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General Lee Butler in Ottawa – 11 March

The four guest speakers, all from the United States, included General (Retired) Lee Butler, former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, with responsibility for all U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy strategic nuclear forces.

Having spoken the previous afternoon to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs (SCFAIT), they spoke midmorning, March 11, 1999, to a Round Table convened by the Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development and the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Butler – compactly built, and looking like an overly-serious 35-year-old – shared with us details of the “three-decade journey” at the end of which he came fully to “appreciate the truth that now makes me seem so odd_ And that is: we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

Later, General Butler lists steps he took “to begin to walk back the nuclear path, in the interest that others might never go down that path again.” Among them were the cutting of $40 billion worth of nuclear weapons programs, removal of bombers from alert status, closing bases, cutting 75% of the targets from the nuclear war plan, disestablishing the Strategic Air Command. He goes on to say:

As you can imagine, I went into retirement exactly five years ago with a sense of profound relief and gratitude. Relief that the most acute dangers of the Cold War were coming to a close, and gratitude that I had been given the opportunity to play some small role in eliminating those dangers. You can also imagine, then, my growing dismay, alarm and finally horror that “the creeping re-rationalization of nuclear weapons began”. The precious window of opportunity began to close, and now today United States nuclear policy is still very much that of 1984. That our forces with their hair-trigger postures are effectively the same as they have been since the height of the Cold War.

General Butler speaks of Russia as a nation in a perilous state, and continues:

NATO has been expanded up to its former borders, and Moscow has been put on notice that the United States is presumably prepared to abrogate the AMB treaty in the interest of deploying limited national ballistic missile defense. What a stunning outcome … This is an indictment. This is not a legacy worthy of the human race. This is not the world that I want to bequeath to my children and my grandchildren. It’s simply intolerable. This is above all a moral question.

Butler quotes:

one of my professional heroes – General Omar Bradley, who said on the occasion of his retirement, “We live in an age of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than we know about living.”

He adds:

We have a priceless opportunity to elevate, to nudge higher, the bar of decent, civilized behaviour, to expand the rule of law, and to learn to live on this planet with mutual respect and dignity. This is an opportunity we must not lose. My concern was such that I could not sit in silent acquiescence to the current folly.

The full text is on the (old) Science for Peace website ( The entire roundtable is on a do-not-copy videotape, from CPAC, as is the session of 10 March before SCFAIT.

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