Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry
March 31, 2016
SECRETARY KERRY: Could I ask everybody – ladies, gentlemen – shhh. I know the foreign ministers are unruly, but the energy ministers really, I mean – (laughter).
Ladies and gentlemen, excellencies, colleagues, honored guests, a very warm good evening to all of you here. We’re really delighted to have you over here at the State Department. We gather tonight in a suite of rooms – here in the Jefferson Room, in the Adams Room, in the Madison Room, the Monroe Room – and this is the Ben Franklin Room. You see Ben Franklin over there. And I want to single out my great collaborator in the Iran negotiations, Ernie Moniz, whose hair fits right in with these guys, all of them. (Laughter.) He’s – I’m getting close. (Applause.)
Ernie is my great co-collaborator and now my great, great friend, I will tell you. We spent many a night discussing how we were going to get to the end of the Iran negotiations in Montreux, in Lausanne, in Vienna, and I really am beyond words appreciative for the tremendous technical savvy of this man, who helped us, together deputy prime minister – former Foreign Minister Salehi of Iran, to work through technical issues.
And I want to just acknowledge that was a partnership effort, and I see our friend the foreign minister of China, Wang Yi, here. The Chinese stepped up and helped enormously. The ambassador of Russia, who is representing Russia – Russia stepped up and undertook to take the highly-enriched uranium and undo it, ship it to Russia, and made other contributions along the way. Our French friends, our German friends, our British friends – this was the P5+1, and Germany made the +1, and we are grateful to every single one of them for the contribution they made, and I thank them for that.
The – everyone here knows why we’ve come here together. It’s not just because the wine and food is better than the White House. (Laughter.) It’s – we’re here because – I look around, I know there are a few of you in here who share this distinction, but increasingly not that many: I’m one of the Cold War babies who grew up hiding under my desk in school because we were instructed to practice how to survive a nuclear war. And then I was treated as a young naval officer to a period of time in nuclear, chemical weapons, biological warfare school, where I learned everything you need to know but don’t really want to know about the throw-weights and kill ratios and megatonnage and all of the dangers that we lived in in that period of time. And when I was a young college student, we came extremely close to the brink of a nuclear war over the missiles that had been moved into Cuba, and we all learned very readily how dangerous this is.
It wasn’t until we were 50,000 warheads on both sides pointed at each other – Russia and the United States, then the Soviet Union and the United States – with the world endangered in that incredible standoff that common sense came to Gorbachev and Reagan when they met in Reykjavik and they said we’re moving in the wrong direction, let’s go the other way. And indeed, we have taken an enormous number of weapons and destroyed them, stockpiled them, and we have gained in our knowledge about stockpiling and how to do it in a safe way. And we have learned how to move in a direction where, with the START Treaty, we’re now 1,500 warheads and reducing.
Now, everybody here has come here with the goal – the committed goal – of trying to enhance our mutual security, to make the world a safer place. For some people, that’s sort of a slogan. For everybody in this room, it’s our daily work. It’s what we really do and what we spend an enormous amount of energy to try to effect. And I think we can proudly say that over the course of the last years, we have kept nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists and others who would abuse them. And we have begun to move in a direction, as difficult as it is – and we all know it’s difficult – to move to a day when nuclear weapons exist only within the pages of history books.
Now, look, we all understand how difficult that is. When I first heard about the idea, I said how can you do that? I mean, what happens to deterrence? Where do you go, and can you ever put the genie back in the bottle? And there are a lot of legitimate questions. But one thing I’ve learned from a lot of courageous people who’ve stood up, like Bill Perry and George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and Jim Baker and a bunch of people who dealt with this challenge for years, who believe the world will be better if we move in the different direction. And one thing is clear: Every step we take towards a world without them is a step that will make the world safer, because it means you’re advancing in your ability to resolve conflicts. And that’s the only way you’re going to build confidence in people that the old rules of deterrence and of first strike are suddenly mooted by a better way to do business.
Now, it’s a long way away. We all know that. But that’s the goal of every single foreign minister here, my colleagues; every single energy minister; and many of you in this audience, including our former Secretary Madeleine Albright, who spent a lifetime working on these kinds of issues.
More than half a century ago, when he was proposing a treaty to ban nuclear tests, President Kennedy said, “There is no single, simple key, no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts.” So we have seen the truth of this statement play out in our collective efforts to be able to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to ban chemical and biological weapons, to safeguard the handling of nuclear materials, and to impose sanctions on those who refuse to meet their commitments to the world community, to humanity, to common sense.
That continues to be the case with this summit here. That’s why President Obama is so grateful to all of you for coming here, and that is why I think, if we do our work properly, the world can be grateful to everybody here who is part of this endeavor.
Unlike some international sessions, these summits are oriented less towards talk and more towards action. In the six years we’ve been meeting – first in Washington, then in Seoul, then the Hague, and now back in Washington – we can actually point to real, tangible achievements in nuclear security.
In recent years, 13 countries, plus Taiwan, have given up weapons-usable plutonium and highly-enriched uranium entirely. An additional 12 countries have decreased their stockpiles of nuclear materials.
And we have improved security at nuclear facilities and installed radiation detection equipment at more than 300 international border crossings, airports, and seaports.
Since 2009, through various lines of effort, we have removed or eliminated enough weapons-grade fissionable material to supply nearly 7,000 nuclear bombs.
And through the work surrounding these summits, we have strengthened the international organizations, the institutions, the legal instruments that make up the global nuclear security architecture.
The bottom line is that we are focused on the nuclear threat and systemically committed to countering it.
Now, I’ll just wind up quickly by saying to everybody that there have been times when the progress has been slow, and there obviously remains an enormous amount more to do. But every step forward that we take is a step away from danger, and in many cases, it is a step away from danger that we don’t have the ability necessarily to control, because the last century was defined mostly by state-on-state conflicts. This century is being defined far more by non-state actor actions on states or on individuals. That’s an entirely new challenge, but just think what would happen if we hadn’t gotten the chemical weapons out of Syria before Daesh emerged and those weapons were now in the hands of Daesh. Think what happens if some group or another that is willing to blow up children at a playground or kids in Baghdad the other day who were there to get their soccer trophies – think what happens if all of a sudden those same people who don’t care have nuclear material for a dirty bomb at their disposal.
So, my friends, we came here for a serious purpose and I thank everybody for doing that. We have to use this year’s summit to build momentum. And we should view the products of this gathering – the progress reports, the concrete actions that we will lay down – as markers of accountability and transparency; as signals of our shared intent to keep advancing global security. A world of 7-plus billion people is looking to us to do that.
The vast majority of what we do to reduce stockpiles, eliminate dangerous materials, secure nuclear sites, and prevent access to nuclear weapons technology takes place way outside the global spotlight. There’s very little about this work that is glamorous, but make no mistake – and I know everybody here believes this – every single part of it is essential.
So given the situation that we know about the world today, we know that there are extremists out there who are probing for signs of complacency, looking for that chink in the armor, looking for inattention or sloppiness or corruption. And in this arena, we have to get it right every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you’re a terrorist, you only have to get it right for 10 minutes or an hour or a few hours.
So let’s make this summit a success. Let’s continue the shared task of strengthening our security. Let’s maintain our vigilance around the clock, and most importantly – and I say this with enormous gratitude – one of the most gratifying things this will – I’m – we’re getting into our last nine months as – my last nine months as Secretary. Everything I’m doing now is measured as a last. And so I’d just say to you that what has really been the most impressive thing to me is the multilateral energy, the willingness of everybody to come together, work together, pull together in order to achieve our goals.
And I am pleased to introduce to you one of those people who’s done that, my esteemed colleague, a real-life nuclear expert, and a great leader for the cause of nuclear security on the planet: Ernie Moniz. (Applause.)