Sen. Mark O. Hatfield: Champion of Saner Nuclear Weapons Policies

By Daryl G. Kimball

Former Senator Mark O. Hatfield, R-Oregon (Image Source: AP)

This past weekend, former Republican Senator from Oregon, Mark O. Hatfield, passed away at the age of 89. Hatfield was the real deal: working across the aisle, he was a pragmatic idealist who took on big issues, including the insanity of the nuclear arms race. He was a big part of the long-running effort to end the nuclear weapons threat.

The work of organizations such as the Arms Control Association is built upon the foundations for global peace and security built by leaders such as Hatfield.

Here are a couple of brief examples of his contributions that are highly relevant to the nuclear weapons-related challenges we face today.

Back in 1982, as tensions between Washington and Moscow increased and the two nations built up their nuclear arsenals even further, Hatfield teamed up with another great, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), to write a chillingly insightful and important oped in The Miami Herald.

In the June 27 piece, “Arsenals Far Exceed Requirements of Deterrence,” they explained how the endless buildup of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weaponry defied the cold logic of nuclear deterrence and they argued for a nuclear weapons freeze as a starting point to reduce the threat.

Amazingly and sadly, much of their essay–though nearly 30 years old–is still quite applicable to today’s world. They wrote, in part, that:

Early in the nuclear age, analysts assumed that the prospect of just a few hydrogen bombs exploding over cities would be sufficient to deter any sane national leader from nuclear war. None of the political causes that beset this troubled world could justify an act resulting in swift retaliation that would kill tens of millions of citizens in the attacking country. Thus the concept of nuclear deterrence was born.

Despite its obvious logic, amply documented by incredible human suffering at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and compellingly argued in many studies since then, the two superpowers have built their arsenals far beyond the simple requirements of deterrence, each fearful that the nuclear forces of the other might somehow yield significant military advantages. Some theorists argue that even perceptions of advantage might induce political capitulation from the disadvantaged side or reckless adventure from the advantaged power. Neither the American nor the Soviet military establishment has been content simply to possess the potential for devastation. Both have made assiduous preparations for actually fighting a nuclear war. Both have come to believe that their security depends upon an ability to organize massive nuclear attacks on extremely short notice — a few minutes, perhaps a few hours.

In the process of justifying large weapons inventories and elaborate peacetime preparations for using them, the two military establishments have created officially declared doctrines foreseeing the use of nuclear weapons for purposes other than deterring full-scale war. Strategic writings have imagined nuclear campaigns of extended duration conducted to serve particular political or military objectives. Though deterrence is usually set forth as the underlying purpose, the thought has nonetheless taken hold that nuclear weapons might actually be used. A decision to do so, once considered to be insane, has now been seriously contemplated under certain conditions. Thousands of people stand ready to execute such a decision: submarine crews cruising beneath the oceans; young missile commanders in underground encasements; bomber crews camped beside waiting aircraft every minute of the day. There is an inherent possibility that these arrangements for war will themselves bring it about.

Though the U.S.-Russian arms race and the Cold War are “over,” the two nations’ nuclear weapons systems and nuclear war-fighting doctrines remain largely unchanged. The potential for nuclear carnage is still there, and with nearly 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons each, the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals still far exceed the “requirements” of nuclear deterrence.

Likewise, Hatfield was a vocal and active advocate of a mutual moratorium on U.S. and Soviet/Russian nuclear testing, which he and others saw as a first step toward winding down the nuclear arms race.

Following new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s announcement in July 1985 that the Soviet Union would forgo tests and offer that the Soviet Union would not test until and unless the United States began testing, the Ronald Reagan administration declined to reciprocate.

In October 1986,  a bipartisan group of 63 House and Senate members, led by Sen. Hatfield, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Rep. Les Aspin and others, sent a letter to President Reagan in October 1986 urging him to reciprocate and call off the next scheduled test in Nevada–code-named Glencoe with an explosive yield larger than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Cranston and Hatfield also introduced legislation seeking to bar the spending of money to carry out American nuclear tests if the Soviet Union does not conduct tests. Unfortunately, their initiative did not succeed but would get another chance.

Five years later, following the October 5, 1991 announcement that the Soviets would suspend nuclear testing, Hatfield, along with Sen. Maj. Leader George Mitchell and House colleagues Rep. Mike Kopetski (D-Oreg.) and Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), introduced the “Nuclear Test Moratorium Act,” which called for a 1-year U.S. testing moratorium. The idea gained bipartisan support over the next several months, gaining additional political momentum as France declared a testing moratorium in April and Russia’s new President Boris Yeltsin extended the Russian moratorium in June.

On Sept. 13, 1992, after a sustained, months-long national grassroots lobbying campaign led by disarmament groups, the U.S. Senate adopted by a 55-40 margin the “Hatfield-Exon” amendment that called for a 9-month U.S. testing moratorium; placed strict conditions on any further U.S. testing; and required test ban negotiations and a prohibition on U.S. testing after September 30, 1996, unless another nation conducted a test. On September 24, House of Representatives adopted the “Hatfield-Exon” amendment by a margin of 224-151. On October 2, President Bush reluctantly signed the law containing the test moratorium legislation.

In the spring of 1993, Hatfield again led the way. In response to a draft Clinton administration plan to renew U.S. testing and to substitute a one-kiloton threshold treaty in place of a comprehensive one, Senators Exon, Hatfield, and Mitchell and Rep. Kopetski expressed strong opposition to the one-kiloton plan. They organized letters from 38 Senators and 159 Representatives in support of a test moratorium extension and negotiations leading to a ban on all nuclear testing and helped change the course of the administration’s test ban policy decision. Soon after, editorials from 46 leading newspapers appeared, almost all of them in favor extending the moratorium. Public opinion polls showed that 72% of the U.S. public favored continuing the moratorium.

On July 3, 1993 President Clinton announced that he would extend the moratorium at least through 1994 unless another nation conducted a test and would pursue completion of negotiations on the CTBT by September 1996. Clinton determined that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is “safe and reliable” and that there is no immediate need for further tests.

On August 10, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed to create an Ad Hoc Committee on a Nuclear Test Ban and to begin negotiations on a CTBT in January 1994. Less than three years later, on September 23, 1996, the CTBT was opened for signature at the United Nations in New York. President Bill Clinton was the first to sign the treaty.

Today, nearly twenty years since the last U.S. nuclear test, the logic and value of the CTBT are even more powerful.

The next chapters in the history of the nuclear age are yet to be written … we will need a few more leaders with the courage of conviction and the political savvy of Mark Hatfield to help come up with a happy ending.

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2 Responses to Sen. Mark O. Hatfield: Champion of Saner Nuclear Weapons Policies

  1. Andy says:

    Hatfield was the most anti-nuclear weapons senator ever and started his campaign to halt nuclear tests, I think I’m right in saying, in 1967, the year that he entered the senate. His dogged efforts took years to finally succeed. His deep concern about nuclear weapons arose from a visit to Hiroshima shortly after the bombing.

    He also understood the situation in Vietnam and was a staunch opponent of that war and Gulf War I. I believe, however, that he supported the invasion of Iraq.

    Still, we have an enormous amount to be grateful for to this man and I am very saddened to learn of his death.

  2. Pingback: Senator Mark O. Hatfield, 1922-2011: Champion of the Nuclear Freeze « Groundswell Blog, from Peace Action West

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