BOB RIGG’S REVIEW OF “THE DEAD HAND”, WITH DISCUSSION
Review of the Dead Hand: Reagan, Gorbachev and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race
by David E Hoffman
The picture painted of the Cold War and the arms race in this Pulitzer Prize-winning work is “terrifying”, according to John Le Carre. At the height of the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union had between them more than 50,000 nuclear warheads. This book shows how ideologically hardened political and military leaders on both sides participated in nuclear war games which President Eisenhower described as “frightening the devil out of me”. The declared aim of the US, in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, was to destroy 50% of the Soviet population and 50% of its industrial base.
The book depicts almost everyone who participated in these nuclear war games as gripped by a sense of sheer horror. Each superpower of the day had a massive capacity for overkill ensuring that, in the event of war, the other would become a human and industrial wasteland. Robert McNamara, the US secretary of state, described a strategy aiming to completely cripple the Cold War adversary as “assured destruction”. Critics of McNamara termed it mutual assured destruction, or MAD, an acronym that still resonates today.
Compounding the pervasive sense of nuclear terror was the speed with which each side could strike its opponent. The days of Hiroshima, when a lumbering bomber needed to fly for hours to reach a target, were over. Russian submarines off the East Coast of the United States could turn the White House into a pile of radioactive rubble within eight minutes. The leadership of each side knew that it would be a priority target for the other side. This made them more than slightly jumpy.
The visceral hatred and demonization which developed between the US and the Soviet Union had generated an almost complete lack of trust and a breakdown of normal diplomatic relations. Paranoia reigned supreme on both sides. At the height of mutual suspicion and paranoia each side had managed to eliminate most key agents of the other side, depriving it of reliable inside information when it was most needed.
Neither side knew with confidence how it could respond within very few minutes to the speed of a possible surprise attack. The Soviet leadership, concerned that they might be burnt to a crisp before they could press the nuclear button, even envisaged the possibility of a totally automated computerized retaliatory system, appropriately enough called the Dead Hand.
The two improbable heroes of this book are Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev, then heads of state of the US and the Soviet Union. At this time Reagan was an archetypal cold warrior and anti-communist. But as a young left-winger he had been a committed advocate of peace.
Fascinatingly, this enduring dislike of war was to encourage him to come nearer than any Western leader to committing to nuclear disarmament, in an utterly unsympathetic political/military environment.
Michael Gorbachev’s charismatic, reformist and open leadership style made him a popular figure worldwide. He knew that ambitious new programs such as a Soviet Star Wars, to counter that of Reagan, were a figment of the imagination of the all-powerful Soviet military/industrial complex.
Although Reagan did not warm to Gorbachev at first, the two slowly built a relationship of trust producing agreement in principle for total nuclear disarmament. Each was acting on his own initiative, without the support of his establishment. After protracted negotiations the deal foundered on Reagan’s insistence that the US should proceed with Star Wars, which he perceived as non-offensive. A unique window of opportunity for worldwide nuclear disarmament was lost.
Although the US and Russia have today reduced their stockpiles to 20,000 warheads, their destructive capacity far exceeds that of the 50,000 warheads available during the Cold War. Hoffman’s outstanding and fascinating work concludes with a warning that the “Dead Hand of the arms race is still alive.”
The equally fascinating and important second strand of this book meticulously dissects the duplicity of the Soviet Union’s covert biological weapons program. This was aimed at industrial scale production of the most deadly biological warfare agents, in blatant violation of a multilateral treaty which the Soviet Union had itself negotiated. It is still uncertain whether Gorbachev knew of this program ….
2. Reply from Enouranois
I note that you are impressed by the key idea that David Hoffman is trying to put over: the idea of Ronald Reagan as the man who really wanted to abolish nuclear weapons (but could only put this proposal to the Soviets on condition of their accepting the Strategic Defense Initiative).
In fact in taking this position at Reykjavik Reagan was doing nothing more than implementing the policies of Edward Teller, whose brainchild and priority the SDI was. It was Teller who wanted to lure the Soviets into accepting this putative anti-missile system by using the bait of universal nuclear disarmament. This involved their accepting the absurdity of signing an agreement for the construction of an anti-missile system to destroy the missiles whose abolition was simultaneously being proposed.
It was typical Teller mind-breaking methodology, and because the SDI was not only an anti-missile system but a preliminary conception for a multi-purpose directed energy weapons system, (later embodied in the ground-based HAARP and its counterparts elsewhere in the world), it continued after the "end of the Cold War", when Teller put forward at the same time assertions of anthropogenic climate change scepticism and proposals for a geoengineering scheme to "solve anthropogenic climate change".
One early report on these schemes of Teller was this video by William Thomas
It was superseded by conceptually less confused analyses later, but these later accounts pay less attention to Teller, as his life recedes further into the past.
As for the biological warfare component of "The Dead Hand", it is natural that people whose way of thinking has been consumed by scenarios of "deterrence" should imagine that biological warfare could provide a superior form of "deterrence" to nuclear weapons, whose total lack of deterrent capacity, owing to the development of "counterforce" strategies, was shown first in the Cuban Missile Crisis and then secondly, and more conclusively, in the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Andre Gromyko's comments are something you don't mention in your review but I see them as the central message of the book: the message the author wishes to conceal not disclose. "We made more and more nuclear weapons. That was our mistaken position, absolutely mistaken. And the political leadership bears the entire blame for it. Tens of billions were spent on production of these toys. We did not have the brains to stop."
That was the view of the last of the Soviet Old Guard. Yeltsin tried but failed to implement policies of unilateral Soviet nuclear disarmament. His successor Putin proceeded with implementation of American policies regarding Russian (or "Russian"?) nuclear weapons, I.e. continuation of the same old game.
Rather than inventing or believing fairy tales about Ronald Reagan, if anyone is to be rehabilitated that should surely be Yeltsin, whose image as a pathetic drunken deadbeat comes from the period subsequent to his failure to implement his policies on what was probably the only positive element in his programme: elimination of the shocking and disastrous military heritage of the Cold War, including the Soviet nuclear arsenal, whose 95% unilateral elimination Yeltsin recommended in the Russian Duma on 3rd September 1991. People forget how much Gorbachev relied on Yeltsin during the attempted August 1991 coup: how he maintained his self-confidence in the face of the demoralization of almost everyone around him including his wife through the faith that at least Yeltsin was someone he could depend on. And after the coup, when Yeltsin had de facto displaced Gorbachev at the head of the emerging new polity, and Bush was perhaps feeling pangs of conscience at America's betrayal of Gorbachev, he proposed that he, Gorbachev and Yeltsin should all appear on prime time American television to give the USA, and Yeltsin, a good image. And Gorbachev accepted.
3. From Aaron Tovish
Thank you for (at last!) being more specific about Yeltsin's declaration. Do you have a translation of his speech to the Russian Duma on 3 September 1991? He was, of course, President of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic at that time (i.e. not in charge of the nuclear forces) while Gorbachev was President of the Soviet Union (although greatly weakened by the coup); and the Russian Duma was still beneath the Supreme Soviet. Are you aware of any proposal of this nature from him after he became President of the Russian Federation?
One further point, I have looked at the government documents from Reykjavik and see no mention of the abolition of nuclear weapons by the Americans. (I have only scanned some of the documents so I may have missed a passing reference.) The Reagan position is very clear: eliminate the delivery of nuclear weapons by missiles. In that context SDI is a disincentive to return to missile systems. He wanted to rely entirely on the airplane delivery so that they could be called back in case a last-minute agreement could be reach before all hell broke loose. So there was a 'logic' to the proposal. It was probably also hugely to the US advantage as they had forward based air attack systems much closer to Moscow than Russia did to Washington. But my point is that Reagan was never an abolitionist even rhetorically. I really wonder how that idea took root?
P.S.: I have zero interest in talking about HAARP.
4. Reply to Aaron Tovish
My reference for Yeltsin's position in September 1993 is New Left Review 189, an article by Robin Blackburn entitled "Russia should be looking East, not West", which contains on p. 137 the statement that "On 3 September Yeltsin called for massive reductions in missile stocks and indicated that Russia might take unilateral action to bring their stockpile down to 5 percent of its previous level." I don't have a translation of Yeltsin's speech, nor is it easy for me to acquire that kind of documentation. It would be much easier for someone in your position, would it not?
One person who would be able to provide a lot of information, I am sure, would be the French Defence Minister of the time, Pierre Joxe, who was involved in negotations with Yeltsin on nuclear weapons after the defeat of the August coup and who made the public statement that "France will not be the first to put on the brakes if there is a large world-wide movement for nuclear disarmament." But no such world wide movement arose. In fact there was not a peep from the anti-nuclear movements at this crucial conjuncture. I did what I could through deluging CND, END and E.P. Thompson with letters and agitating in the parliamentary office of the ecologists in Athens, at a time when they had one parliamentarian (she later helped the anti-chemtrails campaign get off the ground in Greece). I also tried to persuade a public meeting of Greek Communist Party activists that Soviet nuclear weapons should be abolished unilaterally. In fact at that time I even spoke on the telephone with the man who is now Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, and told him there had to be unilateral Soviet nuclear disarmament. He said he agreed with me. But there was no mechanism for implementing such ideas and I doubt that Papandreou would have been motivated seriously to try to implement a notion that was so far in advance of public consciousness. I was not in a position to do so, since the only mechanism that was theoretically available to me were the party organs of the Greek Ecologists-Alternatives. Their parliamentarian did not have the self-confidence to impose herself on the fiercely Marxist intellectuals manning their secretariat. My arguments from the floor did not win majority support, though they did have the result of giving some people in the parliamentary office of the Greek Ecologists the bright idea of sending a telex to the Leningrad Greens to sound them out.
To take up the points you raise on Reykjavik, let me just transcribe pp. 265-6 of "The Dead Hand":
"Then Reagan suddenly took everything further than it had ever gone before. An incredible moment in the history of the Cold War arrived abruptly, without any warning, without preparation, without briefing papers or interagency process, without press conferences or speeches, in the small room overlooking the bay.
"Let me ask this," Reagan inquired. "Do we have in mind - and I think it would be very good - that by the end of the two five-year periods all nuclear explosive devices would be eliminated, including bombs, battlefield systems, cruise missiles, submarine weapons, intermediate-range systems, and so on?"
Gorbachev: "We could say that. List all those weapons."
Shultz: "Then let's do it."
Reagan's proposal was, by any measure, the most concrete, far-reaching disarmament initiative by a U.S. president ever to be formally submitted in a superpower summit negotiation. It was not a throwaway line. If earlier he had talked about eliminating ballistic missiles, or been imprecise or cloudy about what was under discussion, at this moment he swept away any doubts and clearly proposed total nuclear disarmament."
As for HAARP, Aaron, you are not telling me anything new when you say you have zero interest in talking about it. Yet the fact remains that Leuren Moret and a number of other people are claiming that the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster was deliberately caused by directed energy weapons.
The claim is being disputed, including by people who have been close to Moret on other subjects, e.g. Doug Rokke, who like Moret has campaigned against depleted uranium. He says that the earthquake's epicentre was too deep in the earth for the quake to have been caused by a weapon. But just as in 1991 the anti-nuclear movement ignored Yeltsin and what he was trying to do, so today the anti-nuclear movement is ignoring BOTH sides of the debate over whether HAARP or some other directed energy weapon was or was not responsible for Japan's nuclear disaster.
Moret is therefore largely preaching to the converted, and those "converted" are in their majority people of libertarian and "patriotic" disposition who are only too willing to believe the worst when individuals such as the Russian nationalist Zhirinovsky join the discussion that the anti-nuclear movement is ignoring
and get good patriots speculating whether Fukushima could have been produced by a RUSSIAN directed energy weapon.
So it looks as if we could be gearing up for a whole new round of a Cold War that is the mirror image of the nuclear arms race, where the technique is not to scare the life out of your opponent with threats of nuclear Armageddon but to do the exact opposite and allow it to be inferred that it is either Mother Nature or "the other side" that is to blame.
And once again, earth-shattering events pass the anti-nuclear movements by. They are simply not perceived.
It seems you were wrong about what Reagan proposed in Reykjavik, Aaron. Over to you.