Last week, Obama signed an ambitious nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. So why does the “Weapons and Hope” author fear that George Bush, Sr. will go down in history as a better arms control president?
Question: In the 25 years since your book “Weapons and Hope,” what’s changed?
Freeman Dyson: Well of course almost everything has changed. That book was written at an unfortunate time. It was just about two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, so the world changed totally, and I never ever thought that would happen. In fact, very few people I know ever did imagine the Soviet Union could just peacefully disappear the way it did ,and of course so the way the world has changed since then is, of course, that all the troubles are now on a small scale comparatively, but they’re totally different and so you have wars like the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan where small weapons of course are doing all the harm. These are lethal weapons, particularly landmines and explosive devices in the ground and the little handheld rockets and the machine guns and so it’s all smaller arms. It’s nobody is using nuclear weapons and so the whole problem of war and peace has changed totally and we’re not able to cope with it very well and unfortunately the sort of old way of thinking still prevails in large parts of the world. We haven’t adjusted to the changes. So it was an unfortunate time to write that book and if I wrote it now it would be very different. It’s I mean everything the book says about nuclear weapons I think is still true, but of course what it doesn’t do is to talk about all these small and much more important weapons that we have now and it’s amusing that the company I worked for when I worked on the Orion 50 years ago when I worked on the spaceship, the company is called General Atomic, and now they’re doing extremely well because what they’ve changed over now is to building Predators. The Predator is the unmanned airplane that is now being used all the time in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Pakistan partly just for spying on… for taking pictures of what is going on, on the ground, but in addition it’s also being used for killing people on the ground, so it’s become now a very important part of the war, and we never imagined that when we worked there.
Question: Can Obama honor his commitment to reduce nuclear stockpiles worldwide?
Freeman Dyson: Well he should be doing much more. I mean this is… I like Obama and I like what he is doing, but this is not at all impressive. George Bush, Sr., did far more. I mean George Bush, Sr., got rid more than half of our nuclear weapons just like that. He was the one who really got rid of nuclear weapons on a big scale, but George Bush, Sr., was careful because he was a Republican. He did it very quietly. He didn’t want to have his name associated with that, but he got it done. Of course with Obama it’s sort of the opposite that he would like to get the credit for it, but he is not really doing it, and so it’s, I think he should be doing far more and I hope he will, but he is in a much more difficult position. It helps to be a right-wing Republican if you want to disarm.
Recorded March 5th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen