“The Nuclear Risk Reduction Center … has not generated earth-shattering headlines. But it has worked quietly to help us avoid shattering the earth.” – Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, January 31, 2001, Moscow
The United States Nuclear Risk Reduction Center (NRRC) exchanges information required by arms control treaties and security-building agreements between the United States and over 55 foreign governments. It consists of a 24-hour watch center operating 365 days a year and staffed by Department of State (DOS) Foreign Service Officers, Civil Servants, and technical support personnel. The Center is part of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC) at the DOS headquarters, located in the Harry S Truman building in Washington, D.C.
When the NRRC began operations on April 1, 1988, it launched a single direct government-to-government communications link (GGCL) with its USSR counterpart located at the Ministry of Defense in Moscow. Since then, the U.S. NRRC’s role has expanded to include the operation of additional international communications links, which have allowed the United States to implement 13 different nuclear, chemical, and conventional arms control treaties and security-building agreements.
Since its inception, the NRRC’s role has been to contribute to bilateral and multilateral transparency and mutual understanding through timely and accurate information exchanges.
The NRRC receives, transmits, translates, prepares, coordinates, and disseminates all incoming and outgoing messages required for the implementation of 13 arms control treaties and agreements to appropriate U.S. Government entities and partner foreign governments. NRRC officers translate incoming notifications from Russian, French, German, Spanish, and Italian, into English.
These messages include inspection notifications, exchanges of data regarding strategic offensive arms, prior notifications of major exercises or unit restructuring, and other treaty-required communications. The exchange of weapons data and other information with our treaty partners, through arms control agreements and treaties, is a key element in building strategic stability and military confidence globally, which in turn bolsters U.S. national security.
The NRRC staff members advise Department of State and interagency policy and operational offices on government-to-government communications including development of standard operating procedures, training programs, and information technology used in telecommunications. The NRRC staff participate in international negotiations and provide expertise within their core competency of communications of arms control and security-related notifications.
The NRRC regularly hosts foreign and domestic visitors for briefings and demonstrations of how the notification process works to strengthen strategic stability and security through openness and confidence-building. Over the years, the NRRC has developed cordial relations with its various national and international counterparts. Consultations occur regularly among the U.S. and Russian Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in order to share experiences to iron out problems and to develop new and better ways for the centers to perform their missions.
In addition to the treaties and agreements supported by the NRRC, the U.S. and Russian NRRCs have proven their utility and value by serving as an auxiliary communications channel for transmission of goodwill messages. These messages are not required by agreement, but they help prevent misinterpretation or miscalculation regarding key developments or concerns. This role proved particularly important following the attacks of September 11, 2001, when U.S. armed forces moved to their highest alert level. At that time, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage tasked the NRRC with sending a message to its Russian counterpart stating that this was due to a national emergency and was not directed at the Russian Federation.
Senators Sam Nunn and John Warner, concerned about the rise in international tensions, nuclear armaments, and delivery systems, organized the bipartisan Congressional Working Group on Nuclear Risk Reduction. In 1982, they proposed the establishment of “crisis control centers” in Washington and Moscow to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict. These proposed centers would exchange information on ballistic missile launches, nuclear accidents, or incidents at sea. They would provide a channel for exchanging critical information under normal circumstances and offer a reliable channel of communication in times of crisis.
At the Geneva Summit in November 1985, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan agreed to establish a joint experts’ study group to examine the feasibility of such a link.
These meetings proved successful, and on September 15, 1987, after lengthy discussions, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze signed the agreement at a White House Rose Garden ceremony, presided over by President Reagan, establishing Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers in Washington and Moscow.
Secretary Shultz, Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, National Security Advisor Powell, Deputy Secretary of Defense Taft, Senator Nunn, Senator Warner, Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, and U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock opened the U.S. NRRC on March 22, 1988, and exchanged the first message with the Soviet NRRC. The NRRC began formal operations on April 1, and the first treaty notification was transmitted to the Soviet NRRC five days later. The first notification from the Soviet Union was received on June 2, 1988.
Beginning in November 1991, the NRRC’s role was broadened significantly. Having been created as a bilateral institution to exchange notifications on nuclear weapons with a single partner, the Soviet Union, the NRRC became the node for the communications network of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE – changed to the OSCE in 1995). This Vienna-based multinational organization is the world’s largest regional security organization.
The OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security addresses a wide range of concerns including arms control, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, counter-terrorism, and economic and environmental activities. The NRRC’s expertise, technical capabilities and proven reliability in handling time-sensitive notifications for exchange of data made it an ideal partner for the newly created multilateral network of the OSCE.
In November 2011, the U.S. and Kazakhstan Centers modernized their bilateral GGCL with the installation of an internet-based Virtual Private Network (VPN) to increase reliability and flexibility for future transmissions.
Communications officers from the Department of State’s Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM), supervised by a Foreign Service Branch Chief, operate the NRRC’s bilateral satellite and VPN secure links. This long and fruitful collaboration between the two bureaus, AVC and IRM, has underpinned the NRRC’s operational effectiveness since 1987.
New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)
Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT)
Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE)
Confidence- and Security-Building Measures – Vienna Document 2011 (CSBM-VD ‘11)
Open Skies Treaty (OS)
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol
The Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC)
Ballistic Missile Launch Agreement (BML)
Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty (PNE)
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)
Wyoming MOU of 1989 and Strategic Data Exchange (SDX)
The following treaties and agreements have generated the most notification exchanges at the NRRC. For more information, visit: http://www.state.gov/t/avc.
In December 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, commonly known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The newly established NRRC proved to be the optimal vehicle for implementing the INF’s extensive notification regime.
By the end of 1988, just nine months into the NRRC’s operation and six months after the entry into force of the INF Treaty, the NRRC had exchanged 1,800 treaty messages with its Soviet counterpart almost all of which were INF-related. When the INF inspection regime ended in 2001, an entire class of missiles had been eliminated by the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The INF Treaty set a precedent for subsequent arms control and confidence-building regimes, nuclear and conventional. Implementation required close collaboration between the U.S. and Soviet (now Russian) NRRCs, and between the Department of State and the Department of Defense’s On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA), now the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The close State-DTRA relationship remains vital and the two agencies are responsible for facilitating inspections for nearly all the inspection and confidence-building agreements for which the NRRC provides notifications.
The second major agreement implemented by the NRRC was the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which was signed in Moscow on July 31, 1991, by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Lisbon Protocol of May 23, 1992, made START a multilateral treaty including the United States and the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The comprehensive notification regime for START caused a dramatic increase in the number of messages.
In 1994, the NRRC assumed responsibility for the exchange of quarterly notifications for Phase II of the Bilateral Verification Experiment and Data Exchange, as well as the Agreement on Reciprocal Advance Notice of Major Strategic Exercises, which requires each side to notify the other no later than 14 days in advance of any of its major strategic exercises involving heavy bombers to be held during that calendar year (agreed in the Wyoming MOU of 1989).
In 1994, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin also agreed to have their respective national centers exchange quarterly notifications containing descriptions of current levels of strategic offensive arms and their planned deactivation and/or elimination (the SDX). For fifteen years, the SDX data exchange provided a valuable supplement to the START Treaty. The SDX process was discontinued with the advent of the New START Treaty.
The OSCE network was developed as a provision of the Vienna Document 1990 (VD ‘90), a Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBM) Agreement. Through information exchange on military contacts and activities, evaluation visits and inspections, the aim of VD ‘90 was to undertake new, effective, and concrete measures designed to strengthen confidence and security. Subsequent changes in post-Cold War Europe also necessitated changes to the Vienna Document. The latest version, Vienna Document 2011, includes provisions for increased levels of information exchange and regular updates.
The 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was designed to reduce the risk of large-scale offensive military operations in Europe by imposing limits on the holdings of conventional armaments and equipment by treaty partners and to establish new, cooperative political-military relationships. The NRRC assists with the treaty’s extensive protocol on notification and information exchange. The CFE’s inspection regime has led to the elimination of significant numbers of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters.
In 1997, the NRRC assumed responsibility for transmitting and receiving notifications pursuant to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The CWC was signed on January 13, 1993, and entered into force on April 29, 1997. Currently there are 188 States Parties. The treaty required the destruction of all signatory countries’ chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities within 10 years. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons.
The Convention established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at The Hague. OPCW implements the Convention in part by conducting inspections of member states. The CWC’s global membership is the first notification regime implemented by the NRRC outside of Europe.
Signed in 1991 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1993, the multilateral Treaty on Open Skies established a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its signatories. These observation flights are filmed and recorded, and the records are available to any treaty partner upon request. Although the treaty did not enter into force until January 1, 2002, the NRRC began exchanging treaty-relevant data in 1996, processing notifications involving test flights.
The Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC) took effect on November 25, 2002, at a Launching Conference hosted by the Netherlands at The Hague. The NRRC’s role is to transmit U.S. pre-launch notifications for NASA and FAA space launches as well as for ICBM and SLBM launches. The NRRC sent the first U.S. HCOC pre-launch notification on May 13, 2010, with notification of the May 14, 2010, launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The Additional Protocol (AP) grants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The U.S. Additional Protocol entered into force in January 2009. The NRRC received and disseminated the first official notifications in November 2010, which announced the initial complementary access inspection in the United States.
With the expiration of the 1991 START Treaty and its vital verification procedures looming on the horizon, President Barack Obama made clear that verifiable arms control and non-proliferation agreements and the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons, were key priorities for his Administration. At their April 1, 2009, meeting in London, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced their goal of concluding the New Strategic Reductions Treaty, which later became known as the New START Treaty.
In April 2010, the New START Treaty was signed. Just days later the NRRC transmitted to the Russian Federation the first notification following entry into force (EIF) of the New START Treaty. By the end of 2011, the NRRC had exchanged over 1,800 notifications with its Russian counterpart concerning such activities as missile launches, heavy bomber flights, inspections, and production and elimination of strategic offensive arms.
“I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”– President Barack Obama, April 5, 2009, Prague