Sec. Moniz’s Interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Regarding Ukraine

Sec. Moniz’s Interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Regarding Ukraine

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Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC:  Joining me now is former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. He is the co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. We’ve talked in the past about nuclear weapons, but never in a situation like this with a hot war in the middle of Europe?

Former Sec. Ernest Moniz: Right. Well, I think President Putin’s statement was really reckless, reprehensible and also ironic, because just last month, he signed, along with the leaders of the United States, China, France and Great Britain, the so-called P5, a statement reaffirming that nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought. So this step of going to high alert when one already has situations of really inadequate times to make decisions with regard to nuclear weapons use, is very, very dangerous. We’re talking here about a miscalculation, blunder. You know, fog of war, fighter jet strays over the Poland/Ukraine border or other things occur, which of course, are not part of the plan. That happens a lot in war, and this could escalate very, very badly.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: You’ve been involved in a lot of high stakes negotiations. You were part of the team negotiating the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, all of the technical aspects of that. We’re now at the precipice of the Administration possibly buying into Iran rejoining and the US rejoining and Iran agreeing to compliance. A lot of critics at home and certainly Israel, say you need a lot more because they’ve gained so much knowledge in the years since we’ve been out of it because of President Trump and they broke out of it as well accordingly. So you’ve got that. You’ve got North Korea firing off a missile today again their eighth in just a month and a half. I mean, we have enough proliferation in this world to worry about it. Now he starts talking about using nuclear weapons well not using, but putting them on alert?

Former Sec. Ernest Moniz: Right, and well, and in particular, I think even if we can hopefully get a standing down in the nuclear space, frankly, damage has been done, because it has elevated, after a lot of progress towards nonproliferation, again the role of nuclear weapons in the minds of leaders’ security strategy. And so frankly, we’ve already taken a couple of steps back. We have to get back to the wheel and put our shoulders to it in order to continue to have nuclear weapons viewed as more and more purely a deterrence against nuclear use. Putin has no threat to him, frankly, either conventionally or through nuclear use today. And so this is really a very unnecessary escalation. It frankly also brings up what has long been speculated, not fully confirmed, but speculated, I would say, as Russian strategy, to sometimes perhaps use a so-called small nuclear weapon as a way to escalate on the path to de-escalation. That’s another very, very bad judgment. If it’s correct, if it’s true, because a nuclear use has much more probability of escalating than of de-escalating.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: You know, and I covered all of the nuclear negotiations between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and I saw the whole trajectory towards multiple agreements on long range and intermediate range and, you know, short range weapons as well as theater weapons, so that we thought we had the US, Soviet and now US, Russia piece under control, relative control.

Former Sec. Ernest Moniz: Well, you know, we’ve said before that we think that the risk of nuclear use is higher today than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And that was a statement made before the Ukraine escalation and Putin’s alerting of his nuclear forces. So you can imagine that level of risk is even much, much higher. And it’s very, very important that we stand down certainly from this nuclear precipice that we are way too close to today given Putin’s statement. And again, I stress in a situation in which he has zero security risks from either conventional or nuclear forces.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: At this stage, nuclear weapons would be unthinkable. Since 1945, unthinkable for any commander, any president, any head of state. Do you think that what he is doing is normalizing the potential that anyone at any level would even think about that as a legitimate weapon of war?

Former Sec. Ernest Moniz:  Well, that’s exactly what I what I meant earlier, Andrea, that the statements made have already done damage by putting by, you know, reinventing this false idea that nuclear weapons should be at the heart of one’s security strategy, as opposed to a deterrent that we hope eventually to be able to eliminate. And of course, countries in general, including the United States, have never made clear sole purpose statements that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter use against oneself. And in that situation, with the possibility of not just nuclear use but of hybrid warfare, of massive cyber attacks on infrastructure, etc. Again, miscalculation is an enormous risk. Things can just escalate out of control to extraordinarily, extraordinarily bad consequences.

So it’s very important that Putin take those nuclear forces in particular [inaudible]. And of course, we need to stop the entire invasion of Ukraine and hope that some of the scheduled talks can work despite, I would say, the lack of confidence in that being the outcome of those discussions. Also, I might add that we all know, and President Biden has said so, that the possibility of Ukraine entering NATO anytime soon is essentially non-existent for a whole variety of reasons. And consequently, the grounds for a negotiated diplomatic settlement should be there.

You mentioned, for example, your experience during the Reagan and Gorbachev years. Well, when frankly, in the Trump administration, when we ended the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF treaty, that leads to instability, which can come into play right now. On the other hand, there is every way that the United States, our NATO allies and Russia could affect the INF treaty even without a treaty again, but affect it in an executive order, such that we don’t have any of those intermediate range missiles, let’s say, west of the Urals all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. So there’s many things that we could negotiate right now to improve the security architecture, address some of Russia’s concerns without, of course, trying to resolve issues of political principle that really aren’t going to change frankly on either side any time soon.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: It’s a very good, very good reminder that there were some arms control proposals on the table that were presented a month ago to Vladimir Putin by Secretary Blinken and delivered by our ambassador in Moscow and flatly rejected.

Former Sec. Ernest Moniz: And frankly, again, that P5 statement I mentioned was one positive step it seemed. In addition, following the Biden-Putin summit several months ago, we had resumed strategic stability talks with Russia. Those are now suspended, of course, as well. So we really have taken a big step backwards because of President Putin’s reckless behavior.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Thanks to you and former Senator Sam Nunn for keeping this front and center on your agenda. Thanks so much to both of you.

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