Volume 25, Number 2 April 1996


Contributions Of Arms-Control Physicists To The End Of The Cold War

Frank von Hippel

Roald Z. Sagdeev and Evgeny P. Velikhov received the 1995 Szilard Award "for their unique contributions to Soviet Glasnost which was a major factor in reversing the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States." Following is the introductory commentary to this award at the Forum on Physics and Society award program on 20 April 1995 at the APS meeting in Washington, DC.

Physicists produced the central technologies of the Cold War. Some of them also worried about the dangers of the arms race and tried to mitigate it. In part, they did this by trying to talk to each other across the chasm of the Cold War. Bohr suggested this to both Roosevelt and Churchill during the Manhattan Project. Churchill's reaction was that he should be locked up.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, however, it became possible for physicists from both sides of the Iron Curtain to meet again to discuss proposals that might help wind down the arms race. This started at a meeting convened in response to an appeal by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, in the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Thus began a dialogue that made credible the first tentative efforts to put the brakes on the nuclear arms race. These first efforts included most notably the Limited Nuclear Test Ban of 1963 and the Treaty on Limiting Anti-ballistic Missile Systems of 1972.

The committee of Soviet scientists

Velikhov and Sagdeev became heavily involved in this East- West dialogue following President Reagan's "Star Wars" speech in March 1983. They saw this as potentially the beginning of a new round of the arms race. They therefore organized the "Committee of Soviet Scientists for Peace and Against the Nuclear Threat"

Velikhov, the founding chairman, was leader of the Russian fusion-energy community. Fusion is the area of science in which the barriers to East-West cooperation had broken down most completely during the Cold War. Velikhov was therefore very comfortable with Americans--and was even wearing a Princeton tie when I first met him in November 1983. Sagdeev, initially a Deputy Chairmen of the Committee and later Velikhov's successor as chairman, had grown up professionally in the fusion community with Velikhov and then went on to create successful East-West collaborations in the space-science area as the Director of the Soviet Space Research Institute.

During the two years after its founding in the spring of 1993, the Committee conducted technical studies and had many meetings with Western arms-control experts. From a later perspective, they were preparing themselves for the opportunities that were to be created when Gorbachev came into power in March 1985. During the period before Gorbachev they were already instrumental in getting Gorbachev's predecessor as General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, to agree to a moratorium on the testing of the Soviet anti-satellite weapons system which was being used as a justification for the development of a much more capable U.S. system.

When Gorbachev came into power, however, Velikhov's committee persuaded him to undertake a much more important moratorium as his first arms-control initiative, namely a unilateral halt on Soviet nuclear tests starting on Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1985. Unfortunately, this initiative was brushed off by the Reagan Administration, which was adamantly opposed to a test ban. There was no U.S. testing moratorium in response and the pressure on Gorbachev began to mount to resume Soviet testing.

In-country seismic monitoring and asymmetric response

One of the arguments used by the Reagan Administration to belittle the Russian moratorium was that the Russians were probably continuing to test clandestinely. In October 1985, therefore, in the back of a bus in Copenhagen, where we were both at a conference in connection with the centennial of Niels Bohr's birth, Velikhov suggested to me that Moscow would let a nongovernmental group set up seismometers near its testing site in Kazakhstan to verify that not even small tests were being conducted. The following July, a group of University of California seismologists, organized by physicist Tom Cochran under the auspices of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), set up their seismometers in Kazakhstan. They detected a test almost immediately--in Nevada.

Velikhov subsequently told me about going to the Politboro to get permission for the NRDC to set up a seismic monitoring station in Kazakhstan. Apparently, after a prolonged debate, the dominant attitude appeared to be negative. At this point, Velikhov apparently turned to Gorbachev and said, "There is only one problem. They are already there!"

The demonstrated willingness of the USSR to allow in-country monitoring caused more of a stir in the U.S. than the moratorium itself. Soviet suspicions about on-site inspection had been a key reason why Kennedy and Krushchev had only been able to achieve a Limited rather than a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban in 1963. This physicist's initiative also provided a precedent for many other arms- control agreements that required on-site inspections for their verification. We do not yet have a Comprehensive Test Ban but hopefully we soon will.

Velikhov's and Sagdeev's Committee had a second great triumph in 1986, when they persuaded Gorbachev not to try to launch a Soviet "Star Wars" program. They produced an analysis that concluded that any such system could be neutralized at much less cost by countermeasures. Gorbachev accepted this conclusion and announced that the USSR response to the U.S. "Star Wars" program would be asymmetric. This undermined the U.S. program, which at that time desperately needed a Soviet competitor as an argument against domestic critics such as Richard Garwin.

Detecting warheads

But the high-water mark for Soviet nuclear glasnost was when Velikhov borrowed a Soviet nuclear warhead for a follow-on joint demonstration with the NRDC. One of the major obstacles to completing the START I Treaty was the problem of sea-launched cruise missiles. Russia wanted to define them as strategic weapons. The U.S. resisted, arguing that it would be impossible to verify whether a sea-launched cruise missile had a conventional or nuclear warhead. A joint study by Sagdeev's Committee and the Federation of American Scientists concluded that, in fact, the radiation from a nuclear warhead could be detected.

Tom Cochran therefore proposed that Velikhov obtain a nuclear-armed cruise missile for a joint demonstration with the NRDC. Much to our surprise, Velikhov did so and, in July 1989, we found ourselves on a Soviet nuclear-armed cruise-missile carrier off of Yalta in the Black Sea with physicist Steve Fetter of the University of Maryland's School of Public Affairs, measuring the spectrum of gamma rays coming out of a Soviet nuclear warhead.

In the end, this demonstration did not have a major impact on START I. However, it did help lay the basis for interest in negotiations on verification of warhead elimination. Since March 1994, the U.S. and Russia have been negotiating arrangements for verifying that a container contains a plutonium "pit" from a dismantled warhead using the same techniques that were pioneered in the Black Sea demonstration.

The killer laser and a fissile materials ban

On that same trip, Velikhov also arranged for the U.S. nongovernmental group, which included 3 Congressmen and reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post as well as Tom Cochran and myself, to make two other important first visits. The first was to a facility at the Soviet ABM test site at Sary Shagan in Kazakhstan that had been a centerpiece in U.S. government exposes of a Russian "Star Wars" program. This facility allegedly contained a huge multi-megawatt laser capable of destroying U.S. satellites and perhaps even reentry vehicles.

Velikhov flew us out to Sary Shagan in the private airplane of the Soviet Minister of Defense. When I asked him how he had managed to get the aircraft, Velikhov, who was then a member of the Supreme Soviet, responded that the Minister was up before the Supreme Soviet for confirmation. We inspected the facility and found that it contained only a set of 100-Watt ruby lasers and a 20- kW CO2 laser, not the megawatt-class lasers that the Defense Intelligence Agency had conjured up. This proved that we were in a new era where on-site inspections could be an antidote to worst-case conclusions based only, in this case, on the size of a building.

The group was also taken to see the first two Russian military plutonium production reactors which had just been shut down. Later that year, in part because of Velikhov's efforts, Gorbachev embraced a proposal which was being promoted by the U.S. arms-control community, namely a ban on the production of fissile materials for weapons. Four years later, in September 1993, President Clinton embraced the proposal as well and negotiations are expected to begin in Geneva this June.

Frank von Hippel is Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Employment Issues: Engineering Physics

Richard Wilkins

This article is based on one of the talks at the invited symposium "Employment Issues for Physicists" held at the APS March 1994 Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. Another article from this symposium, "Physicists and Public Policy" by H. Keith Florig, appeared in the January 1995 issue.

Anyone who has received their physics Ph.D. in the past seven years or so has been concerned with the traditional job market for such an education. Often circumstances dictate consideration of non- traditional career avenues. It seems that the entire physics community has been soul searching for a better understanding of the community's role in society, looking for ways to better function in and contribute to it. Perusal of the Physics Today letters section will provide a somewhat gray (downright black in some instances) background for these statements. Thus it is not surprising that the APS session "Employment Issues for Physicists," that included speakers educated in physics but now employed in diverse fields, was well attended.

Of the speakers, I am currently employed in the most traditional position for a Ph.D. physicist, as a research scientist at a university laboratory. As such, the message I brought to thesession was that there is still hope for those who wish to remain in research, but the research might be in an applied science area and/or have some demonstrable economic importance. I described a growing incentive to be involved in research that contributes to scientific understanding yet enhances the nation's competitiveness. The term for this idea at that time was "dual-use". My position at the Center for Applied Radiation Research (CARR) at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) has allowed me to interact with people from many disciplines and teach courses in the electrical engineering department. Figure 1 shows the inter-disciplinary nature of CARR. CARR serves as a national facility for radiation science, especially in space related applications, and as a liaison between PVAMU and outside institutions. Most importantly, given that PVAMU is a historically black university, CARR is a vehicle (no pun intended) for increasing minority participation in science and technology. Such university organizations, involving multiple investigators, departments and colleges, appear to be a growing trend and are apparently considered an efficient way of distributing research funds.

My job has given me the chance to learn how to set up a clean room, fabrication processes for electronic devices, new electronic materials, test and characterization methods for electronic devices, and many other things. My training as a physicist lets me identify problems that are important to the application at hand and has made me a valuable asset in finding solutions. And my physics background helps me recognize opportunities for fundamental research extracted from these problems. This is hardly surprising, as physicists have always been valuable contributors to many enterprises. As economic and social pressures increase, I believe there will be more participation by physicists in diverse fields. It has been my experience that this will lead to satisfying opportunities that will ultimately be to our advantage.

As an example of the dual-use concept mentioned above, I showed in the APS session some overheads from a paper, entitled "Ilmenite as a Dual-Use Material," that I presented to the Dual-Use Space Technology Transfer Conference at the NASA Johnson Space Center. Ilmenite is an iron titinate abundant in moon rock, and has recently been grown in large single crystals. It is a wide, apparently direct, band-gap semiconductor. As such, it has a number of possible applications of interest to NASA including radiation hardened electronics and photovoltaic cells. For industrial application, its potential lies in laser diodes, sensors, and high temperature and power electronics. These "dual-use" applications were carefully outlined by my colleagues and me when preparing the overheads for the talk. At my urging, we included a viewgraph entitled "Why is it interesting?" that outlined the scientifically intriguing aspects of this material. This reflects my belief that, as a physicist, I should not shy away from my inherent interest in a topic from a fundamental physics standpoint. It seems obvious that this curiosity is an asset to be shared and exploited. I feel that even the hint of intellectual denial and dishonesty will likely be viewed with contempt by technologists and business people, as well as by the general public.

Within the past month I talked with a physics Ph.D. friend who no longer works in physics but has been quite successful in other endeavors. He was at that APS session, while still working on his Ph.D. He mentioned that the message he remembered from my talk was "persistence is the most valuable thing" in your pursuits. I still believe this to be true.

The author is at the Center for Applied Radiation Research, Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, Texas 77446.

Ballistic Missile Defense Negotiations

Peter B. Lerner

The following article was written in response to "Why No Progress in AMB/TMD Negotiations?" by Alvin M. Saperstein, which appeared in the October 1995 issue.

I agree with Saperstein's main conclusion, that the refusal to negotiate mutually acceptable limits on tactical missile defenses will be detrimental to strategic stability, and that "unilateral actions are not usually conducive to the building of communities, whether domestic or international." However, Saperstein sees the negotiations as a way to legitimize anti-ballistic missile technology because he exaggerates its military value and underestimates potential problems connected with its accelerated development. In the following article I re-examine those presumptions.

Costs of theater missile defenses

Saperstein outlines the dangers inherent in continuing uninhibited development of theater missile defense (TMD) in an outmoded Cold War paradigm: "If there is no agreement, TMD systems will probably still be deployed, with each side acting unilaterally, but the relationship between the two countries will be based more on weapons than on negotiations." Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proponents, like Richard Perle, argue that Russia has neither the technology nor the financial resources to develop a similar system and thus precipitate a new round of the arms race, so "who gives a s--- about the ABM [anti ballistic missile] treaty? We could walk away from it--there is no way it could produce consequences. The Russians are not going to start an offensive- missile-building program. And if they did, it'd make no difference (1)."

However, if the assessment of the current state of Russian technology and economy by the missile defense buffs is correct, this should underline the necessity of TMD limitations much more than Sapirstein's argument. Indeed, Russia will probably respond not by futile attempts to imitate American TMDs based on high precision kinetic-kill interceptors but by a few much more obvious and dangerous steps.

First, it will probably scrap the START II treaty, thus forsaking elimination of many of its deliverable nuclear warheads. It is quite amazing that proponents of missile defenses, who coincidentally are among the authors of doomsday scenarios for the political future of Russia, are willing to endanger the elimination of MIRVed missiles under the START II treaty, when one SS-18 regiment has a larger number of more powerful warheads than any thinkable clandestine nuclear force.

Second, Russia could embark on a program of modernization of offensive weapons in order to compensate for its increased vulnerability resulting from American capacity to protect its own vital targets. The threat to the US is not that Russia can outdo it in offensive nuclear potential. Rather, the resumption of large-scale nuclear activities in a vast, unstable and relatively poor country will raise concerns for nuclear proliferation and accidents, as well as upset Russia's current attempts to stabilize itself. Poor discipline of the Russian military, widespread corruption in the nuclear design labs, and the demise of the security services, would only compound the gravity of the situation.

Third, because Russia hardly can be expected to develop high- precision kinetic-kill interceptors for its own TMD, a potential Russian system would rely instead on large numbers of nuclear- tipped interceptors with much higher tolerance for guidance errors (2). A mobile system of this kind will be necessarily less protected from attack by terrorists, more susceptible to clogging of communication channels and technical malfunction, and will constitute an even higher threat of nuclear proliferation, unauthorized launch, or accident than Russian offensive missiles. The losses to American security because of increased proliferation risks due to transportation, testing and storage of large numbers of relatively portable, hastily designed and poorly protected nuclear warheads, which the Russians will be forced to deploy, will greatly exceed any potential benefit from TMD. This underlines the schizophrenic quality inherent in all proposals for missile defenses: They improve stability only to the degree to which the other side (supposedly, the wicked aggressor--otherwise there is no need for defenses) not only subscribes to American strategic thinking but pursues strictly symmetric technological policies as well.

Fourth, Sapirstein's argument is formulated for a bipolar world which no longer exists. He ignores the probable reaction of other nuclear powers. Currently, France and China do not go beyond "minimal deterrence" despite obvious technical and economic capacities for further nuclear build-up. However in the "brave new world" dominated by defensive systems, they will see the cumulative value of their nuclear arsenals, as a deterrent and as the source of bargaining power, to be diminished. In order to retain the relative political leverage that they get from their status as nuclear powers, China and France are likely to respond by accelerated enlargement of their own quantity and assortment of nuclear weapons. China has already voiced its concerns with respect to the proposed deployment of TMD in Japan. French leadership may reassess its nuclear posture because, of all states, it regards nuclear potential not so much as a response to a particular foreign threat, but rather as a membership fee to the club of great powers, to which France otherwise wouldn't belong.

To summarize: potential losses from the unconstrained development of American TMDs include an impediment to strategic arms limitations, proliferation concerns resulting from resumption of large-scale Russian nuclear activities and, consequently, the increased risk of subversion or diversion of its nuclear materials and components, and an accelerated nuclear build-up by France and China. What are the benefits?

Benefits of Theater Missile Defenses

Sapirstein states that "there is a good reason to believe that much more capable (in range, accuracy, load, ease in rapid and covert firing) missiles will soon be available around the world" (3). First, there is a confusion between the threat from ballistic missiles with nuclear and conventional warheads. In fact, ballistic missiles are relatively imprecise (US MX warheads have inaccuracies of about 90 m and this is considered by open sources as almost theoretical limit for such weapons. Even the most sophisticated Russian ICBMs have inaccuracies >250-400 m and throw the weight--typically not exceeding 1000 kg for theater missiles and 2500 kg for strategic missiles--much smaller than the payload of modern combat aircraft easily available on the world arms market (4). The weapon is not reusable. Even if, improbably, a third world country accumulates a large stock of missiles for repeated artillery-style missile barrages, accurate correction of fire is impossible without a sophisticated system of real-time battlefield reconnaissance integrated with the missile retargeting and command system. Even Russia doesn't have that, not to speak of the "rogue nations." Such a system may, in principle, rely on high-altitude reconnaissance and track-and-relay aircraft instead of satellites, but this will devalue the main advantage of ballistic missiles--simplicity, decentralization, covert action and attack on short notice--and it is out of reach for third world powers with or without a satellite component. To justify a threat which warrants a crash development of the TMDs one should suppose the emergence, in the near future, of the rogue power with missile and command, control, and communication technology on a par with the United States and vastly superior to that of Russia and China. This is utter nonsense.

The abovementioned combination of liabilities renders conventionally armed ballistic missiles totally unsuitable for attack on combat-ready formations. In fact, ballistic missiles with conventional warheads can be used only as a terror weapon against urban agglomerations (as in both Gulf Wars) or against other large and soft stationary targets such as airfields, railroad hubs, naval bases and radar networks. The protection of stationary outposts of forward deployment is the only imaginable military function which can be performed by TMDs. This limited task of protection from ballistic missiles with range < 900 km requires a TMD tested against missiles with re-entry velocity up to 3 km/s, which can be designed in a much more multi-purpose fashion, with improved capabilities against aircraft, "smart bombs," antiship missiles and cruise missiles.

On the contrary, even imprecise nuclear warheads can be quite deadly and cost efficient. However, the function of protection against nuclear attack has been successfully performed by nuclear deterrence. If deterrence is thought not to be sufficient, then recent progress in conventional munitions and delivery systems allows U.S. military commanders to disrupt the command and control functions of an opponent, and threaten high-value targets such as leaders and their families or nuclear research facilities, without resorting to nuclear weapons. Indeed, rogue leaders will hardly be impressed by destruction of unmanned vehicles by an American interceptor over some desert or ocean space so much as by the threat of obliteration of themselves and their families, or destruction of their structures of totalitarian control over their wretched nations--e.g. headquarters of secret police or state propaganda establishments. Indeed, the value of nuclear deterrence has been proven by forty years of the Cold War. Successful strikes against the headquarters of Iraq's secret police and similar high-value "civilian" targets, and the miserable results of "Scud-hunting," underscored the efficiency of conventional retaliation with high-precision munitions versus more esoteric strategies.

Besides, there is an obvious but little-mentioned difference in the performance criteria for anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. Because a combat aircraft is a reusable, multi-purpose vehicle, manned by trained pilots, which by itself is a valuable asset and is much more expensive than a surface-to-air missile, its intercept always makes sense even after the aircraft has performed a combat mission, or even if its mission fails for reasons other than air defenses, e.g. weather. Thus a hypothetical air defense system intercepting 10% of modern aircraft is a great success, while an ABM system with such capacity is a flop. Missile defenses, to provide efficient deterrence against nuclear missile attack, need to satisfy unrealistic performance criteria such as intercept of almost 100 % of incoming missiles independently of the size of opponent's offensive potential. This dire picture of the usefulness of missile defense doesn't even take into account the possibilities for countermeasures on the side of an attacker. The 1972 ABM Treaty provided very little incentive for either the Soviet Union or the USA to invest seriously in defense-busting technologies, such as exotic trajectories, final-stage maneuverability and stealth features, to name a few.

The last-ditch argument of TMD proponents is that they are necessary because allied nations can be allegedly blackmailed, by foreign missile threat, into policies contravening that of the U.S. Their real value is most clearly indicated by the fact that Germany and Japan, which Saperstein states "now believe that an effective defense--is technologically feasible," remain lukewarm, despite their geopolitical situation and American basing presence (5). They prefer to rely on American nuclear deterrence (bankrolled by the U.S. taxpayers as well) instead.

The potential gains from TMD are thus restricted to small, densely populated nations in hostile environments, nations such as Israel or Taiwan. The value of TMDs for the U.S. is limited to the protection of large (> 1 km) stationary objects of forward deployment unless one conceives missile attack on the early warning radars--from Canada, and similar scenarios of the lunatic fringe. This limited goal doesn't warrant mothballing an ABM Treaty with unpredictable and potentially dire consequences. In short, the situation with TMDs closely resembles the situation with mine warfare--it is real, though the military advantages are fairly limited, while its potential for wreaking havoc in international relations is immense and none of the big states ever put serious bets on it anyway.

Domestic political debate

Congressional opponents of TMD limitations and perhaps some members of the Administration regard TMD not in their literal meaning as a system that can protect American troops on the battlefield. They think of it as a device of implicit abrogation of the ABM Treaty, i.e. as a Trojan horse for a resuscitated SDI, because TMD unlike the SDI has some technical merit and isn't just a PR hoax. The SDI was basically a nostalgic idea to return the US to the pre- WWII position of strategic invulnerability. As such, it retains some glamour with Buchanen-style isolationists dreaming of "Fortress America" which, in their thinking, can be spared the problems of the outside world through the use electronic gadgetry. The vitality of strategic defense is purported by pollsters and supposed experts with majors in law and political science and is completely unrelated to progress in technology or changes in military strategy.

However, there is little chance that the development of TMD with the deliberate aim at thwarting the ABM Treaty can be successfully opposed in the current political climate. The driving force behind it is a macho posturing with respect to foreign nations, posturing that especially appeals to rustic constituencies who are poorly acquainted with the outside world, and to the college kids brimming with testosterone, --two very important target groups for the current makeup of the U.S. Congress, and it has more to do with Freud than Clausewitz. Because such posturing deliberately ignores national security arguments in favor of displays of patriotic fervor there is little chance that it can be mitigated by sober analysis of TMD's costs and benefits.

A rational goal would be to dismantle the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and to distribute approximately the same amount of money to the Air Force, Navy and the Army to develop technologies which will be more suitable to their needs and in strict compliance with the ABM Treaty. However, the notion of "compliance" has been deliberately watered down by "re- interpretation" (D.C. parlance for the dismissal of international treaty obligations because of domestic political expediency). Meanwhile, there is no convincing demonstration of the deterrent value of defenses against realistic threats, for example a hypothetical country possessing several hundred missiles of SCUD (ballistic) and/or Silkworm (cruise) type.

This limited objective of hedging theater missile defenses against other priorities of military R&D instead of providing them as "free gift" to the services on top of their demands, will help mend fences between the arms control community, which acknowledges the value of the treaties and those elements in the Pentagon who actually would benefit from restructuring the programs. Finally, despite low priority for arms control and initial gloomy predictions, recent years brought an unprecedented success in the extension of the Non Proliferation Treaty, alignment of the nuclear powers on the question of a Comprehensive Test Ban, and the nuclear disarmament of Soviet successor-states (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus). Maybe in the case of BMDs as well, the combination of budgetary constraints, proliferation concerns and military rationality will prevail in the end.


1.	Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker 26 Sept. 1994, 98. 
2.	Historically, Soviet air defense systems relied on nuclear-
	tipped missiles much more than the US ones.  See e.g. E. 
	Luttwak, S. Koehl, The Dictionary of Modern War, (Harper 
	Collins, 1991), 255-258.  
3.	The argument of this section closely follows the treatment in 
	John R. Harvey, International Security  Fall 1992, 47.  The fact 
	that in a real third world there are severe constraints other 
	than technology and cost (e.g. rivalry between armed services 
	preventing allocation of resources in an optimum way) will, in 
	my view, further limit the opportunities provided by the 
	possession of ballistic missiles.  
4.	The Nonproliferation Review Fall 1993, 56-59. 
5.	Ironically, the entire German budget for military procurement 
	is less than the U.S. budget for ballistic missile defenses alone.  

The author is at 108 Osmond Lab, University Park, PA. This article expresses the private opinion of its author. It cannot be associated with any agency, present or past employer of an author, nor is it a result of any research performed under government or private contract or auspices. The address is provided exclusively for identification.