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About the Author
Philip Taubman worked for The New York Times for thirty years as a reporter and editor, including stints as chief of both the Washington and Moscow bureaus. He has also worked at Esquire and Time magazines. He was twice awarded the George Polk Award—for National Reporting in 1981 and for Foreign Affairs Reporting in 1983. Since retiring from the Times in 2008, he has been a consulting professor at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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The PartnershipFive Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb
By Philip Taubman
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2012 Philip Taubman
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I don't think anybody would accuse these four gentlemen of being dreamers."
President Barack Obama
World leaders, including the president of the United States,
were gathering in New York in 2009 for the annual
autumn meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Vehicles cleared to enter the area around the United Nations complex
were channeled into barricaded lanes to be searched before they
could move on. Security agents manning barriers at the corner of
Second Avenue and Forty-Fourth Street sealed off the sidewalks
around the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, a half block away.
It was an eerily familiar scene for Henry Kissinger, George
Shultz, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn as they entered the polished
lobby of the hotel. Each of them had helped shape American history
during some of the most tumultuous decades of the Cold
War. In their heyday, they lived in the white light of high intensity
diplomacy and politics, surrounded by aides and blanketed in
multiple levels of security. Each played a pivotal role in building,
maintaining, and managing America's mammoth arsenal of nu-
Now they were back at center stage, animated by an improbable
causethe eradication of nuclear weapons. Though
grayer, and in some cases rounder, than during their years in
Washington, they were instantly recognizable to anyone familiar
with postwar American history.
There was Kissinger, age eighty-five, short, rumpled, enveloped
by the gravelly German accent that is his calling card, still turning
heads and cutting a power swath across the room. As Richard
Nixon's national security adviser, secretary of state, and courtier,
the precociously brilliant Harvard professor had bedazzled Washington
with high-wire diplomacy and won a Nobel Peace Prize
but lost his bearings in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the vengeful
paranoia of the Nixon White House. He had immigrated to the
United States from Germany at age fifteen and rocketed through
the academic world, propelled by a richly textured intellect, high
ambition, and a disarming, some would say solicitous, charm that
endeared him to powerful members of the eastern establishment
like Nelson and David Rockefeller. His partnership with Nixon
produced strategic breakthroughs like Nixon's 1972 trip to China
and foreign policy debacles like the expansion of American military
operations in Southeast Asia. After leaving Washington at the
end of the Ford administration, he built a profitable and influential
business as a consultant to American and foreign clients and c
circulated easily in the tony precincts of New York and Washington
He was joined at the hotel by Shultz, age eighty-eight, his posture still
as erect as that of the Marine he had been during the
bloody Pacific landings of World War II. Moving more slowly
than he once did, the former secretary of state still commanded
attention in an elegant suit, bow tie, and colorful handkerchief
tucked neatly in his breast pocket. The holder of four cabinet posts
under two presidents, he was a supremely confident, self-contained
economist and academician who as a newcomer to defense policy
helped Ronald Reagan redirect relations with the Soviet Union and
imagine a world without nuclear weapons. Shultz didn't need to
win his way into the world of Wall Street and the Ivy Leaguehe
grew up in it, the son of a well-respected New York expert on the
securities markets. Shultz was a prep school and Princeton graduate
with a Ph. D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology; he seemed equally at home in the academy and in
Washington, a man who radiated probity, pragmatism, and
Republicanism. So much so that Richard Nixon, angered by Shultz's
refusal to sic the Internal Revenue Service on White House critics,
once called him a "candy ass."
Perry followed, age eighty-two, almost lost in the shadows, his
slight frame and quiet demeanor over matched by the star power
of Kissinger and Shultz. A high-tech wizard and mastermind of
inventive Cold War weapons systems, including stealth aircraft,
he had played a pivotal role as Bill Clinton's defense secretary in
dismantling the nuclear arsenals of Ukraine and two other former
Soviet republics after the disintegration of the Soviet empire. Born
into a blue collar family in western Pennsylvania, he had parlayed
a gift for technological ingenuity and management into a successful
defense business and high powered Washington career. A man
of uncommon competence and modesty, he commanded the
respect of Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1996, Osama bin
Laden addressed a threatening poem to Perry, then secretary of
defense, shortly after calling for a jihad, or war, against American
troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.
Last came Nunn, at age seventy-two the kid of the group, his
round face accented by large, owlish spectacles, looking as if he
had just stepped off the Senate floor. A courtly, canny, gregarious
Georgia lawyer, he had became a Senate baron in the 1980s,
a putative presidential candidate and an oft-mentioned but never
appointed prospect for defense secretary or secretary of state.
Born in rural Georgia, he had followed the path of Representative
Carl Vinson, his great-uncle and political mentor, to become
an expert on military affairs and chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee. Thoughtful, hardworking, and inherently
conservative, he had played a vital role in just about every defense
issue for twenty-five years, until his retirement from the Senate in
1997. After a brief hiatus, he became co-chairman of the Nuclear
Threat Initiative (NTI), a well-funded, nonprofit organization
dedicated to reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
NTI, over time, became the secretariat for the nuclear disarmament.
campaign launched by Nunn, Shultz, Kissinger, and Perry.
They formed an unlikely quartet. Two Republicans, two Democrats,
four men who had made their way to Washington from
very different hometowns and backgrounds but shared a yen for
power and public service and a common interest in keeping America's
defenses strong. Their paths had intersected often over more
than five decades, sometimes in collaboration, sometimes in conflict.
As presidencies passed, the direct and indirect links between
the men grew as they, in effect, handed critical levers of American
foreign and defense policy back and forth across administrations.
Each in his way had played a starring role in the Cold War.
All held power at a time when American security was based on
an overpowering array of nuclear weapons designed to keep the
Soviet Union at bay and guarantee that any attack on the United
States or its allies would be met with a devastating response.
But with the end of the Cold War, the appearance of failed
states, the rise of terrorism, and the spread of nuclear know-how
and materials, Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, and Nunn grew wary of
the nuclear gospel. They stunned the world on January 4, 2007,
by calling for the elimination of nuclear arms, in a brilliantly
subversive op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal. The language was
cautious and precise, the product of days of drafting and painstakingly
negotiated revisions, but the message was unmistakable: four
eminent Cold Warriors, setting aside ideological and political
differences, favored a radical break with postwar defense strategy. It
was roughly equivalent to John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie,
J. P. Morgan, and Jay Gould calling for the demise of capitalism, or
Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Peyton Manning, and Tom
Brady saying the time had come to rid football of the forward pass.
Their reasoning was sound and, by the stolid standards of
defense patois, direct about the rising threat of nuclear terrorism.
"Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also
an historic opportunity. U.S. leadership will be required to take
the world to the next stageto a solid consensus for reversing
reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to
preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and
ultimately ending them as a threat to the world."
The men warned that with North Korea already armed with
nuclear weapons and Iran not far behind, "the world is now on
the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era." They cautioned
that terrorists with nuclear weapons, operating outside the bounds
of traditional defense theory, would not be deterred from using
them by fear of nuclear retaliation.
The article called for specific steps to decrease nuclear dangers
in the near term, including reductions in nuclear arms, eliminating
short-range nuclear weapons like nuclear-tipped artillery
shells, securing stocks of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium
and plutonium, and ending the production of fissile materials for
As the four men greeted diplomats from more than a dozen
countries in the Landmark View Conference Room on the
twenty-ninth floor of the Millennium Hotel, they were pressing
ahead with their quest to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The idea itself is not new. Almost from the moment the first
atom bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945,
scientists, statesmen, theologians, philosophers, and concerned
citizens have questioned the legitimacy of nuclear weapons as instruments
of war and politics. Albert Einstein, who alerted President
Franklin D. Roosevelt to the potential military uses of the atom
in 1939, pressed for nuclear disarmament after the destruction of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many of the Manhattan Project scientists
who built the first bombs banded together in 1945 to establish the
Federation of Atomic Scientists in hopes of preventing a nuclear
arms race. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who directed the
scientific work of the Manhattan Project, opposed development of
the hydrogen bomb.
The atmospheric testing of absurdly powerful hydrogen bombs
in the 1950s and early '60sthe largest a Soviet monster equivalent
to 50 million tons of TNT, more than three thousand times
greater than the Hiroshima bombspread radioactive fallout
around the planet, fueling public opposition to the weapons.
Anti-nuclear groups sprang up around the world. Hollywood abetted the
cause with pithy films like On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove or: How
I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The nuclear freeze
campaign, an effort to get the United States and Soviet Union not
to build any more weapons, inspired mass demonstrations in the
early 1980s, including a rally of some one million people in New
York's Central Park in 1982. The next year, the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter on War and Peace
intended, it said, "to provide hope for people in our day and direction
toward a world freed of the nuclear threat."
Starting with Harry Truman, every president has talked in
one way or another about ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
The first major effort to control the weapons came on Truman's
watch in early 1946 when Dean Acheson, undersecretary of state,
and David Lilienthal, chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority,
produced a report recommending that nuclear weapons be put
under international control. The plan died aborning in the United
Nations. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was so concerned about
nuclear war that he wrote in his diary toward the end of 1953, "As
of now the world is racing toward catastrophe."
In an eloquent address to the United Nations General Assembly
in 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, "Today, every inhabitant
of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no
longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a
nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads,
capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation
or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they
Lyndon Johnson signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) in 1968. It is an enlightened accord that, among other
things, committed the United States and other nuclear weapons
states to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures
relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and
to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete
disarmament under strict and effective international control." In
return, nations that had not already developed nuclear weapons
agreed not to do so. After signing the agreement, Johnson said,
"This is a very reassuring and hopeful moment in the relations
among nations." He described the treaty as "the most important
international agreement since the beginning of the nuclear age."
In his 1977 inaugural address, Jimmy Carter called for the
"elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth." Ronald
Reagan prized the idea and momentarily put it on the negotiating
table with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader.
The NPT treaty remains in effect today, but progress toward
disarmament has been fitful. In 1963, John Kennedy predicted that
by the 1970s, "15 or 20 or 25" nations would own nuclear weapons.
He said, "I regard that as the greatest possible danger and
hazard." He was wrong about the number, thanks in part to the
treaty. Over the decades, a number of nations that started down
the path to developing nuclear weapons gave up their programs or
plans to start one, including South Africa, Libya, Brazil, Sweden,
Norway, and South Korea.
But as this book went to press, there were still more than
22,000 nuclear warheads in nuclear arsenals around the world,
better than 90 percent of them American or Russian. And the roll
call of nuclear weapons states has grown since 1968. In addition to
the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China, all of which
are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the roster now includes
Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea, none a signatory to the
treaty. Iran appears to be next in line to join the club.
Excerpted from The Partnership by Philip Taubman Copyright © 2012 by Philip Taubman. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“This brilliant, penetrating study of nuclear threats is in the tradition of David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan. Taubman has, perhaps as importantly, unlocked the history of the war we never had. Readers will tremble at the dangers the world has faced and still faces today.”