News: AAAS News & Notes
24 FEBRUARY 2006
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
SCIENCE AND SECURITY
Richard Garwin, at AAAS Event, Details the Dangers of Proliferation
Richard Garwin has been an inventor and a scholar, an adviser to presidents, and a globe-trotting science-diplomat, but all of his varied works and accomplishments can be summarized in one label: problem-solver.
Garwin has been one of the world's most influential scientists in the post–World War II era, and in a recent appearance at AAAS, his insights ranged across decades and issues. He described his work as an architect of the hydrogen bomb and his continuing efforts to check nuclear proliferation, and assessed a number of global security challenges.
Through it all, the 77-year-old physicist displayed the acute grasp of detail and the plain-spoken common sense valued by U.S. leaders since President Dwight Eisenhower--even when he tells them what they don't want to hear.
Garwin struck the most sobering note of the night with a warning that terrorists could obtain a nuclear bomb and target the United States.
"I think there's a 50 percent probability that we'll have such a nuclear explosion [in the United States] in the next 4 or 5 years," he said. "We ought to be doing what we can to prevent it. And we ought to be doing what we need to do to keep the damage that that causes localized, rather than destroying the whole society because of a foolish concentration of fundamental elements in a particular location."
Garwin answered questions posed by David Kestenbaum, a science correspondent for National Public Radio, before a packed auditorium at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. The 10 January event was organized by the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy, which seeks to advance the integration of science and public policy for national and international security.
Center Director Norman Neureiter introduced Garwin, calling him "the quintessential example of a scientist who has spent his life in the service of the national security interests of the United States and who has brought his own particular genius to an incredible range of challenges related to security."
Since obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1949, Garwin has authored more than 500 papers, coauthored seven books, and received 45 patents in fields ranging from laser printing and mass data storage systems, to integrated circuit technology--and mussel-washing. (He and a friend, chemist Harold Friedman, invented a device to clean sand from the black-shelled morsels they gathered from the waters near Friedman's Long Island home.) He won the National Medal of Science in 2003.
Garwin was 23 and working at Los Alamos Scientific National Laboratory when Edward Teller told him about the secret invention of "radiation implosion." Teller asked him to devise an experiment to demonstrate the principle. Garwin returned with a detailed sketch of an 80-ton device; the device was developed under the code-name "Mike" and then detonated in 1952 as the world's first hydrogen bomb.
Garwin said he was emotionally unaffected by the H-bomb's power and significance. Did he see the test explosion? "I haven't seen any nuclear explosions," he told Kestenbaum. "I hope never to see it. I don't need to--I have a good imagination."
While much of his career--including almost 41 years at IBM--has focused on military technology, nuclear nonproliferation has been central to his work. At the AAAS event, he suggested the United States, Russia, and other powers could reduce nuclear stockpiles from tens of thousands of bombs to a few hundred.
When asked what counsel he would give on the charged nuclear negotiations with North Korea and Iran, he said these are serious problems and that the U.S. role in enforcing nations' obligations has been weakened by too often playing close to the margin. U.S. leaders should have taken the advice of various commissions beginning in 1999 to work more aggressively to secure nuclear materials in Russia, Pakistan, and elsewhere, he said.
The United States should work closely with Pakistan to assure its nuclear materials are secure, Garwin said. Iran has "every right" to civilian nuclear technology, he added. But if it has been violating its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that may warrant United Nations sanctions and "may require empowering indipvidual countries to take military action."
[For a video of Garwin's presentation, see www.aaas.org/news/garwin/]
A team of seven scientists--three from Russia and four from the United States--has won the 2005 AAAS International Scientific Cooperation Award for their pioneering work to catalog satellites and other objects floating in space. Their collaboration, begun in 1994, has been crucial in improving satellite performance and helping assure the safety of human space missions.
At the beginning of the Space Age, the United States and the former Soviet Union created separate systems for surveying space; they classified the objects floating in space and detailed their orbits. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the scientists overcame decades of mistrust and lingering bureaucratic obstacles to hold a series of workshops, exchanging data on their space surveillance systems and, eventually, comparing their space object catalogs.
The winners: Kyle T. Alfriend, Texas A&M University; Paul J. Cefola, a consultant and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Felix R. Hoots, AT&T; Andrey I. Nazarenko, Russian Aviation-Space Agency; P. Kenneth Seidelmann, University of Virginia; Stanislav S. Veniaminov, Russian Department of Defense; and Vasiliy S. Yurasov, Space Informatics Analytical Systems (KIA Systems) in Moscow.
The award was presented 18 February at the AAAS Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. For more information on this and other honors awarded at the meeting, see www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/awards/.
--Barbara Rice contributed to this report.