have nuclear weapons.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:43] Yeah. And what about Taiwan? And what about South Korea? How come they don't have... I mean, to me, I would not trust the U.S. would be there if worst came to worst. Like, I would want my own nuclear weapons if I were either of those countries.
Ken Adelman [00:24:56] Well, I'm very happy, Bret, that you're here interviewing me and not President of South Korea or Taiwan or because they want the defense ties with the United States to continue. We have 20,000... we used to have 20,000, I don't know the number now... Around 20,000 U.S. soldiers in South Korea.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:20] The South Korea one, I get a little bit more. But if I were them, I'd still want to have the threat directly a pushback against North Korea. Like, you do anything to us we'll wipe you off the face of the earth. Not like, we'll call our big brother and wipe you off the face of the earth.
Ken Adelman [00:25:33] Okay. You would want that, but you would have to... If you proceeded that way, Bret, you'd have to consider that the United States is going to do some things to break the ties that have stayed with us for the last 50 years. And that's a cost that you're going to take. Now, if you're willing to pay that cost, then proceed right ahead.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:56] You can also call the U.S.'s bluff. Like, would we really end our trade relations? We might pull our troops out, but that would be a good thing anyway, in some ways. Would we really...
Ken Adelman [00:26:05] Not to me, not to me. I think our troops in South Korea are very...
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:11] Yeah, what are our troops there for? They're there for a conventional war, right?
Ken Adelman [00:26:15] They're there for deterrence, yes. And the threat is that conventional war could end up nuclear when you are involved with a nuclear country like North Korea.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:26] Right. And maybe I don't understand how our troops there prevent that from escalating.
Ken Adelman [00:26:31] Because what you don't want is the start of a conventional war which could then escalate into nuclear weapons.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:39] I see. So it's just like... Yeah, I mean, that kind of sucks for our troops. They're almost there...
Ken Adelman [00:26:44] Yeah. They're there as a trip wire.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:46] Yeah, exactly.
Ken Adelman [00:26:47] It sucks for our troops, and you're absolutely right if the trip wire was ever going to be a tripped.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:53] Okay, that makes sense.
Ken Adelman [00:26:54] But as long as it's a trip wire, your troops are in good shape.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:58] Yep, that makes a lot of sense, actually. And then what about the Taiwan situation? Talk me through the thinking in Taiwan, because that's the one I think everyone's most worried about right now. Like, if they were attacked... We don't really have troops in Taiwan, right?
Ken Adelman [00:27:11] That's correct. We have billions of dollars of military equipment that we give them. We are the main supplier of military equipment. If they went nuclear, there's a real jeopardy that equipment could be... There are two things that could happen if they went nuclear, Bret. Number one is the United States could either diminish or end its ties to Taiwan. Number two, the Chinese would be provoked to start a war against Taiwan and to reclaim Taiwan.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:46] Doesn't that go against mutually assured destruction? Why would they start a war...
Ken Adelman [00:27:51] No, because they would have signs that Taiwan was on the verge or in the process of getting nuclear weapons and they would decide "That's it. We have wanted to reunite China for years. We've said that..."
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:08] I see. They'd use the escalation as the excuse for invasion. And then does it go the other way? If Taiwan thinks it's imminent that they're going to get invaded anyway... And like, just knowing U.S. public sentiment. I mean, I don't think the U.S. would support like going in to protect Taiwan even though we're obligated to. I can't imagine the U.S. public actually supporting like putting major U.S. lives at stake if China wanted to reclaim Taiwan.
Ken Adelman [00:28:38] I could.
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:40] The U.S. public? Who? Which voting group?
Ken Adelman [00:28:44] You don't look at the voting group, you look at a crises happening and you say that we just don't want countries, especially totalitarian countries like Russia and China, to be invading their neighbor. Now, I understand that Taiwan is a special case because we've always said there's one China, but two different systems. But over the last 50 years, 70 years, whatever it is, Taiwan has had its own individuality, its own success, its own standing in the world and its own relationship with the United States.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:19] Totally, totally. I'm just thinking about the voting public.
Ken Adelman [00:29:25] The voting public doesn't like aggressors overseas.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:29] But with the Ukraine war, it's not like we're sending troops over there, right? Because that would be politically untenable, right?
Ken Adelman [00:29:37] I don't know if that's true.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:39] And they look like us. It's like, I just can't imagine war breaks out between Taiwan and China and the U.S. public voting for us, our involvement. I just can't imagine that.
Ken Adelman [00:29:52] Okay, well, your imagination is... I understand what your imagination is, but I can imagine it. That a threat against Taiwan would be a threat against the free countries of Asia. It would be aggressive. Japan would certainly see it as a threat against itself. And we have a great, great interest in Japan. South Korea would see it as a threat against itself. And we have a great interest in South Korea. We have a great interest in the prosperity of Taiwan that now makes 90% of our microchips, which we don't want to lose.
Bret Kugelmass [00:30:32] Totally, I know we'd try to stop it. I know it's in our interest. I just can't imagine us sending troops and like putting U.S. lives at stake. But okay, I mean, that's just two different perspectives. Tell me about the Star Wars program. That's always like a classic favorite. What should people know about the Star Wars program?
Ken Adelman [00:30:49] Well, the first thing is that it shouldn't be called Star Wars, okay? But I know what you mean. It's the SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative. Next month, it's going to be 40 years since Ronald Reagan made an announcement of it. And basically, it was the whole debate at the Reykjavik Summit in October of 1986 that I recount in the book called Reagan at Reykjavik that is going to be made into a series, a television series with Michael Douglas starring as Ronald Reagan and Christoph Waltz as Mikhail Gorbachev and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rapace, as Raisa Gorbachev. And Paramount and Sky TV are going to put this on.
Ken Adelman [00:31:49] What SDI did was to change the whole thinking about deterrence of nuclear weapons from Mutually Assured Destruction, which, I destroy you and you destroy me. And we have, as Ronald Reagan envisioned it, two gunslingers with their guns at each others heads, so if you pull the trigger, I'm pulling the trigger, too. He decided that after 40, 50, 60 years of living like that, that wasn't the best way to organize the world, the nuclear issue. We should have protection as well as, or instead of, this provocative approach. And so, he wanted research for protection against incoming ballistic missiles.
Ken Adelman [00:32:43] And I could tell you now, 40 years after the SDI speech, that the research has done very well. That a lot of the threats that are limited from countries like Iran or countries like North Korea would be handled by the Strategic Defense Initiative so that a president would not have the twin alternatives of either launching a retaliatory attack, say, against North Korea and wiping out that country because its leaderships have attacked the United States. Either that approach of wiping out North Korea or doing nothing and saying, "We're awfully sorry that nuclear weapons landed in the United States. We're not going to retaliate, and we're going to bring it up at the U.N.," or something like that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:33:40] So, what is that third?
Ken Adelman [00:33:41] Those two alternatives are terrible. Ronald Reagan wanted a third alternative, which is, "Let's stop the incoming ballistic missile before it lands here."
Bret Kugelmass [00:33:50] Yeah. So, what is the actual way that we stop incoming ICBMs?
Ken Adelman [00:33:56] You launch a rocket that is very fast, very accurate, uses very high-tech detection and re-targeting that hits the incoming ballistic missile either in mid-flight... Well, it's easiest in the original flight, but then in mid-flight or the terminal phase.
Bret Kugelmass [00:34:23] And the controversy behind all this was at first they wanted to do it with lasers or something? What was the issue there?
Ken Adelman [00:34:29] The big controversy was various controversies. Number one, that it upset the strategic framework that was at the heart of nuclear weapons 40 years ago, when Ronald Reagan made the speech. That was Robert McNamara's Mutually Assured Destruction, the MAD doctrine, which was prevailing. This, disruptive. Secondly, the groups of organized scientists in the world, the concerned scientists, atomic scientists and other organizations, said it would never work. SDI will never work. Now, why scientists would say something would never work regardless of the amount of research, regardless of the timeframe, is kind of ridiculous, if you ask me. I always thought it was absolutely insane.
Bret Kugelmass [00:35:27] Yeah, I feel that way too. But I actually didn't realize that they got it working. So, is there like an accuracy? I guess the lasers thing, they maybe stopped that line of approach and now they're just trying to do it missile on missile. Like, a missile's supposed to hit a missile or something.
Ken Adelman [00:35:43] That's right. You have a big ballistic missile or a big warhead and a little rocket goes and smashes it...
Bret Kugelmass [00:35:51] And do we do non-nuclear tests? Like, do we practice launching an ICBM at a silo and then we hit it with a smaller rocket or something?
Ken Adelman [00:35:58] Yes, that has happened over the years. We have a whole agency, the Missile Defense Agency, that conducts those kind of tests. And they've proven in recent years to be very, very effective. Very effective...
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:14] How recent, and how effective?
Ken Adelman [00:36:16] Very effective in a limited nuclear engagement. So, when you're talking about Iran and you're talking about North Korea, you're talking about one, two, three, six nuclear weapons, okay? Against Russia or China, that has a whole large number of nuclear weapons, they would not be effective.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:38] And how come we don't just scale up whatever we have? So if we have, like, three or four, ten of these missile on missiles, and they cost... Let's say the whole thing cost $100 billion, you know, we just spent $6 trillion in a year on COVID. Why don't we just scale that up and then we've got 400 or 500 ready to go?
Ken Adelman [00:37:00] Well, for various reasons. Number one is people don't like to spend a trillion dollars.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:08] But that would most go to... I mean like, it would be an injection to the economy, right? It's like mostly U.S. worker that would be...
Ken Adelman [00:37:13] No, it wouldn't be an injection to the economy. It would be money that the government spent for this that they weren't spending for other projects or they shouldn't be spending because the American people can spend the money better than the government. Number two is the more incoming ballistic missiles you have, the more confusing it is to target and to hit the incoming ballistic missiles. In other words, when one or two are coming in, you can see it, you can concentrate on it, you can go get it.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:45] These aren't people doing it. It's computers doing it. Right?
Ken Adelman [00:37:48] But it's very confusing.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:51] Interesting. Yeah, I guess I just didn't know that we had this working system up and running.
Ken Adelman [00:37:57] Yes. It's doing very well on limited engagements.
Bret Kugelmass [00:38:02] And when was the last time we did like a physical test? Do they make these things public at all?
Ken Adelman [00:38:07] Yes, they're public. And it's at the websites of the Missile Defense Agency. They'll report on a test. For years, the tests weren't very successful because it's very hard. I have a friend who used to be CEO and Chairman of Lockheed Martin and was involved in the landing on the moon and the moon projects. And he said, "Hitting a bullet with another bullet in space is more difficult than what we did landing a man on the moon."
Bret Kugelmass [00:38:42] Of course, of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ken Adelman [00:38:44] All right. Wasn't "Of course, of course," to me. That surprised me that he said that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:38:49] Well, they landed a man on the moon with like a computer that was dumber than today's toasters, right? But yeah, I guess I am surprised to hear that you're not in favor of scaling up the program. Because if it's useful to have at all, why not make it actually useful for real engagement? Because now it's only really useful, I guess, if like one of only two or three countries we got mad at, but it's not useful to protect us from Russia or China.
Ken Adelman [00:39:21] It's useful for more than that, Bret. It's useful for a country that has limited nuclear weapons. It's useful for a break away of a major nuclear state. So, if there would be a break away from Pakistan or breakaway from Russia or a breakaway from a terrorist situation for the Chinese, they would only get a limited number of weapons. And we could handle something like that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:39:50] I see. I see. I see.
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:27] And do you think it's only a matter of time or do you think the threat is pretty much like we're in a good spot? Like, where we might continue as humanity for the next 200 or 300 years without a nuclear bomb going off?
Ken Adelman [00:42:41] I think it is so far so good and that we have to stay diligent. We have to stay... I think SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative that Ronald Reagan made come about and the research that wonderful scientists have done since that time reinforces the idea that it doesn't have to. The United States and the world does not have to be blown up. That we can have a future that is a future free from nuclear attacks. The fact is, it's amazing, Bret, that since August 6th, 1945, nuclear weapons have never been used in a combat situation. That's pretty amazing.
Bret Kugelmass [00:43:32] Yeah, it is pretty amazing.
Ken Adelman [00:43:33] If on August 7th, anybody told me that, you know, 1945, I would have said, "That's fanciful. That's just pie in the sky. You're just an idealist." But the fact is that has happened.
Bret Kugelmass [00:43:46] Yeah I know, it's absolutely amazing. Yeah, I hope it doesn't happen. And what I really hope is that it doesn't happen at a small scale where it just becomes commonplace. You know, like where they just use something that blows up a city block instead of a city. And then it's like, "Well, now it's on the table." And then, it's like a city block one year, and then it's like 10 city blocks the next year in a different combat situation. And then it just becomes commonplace. I think that would probably be one of the worst...
Ken Adelman [00:44:22] Well, the main threat there, Bret, the more realistic threat is if Putin would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine on a battlefield apparatus. And if Putin is losing the war in a more dramatic way that he is even now, that is a possibility. I don't think it's a likelihood, but it is a possibility and that would be very severe.
Bret Kugelmass [00:44:50] Yeah, what do you think? Can you game plan that out for us? What happens if he decides to do that? What's our response then?
Ken Adelman [00:44:59] If I were running the world, which I'm not, by the way, I would say that the United States and NATO would get very much more involved in winning the Ukraine war, which I hope happens.
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:13] We'd get more involved how? Because it's like...
Ken Adelman [00:45:17] Breaking up the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea.
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:21] And that wouldn't then just escalate? If he dropped one bomb for normal stuff, if we wiped out his fleet wouldn't he then drop a bigger one and be like, "You better stop it. I'm not messing around."
Ken Adelman [00:45:31] No, if he did that, Russia would be wiped out. And you'd go back to nuclear...
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:36] So, we'd drop nuclear bombs then?
Ken Adelman [00:45:39] Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:45:40] Okay. So, you think that's how it plays out? If he drops a bomb...
Ken Adelman [00:45:43] No, if he has a tactical nuclear weapon use on battlefield in Ukraine, I think the response would be a massive NATO conventional retaliation against Russia. Not nuclear, but conventional. And it would do enormous damage to all the troops, Russian troops in Ukraine, to the Baltic Sea...
Bret Kugelmass [00:46:12] And he just sits there and takes it with his tail between his legs because he doesn't want to drop a bigger bomb at that point, you're saying?
Ken Adelman [00:46:19] If he drops a bigger bomb, there's the real threat of wiping out Russia.
Bret Kugelmass [00:46:23] Yeah. Even if it's not against us? Even if it's a bigger bomb just on Kiev?
Ken Adelman [00:46:28] Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:46:29] We wipe out Russia in that case?
Ken Adelman [00:46:30] I don't know. We have massive retaliation with conventional weapons which would do an enormous amount of damage.
Bret Kugelmass [00:46:38] Yeah, yeah. Okay, well, I guess this is why everyone was a little worried and why it got so much attention this last year, because we went so long with it almost seeming like nuclear weapons were a thing of the distant past.
Ken Adelman [00:46:53] And we've still gone that way. We're still on that path, Bret. So, don't be real discouraging about that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:47:00] Yeah, I know, I know. It's just like this is now a pretty big war with the country that's got the most nuclear weapons. It seems bad.
Ken Adelman [00:47:09] But year after year, what we've learned is that nuclear weapons have not been used. That the prohibition, the general prohibition against the use of nuclear weapons starting in August, early August of 1945, has helped.
Bret Kugelmass [00:47:27] Yeah. Yeah. So, I guess I am worried that this war is not over yet and there might be certain actions that we take that make him feel like he's backed into a corner. I think that's the worry, right?
Ken Adelman [00:47:43] There's lots of worries. That's lots of worries. I'm not interested in worrying about Putin being backed into a corner. I'm worried about the Ukrainians getting their country back.
Bret Kugelmass [00:47:54] Even at the cost of backing him into a corner and escalating to full-on nuclear...
Ken Adelman [00:48:00] Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:00] Really?
Ken Adelman [00:48:00] Not the latter part, because I don't believe that would happen. But backing Putin into a corner doesn't bother me at all.
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:08] You don't think that Putin backed into a corner would start using nuclear weapons?
Ken Adelman [00:48:13] Not necessarily, no. Uh uh.
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:16] Why not, though?
Ken Adelman [00:48:18] Well, because the Chinese... One of the few things that the Chinese have said that is clear in this whole engagement is that there would be real consequences for Russia to use nuclear weapons. Russia right now has one major ally, and that's China. And so, you'd be paying attention to that. Number two is the United States and NATO has all kinds of military power that they're not using right now that would be unleashed by the outrage of Putin using nuclear weapons. It's conventional power.
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:55] Yeah.
Ken Adelman [00:48:57] But it's pretty awesome.
Bret Kugelmass [00:49:00] Yeah. Okay, yeah. Well, all right. Well, before we wrap up today, any other kind of just thoughts you want to leave us with from your experience all these years and where you think things are going?
Ken Adelman [00:49:16] The thought, Bret, would be that while over the years there has been enormous worry about nuclear weapons and fear of nuclear weapons, the track record has been better than anybody expected, okay? So, let's celebrate that.
Ken Adelman [00:49:37] On the use of nuclear power for purposes of generation of electricity and other kinds of power, again, the nuclear record has been better than anybody expected. You have the Three Mile Island accident in the United States, which, as I remember, didn't kill anybody. You had the Japanese accident, which was more because of the tsunami there that was fearful, but the nuclear part didn't really kill anybody as I understand. You had Chernobyl, where the nuclear accident did kill people and was devastating. Just a terrible, terrible time. I was in office at that time. But the fact is, A, they had very bad equipment that no one in the world would ever use today. They broke all the procedures, even for that equipment. It was just a screw up from the start to finish. The use of peaceful nuclear power has been quite successful, amazingly, since that time.
Ken Adelman [00:50:51] So, the two things that I would celebrate are the restraint on nuclear weapons use. And even development, I would say, is more restrained than it was. Number two, the tremendous promise that nuclear power has for peaceful purposes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:51:12] Okay, well, those are great notes to end on. Ken Adelman, everybody. Thank you so much.
Ken Adelman [00:51:16] You're welcome. Bye, Bret.