Nov 5, 2018

Ep 112: Thomas Graham - Fmr. Ambassador, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

Former Ambassador
US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
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Show notes

1 - International Law & Politics

Bret Kugelmass: How did you get started in your professional career?

Thomas Graham: Thomas Graham is from Louisville, Kentucky and studied at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in the international section. Graham went to Paris for a year to study at the Institute of Political Science and, when he came back, was accepted into Harvard Law School. Since he wasn’t in a continuous educational program, Graham was drafted into the Vietnam War. He spent two years in the U.S. Army, getting out in 1958. Graham had to apply to Harvard Law School for a third time and was finally able to attend. After his time at Harvard, Graham clerked for the chief judge of the DC circuit, worked for the Treasury, counseled the House banking committee, did private practice in Louisville, and joined a large international banking law firm in New York. The 1968 election came along and Graham went to the Democratic Convention with the Kentucky delegation as a hanger-on. Graham decided he could no longer support the Democratic party and wrote to his cousin, Nixon’s Defense Secretary, in search of a job in Nixon’s administration. He got a job in the next campaign and worked for a year in the Air Force General Counsel’s office working on radar systems in Northern Canada. Graham heard about an agency within the State Department whose primary responsibility was negotiating nuclear weapon agreements with the Soviet Union. On his first day of work, Graham was briefed on the status of the SALT negotiations and was fascinated.

2 - SALT Negotiations

Bret Kugelmass: Tell us about some of the work you were involved in at the State Department.

Thomas Graham: Thomas Graham was very involved with the first round of SALT, creating political support for the anti-ballistic missile treaty and the agreement on strategic offensive arms. He was the counsel to the delegation that wrote the treaty. He did the first draft of the SALT II treaty with the delegation in Geneva. The draft was sent to the National Security Council and Graham followed to be available for discussion on the treaty. Graham found working on the negotiations very interesting since there were so many different issues that came up. The anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty was negotiated during SALT I and became a big issue during the Reagan administration. Its provisions prevented what was called “Star Wars”, or the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) from being deployed. Things got tough as people got in legal trouble for obstruction of justice, planting things in offices, and leaking classified information to columnists. At one point, Graham was reported to the FBI by the right wing guys, leading Graham to get a lawyer regarding an interview he gave to The New York Times. He was accused of leaking classified information, since it was published in the article, but Graham was not the source and even had a witness during his interview.

3 - Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

Bret Kugelmass: Is it easy to get in trouble in the political realm?

Thomas Graham: After Thomas Graham’s second time around with the FBI, Graham was warned by one of the agents that some guys were out to get him. He was also the target of a Senator who said unfriendly things about Graham on the Senate floor, but Graham understood it was part of the game. In politics, if you play by the rules and stick close to them, everything will be okay in the end. The extension of the non-proliferation treaty was an interesting exercise in which Graham went around the world rounding up votes. He had to have many reasons why these countries should support the U.S. position; his strategy was to go straight to the minister in the capital instead of dealing only with their representatives in New York. One other negotiation Graham participated in was the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. This treaty and negotiation essentially ended the Cold War at the working middle level. During this negotiation, they started out with 16 NATO countries and seven Warsaw Pact countries, 23 total countries. Five countries changed their name and one, East Germany, disappeared. The Soviet Union fell apart, Czechoslovakia split apart, and the negotiation ended up with 30 countries. The number of tanks and other conventional weapons had to be brought into balance.

4 - Extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Bret Kugelmass: What could have happened in the Cold War?

Thomas Graham: There could have been a better settlement with Russia at the end of the Cold War. The U.S. was tough on Germany after World War I, but easy on Germany and Japan after World War II. Russia should have been treated how everyone was treated after World War II and the U.S. could have ended up with a democratic ally. The extension of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) was a very interesting and very rewarding experience. It was a demonstration that approaching people the right way by trying to understand their point of view made the impossible possible. Thomas Graham prioritized building relationships with other countries, including the Mexican and Russian delegations. One of the big issues during the conference was some kind of restraint in the Middle East. The night before the final agreements, Graham tried to work something out with Egypt and Syria. The final agreed upon language was that there should be an additional resolution that there should be a freeze on nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Depositaries still exist in the non-proliferation treaty because it was negotiated during the Cold War.

5 - Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

Bret Kugelmass: How did we deal with the threat of potentially unemployed nuclear scientists?

Thomas Graham: Thomas Graham’s company, then called Thorium Power and now called Lightbridge, was founded in the early 1990’s when nuclear was a threat. They were developing a fuel based on thorium, which had a lot of positive attributes in terms of the nuclear fuel cycle. One variant is the thorium variant and the other is all uranium. Graham first joined the board as he retired from the government around 1997, near the end of the Department of Energy (DOE) support for the company. The DOE had provided capital to the company for five or six years since the company hired many Russian nuclear scientists, as many as 500 at one time, as consultants during fuel development. The fuel was developed at Kurchatov Laboratory in Moscow and there were very close relationships with the management of the laboratory and many senior Russian scientists for many years. Graham had always been interested in nuclear energy because the nuclear non-proliferation treaty covers peaceful uses of nuclear as well, not just weapons. The peaceful uses of nuclear energy were an arrant right of all nuclear non-proliferation treaty parties. Nuclear medicine was also an influential factor for countries that may not need nuclear power, such as Belize. Some countries believe that mastering the nuclear fuel cycle and utilizing it for energy is one of the highest scientific achievements that humanity has ever made, and if they can do it, they are just as good as anybody else. Nuclear power was not being treated properly by the media and there was hysteria about the danger of nuclear reactors. Statistically, nuclear reactors are the safest form of energy production that exists, based on damage, injuries, and death. Nobody died from anything nuclear at Fukushima or Three Mile Island and the UN estimates that 62 people died as a result of Chernobyl. However, 90,000 people died in coal mines from 1910 to 1940 or 1950.

6 - A Nuclear Solution to Climate Change

Bret Kugelmass: Is radiation treated much more seriously than other things that hurt people and does that scare people?

Thomas Graham: People have nuclear fear which goes back to the explosion at Hiroshima. Everyone gets radiation every day and human bodies have learned to regard a certain level of radiation as positive. Even most elevated levels are not harmful, including exposure during an airplane flight. Radiation of CT scans and x-rays are also common. The attitude towards radiation is way overdone. It must be watched and treated carefully, but no more so than lots of chemicals. Humanity is under the most dangerous threat it has ever faced: climate change. It is an existential threat of enormous proportion and, even if the U.S. had stayed in the Paris agreement, it would not have been possible to keep the level at two degrees Celsius over the heat level of the Earth. The only solution that we know of today is the massive use of nuclear power. Renewables and reforestation need to happen too, but nuclear has got to carry most of the load unless people want to go back to the Stone Age.

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