Norris, Robert S(tandish) 1943-

views updated

NORRIS, Robert S(tandish) 1943-

PERSONAL: Born July 21, 1943, in Beloit, WI; son of Robert S. (an engineer and chemist) and Betty (a homemaker; maiden name, Hilberg) Norris; married, 1970: wife's name, Andrea, (divorced, 1977); married Myriam Zigrand (an artist), June 20, 1980. Education: Syracuse University, B.A., 1965; New York University, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1976.

ADDRESSES: Home—3158 Rolling Rd., Edgewater, MD 21037. Office—Natural Resources Defense Council, 1200 New York Ave. NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Miami University, Oxford, OH, and Luxembourg, adjunct assistant professor, 1977-80; Center for Defense Information, Washington, DC, research analyst, 1981-84; Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, DC, senior research associate, director of Nuclear Weapons Databook Project, 1984—.

MEMBER: Cosmos Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: James C. Healey Award for best dissertation in the arts, New York University, 1976.


(Editor, with others) Nuclear Weapons Databook, Natural Resources Defense Council (Washington, DC), Volume 1: U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities, 1984, Volume 2: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Production, 1987, Volume 3: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Facility Profiles, 1987, Volume 4, Soviet Nuclear Weapons, Ballinger Publishing Co. (Cambridge, MA), 1989, Volume 5: British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1994.

(With Thomas B. Cochran and Oleg A. Bukharin) Making the Russian Bomb: From Stalin to Yeltsin, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1995.

(With others) Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940, Brookings Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1998.

Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 2002.

Author of publications of the Natural Resources Defense Council; coauthor of entry on nuclear weapons for Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990; contributor to periodicals, including Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Research of nuclear history and the cold war.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert S. Norris taught political philosophy until 1981, when he moved to Washington, D.C., only to find there were no academic jobs available. He took a position with the Center for Defense Information, a liberal think tank, and three years later he became a nuclear weapons analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Norris monitors global nuclear weapon stockpiles and is often quoted by government officials and the and media who rely on the accuracy of Norris's figures. Norris coauthored an entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica that drew comment in the New York Times. In an interview with National Journal writer David C. Morrison, Norris said, "I felt a terrible responsibility. Generations of schoolchildren would be plagiarizing my article for years to come, so I really wanted to get it right." Morrison wrote that Norris "has solidified a reputation as one of Washington's top atomic 'bean counters.'"

As director of the NRDC's "Nuclear Weapons Databook" Project, Norris coedited the series of books that was produced, including the third volume, U.S. Nuclear Warhead Facility Profiles, which reviews facilities in the United States nuclear warhead complex, including those whose main purpose is research and others used for weapons development.

Each facility is listed, along with address, telephone numbers, mission, history, staff, and budget. The volume also contains maps, figures, and photographs. Included are entries for Los Alamos, Rocky Flats, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, the Hanford Reservation, Sandia National Laboratories, the Pantex plant, and others. Writing in the Journal of Peace Research, Magne Barth felt that this volume is closely connected to the previous volume, which covers U.S. nuclear warhead production and which also contains a glossary that this volume lacks. "However," said Barth, "with its masses of information and references, this databook is indispensable."

The fifth volume is titled British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons. Choice contributor M. J. Smith, Jr., wrote that it "continues the project design of providing current and accurate information." The volume begins with a chapter titled "Lesser Nuclear Weapons States," and then continues with two chapters on each of the title countries—one covering the history and production of weapons and the other noting capabilities. The volume includes tables and figures and three indexes that note the nuclear testing carried out in each of the countries.

Orbis reviewer Bruce D. Berkowitz wrote that this volume "provides insights beyond its current objectives." Berkowitz felt that in covering the development of the "medium" nuclear powers, assumptions about future nuclear powers can be drawn. Berkowitz continued, saying that "many analysts and political leaders were surprised by the Iraqi and North Korean programs because they were thinking of future proliferation in terms of the very expensive and difficult-to-conceal U.S. and Soviet nuclear-weapons programs. The United States and Soviet Union employed a huge infrastructure . . . partly because they were the first nuclear powers and could not know in advance the most efficient way to structure a weapons program, partly because their military plans required thousands of nuclear warheads, and partly because both powers had deep pockets. Future nuclear-weapons programs are far more likely to resemble those operated by the British, French, and Chinese."

"Nor do medium nuclear powers require the level of sophistication built into U.S. nuclear weapons," continued Berkowitz. Whereas the United States designs nearly all of its weapons for specific delivery systems, medium powers favor generic designs that can be used in multiple systems. Berkowitz also noted that this volume "provides insight into what is easy and what is difficult in building bombs—an important lesson for detecting and preventing proliferation."

British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons documents the early relationship between the United States and Britain that ended with the British spy scandals, beginning with the Fuchs case, and the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which halted the transfer of nuclear knowledge from the United States. During the 1950s, the United States and Britain resumed a cooperative relationship in the development of nuclear weapons. Chuck Hansen wrote in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that "the history of the British nuclear weapons program includes the most comprehensive collection of photos and specifications of British warheads and nuclear tests ever assembled in one publication; by itself it is worth the cost of the book."

The French lost their testing ground when Algeria became independent in 1962 and experienced a long delay for lack of a program director, but by the 1990s, the French had stockpiled 500 warheads. Hansen noted that although the United States was at first opposed to the growth of France's nuclear program, in the 1970s, with the approval of President Richard Nixon and national security advisor Henry Kissinger, an exchange of information took place that helped the lagging progress of the French. "This program, kept from Congress and the American public until 1985," wrote Hansen, "used 'negative guidance' to allow the transfer of restricted data without technically violating the Atomic Energy Act."

The Chinese progressed from atomic to thermonuclear weapons in under three years, accelerated by China's deteriorating relationship with the Soviets, who had initially helped them create their weapons; China ultimately targeted their former benefactor. Hansen concluded by saying, "I highly recommend Volume Five as a comprehensive source for the mechanics—and politics—of nuclear weapons proliferation."

Foreign Affairs writer Eliot A. Cohen called this entry in the series "an excellent reference work that combines a great deal of information with thoughtful analysis." Bert Chapman commented in American Reference Books Annual that it "is a useful chronicle of historical and ongoing nuclear weapons development in these important nations."

Norris is one of the authors of Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940, which tracks costs through 1996. The authors estimate that in 1996 dollars, the United States spent $5.28 trillion, or nearly thirty percent of all military spending, to build nuclear weapons, deploy and target them, and control and defend them. Other costs included in this figure were spent for dismantling, managing nuclear waste, remediating the environment, compensating victims, and protecting secrets. The total cost is exceeded only by non-nuclear national defense ($13.2 trillion), and Social Security ($7.9 trillion), and averaged $98 billion per year, or eleven percent of all government expenditures.

Although much of the data has been lost, classified, or undocumented, the accounting provided by this volume demonstrates the huge expense the nuclear program has imposed on the American taxpayer. The book notes that for more than fifty years, the government failed to ensure that the money spent on the nuclear weapons programs was allocated efficiently. In a 1993 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report evaluating the Reagan administration's modernization program, the GAO concluded that during the 1980s, the Defense Department had a tendency to "overstate threats to our weapons systems, to understate the performance of mature systems, to overstate the expected performance of upgrades, and to understate the expected costs of those upgrades."

John Mendelsohn reviewed Atomic Audit in Issues in Science and Technology. Mendelsohn wrote that "the book is replete with examples of how, in the heat of the confrontation, common sense often fell prey to presidential politics (the Star Wars debates), bureaucratic advocacy (nuclear-powered aircraft), or scientific arrogance (human radiation experiments). The authors also make clear the risks that the United States runs by continuing to believe that its security is enhanced by deploying more nuclear weapons. And, thanks to Atomic Audit, we now have the data to show that the nuclear weapons infrastructure is a substantially more expensive enterprise than many had believed." The authors state that although the pressures of the Cold War realistically placed cost second after national security, "there is no justification today for continued inattention" to expenditures.

In the final chapter of Atomic Audit recommendations are made. Among them is a suggestion that the president should take a more active role in nuclear policy and that he should prepare and submit an annual report with his yearly budget that would provide costs of the government's nuclear-weapons programs. Congress is urged to take a larger role in developing a strategic plan of how weapons would be used, as well as overseeing the costs of the programs.

"Inconvenient realities have a way of being overlooked when politics are involved," noted Mendelsohn, who noted that although Congress did pass legislation establishing a nuclear testing moratorium and prevented the Reagan administration from disabling the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, "as a body it has very limited ability to adumbrate nuclear strategy or determine what constitutes deterrence." Mendelsohn concluded by calling Atomic Audit "a splendid one-stop reference, great ammunition for the never-ending battle with the forces of nuclear darkness."

Library Journal's Daniel K. Blewett said that in writing Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man, Norris "uses his expertise to good effect." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called it "an overly detailed but useful biography of an unacknowledged founding father of the nuclear era."

Although much has been written about the scientists of the Manhattan Project, it was Groves (1896-1970) who managed construction and formulated procedures, and who ultimately shared in the responsibility for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. He was a West Point graduate and career officer in the Army Corps of Engineers when he was selected in 1942, after completing the construction of the Pentagon. It was his task to coordinate scientists, construction crews, military and civilian officials, and others in bringing the task of the Manhattan Project to fruition, which he did in just over 1,000 days in a time of scare materials and limited resources. The procedures and practices established by Groves have had a lasting effect on national security policy.

In order to obtain enough fissionable uranium for the Los Alamos-based project, Groves arranged for the construction and operation of facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington, and he established the Air Force unit that would deliver the bombs. "General Groves planned the project, ran his own construction, his own science, his own army, his own State Department, and his own Treasury Department," declared one of his aides after the war was over. He gave clearance to J. Robert Oppenheimer, lead scientist on the project, even though he had been associated with communists, a decision Groves said he never regretted. Groves was resented by many of the scientists, officers, and politicians who found him offensive and opposed the strict control and secrecy he maintained in the performance of his task.

"Groves emerged from the war a hero," wrote Daniel J. Kevles in the New York Times Book Review, "but his reputation and influence rapidly declined. During the battle over postwar control of atomic energy, scientists and journalists hauled him over the coals for his power-hungry and autocratic ways, making him symbolic of the reasons for not ceding control of nuclear affairs to the military." In 1948, Dwight Eisenhower, then chief of staff, severely criticized Groves, and three days later, Groves announced his retirement at age fifty-one. He took a position with Remington Rand in Connecticut, and when he died in 1970, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Groves had written Now It Can Be Told in 1962, his story of the Manhattan Project, but Norris offers a complete biography, drawing on a study by historian Stanley Goldberg, who died while working on it.

Norris had access to the large collection of papers left by Groves, as well as to military records and personal accounts. Kevles concluded by saying that "the result is an authoritative biography that is important for its illuminating account of both the man and his crucial role in the race for the bomb."



American Reference Books Annual, 1995, Bert Chapman, review of Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5: British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, p. 309.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July-August, 1994, Chuck Hansen, review of British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, p. 54.

Choice, November, 1994, M. J. Smith, Jr., review of British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, p. 434.

Environment, November, 1988, Magne Barth, review of Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 3: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Facility Profiles, p. 26.

Foreign Affairs, July-August, 1994, Eliot A. Cohen, review of British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, p. 166.

Issues in Science and Technology, winter, 1998, John Mendelsohn, review of Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940, p. 92.

Journal of Peace Research, November, 1989, Magne Barth, review of U.S. Nuclear Warhead Facility Profiles, pp. 433-434.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man, p. 165.

Library Journal, April 1, 2002, Daniel K. Blewett, review of Racing for the Bomb, p. 120.

National Journal, February 15, 1992, David C. Morrison, "A Bean Counter Who Knows His Beans," p. 402.

New York Times, January 3, 1990, William J. Broad, "Spy's Role in Soviet H-Bomb Now Discounted," p. A1.

New York Times Book Review, June 30, 2002, Daniel J. Kevles, review of Racing for the Bomb.

OnEarth, summer, 2002, review of Racing for the Bomb, p. 44.

Orbis, spring, 1995, Bruce D. Berkowitz, review of British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, p. 279.

Scientific American, September, 1994, Philip Morrison, review of British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, p. 109.