My short bio: Hi Reddit, I am William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Clinton.

Over the span of my lifetime, I have witnessed the rise of the nuclear era; from the shores of Japan in 1945 as an Army Engineer where I witnessed the devastation possible from conventional bombs, to the Cuban Missile Crisis where I advised President Kennedy as an expert in Soviet nuclear weapons systems and woke up every day expecting it to be my last, all the way to the Pentagon where I worked to oversee the disarmament of several thousand nuclear weapons from the former Soviet states of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. I've written a memoir of my experiences, "My Journey at the Nuclear Brink."

In my continued hope to keep the world safe from nuclear catastrophe, I founded the William J. Perry Project to engage a generation that did not grow up under the threat of the Cold War in a dialogue on the growing threat of nuclear weapons to all of us today.

I'm here on Reddit today with help from my granddaughter, ask me anything!

My Proof: twitter

Update:Thank you Reddit, we're done for now! My granddaughter kept telling me that I'd be answering questions about ducks and horses, but since you didn't ask, I'd go up against the horse sized duck. We hope to come back in a few hours to answer a few follow-up questions, so keep posting!

Comments: 183 • Responses: 43  • Date: 

IKingJeremy26 karma

What are your biggest fears for American defense over the next 10 years?

SecDef1934 karma

That we will fall into another nuclear arms race with Russia.

BigAstra20 karma

Did you get along well with Jim McMahon?

SecDef1934 karma

The William Perry you are thinking of is about twice my size.

BigAstra16 karma

Oh, you're not The Fridge?


SecDef1926 karma

I'm sorry, too!

Redditor00000000000118 karma

Dear Mr Perry, I understand that you received a PhD in mathematics from Penn State. While you were serving as Secretary of Defense, do you think that your earlier experience as a mathematician had an influence on your decision making?

SecDef1938 karma

It is never a mistake to use analytical thinking and logic to facilitate making important decisions.

BobinForApples18 karma

As a 90s baby I never lived in the Cold War era. What is one thing today's generations will never understand about life during the Cold War?

Thank you for taking time and talking to us.

SecDef1927 karma

Because you were born in the 1990s, you did not experience the daily terror of “duck and cover” drills as my children did. Therefore the appropriate fear of nuclear weapons is not part of your heritage, but the danger is just as real now as it was then. It will be up to your generation to develop the policies to deal with the deadly nuclear legacy that is still very much with us. One of the purposes of my book is to alert you to those dangers and to suggest actions that can be taken to lessen them.

andyblu16 karma

What is your assessment of the actual nuclear threat to South Korea and the United States from North Korea? What do you think Russia and China's reaction would be to an all-out retaliation by the U.S. in the case of a North Korea Nuclear strike?

SecDef1926 karma

I believe that NK sees their nuclear forces as a deterrent to compensate for conventional forces weaker than those of SK and the US. They also flaunt their nukes to bolster their image. The danger is that they will miscalculate in their bluster and blunder into a military conflict, which would lead to their destruction, but also cause great damage to other countries.

Mackswellperry13 karma

What are the greatest obstacles to getting other nations to agree to disarmament and what steps are necessary to help ensure a safe transition period?

SecDef1912 karma

Unfortunately most nations are still locked in a Cold War mindset. We started to break out of that in the 1990s but have now drifted back with the growing hostility between the US and Russia and the renewed nuclear arms race. As a consequence, the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe today is as great as it was during the Cold War, if not greater.

arthuredelstein12 karma

For people who are interested in bringing about global nuclear disarmament, where do you think the political pressure points are? Do we have to persuade whoever happens to be the president of the US and Russia, or are there other approaches?

SecDef1911 karma

Since most of us do not have access to those two presidents, we must approach it at lower levels. But ultimately for success, the leaders of our two countries must be persuaded of the danger of nuclear weapons and the actions they must take to mitigate them.

ReKaYaKeR11 karma

Do you think the advent of nuclear weapons was a good thing?

SecDef1917 karma

No. But we cannot un-invent nuclear weapons so we must learn to deal with their dangers.

moonbeanie9 karma

In Ben Rich's book "Skunkworks" he talks about the invention of "Stealth" technology as it exists today. This happened under President Carter, and I've always believed it had a lot to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once we could fly nukes in there with impunity the game was pretty much over, Mutually Assured Destruction aside. The Soviets, if nothing else, simply didn't have the financial resources to respond. Reagan is always credited with "Ending the Cold War" but I think Carter should get a lot more credit. What are your thoughts, and do you agree or disagree? Thank you.

SecDef1919 karma

Both presidents get credit for this. The development of stealth, smart weapons, and cruise missiles was done during the Carter administration when I was Undersecretary of Defense, but the production and deployment of these systems was done during the Reagan years.

lost_in_life_348 karma

when are we going to learn the truth about aliens?

SecDef1968 karma

I think the truth about aliens is being revealed every day during the U.S. primaries.

Harold_Hamfist7 karma

What are your thoughts on the recent nuclear deal with Iran?

SecDef197 karma

I think it’s a good deal for the US. Not having that deal makes it more likely that Iran will get nuclear weapons, which would be a catastrophe.

arthuredelstein7 karma

Why do you think Barack Obama has essentially abandoned his aspiration of a nuclear weapons free world and is promoting a new generation of nukes?

SecDef1920 karma

My discussions with Obama lead me to believe that he still feels strongly about the danger of nuclear weapons, but I believe he has concluded that he cannot take meaningful actions about these dangers because of the political opposition he faces in the Congress.

BobinForApples6 karma

Can you see a future without nuclear arms and if not what nation do you think is most likely to use nuclear arms?

SecDef1911 karma

I fear that we will not have a future if we do not soon eliminate nuclear weapons. Between now and then, we must take serious actions to limit the dangers.

Rikvidr2 karma

But what of the United States nuclear weapons? Must we not also work to rid the world of our own nuclear weapons? I am not accusing you personally of such a thing, but often times when this topic is brought up, politicians, and people like Dick Cheney make it seem as if the U.S. should be able to keep their nuclear weapons, but all potential opposition must relinquish theirs.

Multiple treaties, like the NPT have been signed by both Iraq, and the United States, but some people seem to hold the opinion that America is above all, and should not be held to the same standards, in fact, standards put in place by the United Nations.

SecDef197 karma

Yes. I believe the US should lead by example by reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons. Moreover, we are obligated by the NPT to do just that.

lb7306 karma

What do you think that the current presidential candidates can do to address the growing threat of nuclear weapons?

SecDef1911 karma

Candidates should clearly state that they recognize how serious is the danger of nuclear weapons and promise to set a high priority on dealing with that danger.

K_Lobstah6 karma

where I advised President Kennedy as an expert in Soviet nuclear weapons systems

How did you come about such expertise? Generally speaking.

SecDef1912 karma

Although trained as a mathematician, my early career was in defense electronics. This was a period early in the Cold War when the Soviets began developing their missiles. The U.S. government did not have the expertise in this new technology, so they turned to scientific experts in the academic and business community. I describe in my book my part in developing reconnaissance technologies to help discern characteristics of the Soviet arsenal. You can read in more detail about this in my book.

Bora-Bora-Bora6 karma

Hi, sec. Perry, thanks for doing this AMA! My dad served in the military for 20 years and I've worked for the DoD as a civilian, so I also thank you for your services both in the military, and as the Secretary of Defense.

Two questions:

1) How do you feel about the current state of Soviet-era nukes in Russia and surrounding countries? I've heard that there are a number of warheads that are unaccounted for or not properly secured.

2) Do you think the United States should reduce the size of its nuclear arsenal?

SecDef197 karma

Russia is very conscious of the dangers of nuclear weapons and has adequate systems in place for securing them. I believe we would be safer with a smaller nuclear arsenal. I think we could safely reduce our arsenal substantially unilaterally, but for geopolitical reasons it probably has to be done in conjunction with Russia.

restricteddata5 karma

What keeps you up at night? What do we not worry enough about that we should be worrying about? What do we worry too much about but isn't as big a threat as people think?

SecDef1913 karma

This is my current nuclear nightmare

WindowShoppingMyLife2 karma

How likely do you think something like that is? Should I start digging a bunker and filling it with Spam, or should I worry about this in the same way that I worry about an asteroid hitting the earth?

SecDef1914 karma

I believe the video of my nuclear nightmare scenario is a realistic one that could actually happen. My reason for describing this scenario is to motivate us to take actions to minimize the likelihood that it will occur. If we do not understand the danger, we will not take the necessary actions to avert the danger. Because we understand the serious consequences of an automobile collision, we advocate for seatbelts and speed limits.

The most likely way to reduce the likelihood of nuclear terrorism is the Nuclear Summit. The 4th and probably last Summit is coming up this month. If citizens understood how important those summits were to their own security, they could provide the impetus to continue the work of the summits to make us all safer.

Frajer5 karma

What are your thoughts on Putin ?

SecDef1916 karma

Putin is quite popular with most Russians because of the improved economy in recent years and because of his strident nationalism. But I believe that the economic improvement was largely due to increased oil prices, and is starting to recede. And I also believe that his strident nationalism, as exemplified by his actions in Ukraine, could backfire.

BobinForApples5 karma

Hey Refrigerator. You were a monster on the gridiron. Was it hard switching from football to politics? Do you regret not running the ball more and play fullback instead of D-line?

SecDef196 karma


yoshieggshell5 karma

Do you watch House of Cards? Is any of the political maneuvering/manipulation/pressure as relevant as they make it?

SecDef1913 karma

Yes, I watch it. No, the intrigue is exaggerated for dramatic purposes.

DaedalusMinion4 karma

When you were Sec Def, what was ah average day of work like? What time did you to to office and when did you get home?

SecDef195 karma

There was no typical day. Most days I would arrive at 7am and go home at 7pm. In some sense I could never leave the cares of the job behind. I also traveled frequently, in fact was the most travelled Secretary of Defense in the history of the position. I visited 66 different countries, some of them 4 or 5 times, while in office. The opportunity to work with these countries arose because of the end of the Cold War; the need also arose as these newly independent Eastern European countries sought to establish security ties with the U.S.

Coldwind8524 karma

If the Powers-That-Be in America (and Britain, given Britain does as America tells it to in the defence arena) won't listen to you, an acknowledged and experienced expert; and they won't listen to the vast majority of the world's people, of whatever nation, who don't want themselves and their loved ones to be nuked, do you forsee any hope of being able to avert the global destruction that currently seems inevitable?

SecDef1911 karma

There are reasons to be pessimistic, but the stakes are so high, that I myself have decided to devote the balance of my life to make sure that nuclear weapons are never used again.

holyheadharpees4 karma

What role do you see grassroots organizing playing in the push to eliminate nuclear weapons?

SecDef1913 karma

The reason our government is taking inadequate action on nuclear weapons is because people do not understand the dangers. Therefore the first goal of any grassroots organization must be education. Political action is unlikely to succeed until that occurs.

yoshieggshell4 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA, I love when (in your case former) government officials give us this opportunity.

What are your thoughts of Artificial Intelligence, specifically when it comes to weaponization?

SecDef197 karma

I believe there is great potential for AI in teaching and training, but not so much in weapon systems.

vt824 karma

You’ve discussed your concerns about an accidental war, especially as tensions with Russia increase, saying that ICBMs are too easy to launch on bad information. Do you support eliminating ICBMs? Do you support taking them off high alert as a near-term step on the way to that? Do you support the US taking that step on its own as a way to make things safer and maybe to increase the chance Russia will?

SecDef197 karma

I have tried for years, unsuccessfully, to take our ICBMs off of high alert. The safest thing we can do is to eliminate ICBMs altogether; I favor doing this because I believe we would maintain adequate deterrence with our submarine and bomber force. I look forward to the day when the geopolitical situation will allow us to drop those forces as well, but we are far from that day.

nuclearsoccerball4 karma

If either of them become president, do you believe Donald Trump or Ted Cruz would end the Iran nuclear agreement? If so, what do you think the consequences would be?

Do you think nuclear weapons modernization is necessary (and worth the hefty price tag)?

What safeguards exist to counter the threat of nonstate actors in the nuclear arena?

SecDef1914 karma

I take them at their word that they will terminate the agreement. If they do, the consequence is wholly predictable. Iran will restart their nuclear weapons program.

SecDef1914 karma

To your second question:

I would have preferred to let our current weapons phase out, but in the face of the aggressive modernization of the Russian forces I believe we must take some action.

I support the modernization of our Trident submarine force, and the development of a new strategic bomber. I do not support the modernization of our ICBM force because ICBMs are susceptible to false alarms that could trigger an accidental nuclear war.

SecDef1913 karma

The most reliable way of preventing nuclear terrorism is keeping the terror group from getting the fissile material for making a bomb. President Obama has sponsored Nuclear Summits in the last six years with the goal of developing better safeguards for this material in the 50 attending nations. This has been a successful effort as far as it’s gone; a fourth summit is scheduled March 30 to April 1 in Washington, DC, which hopefully will go even farther.

globalzer04 karma

Can you explain the Obama administration's plan to build a new nuclear-tipped cruise missile? In your opinion, how would this weapon impact U.S. national security?

SecDef1910 karma

We built the current generation of nuclear arms missiles in the 1970’s when I was Undersecretary of Defense. They allowed for penetration of Soviet air defense, and allowed for accurate delivery of the weapons. We now have both capabilities in our strategic bomber force, so the cruise missiles are no longer necessary.

iiEviNii3 karma

Was there any weapon system who's research you green lighted for the Pentagon that you have since regretted? And on the flip side, is there any such system that you feel particularly proud of for some reason?

SecDef197 karma

The weapon that I most regret working on was the MX missile. The initiatives that I’m proudest of include stealth technology, GPS, and ARPANet (forerunner to the internet). These were developments during the 1970s when I served as Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. My proudest accomplishment as Secretary of Defense was implementing the Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle 4,000 nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, as well as 4,000 in the U.S.

BobinForApples3 karma

What is the worst advice you have ever given to a president?

SecDef1916 karma

Well, I can tell you that some of the best advice I ever gave to a president--not to proceed with NATO expansion in the 1990s--was not heeded.

xvampireweekend72 karma

Do you believe Americas global hegemony has been a net positive or negative for the world?

SecDef197 karma

Certainly the US military presence in the Asian Pacific region has been a primary cause of stability in the region, which has led to more than 50 years of economic prosperity. This is currently being challenged by China, with possible unfortunate consequences.

MisterWoodhouse2 karma

Besides nuclear arms, what type of weapon would you like to see "un-invented" or never used ever again?

SecDef195 karma

chemical and biological weapons

TANCH02 karma

Is Robin helping you with this?

SecDef198 karma

Robin is helping to transcribe my answers! I can't type that fast!

MrIvysaur2 karma

What do you do that still makes you feel young?

SecDef1913 karma

Hanging out with young people, my students, my grandchildren, playing with new technology (I've always been an early adopter). I didn't know at the time that my early "save" of GPS technology would result in all of us having access to it in our hands. I will not go gentle into that good night.

suaveitguy2 karma

Did you see The Fog Of War? Did you have any thoughts on it?

SecDef1910 karma

Yes, I saw it. I'm glad I'm not the subject of that movie.

MrIvysaur2 karma

If you were the President now, what would your plan be for handling North Korea? When do you think the DPRK will fall apart?

SecDef199 karma

I would approach China to see if I could get a common agreement on NK’s nuclear threat and a common strategy for containing it. Without China there is today no possibility of containing NK short of war. I don’t know about NK falling apart--they have proven to be very resilient. We should not wait for that to happen. We must deal with NK as it is.

Nuranon2 karma

Do you think the fear and possibly rashed reactions caused by acts of terror (such as 9/11 or more recently the Paris attacks) pose more of a threat to our society and our way of living than the attacks itself or not?

SecDef195 karma

The loss of life and material damage done by acts of terror such as 9/11 have been substantial, and if an act of nuclear terror occurs it would be horrendous. But there is also a political cost to our reaction, and sometimes overreaction, to terrorism. I think some of the aspects of the Patriot Act were an overreaction to the events of 9/11. I have no doubt that the political response to an act of nuclear terrorism would entail a substantial curtailment of our political freedoms.

NDaveT1 karma

Do you think the NATO intervention in the Kosovo succession secession made Russia even more concerned about NATO, or encouraged Russian-majority populations in Georgia and Ukraine to attempt secession, or both?

SecDef195 karma

It no doubt increased Russia’s apprehension about NATO, particularly because of the close historical ties with Serbia.

arthuredelstein1 karma

Do you think if the United States proposed a treaty for total global nuclear disarmament (a very big if) that the other nuclear powers (Russia, China, India, etc.) would be willing to join? Or do you think it would be very difficult to persuade them?

SecDef196 karma

Unfortunately no, Russia has always stated that it believes its national security depends on having a powerful nuclear arsenal. Until they change that view, there is little likelihood that we can achieve that.