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Statement by Ambassador Robert Wood to the Conference on Disarmament Regarding the Nuclear Posture Review
February 6, 2018

Ambassador Robert Wood
Ambassador Robert Wood

Geneva, Switzerland
February 6, 2018
As Delivered

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, I take the floor today to share with you some highlights from the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, which was released last Friday.

In January 2017, President Trump tasked the Secretary of Defense with a new Nuclear Posture Review to “ensure the United States’ nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure allies.”

The Department of Defense, alongside the Department of State and the Department of Energy, conducted a deliberate, comprehensive review that:

–        Assessed the roles of nuclear weapons in today’s very serious threat environment; and,
–        Determined the strategy and capabilities required to support those roles.

Throughout the review process, we consulted with allies, partners, and experts from inside and outside the government.  The resulting 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reflects the Department of Defense’s strategic priority to maintain a safe and effective nuclear arsenal that will successfully: 1) deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks; 2) assure our allies; 3) respond should deterrence fail; and 4) hedge against potential risks and uncertainties.

Some have criticized the United States for not adopting a sole purpose for nuclear weapons.  Let’s be clear:  the last administration in 2010 did not see the conditions as appropriate for such a policy in a more benign security environment.  Those security conditions have worsened since then.  That is indisputable.

Mr. President,

For years the United States has consistently pursued reductions in the number and role of nuclear weapons.  Doing so was a policy priority highlighted in the 2010 NPR.  However, since then certain other states have done the opposite.  In contrast to the United States, they have vigorously pursued the modernization of their existing nuclear forces.  They have also developed and fielded new nuclear capabilities.   Russia, China and North Korea are growing their stockpiles, increasing the prominence of nuclear weapons in their security strategies, and – in some cases – pursuing the development of new nuclear capabilities to threaten other peaceful nations.

As a result, today’s security environment is more dynamic, complex, demanding, and threatening than any since the end of the Cold War.  This environment is characterized by great powers and rogue states increasingly challenging the international order.  They are violating borders and increasing their ability to threaten the United States and our allies.  Of particular concern is the large disparity between Russian and U.S. non-strategic nuclear arsenals.  Together with Russian nuclear doctrine, Russia’s investment in non-strategic systems suggests it sees an exploitable coercive advantage in limited nuclear use.  At the same time, China’s military modernization has resulted in an expanded nuclear force, with little or no transparency into its intentions.  The United States does not wish to regard either China or Russia as an adversary and seeks stable relations with both.  Nevertheless, the NPR, by necessity, candidly addresses the challenges posed by these and other states’ strategic policies, programs and capabilities, and the U.S. capabilities required to protect the United States, allies, and partners.

As we have discussed in this forum many times in the past, North Korea has accelerated its provocative pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, and expressed explicit threats to use nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies in the region.  North Korean officials insist that they will not give up nuclear weapons, and North Korea may now be only months away from the capability to strike the United States with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.  Given North Korea’s current and emerging capabilities and its extremely provocative rhetoric and actions, it has come to pose an urgent and unpredictable threat to the United States, allies, and partners.  Consequently, the NPR reaffirms that North Korea’s illicit nuclear program must be completely, verifiably, and irreversibly eliminated, resulting in a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

While the security environment worsened, the United States repeatedly deferred the much needed recapitalization of our nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and infrastructure.  The 2018 NPR, therefore, reflects an overarching imperative to protect the United States and our allies, including by strengthening our nuclear deterrent, while renewing U.S. commitments to non-proliferation.

Mr. President,

While the 2018 NPR must and does take these challenging realities fully into consideration, it is largely consistent with U.S. nuclear policies and posture since the end of the Cold War.  For example, the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons remains the deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.  U.S. nuclear capabilities cannot deter all crises and conflict; however, they contribute uniquely and essentially to the prevention of war and the escalation of conflicts.

The declaratory policy described in the NPR is an element of continuity.  The policy states, and I quote:

“The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners.” 

The NPR then goes on to explain these circumstances, and I quote:

“Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.  Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The NPR also states that: “The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

Finally, the NPR states that, “the United States has never adopted a “no first use” policy and, given the contemporary threat environment, such a policy is not justified today.  It remains the policy of the United States to retain some ambiguity regarding the precise circumstances that might lead to a U.S. nuclear response.”

It is worth noting that the extreme circumstances language and the negative security assurance match the 2010 NPR and are consistent with decades of U.S. nuclear policy.

The 2018 NPR in no way lowers the U.S. nuclear threshold.  Rather, by convincing adversaries that even limited use of nuclear weapons will be more costly than they can countenance, it raises that threshold.  Our intention is to reduce the risk that others might miscalculate or gamble that they have some exploitable advantage.  The objective is to make clear it is not in others’ interest to use nuclear weapons.

Mr. President,

I would now like to focus on some parts of the NPR that are relevant to the Conference on Disarmament.  The United States remains committed to the long-term goal of disarmament as conditions permit, and will continue to adhere to our New START Treaty obligations, including the central limits, which we reached in August of last year  We remain committed to nuclear nonproliferation, continue to abide by our commitments under the NPT, and will work to strengthen the NPT regime.  Credible U.S. extended nuclear deterrence will continue to be a cornerstone of U.S. nonproliferation efforts.

Mr. President,

The United States will pursue the political and security conditions that could enable further nuclear reductions.  We will work to increase transparency and predictability, where appropriate, to avoid potential miscalculation among nuclear weapons states and other possessor states through strategic dialogues, risk reduction communications channels, and sharing of best practices related to nuclear weapons safety and security.

Furthermore, the United States remains committed to finding long-term solutions to the technical challenges of verifying nuclear reductions, and therefore will explore new concepts and approaches for this goal, including continued support for the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification.

Mr. President,

The Department of Defense’s highest priority is deterring nuclear attack and maintaining the nuclear capabilities needed to do so.  As has been recognized by all previous NPRs, the U.S. nuclear triad is the necessary foundation for U.S. deterrence capabilities.  Consequently, consistent with the previous administration’s programs, we will sustain and rebuild the nuclear triad, each leg of which is now operating far beyond its originally-planned service life.

After many years of delay and, in some cases virtual neglect, we will also modernize our aging nuclear infrastructure and command and control system to meet 21st century needs.

Strengthening deterrence is not simply a matter of nuclear capabilities.  We will work with allies and partners to ensure that potential adversaries can have no doubt about the cohesion, determination, and broad alliance capabilities needed to deter and maintain our common security.

Mr. President,

After historical review and extensive consultations, it is clear that this NPR is largely consistent with several decades of U.S. and allied thinking regarding nuclear weapons policies and posture.  It strengthens U.S. commitments to nuclear non-proliferation, as one of the underlying conditions supporting our deterrence objectives; and continues our goals of nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and countering nuclear terrorism.

This NPR differs from previous NPRs in that it:

  • responds to adversary developments in order to deter nuclear use throughout the entire range of conflict;
  • places increased emphasis on a declaratory policy that clarifies U.S. stakes in any conflict involving the United States or our allies, to convince adversaries that the United States will always prevail, even if they attempt to escalate their way out of a failed conventional conflict; and
  • more explicitly addresses hedging intended to ensure that the United States fully accounts for foreseeable risks to our nuclear deterrent.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, the NPR is a foundational review that clarifies the roles for our nuclear weapons, enunciates a new strategy, and commits to supplementing our nuclear capabilities.  These changes have been carefully tailored to address the adverse changes in the strategic environment and to ensure our nuclear deterrent is unquestionable in its abilities.

President Trump remains firmly committed to non-proliferation, and we will pursue non-proliferation goals vigorously.  But we are also determined to ensure that as long as nuclear weapons exist the United States will maintain a nuclear deterrent that is second to none and to prioritize protecting our nation first along with our allies and partners.

Thank you Mr. President