U.S. Statement to the Conference on Disarmament
Subsidiary Body One on the Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament
As Delivered by Advisor Michael Aho
March 31, 2022
Thank you, Ambassador Soualem.
In your workplan, you asked a question of us for today’s discussion: How do we move forward towards a world free of nuclear weapons and what are the prerequisites for nuclear disarmament and approaches to nuclear disarmament?
While the United States is committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, we recognize that this goal cannot be achieved without considering the broader security environment. The Russian Federation’s premeditated, unprovoked, unjustified, and brutal invasion of Ukraine shows that not even Europe is immune from needless suffering and destruction from an aggressor State.
So how do we move towards nuclear disarmament at a time when a nuclear weapon state is conducting brazen aggression against one its neighbors? How about when that same aggressive nuclear weapon state conducts nuclear weapon saber rattling? While this question is not easy to answer, in the view of the United States, some of your suggested topics for discussion are a helpful starting point – namely transparency and verification.
Transparency is the first component necessary for making lasting progress on nuclear disarmament. We need transparency from all States. This includes States possessing nuclear weapons, particularly with regards to the current state of their nuclear arsenals, their plans, and their doctrines.
We need transparency from States that do not possess nuclear weapons, including IAEA safeguards, to build or maintain confidence that they are not trying to and do not intend to build a nuclear weapon capability.
Those should be self-evident statements. It is certainly obvious to the United States.
As we highlighted in the first meeting, transparency about nuclear policy, strategy, and forces is a longstanding priority and practice for the United States. We offer that transparency to build trust that the United States words match our deeds. It is not a cost free offer as other nuclear weapons States will always have an understanding of U.S. force posture and nuclear policy without any commitment to reciprocity.
We released our nuclear stockpile numbers last year, continuing the United States’ record of transparency in this regard. We have also recently concluded our Nuclear Posture Review and will publish a full report on its findings in the coming weeks. An initial, brief fact sheet is already available on the Department of Defense website and the classified review was sent to Congress on Monday. As we have heard today, some other responsible Nuclear-Weapon States are similarly forthcoming about their nuclear doctrines and arsenals.
Transparency on nuclear arsenals, plans, and especially doctrines is all the more important in light of Russia’s illegal and – to quote Secretary General Guterres – “absurd” war against Ukraine – despite President Putin’s claims that he was not preparing for an invasion. Russia’s cavalier and reckless nuclear saber-rattling raised serious questions about the credibility of its statements about nuclear policy and doctrine.
We are prepared to be held to a high standard of accountability, but we expect others to be held to the same high level of accountability.
Prior to Russia’s unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine, Russia conducted one of the largest exercises of their strategic forces in history. President Putin, immediately before the initiation of this expanded conflict, effectively brandished this strategic arsenal, threatening “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” to any who would interfere.
Russia has claimed that their actions and rhetoric surrounding strategic forces leading up to and following their further invasion of Ukraine were only defensive and in response to Western provocation, but given the facts, this is patently absurd.
Turning to another Nuclear-Weapon State, as we have said for some time, we are deeply concerned about the rapid expansion of the PRC’s nuclear capabilities, including its development of new delivery systems and the construction of missile silos to house those new nuclear weapons.
These developments underscore the urgency for the PRC to be more transparent about how it defines its nuclear strategy of “minimum deterrence,” and raise questions about its intentions.
Which leads me to my second component for forward motion on nuclear disarmament – verification. Verification is meant to focus beyond words by confirming actions. We do not live in a perfect world where words are sufficient to satisfy parties in an arms control agreement. What is critical is the ability and opportunity to verify both words and deeds.
This is what we mean when we call for nuclear disarmament to be “irreversible and verifiable.”
The current de facto standard for nuclear IAEA verification that states are not pursuing clandestine nuclear programs is the combination of a comprehensive safeguards agreements and an Additional Protocol. These instruments enable the IAEA to provide credible assurances a country’s nuclear activities are peaceful, thereby removing any perceived incentives for its neighbors to seek to acquire nuclear weapons in response.
But it is not easy. We may not directly work with the IAEA here in Geneva, but we can see and understand the time, effort, and technical acumen that goes into its work. From our own experience with nuclear disarmament verification with Russia, we can testify to the rigor and frankly tedious detail that comes with effective verification of current and past treaties.
Using the New START example, Russia and the United States have conducted 328 on-site inspections, over 23,000 notifications, 19 meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, and 42 biannual data exchanges on strategic offensive arms subject to the treaty. Those verification activities have fostered stability between the United States and Russia during the most trying of times, which we are certain now experiencing.
Of course, the challenges are much greater when pursuing verifiable agreements in states with long-standing nuclear weapons programs. The primary one is how to balance strict verification with the real need to protect proliferation-sensitive information. To that end, we are pleased that the Nuclear Disarmament Verification Group of Governmental Experts – or GGE – was finally able to begin its important work with its first meeting in February in Geneva.
The convening of this second GGE addressing nuclear disarmament verification is important—the GGE’s ongoing and future work underscores the critical role of effective verification mechanisms in achieving future nuclear disarmament. We look forward to the Group’s report after the completion of its work in 2023.
How to ensure transparency and set up effective and verifiable future regimes are big questions, Mr. Coordinator, and they will not be answered in the short time we have for this Subsidiary Body.
But they are questions we can and should be prepared to deal with at the NPT Review Conference.
The United States is committed to that frank discussion. We want – and need – to hear a diversity of perspectives and ideas if we want to find a way forward. We may not agree with all the positions we will hear, but we will listen to them and we will take them seriously.
Thank you, Mr. Coordinator.