U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Alexandra Bell’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament in an Expert Panel on Risk Reduction
As Delivered on March 23, 2023
Thank you very much, Ambassador, and to the Finnish delegation for putting together this important panel.
I think it is important to talk about what risk reduction is and is not. Risk reduction is not the solution to all of our problems in the nuclear space. But there is no single elegant solution to the problems that we are facing. We need to bring all of the tools and measures we can to bear to manage the challenges that we see, and the United States believes that risk reduction is one of those tools. It enables trust and stability that can help build arms control agreements, that can move us forward down the road to disarmament.
This is all part of the same path; it is not a distraction. It is not a substitute. It is all part of the tool kit that we can use to address nuclear threats in this space. And it relates directly to the CD Agenda, particularly Agenda Item II: The Prevention of Nuclear War. Risk reduction is part of that process. We strongly believe as the United States that risk reduction measures are important to pursue in their own right, but do lay the groundwork for, as I said, future agreements, as they have in the past.
Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders in Washington and Moscow worked together to construct guardrails against miscalculations and misperceptions that could lead to nuclear war. Those risk reduction measures were the foundation for treaties like the NPT.
I hope it is abundantly clear and universally accepted that we do not need another Cuban Missile Crisis to show us that nuclear risk reduction continues to be vitally important. In today’s security environment, risk reduction efforts are an important avenue through which to bring down tensions, to build transparency and to develop trust.
Mechanisms and measures to provide reliable channels of communication during a crisis; decisions that help ensure clarity of communication and avoid decision-making based on misunderstanding; agreements in advance on how states will avoid or handle certain situations with the potential to lead to nuclear use: all of these are examples of nuclear risk reduction measures.
There have been literally dozens of such measures put into place by various configurations of nuclear weapon states in the past decades. The United States submitted to the NPT Review Conference last summer a compendium of these measures.
Risk reduction is in all of our interests. We will continue to do our part, as the United States to support and engage existing risk reduction mechanisms. We are also looking for ways to develop new such measures among nuclear-weapon states, and more broadly, with the objectives of enhancing international security, preventing conflict and nuclear weapon use, and paving the way, again, for future nuclear disarmament agreements.
This work is urgent. At a time when communication between nuclear-weapon States is more important than ever, we should build on the shared recognition of the devastation a nuclear war would cause and the shared principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
As Wilfred mentioned, we think there is a good connection between risk reduction and emerging and destructive technologies that could impact strategic stability.
Military applications of artificial intelligence could enable new kinds of weapon systems and change how states make decisions in crisis or conflict. The possible use of AI in an irresponsible manner by states to inform or support nuclear operations raises serious concerns about how AI systems might affect nuclear risks. This is something that we want to avoid. We need to manage potential challenges at the intersection between emerging technologies and nuclear risks.
Again, as Wilfred said, the United States, the United Kingdom and France made a joint commitment to “maintain human control and involvement for all actions critical to informing and executing sovereign decisions concerning nuclear weapons employment.” And reiterated this commitment in our announcement of a Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy last month in The Hague.
This initiative to build an international consensus around norms of responsible behavior for military use of AI is a crucial part of our risk reduction efforts. AI has the potential to significantly improve the effectiveness of military operations, but if implemented irresponsibly, could result in unpredictable or dangerous behavior. We need to continue to work for an international consensus promoting norms of responsible behavior for the military use of AI and look forward to working with all of you on building that broader consensus.
In terms of disarmament, the importance was underscored at the extensive discussion we had last summer at the NPT Review Conference. Many governments and non-government organizations are working together to expand the conversation on this topic.
In a paper to the NPT Review Conference, the P5 jointly affirmed that risk reduction is fundamentally about reducing the risk of nuclear use and armed conflict involving nuclear-armed states. As outlined in that paper, we believe there to be three main elements that underpin risk reduction: building confidence and predictability through dialogue; increasing clarity, communication and understanding; and implementing effective crisis prevention and crisis management tools.
Since its establishment in 2007, the P5 Process has produced a handful of formal and informal risk reduction measures focused on these three elements.
The United States, as current chair of the P5 Process, have made it our goal to carry forward many of the current work streams, particularly the further development of the strategic risk reduction.
While Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine has complicated the work of the P5 Process, the United States continues to seek meaningful multilateral dialogue among the P5 with the aim of developing and implementing demonstrable risk reduction measures.
We realize it is not enough to talk about risk reduction. We have to think about how to turn our dialogue and discussion into actions.
To this end, together with France and the United Kingdom, the United States will continue to call on Russia to cease its irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior, to uphold its commitments and to recommit – in word and deed – to the principles enshrined in the January 2022 P5 Leaders’ statement that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
The P3 remains committed to reducing global nuclear stockpiles, controlling and limiting nuclear arms competition, to supporting entry into force of the Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty, establishing of a voluntary moratoria on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, upholding national negative and positive security assurances to the NPT non-nuclear weapon states parties, and to exploring the many complex military, political, and technical issues that will need to be resolved in order to actualize our shared and common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
We look forward to working with all P5 members on this process. But, of course, nuclear-weapon states do not have a monopoly on insightful thought or constructive ideas on the topic of nuclear risk reduction. The Stockholm Initiative, many of the members of which are represented here today, as well as the NPDI, have presented thoughtful and insightful papers on risk reduction that have helped shape the conversation. Just this week, Australia hosted an ASEAN regional forum on the same topic. And today’s discussion, thanks to Finland, is another opportunity to expand this dialogue, and that is something that we look forward to doing with all of you.
All of these efforts have substantive contributions to this important discussion, and we look forward to engaging with all of you.
I will close by saying I understand we are in a difficult situation right now when it comes to advancing our shared goals on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. We have to have realism about far and fast we can move. We need to work together to develop pragmatic solutions to the problems that we face. But we also have to have faith and optimism in the fact that we are capable of working together. This body and the treaties and agreements it has produced in the past are proof positive of what we can do when we are working together constructively. We think risk reduction is another area that is ripe for discussion and eventual action, and we look forward, again, to working with all of you.
I think we all agree that risk reduction is important. We do not necessarily all agree on process. But everyone here really shares the view that we should be working together to prevent nuclear use and nuclear war. We all agree that risk reduction is not a substitute or an alternative to disarmament.
Given that agreement, we can focus, together, on how to actualize and implement risk reduction measures, as well as arms control and nonproliferation measures. It is not one or the other; we can do both.
The United States agrees that nuclear weapon states bear a special responsibility to advance nuclear disarmament. We all have the exact same obligations under Article VI and should be moving in that direction, but I can assure you that achieving a world without nuclear weapons will not be a spectator sport. We need everyone participating.
We need everyone supporting the arms control and non-proliferation architecture in word and deed, even when it might come at some political or economic cost.
In that vein, I want to thank the delegations who called for Russia to reverse its decision to undermine New START and to return to full compliance and implementation. The United States could not agree more. We understand that arms control measures, like New START, reduce nuclear risks, and that we cannot reduce nuclear risks or enable and actualize disarmament without arms control. New START is in all of our security interests, and our actions should reflect that.
There was a question from the Chinese delegation about the value of a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. I guess I would be curious about the value of any country continuing to produce fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, and how that production would help reduce nuclear risks. In my opinion, a moratorium sets the stage for the long overdue negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and demonstrates that all countries are ready to negotiate such a treaty in good faith.
In closing, I would just say, sixty years ago, in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, our efforts to pursue nuclear risk reduction began in earnest. It was in June of that year that President Kennedy gave a speech at American University. I commend the whole speech, it is quite good, but I will just focus on the end.
In talking about the efforts and challenges of reducing global threats, and nuclear risks, President Kennedy noted, “We are not helpless before the task, or hopeless of its success.” That is a sentiment I think is wholly applicable to the challenges we are facing today. And here, at the CD, there are diverse views, no doubt, and multiple challenges, but this body has a history of creating solutions together, and the United States believes risk reduction can be a part of those solutions.