Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament on Transparency in Armaments
June 6, 2023
Thank you, Madame Chair, for giving me the floor, and I want to extend my thanks as well to all of the panelists whose presentations I thought were very interesting, very complete, and very nuanced.
Before I turn to my remarks, I would just like to take a moment to offer our condolences to our Indian colleagues for the horrific train tragedy that took place over the weekend. Our thoughts are with you.
We are speaking today on the topic of nuclear transparency, something that is a high priority for the United States. As U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated just last week, “committing to transparency on nuclear policy, doctrine, and budgeting” is one of the key discussions we hope to continue multilaterally among the P5, along with other issues such as crisis communication and launch notifications. To further quote NSA Sullivan, “we are under no illusions that reaching risk reduction and arms control measures in that setting will be easy, but we do believe it is possible.” In the meantime, the United States will continue to support and cooperate on efforts to pursue responsible transparency, which can be an important contribution to reducing nuclear risks.
Speaking first on doctrine, and also in response to the question raised by our Russian colleague, the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and National Security Strategy (NSS) demonstrate transparency by carefully laying out that the United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons “in extreme circumstances, which I interpret more as hedging than as ambiguity, to defend the vital interests – this is a word my Russian colleague left out – of the United States or its allies and partners.” Our doctrine is stated in the publicly available NPR to avoid misunderstanding and to make it clear that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”
The U.S. understands the vested interest that all states have in reducing nuclear danger and the role transparency plays in this; as such, the United States urges all nuclear weapons states, specifically the PRC and Russia, to rise and meet responsible levels of transparency. I would also like to ask one very simple question of all the other delegations in this room: in the current geopolitical environment, looking to the upcoming NPT Review Conference, and also as a matter of principle, would they prefer more or less transparency from the PRC, Russia, and the other NWS? I think we all know the answer.
Let me enumerate U.S. transparency efforts in recent years. As of End-of-Fiscal-Year 2020, the total U.S. stockpile of active and inactive nuclear warheads was 3,750 – its lowest level since the 1950s, and an 88 percent reduction from its maximum in 1967. Additionally, another approximately 2,000 warheads are retired and awaiting dismantlement. This information was provided at both the 76th Session of the UN First Committee and the 2022 NPT Review Conference.
On May 15, we voluntarily released the aggregate data for our nuclear forces covered by the New START Treaty. As of March 1, 2023, the U.S. had 662 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers accountable under the New START Treaty; 800 total deployed and non-deployed launchers of ICBMs and SLBMs and heavy bombers; and 1,419 warheads on deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear armaments counted for heavy bombers. In the wake of Russia’s irresponsible, and legally invalid, suspension of the New START Treaty, we shared these numbers voluntarily in the interest of transparency and the serious U.S. commitment to responsible nuclear conduct. Russia should do the same, and we call on Russia to return to full compliance with the New START Treaty including all the stabilizing transparency and verification measures contained within it. The United States cannot implement this treaty on a unilateral basis.
U.S. measures do not stop at doctrine or arsenals either; fissile material is another area where we continue to display high levels of transparency. In 1994, the United States first reported its plutonium inventory of 99.5 metric tons (MT), which was reduced to 95.4 MT as of 2009. Similarly, in 1996 the United States reported an inventory of 740.7 MT of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), which was reduced to 585.6 MT as of 2013. Between 1994 and 2005, the U.S. also declared 374.3 MT of HEU excess to National Security needs and announced it would be removed from use as fissile material in warheads. From these declarations, 186 MT is designated for downblend, therefore permanently removing this material from potential further use in nuclear warheads, of which 165.4 MT had been completed at the End-of-Fiscal-Year 2021. We have further been very clear in our statements that we maintain a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices, and we call on those who have not done so to follow our example. All of this is reported publicly in our national report to the 2022 NPT Review Conference.
There are also examples of bilateral success stories in the field of fissile material transparency, such as the completed U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement, which converted 500 MT of Russian HEU to LEU for peaceful purposes uses in United States reactors, and the ongoing U.S.-Russia Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement (PPRA), which verifies the irreversible dismantlement of 27 shutdown reactors and continued monitoring of the three remaining reactors between the two countries.
We believe U.S. transparency in these areas is important, but we would like to see similar transparency from others. Despite Russia’s recent irresponsible actions and China’s reluctance to explain to this body what the scale and scope of its nuclear build-up entails, past examples clearly illustrate that nuclear powers can work together on a wide range of topics when all parties are willing to promote stability. We believe not only that they can work together, but that they should. For our part, the United States stands ready, but we need serious partners to sit down across the table from us if we are to make significant progress.
Transparency is always important, but even more so during times like these because it reduces misunderstanding and the risk of unintentional escalation, conveys that we are following through on our commitments such as to NPT Article VI, and helps dispel suspicion that can arise from nuclear ambiguity.
I thank you.