WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 — Fred Iklé, a Nixon-era arms control veteran and mentor to the current generation of nuclear “hawks”, has an apocalyptic vision of the future.
However, as a contrarian who confounds his neo-conservative admirers, he is also highly critical of the Bush administration’s handling of threats to the US, and calls the “global war on terror” a serious mistake.
Hopefully for mankind, Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, his latest book, will not become another classic to follow his 1971 Every War Must End, credited in 1991 by General Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, with inspiring him to bring to closure the first Gulf war. What he calls the “sad message” of his latest work is that the accelerating advance of technology far outpaces the zig-zag development of social and political frameworks that act as controls and brakes.
“We are spreading the dark side of technology,” he tells the FT, describing the “curse of dual use” where, in biotechnology and development of superhuman intelligence in particular, scientists may inadvertently be sowing the seeds of future destruction to be wrought by anarchists or revolutionary groups.
Sixty years ago the US contemplated maintaining a monopoly on nuclear technology, he notes as an example. Just this month the Senate approved giving nuclear assistance to India.
“This is a mistake,” he says.
At 82, still a Washington insider sitting on the Pentagon’s defence policy board, Mr Iklé’s apocalyptic fears focus less on radical Islamists or a nuclear-armed North Korea and more on the danger of a would-be tyrant seizing power by annihilating his government from within, possibly through the use of weapons of mass destruction that would be blamed on others.
He does not see the US as vulnerable to such a coup because of the “powerful influence of its body politic and the hallowed position of the constitution” – but there are likely candidates in the semi-dictatorial regimes of central Asia, the Middle East, or even Russia.
Mr Iklé is worried, however, about the danger of a nuclear attack on the US through a device smuggled into the country. He ex-presses frustration with the Bush administration’s lack of commitment to developing a radiation monitoring system.
Despite his hawkish reputation, Mr Iklé is tough on the White House, calling GWOT – the “global war on terror” – a distraction and a rallying cry that unites enemies of the US, not divides them. As for Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, his speeches warning of a generational GWOT are “defeatist and anodyne”.
Rejecting calls to arms by the same neo-conservatives who advocated invading Iraq, he says a pre-emptive attack on Iran “would be a catastrophic failure”.
Asked if he had been opposed to the war on Iraq, he answers somewhat ruefully: “I wish I could say I was. Enormous and incredible mistakes in Iraq may end up driving us out, but if we handle the exit correctly it will not make the US more vulnerable, and can be made worse for our jihadist adversaries who are killing each other.”
“Pulling out of Iraq will lead to feelings of guilt, with some justification. In some ways we have made things worse than under Saddam Hussein,” he concludes.
Annihilation from Within, published by Columbia University Press
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006