Turning the spotlight on REYKJAVIK - Why it still matters

Staged reading of the play “Reykjavik” and panel discussion, 27 September 2012, New York.


Imagine a world without nuclear weapons. Where there is no more fear that bombs on hair-trigger alert might be launched by accident or miscalculation.  Or that the thousands of arms stored in global nuclear arsenals might be used, unleashing forces powerful enough to destroy our planet many times over. The threat of terrorists obtaining these weapons of mass destruction no longer exists. And while the term Nuclear Superpower is now redundant, the trillions of dollars formerly spent on maintaining nuclear arsenals have been diverted to education, health and development.  Impossible?  Well, a quarter of a century ago that dream nearly became reality.

In October 1986 at the Reykjavik summit in Iceland, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev came close to abolishing all nuclear weapons.  Although the highest goal was not achieved, the Reykjavik summit led to the abolition of intermediate-range ballistic missiles and helped put nuclear disarmament back on the agenda.  Today that iconic meeting of the world’s two most powerful men is regarded as pivotal in disarmament history.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is now turning the spotlight once again on the Reykjavik summit with an evening event that looks to re-energize the drive to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons.  The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is an important part of that process. “In the current political climate, which is still clouded by nuclear threats, revisiting Reykjavik is a reminder that strong leadership, with political will and vision, can act to make nuclear disarmament breakthroughs,” says Tibor Tóth, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO. “It is time for the world’s leaders to heed Reykjavik’s message.  In particular, from the eight remaining countries needed to bring the Treaty into force.”

Reykjavik:  The Event

A staged reading of the play “Reykjavik”, followed by a panel discussion and reception, will be held at 18.30 on 27 September 2012 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue (25th Street), New York.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes, “Reykjavik” is a dramatic reconstruction of those two intense days of debate, drawing extensively on the actual transcripts of the Reykjavik meeting as well as on the memoirs of both Reagan and Gorbachev.  The play distills their conflict, their unlikely friendship and their visionary hopes into one hour of compelling theatre.

Rhodes says that while he was researching the Reykjavik files for the third of his four volumes of nuclear history, Arsenals of Folly, he was struck by the drama of the meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev.  He decided to try his hand at converting the transcripts into a stage play.

“Besides the inherent drama of the dialogue between the two leaders, I was surprised to discover significant discrepancies between the Soviet transcript in Russian (which I had translated) and the U.S. transcript in English. President Reagan's aides were not at all happy that he raised the question of nuclear abolition with Secretary Gorbachev, and someone among them actually deleted the President's references to abolition from the transcript. Fortunately, the President's words remained in the Russian version, which was a more literal transcription of what was said,” Rhodes says. 

With the file on the Reykjavik negotiations now declassified, those associated with the summit are able to speak freely.  They will do so after the play in a panel discussion entitled 25 years since Reykjavik – will we get it right in the next 25?  With their unique insights and analysis of the summit, panellists will consider opportunities missed, lessons learned and what is needed today to move towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Mikhail Gorbachev will open the discussion with a video message from Moscow. “Twenty-five years ago many believed that it was impossible to put an end to confrontation, to stop the arms race and to begin eliminating the huge stockpiles of weapons of war. Yet, the leaders of the two nuclear powers had the political will to act, and the process got under way despite all obstacles,” recalls Gorbachev.  “What is needed most today is precisely that: the political will. We need a new level of leadership, collective leadership.” [Watch more of Gorbachev's interview]

The panellists:

Max Kampelman, American diplomat, educator and lawyer, was chief arms control negotiator for all summit meetings between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.  Ambassador Kampelman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Roald Sagdeev, Russian scientist and an expert in plasma physics.  Professor Sagdeev was the key science advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, counselling on matters of nuclear disarmament and advancing technology to promote a commitment to international arms control verification.

Morton H. Halperin, expert on foreign policy and civil liberties, was an advisor on both military affairs and arms control in the Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton administrations. Dr Halperin was instrumental in the negotiations of several nuclear non-proliferation treaties including the SALT treaties and the New START treaty.

Richard Rhodes, author and editor of over 24 works of fiction, non-fiction, biographies and memoirs. His work includes The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the first of four volumes of nuclear history, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Philip Taubman (moderator), award winning journalist with the New York Times for almost thirty years, including periods as Bureau Chief in Washington and Moscow.  He covered the Reykjavik summit for the New York Times. 

Reykjavik:  Still waiting for a new tomorrow

Today the Reykjavik summit is seen as the beginning of the end of the Cold War. When that day finally dawned in the early 1990s, much of the fear of a catastrophic global conflict disappeared amid hopes that nuclear weapons would now be abolished once and for all.

“The summit reflected agreement that nuclear weapons could not be used and that neither country needed them for its security.  It thus created the possibility for a world without nuclear weapons,” says Halperin.

But although huge cuts have been made to the more than 65,000 nuclear weapons that existed at the time of Reykjavik, in recent years negotiations have become mired in political stalemate with the result that today there are still as many as 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world – an estimated 18,000 of them in the arsenals of the United States and Russia.  With some 4,000 nuclear warheads deployed and ready to be launched at a moment’s notice, the threat to the world is critical.  At the same time, as global economies falter, the costs of maintaining these arsenals amount to billions of dollars.

“It is strange, really strange that some people still think about nuclear weapons in terms of deterrence – that the positive role of nuclear weapons is that they deter. I have to say that this is not serious, if you look at the big picture. So when we talk about nuclear weapons and what’s to be done about them, the answer is to get rid of them,” Gorbachev says.

 “The public, by and large, has lost interest in nuclear issues, largely due to the mistaken perception that the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union ended the threat of nuclear attack.  That is far from so. As President Obama has said, the risk of a global nuclear war has receded, but the threat of a nuclear attack has increased,” says Philip Taubman, who covered the Reykjavik summit for the New York Times. “The biggest threat today is a nuclear 9/11, or a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. Politicians and the press need to do a better job of informing the public about today's nuclear threats.” 

Says Halperin: “During the Cold War the two super powers could make important bilateral agreements and could persuade other states to join multilateral treaties such as the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] on which they reached agreement.  Now the consent of many more nations is required.  In addition ratification of treaties in the United States has become much more difficult.”

Reykjavik: Historical background

In October 1986, a year after meeting for the first time in Geneva, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met informally for two days in Reykjavik, Iceland, to prepare the way for a full summit meeting in Washington the following year.

The Reykjavik meeting, however, turned out to be far more momentous than Reagan had anticipated. Gorbachev, who was a year into reforming the Soviet Union following his election as General Secretary, brought to Reykjavik a full portfolio of proposals. He hoped to limit and even end the nuclear arms race which had threatened the world since the 1950s and which was draining the Soviet Union of the money Gorbachev needed to instigate urgently needed reforms.

In two days of passionate debate in Reykjavik, the leaders of the world’s two superpowers, both of them men from outside the inner circles of their governments, came close to agreeing to pursue the total abolition of all the nuclear weapons in the world. They failed to reach the highest goal, but their one-on-one “pre-summit” at Reykjavik is remembered as their most historically significant meeting.

Max Kampelman was at the summit, as a chief arms control negotiator for Reagan: “The Reykjavik summit provided a forum for the Russian and American leaders to get acquainted with one another and explore the likelihood and potential of living with one another.  It had that result.  There is a continuing exchange of ideas and views between the United States and Russia.

“In my opinion the United States and Russia should jointly declare their willingness to eliminate their nuclear weapons as part of an effective commitment, via the United Nations.  The United States and Russia, together, have the capacity to eliminate the world of nuclear weapons and arrive at a world-wide zero,” says Kampelman.

The unexpected continuation of the negotiations on Sunday afternoon led to much suspense among the international press corps in Reykjavik, says Taubman.  “The grimace on the President's face as he and Gorbachev finally exited Höfði House telegraphed disappointment, but it was not until George Shultz's news conference that reporters understood how far the two sides had gone in their discussions, and how the talks had broken down in the end without agreement.”

Recalling the breakdown of the talks, Roald Sagdeev, science advisor to Gorbachev says:  “I remember Gorbachev wanted to be confident that SDI [the Strategic Defense Initiative] would never work. He accepted arguments in favour of this conclusion from the science side and from the military leadership. However, military industrialists kept trying to change his mind.  For me and many of my colleagues there was no surprise that SDI did not graduate from the lab. Even today those who hurry to move missile defenses out of R&D to deployment are at risk of cheating their taxpayers.”

Reykjavik: The Epilogue

On 27 September, the Reykjavik play and discussion will take place in front of a full house, with foreign ministers and other high-level dignitaries from the diplomatic and UN communities and from civil society attending, as well as theatre and media representatives.  More than 25 years later, the drama of the Reykjavik summit and its potential to fundamentally change the course of history can reignite the human imagination and inspire hopes for a nuclear weapons-free future.  A starting point for that would be the entry into force of the CTBT.

“Bringing the CTBT into force is the highest priority because it will signal global acceptance of the notion that nuclear weapons cannot be used and are not necessary to provide security,” says Morton Halperin.

In Gorbachev’s opinion, the priorities are clear:  “Political will, new vision and new thinking. I don’t know how anyone, any country can plan for the future if it still envisions the possibility of the outbreak of nuclear war and the use of nuclear weapons. We have to say it loud and clear.”

Media Resources: Video, Audio, Photos 

High-resolution multimedia resources are available free for download by the media. Including:

Broadcast quality video & audio:

High Resolution Photographs:

For historical photos credit the Ronald Reagan Library.  For the event on 27 September photos will be added as soon as they become available, please credit the CTBTO.

Reykjavik: The Performance 

About the actors:

Richard Easton (Ronald Reagan)

Richard Easton won both the Best Actor Tony Award and Outstanding Actor Drama Desk Award in 2001 for The Invention of Love. In 2008 he was inducted into the Broadway Hall of Fame. Other Broadway credits include EllingThe Coast of Utopia, The Rivals, Henry IV, Noises Off, Hamlet, The Misanthrope, The Cherry Orchard, Exit the King, The School for Scandal, and Back to Methuselah.

Jay O. Sanders (Mikhail Gorbachev)

Jay O. Sanders has featured prominently on both stage and screen. His Broadway credits include Pygmalion, The Cain Mutiny Court-Martial and Loose Ends. He won the Lucille Lortel Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor for his Off-Broadway performance in Titus Andronicus. His other Off-Broadway productions include Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Stuff Happens (winner of Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance), and The Argument.

About the playwright:  Richard Rhodes 

Richard Rhodes is the author of 24 books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which won a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award; Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, which was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in History; a biography, John James Audubon: The Making of an American; and a memoir of childhood, A Hole in the World. His biography of Hedy Lamarr, Hedy’s Folly, was published by Doubleday in late 2011. Reykjavik is his first play. 

About the director:  Tyler Marchant 

Tyler Marchant served as the Associate Artistic Director at the award-winning Off-Broadway Theatre Primary Stages in New York City from 2000-2006, where he directed productions, workshops, and readings of new plays. He was also the Director of the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers’ Group, where he worked with writers to develop and create new plays for the American theatre. He recently directed the World Premiere of Freud’s Last Session which ran Off-Broadway for nearly 800 performances and won “Best Play” by the Off-Broadway Theatre Alliance, as well as garnering a Joe A. Callaway Outstanding Directing Nomination from the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. 

About the production company:  Primary Stages

Primary Stages is an award-winning Off-Broadway theatre company dedicated to inspiring, supporting, and sharing the art of playwriting. It operates on the strongly held belief that the future of American theatre relies on nurturing playwrights and giving them the artistic support needed to create new work. Since its founding in 1984, it has produced more than 100 new plays by established and emerging playwrights.

Sponsors

The event has been made possible by the generous financial contributions of the Governments of Japan, Australia, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Sweden, and the Ploughshares Fund, as well as with the assistance of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, the United Nations Department of Public Information and the Global Security Institute.

Tickets

The event is by invitation only. For those interested to attend the event, please get in touch with the contact listed below as soon as possible. Tickets can also be won by connecting with the CTBTO on FACEBOOK and Twitter (#ReykjavikPlay).


Background on the CTBT

The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, in outer space, underwater and underground. 183 countries have signed the Treaty, of which 157 have also ratified it.  Eight remaining countries must ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force.  They are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA.  An unprecedented global verification regime with over 330 sensors monitors the globe around the clock for nuclear explosions to detect any violations of the Treaty.  The system reliably detected the nuclear test explosions by North Korea in 2006 and 2009. For further information about the CTBT, visit www.ctbto.org – your resource on ending nuclear testing, or the contacts below. For further information about the Reykjavik event see here.

Media Contacts: 

For journalists wishing to cover the event or arrange interviews with panellists or the CTBTO Executive Secretary, please contact as soon as possible:

Annika Thunborg
Spokesperson and Chief of Public Information 

T    +43 1 26030-6375
E    annika.thunborgping@ctbtopong.org
M    +43 699 1459 6375       

Kirstie Gregorich Hansen
Public Information Officer

T    +43 1 26030-6540
E    Kirsten.gregorich.hansenping@ctbtopong.org
M    +43 699 1459 6540      

For technical issues related to the multimedia material contact:

Pablo Mehlhorn
T    +43 1 26030-6451 
E    pablo.mehlhornping@ctbtopong.org

To Attend the Event:

Awoba Macheiner
T    +43 1 26030-6457 
E    awoba.macheinerping@ctbtopong.org
F    +43 1 26030-5823