May 17, 2000 Berkeley Physics Graduation Speech Richard L. Garwin May 19, 2000 I am delighted to share your happiness and that of your family in beginning a life in physics-- or a life in which physics will inform what you do. Whether you will be a professor of physics, or do research in industry or government; whether a teacher in the public schools, a parent, or a citizen of whichever country, your experience at Berkeley that we are celebrating here will serve you well, if you use it. This is a good time. The economy zooms; the nation is at peace, both externally and without much strife within (that in Congress being a notable exception). We can all relax; or can we? No more than we can safely remove the control rods from a freshly fueled nuclear reactor, where, after all, there are only a few neutrons from cosmic rays instead of the million trillion per second captured in normal operations by those same control rods. My own work in your field includes particle physics, condensed matter physics (superconductivity and the study of liquid and solid helium and He-3), and the detection of gravitational radiation, but at the same time I have been more involved in applications-- for 50 years with nuclear weapons, missiles and missile defense, air traffic control, Earth satellites for communications, navigation, and intelligence. Much of this was technical, but extended also to the policy domain-- what actually to do about air traffic control, missile defense, arms control to reduce the threat to the United States, and cooperative threat reduction more generally. And I worked 40 years at IBM, partly in the field of communications and computers. My most intense involvement with technical policy matters was in the context of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), which I served as a member or consultant for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and more sporadically later. It isn't true that "everything I needed to know in life I learned in kindergarten." But a lot of what I needed to know I learned (or could have learned) in freshman physics. For instance, when in 1960 the PSAC Strategic Military Panel was faced with a newly discovered long-range effect of a nuclear-armed missile defense interceptor that would imperil our ballistic missile warheads traveling through space, the solution to the biggest part of the problem turned out to be simple. Nuclear explosions in space give off most of their energy in the form of thermal x rays, absorbed in a thin layer of the skin of the warhead. No problem; they don't penetrate to the interior. Wrong! A thin layer of material blown off by the sudden deposition of energy contributes an equal and opposite momentum as a shockwave penetrating to the inside of the structure, where it splits off a thin layer of material that can readily destroy fragile components in the interior. The solution? We proposed a thin layer to absorb the x rays, supported on styrofoam that crushes rather than transmitting a damaging shock. Panic was reduced to a simple engineering problem. However, in hundreds of days of meeting with our armed services, Pentagon, and defense contractors, it was apparent that "the better is the enemy of the good (enough)". All too often, capabilities that were vitally needed were delayed or never provided because our colleagues were more interested in research or perfection than in solving the problem at hand. Of course, one needs to make choices, whether in choosing a school, a job, or in areas of national security interest. I served for six months in 1998 as a member of the Rumsfeld Commission to assess the long-range missile threat to the United States. The nine commissioners agreed that North Korea, Iraq, or Iran could within five years with a well-funded and dedicated program, aided by foreign technology, produce a few unreliable, inaccurate first-generation ICBMs. But we did not assess what might be done to counter this threat. Among the potential counters are diplomacy, buying off the threat, deterring the use of such missiles by the promise of nuclear retaliation, deterring the deployment or even the development by such a deterrent threat, and passive defense against biological weapon attack. As for active defense, the Administration has chosen to consider the deployment of a system for mid-course intercept of the warheads in the vacuum of space by actual collision with the warheads at 10 km/s speed. We have indeed demonstrated such intercepts against our own test bodies several time (and failed many more times). But this approach, even if successful technically, will be totally ineffective in the face of the strategically most effective attack with biological warfare agents delivered in hundreds of bomblets released just after the ICBM reaches its full speed. And a nuclear warhead in the vacuum of space can be protected by enclosing it in a balloon, which facilitates the use of dozens of realistic similar empty balloons as decoys. But what does that mean to us? In fact, in an unusual action, the Council of the American Physical Society (with 42,000 members) has this month issued a statement urging that a decision to deploy a national missile defense not be made until the proposed system has demonstrated that it can defeat realistic countermeasures such as the bomblets and the anti-simulation balloons. The Rumsfeld Commission stated that any of these countries could sooner, more effectively, more accurately, and more cheaply provide a similar threat by the use of short-range ballistic or cruise missiles launched from ships against one or more U.S. coastal cities. And the Commission also particularly called out the threat from BW agents in bomblets, not as a counter to a defensive system, but because the offensive missiles could be four to ten times smaller or fewer for a given effectiveness, if the BW payload were delivered in the form of bomblets. What to do? A year ago I testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recommending that we cancel the proposed national missile defense. Because countermeasures are so easy, it would be useless, and it would be preserved only by lying for years about its effectiveness to the American people. Instead of putting a lid over the entire United States and the Eastern Pacific why not put a lid over North Korea-- a nation the size of Mississippi. A cooperative boost-phase intercept catching the missiles while they are still accelerating would not be vulnerable to these countermeasures. Several large hit-to-kill interceptors, similar to those proposed by the national missile defense, based on Russian territory or on U.S. military cargo ships a thousand kilometers from North Korea could do this job. On June 7th, an article by former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and former Deputy Secretaries of Defense John Deutch and John White will be published in Foreign Policy recommending a similar approach-- that is deferring or cancelling national missile defense and going to boost-phase intercept. Nevertheless, you may get a national missile defense simply because it is an election year. That's how we got the previous one in 1974-- the Johnson Administration facing an election campaign decided in 1968 that it would not be vulnerable to being called soft on defense and looked around and found that China might launch an ICBM sometime in the future. In fact it was 11 years before China obtained intercontinental ballistic missiles, yet the defense was deployed in 1974 and operated, for a period variously reported either for 24 hours or for four months before it was turned off at the cost of $21 billion. The other unfortunate thing that is happening as Congress exercises its power was the rejection in the Senate last October of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would extend the limitations on nuclear testing to ban all nuclear weapon explosions, including those underground which have been permitted since 1963 when all the others were banned by treaty. This action, unless reversed in the next Administration, will surely encourage more nations to have nuclear weapons. We used to regard nuclear weapons as the great equalizer against the enormous armies of the Soviet Union and its allies. And they still are the great equalizer but now we are the equalizee. This is not a good path for us to take. There were no hearings of sufficient length and no hearing reports on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The whole thing was called up for a vote and was over in less than two weeks. I think that much of the antagonism to the Treaty was simple dislike of the President by the members of the Senate. There were arguments raised against the Treaty that it could not be verified; that we would not be able to maintain nuclear weapons safe and reliable without nuclear testing. All of these concerns could have been met by a proper set of hearings such as has been held on every other important treaty. I think much of the opposition comes from a tendency to regard the United States as a nation very different from others. Since we are law abiding, we don't need laws. Criminals won't obey the laws and we don't need the laws. But if you consider on the domestic scene a society without laws, you won't like it for very long. The other problem is that people tend to regard Russia, a former superpower which still has probably 18,000 nuclear weapons each of which could kill half-a-million people (if they were not already dead), as no longer a superpower-- but as an economic weakling that lost the Cold War and deserves to be punished. This is not the way to establish the security of the United States. Some say that the Russians cannot afford to maintain operational more than a thousand nuclear weapons, and we have about 10,000 that are operational. Why not eliminate all arms control agreements and we will be able to maintain this superiority? But how would we ever use this 9000 nuclear weapon advantage? It is far more important to us to get rid of the 17,000 extra nuclear weapons that are lying around in Russia, that might be used by them or transferred to others, than to maintain a superiority in number of nuclear weapons. There are vast changes in the world, in the opportunities in physics and in the role for physicists and astronomers. In computation, for instance, the first nuclear weapons were built in 1945 with the aid of card-programmed calculators (punched IBM cards) that computed at the rate of perhaps ten operations per second. Now your desktop PC computes at 500 million operations per second and you can buy one for less than $1000. And tens of millions of people in the world know how to use computers, in contrast to a few hundred in 1945. Communications have accelerated, as well-- not only telephone, but the Internet, providing almost instant communications worldwide for almost zero cost. In a way, this is not such an improvement as one might imagine; a hundred years ago in Paris or New York, I believe that the post was delivered four times a day, and a pneumatic tube system underground communicated letters from one point in the city to another within about ten minutes. On the other hand, the Internet is a phenomenal good in allowing worldwide access to libraries and online data-- from Berkeley or North Dakota or a village in Turkey. It is hard not to envy people who come into a world of physics so richly endowed with affordable tools that were unknown or dimly conceived when I began in the late 1940s. You have a wonderful life ahead of you. The frontier problems in physics are harder now, but these tools which can attack those problems can be put to everyday use-- and are-- where problems that used to be difficult simply vanish before them. While you are enjoying your work, occasionally seized by the divine passion for solving a problem, put some time aside regularly to think about your role in preserving your society against ignorance and unreason. Particularly should you be aware and work to understand and communicate your views on questions such as the national missile defense or Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that I have described. Congratulations and a hearty welcome to our wonderful profession. Thank you.