Russian Journalist Vladimir Pozner Interviews Former Secretary of Defense William Perry
This interview was first recorded in February 2018, and was originally slated to air on Russian TV channel Russia One in April but was postponed amidst political controversy after the U.S. accused Syrian troops of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma, and said that the Russian government bears responsibility for supporting the Assad regime.
The interview finally aired in May 2018 - the full English transcript is below:
Watch the full interview in Russian here.
MR. POZNER: (IN RUSSIAN) The program you are about to see is an exception, and for two reasons. First, it was recorded back in early February, which means that its airing has been delayed by more than three months. The second reason, which is related to the first one: this is my only interview with a prominent statesman who had links with the armed forces of another state – the forces of the United States, to be more precise. I am talking about a man who served as secretary of defense in the Bill Clinton administration. As you know, tensions are running very high between the Russian Federation and the United States. That is why there were doubts as to whether that interview should be aired at all. But today, it will be aired – and in its original form, exactly the way it was recorded. Not a single word has been changed.
MR. POZNER: Thank you for finding the time.
MR. PERRY: Thank you, it's good to be here, Vladimir.
MR. POZNER: It's my pleasure. Before we talk about one of the main reasons I suspect for your coming to Moscow, that is to say your book, "My Journey at the Nuclear Brink", which was translated into Russian.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: There's one question that a lot of people have asked me. In the United States, the Secretary of Defense is usually or almost always a civilian man.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: In most other countries, it's usually a military man, who has some military experience. And the question people have asked me is how does a non-military man communicate with say the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who's going to tell him a whole lot of very technical military stuff, which is really not his -- his area of expertise?
MR. PERRY: Well, it's based first of all on the tradition and the law in the United States of civilian control of the military. The reasons for that can be argued, but this is long believed the United States has an important principle of maintaining good government. But it does pose the problem, how does a civilian get enough experience?
In my own experience, I had background and -- I was in the army when I was young. Just for a year-and-a-half, but enough to get some feeling for it. And I think most -- and I had spent some time studying policies, military policies. So I brought some background to it and I brought the technology to it. But given all of that, I did not have the strategic knowledge or tactical knowledge that I expect our generals to have. So I found I should listen respectfully to the military. I should not jump to conclusion without discussing with the military. I hear their best advice and when it sounded reasonable to it, go ahead with it. And when it didn't, I'd argue with them. And either -- they'd either convince me or I convince them, but I never went to the President or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until he and I had hammered it out and came to an agreement. Sometimes he won the argument, sometimes I won the argument.
MR. POZNER: I'd like to look back on President Eisenhower's farewell address and what he said about the military industrial complex. I'm going to quote this, I'm not going to do a lot of quoting, but this I will. He said, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist". Do you think he was right?
MR. PERRY: He was right. It's a fundamental problem. The United States in earlier years, the government had arsenals. They built their own weapons, but we haven't done that for decades. So our airplanes are built, our tanks are built. All of our major equipment is built by industry, and they compete for the jobs. So it's a big part -- it's a big industry in the United States.
MR. POZNER: Huge.
MR. PERRY: Huge industry and as in any company, each company wants to increase their revenues, increase their earnings and so on, and so they compete for the business. And they also lobby the Congress for their programs, for more funding for their programs. That's what Eisenhower was referring to, was the lobbying of the Congress to put in programs that he as executive had not wanted to put in, but the Congress voted them anyway. And it is a problem. I would think -- I believe that it has been pretty well under control, but it's a fundamental issue and every President, every Secretary of Defense, has to guard himself against unwarranted influence.
MR. POZNER: I have read that you were of the opinion that during the Cold War years, Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD, was something that kept us from war, at least to a certain extent, the threat of what might happen should a war begin. And yet today, as I understand you, you say that nuclear weapons are much more of a threat than they were then.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: And I'd like to know why?
MR. PERRY: First I will say, I think we overemphasized the importance of deterrents during the Cold War. We believed in the United States that the Soviet Union was preparing to attack us, to make a surprise attack on us. And we built up our nuclear weapons to deal with that contingency, and I think there was a comparable feeling in the Soviet Union. And in retrospect, when I look back on it, that's not correct. We never had a plan in the United States for making a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. And I think that's true also in the case of the Soviet Union.
So our whole policies built around deterrents of an event, which was not going to happen, which was not planned, and it led us to build more and more weapons, which were more and more dangerous. It led to the absurd result that by the end of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union together had 70,000 nuclear weapons. There is no way of explaining that answer in terms of just a rational view of deterrents. It was a system that went out of control. We're in danger of that happening again I might say, but that was the problem then. So, I think too much emphasis was placed on deterrents of something that wasn't going to happen, and more emphasis should be placed on how do we use our diplomacy to cause the two countries to live together peacefully without having to have these dangers because as long as we have nuclear weapons, whether 70,000 or 15,000.
MR. POZNER: Which is what we have today I believe.
MR. PERRY: Which is what we have today, it's way too many and it's very, very dangerous.
MR. POZNER: But still, why do you -- if I'm right now, why do you consider that today nuclear weapons are more of a threat than they were back then?
MR. PERRY: Because even then they were threats because --
MR. POZNER: Of course.
MR. PERRY: -- the danger then and certainly the danger today is not that United States will attack the Soviet Union, today Russia, or vice versa. It's that we we'll blunder -- we'll blunder into a nuclear war. If we blunder into some type of a conflict and if we have nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons may be used. And so the danger of an accidental nuclear war, the danger of a war by political miscalculation is the real danger, and the more nuclear weapons we have, the more dangerous that becomes.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: Back then I remember there was a time when they set the dial to one minute to midnight.
MR. PERRY: Two minutes. Two minutes was the --
MR. POZNER: Two minutes.
MR. PERRY: Two minutes was the lowest, it was closest.
MR. POZNER: Well, now it's a two-and-a-half. So it seems to be more dangerous back then, as far as they were concerned.
MR. PERRY: Well, no, no, I would dispute that. Firstly, it was two minutes, not one minute.
MR. POZNER: Two minutes.
MR. PERRY: And that was in 1953.
MR. POZNER: Right.
MR. PERRY: The other years in the Cold War, it was more like four or five or six minutes or so. Last year in the United States, it was a two-and-a-half minutes. Just two weeks ago they had another meeting and set the timing for 2018, and its two minutes. So --
MR. POZNER: So, we're back to square one.
MR. PERRY: We're back to square one. We're back to the most dangerous time during the Cold War. And indeed it's more dangerous than the 90 -- more than 90% of the years of the Cold War according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. And in fact I was the one that recommended to them to move it to two because I believe it is more dangerous today.
MR. POZNER: Let me back off a little bit and ask you about something else. Do you have the feeling that when Gorbachev came to power, during his years and then during the years that followed with Yeltsin that there was a real window of opportunity for the United States to play an important role in helping this country move towards the construction of democracy, which it never really had. And that there might have been something like a type of Marshall Plan adopted as after World War II, not just giving money --
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: -- but aiming the money very carefully, controlling it, and seeing to it that the country would move in that direction and do you think or are you of the opinion that perhaps that window of opportunity was missed?
MR. PERRY: Yes. During that time period, I was one of the ones who were arguing for something like a Marshall Plan. I saw there is a huge opportunity because Russia at that time was very receptive to assistance and help from the United States. They were looking for suggestions on how to help create this new democracy.
That was an opportunity that was missed and it was tragic, I think, that it was missed. We could have helped and we should have helped. The reason we didn't, I think, was two-fold, but the main reason we didn't help was we were still suspicious. Many people in the United States were still suspicious. So suspicious that what was the Soviet Union, now Russia, would become a threat to us one day and so people held off from doing that. And the fact that they held off on doing that in my jargon was a huge missed opportunity.
MR. POZNER: You're certainly aware of something that came to be called The Wolfowitz Doctrine?
MR. PERRY: Yes, yes.
MR. POZNER: Paul Wolfowitz wrote this paper which basically said and I'm -- naturally I'm simplifying it. But the idea was that now that there is no more Soviet Union, the United States should guarantee that it will be the only Super Power and it should see to it that Russia does not come back, shall we say, in a way that can threaten the United States.
That paper was, seriously, when it was leaked to the New York Times, it was seriously criticized by many including Senator Edward Kennedy.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: Who said it was an imperialist plan that no country should or would accept. And it was some time, it was torn down a little bit. What I wanted to ask you was this: do you think it had any influence at all on the policies that were adopted during the Clinton times?
MR. PERRY: I think -- first of all, I believe that that policy is fundamentally flawed, fundamental error. The danger of it -- and we never made it a policy, but the danger is the thinking lying behind that policy, a thinking still rests in many people's mind and it influenced some of our actions during the '90s, which is part of the reasons we have hostility today.
Part of the reason that the Russians are seeing that action of the United States, seeing that instinct in the United States automatically recoiled from it. And so the opportunity for the United States and Russia to come together as two normal, friendly nations, United States and Russia like United States and France or United States and United Kingdom, why couldn't that have happened? There is nothing fundamental separating United States and Russia. There is no ideological difference today. There is nothing different in our people. Our people when we meet together are continual and friendly. So there is no reason that there should be this hostility today. And I think a part of the reason was that the Russian resentment during the '90s and the fact that the United States had an opportunity to help and didn't help and acted superior and not helping. All of those things I believe contributed to the problem.
MR. POZNER: We'll get -- we'll talk a little bit more about that. We're going to take a very short break, commercial break and we'll be right back.
MR. POZNER: You were the Secretary of Defense from '94 to '97?
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: And that was during the Clinton period. Now you were not Secretary of Defense when -- when President Clinton decided to enlarge NATO, but you must have witnessed the discussions that led up to that. Did you not?
MR. PERRY: The action occurred after I left office.
MR. POZNER: Exactly.
MR. PERRY: But the decision was made when I was still in office. It was made in -- late 1996, and I had vigorous --
MR. POZNER: I have to ask you.
MR. PERRY: I vigorously opposed the decision.
MR. POZNER: What was the thinking behind that decision because when you look at it today, in '96, the relationship between Russia and the United States was still a pretty good one. Russia was not threatening as it seemed to be.
MR. PERRY: It was more than pretty good. We were partners. We were active partners.
MR. POZNER: Exactly.
MR. PERRY: Just that year, 1996, when we had a division going into Bosnia for a peacekeeping operation, there was a Russian brigade as part of that division. We were working together hand-in-glove.
MR. POZNER: Exactly.
MR. PERRY: Cooperatively in many, many things.
MR. POZNER: So President Clinton is certainly not a stupid man?
MR. PERRY: No.
MR. POZNER: He had to understand that Russia would really find this hard to understand, let's put it that way, and nonetheless he went ahead and did it.
MR. PERRY: He went ahead and did it.
MR. POZNER: Why, why?
MR. PERRY: The reasons for doing it had to do with a belief that it would help the Eastern European nations, Poland.
MR. POZNER: Hungary and the Czech Republic.
MR. PERRY: Czech Republic is one, develop quickly and more normally. And opposed to that was the hostility that it would cause in Russia for doing it. My view when I debated this with him was that the issue of the hostility, impending hostility in Russia was much more important and that he was making a big mistake in going ahead with this. He listened to me and I asked him if he would convene a meeting of the National Security Council, so I could present my case for not going ahead. And he did and I presented my case and I lost basically. I was so concerned about that, I considered resigning in protest over it.
MR. POZNER: Really?
MR. PERRY: I thought it was such a big mistake and that it would just lead to hostility. I don't say that's the only problem with hostility today, but that was the -- that was what started us down the downward slope.
MR. POZNER: When you say that you considered it to be a huge mistake, you're basically repeating what George Kennan said about it.
MR. PERRY: Kennan said this, I didn't realize it at the time I told Clinton that. I read that later, but Kennan made exactly the same statement and for exactly the same reason.
MR. POZNER: And he predicted that this would lead to changes.
MR. PERRY: Yes, and he predicted, and I predicted that too.
MR. POZNER: Yes.
MR. PERRY: We reached those independence in predictions independently, but it was nevertheless the same rationale.
MR. POZNER: Just recently, I believe it was, let me see, I think it was on the 9th February, these new documents were published about Baker’s famous "Not one inch Eastward" assurance about NATO, NATO expansion in his meeting with Gorbachev and what was published was the notes, the minutes of the meeting, and it's clearly said that he said this along with what was being said by a lot of other Western leaders that Gorbachev should not worry about this, that there would be no expansion and it turned out to be, this was published by the National Security Archive of George Washington University.
MR. PERRY: Right.
MR. POZNER: So should we be surprised that when something like that happens, the sense of mistrust immediately arrives. You guys promised and then --
MR. PERRY: Yeah, I do believe that the -- it was a mistake in and of itself because the result is good, but I also believe that quite aside from the absolute problems it caused, there was an intrinsic problem of a lack of trust. It shadowed a trust, which had been built to a pretty strong level. And I believe that that lack of trust, that mistrust that developed between the two countries, influenced much of the -- many of the other negative factors that occurred after that. But that was the first one and that was the one that shattered that trust in the first place.
MR. POZNER: You know, I often -- when I speak with Americans and you know I grew up in the United States and I'm --
MR. PERRY: Yeah, I know that.
MR. POZNER: -- you know, I'd say, look, this missile deployment in Europe is supposedly to protect against the possible attack by Iran and North Korea. Russia feels threatened by that --
MR. PERRY: Yeah,
MR. POZNER: -- rightly or wrongly, but just imagine that Russia would deploy missiles in Latin America for some reason. How would America react to that? And most Americans have never even thought about that, but when I asked them, they say, "Hmm, you may have a point there".
MR. PERRY: Yeah, well, I have argued against that deployment for several reasons, for technical reasons as well as political reasons. Technically, I don't think they are going to work that will anyway. So I think what we're doing is gaining very little benefit from a military point of view, but buying a huge disbenefit from a political point of view. So, it's a -- I think it was a very bad decision, but it was a decision made by four administrations in a row and it seems like something magic about it. Calling it a Defense System would mean how can you be against it. Well, I was against it and I was against it for both of those reasons. Firstly, it doesn't give much benefit and secondly, the disbenefit is very high.
MR. POZNER: You know, when you look at the situation and you try to be objective regardless of your sympathies and you say, okay, Russia feels threatened by NATO, by these missiles and seems to me to have a case. Now does the United States, in your opinion, feel threatened by Russia and if so in what way? Are there any steps that Russia has taken that would seem threatening to the security of the United States?
MR. PERRY: Yeah. On the first point, I have argued many times to my Russian colleagues that their concern about the ballistic missile defense system was misplaced. They are not that good, they're not even good enough to give us any assurance against protecting us from the Iranian missile, much less than them -- much superior, and much larger number of Russian missiles. So I believe the concern on Russia is misplaced, except as a matter of trust again. It's the trust shattering which is the biggest issue, not the technical problem --
MR. POZNER: Okay.
MR. PERRY: -- that's causing. I think that's the main point I would make about those missile deployments. I have been opposing it from the beginning, but on that basis, not on the basis that they really threatened Russia.
MR. POZNER: Okay, fine. But what about America feeling threatened by Russia? In what way, because you get this impression, you know, America is building up, modernizing its nuclear forces, obviously feeling threatened. How so?
MR. PERRY: I think Russia has not done itself very much good in the ways described its own ICBM deployments. And described in a way which makes the Russian people feel good, but makes the American people feel not so good.
MR. POZNER: You're talking about intercontinental ballistic missiles.
MR. PERRY: Intercontinental ballistic missiles, right, which Russia has a very advanced capability in and everybody recognizes their capability. But looking at it as a threat to the United States, you'd say why would Russia ever want to use those missiles. It doesn't make any sense if you think about it for five minutes. So I'm unhappy both with the Russian deployment of ICBMs and with the American response to that. I think both countries are making a big mistake in putting all of those resources on ICBMs when they gain you little or no benefit and they buy a huge negative reaction. What we're doing about them really is we're walking into -- we're sleepwalking into a new Cold War and the new nuclear arms race and the ICBMs are at the centre of that and the belief that these ICBMs are going to provide security for your country is just wrong and demonstrably wrong when you look back to the days of the Cold War.
MR. POZNER: So here what we have now is the United States feels that Russia has some kind of nuclear superiority in certain areas and so is modernizing its nuclear weapons. The Russians probably know that their conventional weapons are not as good as the American weapons and therefore putting more effort in developing nuclear weapons and are even ready, have said basically that they would even use them as a first strike, should they feel threatened.
MR. PERRY: Yeah, Americans are to be able to relate to that argument because during the Cold War, we were looking at being outnumbered by the Red Army three to one.
MR. POZNER: Yes.
MR. PERRY: And so our forces in Germany were expecting to be overwhelmed if the Red Army were to attack and we were believing there might be such an attack. Wrongly believing that, but we were believing it and therefore we were deploying nuclear weapons in Germany to be used in case the Red Army came across. That's a comparable argument was it been used today in Russia, but now the shoe is on the other foot.
MR. POZNER: I don't know if you watched the Oliver Stone interviews with President Putin.
MR. PERRY: I did not, no.
MR. POZNER: No. Well, in one of those interviews, Putin said to Oliver Stone that at the beginning of his tenure as President, he had spoken with Bill Clinton and suggested that Russia might join NATO, and how did President Clinton consider that? And what Putin said was that Clinton answered "I have nothing against". I wanted to ask you, were you present at that. Did you --
MR. PERRY: I was not present at that discussion, but I was present at many discussions in NATO and in the United States about the possibility of Russia joining NATO and I was open to it, many of my colleagues were open to it. We were looking at having Eastern European nations in NATO, why not Russia as well. That would tend to offset the concern of Russia to Eastern European nations joining NATO. It never got very far, but there was -- there was open and honest discussion on it and I was one of the ones who was advocating it and President Clinton was never opposing it as far as I could tell.
MR. POZNER: At the beginning of this discussion, you mentioned the fact that back in 1980, before everything started changing, both sides had 70,000 or nearly 80,000 nuclear weapons.
MR. PERRY: Together, combined.
MR. POZNER: Together?
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: And now they have 15.
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: So on the one hand you'd have to say, "oh look, look how much we've done", but on the other hand first of all 15,000 is overkill any way by a large degree and what's more, these nuclear weapons have been perfected and modernized and can actually do much worse than the ones before them. So has there really been progress in your opinion?
MR. PERRY: There have been technical progresses in the missiles and the nuclear weapons. There has been no progress in the diplomacy, on the way of thinking about them. President Obama towards the end of his term was floating the idea of reducing, unilaterally reducing our IC -- our missiles deployed from 1,500, so down to a 1,000 and he got a huge pushback on that. A 1,000 --
MR. POZNER: From? Pushback from --
MR. PERRY: Political forces in the United States.
MR. POZNER: Uh-huh.
MR. PERRY: But a 1,000 nuclear weapons is more than enough to destroy Russia and 10 other countries. Why do you need more? Why do you even need that many? But yet the idea that we only have 1,000 when Russia has 1,500 seems to be unacceptable. So we talked about nuclear weapons as being built for deterrents, but it's quite clear by our actions that there is a certain -- we have to keep up with the other guy. In the United States, it's called Keeping up with the Joneses.
So if Russia has 1,500 ICBMs, we've got to have 1,500 ICBMs and I think perhaps the same logic applies in reverse in Russia. And so that is the underlying driving force to what, the Cold War became the Nuclear Arms Race and we're about to re-enter in such an arms race again. The idea we have to keep up with the other side, whatever they're doing, whether it makes sense for us or doesn't make sense for us.
I'm personally very much concerned about the ICBMs in particular because of all of the forces that we have in our deterrent forces, in our nuclear forces, the ICBM is the one that is susceptible to responding to a false alarm. We've had false alarms and I think you've had false alarms in Russia.
MR. POZNER: Can we talk about -- you know, I have friends who live in Hawaii.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: And they inform you -- they were the first recently to be told --
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: -- that there was a nuclear attack coming.
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: And that go to your shelters or whatever and then of course it turned out to be a false alarm.
MR. PERRY: You know, wasn't it just that the population heard about that, it was that the authorities who were controlling the system thought there was an attack coming. And that was in a sense laughable in a way or it was a stupid mistake which caused a lot of inconvenience, but didn't cause any great problems. But, yeah, we have had at our warning system in Colorado and you have had in your warning systems here in Russia, false alarms. And a response to that false alarm might have been our presidents launching a response to it, which was not really a response, but what I would think was a response to that attack.
MR. POZNER: I want to talk about those things in just a minute, we'll go to --
MR. PERRY: Let me just tell you about one aspect.
MR. POZNER: Okay, sure. Sure.
MR. PERRY: When I was the Undersecretary of Defense way back in 1979.
MR. POZNER: Yeah, go on.
MR. PERRY: I was awoken by a phone call at 3 o'clock in the morning from our North American Air Defense Command from the watch officer that night, telling me that his computers were showing 200 ICBMs on the way from the Soviet Union to the United States.
MR. POZNER: This was during Carter's period, wasn't it?
MR. PERRY: Yes, yes. And I thought, my God, you know, this is the end of the world. But he quickly explained that he had concluded his computers were in error. There was something wrong with them and then why was he calling me. I was the one in-charge of research and technology. He wanted me to help him figure out what had gone wrong with his computers, but we had a thoughtful -- that night a thoughtful, careful, cautious, watch officer and rather than calling the President, he called me.
Now had he called the President, woken him at 3 o'clock in the morning and said "200 ICBMs on the way", the President would then have 10 minutes to decide, maybe lesser than that whether to launch our ICBMs before they were destroyed in the silos. You see the ICBMs are unique nuclear weapons in that there are known locations and therefore they can be struck. And so if an attack is coming in, you have to assume that the first targets would be your ICBMs and they could impulse and it's a launch them before they land, it's called "launch on warning". But if you launch on warning and you're wrong, you cannot call them back. You cannot destroy them in flight. You have started a war that is going to end civilization by mistake, by accident. That's why I'm so much concerned about ICBMs in Russia and in the United States.
MR. POZNER: We'll go a commercial break now, just for a minute.
MR. POZNER: I remember that back in the '80s, we were all scared.
MR. PERRY: I was scared.
MR. POZNER: We were all scared.
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: And we all had a pretty good idea what those nuclear weapons could do. In the United States, you had "The Day After", the movie that really impacted a lot of people.
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: It was never shown in Soviet Union, but people had a pretty good idea of what war is like any way.
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: And now we're no longer scared for some reason. We don't seem to be paying attention to this.
MR. PERRY: I believe the reason we're taking the wrong political actions or not dealing with the danger and the threat of nuclear weapons is for that very reason.
MR. POZNER: But why aren't we scared?
MR. PERRY: People don't understand.
MR. POZNER: But we should be scared.
MR. PERRY: We should be. What I'm doing today, I gave up a few years ago trying to take political action on this area because we're getting no attraction. The reason we're getting no attraction is people do not understand the danger. So I'm spending all of my energy today on education, trying to convince people that this is a dangerous, dangerous problem.
MR. POZNER: Is this what this book is about really?
MR. PERRY: This book is about -- the reason I wrote that book, as I saw is heading to another Cold War, a war that's going to be even more dangerous than the last Cold War and we are sleepwalking it and nobody understood the danger that we're confronting. So I thought the first step is to get the public aware of the danger and the purpose of that book is to -- now of course with a book I can do that. The book will maybe inform 10,000 people if I'm lucky. So I am spending most of my energies now on getting the messages in the book, getting them across over the internet where I hope to reaching millions of people instead of thousands of people.
MR. POZNER: Do you have any explanation as to why that fear went away?
MR. PERRY: Yeah, you have to be a psychologist, I think, to understand.
MR. POZNER: Okay. All right.
MR. PERRY: But when the Cold War was over, people were so relieved to have that danger removed from that constant threat hanging over their heads that they accepted that and they're not willing to take it back on again.
MR. POZNER: All right. In your opinion what is the most likely dangerous scenario that could happen?
MR. PERRY: The most dangerous scenario that could destroy civilization --
MR. POZNER: Yes.
MR. PERRY: -- would be an accidental nuclear war, a false alarm which we'd respond incorrectly to. So a false alarm might be very high. It's probable, it's not likely, but if it happens the consequences are existential. We're all dead. The whole civilization is gone.
MR. POZNER: What about terrorism?
MR. PERRY: Terrorism is more likely to happen, but the consequences are not the same dimension. The consequences of a terrorist setting off a nuclear bomb in Moscow or Washington or New York are terrible, but they are not the end of the civilization. So that's more likely. In fact I think it's -- I'm surprised it hasn't happened already. I think it's going to happen one of these times and it's going to be worse than what people imagine.
MR. POZNER: What's going to happen?
MR. PERRY: A terror group is going to get a nuclear bomb and try to set it off, probably succeed.
MR. POZNER: And will set it off.
MR. PERRY: Probably succeed. It's not that hard. The thing that's stopping them from getting the bomb is it's so hard to enrich the uranium to make the fuel for the bomb. But more and more -- as more and more countries get nuclear weapons, as more and more uranium and more and them places where its stored, so sooner or later they're going to break through and get some of the uranium. If they can get the uranium, they can make the bomb.
I've made a YouTube video, five minutes, which depicts how that could happen, how these terrorists could get the bomb in the first place, how easy it would be to set it off and what the consequences would be. And the consequences are much more than 80,000 people killed. The political and the economic and the social consequences are profound. So I'm trying to educate the public on these things with media that they can relate to. There is a little five minute YouTube that captures that problem, it captures the essence of it. That's what I'm focusing my education programs right now, things which the public can relate to and understand. Not in books like that which was great to write, but I wanted something that the public can relate to and understand.
MR. POZNER: How do you feel about the danger of North Korea? Are you really disturbed by it, do you think?
MR. PERRY: I have good news and bad news on that.
MR. POZNER: All right.
MR. PERRY: The good news is that North Korea is not going to in an unprovoked way fire a nuclear missile at Seoul or Tokyo or if they get the long range missiles, to the United States. They're not going to that because they're building these weapons because they want to keep the regime in power. They want to keep -- they believe that the United States otherwise would move to overthrow them. So they want to keep the regime in power. They want it to just stay in the Kim dynasty. So the last thing they're going to do is take an action which they know would destroy them. So deterrent works with North Korea. That's the good news.
The bad news is that we could blunder into a war with them too and there's every possibility of that happening. If the United States goes ahead with their concept which they have floated of a preemptive military strike, they could provoke that kind of an action. So it's a very dangerous situation and I'm quite concerned about it.
MR. POZNER: I certainly don't want to put you in a position where you would have to criticize the President of the United States, but I must say that there's a feeling here that President Trump is a very impulsive man who perhaps doesn't fully understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and just might be thinking of this possibility of a preemptive strike. As far as I'm concerned, I'm extremely fearful of that.
MR. PERRY: There are a number of people in the United States who are considering and promoting the idea of a preemptive strike, not just the President. So I'm concerned for that reason. We have certain restraints on what the President could do in that case and maybe those restraints would be enough to keep it from happening. But I'm uncomfortable with the situation. I'm uncomfortable, first of all, because we're seriously thinking about a preemptive strike, which I think would be dangerous far beyond what most people would understand.
The way I look at the preemptive strike is that if you're a chess player, you don't like the idea, because chess players are famous for the concept of the fallacy of the last move. You take a move which you think is good, it captures the bishop or whatever and you think that's good, but you haven't thought ahead what the second move and what the third move and what the fourth move is. So if you think about preemptive strike, it will take out the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Isn't that good? But then what's the second move? What's the response to that? And if that response is firing artillery into Seoul and there are tens of thousands of people killed by that, that's not so good. So you have to weigh all of these out and if you think through the moves, second, third, fourth move and so on, the preemptive strike doesn't look so attractive. If you're only thinking of wouldn't it be nice to take out the nuclear facility of Yongbyon, that looks pretty good.
MR. POZNER: In his State of the Union Address, President Trump said the following. He said, "around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interest, our economy and our values". I was somewhat taken aback by that kind of a statement. It almost puts us in the same context as with the Soviet Union, challenging values, challenging the economy. So when you say that we may be blundering into a Cold War, I sometimes get the feeling that we're already in it.
MR. PERRY: I think we are already in the early stages of a Cold War, indeed I do. We still have and we're in the early stages of rebuilding the nuclear arsenals both in Russia and the United States, but there's still time to back off from that.
In the United States for example, the 30-year cost of this nuclear build-up is estimated to be $1.2 trillion. That's a huge amount of money. But we've only spent the first 5% or 10% of it so far. So there's still time to back off from it. There's no indication that people are wanting to back off from it, but I think we have to keep drumming away and we do not want another Cold War. Whatever we do in this field will be matched by Russia and it will end up being bad both for United States and for Russia. So we must find a way of backing off from this rebuilding of the Cold War nuclear arsenals. It's hugely costly and even more importantly it's hugely dangerous.
MR. POZNER: In 2009, President Obama was in Prague.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: It was on April 5th he spoke about a nuclear-free world as a final goal to pursue. As someone who has worked very high in the echelons of power, do you think that's realistic at all that we can achieve a nuclear-free -- today we have nine nations, I believe, that are nuclear.
MR. PERRY: Yeah.
MR. POZNER: I think what is realistic is that we can substantially, significantly reduce the danger that our nuclear weapons pose. We can certainly reduce by factors of 10, the numbers of nuclear weapons and all of that would be good.
MR. POZNER: Yes.
MR. PERRY: I don't see a scenario for getting to the complete removal of nuclear weapons, but I do believe holding that up as an aspiration goal, helps us to take these other moves to reduce the danger. So, I mean like just as the U.N. resolution against nuclear weapons, nothing completely (phonetic) is going to happen from that, but it states an ethical and a moral principle which is valid. So I am in favor of stating those things, believing that that's where we ought to head by putting our real effort on the practical consequence, what do we do to reduce the dangers because the dangers today are very great. And there are many things that we can do to reduce those dangerous without eliminating nuclear weapon, which is hugely difficult to do.
MR. POZNER: You've been here for a couple of days now?
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: Yeah. Have you spoken to any high ranking Russian officials?
MR. PERRY: No. I'm here so for on a book launch too as far as --
MR. POZNER: Yes, with the book.
MR. PERRY: I'm giving talks about the book.
MR. POZNER: Right.
MR. PERRY: And I don't expect to be meeting with Russian officials on this event. Other trips I have made here through the years I have talked with the foreign minister and others.
MR. POZNER: Of course, of course.
MR. PERRY: But I don't plan to do that on this particular trip.
MR. POZNER: You don't. The reason I was asking is, I was wondering how receptive they were or are to your view and since you haven't spoken to them, that's hard or answer.
MR. PERRY: No, no. You know, the last time that I spoke with them several years ago on these issues, I think they were very open to make major reductions in nuclear weapons. They weren't open at the idea of eliminating nuclear weapon, but they were open to the idea of taking steps which would reduce the danger and taking steps to reduce the cost on nuclear weapons.
MR. POZNER: Yeah.
MR. PERRY: But in Russia as in United States officials I talked to, all always wanted to do it bilateral. We'll do it if the United States will do it. United States will do it if Russia will do it, so.
MR. POZNER: Well, it's an issue of trust, isn't it?
MR. PERRY: Right, it's an issue of trust.
MR. POZNER: It's an issue of trust.
MR. PERRY: And they not only want to have each side doing the same thing, but to have verification procedures as well -- you know, Regan used to say trust, but verify. So that has always been an issue. But somebody has to go first, somebody has to break the ice, somebody needs to say, we're going to do this because it's the right to do it. It's a good thing to do. And hopefully the other country will follow and if they don't follow, it's still a good thing to do. When Obama wanted to reduce from 1,500 nuclear weapons, ICBMs, 1,500 nuclear weapons deployed to a 1,000, he said it's a good thing to do. We don't need 1,500. We can do our jobs with a 1,000.
MR. POZNER: But he wasn't allowed to do it.
MR.PERRY: But he was -- political resistance he met was huge because it was unilateral.
MR. POZNER: That's right.
MR. PERRY: They would have done it if it had been part of an agreement, but not because it was unilateral.
MR. POZNER: Yeah, yeah. It's really too bad. Before, you know, I have a very good friend who you may have heard. His name is Marcel Proust.
MR. PERRY: Yes.
MR. POZNER: Yes, and every now and then he asks me to ask questions of my guests which I will do in just a minute. But before I do that, I have to ask you, how optimistic are you about your mission?
MR. PERRY: I'm not optimistic about my mission. I have -- sometime I am in despair about it. It's a very, very difficult mission. And my friends who see this and see it's what I really objectively feel about it, why do you continue to do this? Why do you pursue this mission impossible? And my answers are because I've got 11 grandchildren and I would like to see them be able to look forward to life, so they don't have to live the life that I lived, always with a dark nuclear cloud hanging over my head. There's no reason why our children, grandchildren should have to go through the same thing we went through in the Cold War.
In the Cold War, there were ideological differences between the United States and so you could rationalize why we're in a Cold War. You cannot rationalize why United States and Russia are not peaceful neighbors or even friends, cooperating.
MR. POZNER: At least partners.
MR. PERRY: And during the time I was Secretary of Defense, we worked very closely as partners, close partners with Russia to the mutual benefit of both countries. Besides having this joint operation in Bosnia, which was the mutual benefit of both countries, we together eliminated 8,000, dismantled 8,000. Some people in Russia think we are doing that to get rid of the weapons actually, but of those 8,000, 4,000 were the United States and the other 4,000, it was equally done and we worked together, cooperated to get that done or it never would have succeeded.
MR. POZNER: All right. So, Marcel Proust.
MR. PERRY: All right.
MR. POZNER: What is your favorite word?
MR. PERRY: Melody.
MR. POZNER: And what is your least favorite word?
MR. PERRY: Hate.
MR. POZNER: When and where were you most happy?
MR. PERRY: In graduate school, learning mathematics, it's a beautiful subject.
MR. POZNER: What talent do you lack, but would most like to have?
MR. PERRY: Musical ability.
MR. POZNER: As a boy who was your hero?
MR. PERRY: Probably a cowboy, Tom Mix.
MR. POZNER: I remember Tom Mix.
MR. PERRY: Yeah?
MR. POZNER: Yeah. Not the lone ranger, huh?
MR. PERRY: No.
MR. POZNER: What would you say is your greatest weakness?
MR. PERRY: I try to do too much. I try to do more than I am capable of doing.
MR. POZNER: If you could meet and talk with anyone who ever lived, who would that person be?
MR. PERRY: I have my choice?
MR. POZNER: Yes.
MR. PERRY: Mozart.
MR. POZNER: Who in your opinion was America's greatest President?
MR. PERRY: Lincoln.
MR. POZNER: If you have a hobby, what is your favorite hobby?
MR. PERRY: Backpacking, hiking in the mountains.
MR. POZNER: When you meet your creator --
MR. PERRY: I don't do it anymore, but when I could do it, it was my favorite hobby.
MR. POZNER: When you meet your creator, what will you say to him?
MR. PERRY: What a surprise. In fact I'd say I'm really surprised to see you.
MR. POZNER: That was former Secretary of Defense of the United States, Mr. William Perry. Thank you very, very much.
MR. PERRY: Thank you.
MR. POZNER: Thank you.
MR. POZNER: (IN RUSSIAN) My concluding remarks today will be very short. I remember that 30 or 40 years ago, people feared a nuclear conflict. It genuinely concerned us. Movies were being made about that danger, such as the famous American movie The Day After, and many others. In other words, that topic was, generally speaking, the predominant topic in the papers, in the movies and on TV. That very real threat of a nuclear catastrophe was with us all the time; it was part of our lives.
These days, there’s nothing like that, either here in Russia or in Europe and the United States. And I’m struggling to understand why. After all, nuclear weapons haven’t gone away. In fact, they have become even more terrible, more accurate, and more destructive than ever. But nobody seems to care. There are no protests, there are no rallies, and no demands are being voiced. The topic itself is not part of the media agenda – and not just here [in Russia], but anywhere in the world. It is just not there. And I really don’t understand why.
One person once told me: “You see, in the early 1990s it seemed that the fear was gone forever. And now that it’s back, people just didn’t want to think about it. They just turn a blind eye to that issue; they don’t want to know.” Well, perhaps he is right. But the pose of an ostrich, with its head stuck in the sand and its you-know-what waving in the air, is not the most advantageous of poses. But anyway, good luck to you, and sweet dreams!