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U.S. Under Secretary of State Bonnie Jenkins Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament
February 27, 2023

Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins
Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament

Mr. President, Secretary-General, and Distinguished Representatives, it is an honor and a privilege to be here before you today at the Conference on Disarmament.

I would like to offer a special thanks to our Ambassador, Bruce Turner, and the U.S. mission here for their hard work in advancing President Biden’s vision to strengthen the disarmament and nonproliferation architecture that protects us all, notwithstanding the real-world challenges to that architecture we continue to face as a result of Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  Nor can we ignore other challenges, to include the DPRK’s continued ballistic missile launches and preparations for a potential nuclear test; Syria’s longstanding failure to abide by its IAEA safeguards obligations; Iran’s continued expansion of its nuclear program; and the PRC’s non-transparent build-up of its nuclear arsenal.

A year ago, I spoke before this body and asserted that it is long time past that the Conference on Disarmament lived up to the purpose it was intended to serve – as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum for the international community.

Like many of you, we share the frustration produced by the paralysis of this body over the years.  While much of that stasis may be due to real differences over policy directions, it is unfortunate that the increasing polarization extends even to procedural matters, or allowing UN member states to sit in today’s meeting as observers.  All that said, the United States has been and remains committed to keeping this forum and the disarmament machinery alive.

In keeping with that commitment, it’s important to remind everyone why we are here.

Let us recall our obligations and commitments.  Together we came to understand the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction, and together we decided to meet in this forum and its predecessor to address those dangers. Together we built a wide-ranging and critical set of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation agreements.  From the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to the Biological Weapons Convention and Chemical Weapons Convention to various agreements on nuclear testing and beyond, we have all taken obligations upon ourselves freely under these agreements in service of a broader vision.

Some of us have also created bilateral agreements, like New START, and obligated ourselves to their parameters and timelines. But only a few days ago President Putin announced that Russia was unilaterally suspending its implementation of the New START Treaty.  Russia is once again showing the world that it is not a responsible nuclear power.

We now face a dramatically unstable security environment that pulls us away from collective action here – if we let it.  Countries are failing to live up to their obligations to reduce and manage the risks posed by weapons of mass destruction and increasing competition in new domains for dangerous and self-serving reasons.

It is worth reiterating why we decided to take up these obligations, and our commitment to the CD, by recounting our shared objective.

We took on the commitment to work here at the CD because we understood the need to create the conditions for a sustainable peace.  We are here to help actualize our shared objective of establishing, maintaining, and furthering international peace and stability.

Distinguished Representatives,

Make no mistake, we don’t just have a shared objective.  We have a shared responsibility to make the world a safer place.

As I have said before, each delegate here has a responsibility to their citizens to make progress, not in spite of the challenges we face, but because of them.

That is why the United States will continue to be an advocate for building on past progress, even as others seem bent on tearing down all we have built.

We must continue to develop norms, rules, and principles of responsible behavior in space and elsewhere, as it is in our collective interest.  At the 77th U.N. First Committee, the United States sponsored a resolution calling upon countries to commit not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile (ASAT) tests.  This is just one example.  We can do more, and we intend to work with you in the coming months to identify and explore additional opportunities to increase predictability and stability in new domains.

We must continue to implement measures that demonstrate equal transparency, increase communication, and reduce the risks of inadvertent conflict and escalation.  The United States will continue to pursue multilateral and bilateral steps to reduce strategic risks, including steps that could lay the groundwork for additional discussion of mutual restraints in capabilities and behavior that benefit all respective parties.

And we must continue efforts to advance multilateral disarmament measures.  We can and should start by immediately commencing negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral, and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.  This proposed treaty has acquired an even greater urgency as a potential tool in stabilizing today’s deteriorating global and regional security conditions, and in reducing nuclear risks.  At a minimum, we call upon all states that have not yet done so to follow our example in declaring a moratorium on fissile material production for such purposes.

While the Conference on Disarmament is the international forum to do this work, our responsibilities go beyond that.  In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to this body with a warning, “If we cannot summon the shared will even to begin negotiations in this body, then the United States is determined to pursue other options.”

Distinguished Representatives,

That was twelve years ago.  Since then, no progress has been made.  The issues that we face regarding the future of disarmament, daunting though they may be, can and must be resolved.  We must understand our obligations and commitments, acknowledge our shared objectives, and fulfill our responsibilities.  We can no longer sit idly by.

Thank you.