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U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament
On the Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament
May 16, 2023

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament on the Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament

May 16, 2023

Thank you Madam President,

We find ourselves at a difficult moment with respect to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament. This is primarily for two key reasons, each of which is compounded by one additional factor.

First, Russia’s noncompliance with the New START Treaty, and its claimed suspension of the treaty, are as unfortunate as they are irresponsible. Russia’s refusal to allow treaty-required inspections and provide its treaty-mandated notifications degrades our ability to verify Russian compliance with the central limits. This degradation will only increase over time. Russia also refuses, despite repeated U.S. requests, to meet in the treaty’s implementation body, the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC). Neither Russia’s war in Ukraine, nor the strong U.S. and international response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion, absolve Russia of responsibility to fulfill its legal obligations under the treaty. We do not view Russia’s suspension as legally valid.

The second reason is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has embarked on a dramatic and opaque build-up of its nuclear weapons arsenal, exceeding previous efforts in both scale and complexity. This build-up is occurring in the complete absence of any nuclear arms control agreements or transparency with respect to the PRC’s intentions. We note that the PRC also refuses to commit to a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, the only NPT Nuclear Weapon State not to have done so. The PRC’s civil nuclear fuel cycle remains nearly as opaque as its military nuclear plans. Without explanation, Beijing stopped reporting on its civil plutonium stocks in 2017, around the time its civil reprocessing plant and breeder reactor program were launched.

What both these developments have in common is that they are the products of deliberate ambiguity, which can only increase the risks of misunderstandings and/or misperceptions, which in turn can increase the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. Russia combines its refusal to live up to its treaty obligations to provide information concerning its nuclear arsenal with increasingly reckless rhetoric regarding the potential use of nuclear weapons. The PRC’s near-total unwillingness to engage substantively with others about its monumental modernization efforts – to include the use of CF-600 reactors, its blurring of the lines between what is military and what is civilian, and general lack of transparency – raises dangers for every nation in this room.

The United States believes that transparency is a key element of effective arms control and risk reduction and helps to enable disarmament. I encourage everyone to look at both our Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and our National Report to the NPT Review Conference, where we make public significant information on our nuclear policies and current nuclear stockpile, including the total number of weapons. Please also take a look at our NPT working paper on responsible practices for nuclear weapon States.

The United States believes that a key way to respond to and manage our currently uncertain and increasingly less predictable security environment is through risk reduction measures. We agree completely with others that risk reduction cannot substitute for disarmament, but we strongly believe it can complement disarmament. These measures improve the security environment and also serve as integral elements of future arms control and disarmament agreements. They are all the more important in times of tension and potential crisis.

Madame President,

The long history of risk reduction arrangements between the United States and the former Soviet Union, and subsequently the Russian Federation, is very illustrative in this regard. As we have stated before, we understand that similar arrangements with the PRC would have to follow their own logic and reflect the current security environment. As many of these arrangements date back decades, I would like to briefly recall a couple of them.

1. Hotlines –

In 1963, in the wake of the close call that was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link between the United States and Soviet Union created direct, secure channels for rapid communication to reduce the risk of misunderstanding in crisis situations and to reduce the risk of conflict and use of nuclear weapons. The success of this hotline led to the 1987 agreement to create the U.S. and Soviet Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, which have been instrumental in implementing numerous arms control and risk reduction agreements and arrangements.

2. Launch Notifications –

Under the 1988 Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to provide each other with notifications no less than 24 hours in advance of planned ICBM and SLBM launches. Notifications must include information on the launch area and area of impact for such launches. This agreement remains in force, and such notifications continue today.

3. Other Risk Reduction or Confidence-Building Measures –

Under the 1989 Agreement on Reciprocal Advance Notification of Major Strategic Exercises, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to provide each other with notifications no less than 14 days in advance of major strategic forces exercises that include the participation of heavy bomber aircraft. This agreement remains in force, and such notifications continue today.

History shows that arms control agreements tend to proceed first from transparency to confidence-building, and only later to quantitative limits and/or reductions combined with verification. In essence, transparency and risk reduction help lay the foundation for subsequent, more ambitious efforts.

It is for that reason that the United States strongly believes in the importance of transparency and other forms of risk reduction, and why we believe it is important to pursue risk reduction both bilaterally and within the P5 framework. It is our hope that exchanges among the P5’s civilian and military experts can lead to the pursuit of concrete measures that reduce and manage nuclear risks.

We would also welcome discussions in the CD on risk reduction as a means to take a more inclusive approach on this issue. Non-nuclear weapon states have an important voice in risk reduction discussions as well.

Madame President,

The United States believes it is important to have direct, constructive bilateral dialogues with Russia and the PRC. We regret that Russia, through its brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, has currently chosen war over dialogue, but we remain ready to engage constructively with Russia to fully implement the New START Treaty. We believe that full implementation is in the security interest of us all.

In the PRC’s case, the unfortunate reality is that we have yet to begin a substantive dialogue because of the PRC’s unwillingness to engage bilaterally with us. Once again, we call on the PRC to engage in such discussions forthwith. The PRC has an obligation – as do we – to engage constructively on these issues. This is what the international community expects of us. In the view of the United States, now is the time to take steps to avoid misunderstandings and misperceptions. We need to start somewhere, and we need to start now. It is in the interest of both the United States and the PRC to avoid misunderstandings and misperceptions that can lead to inadvertent escalation. This is not a zero-sum game.

In conclusion, Madame President,

The United States stands ready to work collaboratively, with nuclear weapons states, possessor, and non-nuclear-weapons- states alike, to decrease nuclear risk and work towards a world free of nuclear weapons.