February 26, 2018
Thank you, Madame President, for giving me the floor.
I would like to thank the Secretary General for addressing the Conference on Disarmament today and to welcome the Ministers and colleagues from capitals who have joined us. Their presence reaffirms that the Conference on Disarmament remains an important forum for addressing the most pressing security challenges we face.
We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is and not as we wish it to be. For decades, the United States has led the world in efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons. We have reduced our nuclear stockpile by over 85 percent since the height of the Cold War and we have not deployed any new nuclear capabilities for the past two decades. Unfortunately, during that time 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 increased their nuclear stockpiles. They have even developed and fielded new nuclear capabilities. Today’s environment is more dynamic, complex, and threatening than any since the end of the Cold War. It is characterized by Great Powers and Rogue States increasingly challenging the international order. They are violating borders, and they are increasing their ability to threaten the United States and our allies.
The fact that the security environment has deteriorated is no longer in dispute. The United States has outlined these developments in great detail, and we have identified the states responsible in our National Security Strategy, our Nuclear Posture Review, and recently in this very chamber.
In light of these developments, it is important to recall that since the end of the Second World War, nuclear deterrence has played a critical role in deterring aggression and preserving peace. For centuries prior to the era of nuclear deterrence, periodic and catastrophic wars among Great Powers were the norm. These wars were waged with ever more destructive weapons and inflicted ever higher casualties. It is clear that the underlying causes of Great Power conflict have not gone away and the conditions that might make possible the global elimination of nuclear weapons are not present today.
In response to the deteriorating security environment, the United States is taking numerous steps outlined in our 2018 Nuclear Posture Review to bolster nuclear deterrence and sustain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal. These steps in no way lower the U.S. nuclear threshold. Rather, the NPR makes clear to adversaries that strategies based on limited nuclear escalation will both fail and risk intolerable costs. By correcting this potential misperception, the NPR raises the threshold and makes nuclear use less likely. 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.
Any expectation for near-term progress on nuclear disarmament is unrealistic in light of the range of challenges I just described. While now is not the time for bold new disarmament initiatives, there should be no doubt that the United States remains firmly committed to its obligations under the NPT, including Article VI. We also remain committed to arms control agreements that are verifiable, enforceable, and enhance security. Even in these difficult times, the United States will seek the development of measures that may be effective in creating the conditions for future nuclear disarmament negotiations. The total elimination of nuclear weapons remains an aspirational goal for the United States.
As outlined in our National Security Strategy, the U.S. approach is one of “principled realism.” That realism forces us to recognize the challenges that face us and to address them head on. Further progress on nuclear disarmament and a strengthened nonproliferation regime require that we improve the international security environment. It will not be easy, but there is no other path.
Madame President, Mr. Secretary General, Ministers and Colleagues,
In confronting the challenges we face, you will find a partner in the United States. We look forward to working with you to help create the conditions for further progress on nuclear disarmament.