updated 3/10/2005 6:21:24 AM ET 2005-03-10T11:21:24

Former defense secretary Robert McNamara said Wednesday the United States and global nuclear powers haven’t adhered to nonproliferation treaties and have done little to reduce nuclear arsenals following the end of the Cold War.

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Speaking about U.S. and NATO nuclear policies at the World Affairs Council, the Vietnam-era defense secretary said the United States and other nuclear powers like Russia and China have pursued policies that are “illegal and immoral.”

“A decade after the Cold War, the basic U.S. nuclear policy has not been changed,” said McNamara, 88, adding that he believed “every leader of a nuclear power should be present at a detonation.”

The remarks come as the Bush administration grapples with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to discuss North Korea during an upcoming trip to South Korea followed by visits to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

China is heading stalled six-way talks to deter North Korea from building a nuclear weapon. North Korea has refused to return to the talks for now.

McNamara said the United States has continued to pursue an aggressive nuclear policy, including plans to update or enhance existing nuclear weapons and construct devices like “bunker busters” and “mini-nukes.” He added that Russia still has scores of nuclear weapons pointed at the United States, many with antiquated operating systems.

“We have absolutely got to get rid of these weapons or reduce them to the degree that there is no chance of destroying nations,” he said.

McNamara added that the threat of terrorists using a nuclear device could be reduced if the United States in particular tried to understand terrorists’ anger and motivations.

McNamara served as defense secretary in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations — he resigned as Johnson’s defense secretary as public opposition rose to the Vietnam War — and was also president of the Ford Motor Co. and the World Bank.

Recently featured in the film “The Fog of War,” McNamara was a prominent figure in the foundation of early U.S. nuclear weapons strategy. He was later criticized for his role in Vietnam by both veterans and the anti-war movement.

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