Nicholas Dunlop (Parliamentarians Global Action), 1992

Interview with Nick Dunlop, April 1992
Founder, Parliamentarians Global Action, Six Nations Peace Initiative, EarthWatch
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Metta Spencer (S): [All right. Fifteen minutes deadline. Talk fast.] Tell me all you know.

Nick Dunlop (D): About how we got ideas in there, and what was their response?

S: Yes. You were with that Natural Resources Defense Council trip at least.

D: My first trip to Moscow was in 1982, when I organized a five-continent parliamentary delegation to Moscow and Washington, which included senior parliamentarians, and from Latin America – the former President of Mexico Echeverria, from the Soviet Union – Kouznetsov, who then was the Vice-President in Moscow. And what a depressing experience it was. We actually came away believing that we got the first indication, the first official statement from the Soviets that they would support a nuclear freeze. But at the meetings we saw those wooden, stone-faced officials. I mean it was the period of stagnation. And later Moscow became one of the most exciting places to live in the world, with all those new ideas and so on.

Once some American woman who specialized in space things (I think her name was Carol Rozin — Aaron knew her) said, “What about inspection of space launches?” This was the time when Reagan and his people were pushing the “Star Wars” approach in a big way. And one of the arguments Weinberger kept using for “Star Wars” idea was this: We are gonna do it because the Russians are doing it. And we realized discussing this there was a very simple answer to that. Which is: OK, if we inspect every space launch, then Weinberger can’t say the Russians are doing it any more. Because a space launch isn’t something you can hide – everyone knows when a rocket goes up into space. If every launch has been looked at by international inspectors, then, you know, there aren’t space weapons going up. Then Weinberger has to admit he is not doing it because the Russians are doing it, he’s doing it because he wants to do it.

So we developed this proposal a little bit with Robert Bowman, who was sort of a defector from the SDI program and then we first went to Washington to discuss it with a couple of members of Congress, someone named Bennett, who was a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, rather conservative. Before we went to Moscow we wanted to be able to discuss it in Washington with people in Congress and they liked it. Let me say a little bit about it actually. We saw ourselves in the International Parliamentary Organization in a very interesting position, because you had new thinking in the Kremlin and you had a lot of Democrats in the Congress and some Republicans who were interested in matching the new thinking in order to try to take advantage of all the new possibilities under Gorbachev. And then you had the Administration, as we have had for the last thirteen years now, just interested in maintaining the status-quo and not interested in any new ideas at all.

So here we were, an International Parliamentary Organization, were able to be in touch with the Soviets and having members who were sort of the leading “peacenik” members of the U.S. Congress, so we could be a direct link between the two. Furthermore, members of the Congress were a little bit afraid of the Logan Act which was passed many years ago. Nobody has actually ever been tried under the Logan Act. But it says that nobody but the President may negotiate with foreign countries. People like Newt Gingrich, now the Republican Whip now, and an extreme right winger, used to use this Logan Act a lot of times to threaten the liberals that, if they went and talked to the Soviets he would try to prosecute them. And so we were a bunch of foreigners, non-Americans, who weren’t bound by the Logan Act, running an organization, I mean Americans are running it too, but it’s an international organization. An organization which contained Americans. We could go and talk with the Americans. They could not go to Moscow. We could negotiate all we wanted. So we went and saw various people in the Congress, on this idea of space launches, and then we went to see Al Gore who’s now the darling of every environmentalist in America. This was the time when Al Gore was a leading proponent of the MX missile, and not so much a darling of the peace movement, and not my darling I must confess. And Al Gore said, “Well, I don’t know, no, I don’t think we should go for that idea”. He said, “Can you imagine Bell Telephone permitting international inspectors to look at all the hi-tech that they sent up in their rockets? No, no, this won’t fly.” So Al Gore just talked about it and vetoed it in advance on behalf of Bell Telephone Corporation.

Then Olifur Grimsson and I went to see Vladimir Petrovsky, who was at that time the deputy Foreign Minister. We went the next week to Moscow. And Petrovsky said, “This is a very interesting idea.” And within two weeks the Soviet Ambassador at the disarmament talks in Geneva had formally proposed this as the Soviet policy, i.e. international inspection of space launches. They just got the idea right away. Petrovsky got it. We also had lunch on that trip with Arbatov and Primakov and their respective deputies. And they got it too. In two weeks it was Soviet policy. When Petrovsky came, it was in New York, and he actually came to see us in our office in New York, the only person of that rank who ever came to visit me in my office. There weren’t any parliamentarians there; it was just me and Aaron. I said to him,“You didn’t have to come and see us, we would be happened to come down to the Mission to see you.” And he said,“No, no, I want to see where all these good ideas come from.”

Another recollection is that we launched “The Six Nations Peace Initiative”, six governments – Gandhi, Palme , Papandreou, Neyere, Alfonsin, and De La Madrid, in May, 1984, officially. Before the Russians came up with their proposal for a testing moratorium and announced their unilateral nuclear testing moratorium, we had got the six heads of government call for that, when the leaders first met in January 1985. So in the Delhi Declaration issued by our six heads of government, the moratorium on nuclear testing was one of the key demands they were making. From Delhi several of the leaders – Palme, Alfonsin, Papandreou, and Neyere – flew with a few of us to Athens where we had a meeting with various distinguished personalities. I remember sitting next to Velikhov at lunch. That was the first time I ever met Velikhov. Af first I had some trouble getting his attention because Pierre Trudeau was sitting on the other side. Being a Russian he was oriented toward the person who had had great authority. Trudeau was retired by then. I got his attention somehow and he started saying that, (which I was quite impressed by — this was the Chernenko period) that he’d actually argued for a Soviet testing moratorium within the Kremlin. But it hadn’t been accepted. And I started saying this or that about how we might be able to advance the idea. He was very quickly anxious for me to come to Moscow, for us to come to Moscow, to discuss how we could work on this idea. And this is a typical Velikhov, who was a man of action; you have an idea – do it! But this was my first real experience of dealing with the new Russians. Velikhov was a new Russian before most of them were. I was kind of intrigued by the fact that this guy, a senior Soviet scientist, was so anxious to have us involved.

Then Gorbachev comes in.

S: And you didn’t go?

D: Not on that occasion.

S: Did you actually have some proposals that you thought would have made a difference? If he’d been stuck, what could you have done?

D: I’ll tell you what we did because this was played out. Gorbachev finally listened to his friend Velikhov’s advice, as you know Velikhov was his science advisor, and announced that unilateral testing moratorium and called on the US to respond. The US response was, in a nutshell, to insist that the Soviets continue nuclear testing, to urge them to continue nuclear testing: [Ironical tone:] “If you think there’s any way we’re gonna stop nuclear testing, you can forget it!” It was like, in effect: “we urge you to resume your nuclear testing program and keep building nuclear weapons and point them in our direction, because we prefer that to stopping ourselves.” So Gorbachev was making a very brave initiative and just getting slapped in the face rudely by his negotiating partner.

We began a correspondence in effect between our six leaders and Gorbachev and Reagan, urging Reagan — we used to urge them both to do something, but we kept coming back to that testing moratorium. And then in the public statements that the leaders would issue from time to time at their summit meetings and sometimes in between they’d call on both sides to stop nuclear testing right away. This just became our number one demand. We noticed quickly that the Russians were (a) giving enormous publicity to our initiative, which fit into their propaganda about the nuclear freeze and so on, even in the Chernenko period, and then under Gorbachev, when they became genuine interested. Every time our six would say something about a testing moratorium it got a lot of play in the Soviet Union and of course in a number of satellite countries like this one. [This interview was held in Bratislava, which was still part of Czechoslovakia.]

Gorbachev extended his testing moratorium several times and at one point he actually announced the extension of it in a letter to our group which he released to the press. And that was his chosen method of telling the world that he was going to extend it by another six months or whatever it was. Six months, I think. And I remember of being at a conference in Moscow when Georgy Arbatov ran after us. We had had lunch with him and Primakov. It was after the lunch. He said, “Tell us what the six are planning to do next? When are they issuing their next statement?” It was like he was really on edge waiting for another statement from the six. What gradually seemed to become clear (of course, I can’t know exactly what was going on in the Kremlin) was that it seemed that we were playing a role in the struggle within the Kremlin. Gorbachev was still refusing to test nuclear weapons but still it was a sort of the Cold War period and he was taking a lot of flack from his hardliners.

Clearly Ligachev and his chum were opposed to it. In fact, I know because I once tried to discuss it with Ligachev; he sort of brushed it aside. Tom Cochran talked to Ligachev at a reception once. He was a scientist, with the NRDC, and we were saying “Give us more time to work on the Congress,” explaining that the Congress had the serious ____ to cut off funds for nuclear testing, so long as Soviets didn’t test. And Ligachev brushed us aside and, in these immortal words said, “Ah! We don’t have time for all this democracy!” (Laughs.) Happily, history has shown that that Russian people have more time for democracy than the Ligachevs.

We found ourselves sort of being brought by the Russians more and more into the dialogue. They started addressing the US Congress and calling for the halt in testing. They got the idea, but if anyone was going to cut off funds for nuclear testing, it surely wasn’t Reagan and his crowd, it was the U.S. Congress. And once or twice when the Supreme Soviet addressed an appeal to the US Congress to stop testing, the Soviet Ambassador to the UN in New York would request me to come in there, to the Mission. And he would officially read me, the way ambassadors do, a statement. So he would read the text of the message from the Supreme Soviet to the Congress, which the Foreign Ministry would request him to formally present also to Parliamentarians for Global Action. Because they saw us as an important go-between.

On the seismologist thing, the part we played there is that I and Arthur and Frank von Hippel were on a visit to see Shevardnadze and we had a meeting afterward with Velikhov.

I guess we were just talking about international verification of the testing moratorium. And we would try to get our six leaders that their seismologists could come over and do it. And one of the Russians said, “Yes, foreign seismologists will be welcome and they can bring their suitcases.” That was their way of saying that they could come and stay there and run their seismometers. So we took that news home. When we discussed the matter with Velikhov, he said, “Well, well, yes, let’s have a seminar.” And so we said, fine, we’ll have a seminar on verification nuclear testing and the testing moratorium itself. And then Frank von Hippel went away and organized that seminar, which was fine with me. Invited the NRDC people along. They paid for one of the seismologists, we paid for a couple more, plus Aaron, and a couple of NRDC people went and they found themselves doing a deal right there in Moscow. In parentheses, one or two of the parliamentarians were not terribly happy about this. They felt they were not getting enough credit. I got some flak, but that’s another story. I don’t want to dredge up memories of conflicts with some of my parliamentarians.

S: You had sort of downplayed the role of PGA. In order to give…

D: Absolutely. We didn’t expect to get the deal. But the message I got from one or two politicians who tend to be more conscious of their status…

S: And getting all the credit they are entitled to?

D: Yes. There was a feeling among some that it would have been better to prevent the NRDC from going.

S: Why?

D: Because this was all over the headlines of the world.

S: The credit was all given to the NRDC, and they did not really deserved it?

D: It wasn’t that they didn’t deserve it. It’s just that we could have done the deal in a different way. We could have done it ourselves. We had the opening. We organized the meeting. We should have done the deal and got the credit, and we would have been all over the front pages of the world’s newspapers. I don’t know. I don’t have much organizational loyalty. I’ve always found my colleagues a bit frustrated with me. I am loyal to the movements. I want progress, I want peace. And then I want to retire. And I was delighted, I thought it was great that we had played a small role, well. Anyway it was NRDC’s’s idea. They had been playing with the idea for quite some time. They just hadn’t got anywhere because they hadn’t been able to talk to the right Russians.

S: You said you had gone to see Shevardnadze. What was that about?

D: We were pushing them on the testing moratorium. They were in the testing moratorium and clearly they were going to restart testing. One idea we put to Shevardnadze was: Look, if you are going to restart testing (I mean, if you must and we’d rather that you didn’t because we think it is possible that something can be done with the Congress — I don’t know whether we were quite accurate about that, but we thought that we could) why don’t you at least announce that you’ll have a test each time the US tests. Each time you test, you won’t test again until the US tests. So that this way each time the US does a test the world will know that they are not only causing the test of their own weapon, they are also causing the Russians to do a test.

S: It’s really very clever.

D: So each time people could say to Pentagon and Reagan, “You just tested another Russian nuclear weapon. Thanks a lot! You call this protecting our security? If you hadn’t done that test, they wouldn’t have.” And Shevardnadze said, “Well, you know, that sounds a bit like a game of football. This isn’t a game of football.” And Olifur made a rather good remark, I thought. He said, “Well, a lot more people come to watch football than nuclear tests.” But anyway we didn’t sell that one to Shevardnadze.

Olifur and I did a lot of this just off the cuff. We’s go over there, or we’d go to India or wherever. We’d have dinner in the hotel and we’d say, Well, what shall we put to Shevardnadze tomorrow? And we’d come up with a list of three ideas. We were free agents, and we could propose what we liked. We got ourselves access to most of the world’s top decisionmakers if we wanted. So it was an interesting role to be playing. And all these governments, these ponderous governments, relating to each other through this huge foreign affairs bureaucracies! A new idea had to worm its way up through layer after layer of bureaucracies like a soggy lagagna. And ideas never popped up finally at the top. But we could come in and talk to anyone – Petrovsky, it can be Gorbachev himself, for that matter, on occasion. Access to Gorbachev was not easy for us, but…

S: But you had access?

D: Oh, I once talked to Gorbachev at a reception. I got Velikhov to introduce me and made a pitch on that testing moratorium again. I spent all that time with the testing moratorium.

So what lessons can be drawn from all this? One lesson is just as I was saying. It is a tremendously important role for the free agent who is not bound to any state, who can carry ideas back and forth. And it’s so important because: a) official structures kill ideas just because they hate them, and b) the people at the top who often like new ideas don’t have any time to come up with ideas on their own. And they are protected by the official structures from those ideas – by their advisors, and so on. They are shielded from ideas. And so Rajiv Gandhi, or Petrovsky, or whoever, they would look forward to our visits because they knew that we always came along with a few new ideas in our briefcase. That was our specialty.

S: Do you know others who have that same impact, who are sort of couriers of ideas?

D: I think Frank von Hippel for a while was in a sort of go-between role. Definitely. After that he started going back and forth all the time and he had a close personal friendship with Velikhov. So he became a key contact.

Saul Mendlovitz, a little later. I think that I actually suggested that Saul go and see Shakhnazarov, who was one of Gorbachev’s main ideas people. And Saul and Shakhnazarov developed quite a dialogue. Shakhnazarov was a real sort of world federalist, you know like everyone was after the war, except that Shakhnazarov had to wait until the late ’80s before his post-war idealism could come to the surface. And they organized all kinds of meetings and so on. I think there was a lot of it going on. I think probably we were at a slightly higher level than most people because all our members were national politicians. And everyone knew that we were the convenors of the “Six Nations Peace Initiative”. So they knew that we had direct access to the six leaders who were rather important to them. So I would say that we were operating at as high a level as anyone ever has in the NGO movement. Probably higher, I think.

S: Saul Mendlovitz was pushing what idea to Shakhnazarov? Do you remember?

D: Well, it was sort of “world order” ideas. Saul is good at sort of big pictures. A new Constitution for the World by 1994 was what he brought up talking with Shakhnazarov. Shakhnazarov got so excited that he leapt up from his chair, “A new Constitution for the World by 1994!” he turns to his aides, “What a terrific idea!” And then they did a series of meetings on the coming Global Civilization. But they were both academics and I think the meetings had a slightly academic turn to them.

S: I didn’t know about those meetings. You went to some?

D: No, I didn’t. These academic discussions… “A New Global Polity,” “The Coming Global Civilization.” But I suppose this is where ideas come from very often. There were lots of people talking to the Russians at all levels. It was a field day in Moscow.

My friends Bill Ury and Rob Manoff, two of my closest collaborators, bumped into one another two weeks ago on a Moscow street corner. It happens all the time. Two wandering Jews from the U.S. And it’s quite natural, quite normal – on a Moscow street corner. People are over there all the time telling them what to do.

S: Yeah. I bumped into people in Moscow. What were they there for?

D: Bill was over there doing all kinds of training sessions in conflict resolution. And Rob set up a centre for war and peace news media, some kind of a resource centre for journalists to give them access for databases.

But you just have a unique period, I suppose. Things are very fluid, and everything’s changing so quickly. Gorbachev himself is a terrific ideas person. And he surrounded himself with people who have ideas, people with vision, and had some very unusual situations at the end. And I don’t think there’s any comparable situation now. Because the Russians have this crisis and they don’t have time to think great thoughts about the future of the world anymore. There isn’t a leader in the world, and there was not for a long time, comparable to Gorbachev. Gorbachev is a unique phenomenon…

S: Yes.

D: …in our time, or in anyone’s time. All right, my fifteen minutes turned into thirty minutes.

S: Yes.

D: I’ve told you most of what I know.

S: Wonderful.

D: From my own experience.

S: Yeah. I’m sure of it.

D: I’m about to say a very profound thing: human beings love to talk, they just love to talk!

Audio file

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The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books