May 19, 1994

REMARKS OF THE HONORABLE JOHN D. HOLUM,
DIRECTOR U.S. ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY
BEFORE A SYMPOSIUM ON OPENNESS AND SECRECY IN THE
NUCLEAR AGE SPONSORED BY THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB

"Some Reflections On Transparency"

Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to join you in this National Press Club symposium on openness and secrecy in the nuclear age.

First, let me congratulate the organizers and other participants -- including Secretary O'Leary, for her advocacy on behalf of the Administration's efforts to scale back on the excessive secrecy of the past. Anyone who read the Washington Post last Sunday knows that habits five decades old are hard to break. But I'm confident we're moving in the right direction, and think it's healthy that our feet be kept to the fire -- up to a point.

I can't resist noting for the record that while we at ACDA handle a great deal of classified information, we were able to keep our secrecy costs down to less, as the Post indicated, than many other agencies not generally considered national security agencies. Whether this by itself earns ACDA a place in heaven I don't know. I assume not.

My remarks will have a different focus than some others. I will talk about some of the ways in which openness and transparency -- rather than being the bane of the government FOIA officer's existence -- are values that, when properly applied internationally, can actually strengthen our national security. The right kind of transparency can help us make a safer world by building confidence in the context of our arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

When we say of someone, "Oh, he's pretty transparent," we mean we can see through him, that we can understand his motives. This everyday usage illustrates why you'll find the following three definitions, among others, when you look up "transparency" in the dictionary: "clear and capable of transmitting light"; "easily understood or detected"; and "guileless, candid and open."

In the field of arms control, transparency measures are steps that countries take to lay their cards on the table -- albeit often in a very controlled and indeed, calculated way -to reassure one another that, in making certain military moves or preparations, their intentions are not hostile.

Even when carefully cabined, such measures can be extremely useful. Transparency can put our worst-case imaginations to rest. What had potentially looked like a threatening reach into the pocket for a gun is instead revealed as a benign retrieval of the car keys. As Nietzsche put it (in one of his more lucid moments), "A matter that becomes clear ceases to concern us."

One of the best ways to understand transparency's value is to ponder what happens without it. Many historians have argued that in 1914, it was the fog of misunderstanding that created automatic escalation on both sides once German forces began mobilizing after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Today the stakes are still higher, and the problem harder. Enhanced weapons and compressed time frames demand that we use every means at our disposal to prevent reflexive ratcheting up toward conflict.

This was illustrated all too vividly in the escalating tensions that almost exploded into war between India and Pakistan in the spring of 1990. The run-up to the crisis began with a large military exercise by India near the Pakistani border.

At the height of the crisis, President Bush dispatched Deputy CIA Director Robert Gates to the region to calm tensions. Gates was able to verify directly that the Indian units, including India's vaunted Strike Corps, were in the process of closing down their exercises. This information was quickly relayed to the Pakistani leadership. Over the next several days, both armies moved their troops away from the border, and their foreign ministries opened discussions of confidence-building measures. By the end of June 1990, the crisis was over.

Although this incident avoided the dire consequences of 1914, it serves as no model. The transparency brought to that situation was a fortuitous addition after the fact, not something built in to the regional security architecture.

Stated plainly, we were good -- but we were also lucky. Our steady aim should be to seek to weave transparency and other confidence-building measures thoroughly into the global security fabric.

This is one of my agency's jobs. We negotiate and implement formal arms control agreements. But we also look for chances to institutionalize transparency, to defuse conflict and set the stage for arms reductions.

Let me take you back to the beginnings of such deliberate efforts to imbed transparency in arms control. The Cold War part of this story begins, appropriately enough, with the 1961 Antarctic Treaty. ACDA led the push for taking it seriously -- ignoring early jokes about penguin verification." What made this Treaty worth the effort was the precedent it established for on-site inspections: in a small way, it started getting us and the Russians used to looking over one another's facilities -- and getting looked at in return.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President Kennedy estimated that the odds of war with the Soviet Union were "somewhere between one out of three and even." The leaders of the world's two superpowers found themselves on this precipice without any way to communicate reliably and quickly with one another. This crisis led to the Hot Line treaty -- which since has repeatedly helped to defuse conflict and prevent escalation based on error or misunderstanding.

You may have heard the trenchant saying, "The more national leaders know, the less likely they are to do something stupid." Direct communication links do not lay information on the table, but they do permit national leaders to share it at critical moments.

Similar features -- which say, in effect, "let's talk if there's trouble" -- are part of a number of other arms control treaties, such as the Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Nuclear Accidents Agreement. Together with the Hot Line treaty, they reduce the risk that an incident will lead to an eruption neither side wants.

Some of our better-known Cold War treaties with the Soviets also contained nascent transparency measures. The ABM Treaty, for example, calls on the parties not to interfere with one another's national technical means of verification, and not to take deliberate concealment measures. These terms also don't themselves lay information on the table, but they do say, in effect, "we promise not to hide it if you look."

The most comprehensive transparency measures yet have grown up in a long-standing but little-noticed institution called the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or CSCE. As early as 1975, the CSCE provided for notification 21 days in advance of large-scale military maneuvers involving over 25,000 troops, to lessen the risk of surprise military attack.

Subsequently, under CSCE rules, potential adversaries have behaved increasingly strangely toward each other. They now notify each other 42 days in advance for military activities involving 250 tanks or as few as 3,000 amphibious or airborne troops. Observers are now required for many military activities. Some military exercises are limited in number and are forecast annually to member states. On-site inspections are routine.

CSCE members also consult about unusual and unscheduled military activities. And a direct communications network is up and running in each member state 24 hours a day.

These CSCE measures help build trust through openness. They enhance stability by allowing states to observe that their neighbors are not taking threatening military postures.

Geographically, the most wide-ranging effort to date to promote openness about military forces and activities is the Treaty on Open Skies. The Treaty opens to aerial inspection a territory stretching from Vladivostok to Vancouver -- that's the long way around -- and someday it could be extended even further. It gives all participating countries a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities that may be of concern to them.

Open Skies permits any signatory to acquire, on a shared-cost basis, copies of film or tapes collected during surveillance flights. Each participating nation is obliged to accept a quota of overflights by other nations that it is obliged to accept.

Open Skies and the CSCE measures I discussed are mutually reinforcing. Because of them, participating states can no longer conceal from each other preparations for surprise attack or large-scale offensive action. Open Skies provides a bird's-eye view of military forces and activities. And the CSCE measures require direct sharing of military plans and information. Together they demonstrate what international transparency measures can achieve in a post-Cold War context. And they will help prevent the return of the all-consuming tensions of that era.

Most recently, the United States has been seeking to apply the transparency approach (particularly in our dealings with the Russians) to what has traditionally been the least transparent part of our national security establishment: nuclear weapons programs. Building on the agreement between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin last January, we have begun discussions with the Russians about working out concrete steps to increase the transparency to each side of our procedures and facilities for handling, storing, and accounting for fissile material taken from dismantled weapons.

In the near term, we hope to reach agreement on joint visits to facilities that contain fissile materials recovered from dismantled nuclear weapons. In the longer term, we hope to negotiate an agreement on a regime to confirm each side's inventories of fissile materials from dismantled weapons.

As I suggested earlier in discussing the 1990 situation in South Asia, it is the world's tensest regions that are most in need of transparency -- and too often have developed it least.

That's one reason why I am encouraged by the talks going on as part of the Middle East Arms Control and Regional Security Working Group being cosponsored by the United States and Russia. Fourteen parties from the region are discussing confidence-building steps such as declaratory measures, a crisis prevention center, information exchanges, and the first region-wide communications network.

Progress in this working group obviously will be influenced by the pace of events in the overall peace process. No dramatic achievement is just around the corner. But by fostering a healthy discussion among historic adversaries, this working group is confirming that transparency measures can help promote regional security.

Such measures do not have to be formalized to be valuable. We also have sought to share information with the Russians outside the context of formal agreements. I'll give two examples.

During the Cold War, we offered to the Soviet Union information about the permissive action links, such as electromagnetic locks, that safeguard our nuclear weapons against accidental or unauthorized use.

The Soviets formally declined our offer. But what I find significant is that we made it -- and thus sought to enhance our security by increasing the Soviets' ability to control their weapons.

The second example is one that we have all grown accustomed to -- forgetting what a significant innovation it was when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara began it in the Kennedy Administration. From the beginning, the annual defense posture statement represented a deliberate effort to increase the understanding both of the American public and the world, including the Soviet Union, of what the United States did and did not intend by our military programs. I believe these reports -- our relatively detailed and candid descriptions of our military intentions -- have contributed substantially to our safe passage through the Cold War.

The Limits of Openness

Since that Cold War with the Soviet Union was the justification for so much of our secrecy, the end of that era and that Union has naturally led many to wonder why we need any secrecy at all.

I'd like to comment briefly on the limits of openness and transparency in arms control.

The fact is that the world is still dangerous, in some ways more so. We must still wrestle with the proposition that if we open up, say, all of our nuclear weapons designs, they will be studied not only here, and in Moscow -- but also in Baghdad, Tehran, Tripoli and Pyongyang.

And there are additional complications. Even in a regime as far along the upward spiral of confidence-building as the CSCE, countries are predisposed to keep their military information exchanges on a government-to-government, not public, basis. So I believe that if we were to break the rules and make public our Open Skies overflight videotapes, for example, we would undermine an agreement that adds a great deal to world security. Simply put, if we didn't have the ability to @e in confidence information received in confidence, we wouldn't get it.

Negotiations are another prime category of activity where openness often must be limited. Woodrow Wilson advocated "open covenants openly arrived at," and the phrase still has a splendid ring. But truth be told, there are fundamental constraints on negotiating in the open.

If a negotiator makes a proposal to me in confidence, he can back away from it if I convince him it's a bad idea or it simply fails to gain support. But if he makes it to me in public, he creates a commitment that his government may not be able to back away from without loss of face. That's one reason why closed negotiations frequently work where public negotiation couldn't.

The need for flexibility and privacy may be even greater in the multilateral negotiations that are coming to dominate our arms control and nonproliferation agenda. In such settings, the process is as much orchestration as direct negotiation.

The negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty resumed this week in Geneva in the Conference on Disarmament, and they are public. But having seen the posturing that goes on in public fora, you won't be surprised to hear that a good deal of important work is taking place off the public stage. The five declared nuclear weapons states are holding private consultations in connection with the CTBT negotiations. I believe our efforts to conclude a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty "at the earliest possible time," as the President has instructed, would be dealt a serious blow if even these "P-5" consultations, as they're called, had to be public.

A third and most obvious reason for keeping negotiating positions secret is to avoid letting the other side know your strategy or bottom line. This rule needs little elaboration. Disregarding it is like walking on to a used car lot with your bank balance written on your forehead.

Closer to home, I do not believe that policy differences leading up to the formulation of a final administration position should be subject to public airing -- until the matter has been closed and the historians are sifting through the embers. If policy makers come to expect that such differences will be revealed, they will cease to be candid -- and policy will suffer.

In short, as someone who tends delicate arms control agreements -- and at the same time believes in government in the sunshine -- I am calling for controlled amounts of light. Put a low-light plant in the windowsill and the midday sun will scorch it. Its death doesn't mean it was an unhealthy plant or that sunlight is bad. It signifies a poor gardener.

I can summarize my caveats succinctly in Freedom of Information Act terms. I believe that the national security and deliberative process exemptions exist for good reason -- and should not be done away with.

Conclusion

These are important caveats. But they are not exceptions that swallow the rule. Openness and transparency are good not only for the first amendment, or the soul, or for the body politic. They can also reduce international tensions and make us more secure.

I find this moral increasingly important. Because so many of today's world headlines could make us feel discouraged.

The barbarism in Bosnia and Rwanda differs from other bloodshed of recent years largely in its ability to garner headlines. 1992 alone saw 29 wars underway (defined as hostilities involving one or more governments and causing the deaths of 1,000 or more people per year).

And since the end of World War II, a staggering total of well over 23 million people have died worldwide in more than 150 wars.

We seem surrounded by evidence that the technology of destruction has advanced, but human nature has not. So it's all the more important we make political institutions bridge the gap.

But look carefully at the world and you will see reasons to be encouraged. Consider Rabin and Arafat in the Middle East: Historic enemies turned partners for peace.

And look at Mandela and De Klerk in South Africa: The prisoner become president -- the jailer, liberator.

In both of these remarkable reversals, the situation began to improve when people began opening up to one another. Often it took intermediaries. In both cases it took decades.

But the trust it took to earn these new beginnings never would have been achieved without some opening, some tentative transparency. A first truth was shared, letting in a glimmer of light -- the figure through the glass was seen reacting in a recognizably human way -- and the initiator felt his counterpart could be trusted with the next step.

This painstaking process is how shadow turns to light. It is how peace is won -- how history is made.

Transparency can help us adapt political institutions to ancient enmities and new threats alike. It is at once an arms control technique and a vivid metaphor -understandable on the human, individual level -- for behavior that nations increasingly must undertake. Shakespeare wrote: "No legacy is so rich as honesty." In transparency lies the harvest of wisdom -- the beginning of trust -- the hope of peace.

I have expressed before my hope that some day, countries may be judged not by the arms but by the commitments they keep -- and the values they uphold. Our deepest interests lie in building such a world.

Let us use every means at our disposal to do so. And let us begin with transparency.