An official website of the United States government

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament on Nuclear Risk Reduction
March 28, 2023

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament on Nuclear Risk Reduction

Thank you, Madam President.

I want to thank you again for organizing the panel discussion on risk reduction and for the invitation to Deputy Assistant Secretary Bell to explain the views of my country on this important issue.

The sheer number of speakers that raised their placards to address risk reduction attests to the widespread interest in this subject, as well as a number of concerns related in particular to its potential impact on the goal of nuclear disarmament. I regret that most countries did not take more advantage of the opportunity to engage with our distinguished panelists in a more interactive manner. This is another area where we could improve our working methods.

The United States fully shares the view expressed by so many that risk reduction is not a substitute for disarmament, but it is also true that risk reduction is essential to make disarmament progress—particularly in the current security environment when 30 years of progress in building trust has been undermined to tragic effect due to the far-reaching ramifications of Russia’s unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The United States sees risk reduction measures as one tool among many arms control tools for helping to manage and reduce those tensions and the risks of escalation in the strategic domain. All with the goal of promoting strategic stability.

This is why – notwithstanding the factors I already noted — we continue to pursue discussions in and outside the P5, focused on our nuclear doctrines and on strategic risk reduction measures. The United States and one other nuclear weapon state in this room have a long and accomplished history in this area, previously having drawn important lessons from what it means to go to the brink of nuclear confrontation.

We continue to strive to develop similar mechanisms with another CD member and nuclear weapon state in this room, understanding that we cannot simply duplicate what was successful in the past. Unfortunately, our efforts, even just to meet bilaterally and discuss nuclear arms control, have thus far been unsuccessful, over nearly a decade. We understand that the precise modalities that worked in one situation with a particular actor in a particular region might have to be adjusted. As one delegation noted last Thursday, what worked before may not work today. But that is what diplomacy is all about and refusing to engage only raises tensions and fuels worst-case assumptions. We hope one day very soon that the nuclear-weapon state in question will be ready for a discussion with us.

In response to the concern raised by one non-nuclear weapon state, we believe that risk reduction among the nuclear weapons states is also in the interest of non-nuclear weapons states, given the role of risk reduction in increasing predictability and decreasing the risk that misunderstandings or miscalculations could result in an event with potentially dire consequences for us all. The prominence of discussions around risk reduction at the NPT Review Conference makes clear its relevance to our shared goals.

Madam President,

The U.S. belief in the importance of promoting strategic stability is also why we continue to urge a return to full implementation of the New START treaty. Our view – and a view that has been articulated time and again by almost every CD member state – is that the New START Treaty, when fully implemented, is in the security interest not only of the two parties to the treaty, but of each and every one of us.

I would add, in the spirit of the discussion today and of last Thursday, that a return to full implementation of the New START Treaty reduces strategic risk and can be viewed as a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons that is our shared, ultimate goal. In that sense, I would call on the rest of you to encourage Russia to return to fully implementing it as soon as possible. And let me say once again that the United States is in full compliance with the treaty.

Madam President,

As a final note, please allow me to respond briefly to the comment made by one delegation last week, to the effect that a fissile material production moratorium is meaningless in practice and would reduce momentum toward achieving the objectives of NPT Article VI.

As we have said repeatedly, the United States has reduced its nuclear weapons arsenal by close to 90 percent since the height of the Cold War – a point my Russian colleague also just made. We understand that is not the same as one hundred percent, and that the nuclear arsenals of the United States and one other country still exceed in number those of other countries.

Still, what is undeniable is that the U.S. arsenal has significantly decreased – in other words, that we have maintained the trend line toward eventual elimination, even if many may not be satisfied with the pace of that process. We have also maintained a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and have engaged in a level of nuclear transparency others have not.

This is in marked contrast to one country’s dramatic increase in the size and configurations of its nuclear arsenal, which is clearly trending in the opposite direction and away from eventual elimination. We would be interested in knowing how this relates to the statement that this country’s deterrent is being kept at the absolute minimum required. It goes almost without saying that such an increase in nuclear weapons also requires an increase in the production of fissile material for use in those weapons.

Madam President,

To sum up, the United States believes that risk reduction can play an important role in managing the currently difficult security environment and is also a means to facilitate future disarmament. We very much look forward to engaging with our partners to develop appropriate mechanisms.

We also believe in the importance of the New START Treaty as a bastion of strategic stability that can serve as a foundation for these and other efforts, which we believe is in the Treaty parties’ and everyone else’s interest, notwithstanding Russia’s ongoing brutal war in Ukraine.

In response to my Russian colleague’s surreal diatribe, let me just say that this war was started by Russia and Russia alone.