William Robert Van Cleave (born 1935)
William Robert Van Cleave (August 27, 1935 – March 15, 2013) was a former advisor to President Ronald Reagan, the United States Department of Defense, and Department of State as well as Emeritus Professor, former head, and the founder of Missouri State University's Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS). The DSS program is now located in Fairfax, VA, 10 miles from Washington D.C.  He was also advisory council member of the Center for Security Policy, board advisor of the American Center for Democracy and National Institute for Public Policy. As a strategic thinker, he is remembered as a leading Cold Warrior and long-standing hawkish policy advocate.
Academic background and military service
Van Cleave received a B.A. in political science from the California State University, Long Beach as well as his M.A. and Ph.D. (1967) from the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University). His dissertation was titled "Nuclear Proliferation: The Interaction of Politics and Technology," and supervised by Harold W. Rood. He was Senior Research Fellow in National Security Affairs at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.
Van Cleave was Professor and Director of the Defense and Strategic Studies Program at the University of Southern California from 1967-87. Under his leadership, the DSS program started in 1971 in the School of International Relations at USC. The primary objective of the program was to provide graduate level education and training for students planning careers in national and international security affairs, policy-making, and teaching at the university-level. The program moved to Southwest Missouri State University (now MSU) in 1987 where DSS became a Department offering specialized Master of Science degree. In 2005, the University moved the Department physically to Fairfax, VA to take advantage of the many opportunities that are unique to the D.C. metropolitan area.
Van Cleave enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17, and became a Marine Security Guard at the American embassy in Vienna during the time of the Allied-occupied Austria following World War II. In 1957, he transferred to the Marine Reserves, and became an officer.
Governmental and Professional Services
Van Cleave's past professional experience included being a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks [S.A.L.T.] with the USSR, Chairman-Designate of General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Special Assistant for Strategic Policy and Planning in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, member of the Team B effort to review national intelligence on the USSR and to produce a competitive National Intelligence Estimate. From 1979 to 1981 he was Senior Advisor and Defense Policy Coordinator to Ronald Reagan and Director of the Department of Defense Transition Team between the administrations of President Carter and President Reagan. He was also a former officer at the U.S. Marine Corps.
He was the Director of the Division for Research in Strategy at the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) Trustee member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and Board Member of the Committee on the Present Danger.
Professor Van Cleave has approximately 200 professional publications, and has received numerous awards for his outstanding work as a teacher and faculty member. He was the 1979 Claremont Graduate University Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient.
Professor Van Cleave died on March 15, 2013 and is buried in Hemet, California.
WGBH - War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with William Van Cleave, 1987
Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.
William Van Cleave was an academic specializing in strategic issues. He was involved with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and a member of Team B in the 1970s. In 1980-1981, he was a senior adviser to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and directed his defense transition team. He begins with a description of the Soviet threat and the Carter administrations approach to dealing with it, of which he is critical. He explains his belief in the window of vulnerability, describing its implications but also assessing the differing views of others on the topic, notably members of the Scowcroft Commission. He goes into depth on the MX missile and the complex issue of basing, listing his objections to President Carters preferences and outlining the three-pronged approach he proposed to President-elect Reagan. He also lists the problems the SALT process posed to these ideas. In subsequent months, the Reagan administration made certain policy decisions to which he objected. He singles out Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for lacking technical background and personal interest in the subject, but he also notes certain Air Force conceptions and practices in a critical light. As early as October 1981 he found himself believing that the Carter Administration approach was far preferable to what their successors had chosen. He explains why he came to see a crash program on a small, single-warhead missile as the best option for a land-based defense. He further argues that a Soviet surprise attack is both a credible scenario and the only planning factor that makes strategic sense. He opposes idea of giving up the land-based leg of the triad mainly because it depends on arms control agreements to which the Soviets would never agree.
Interviewer: ASKS HIM TO REVIEW WHAT SOVIET THREAT WAS TO OUR FORCES.
Van Cleave: Obviously concern began to grow about land-based force, particularly ICBM vulnerability in the late 1960s. Particularly reflected in the March '69 decision by the new Nixon Administration to reshape the planned ABM program into a first priority for defending the Minuteman force. So the Safeguard ABM program as described and debated in 1969 and 1970 really focused on the survivability, vulnerability problems of that time. Of course in 1972 when we gave away defense of the ICBM force and everything else, against ballistic missiles, then the entire scientific defense community turned to examining a variety of ways that one could make a land-based ballistic missile force more survivable than if it were in fixed, known, undefended locations. And between about '72 when the ABM treaty was signed and the end of the 1970s, 30 some different basing modes had been fairly well studied during that time. As a matter of fact I'd say that there's no single defense problem that I know of that was so thoroughly studied as the problem of ICBM vulnerability in the 1970s. Through all of that there was a perception that the threat would inevitably take place. The only dispute was over how long we had and to what extent the threat would be. That is to say, how great was the threat in terms of how few of Soviet resources had to be used in order to pose a vulnerability problem. In 1976 we had the B Team on competitive intelligence. I was a member of the B Team, Mr. Paul Nitze was, Richard Pipes of Harvard, and a few others. We were charged by President Ford with reviewing intelligence estimates on Soviet strategic force programs and capabilities. Looking backwards to see if they were wrong, what accounted for them being wrong, and then doing our own competitive estimate at this point in time. The B Team in '76 warned that there would be far more rapid advancements by the Soviet Union in the number of MIRVed re-entry vehicles and in the accuracy of those vehicles than the intelligence community then projected. We felt that there would be a window of vulnerability by the early 1980s. The Carter Administration came in 1977 and not only ignored the B Team report because what it conflicted with what it preferred to view of reality, intentionally threw the B Team report out. So the first Carter MX program proposed in 1977, as I recall, that it be placed then in Minuteman silos. It was Congress that intervened at that time and said, "No chance. We're not going to have you improve the capability of a missile without commensurate improvements in the survivability. Go back and study survivability schemes. Well the Carter Administration of course did that and what it discovered at that point of time was that of all the studies of the 70s the bottom line was generally that some form of preservation of location uncertainty through multiple shelters, in one form or another, preferably austere vertical shelters, was by far the preferred system. He had a problem. It was never resolved and hasn't been resolved by the Reagan Administration. And that is the MX missile is a SALT arms control missile, it's not a strategist's missile. And it made basing particularly difficult. It really reduced any options of mobility. It did make keeping its uncertainty of location very difficult because of the sheer mass and weight and electronics and mechanics associated with it. But the Carter Administration was committed to the MX missile. By '79 I think the Carter Administration, certainly people like Harold Brown and William Perry, were beginning to perceive that the B Team's projections were accurate and we're acknowledging in unclassified Congressional hearings that we would have a real problem. That by the early 1980s the Soviets could destroy 90 percent of the ICBM force with a small fraction of their force and that was really the... The argument then came about the window of vulnerability, when would it take place and what should be done about it.
Interviewer: WHAT WAS THE WINDOW?
Van Cleave: Well the window of vulnerability as I began using the term and I think Mr. Nitze began using it about the same time. I don't know who really coined it to begin with. It might have been someone else. But we began using it, particularly after the B Team and when we began debating SALT II as part of the Committee on the Present Danger. You can view the term from a more narrow sense to a broader sense. In its most narrow sense it referred specifically to the impending ICBM vulnerability. A vulnerability of the entire ICBM force to relatively small fraction of the Soviet force. In a broader view, something that's often forgotten, and certainly the Scowcroft Commission forgot it, is that it referred overall to the vulnerability of American strategic deterrent forces and their command and control communications. We were as worried about bomber vulnerability, and C-Cubed vulnerability, and the possibility of sometime in the future, submarine vulnerability, at the time. So the window of vulnerability really referred on a broader sense to all land-based force vulnerability. In the next sense it sort of referred to an overall strategic vulnerability of the United States that would take place when Soviet strategic forces had this asymmetrical counterforce capability, plus the strong, secure force. Just the gross imbalance in forces. It seemed to us to be a window of vulnerability. So it...we used it in all three senses. But clearly when it began, when I began writing in to Mr. Reagan's statements in 1979, it referred most specifically to ICBM vulnerability.
Interviewer: ASKS NITZE SCENARIO FOR HOW SOVIETS COULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE VULNERABILITY.
Van Cleave: Well the scenario is a commonplace scenario. It's one that's been recognized by the Department of Defense, going way back to the '60s. You can see it laid out in the Safeguard debate of '69, '70, '71, Harold Brown described it in his Defense Department reports to Congress every year. And that was the scenario where there would be a well timed, coordinated attack on the land-based forces by some combination of Soviet ICBMs and SLBMs that at the same time would take out probably the early warning systems, the command and control systems. We, this scenario was even willing to say, okay, all the submarines at sea survive. But then after that first strike which takes out all of American capability against time-urgent hardened targets or non-time-urgent hardened targets, the United States is left with X number of warheads at sea, which are useful only against soft point targets, which is a force we don't want to use, that we want to keep in reserve. And facing that is an overwhelming Soviet residual force of ICBMs, SLBMs and bombers, supported by active and passive defenses. A situation where if the strike were successfully carried out in the first place, most of us who have thought it over felt that a President probably would not retaliate or if he did it would be more symbolic retaliation. And we felt that this would not be a credible deterrent, that whatever the increase in the risks of the surprise attack taking place, it certainly increased the risks in foreign policy and decision making.
Interviewer: DIDN'T SCOWCROFT QUESTION THIS SCENARIO?
Van Cleave: The Scowcroft Commission said something a little bit different than that I think. The Scowcroft Commission apparently didn't believe in a sure destruction at that time, of all-out retaliation. What they said was that a coordinated attack would be so difficult that our ICBM forces, as well as many of our bombers could launch on warning. The Scowcroft Commission solution was a launch on warning or at best a launch under attack solution. Up to the time of the Scowcroft Commission, everybody, including Harold Brown and William Perry and those of us on the opposite side of the political aisle, shunned at all costs a launch on warning or launch under attack, court of last resort much less a strategy, because of the obvious difficulties with it. Technically, operationally, strategically, intelligence, and so forth. So the Scowcroft Commission did a couple of things in this regard. It said that we could ... first of all acknowledged ICBM vulnerabilities. Since the Soviets now possess the combination of numbers, accuracy and reliability to destroy our ICBM force with a small fraction of its force. It then said, however, that that in itself was not sufficient problem to drive ICBM modernization. That's totally contrary to what the entire community believed up to that point in time. Totally contrary to what people like Harold Brown who served with the committee said in his, in his previous statements. And they said besides that, we'll get early warning of the attack and can launch on warning. That a coordinated attack is too difficult. Well, the coordinated attack problem is debated all the way back to the Safeguard debate and everybody, including Harold Brown in his 1979 report to Congress, said that while the coordinated attack is difficult, it is not impossible and we can't ignore that particular risk. So the Scowcroft Commission sort of turned that around. Earlier in 79 Harold Brown and Perry were telling Congress that our bombers became more vulnerable because of ICBM vulnerability and the Scowcroft Commission ignored that as well. And then it did one other thing that I think is potentially is a very serious blow to sound strategic logic in the United States. It turned the concept of Crisis Stability on its head. Originally Crisis Stability was an additional standard for force effectiveness. Strategic stability said in the old days of the sixties that there won't be a surprise attack because we can always retaliate with at least a submarine force. Crisis stability says now wait a minute. Still, you have to worry that even with a submarine force, at a time of crisis, if your other forces are strategically important and vulnerable, then the enemy's incentive to attack will be increased. And since the, according to the logic of that time, the only real chance of an exchange was in a crisis anyway. It was particularly in a crisis that we must assure that all major segments of the forces were survivable. That none of them, and particularly the ICBM force which is far and away the most important key to American strategy, at least since NSDM-242 in 1974. Certainly key to PD-59. Without a survivable ICBM force American strategic doctrine falls apart with the speed of light. Crisis stability understood that. Now the Scowcroft Commission uses Crisis Stability to reduce the standards for force effectiveness. It says, according to Crisis Stability that, first of all, there won't be a surprise attack. We will come out of a crisis. Because of that our bombers and ICBMs will be more alert and we can launch on warning. Therefore we don't have to worry about ICBM vulnerability, at least not for the next ten years, it said. Because remember the report said, "Yeah, it's a problem and we'd better fix it in the '90s with a small ICBM. But we can live with it in the '80s.” But as everybody knows the Scowcroft Commission's assignment was to justify the MX program to Congress and not to come up with sensible solutions for vulnerability.
Interviewer: IN THE 1980 CAMPAIGN HE SERVED AS SENIOR DEFENSE ADVISOR FOR REAGAN. ASKS WHAT THEY HAD IN COMMON IN SENSE OF WHAT NEEDED TO BE DONE?
Van Cleave: In 1980 I took a leave of absence from the University to serve as the senior defense advisor for Mr. Reagan and defense policy coordinator. Dick Allen was the national...
Interviewer: (INTERRUPTIONS REPEATS QUESTION)
Van Cleave: In 1980 I took a leave of absence from the university to be senior defense advisor for Ronald Reagan during the campaign. And coordinator of defense policy. Early on in the spring of 1980 when the newspapers were trying to say that the former Governor of California didn't know anything about foreign defense policy, Richard Allen and I set up an advisory group of experts, scanning foreign and defense policy. A hundred and some, about half of which were in defense. In the spring of '80, at that time, I suggested to Mr. Reagan that in addition to working on the campaign and the speeches, I'd put these people to work. That I'd take the defense experts, organize them into task forces, appoint chairmen, and then I'd chair the overall group. And we'd study these problems. On these task forces I used people that had been instrumental in something called the Strategic Alternatives Team. The Strategic Alternatives Team was set up about 1978 under my chairmanship, consisting of a group of policy experts like Paul Nitze, top scientists like Bill Graham, top engineers like Ben Plymale then vice president of Boeing, and others. Because we were so concerned with the vulnerability problem and with our conviction that the Administration was not addressing it seriously enough and that its solutions to it would not be timely enough. We set ourselves up to study quicker solutions, principally to the vulnerability problem. But to strategic force modernization overall. I brought most of that team into the campaign in 1980 and from the spring of 1980 up to the time of the election, we did an enormous amount of analytical work and studies and the like. And really had tentative solutions already decided upon. We held our own hearings, we had our own working groups and the like. The idea that I proposed at the time was that we could get 75 percent of the work done on a Reagan 8-year defense program by the time of the election and really be able to hit the ground running. That I would then agree to be Director of the Department of Defense transition team, between the Carter and the Reagan Administrations, which I was. And bring the professional people in who had helped me both in the Strategic Alternatives Team and doing these studies of 1980, into the Pentagon to complete the work. By turning it from unclassified into classified, by doing the necessary negotiating with the services, and saying here's what we have come up with, what's your reaction to it? Do you support it? Do you disagree? If you disagree, why do you disagree? Let's go back and address the problem again.
Interviewer: ASKS ABOUT BASING MODES FOR MX: HE TOLD CANDIDATE REAGAN IT WAS NOT GOOD TO SUPPORT....
Van Cleave: We had two problems with the Carter basing mode for MX. The basing mode, that is to say. One was the timing plan for development and deployment of the system didn't come soon enough. Mr. Reagan announced in a major speech in Chicago on March 1980, this system isn't timely enough. We'll be faced with the window of vulnerability, we need a system to provide survivability more rapidly. The other thing is that because the Carter Administration had changed the system to adapt it to then SALT II negotiations, it had changed in specific ways that we were critical of, without being critical of the concept of multiple protective shelters.
Interviewer: ASKS ADVICE TO REAGAN ON BASING.
Van Cleave: Well the advice I gave Mr. Reagan and the position that Mr. Reagan took throughout 1980 was that we were critical, not of multiple protective shelter basing but of the Carter MX plan, for two reasons. One it would not provide the necessary survivability rapidly enough. It was too slow a system. Mr. Reagan first said in March of 1980 in Chicago that this system does not solve the window of vulnerability problem rapidly enough. We need something that does it more quickly than now planned. Secondly the Carter Administration had by '79, '80, changed the system to adapt it to SALT II requirements in ways that made the system too cumbersome, too costly and too uncertain. And we were critical of those specific changes in the system.
Interviewer: WHAT FEATURES DID THEY ADD?
Van Cleave: Well in the first place, keep in mind that all of the community agreed that for various reasons vertical shelters were far the best. They carried the, the least technical risk, the least uncertainty in the pricing...
Interviewer: INTERRUPTS FOR FORMAT DISCUSSION WHAT WAS WRONG WITH CARTER MPS?
Van Cleave: The Carter version was that it had changed the original concepts of the system. For example, from vertical shelters which all studies to that time, Defense Science Board, Air Force Science Board and outside contractors, had all agreed by that time that austere vertical shelters were far preferable for any multiple protective shelter or as it was originally called, multiple aim point system. The reason being that they could be built cheaper, they were harder, they carried less technical risk, they carried less cost uncertainty, and the point here was that particularly with an MX, 192,000 pounds, when with a canister and transporter would be a million pounds, really could not be a mobile missile. And you therefore had to have location uncertainty. Vertical shelters with random occasional movement rather than mobility was what everyone agreed was the best or the most optimum solution at that time, if one ruled out defense.
Interviewer: WHY DID THE CARTER ADMINISTRATION CHANGE THE SYSTEM?
Van Cleave: As the Carter Administration was planning this multiple protective shelter and negotiating SALT II, the Committee on the Present Danger, particularly Mr. Paul Nitze but also myself and a couple of others, pointed out that there seemed to be an inconsistency here. The Carter Administration was negotiating an agreement that would rule out the very system it said was necessary for MX. The Carter Administration denied that. We kept pressing the point. At this point in time, and I believe 1979, the Carter Administration sent over to Geneva, I believe Mr. Vance at the time, to tell Mr. Semenov, the head of the Soviet delegation, sort of the following: "It is our interpretation of the SALT II agreement that this system is not ruled out and is not inconsistent with the agreement." What the Carter Administration hoped was that the emissary would go there, make the statement, turn around and come home. And following the curious American negotiating doctrine that Soviet silence means Soviet assent, everything would be alright. But the Soviet says "No, wait a minute, sorry, that's inconsistent with what you are negotiating." The Carter Administration said but, the agreement, once the protocol expires, doesn't rule out mobile ICBMs. The Soviet says, "Yeah, you're right. Mobile ICBMs a great idea. We like mobiles, we're going to have mobile ICBMs but you're not building a mobile ICBM. You're talking about building thousands of launchers." By that point in time, the silo launcher in the ground vertical was identified as a launcher for SALT counting purposes. And at least in American eyes as a missile. And if the Soviets wanted to cause trouble about this, which they did, all our argument... that this is not a launcher it's a protective shelter, could be used and was used. It's ironic because the Soviets don't necessarily use silo launchers as anything other than protective shelters. All of their ICBMs themselves come in canisters. And we should have from the earliest days of SALT I point out that these things aren't launchers, that we really don't know what a launcher is and it's stupid to limit launchers anyway. But we didn't do that. We were in that trap. Here are the Soviets saying that building all of these shelters was the same thing as building new launchers and that was prohibited. And this isn't a truly mobile system. And besides that, how can we verify it? The Carter Administration went back, took the volti...excuse me, the vertical shelters that looked like silo launchers, put them above ground, made them horizontal shelters or garages, and then tried to add much more mobility to the system, coming in with Racetrack and stuff like that. So you had horizontal shelters which were more costly and not nearly as hard, and you had a mobile system for a missile and its transporter which were too large for a mobile system. And then you introduced new problems with preserving location uncertainty. And to top all that off the Carter Administration put SALT viewing parts, ports on top of the horizontal shelters which would be open when the Soviet satellite went over so they could see which shelters held the missile. Which wasn't our idea of location uncertainty. It was those kinds of things that I think degraded the original concepts that we criticized. But we did not, we did not criticize multiple protective shelter at any time during '79 or '80.
Interviewer: CITES AIR FORCE RESERVATIONS. ASKS IF HE TALKED WITH GENERALS BURKE OR HECKER ABOUT THE PROBLEM.
Van Cleave: Well in '79 or '80 and even into '81, we had constant interaction with Air Force officials such as General Burke and General Hecker. And I was a great admirer of both men who were superb professionals and looked at this problem objectively. It's entirely correct to say that neither they nor for that matter Lew Allen favored the changes in the system that the Carter Administration made. But nonetheless they found themselves then in a bind. It was to take this system and make the best of it or risk not have any ICBM modernization at all. Or what would be even worse I believe in those gentlemen's eyes, having the MX put in Minuteman silos rather than in some type of survivable basing scheme. I think they felt it was preferable to the alternatives and they turned out to be correct, and that it would be possible to improve it as you went along.
Interviewer: WHAT DID HE SAY TO THE GENERALS?
Van Cleave: We felt that we were going to win the election in 1980 and we could make changes in it that would improve it and do it much more rapidly than the Carter Administration planned. We also felt that his system was by then so flawed that it was most unlikely either to solve the survivability problem or to get through Congress. My arguments with Gen. Burke and Gen. Hecker and the Air Force had to do again with the timing of solutions to the problem. I was recommending strongly and so did my transition team that we have an interim solution of redeploying Minuteman III in multiple protective shelters in existing Minuteman deployment areas. And then phasing MX in probably a lesser deployment in terms of numbers into those areas. And proceeding with rapid deployment of a small ICBM. The Air Force clearly preferred to stay with MX only.
Interviewer: DURING THE BILL MOYERS DEBATE HE WAS SEEN AS OPPOSING MOVING SYSTEM TO UTAH. WHY DID HE GO AHEAD AND ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO FIGHT THIS FORM OF THE SYSTEM?
Van Cleave: Well we felt that time again, make it clear that...the MX was really the wrong missile for the United States. We felt that it was a missile that would be too difficult to adapt to a sufficiently survivable basing mode. And that it would be better to take the existing force that we had, which was a good force, the Minuteman III, upgrade it and redeploy it in a far more survivable mode. We at that point in time felt that there was sufficient time and probability to do that that we should push on that even at the risk that it might cause for MX at the time.
Interviewer: SO HE DID REALLY BACK THE STRUGGLE OF PEOPLE IN UTAH/NEVADA AGAINST THIS BASING SYSTEM?
Van Cleave: No, that's not quite correct to say. Because in the final analysis I thought particularly when there's further delay in rebasing Minuteman III, that we, if we were going to have the MX, and I was a supporter all the time of Minuteman, of ICBM modernization and increased counter-force capabilities and the like, that if we were going to have it, we had to have some time of a multiple shelter basing. My strategic alternative team and my group of experts up through the transition, still felt that it was probably a mistake to try to propose to put this system into new areas when we had six wings of Minuteman deployment scattered all around the country, encompassing about 200,000 square miles where people were used to having ICBMs. And where particularly, if you had the original MPS concept with vertical shelters, you could include in those existing deployment areas, and, or, on other military reservation. We had then 30,000 square miles of fenced military reservations available as well. And it was really, again, the MX missile that was driving the basing. Rather than the other way around.
Interviewer: WHY DID HE FEEL THE BIG MISSILE REMAINED UNCHANGED THROUGH DESIGN PHASES AND THE BASING MODE CHANGED?
Van Cleave: The Air Force has had an interest in larger missiles for cost effectiveness reasons going back in the 1960s. Given the threat as defined in the late '60s, and throughout the early to middle 1970s, then there wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with a large missile in fixed shelters. The larger missile was also a product of SALT. When you began counting and limiting the numbers of things, i.e., launchers or missiles, you increased the pressure to make bigger and bigger things. As well as cost effectiveness and re-entry vehicle deployment reasons do as well. Strategic logic would have counseled producing the same capability but scattering it into a larger number of smaller packages, which packages were individually less lucrative and less attractive targets or aim points, and could be made more survivable through both proliferation and mobility. Mobility and concealment become almost exponentially more difficult as the size of the missile and its associated equipment increase. And therefore we, we were against that because of survivability. I think the Air Force wanted it for SALT reasons because they wanted a larger missile, because by that time the MX was the only ICBM under development and they were afraid of losing it. And because they felt that if you let them work the problem they could solve the vulnerability problem adequately.
Interviewer: DID HE RECOMMEND TO REAGAN THAT HE CONSIDER REDEVELOPING MISSILE ALONG SMALLER LINES AND MAKING IT MORE MOBILE?
Van Cleave: We had different phases of what we were recommending because we were trying to be realistic about it and we certainly wanted Air Force cooperation as much as we could get. By the time of the transition we had a three-pronged approach to the problem. One was as I said, redeployment of Minuteman III, in multiple shelters in existing deployment areas. The second was continued development of the MX missile for adaptation into that same MX, MPS deployment, but probably in lesser numbers than the 200 planned by the Carter Administration. And the third was concurrent, rapid deployment of the single warhead, small ICBM. Which would be adaptable to a larger number of survivability measures from mobility to concealment. Those were the three approaches that we were recommending. Now you can see readily with the first and the third, the second wasn't needed... It just wasn't needed. But it was partly a concession to the Air Force and partly it was a hedge against some unforeseen failure, technical or political, in the development of the small ICBM.
Interviewer: IS HE SAYING, IF WE COULD HAVE DEVELOPED A SMALL MOBILE MISSILE, THEN MX WAS UNNECESSARY?
Van Cleave: That MX was not only unnecessary. If we could do those two things, redeploy Minuteman III and develop the small ICBM expeditiously, MX would be a bad idea.
Interviewer: SALT GOT IN THE WAY FOR US STRATEGICALLY. DID HE FEEL WE SHOULD ABANDON SALT AND GO AHEAD TO DO WHAT WAS UNILATERALLY BEST FOR US?
Van Cleave: SALT certainly got in the way of solving the survivability problem for ICBMs. Keep in mind that SALT either prohibited or was biased against essentially every way that I know of to have a survivable land-based ballistic missile force. First of all, it limited your numbers. That is, it prevented proliferation of aim points and increased the value inevitably, of each aim port. Secondly the SALT ABM treaty says you can't defend them against ballistic missile defense. Thirdly, for verification reasons, you couldn't conceal them without going to an enormous amount of difficulties such as was in the MPS system, and fourthly, also for verification reasons, it was the American position in SALT, from the earliest days of SALT I to this very day in the Reagan Administration, that mobile ICBMs should be banned. Now if you can't proliferate aim points, if you can't defend, if you can't conceal, and you can't make them mobile, I don't know how to make ICBMs survivable. And that's been a product of SALT.
Interviewer: ASKS ABOUT GOVERNORS SCOTT MATHESON AND ROBERT LIST.
Van Cleave: At the time of the Bill Moyers debate in Salt Lake City on MX and MX basing, the governors of the two states involved, Bob List of Nevada and Scott Matheson of Utah were still rather favorable towards MX deployment in their states, as I recall. Gov. Matheson was of course perceptive to social objections and to what the Mormon Church's position would be, but Robert List was still looking at it as a very potential economic boom to the state of Nevada and was not at that time opposing it. It shows that the political situation can change when there's a very determined and articulate minority making dramatic if not outrageous claims about the consequences of deployment.
Interviewer: SENATOR GARN SAYS LAXALT AND HE TURNED REAGAN AGAINST THE SYSTEM.
Van Cleave: Jake Garn and Paul Laxalt probably had a lot to do with persuading Mr. Reagan and Mr. Weinberger that by 1980 it was not a good idea to put the system in their states as envisaged at the time. I had many discussions with both Jake Garn and Paul Laxalt and I found them quite willing to consider alternative deployment modes that were not as disruptive as that planned by the Carter Administration. Paul Laxalt on the other hand was quite in sympathy with my urging about Minuteman redeployment and my suggestion that a lesser deployment of Minuteman could be phased into a multiple protective shelter system around the Cheyenne, Wyoming, Air Force Base.
Interviewer: ASKS IF IT'S IRONIC THAT CARTER WOULD GIVE MX MISSILE TO PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY FROM THE COMMITTEE ON THE PRESENT DANGER TO GET SALT II RATIFIED—AND THEN REALLY GOT NOTHING.
Van Cleave: Well I don't think, I don't think it was a matter of the Carter Administration giving opponents of SALT II the MX missile. Because the MX missile would not have relieved one bit our opposition to SALT II. And in fact, most of us had reservations about the MX missile. I think that the responsible people in the Carter Administration like Secretary Brown and Dr. William Perry, by that time, themselves felt something had to be done about ICBM vulnerability and also favored improving the capability of the force.
Interviewer: SHOULD WE HAVE BUILT THE LARGEST MISSILE WE COULD UNDER THE SALT RULES? HAVE AS MUCH TARGET COVERAGE AS POSSIBLE?
Van Cleave: If we were to be bound forever and ever to SALT rules, then there is a lot to be said about building the largest lightweight ICBM and SS-19 size ICBM, which is the MX, that the rules will allow. We badly needed increased counterforce and increased ICBM capability, or we couldn't either carry out our own doctrine or have essential equivalence with the Soviet Union. In that case, however, we either needed ballistic missile defense of those larger missile systems, or we needed to get back to a sensible multiple protective shelter system. My own preferred solution would have been to do away with limits on launchers or aim points, and even limits on missiles, and look at such thing as overall throw weight limits on capability. So you agreed on what ceilings or capability you would have, but then the sides were left to adapt those forces to the best survivable mode that they could find. And in my view that would have been the same capacity, the same increased counter-force capability, but divided up among a large number of very small missiles that could be either concealed or made mobile or if necessary also defended.
Interviewer: HOW WAS WEINBERGER'S PHILOSOPHY DIFFERENT FROM YOURS — YOU WERE SLATED TO HIS JOB...
Van Cleave: The... I'm not sure there's a difference in philosophy between myself and the new Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. On the one hand there is a bureaucratic difference that for a year, plus the transition, I had been organizing the Reagan defense plan and a lot of people in the building, Pentagon, and outside of it, were sort of looking at me as if I were Secretary of Defense. I never expected to become Secretary of Defense. I knew I didn't have the political experience or anything else. That was one problem. The other problem, the real problem was that as fine a man as Mr. Weinberger is and as great his service in government, he simply simply was not experience in defense problems and in such matters as ICBM survivability.
Interviewer: WHAT MISTAKE DID HE MAKE?
Van Cleave: The mistake made by Mr. Weinberger was sort of several fold.... The mistake made by Mr. Weinberger was several fold. First of all, he didn't have the background and knowledge to tackle the problem expeditiously and he sought to buy time bureaucratically by forming one study panel such as the Townes Panel after another, all the way to the Scowcroft Commission, to restudy a problem that had already been studied more than any single defense problem in my knowledge, and didn't need any more study. Secondly, a priori, he rejected the multiple protective shelter. For whatever set of reasons, I'm not entirely certain. Perhaps politically he was convinced that it wouldn't work in Utah and Nevada. Perhaps he was convinced that we opposed the system in 1980. Ronald Reagan really didn't oppose the basing scheme and we didn't oppose the missile either, although none of us were very enthusiastic about it. But nonetheless, Mr. Weinberger would not consider any discussion of the multiple protective shelters from day one. He wouldn't even listen to the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Air Force on the problem. What he did was say, in essence, now fellows, that I have ruled out, the only two known ways to make the MX survivable, ballistic missile defense and multiple shelters, come up with another solution. And the MX, and the Air Force and OSD cast around for one thing after another, and came up, predictably, with one very bad idea after the other, from the C-5A or Big Bird air mobility, to dense pack and closely spaced basing to what have you. And then finally shrugged their shoulders and went right back to 1977 and the Carter Administration and stuck them in Minuteman silos.
Interviewer: DID HE TRY TO CONVINCE WEINBERGER TO LOOK AT THE FACTS?
Van Cleave: I tried on several occasions to brief Cap Weinberger about all the work that we had done on the entire strategic force modernization program, and particularly on the problem of ICBM vulnerability and the options among Minuteman II, MX, and the small ICBM. Mr. Weinberger was not interested at the time of his appointment, and before inauguration day, in hearing those briefings. Either at the Pentagon or when my deputy, Dr. Plymale and I flew to San Francisco. He was interested in the threat briefings that we brought along and was very attentive to those. He was not interested in the options that we had by that time formulated, or our preferred on those options. It was my idea to present him the options, tell him which ones the services favored, if they were different, from which ones his transition team favored. And ... lay them out that way. He would not listen to those. I then tried to guide him and his representatives, such as Mr. Taft, to the written materials that we had formulated, the boxes of materials. We had large briefing books that laid out all of these options in exquisite detail. I am not aware that any of that team looked at any of those materials in any way whatsoever. Later on Mr. Plymale and I finished a summary report of what we did and I personally delivered that to Mr. Carlucci. I am not aware that anyone paid any attention to that either. When it became clear as 1981 was going on, and the Air Force was beginning to get very worried about the new Administration, when it became clear that they weren't moving to resolve the problem in any way whatsoever, I prepared a couple of written memorandums and took them to Richard Allen and to Ed Meese. And we had discussions of the problem and I got absolutely nowhere.
Interviewer: ASKS HIM TO REPEAT ANSWER, CONCENTRATING ON BASING QUESTION.
Van Cleave: Well the problem here is that I didn't have a chance to outline any of the options for ICBM survivability for Mr. Weinberger because he wouldn't take the time to listen to them.
Interviewer: HE WOULDN'T LISTEN TO MULTIPLE PROTECTIVE SHELTER SYSTEM?
Van Cleave: I had the strong feeling in the meetings I had after Cap Weinberger was appointed Secretary of Defense, up to the time when the transition team was dissolved and Mr. Weinberger didn't care to hear of any of the options or recommendations or solutions that we had come up with.
Interviewer: DID HE REGRET HAVING COMING OUT AGAINST THE MPS EARLIER? IF THEY HAD USED THE CARTER SCHEDULE YOU MIGHT HAVE HAD 200 MISSILES BASED SURVIVABLY?
Van Cleave: By October of 1981, when the Reagan Administration announced strategic force modernization program, and announced having the number... halfing the number of MX missiles and putting them in Minuteman silos, I certainly did feel that the Carter Administration approach was far preferable to that without any shadow of a doubt whatsoever. And by that period of time, as a matter of fact, right about that time, I gave an address to the professional community in Washington, D.C., at a semi-annual defense form meeting, where I went over these particular options. And at that time explained why I didn't favor the things that were being discussed, but did make the point that I felt something was far better than nothing. That we badly needed an ICBM development, a modernization program, and at that point of time any movement in the direction of survivability was infinitely preferable than just putting things in silos. Also at that point of time I remember meeting Harold Brown at a lunch at the Committee on the Present Danger where Dr. Brown was sort of kidding me about wasn't the Carter Administration approach to this far better than what the Reagan Administration had come up with. And I had to acknowledge that yes, indeed, it was.
Interviewer: WASN'T THAT HARD BECAUSE THE AIR FORCE HAD SAID IN 1979 NOT TO OBJECT TO THIS BECAUSE WE WON'T GET A SYSTEM?
Van Cleave: The Air Force's position was indeed that if we pushed the other types of options, such as Minuteman redeployment and the small ICBM, that we would likely lose the MX program. As it turned out that wasn't quite correct because we didn't get the MX program either. And we don't have the MX program now that the Air Force envisioned then.
Interviewer: WHAT WAS HIS TAKE ON THE SCOWCROFT COMMISSION REPORT?
Van Cleave: By 1982 I had become persuaded that the MX missile was the problem. And I was writing Op-Ed pieces and the like, saying that the Reagan Administration adopted the Carter missile which was a bad idea, and threw out the Carter basing scheme which was a good idea. But that now the Reagan Administration had the opportunity to come up with the Reagan missile and a Reagan basing scheme, and it was called the small ICBM adapted to multiple protective shelter or other options of mobility. And by that time I was saying again that the MX was the problem. I wrote a major piece in the Washington Post in December of 82 on that which led to my being summoned as one of the ... initial witnesses before the Scowcroft Commission. I spent a good deal of time testifying and answering their questions, and I believe I was partly responsible for persuading them of the wisdom of a small, single RV, ICBM program. As a matter of fact, I got an early copy of their report inscribed to me by one of the members, Jim Woolsey, you know, with the inscription, "With thanks for the main idea." And at that point of time I was feeling strongly that we really needed a crash program on small ICBM.
Interviewer: WHERE DID THE IDEA ORIGINATE?
Van Cleave: The small ICBM is an idea that has floated around for a long period of time. It was something that various elements of the scientific and policy community have been interested in. Paul Nitze had been interested in it for a number of years. People at R-D Associates on the West Coast, had been interested. It's just an idea that had been around for a long period of time.
Interviewer: WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENTS THAT IT'S JUST TOO EXPENSIVE?
Van Cleave: Well I don't believe the small ICBM is too expensive. But what we're listening to here when we're listening to these costs, we're listening to the Air Force. Which wants to protect the MX. Now any system, particularly since the Air Force and its contractors have a monopoly on ICBM research and development and procurement, any system can be made to look as arbitrarily costly and to take as much time as they wanted to look at. And then when you add the fact that the government bureaucracy in DOD anyway can make any simple problem exceedingly difficult, and any difficult problem virtually impossible to solve, you can string out the time and the costs. I think this hit its peak when during the transition the Air Force attempted unsuccessfully to tell the transition team that it would take longer and cost more to take a missile we already had, redeploy it in existing deployment areas where the infrastructure existed, where the political community accepted it, than it would to develop a brand new missile, the MX, put it in an entirely new area, and solve all the environmental and engineering problems. That was absolutely absurd.
Interviewer: WHY HAS THE AIR FORCE STALLED ON THIS, AND WHY?
Van Cleave: The Air Force in my view as an institution has undoubtedly been stalling on the small ICBM or the Midgetman. But it has also lost favor, partly because of Air Force actions toward it in the office of the Secretary of Defense. There are really three contributing factors to the problems with the small ICBM today. First of all the Scowcroft Commission, not wanting it to interfere with the MX, made it an 1990s initial operating capabilities system. A 1990s system. When I testified to the Scowcroft Commission, with all the expert support I had behind me, I testified that there was no reason that we couldn't have that system beginning deployment within four years. That was the end of '82, start of '83. That is to say in 1987 to at most beginning 1988 system. There is no reason to call it a 1992 system unless the Scowcroft Commission was under instructions to preserve the MX and not use this to be a... an alternative to the MX or a competitor to it. The Air Force by that time was institutionally dedicated to the MX missile and saw the small ICBM also as a competitor. That doesn't mean the entire Air Force. No doubt the small ICBM program officers have been devoted to the small ICBM. And the... and SAC has also been in favor of the small ICBM because there is a lot to be said for targeting purposes. For a single warhead missile rather than a large MIRVed missiles. So there have been pockets of support in the Air Force. But at the highest levels the Air Force has not been favorable to the small ICBM. To give it unfavorable comparison with the MX, they have come up with cost effectiveness techniques based upon the number of warheads carried per unit cost. Rather than the true comparison, which is how many survivable warheads do we have and what's the cost of a survivable warhead, not the cost of a warhead in peace, for heaven's sake. Nobody's ever used that for anything. But those kinds of comparisons coupled with assumptions about SALT limitations on the number of small ICBMs have driven the unit cost of the small ICBM to a point where it has to be unattractive. If you're really talking about 300 small ICBMs, and you are using a calculation based on cost per warhead, then it's going to be unattractive to me.
Van Cleave: The small ICBM as it's been developed by the Air Force has become an unattractive system for many in the Office of Secretary of Defense. Because they feel it will be too costly, the numbers will be too low, and that given the Air Force's approach on cost effectiveness calculations, it makes more sense to have a MIRVed small ICBM. But a MIRVed small ICBM means two things. First of all it means a growth in the missile weight. And a growth in the missile weight means an even greater growth in the weight of the overall transporter or erector launcher package. Every pound of growth in the weight of the missile means about 8 pounds growth in the weight of the transporter and canister and things for that missile. When you begin to make a MIRV out of it, you've taken what was originally a 25,000 missile and then a 33 and then a 38, and you're up to close to Minuteman-sized missile, 60 to 70,000 pounds. That becomes more difficult to make mobile and more difficult to conceal and it also becomes more costly. Secondly, however, there were many strategic reasons for a single warhead vehicle. Ranging from reducing the attractiveness of the target, changing the strategic exchange ratio so the enemy expends more warheads than he gets of ours. And because there are many targeting reasons to have small or single re-entry vehicles rather than MIRVed. But now OSD, knowing all of those things, has now become dis-enamored, if that's the right word, of the small ICBM. And is in fact against it.
Interviewer: HOW DOES HE FEEL ABOUT HML?
Van Cleave: I don't believe that the HML... I don't believe that the hardened mobile launcher is the right way to go for a small ICBM, I think it adds far too much weight and far too much cost to what should have been kept a very simple and austere system. The small ICBM, if it were kept small enough, like 25,000 or 30,000 pounds, or with the 10 years it's taking to develop it, technology could probably give you a 18,000 to 20,000 pound ICBM with a thousand pound warhead, without any trouble at all. If you'd kept it small you could have adapted it to a greater variety of mobile configurations. The hard mobile launcher adds too much weight to do that, and I think probably the best thing would be to take the small ICBM and adapt it to a multiple protective shelter system. In that regard I'd do two things. I would make austere vertical shelters on the fenced military reservations for the prime deployment. And then I'd add a large number of even cheaper, possible even horizontal shelters outside the military reservation. To which the system could scatter if it did receive enough warning to do so.
Interviewer: WHY DID THE AIR FORCE PUSH THE HML?
Van Cleave: I don't know why the Air Force is pushing the hard mobile launcher. I've seen Air Force design studies that support it in an engineering fashion. And I'm sure that many of the Air Force officers working on it have become convinced that the hard mobile launcher is the best solution to barrage types of threats and the like. Also, they are operating on a couple of assumptions. One, off the road mobility is a non-starter politically, and secondly, multiple protective shelters wouldn't get past the Secretary of Defense who to recently was Cap Weinberger. So if you ruled out off the road mobility, and you ruled out multiple protective shelters, and you're talking about making a system mobile or quasi mobile in the land areas that are being discussed, then the hard mobile launcher can be said to make sense. I wouldn't rule out the other two things. I would in fact try and return to them.
Interviewer: WAS THE AIR FORCE DOING THAT TO SABOTAGE...
Van Cleave: I would also add that I do have my suspicions that many in the Air Force do favor the hard mobile launcher because it helps make the small ICBM look less attractive and more costly.
Interviewer: SHOULD THE SCOWCROFT COMMISSION HAVE KILLED THE MX AND MOVED AHEAD WITH THE SMALL MISSILE?
Van Cleave: I firmly believe that the Scowcroft Commission would have done far greater service to the national security of the nation if it had recommended that the Reagan Administration scrap the MX and had recommended a crash program to develop and deploy the small ICBM.
Interviewer: ASKS HOW HE FEELS ABOUT MXS IN SILOS.
Van Cleave: It makes me very uncomfortable to have MXs stuck in silos. I am entirely for more capable ICBM forces. But survivability comes first and all along survivability has been the number one priority. And it's as simple as that. We can't have major increases in capability without commensurate improvements in survivability.
Interviewer: WEINBERGER SAYS HE SAW WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY AS NOT JUST NEEDING TO PROTECT OUR MISSILES BUT WE NEEDED TO MATCH PERCEPTUALLY THE OFFENSIVE CAPABILITY OF THE SOVIETS. THE MX IN SILOS THEN DOES THAT.
Van Cleave: I have no problem with Mr. Weinberger's description of the term window of vulnerability as including essential equivalence and perceptual equivalence with Soviet capabilities. In the broadest sense I would agree that that should be encompassed by the term. But that in itself is no reason to put MX missiles in vulnerable configurations. You're not, you're not building weapons, you're building targets if you do that. You're not improving essential equivalence at all. You're destabilizing a situation, it seems to me.
Interviewer: ASKS HIM TO REPEAT ANSWER.
Van Cleave: With his definition. If I were to take my original definition of window of vulnerability one step farther and broadening it, I would say yes, essential equivalence. I would say, as a matter of fact, being able to accomplish the objectives that we have set for our strategic forces which includes essential equivalence.
Interviewer: ASKS HIM TO REPEAT PART OF ANSWER.
Van Cleave: I had no quarrel with Cap Weinberger's window of vulnerability broadly enough to encompass essential equivalence with the Soviet Union. And I certainly believe the United States should attempt to match Soviet counterforce capability and that increased ICBM capabilities are necessary to do that. But that in itself is no reason to put these capabilities in a vulnerable configuration. That's not adding weapons, it's adding targets. And it doesn't help essential equivalence to do it in that fashion.
Interviewer: SCOWCROFT COMMISSION SAID WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY HAD BEEN WAY OVER EMPHASIZED. THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT FOR A DECADE OR SO.
Van Cleave: The Scowcroft Commission said that the window of vulnerability exists today but that it had been over emphasized for a decade. That it was not itself sufficiently important to be thee driving factor for ICBM modernization. I think the Scowcroft Commission was dead wrong and I think that really reflects the truth that the Scowcroft Commission's charter was to come up with an MX package that would be persuasive to Congress.
Interviewer: WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT TO BUILD MX?
Van Cleave: Why was it so important to build that particular MX? Because there was strong commitment to it. Reagan was committed to the MX by that point in time, the Air Force was committed to the MX. And there were sound reasons for proceeding with an ICBM development program. We hadn't deployed a new ICBM for a number of years. Soviet ICBM forces were far surpassing those of the United States in every measure of capability. My only problem here is that the window of vulnerability and ICBM survivability have indeed been the foremost strategic problems facing our strategic forces for a number of years, and increasingly so. And I think the Scowcroft Commission did a very poor job of rationalizing, or attempting to rationalize that problem away.
Interviewer: FIRST YOU FOMENTED CRITICISM OF CARTER MPS SYSTEM; LATER YOU CAME TO SEE IT WAS THE BEST SOLUTION AND ARGUED ITS CASE TO WEINBERGER?
Van Cleave: I criticized the Carter multiple protective shelter because I think that it had itself become a degraded system compared to the sounder concepts for multiple protective shelters. I also criticized it because at that time I was persuaded as were many others that there were in fact alternatives to that program that were viable politically, that were a far more timely solutions to the vulnerability problem, and that were technically and operationally superior to that particular plan. Had I known at the time, or had the problem been defined to me at that time, as this or nothing, I would certainly have preferred that to nothing.
Interviewer: DANIEL GRAHAM SAID MPS WAS DESIGNED TO SOAK UP THE VERY SOVIET WEAPONS THAT SHOULD BE THE PRIME TARGETS FOR MX IN A COUNTERFORCE ROLE.
Van Cleave: Danny Graham's statement about this being a system to soak up Soviet RVs, I think was really one made to enforce his own preferred view that we spend more of our money on ballistic missile defense isn't on defensive forces than these offensive forces. And on that principle I certainly agree with Gen. Graham that we should spend more money on ballistic missile defenses and strategic defenses. But the purpose of a, of a survivability scheme or basing scheme for an ICBM force is, is distorted if it's phrased as a way to soak up things. What it's, what it's there for is to increase attack requirements, thereby multiply uncertainties and reduce the incentives for, for attack. It's there to deter attack on the system.
Interviewer: DOES HE FIND SURVIVABILITY OF MX MORE IMPORTANT THAN LARGE NUMBER OF TARGET COVERAGE CAPABILITY?
Van Cleave: There are two reasons to modernize the ICBM force. Both of them are important. One is survivability and the other is increased capability. As important as increased capability is, it is not more important than survivability.
Interviewer: ASKS IF AIR FORCE FAVORED CAPABILITY, CONGRESS FAVORED SURVIVABILITY.
Van Cleave: I think it's entirely true that the Air Force has always put increased capability before survivability because they've already spent more time and money working on the missile than on the basing scheme. That was the case with MX, and it's the case now with the small ICBM.
Interviewer: ASKS HOW HE FEELS ABOUT RAIL GARRISON PROPOSAL.
Van Cleave: The rail garrison proposal is one that, if I had any alternatives to it, that I was attracted to. That if the Administration told me that it's willing to deploy a ballistic missile defense of MX or any other portion of the ICBM force, that I would reject. But I certainly think it's preferable to putting MX in Minuteman silos.
Interviewer: BUT HIS PREFERENCE IS...
Van Cleave: My preference would be to go with the small ICBM and/or with ballistic missile defense, than with the MX and a rail garrison mode, without any shadow of a doubt. The rail garrison mode at least does something for survivability beyond just putting the things in the Minuteman silo. But it is still a system that depends upon strategic warning for its survivability.
Interviewer: ASKS IF BOLT OUT OF THE BLUE IS REALISTIC SCENARIO.
Van Cleave: I think the only prudent planning factor is the surprise attack. It's the only one that makes sense. Even if one were to argue and to believe that a surprise attack has near zero probability because the only scenario in which one could imagine a Soviet attack would be one growing out of a crisis. Simply because our forces are inherently more survivable if they're on generated alert, and in a crisis mode, any Soviet decision to attack would probably include attempts to stand down from a crisis situation so that the attack in effect would be a surprise attack. When you add to that the very great political, psychological likelihood that information of an attack would be information more resisted by American decision makers than any other information of value... imaginable. Then surprise attack becomes technically at least as likely if not more likely than an attack with warning.
Interviewer: ASKS HOW HE ACCOUNTS FOR THE CHANGE: THE ADMINISTRATION HAS TAKEN A TOTALLY DIFFERENT DIRECTION FROM WHAT HE HAS RECOMMENDED.
Van Cleave: Well I can't really account except for reasons that have been explained, why the Reagan Administration took a position on ICBM programs far different than I had recommended or that the transition team had recommended, or that its own strategic forces of 1980 had recommended, except to say that to Mr. Weinberger was adamantly determined not to pay any attention to the recommendations of those particular groups and of myself.
Interviewer: ASKS WHY HE SAID IN 1976 HE WOULD PREFER TO TAKE THE SOVIET FORCES TO OURS.
Van Cleave: I don't remember the date, but you're probably correct that as long as ten years ago in Congressional testimony I did say that if there were a possibility of trading Soviet strategic nuclear force...trading American strategic nuclear forces for Soviets, we'd be better off and I'd make the swap at that point of time. I saw Soviets strategic nuclear forces already possessing the potential far to surpass those of the United States in the capabilities essential to meeting our own strategic doctrine. Besides the fact that it was the American strategic forces that were being made vulnerable by the Soviet strategic forces, and not the Soviet strategic forces that were being made vulnerable by American strategic forces. So on the Soviet side you had at once a more capable force, or at least in potential, and a far more survivable, or less vulnerable force.
Interviewer: DOES HE THINK THE SOVIETS WOULD TRY TO LAUNCH AN ATTACK THAT TOOK OUT MOST OF OUR KEY MILITARY ATTRIBUTES AND NOT EXPECT US TO COUNTER?
Van Cleave: I think it's entirely credible that we should plan on the basis of the Soviet attack, counterforce attack, reserving strong residual forces to try and dissuade any American response. Whatever one believes about the credibility of such a scenario, any prudent strategic planner must base his planning on that kind of scenario and that kind of assumption. For years, since we've had ICBM forces, the planning scenario agreed upon by every Administration was that of a well-executed surprise attack. The term well executed surprise attack has been used by every Secretary of Defense since Mr. McNamara and including Mr. Brown. That was the planning factor deemed prudent for judging the survivability and efficiency of our strategic forces, and there seemed to me to be very sound reasons for doing so. It may well be that the Soviet Union would always be deterred from waging such an attack because of the possibility of some type of measurable American retaliation. One doesn't know. But in any type of strategic analysis today, we've gotten to a position as Mr. Brzezinski and other have publicly acknowledged, where the uncertainties surrounding a hypothetical Soviet surprise attack are far less than the uncertainties associated with an American retaliation.
Interviewer: CITES SCOWCROFT COMMISSIONS VIEW.
Van Cleave: The Scowcroft Commission did rationalize its position by saying that not the uncertainty so much but the difficulties of a coordinated attack on all land-based forces, coupled with the surviving forces at sea, would be not a very satisfactory or comfortable but an adequate deterrent for this decade. Only.
Interviewer: IS A SURPRISE ATTACK CREDIBLE?
Van Cleave: A surprise attack to me is not only a credible scenario, I'm not judging the probability of it, but it is a credible scenario because it's the one that makes the most sense strategically, it's the one that best fits into Soviet doctrine and mentality, and it's the one from which an attacker could expect to derive the most. More than the question of credibility which is judgmental, it's the only sensible planning factor. It's the only prudent scenario upon which one should base strategic force planning and one's evaluation of the sufficiency of your strategic deterrent forces. Every Secretary of Defense since Robert McNamara, indeed since we've had land-based ballistic missiles, has used the term "well executed surprise attack" as a kind of threat against which we have to design the survivability of our forces. And I believe that that's sound.
Interviewer: WHY NOT GIVE UP LAND-BASED ICBMS BECAUSE THEY ARE HARD TO MAKE SURVIVABLE?
Van Cleave: Giving up land-based ICBMs because of the difficulties of making them adequately survivable, has been an option that many people have recommended and an option that has been discussed for a long period of time. The logic behind it says, Why not give up the type of system that is at once the most threatening and at the same time the most vulnerable. That kind of logic of course presupposes a strategic arms limitation agreement where both sides would agree to do that. Since we know the Soviet side is not going to do that, the only question becomes "Should the United States unilaterally give up an ICBM force because we have found it too difficult to make it adequate survivable?" My own preference would be to say No to that because I believe we can make one adequately survivable because the ICBM is absolutely critical to current American strategic doctrine and policy. To relinquish it would at least require major changes in that doctrine. And because there are many attributes an ICBM have that are in its favor, such as low operations and maintenance, sounder communications, and everything like that. But if you really posed the question as "Can we only have a vulnerable and essentially inadequate ICBM force?" then of course I have to reconsider what the alternatives are to that. I would prefer to keep an ICBM force and to work on making it survivable.
Interviewer: WHY DID MX BECOME SUCH A CAMPAIGN ISSUE FOR REAGAN IN 1980?
Van Cleave: The MX was a big campaign issue for Ronald Reagan in 1980 because strategic force modernization and inadequacy of defense programs were a big issue and the ICBM was just part of that. At the time, in 1980, we were emphasizing the overall inadequacy of defense programs and defense budgets. We were emphasizing that strategic force modernization was still taking 8 percent or less of the defense budget at a time when the strategic balance was shifting radically in favor of the Soviet Union and more must be done there. And then finally the window of vulnerability began to focus attention on the MX and ICBM problem. But if you look back at the Republican platform in Detroit of 1980, or at any of the statements that Mr. Reagan made on defense, the ICBM wasn't singled out for extra attention or focus. It was just part of a lot of things that we were saying needed to be done. We were making strong recommendations at the time on everything from the B-1 to better pay for military personnel and increased readiness.
Interviewer: DID YOU CAMPAIGN ON THE ISSUE OF THE WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY — AND THEN DO NOTHING ABOUT IT?
Van Cleave: The candidate who campaigned on the window of vulnerability not only did not proceed to close that window of vulnerability, but opened it wider.