An official website of the United States government

U.S. Special Representative Susan Burk on Nuclear Nonproliferation Challenges
October 13, 2009

by Ambassador Susan F. Burk Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation

Remarks to Middle Powers Initiative Event,
Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 13, 2009

Defining Success: The Contribution of the 2010 NPT Review Conference to A Reinvigorated Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime


Thanks to Ambassador Salander, Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative, and Dr. Christian Shoenenberger, Head of the Task Force on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, for hosting this event and for inviting me to speak to you this afternoon on the subject of “Defining Success at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.” With less than seven months before the eighth Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, events like this provide a timely opportunity to bring together the Treaty’s many stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental, to discuss the issues that we will have before us next May.

Today, I would like to focus my remarks on the contribution the Review Conference can make to our collective efforts to reinvigorate and strengthen the NPT and the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, overall. The global regime has been under great stress in recent years, and strengthening it is an objective that the United States has embraced as one of its highest priorities. The challenges to the regime have never been greater, but neither have been the opportunities to address them.

Let me begin with this conclusion: The 2010 Review Conference will be successful if the parties (1) approach it as a serious opportunity to strengthen the Treaty and revalidate its indispensable contribution to regional and global stability and security, and (2) look beyond their differences to find those areas where agreement on concrete measures to shore up the global regime can be reached now, and on areas where further work and deliberation is needed so that agreement might be possible in the future.


We are at a critical juncture in the life of this vital Treaty. For years, membership in the NPT grew steadily and with it complacency about the strength of the Treaty, except – for some – regarding the pace of nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon state parties – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Non-compliance and the need to strengthen safeguards were not major considerations. Nor were there serious discussions in the NPT context about the possible nonproliferation consequences of the use of nuclear power. Today, however, there is little question about the gravity of the nonproliferation challenge the international community is facing.

We have witnessed growing availability of sensitive nuclear technology, as demonstrated by the activities of the network led by A.Q. Khan that we are continuing to learn about; the ability of North Korea to withdraw from the NPT with relative impunity, even as it pursued a nuclear weapons program; the failure of the UN Security Council and the international community to bring either North Korea or Iran into compliance with the NPT, even after their violations had been discovered and formally reported by the IAEA; and the limitations of international safeguards which, for example, failed to identify the construction of a covert nuclear reactor in Syria.

These stresses are playing out at the same time that we are discussing seriously the expanded use of nuclear energy for power as a response to growing concerns about climate change and energy security. We need to ensure that access to the benefits of nuclear energy do not compromise global nonproliferation goals.

Individually, these are troubling developments, but taken together they lead to a final challenge, which is the perception of some that the NPT is approaching collapse and that further proliferation is inevitable; we must simply learn to live with it. This is a view that is wrong and NPT parties must seize the opportunity to refute it next May.

The Way Forward

As President Obama said in his April Prague speech, the United States seeks the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons and, toward this end, is working to strengthen the NPT as the basis for international cooperation on nonproliferation. He said in that same speech, “The basic bargain (of the NPT) is sound: countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy.”

The 2010 Review Conference is an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate that basic bargain by focusing in a balanced manner on all three pillars of the Treaty – nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the elements of the basic bargain President Obama mentioned.

These three pillars are integrally related and interdependent. Without nonproliferation, it would be too risky to expand nuclear energy worldwide, and would undermine efforts to pursue nuclear disarmament. Without disarmament, international support for nonproliferation would be insufficient to ensure the regime can meet the challenges I have described. And without safe and reliable access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, a key element of the basic bargain would be called into question.

Our efforts to renew the nuclear bargain will require us to reinvigorate the disarmament pillar of the NPT.

In support of our commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, the President has said that the United States will reduce both the numbers of nuclear weapons and their role in our national security strategy. And we will urge others to do the same. There are interim steps that we can take that will not only move us closer to this goal, but also reinforce the global nonproliferation regime and raise the barriers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons and materials by terrorist groups.

In one of these steps, the U.S. and Russia are working intensively in Geneva to finish the follow-on agreement to START. Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed a Joint Understanding on July 6, agreeing to reduce their strategic delivery vehicles by at least 30 percent. Achievement of a legally binding and effectively verifiable agreement will set the stage for further cuts and eventually a disarmament process that includes all nuclear weapon states.

The cessation of all nuclear weapon test explosions constitutes another meaningful step toward nuclear disarmament, and has long been a goal of NPT parties. The President has committed to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).” Once ratification is achieved, the Obama Administration will work hard with others to ensure that the other requirements for CTBT’s entry into force are met at the earliest possible time. In the interim, we have reaffirmed our decades-long unilateral moratorium on testing, and continue to call on other governments publicly to declare national moratoria of their own.

The United States also has committed to seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons purposes – a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) – another long-standing international objective. The U.S. looks forward to working with its partners in the Conference on Disarmament to conclude this important agreement. Pending that result, we have reaffirmed our decades-long unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

So the stage is set for important progress on disarmament and arms control. The political will is there.

The nonproliferation pillar of the NPT, the goal of which is to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, is also being tested, and the 2010 Review Conference is an opportunity to strengthen the implementation of the nonproliferation elements of the Treaty.

It is important to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of states that have joined the NPT are abiding by their treaty obligations. However, international peace and security is undermined, and Parties’ confidence in the NPT and measures to strengthen it are eroded, by those few Parties that are not in compliance.

Stemming proliferation requires that the international community work together to discourage such violations. As President Obama said in Prague, there must be “real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules.” It is important that all nations stand together to build a strong regime, but the Parties to the NPT have a special responsibility for upholding that Treaty.

To this end, we are committed to ensuring that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has the resources that it needs to accomplish its vital mission. Parties must work together to strengthen the Agency’s safeguards system, which is the Treaty’s primary tool for verifying compliance and detecting noncompliance with the NPT’s nonproliferation obligations. Over the years, the Agency’s membership has adopted additional measures to enhance its ability to verify states’ compliance with safeguards obligations in response to events that have exposed weaknesses in the system. Most recently, the IAEA has developed the Additional Safeguards Protocol. The U.S. ratified its own Additional Protocol earlier this year and will continue to encourage its adoption by all states. IAEA Director General El Baradei provided the most compelling reason for pursuing universal adherence to the Additional Protocol when he said, last June, “Without an Additional Protocol, we can only talk about declared nuclear material. We have learned since 1991 in Iraq, that if any country tries to divert nuclear material, they don’t divert from declared material, they divert through a clandestine programme.”

It is not enough simply to detect violations. The costs of violating the treaty must outweigh the benefits. Noncompliance must be met with real consequences. The record in this area in the past has been poor, and it will be imperative that the international community demonstrate the necessary political will to halt this dangerous problem.

The Review Conference is an opportunity to consider how to encourage compliance and discourage noncompliance such as abusing the NPT’s withdrawal provision. Parties have the legal right to withdraw from the Treaty, with a 3-month advance notice of withdrawal to all other Parties and the UN Security Council, and this notice must include a statement of the extraordinary events that jeopardize its supreme national interests. But they are still responsible for any violations committed while there in the Treaty. NPT Parties should consider how to dissuade such a course of action and, should it occur in spite of such efforts, how they can use this period of time to address the circumstances of a Party’s withdrawal. As part of their consideration, they should assess the likely impact of a withdrawal on the effective functioning of the international nonproliferation regime.

We must also work together to secure the materials terrorists need to build a nuclear device or dirty bomb. Progress has been made in this area, but much more needs to be done. The United States will host a Global Summit on Nuclear Security next year to address the dangers of vulnerable materials and to give direction to concerned governments on ways to collaborate and counter this serious problem. This is an area of growing concern for NPT Parties, and one that deserves their attention next May.

The third pillar of the NPT calls for international cooperation in pursuing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

For many years, nations have used nuclear energy for peaceful purposes: in energy, agriculture, medicine, mining, manufacturing, and other industries. Nuclear science is vitally important to the continued social and economic development of many countries. This pillar is more important today than ever, in light of renewed interest in nuclear power as a response to international concern about climate change, energy security, and the promotion of sustainable development.

President Obama has called for a new framework for civil nuclear energy cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries seeking nuclear power can access it more easily and cost effectively without the need for their own fuel production capabilities. The goal is to provide affordable access to nuclear energy without increasing proliferation risks. The IAEA has been the forum for a vigorous discussion about the merits of internationalizing the fuel cycle and institutionalizing a system of fuel assurances. My own assessment, after reading extensive reporting on the discussions over the past year, is that this is a glass half full. Clearly there are many issues and questions raised – technical, commercial, legal and political. But if the international community really intends to increase its reliance on nuclear energy in the future, these issues and questions need to be addressed.

The NPT Review Conference may not be the forum to address these issues, but it can validate the discussion in the IAEA and encourage it to continue.

Reciprocal Responsibilities

I have described a number of initiatives and other steps that the NPT Review Conference will have before it next May; steps that can set us on a path toward greater international security and allow us to meet the genuine economic and social needs of countries embarking on or expanding their civil nuclear programs. Their success is predicated on the assumption that all states – those that possess nuclear weapons and those that have foresworn them – have a responsibility to advance our collective security. The 2010 Review Conference is an opportunity to demonstrate this shared responsibility.

The United States and other nuclear weapon states bear a special responsibility under the NPT to pursue nuclear disarmament. President Obama has described his agenda for meeting this responsibility, and we will pursue it with resolve.

But non-nuclear weapon states bear no less responsibility to work constructively and actively to prevent further proliferation and to help create the conditions for nuclear disarmament, and to ensure safe, secure uses of nuclear energy. The responsibility does not end with their decision to forego their own nuclear weapon capability and to accept IAEA safeguards to verify their commitments. It must continue through the participation of those non-nuclear states in rigorous, collective efforts to impede other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is not a favor to the nuclear weapons states, but a collective responsibility of the international community as a whole, whose security and well-being is dramatically affected by whether more and more states acquire nuclear weapons. Through such efforts all states can help create the conditions necessary to achieve the nuclear free world that we seek.


When the parties to the NPT meet in New York next May to review the implementation of the Treaty, not only will they be looking back, but forward as well, we hope, with the goal of reaching agreement on the way ahead. We believe there is a new energy and a new commitment to use the 2010 Review Conference as an opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce this indispensible Treaty, and to consider, as a group, the measures to be pursued to strengthen both the Treaty and the broader regime. We hope it will generate valuable momentum for our shared efforts in Vienna, New York, Geneva and elsewhere to meet the challenges and advance the nonproliferation and disarmament agenda. The United States will be working hard with our partners to seize the opportunities that we have before us.