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Arms Control in the Information Age: The “Getting to Zero” Toolbox
Remarks at the Global Zero Conference at Yale University
February 23, 2012

Rose Gottemoeller
Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
New Haven, CT

February 18, 2012


As Delivered

Thank you so much for having me here today. My boss, Secretary Clinton, wanted me to be here today to support your important work, since she couldn’t be here. Thanks to Bruce, Rick and all the Global Zero staff. You are doing amazing work. I spoke at last year’s Global Zero Conference at George Washington University and I continue to be impressed with the group’s ability to reach out to the next generation of leaders on these issues. Today is no exception – it is fantastic to see so many young people here on a Saturday. Nuclear weapons are a danger that your generation has inherited and it is absolutely imperative that you understand both how we got here and how we move to zero.

I would like to direct your attention to the photo behind me. Does anybody know what it is? McMurdo Station, excellent. Did you know that the road to zero runs through Antarctica? The United States and the Russian Federation recently conducted joint surprise inspections under the Antarctica Treaty. This is a photo of the U.S. and Russian teams at McMurdo, after the inspections were over. It is this kind of cooperation that builds the trust, the respect and the strong relationships that will move us towards our goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

It is now almost 3 years ago that President Obama made his now-famous speech in Prague. It was not a rhetorical gesture; the Prague Agenda is a step by step path to nuclear elimination. For the first two years of my service in the Administration, I worked on one step in that path – the New START Treaty. I am happy to report that implementation of that Treaty is now well underway. Both the United States and Russia are benefiting from the enhanced predictability it provides, which in turn enhances national security for both nations.

New START was just the beginning. Going forward, we know that we are going to have to think bigger and bolder. With this is mind, I have been traveling to different universities to talk through some new ideas. Last October, I was at Stanford to talk about the use of social media and open source technologies in arms control and nonproliferation verification. In January, I spoke at the University of Washington on how new media is changing the nature of diplomacy. This will be the third stop on my “big think” tour and I would like to talk to you today about how we can best use all the tools at our disposal to get to “zero.” I’d like to start out by making it clear that this is not a policy speech, this is an ideas speech.

The Challenges Ahead

As we look to the next steps in reductions, it is clear that we are entering unknown terrain. We have not tried to limit non-deployed or non-strategic weapons before, which President Obama called for the day he signed New START. People have different ideas about what terms like non-strategic even mean. It is increasingly apparent that we are going to need every tool we have, and many we have not yet developed or perhaps even thought of, to fulfill the Prague Agenda. As you heard, I recently became the Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security or as we refer to it at the State Department “T.” The three T Bureaus cover arms control, nonproliferation and political-military affairs. Elements from all three of these arenas will be needed to achieve the goal of zero.

We have a lot on our plate, and getting to zero is going to take time and heavy effort. There can be no shortcuts. The United States and Russia still have a lot of work to do, as together we still control over 90% of the world’s nuclear stockpile. Proliferation and nuclear terrorism continue to be a grave security threat. And when we come to agreement on disarmament and nonproliferation measures, it will take hard, unrelenting work to implement those agreements. Even more complicated: the lower the numbers or the smaller the components, the harder it will be to monitor compliance.

What’s in our Toolbox?

So what’s in our toolbox to help us get to zero? We have many tools at our disposal – the key is to use them in a cohesive way.

Formal Negotiations and Treaties

First up is the formal, legally-binding negotiation process. This process is responsible for the important Treaties and agreements that undergird our arms control and nonproliferation regime. Sometimes, legally binding treaty obligations are necessary for the implementation process. Negotiated agreements must fit together with each Party’s national system of laws. Let me give you an example: New START replaced the verification measures that expired along with the START Treaty. The day the START Treaty went out of force in December 2009, all of our inspectors had to be out of Russia by midnight. Otherwise, they would no longer have the privileges and immunities the Treaty provides, and would be subject to Russian laws – and the same would have happened to Russian inspectors in the U.S. That is why it was so important to get the new treaty in force – to get boots back on the ground. A legally binding treaty was the best way we could accomplish that. In December 2010, the Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification of the New START Treaty, and it entered into force in February 2011.

In the United States, we also have international agreements that do not require Senate advice and consent; they are called “executive agreements.” They too are legally binding. While these types of agreements are not used for reductions, they could be useful in securing agreements on confidence-building, verification or other initiatives that may be as important as future treaties.

Negotiations can be time-consuming, but keep in mind that the way we conduct diplomacy has changed in the 21st century. I have no doubt that we will continue to refine and improve the negotiation process along the lines of what we accomplished in the New START negotiations. I’ll say a bit more about that in a minute.

Reciprocal Actions

Another way to makes changes in nuclear posture that was used in the past was through reciprocal actions taken in parallel. The pros of such an approach include speed and flexibility. A con is that such arrangements may not be verifiable and can be reversed as a result of a change in policy. Perhaps the most notable example of parallel, reciprocal reductions is the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives that George H. W. Bush announced on September 27, 1991. The United States announced it would withdraw to the United States all ground-launched short-range nuclear weapons deployed overseas and destroy them along with existing U.S. stockpiles of the same weapons. It would also cease deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on surface ships, attack submarines, and land based naval aircraft.

On October 5th, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev followed suit, declaring the Soviet Union would eliminate all nuclear artillery munitions, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear mines. Additionally, it would remove all tactical nuclear weapons from surface ships and multipurpose submarines and store these weapons in central storage sites as well as separating nuclear warheads from air defense missiles and put the warheads in central storage. These bold initiatives were announced in the context of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and concerns about the safety and security of non-strategic nuclear weapons during a time of tremendous and rapid geopolitical change.

Mutual Confidence-Building Measures

Progress on reductions is sometimes thwarted by a deficit of trust between parties. A solution for this is mutual confidence building measures, or CBMs. These measures help ensure lasting stability, while at the same time taking into account each nation’s respective security interests. CBMs may include exchanging information about the size of the defense budget, providing notification of planned military activities, offering visits to important facilities, or even things as simple as issuing invitations for participation in national holidays, cultural and sport events.

We can use such confidence building measures to further our disarmament goals. The United States is proud to be at the leading edge of these efforts – publicly declaring our nuclear stockpile numbers; participating in voluntary and treaty-based inspections measures; working with other nations on military to military, scientific and lab exchanges and site visits; and frequently briefing others on our nuclear programs and disarmament efforts.

Lab to Lab Cooperation

An important way to build mutual confidence is to work together on tough problems. One of the great unsung success stories of the early post-Cold War years is how U.S. and Russian scientists, sometimes with other scientists from the then Newly Independent States, worked together to ensure the continued safety and security of fissile material and warheads. One example is the Warhead Safety and Security Exchange Agreement (WSSX) between the United States and the Russian Federation signed on December 16, 1994, and a number of important joint projects that flowed from it. Among them, after lightning sparked wildfires at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2000, U.S. and Russian scientists worked together on improving fire safety for warhead facilities.

Alphabet Soup

Now I’d like to talk a bit of alphabet soup, to make the point that we are already doing a lot that is driving us in the direction of zero. Everything we do to build mutual confidence and take practical actions to counter nuclear threats drives us in that direction. Let’s begin with one of the signature programs of the post-Cold War era, Cooperative Threat Reduction or CTR.

Introduced in 1991 by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, the CTR legislation helped destroy a vast array of former Soviet weaponry, including hundreds of ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launchers. Today, the CTR programs are evolving in directions such as the Global Threat Reduction program, where we work with partners, including Russia, to tackle the threat posed by terrorist organizations or states seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) expertise, materials and equipment. CTR is an important model to continue to develop, as we look to establish better protection, control and accounting of fissile material, wherever it is found.

Another practical model for cooperative effort is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). This global effort, launched in 2003, aims to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related items to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. Under PSI, states commit to interdict such shipments on a voluntary basis. PSI partner states also conduct a range of capacity-building activities that help strengthen states’ abilities to conduct interdiction activities. With 98 nations now participating in the PSI, the Initiative helps deter would-be proliferators by increasing the costs – and risks – of their illicit activities.

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) is another tool available to us. The United States and Russia serve as Co-Chairs of the GICNT.  GICNT is an international partnership of over 80 nations and four official observers committed to working to implement a set of nuclear security principles. The mission of the GICNT is strengthening global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism. To date, GICNT partners have conducted almost 50 multilateral activities in support of these nuclear security objectives.

Embracing 21st Century Statecraft

Finally, we need to embrace 21st Century Statecraft. We have new digital tools to work with and we need to get on with it. As I mentioned at the outset, diplomacy is not happening like the slow moving clichés in movies anymore. I have watched the process change before my eyes.

In my view, the information revolution was a significant factor in the comparatively rapid pace of the New START negotiations–exactly one year from our first meeting to our last one, whereas START took 9 years to negotiate. With enhanced ways to communicate with our capitals, as well as between our delegations, we could make more rapid progress in the negotiations. Nowadays, I don’t have to wait until the next time I travel to Geneva or Moscow to advance business with my counterparts; I can email, call or even text from my home or office. I hope to eventually be able to walk across the hall and have a video-chat in our conference room with my partners across the globe. That relatively rapid pace of communication will affect the future pace of negotiations and discussions of arms reductions.

By the way, talking of electronic revolutions, you can follow me on twitter @gottemoeller. If you would have told me two years ago, that over 1000 people would sign up to read my 140-character thoughts, I would have called you crazy – but I know it is one small part of our much larger public outreach effort on getting to zero.


As you have heard, there is no single way to get to zero. Traditional arms control measures still have their role, and I am glad to see the New START Treaty bolster U.S. national security every day. But to get to zero, we will have to work on multiple fronts to build mutual confidence and predictability and a level of cooperation that is nowhere near the situation we have today. Many of the tools I have discussed today could play an important role in that very long term process.

At the State Department, the office next to mine belonged to General Leslie Groves, the man in charge of the Manhattan Project. I often feel the pull of history in that place. It seems to me that if the minds behind the Manhattan Project were clever enough to invent the nuclear bomb, then surely we are clever enough to get rid of it.

Thank you to Global Zero for your vital contribution to this effort. I look forward to your questions.