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US Rose Gottemoeller at Brookings on U.S. Nuclear Arms Policy
December 18, 2014

U.S. Nuclear Arms Control Policy


Rose Gottemoeller
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 

Brookings Institution

Washington, DC

December 18, 2014



As Delivered

Good Morning and thank you, Steve, for that introduction. Thanks so much for hosting me here. This is a special time of year for arms control issues, so I am happy to be here talking with all of you about what we have accomplished and our plans for the new year.

As you all might know, I have been traveling quite a bit lately and was just recently in the Czech Republic for a conference on the Prague Agenda. I reminded people at that conference that when President Obama laid out his vision for the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons, he made it clear that it was not a desirable, but unattainable dream. The Prague Agenda is an achievable long-term goal and one worth fighting for. I will say here what I said in Prague. There should be no doubt: the U.S. commitment to achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons is unassailable. We continue to pursue nuclear disarmament and we will keep faith with our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments, prominent among them, Article VI. Our responsible approach to disarmament has borne fruit in the form of major reductions in nuclear weapons, fissile material stocks and infrastructure. These efforts have led us to reduce our nuclear arsenal by approximately 85% from its Cold War heights. In real numbers, that means we have gone from 31,255 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile in 1967 to 4,804 in 2013. We know we still have more work to do.

As we consider future reductions, our focus must be on achievable and verifiable measures that all interested parties – nuclear states and non-nuclear states alike – can trust. Our past experience – both successes and disappointments – will inform how and when we proceed, with each step building on the last.

When we take stock of the last thirty years, it is clear that our path has been the right one. We have accomplished so much and if we had been all been gathered at a nuclear policy event at Brookings in 1985, I don’t think anyone in the room could have imagined, or predicted, what was to come. I was right down the road at 21st and M, at Rand Corporation, and I know that I would not have done so. By the way, my office neighbor there was Ted Warner, a true expert in our field who recently passed away. His legacy is a great one and we miss him very much. Within a decade of 1985, Washington and Moscow would conclude the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, and the HEU Purchase Agreement.

These various bilateral and parallel unilateral initiatives led to array of impressive and long-reaching effects: banning an entire class of missiles carrying nuclear weapons, reducing the deployed nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Russia by over 11,000 warheads, drastically reducing and eliminating whole categories of tactical nuclear weapons, while removing others from routine deployment, and converting Russian nuclear material equivalent to an astounding 20,000 nuclear weapons into fuel for nuclear power.

Those efforts were followed by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), or Moscow Treaty, that further reduced U.S. and Russian deployed strategic forces. And of course, in 2010, the U.S. and Russia signed the New START Treaty. When it is fully implemented, New START will limit deployed strategic nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.

New START is enhancing security and strategic stability between the United States and Russia. Both nations are now faithfully implementing the Treaty’s inspection regime. Current tensions with the Russian Federation highlight the durability of the verification regime and the important confidence that is provided by data exchanges and on-site inspections under the Treaty, as well as the security and predictability provided by verifiable mutual limits on strategic weapons. None of these achievements could have been predicted back in 1985, nor laid out in a long-term, time-bound program. On the contrary, it was the careful implementation of each initiative that provided the trust and confidence, and the strategic opportunity to move ahead.

Underpinning all of our efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding and recognition of the humanitarian consequences of the use of these weapons. That is the message the United States delivered at the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna last week. We appreciated hearing the testimonies and statements of the participants there. While we acknowledge the views of those who call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the United States cannot and will not support efforts of this sort. We believe the practical path we have followed so successfully in the past remains the only realistic route to our shared goal of a nuclear weapons- free world. Again, it should be remembered that we share the same goal; we just have different ideas on the process. The international community cannot ignore or wish away the obstacles confronting us that slow the pace of progress on arms control and nonproliferation efforts. We must all acknowledge that not every nation is ready or willing to pursue serious arms control and nonproliferation efforts. We are seeing new and enduring pressures on the NPT – pressures that threaten global stability. We are seeing nations turn away from cooperation, turn away from the common good of nonproliferation efforts, and cling ever more tightly to their nuclear arsenals.

As we push those nations to accept their own global and ethical responsibilities, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal for the defense of our nation and our allies. This is not a stance that is mutually exclusive of U.S. disarmament goals. It merely recognizes the international security environment in which we find ourselves – and must take account of – as we pursue further progress. Simply put, we must carefully maintain the arsenal that remains, in order to make deeper reductions. We are conscious of our current obligations and responsibilities and we are meeting them. The United States also knows that it has a responsibility to lead efforts toward disarmament, and I can affirm to you that we will never relent in this pursuit. There are people here in Washington and people around the world that see the landscape and say that we cannot control the spread of weapons of mass destruction or further reduce stockpiles. They are wrong.

It was in Prague that President Obama reminded us that, “such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.” Again, the United States cannot and will not accept this. “When we fail to pursue peace,” the President also said, “then it stays forever beyond our grasp…[t]o denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy, but also a cowardly thing to do.”

The United States will press ahead, even in the face of obstacles. While we have accomplished much over the past five years, we have no intention of diverting from our active efforts to reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons, increase confidence and transparency, strengthen nonproliferation, and address compliance challenges. We will do so pursing all available and practical avenues. For instance, the United States earlier this month contributed resources and experts to the successful on-site inspection exercise held by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization in Jordan. Such practical efforts help ensure that the international community will have an effective verification regime in place for the day when the CTBT enters into force. The United States has made clear that we are prepared to engage Russia on the full range of issues affecting strategic stability and that there are real and meaningful steps we should be taking that can contribute to a more predictable, safer security environment. Given that the United States and Russia continue to possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, this is an important and worthy goal.

In June 2013 in Berlin, President Obama stated U.S. willingness to negotiate a reduction of up to one-third of our deployed strategic warheads from the level established in the New START Treaty. Progress requires a willing partner and a conducive strategic environment, but the offer remains on the table. On the broader world stage, progress on disarmament requires that states take greater responsibility to resolve the conflicts that give rise to proliferation dangers. It requires ending the nuclear build-up in Asia; that Iran join an agreement restoring full confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program; and that North Korea return to compliance with its international obligations. And it requires that we make progress where we can. This includes in the Middle East where we will spare no effort to convene an historic conference on a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery.

Further, as the United States considers arms control and nonproliferation priorities, we will continue to consult closely with our allies and partners every step of the way. Our security and defense — and theirs — is non-negotiable. We are in a difficult crisis period with the Russian Federation over Ukraine and Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty. Addressing both situations is an ongoing process. With specific regard to the Russian INF violation, we will continue engaging the Russian government to resolve U.S. concerns. Our objective is for Russia to return to verifiable compliance with its INF Treaty obligations, as the Treaty is in our mutual security interest and that of the globe.

Indeed, we need cooperation with Russia and other nations to address new threats – first and foremost the threat of terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon or nuclear material. They need this cooperation for their own security, as well. As I have outlined, there is no way to skip to the end and forgo the hard work of solving the truly daunting technical and political nonproliferation and disarmament challenges that lie ahead. It is not enough to have the political will to pursue this agenda; we have to have a practical way to pursue this agenda.

We can all acknowledge that verification will become increasingly complex at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, while requirements for accurately determining compliance will dramatically increase. Everyone who shares the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons should be devoting a lot time and energy to address this challenge right now. With that idea in mind, I announced in Prague a new initiative: the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. The United States proposes to work with both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapons states to better understand the technical problems of verifying nuclear disarmament, and to develop solutions. The United Kingdom and Norway have already pioneered this type of work. This new initiative will build on the spirit of that experiment to create a non-traditional partnership that draws on the expertise of talented individuals around the world, in both the public and private sectors. The Nuclear Threat Initiative will be a prime partner, providing intellectual energy and resources to the project. We are excited to work with them. We hope to work with more of you.

Beyond this effort, we will continue to work with the P5 on transparency and verification. The United States is pleased that the United Kingdom will host the sixth annual P5 conference early next year. The regular interaction, cooperation and trust-building happening now is the foundation on which future P5 multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament will stand.

In closing I would like to make clear that the United States has plans and we intend to see them through. Again, at the core of our efforts is our deep understanding of the human impacts of nuclear weapons. That is why I have traveled to the Marshall Islands, Hiroshima and twice to Utah this past year, so that I could meet with the people whose lives have been affected by nuclear weapons use or explosive testing. That is why the United States sent a delegation to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Use last week. The United States understands that nuclear weapons are not a theoretical tool – they are real and any use would exact a terrible toll. No one in this country or any country should ever forget that.

I look forward to your questions.

Thank you.