Speech by Academician Roald Sagdeev at the coference of the Luxembourg Forum in Geneva

Thank you, Vladimir! The very fact that we start this meeting of the forum almost at the same time as, as mass media calls, historic meeting in Singapore is very symbolic. But I have to proclaim that the choice of the date for this meeting in Geneva was made long before any hint of meeting in Singapore, and long before exchange of love letters between Kim and Trump.

The second thing which I would like to comment, related to this meeting, is the use of the notion of strategic stability. This very notion has almost disappeared from vocabulary of current nuclear power leaders and actors in the area. And you can follow recent speeches by some of these leaders, they would talk about nuclear balance or nuclear parity, avoiding the notion of strategic balance. But there is a subtle, but very important difference between these two notions. I remember in the spring of 1986 talking to then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Obviously, I was impressed how much homework he was doing for himself about the issue of nuclear deterrence and so on. He made a very brief remark indicating that he understood the difference between notions of nuclear parity and strategic stability. He said it in such a way: “It doesn’t need that both sides have to be armed nostril to nostril to keep the strategic stability.” It was very remarkable, as early as 1986, when post-nuclear superpowers just entered into very serious dialog, following with four important Reagan–Gorbachev summits.

Talking about importance of these summits, it’s interesting to note that the summit number four in Moscow took place almost exactly 30 years ago to today. It was at the very last couple of days of May of 1988. And this summit would enter in the history maybe not so much with specific concrete results coming out of negotiations, but out of the general spirit of what was achieved during three previous summits. And it was finally reflected in interesting remark made by President Reagan when he was stepping on the stones of the Red Square. He declared, the Cold War between United States and Soviet Union was ended. Interesting, that some of the mass media reporters the same day asked him, so what was the difference between his declaration about ending the Cold War and his famous phrase about evil empire. So he said, “I was talking on another time, another era.” It was only separated by only three years, these two particular statements by President Reagan.

So now we are separated thirty years from this famous summit in Moscow, and it looks like, unfortunately, again we are living in a different era and in a different time, with the Cold War virtually is back in our life.

So, how it happened? How did we slip from the past, to going to lower and lower nuclear weapons level, to what we came today? It’s a long sequence of actions, of events, on both sides. Based on initial mistrust, which later was increasing and amplified many more times.

Mistrust creates feeling of different perception, when you are trying to look on actions and declarations of the other side, and this is not the actions, documents or declarations which finally would enter into military plans, the building armaments(?), but these are exactly the perceptions, and this perception is now playing very important role, and we would see it from recent events and speeches by President Putin. Going back to his famous speech in Munich in 2007, where he listed most of the Russian grievances of that period, of only ten years ago.

I would like to go back to the origin of this type of mistrust and wrong, sometimes maybe wrong perceptions. Early 1980s were a scene for major intensive discussions of ABM treaty, triggered by idea of Strategic Defense Initiative. Despite of all the declarations, all the words we heard from our American counterparts, that it’s going to be purely defensive measures, even something would be delivered to the space platforms for defensive reasons, at least inside Soviet military establishment it was taken with deep mistrust. I remember – maybe some of you, at least veterans of the Cold War could remember saying statements, commentaries from some of Soviet military leaders, remember General Chervov. I think many of you still remember. They were saying that under the pretext of defensive hardware in the orbit maybe Americans are planning to deliver the offensive arms.

This was not simply perception and declaration; it was almost implemented in specific military, military-industrial plannings. As late as 1984, I remember, I was getting a phone call from prominent at that time Soviet rocketeer, Professor Glushko. He said, “I’m sending to you prepared draft, documents for very important plans to deliver a new type of technology. I need you to sign it.” I said, “I haven’t heard of it!” He said, “But your collaborators were part of the same process.” So essentially, what happened with this delivery, it was an interesting plan to develop new type of maneuverable spacecrafts, which could be approaching to potential American outlets as the outlets in space to very close distance, maybe ten meters, to sniff whether this potential platform from space would carry hydrogen warheads or not. So it was based on a very simple type of technology (rather, I would say, naïve), based on the fact that if you have hydrogen warhead, you must have lithium deuteride, and there is residual, unavoidable sublimation of light specie(?) of deuterium out of the compound, which finally would enter into nearby space, and just measuring the content of the deuterium, one could make conclusion about presence of thermonuclear warhead onboard of such platforms. So, can you imagine, how far this mistrust and suspicions went at that time?

And I looked at the draft document – there were signatures of all the major protagonists of that epoch already! Before the document would be sent to Kremlin, to the government. There was a signature of Yulii Khariton, I don’t need to comment who was this guy; there was a signature of Alexandrov, who was at that time not only president of Soviet Academy, but was also director of Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. So, what was missing was a very simple modest signature of director of Space Research Institute.

So, I took about an hour and half in the evening, trying to figure out every technological step till the using mass spectrometers to measure the content of deuterium, and what was striking – I immediately discovered, there was mistake by six orders of magnitude! They were overestimating sensitivity of then-existing mass spectrometers. So, I was so happy that this particular project finally was killed based on this simple finding.

And so finally we went back, it was 1984; next year, ’85, first summit in Geneva, which did not lead immediately to any agreement, but at least it was first serious dialog. And I was very proud that I was lucky to participate almost in every summit which Reagan and Gorbachev carried with each other.

So, talking about the whole issue of ABM, it is very important to remember that the concept of ABM, of the danger in competition between defense and offense, originally originated, was originated on American soil. And Russians largely were taken by surprise at the famous meeting, summit in Glassboro, USA, between President Johnson and Russian Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin. And Johnson was the first who told to Mr. Kosygin that defense might lead to something very bad, and why not to agree about limiting missile defenses? And first reaction of Kosygin, who was completely unprepared, was, “Defense is moral, but offense is immoral.” It took some time before Russian side was able to understand the ideas behind the concept of ABM, proposed ABM treaty of that time. And it is very important that Russian scientists played a key role in negotiating, in discussing the same concept in details with American scientists of that period. So, actually it was a follow-on after very early intervention of leading world scientists into the issues, arms control, eliminating nuclear weapons, especially pronounced during series of Pugwash conferences. The best scientists of that period were participants of these major conferences. And then it was followed on by bilateral series of meeting between scientists of United States and Soviet Union, those who were involved, some of them were part of military program, some were outsiders, amateurs, but trying to deeply understand. And I would like to commend leadership of Luxembourg Foundation, that this idea of going back to drawing board of science, how science can play a role in discussing, in bringing new ideas in this area…

Remark. And sense of humor!

Sagdeev.Yes, exactly. Also sense of humor. I agree with that, yes.

So, finally, it was lead to signing of ABM treaty, and I fully agree with Bill Perry when he mentioned so-called Nixon effect, and obviously, Nixon effect played very important role not only in initiative which Nixon undertook with China, but it also was important in signing agreements between Nixon and Brezhnev; Republican Congress was sure to support these particular treaties.

So, for number of years since then ABM treaty became cornerstone of strategic stability, like a guiding line in the process of keeping deterrence at that time. Even brief excursion, initiated by American side, about SDI, “Star Wars,” about potential to replace narrow definition of ABM treaty by extended definition, which would allow at least some first stages of Star Wars technology. So, again scientists played very important role. You may remember all the discussions of the limits on thresholds, on certain parameters of technology of all these exotic weapons and so on.

So, unfortunately, in 2002 ABM treaty – United States decided to abandon ABM treaty, and you may remember how President Bush even commented, trying to pacify Russian side, “Friends do not need treaties!” So, the question which was remained unanswered – why then friends, if they are friends, needed treaty organizations? So, that was another important argument, it finally played a big role in what we see now as renewed arms race between Russia and U.S.

So, what kind of lessons we learned since that period? Dialogs. Different type of dialogs. Not simply exchange with monologs, but really serious dialog, thinking jointly, involving experts in science community, in military community, involving such experts like Vladimir, Alexey Arbatov, Bob Legvold on American side – this is what we needed, and this is exactly what Luxembourg Forum is doing. And there are many other potential ideas, even this would not suffice. If top leaders finally would think that it’s not enough to have scientific brands(?), I have one more suggestion: let’s think in advance, in the era of great, grand expectation of artificial intelligence, maybe artificial intelligence would help us? To build the bridge between two sides. Thank you!