Russell E. Hershey,
INT: That's great. Can I ask you for an idiot's guide to a MIRV, in the sense that... a lot of people have talked about MIRVs and the phrase "the re-entry vehicle", and I think to a lay audience...
HB: Well, yes. A MIRV - Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicle is a warhead plus a nose-cone that allows it to re-enter the atmosphere without burning up, plus a sufficiently separate guidance system, not necessarily in the re-entry vehicle itself but in the final stage of the ballistic missile, so that it can release each individual warhead, or re-entry vehicle, aiming it at a different target. That's what a MIRVed system is.
INT: So what would be the maximum number of warheads a single missile could carry?
HB: Well, in principle it could go to a very large number. In practice, 10 is feasible, and has been the case on some systems.
INT: So, the last part of the interview. Can we talk about SALT, in fact, the first SALT? What was the motivation for SALT? We come to the end of, well, '67-68 - why now? (Overlap)
HB: Actually, the SALT talks began in '69. The Johnson Administration had agreed with the Russians to begin them, but the Russians didn't want to begin them until the new administration had come in, so they actually began in the fall of 1969, in Helsinki. That was the start of the SALT 1 talks. The US motivation was to limit Soviet strategic offensive forces, because the Soviets had continued to build their strategic offensive forces, especially their land-based missiles, to larger and larger numbers. Originally, many on the US side had felt that the Soviets, who by 1965, say, had many fewer ballistic missiles than the United States - they'd started ahead but we had overtaken them with the Minuteman program - would build up to where we were, and then would stop. That didn't happen: they kept on building, and... we thought that that would be dangerous, again producing an asymmetry that might encourage intimidation or reckless behavior; and we didn't particularly want to spend the money to keep building up to the same number they were appearing to be moving toward; and we were worried about the stability issue in that regard. They, I think, were motivated somewhat differently. We had a significant anti-ballistic missile program by then, and they, I think, overestimated its capabilities and they wanted to limit our anti-ballistic missile capability. Now, of course, in a negotiation of that sort, each side tries to maximize what it's allowed to do and minimize what the other side's allowed to do, both in offensive forces and in defensive forces. And that was the nature of the negotiation, and it took three years to get to the SALT 1 agreement, which limited ballistic missile defenses, and also limited the future growth of offences. It did not stop offences where they were, nor did it stop defenses where they were, but it limited the growth of strategic offensive forces and set a rather low limit on ballistic missile defenses. In particular, both sides agreed not to mount a nationwide defense that might be capable of preventing a strategic ballistic missile attack from succeeding. In that sense, both sides accepted the idea of mutual assured destruction, and I think that was perhaps the greatest achievement of the SALT discussions, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. The military on both sides accepted that they could no longer protect their own country from destruction entirely by their own means; they were relying on the rationality of the other side, or the sense of politicians in avoiding a series of escalating confrontations that would lead to a strategic nuclear exchange, because a strategic nuclear exchange would mean both sides would be destroyed.
INT: Excellent answer. MIRVs weren't an issue at SALT - or they weren't in any of the final agreements. Was that, in hindsight, a mistake?
HB:. There were some limitations in the SALT 2 agreement, as a matter of fact, although they were modest. And there were substantial MIRV limitations in the START agreements. By the time SALT 1 really began to deal with MIRVs, the US program was far along. The testing program was well along. The deployments had not fully been implemented; they were not very far along. The Soviets had not gotten nearly that far. For that reason, they were unwilling to freeze things where they were; and the US was unwilling to accept what the Soviets proposed, which was a ban on deployments, but inadequate verification of testing and deployment. And so I don't think it would have been possible by that time to ban MIRVs, given the political situation as it then existed. It wasn't until the START agreements were negotiated, by which time the political relationship was very different, that it became possible to undo some of the MIRV deployments that had taken place. If MIRVs were to be arrested, it would have had to be done before we reached the point at which we were when the SALT 1 talks got to that su.
INT: On a personal level, what were the Russians like to deal with?
HB: They varied. The person with whom I dealt most was an engineer, which gave us a common vocabulary, and to some degree a common vocabulary, mostly in French, which is what we talked in, since he didn't have English and I didn't haRussian. But that also gave us to some degree a common view of life and of the world, and for that reason I think they were rather good personal relations. And I think that was also true, on a professional level, of the military men, even though they, on both sides, felt themselves more at the point of conflict. It took quite a while, I think, for us to recognize that... we started from different points on issues of whether the prospect of strategic war could be constrained by arms limitation. It started very much as a zero sum approach, and for many of the people involved, I think it ended that way too. But if you look at the outcome, it is clear, and I think it was clear to some of us then, that each side was gaining some things while giving up some things that it probably wouldn't have found very useful anyway. But the Russians were all individual people. I mean, some of the military were stone-faced. [The] then Colonel... General Ogarkov, who later became chief of general staff, was obviously a very intelligent person. He became chief of the general staff while I was Secretary of Defense, and I got to see him again then. He clearly was a very intelligent person, tough-minded, not a hail-fellow-well-met by any means. And apparently, in the 1980s he got crosswise of Mr. Brezhnev for telling him that the Soviet military was falling behind technically, and got booted out. But he was a memorable character. The head of their military research and development was an avuncular general, but also, when it came to substance, tough and not terribly communicative. The head of their delegation, Simeonov, had been their ambassador to East Germany at the time of the suppression of the 1953 uprising, so he was pretty tough. Several of these people remembered Stalin; a couple of them had worked with Mr. Beria. And yet, all of them were, in their own way, human. The sort of personal contact and rapport which it's possible to have with adversaries, I think may have caused some people to look back and say, "Well, this was all a misunderstanding. If only we'd known each other better, the Cold War might never have happened." I don't believe that myself; I think that there were two conflicting systems, and two rather different approaches to the world, but each competing for prestige, influence throughout the world. When you have the confluence of conflicting national goals and conflicting ideologies, there is going to be quite a bit of adversarial behavior, and real dangers. I think we managed our way through those over 40 years, and at least for the time being history has rendered its verdict. Did we make some mistakes? Were there some excesses? Did each side to some degree respond to what the other was doing, sometimes as a result of overestimates or mis-estimates of the other side's tactical intentions? Sure. But was it all a misunderstanding? No, it wasn't a misunderstanding.
(B/g talk re: time left)
INT: Can I ask you... one point... I spoke to Detinov when I was in Russia...
HB: Yes, yes.
INT: ... and he said...
HB: He was one of the people who was at this meeting that I mentioned to you.
INT: And one of the things he brought up was the question of... some words, in translation, became a real difficulty at times, and in fact I think he mentioned the word "develop" became a bug because...
HB: As part of the SALT discussions, the issue of what constitutes research, what constitutes development, may have caused some confusion because of language. "Development" in particular, I think... I forget what the Russian word is... meant to some of them even thinking about something. And as soon as you start trying to control laboratory work and design, the verification problem becomes impossible.
INT: In your book about that period, you had a very interesting phrase - you said that the problem of SALT 1... the thing it had achieved was in fact that it channeled the efforts of the superpowers into qualitative improvements but slowed down the quantitative; everyone then concentrated on the qualitative. Do you...
HB: Well, part of what happens when you limit numbers which are verifiable... is that efforts then go into improving quality, which is considerably harder to verify. I mean, for example, the accuracy of missiles is just as important in determining their effectiveness, especially against hardened targets, as their number; but their accuracy depends on their guidance systems, and without inspection of so intrusive a kind that even in the present state of political development and political relations it's unlikely to be acceptable, you can't say what the accuracy is, you can only deduce it from watching the other side's tests, and that's not easy to do.
INT: The last question, then, sir. Given your studies, going back a bit into the Sixties, on what was assured destruction, what did you conclude... had it ever happened, what would the first day of a thermonuclear war have brought?
HB: The nature of a thermonuclear war would have depended upon what each side decided to target. If the targets in the first day had been limited to the other side's strategic forces, then there would not have been very much destruction of cities. There still could have been quite a lot of fallout, and in that sense, the aborted civil defense, measures, in that sense, the ideas about civil defense that were pushed in the '61-62 period would actually have saved quite a few people, but there would have been immense destruction nevertheless. But the number of immediate casualties might have been... I won't say small, but not horrendous. However, if the first day had involved attacks on cities - and I think most of us believe in the end there would have been, not necessarily on the first day, attacks on cities - then it would have been just unbelievably catastrophic: I mean, tens of millions of deaths and enormous destruction. Even one thermonuclear weapon on a large city would be destructive on an almost unimaginable and unprecedented scale, at least in terms of how quickly it would happen. World War II killed 50 million people, but it didn't do it in one day, and that's a qualitative difference.
INT: Dr Brown, thank you very much indeed. Excellent...