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Rose Gottemoeller: Arms Control in the Information Age
Remarks by Rose Gottemoeller, Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
April 2, 2012

Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO)
Moscow, Russia
March 30, 2012

A woman speaking at a microphone and gesturing
Rose Gottemoeller (photo: AP images)

Thank you for the kind introduction. It is always a pleasure to be back here in Moscow. After spending three years at Carnegie Moscow Center, this city feels like a second home.

As you all probably know, we have just passed the one year anniversary of New START Treaty’s entry into force. I am happy to report that implementation of that Treaty is now underway and it is going very well. As Foreign Minister Lavrov has said, the New START Treaty is “a new gold standard for…agreements of this kind. Not only does the treaty facilitate a strengthening of the security of Russia and the USA but it will also have a positive effect on international stability and security in general.”

I could not agree more and New START was just the beginning. President Obama made it clear in his now-famous Prague Speech that the United States is committed to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. He reiterated his vision in Seoul earlier this week. In his remarks at the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama said that he “knew that this goal would not be reached quickly, perhaps not in [his] lifetime, but [he] knew we had to begin, with concrete steps.”

In order to pursue the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons, we are going to have to think bigger and bolder. With this is mind, I have been challenging myself and my colleagues to think about how we use the knowledge of our past together with the new tools of the information age. I look out at a crowd like you and realize that I don’t need to convince you that the technologies of the 21st century are changing the world as we know it. While I may still be figuring out how to use my Ipad, I know it too. That is why I have been talking about arms control in the information age at universities around the United States.

Today, I will talk to you the changing nature of diplomacy and the new technologies that can help us on the road to nuclear zero. I have talked about these subjects at several universities now and I would like to start out by saying the same thing I tell students back in the United States- this is not a policy speech, this is an ideas speech. You are my first audience in Russia.

21st Century Statecraft

Diplomacy today is very different than it was at the dawn of the nuclear age. Treaties and agreements are not being formulated in vaulted, smoke-filled rooms across green baize tables, among grizzled diplomats with endless amounts of time. More often diplomacy is happening in the open, and at quicker speeds. We diplomats must learn to work and thrive under new circumstances.

In my own experience, diplomacy has changed dramatically before my eyes. I was a junior member of the U.S. START delegation in 1990-91, an experience that served me well when negotiating the New START Treaty. I remember how things were done back then: masses of paper had to be shuttled among delegation members—we were constantly burning up Xerox machines, and faxes flowed from Geneva to Washington and back.

When the New START negotiations began in April 2009, the world had changed. The U.S. and Russian delegations launched into the negotiations committed to keeping them respectful and businesslike, even when we did not agree. And we agreed to disagree in private. That was good considering how easily either delegation could have broadcast negative comments that would have reached Moscow or Washington before we could pick up a phone.

For me, the biggest change in how we did business was email. Instead of making hard copies and waiting days or weeks for the snail mail, we could get information around the delegation and to our leaders in Washington within hours, even minutes. Both classified and unclassified materials could be sent, decreasing necessary trips back to Washington.

After some discussion, we also agreed to exchange negotiating documents with the Russian team electronically, although on disks and not via email. Still, even CDs made a big difference to after-hours communication. There was a famous story about how in the 1990s, during the START talks, a member of the U.S. delegation had to hurl a satchel of negotiating documents over the fence of the Soviet mission to his counterpart, because no guard was there to open the gates late at night. Obviously, a CD could be handed more easily between the bars of the fence–which we did from time to time.

In my view, these new approaches to a formal negotiating process, especially our new digital toolbox, were a big factor in the fast pace of our negotiations–exactly one year from our first meeting to our last one. No longer bogged down by paper processes, things moved quickly. 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 or call from my home or office, and hopefully soon, I can walk across the hall and have a video-chat in our conference room.

New Technologies and Arms Control

Even with a full diplomatic toolbox and new methods for diplomacy, we need to think about how new agreements will be verified. Today, we verify that countries are fulfilling their arms control treaty obligations through a combination of information exchange, notifications of weapon status, on-site inspections, and National Means, including so-called National Technical Means (NTM). NTM are big assets—observation satellites, phased-array radars—that individual countries manage and control. It has long been a rule of arms control treaties that we don’t interfere with each other’s National Technical Means—we allow each other these eyes and ears to monitor treaties. All of the elements I’ve listed work together to make an effective verification regime.

I should say what we mean by effective verification. Ambassador Paul Nitze defined it as follows: “if the other side moves beyond the limits of the treaty in any militarily significant way, we would be able to detect such violations in time to respond effectively and thereby deny the other side the benefit of the violation.” That’s effective verification, and it has been the benchmark for verifying compliance. To help meet this benchmark, I’ve been asking myself, can we incorporate open source information technologies and social networking into arms control verification and monitoring?

New concepts, I recognize, are not invented overnight, and we don’t understand the full range of possibilities inherent in the information age, but we would be remiss if we did not start thinking about whether new technologies can augment over half a century of arms control negotiating expertise?

Our new reality is a smaller, increasingly-networked world where the average citizen connects to other citizens in cyberspace hundreds of times each day. They exchange and share ideas on a wide variety of topics, why not put this vast problem solving entity to good use?

Today, any event, anywhere on the planet, could be broadcast globally in seconds. That means it is harder to hide things. When it is harder to hide things, it is easier to be caught. The neighborhood gaze is a powerful tool, and it can help us make sure that countries are following the rules of arms control treaties and agreements.

Open source information technologies improve arms control verification in at least two ways: either as a way of generating new information, or as analysis of information that already is out there.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Red Balloon Challenge is an example of the first. In 2009, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA held a competition where 10 red weather balloons were moored at visible fixed locations around the continental United States. The first team to identify the location of all 10 balloons won a sizable cash prize–$40,000. Over 4,300 teams composed of an estimated 2 million people from 25 countries took part in the challenge. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the challenge, identifying all of the balloon locations in an astonishing time of 8 hours and 52 minutes. Of course, to win in such a short time or complete the challenge at all, the MIT team did not “find” the balloons themselves. They tapped into social networks with a unique incentive structure that not only incentivized people to identify a balloon location, but also incentivized people to recruit others to the team. Their win showed the enormous potential of social networking and also demonstrated how incentives can motivate large populations to work toward a common goal.

Now, how could something like this work in an arms control context? Let’s just imagine that a country, to establish its bona fides in a deep nuclear reduction environment, may wish to open itself to a verification challenge. It could seek to prove it was not stashing extra missiles in the woods, for example, or a fissile material production reactor in the desert. Of course, some form of international supervision would likely be required, to ensure the legitimacy of the challenge and its procedures. And we would have to consider whether such a challenge could cope with especially covert environments, such as caves or deep underground facilities.

A technique like this—I call it a “public verification challenge”—might be especially valuable as we move to lower numbers of nuclear weapons. Governments would have an interest in proving that they are meeting their reduction obligations and may want to engage their publics in helping them to make the case.

It would be necessary to work together to make sure nations cannot spoof or manipulate the verification challenges that they devise. We also have to bear in mind that there could be limitations based on the freedoms available to the citizens of said country. These are both big problems, but I am certain that we can tackle them.

In addition to developing new information, harvesting and analyzing existing information can be helpful, too. Many are analyzing twitter streams, for example: Laila Shareen Sakr, a University of Southern California doctoral candidate, designed a computer program to aggregate twitter data and patterns that enabled her to understand events in both Arab Spring and Libya’s revolution as they were unfolding.

The ability to identify patterns and trends in social networks could aid the arms control verification process. In the most basic sense, social media can draw attention to both routine and abnormal events. We may be able to use data mining to understand where strange effluents are flowing, to recognize patterns of industrial activity, to queue sensors and satellites. Such queuing could help us to make better use of our scarce and expensive National Technical Means, or in some cases to supplement them in important ways. This is a major issue in an age of budget austerity, when the price tag for big hardware like satellites continues to rise. We need this “big hardware”, but we need to use it efficiently.

In this same vein, we should think about what there is to gain from using open source geospatial databases like Google Earth. Of course, NGOs, students and private citizens have been using open sources satellite images for research for some time now.

Now even one of the most famous men in the world is applying these new technological tools to aid in the promotion of human rights in Sudan and South Sudan. Actor George Clooney, in conjunction with ngos, academic institutions and businesses, created the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). SSP uses commercial satellite images to systematically monitor and report on possible threats to human security in near real-time.

DigitalGlobe satellites passing over Sudan and South Sudan capture imagery of potential threats to civilians. The satellites can pick up types and varieties of helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket launch systems, among many other items of concern. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analyzes imagery and information from sources on the ground to produce reports. The Enough Project then releases the reports to the press and policymakers and sounds the alarm by notifying the news media and civic groups.

The synergy is stunning- private citizens and groups conduct their own monitoring project, analyze the information and then publicize the results via traditional news and social media networks.

Beyond movie stars, the Information Age is creating a greater talent pool of individuals to aid in our pursuits. People can reach a broader, diverse market for their products and services. These private citizens can develop web based applications for e-book readers, cell phones and any touch pad communication devices. This “crowd sourcing” lets everyday people solve problems by getting innovative ideas out of their heads and onto the shelves.

Open source technology could be useful in the hands of inspectors. Smart Phone and tablet apps could be created for the express purpose of aiding in the verification and monitoring process. For example, by having all safeguards and verification sensors in an inspected facility wirelessly connected to the inspector’s iPad, he or she could note anomalies and flag specific items for closer inspections, as well as compare readings in real time and interpret them in context. Some of this is already happening.

As we think through new ways to use these tools, we should be aware that there may be trouble ahead. We cannot assume that information will always be so readily available. As nations and private entities continue to debate the line between privacy and security, it is possible to imagine that we are living in a golden age of open source information that will be harder to take advantage of in future. In the end, the goal of using open source information technology and social networks should be to add to our existing arms control verification capabilities.

As I said at the outset, this is not about policy; this is about coming up with the bold ideas that will shape policy in the future. In Seoul, President Obama said that in “your generation, I see the spirit we need in this endeavor — an optimism that beats in the hearts of so many young people around the world. It’s that refusal to accept the world as it is, the imagination to see the world as it ought to be, and the courage to turn that vision into reality.”

As the U.S. and Russian governments work to enhance and expand our arms control and nonproliferation efforts, we will need your help to find new ways to use the amazing information tools at our disposal to move the world closer to stable peace and security.

Thank you again for inviting me here to speak. I would now love to take some questions.