Home' Army Acquisition Logistics and Technology Magazine : Army ALT October-December 2016 Contents And that would be another kind of catastrophe ---not the kind
you would ordinarily think of, but it would cause widespread
crop failure and widespread starvation in the world. at's
another kind of catastrophe, and that one, in my opinion, is not
a remote catastrophe. Beyond that ...
Army AL&T: at's not a remote catastrophe?
Perry: No, it's not remote. e dangers we had through the
Cold War, I don't believe now that the United States and Soviet
Union were ever ready to deliberately initiate a nuclear war
against the other side, the so-called surprise attack or bolt out
of the blue. We prepared for that, we worried about it and, in
retrospect, I don't think it was a serious concern. What was a
serious concern in the Cold War was that we were susceptible to
an accidental nuclear war or a war by miscalculation.
And the poster child for war by miscalculation was the Cuban
missile crisis, where we damn near blundered into a major
nuclear holocaust. As far as an accidental nuclear war is con-
cerned, I am aware of three false alarms that could very well
have caused us to mistakenly launch our ICBMs [intercontinen-
tal ballistic missiles] during the Cold War, one of which [false
alarms] occurred when I was undersecretary of defense.
I was actually woken in the middle of the night to help gure
out what was going wrong.
So those dangers of a nuclear war, not just a catastrophe but a
real nuclear war erupting during the Cold War, I think were
only likely through an accident or miscalculation.
When the Cold War ended, those dangers went away, but now
that we have a more and more aggressive posture between the
United States and Russia, those dangers, I think, are coming
back. So those are four di erent ways we could have some kind
of a nuclear catastrophe: terrorism; a regional nuclear war; an
accidental nuclear war, say by a false alarm; or a war by miscal-
culation. And those last two have only become issues since the
U.S. and Russia in the last decade developed more and more
aggressive attitudes toward each other. ose two are not as
dangerous as I think they were during the Cold War, but they
are unnecessarily dangerous. ey add a risk we should not be
Army AL&T: You seem accustomed to having a lot riding on
your shoulders. What's it like to be secretary of defense? What
kind of weight does the job bring?
Perry: It's challenging, exciting. I found it a very gratifying job.
I felt I was doing something important. I felt I was doing it well,
so it was very gratifying. But also the scary part of it, we were
not looking at big nuclear issues in those days. at was one
period of time in history when the danger of nuclear catastro-
phe was minimal, but we were conducting a peace-enforcement
operation in Bosnia and we had 25,000 troops over there, not
an insigni cant number.
Before we sent them over there---and I testi ed to Congress
about the proposed operation---a lot of congressmen did not
want to send troops over there. Several of them were telling
me, "You're going to be having a hundred body bags a month
coming back from there," and if they wanted to say something
that got my attention, that was it. Because I was the one to
sign the deployment orders to send the Soldiers on a mission in
which they could be killed, and I was the one who went out to
Andrews Air Force Base and met the plane that brought back
the remains and talked with the families, explained to them
why it was we sent their husband or father or wife or son on this
So, more than anything else, the personal aspect of the
job---sending people on missions in which they could get
killed---made a deep impression on me. And I always thought
about that every time I signed those deployment orders. e
reason I went to Andrews Air Force Base to meet the families
was that they kept the human element of that alive, and when I
signed the orders, I had to think about the objective element of
it: "We're doing this for the following security reason." I had to
satisfy that test.
en I went out to Andrews Air Force Base to remind myself that
I was also a human element to it. I didn't want to get detached
from that human element. So that's a long-winded answer, but
that was the thing which I think probably was unique about
that job and which made a very strong impression on me.
Army AL&T: When you left o ce, was it because you were
tired and wanted to get on to something else? What were your
Perry: Well, rst of all, when President Clinton o ered me the
job, I rst turned it down. I wasn't seeking the job and was
persuaded that I should take it, and I think that was the right
decision to take it. I wanted to make the point that I really
wasn't seeking the job in the rst place, but I told him at the
time I was only going to serve one term. And when the end of
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