Thank you for inviting me to join you at this commencement celebration. As an alumna of the Elliott School, it is my great honor to be here. My connections to this university run deep, especially in connection to this year’s commencement activities. My older sister is getting her doctorate from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development – and yes, my first point is that education is for life. And a special treat for me at this ceremony is that my cousin, Andi Barton, is a member of today’s graduating class. Of course her proud parents, Brett and Molly, are here too, so let me embarrass Andi further by saying: Brett and Molly, for the record, we are not trying to steal your daughter away from you and California, but the east coast is a great place!
It really is a thrill for me to be here. I attended the Elliott School in the late seventies and early eighties. I went at night while spending my days working at the Rand Corporation. This was challenging and did not leave much time for things other than work and school – something that is surely familiar to many of you – but it was worth it. What drew me to George Washington University and the Elliott School was the interdisciplinary approach, which allowed me to pursue my two intense interests – science and technology policy and what we used to call Soviet studies.
I could do both at GW and be in the heart of the nation’s capital where I had a serious case of Potomac fever. I still do. I suspect most, if not all, of you have worked while attending school or have taken advantage of internships or fellowships that flourish throughout Washington from Capitol Hill to Foggy Bottom.
I work just a few blocks from here at the State Department where I am the Assistant Secretary for Verification, Compliance and Implementation, known as “VCI” in the alphabet soup of government acronyms. Before you ask what that is exactly, let me explain that our core missions are to ensure that appropriate verification requirements and capabilities are integrated throughout the development, negotiation, and implementation of arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements. We are the arms control bureau of the Department of State. You can see how my study of science and technology policy and Soviet affairs helped prepare me for my current position.
I know in this day and age, you might consider me something of a relic. I am a Russian speaker. I am the government’s chief arms control negotiator. I am both of these things 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall when Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism are our most pressing and immediate threats.
The reality is that arms control, since 1991, has not gotten the attention from government or from the public that it once did. But issues in Washington have a way of sliding off of the public policy agenda, then popping right back on. Last year, President Obama delivered what I think is a landmark speech – and he’s given quite a few. He called on us to achieve the peace and security of the world without nuclear weapons. I am very fortunate to be at the forefront of that effort.
The president outlined a number of concrete steps that we would need to take if we are ever to eliminate these horrible weapons. One step, the step that I have been charged with, was to negotiate a new arms treaty with Russia – the New START Treaty. And I spent most of 2009 and the first part of 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland doing just that.
This agreement is very important because the United States and Russia control more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal and it is a critical step in the path toward a world without nuclear weapons, a goal articulated by President Obama shortly after he took office last year. I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.
When New START is fully implemented it will result in the lowest number of deployed nuclear warheads since the 1950s, the first full decade of the nuclear age. And limits on deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, SLBMs, and heavy bombers that can carry nuclear weapons will be well below the limits set in other treaties between our two countries.
Negotiating New START
I would like to tell you a little bit about the experience negotiating this treaty.
Our work began following a meeting in London in April, 2009 during which President Obama and Russian President Medvedev agreed to launch the negotiations toward a replacement treaty for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – START – a treaty signed by President George H.W. Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. That treaty expired on December 5th of last year.
In negotiating the New START Treaty, we embarked on a new and uncharted path, but one that was necessary for our two countries and the world community to undertake, recognizing that it was necessary to replace the expiring START Treaty with a new agreement reflecting progress in arms control and the changes in the world and in the U.S. –Russian relationship over the 20 years since START was negotiated. These dramatic changes were vividly on display this past Sunday when troops from the United States, Great Britain, and France marched, for the first time in history, through Red Square as part of Russia’s celebration of the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.
I would say that what was different about our negotiations when compared to arms control negotiations of the past was the spirit in which they took place. As they began, Secretary Clinton had only just agreed with her Russian counterpart, Minister Sergei Lavrov, to hit the reset button on our relationship, moving us out of a difficult phase in the wake of the Russia-Georgia war. And there had been some tense periods even before that time.
The two delegations launched into the negotiations committed to conducting them in an atmosphere of mutual respect with a premium on keeping the tone businesslike and productive, even when we did not agree. My counterpart on the Russian delegation Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, always used to say, “business is business.” And what he meant was that we needed to keep the tone of the discussion businesslike even when we were butting heads – as we frequently did.
Over the course of the year-long negotiation we got to know our counterparts and we jointly followed events that took place while we were in Geneva.
Of course, we watched the Olympics in Vancouver. We said “congratulations” when Russians took gold in biathlon and cross-country skiing. They said “pozdravlyu” when we won gold medals in skiing and speed skating. Hockey, though, remained too sensitive a topic to discuss.
When Washington was paralyzed by record snowfalls in February causing our government to shut down for a week, the Russians scoffed at us and gave advice on snow removal. We returned the favor a few weeks later, when Moscow was socked by a record snow storm.
We offered our heartfelt condolences to members of the Russian delegation when the Moscow subway was bombed in late March, a tragic event that brought us closer together in recognition of the dangers our countries face from terrorism.
We celebrated each other’s holidays including our veterans’ day and their defenders’ day, when we honored the many military members on both delegations.
And some of what we shared in common truly helped the negotiations move forward:
Members of both delegations brought valuable experience having worked as inspectors under START. Multiple times they had visited each other’s ICBM bases, SLBM bases, heavy bomber bases and storage facilities.
And we speak each other’s languages. I am very proud to say that there were probably as many Russian speakers on the U.S. delegation as there were English speakers on the Russian delegation.
Most heartening to me in terms of the future our country’s arms control efforts and negotiations yet to come, were the number of young people who worked on both delegations. While most of the senior negotiators on our delegation were “Sputnik babies” like me, whose interest in Soviet studies was spawned by the 1957 launch of Sputnik and the ensuing race to the moon between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, there were members on both delegations who were born not too long before the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Yesterday, the treaty and associated documents were delivered by the White House to the United States Senate. I believe there is a very compelling case for this new strategic arms agreement and I expect the Senate to provide its advice and consent to ratification.
Our two presidents described it best when after signing the treaty last month, President Obama called it an important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation and for U.S.-Russian relations. President Medvedev declared it a win-win situation.
The Prague Agenda
Now let me say a word about President Obama’s bold vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Almost a year to the day before President Obama and President Medvedev signed the New START Treaty, President Obama gave a speech in Prague in which he set forth a specific agenda to address the challenges posed by the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons. He undertook to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how hard it might be or how long it might take. President Obama amplified these remarks at the signing ceremony for the New START Treaty saying: “this is a long-term goal, one that may not even be achieved in my lifetime. But I believe then, as I do now, that the pursuit of that goal will move us further beyond the Cold War, strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and make the United States and the world safer and more secure.”
As long as nuclear weapons exist, the President has affirmed that the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal to deter any adversary and guarantee the defense of our allies. With the New START Treaty, we are setting the stage for further arms reductions. As we say in the preamble to the treaty, we see it as providing new impetus to the step-by-step process of reducing and limiting nuclear arms with a view to expanding this process in the future to other countries.
This agenda is ambitious and will require enormous efforts. But it is work in which we must engage. We do not have to live in a world where there is even one more nuclear-armed country or the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons.
A Call to Public Service
Believe it or not, I did not come here to recruit you as the next arms control negotiators. Although in my biased opinion, arms control is one of the most interesting fields of international relations today, I really just wanted to share my experience as one example of a career in public service.
The nature of public service has changed and no longer need only be pursued through jobs in government. There are innumerable ways to engage in public service, conduct international relations and contribute to national and global security both inside and outside government. In fact, today’s challenges are best addressed when governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, think tanks, the private sector and others form partnerships and work together to solve today’s pressing issues. And who knows what the challenges of tomorrow will be.
When I started studying Russian in high school, the thought that the Berlin Wall would someday be torn down, the Soviet Union would break apart and the former Warsaw Pact countries would become democratic members of NATO was unfathomable. The end of the Cold War should be lesson to all of us that unfathomable, indeed truly historic, change for the better is possible and that all of us should set our sights high and become agents of change.
Your generation may wonder if there will ever be a lasting peace in the Middle East or whether global warming can be averted, or whether nuclear weapons can, indeed, be eliminated. These and a thousand other things are possible if you believe in yourself and in the endless possibilities of human endeavor. My wish for you is that someday, you will speak of the unfathomable things that you witnessed in life, and the part you played in turning the page of history.
I would like to close by offering my heartfelt congratulations on your accomplishment. Receiving your diploma this weekend marks the end of your academic studies – for now – but a beginning of a career for which the Elliott School has prepared you well. I wish you all the best, and to your parents, appreciation for a hard job well done.
Congratulations to you all.