Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry recently wrapped up a four-day trip to Taiwan as part of a personal campaign to enhance awareness of the threat posed by nuclear Armageddon and the need to maintain open channels of communication between nations.
In a speech “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink” delivered in Taipei City, Perry drew on his personal experiences serving the U.S. government in various posts. He also reminded the audience how close the world came to an atomic exchange between the U.S. and former Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.
The 89-year-old said given the present-day hostility between the U.S. and Russia, as well as the commitment of the two nations to rebuilding their respective nuclear arsenals, the world is witnessing a re-emergence of conditions symptomatic of the Cold War. There is a shared view that the possibility of a nuclear disaster is actually greater now than it was during that period, he added.
The possibility of a regional nuclear war also looms large, Perry said, citing Pakistan’s nuclear sabre-rattling over disputes with neighboring India. Such an exchange would devastate both countries and create serious and long-lasting worldwide consequences, he added.
According to Perry, terrorist attacks are the most likely cause of a potential nuclear exchange. This is why educating the younger generations on the danger of nuclear conflict is imperative, as is adopting a preventive defense strategy, with diplomacy the preferred option to military action, he said.
Such an approach shaped his advice to then U.S. President Bill Clinton to dispatch two aircraft carrier battle groups in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait in 1996 following mainland China’s test firing of missiles into the waters near Taiwan.
“In my judgment, it is not a military move but a diplomatic move … with the strongest mechanism to make sure that it could not be possibly misunderstood,” he said, “We wanted to convince mainland China that the U.S. was very studious in its commitment to the Taiwan security.”
Perry also lauded Taiwan as a technologically advanced country with a formidable conventional military force, stating that the application of technology to military systems provides an effective offset strategy when it comes to national defense.
With a career in public and private services spanning over half a century, including tenure as secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997, Perry is widely recognized as an expert in U.S. foreign policy, national security and arms control. He is a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and director of the Preventive Defense Project.