Russell E. Hershey,
INT: Can I take you back...
INT: Can I ask you, the speech that MacNamara gave, first of all he gave it in Athens and then it later became known as the Ann Arbor Speech in '62, could you tell me a bit about that?
WK: The Athens speech, was followed by a burglarized version of it in Ann Arbor, which is a city in Michigan, where the University of Michigan is located and where MacNamara used to live before he became Secretary of Defense, but there was a semi-annual meeting of the Defense and Foreign Ministers of NATO in Athens in, I think it was November of 1961, something of that order, and MacNamara had to give a speech. And I had learned that you never asked the speaker what he wanted to talk about, because you usually got a disparate list of things that came to his mind and it then became impossible to really make a speech out of them. So I went off and drafted this thing, which dealt with the counter-force options, no cities, but also did or attempted to do two other things. Suggest to both the British and the French that their nuclear capabilities, unless they were appropriately targeted, would be a nuisance, in fact, would wreck the strategy if they started shooting at cities when we were trying to avoid cities and that therefore there should be some kind of overall control over all three of these nuclear capabilities. And then there was the first of the subsequent annual, or semi-annual, pitches for a non-nuclear build-up, those were the main themes and when the drafts were circulated in the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs said, no, then MacNamara sent it to the White House and McGeorge Bundy said, no, you can't give that and then he took it to President Kennedy and Kennedy said, great. So he gave it. And I wasn't there, but I was told that while there was a lot of disagreement with the speech, there was a considerable interest in it and that there'd been a very lively discussion about it. and then that was the end of that as far as I knew. But came this commencement address that MacNamara was scheduled to give at the University of Michigan and lo and behold, he said he wanted to do a sanitized version of the Athens speech, which I thought was an enormous mistake and refused to work on it. But as is so frequently the case when a committee works on a speech, it turns into Alice in WonderLand type of talk and so I finally got called in to sort of clean it up. And of course, when he went public with it, it was one thing to have given this kind of lecture to the allies at a top-secret level. It was quite another to come out in public [laughs] and say virtually the same thing. And of course that caused a tremendous storm of disagreement, both in London and in Paris and elsewhere, and in effect it caused embarrassment to the President, so MacNamara kind of backed away from the public... statements. It didn't change anything internally, and he used to say, since I wrote I guess most of his NATO speeches, he'd say, why don't you write me another Athens speech? Which I thought, oh my God, that's the last thing you want to do and fortunately there was nothing that exciting to talk about after that any way.
INT: Excellent answer. Just leaping around slightly, what was the reaction when China detonated its first atomic bomb?
WK: The Chinese detonation of its first atomic bomb? We knew that was going to happen, because we had... I shouldn't go into a lot of detail about our overhead capabilities, but not only were we looking at it at Loknor, which was the test site, in what North Western China, or is it South Western China? It's off toward Tibet. And the Taiwan people were flying U-2 flights over that area also. So we had a very good idea of their program. So internally it was no surprise. It was disappointment [laughs], no surprise really.
INT: But given the fact that the world had been a nuclear polarized world, did this suddenly throw strategies? Was it thought that China would be more likely to use them than either of the two super-powers?
WK: The Chinese threat, if ycan call it that, did not really evolve in any significant way, at least as far as the United States was concerned until the 1970s, at which point they did deploy a very small number of inter-continental ballistic missiles. The main problem was really for Russia itself and for Japan, SouthKorea, because they did develop, not a large number, but a certain number of intermediate medium-range ballistic missiles that could have reached those countries. But it wasn't until the seventies that they had the range to reach any part of the United States.
INT: Can I ask you why - I'm thinking here particularly around the Glassborough Conference in '67 - the idea that the Soviets might have a workable ABM system, why was that considered destabilizing?
WK: The anti-ballistic missile defense's destabilizing was that there were very straightforward counter-measures that you could take to defeat the ABM. That's true to this day. And the ratio of cost to the defender, as against the offence, was very unfavorable, in that it would cost say, like, five dollars to the defense to counter every dollar that the offence spent. And therefore the economics just strongly favored the offence and we had developed first the multiple re-entry vehicles, which were just three warheads that were shot in a cluster at a target. But then we moved to the multiple independently [laughs] targetable re-entry vehicles, the MERVs, which meant that you could get, say in the case of the Poseidon missile on the submarines, you could put ten MERVs on one warhead and you could put decoys also, so that you would throw all kinds of objects at the defense and, unless the defense were super-sophisticated, it wouldn't be able to distinguish among all of these things and so it would be exhausted in the expression of the analysts and you'd simply use up all its missiles and then come in with your main attack. so, what this was seen to mean, and there were elaborate studies done along these lines in the sixties, I don't know whether you've talked to General Glen Kent or plan to, but in any event, he did a series of studies of what were called damage limiting and what the role of bomber defenses, anti-ballistic missile defenses and shelters would do in the way of limiting damage, assuming that the Soviets would attack cities, and the bill kept running up as he tried to defend against increasing Soviet numbers of warheads and it just looked very unattractive and I don't know whether Kent argued it, but MacNamara argued that what you were doing was just accelerating the arms race, by, if you put up an ABM, the other side would put up more offence and then you added to your ABM more offence and back and forth it would go to no apparent purpose.... just a lot more money and maybe greater danger as these inventories grew.
INT: Excellent answer. What do you think of the SALT talks? In the history of the Cold War, how important were the SALT talks?
WK: The SALT talks... that's a difficult... question to answer. They didn't really make a major difference in what the two sides wanted to do. I mean, both sides, I think, recognized, for example - this was not SALT, but the ABM treaty, which was probably the most important of those treaties really of the seventies - but what the SALT talks primarily did was to remove from the consideration those things that neither side really wanted to do, but might have been forced into doing by one faction or another in each country. They didn't really make a big difference in controlling the numbers.
INT: Do you think by not including MERVs in the final agreements, that they lost a huge opportunity in that period?
WK: The MERV... issue... they probably missed something, but it's not at all clear that there could have been any kind of an agreement, because the inspection clauses would have had to have been very intrusive, which at that time was still a big problem and not just on the Soviet side.
INT: Final three questions. We spoke earlier and said we're off to Spain, was there any reaction amongst your, certainly MacNamara and his colleagues on the Palomarez Incident in 1966?
WK: Well, it was one of a series. There was also a bad one in Thule in Greenland, where a great deal of plutonium was spilled as a bomb was dropped and broke into pieces. And there was a long history, which was written up on a classified basis in the early sixties on various accidents where bombs had been stripped of a lot of their safety gadgets and so on. And, you know, there were weird incidents, such as on navy ships, sailors taking hammers to bombs wondering, God knows what, but what would happen if they really hit a nuclear weapon with a hammer.... fortunately, nothing happened. But with the combination of Palomarez and... Thule, MacNamara ended the airborne alert. The Strategic Air Command was keeping about one sixteenth of its bombers on airborne alert on a continuous basis, armed, and there were also some rather troubling cases of their flying into the Mediterranean, which is why the accident over Spain occurred, and running up to the Black Sea and sort of thumbing noses at the Russians. A lot of crazy things went on, on both sides, and so the airborne alerts were ended and that was to my recollection at least, the major change, but a continued effort to increase the safety of the weapons themselves, so that this kind of accident would be less likely to occur or result in any kind of detonation,...
INT: Something that you mentioned to Tessa when she was talking to you earlier, that you said the Soviets had stolen the wall plans in Paris. What's the story behind that?
WK: The Russians... I don't remember the details and I was undoubtedly told this, but there was a courier who had the SIOP, that I guess was being taken to General Lemnitzer or somebody in the early sixties, and I don't even remember how it happened, but the Russians got hold of the SIOP and this subsequently became known. to my knowledge or recollection, this didn't make any significant difference in the actual planning, but it meant that they knew about how we saw this business and I think those of us who were involved, felt, well, it's not a bad idea. Wouldn't have done that deliberately, but given the relative automaticity of this business, where the assumption is that you have no time in which to rethink plans or redesign them, so that everything has to be done in advance, you really want people to think about these issues and work out what we thought at the time at least was the logic of it for themselves, so that they would see that that was the reasonable way to proceed with these weapons, and much of the effort, although I think he made a lot of mistakes, that MacNamara put into the nuclear planning group was meant to be, quote, educational, unquote, getting people to think about this, but Denis Healy always resisted the... [laughs] the lessons [laughs].
INT: Final two questions then sir. First of all, what was the worst moment of the Cold War for you?
WK: Berlin was the worst moment of the Cold War. I personally, although I was deeply involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, thought that the Berlin confrontation, especially after the wall went up, where you had Soviet and US tanks literally facing one another with guns pointed, that that was a much more dangerous situation than really the Cuban Missile Crisis was, although I think I'm in a minority in seeing that. But we had very clear indications mid-week of the Cuban Missile Crisis that the Russians were not really going to push this to the edge, that they were turning round ships. They were allowing us to board ships and behaving in a relatively conciliatory fashion... and you didn't get that sense in the Berlin crisis.
INT: Final question, one favor to ask after that, final question is, was the Cold War necessary?
WK: The Cold War, was it necessary? I think so, yes. We may have missed an opportunity with Khrushchev, ... I tried to have a conversation with his son, who came to the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but never really succeeded. He told me though that Khrushchev had read this book that I did for MacNamara and wavery intrigued with the thinking in it and I sort of feel that there were real possibilities with Khrushchev, although he may not have been able to sustain it and in any event, the war in Vietnam sort of put an end to it. People have forgotten that we had an agreement with them to reduce our defense budgetsand we did it for one year. There's a funny drop that most people wonder about that occurred in 1964, but then the war wrecked all of that and poisoned the atmosphere again. But I think, given Stalin and the whole attitude about Eastern Europe and so on, it was... we had to go through some of it, whether we had to go through all of it, I think, is open to some question, but it's done [laughs], thank God.
INT: Because it's such a fascinating story... If you could just tell me in more condensed form the Power story with the two Americans, one Russian thing, just to help me with my editing. If I could just phrase it to you as a question. When you were giving a briefing to General Power, what was the point of conflict that you had?
WK: General Power insisted that the only way to deal with these Barbarians was to blow them all up and I said, but who's going to win that? And he said, I would be satisfied if there were just two Americans left and one Russian, that would be... we would have won. And I said, well there'd better be one of them a woman and then he stormed out of the room.
INT: Excellent, thank you very much indeed...
END OF INTERVIEW