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Diplomacy in Action

The Future of U.S. Nuclear Policy

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
As Prepared
The Pryzbyla Center, Catholic University of America
Washington, DC
April 9, 2013


Thank you for that kind introduction, Stephen. I am glad to be here at Catholic University today to talk about U.S. nuclear policy. I want to thank the Catholic Peacebuilding Network for sponsoring this program. It is my pleasure to represent the State Department this afternoon.

Today, I would like to provide an update on our work, which the President laid out four years ago in Prague, when he committed the United States to seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

As President Obama noted in his famous speech, this will not be easy. Nor is it likely to happen in his lifetime. Still, over the last four years we have succeeded in moving closer to this goal.

In 2010, the Administration concluded a Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, which outlines the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers, as well as advancing the broader security interests of the United States and its allies. As the NPR states nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats facing the United States. The traditional concept of nuclear deterrence — the idea that a country would not initiate a nuclear war for fear of nuclear retaliation — does not apply to terrorists. While our nuclear arsenal has little relevance in deterring this threat, concerted action by the United States and Russia – and indeed, by all nuclear weapon states – to reduce their arsenals is key to garnering support from partners around the world for strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime, while also securing nuclear materials worldwide to make it harder for terrorists to acquire nuclear materials.

For instance, by the end of this year, we expect the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement to be completed, under which 500 MT of highly enriched uranium or HEU from dismantled Russian weapons will have been converted into low-enriched uranium or LEU to fuel U.S. commercial nuclear power plants. Over 472 MT (equivalent to approximately 18,900 nuclear warheads) has been downblended and sent to the United States so far. In the United States, 374 MT of U.S. HEU has been declared excess to nuclear weapons; most of the remainder will be downblended or used as fuel in naval or research reactors. In 2011, the United States and Russia brought into force the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement and its 2006 and 2010 protocols, which requires each side to dispose of 34 MT of weapon-grade plutonium – enough in total for about 17,000 nuclear weapons – and thus permanently remove this material from military programs. Russia has also been an essential partner in the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative efforts to convert research reactors from HEU to LEU and repatriate those reactors’ HEU to the country of origin. These efforts have now converted or verified the shutdown of over 75 research and test reactors, and repatriated to the United States or to Russia over 3,000 kg of HEU for secure storage, downblending and disposition.

In addition to working on the prevention of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, we have taken steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy. We are not developing new nuclear weapons or pursuing new nuclear missions; we have committed not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations; and we have clearly stated that it is in the U.S. interest and that of all other nations that the nearly 68-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons be extended forever.

As President Obama said in Seoul in March of last year:

“[W]e can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need. I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal.”

Let me now address what we believe our next steps should be.

The Administration continues to believe that the next step in nuclear arms reductions should be pursued on a bilateral basis. The United States and Russia still possess the vast majority of nuclear weapons in the world. With that in mind, we have a great example in the New START Treaty. The implementation of New START, now in its third year, is going well. When New START is fully implemented, the United States and the Russian Federation will each have no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads – the lowest levels since the 1950s.

Going forward, the United States has made it clear that we are committed to continuing a step-by-step process to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons, including the pursuit of a future agreement with Russia to address all categories of nuclear weapons – strategic, non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed.

To this end, we are engaged in a bilateral dialogue to promote strategic stability and increase transparency on a reciprocal basis with the Russian Federation. We are hopeful our dialogue will lead to greater reciprocal transparency and negotiation of even further nuclear weapons reductions.

As part of this process, the Administration is consulting with Allies to lay the groundwork for future negotiations. As you may know, NATO has already dramatically reduced its holdings of, and reliance on, nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. That said, NATO is prepared to consider further reducing its requirement for nonstrategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia, taking into account the greater Russian stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons stationed in the Euro-Atlantic area. While seeking to create the conditions for further nuclear reductions, NATO will continue to ensure that the Alliance’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective as NATO is committed to remaining a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist.

There are still further initiatives that are part of this Administration’s nuclear agenda. The United States is revitalizing an international effort to advance a new multilateral treaty to verifiably ban the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty or FMCT– would for the first time put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade fissile material needed to create nuclear weapons and provide the basis for further, deeper, reductions in nuclear arsenals.

Beginning multilateral negotiations on the FMCT is a priority objective for the United States and for the vast majority of states, and we have been working to initiate such negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. An overwhelming majority of nations support the immediate commencement of FMCT negotiations. The United States is consulting with China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, as well as others, to find a way to commencing negotiation of an FMCT.

In 2009, the five nuclear-weapon states, or “P5,” began to meet regularly to have discussions on issues of transparency, mutual confidence, and verification. Since the 2010 NPT Review Conference, these discussions have expanded to address P5 implementation of our commitments under the NPT and the 2010 Review Conference’s Action Plan. The U.S. hosted the most recent P5 conference in Washington in June 2012, where the P5 tackled issues related to all three pillars of the NPT – nonproliferation, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and disarmament, including confidence-building, transparency, and verification experiences. We are looking forward to a fourth conference on April 18-19, which Russia will host in Geneva prior to the next NPT Preparatory Committee meeting.

In addition to providing a senior level policy forum for discussion and coordination among the P5, this process has spawned a series of discussions among policymakers and government experts on a variety of issues. China is leading a P5 working group on nuclear definitions and terminology. The P5 are discussing approaches to a common format for NPT reporting, and we are also beginning to engage at expert levels on some important verification and transparency issues. In the future, we would like the P5 conferences and intersessional meetings to expand and to develop practical transparency measures that build confidence and predictability.

I should add at this point that when discussing areas to broaden and deepen our cooperation and to advance our common interests, it’s necessary to address the question of Missile Defense. Thirty years ago at the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan saw virtue in cooperating with Moscow on Missile Defense.

While we have our differences on this issue, we remain convinced that missile defense cooperation between the United States and Russia (and between NATO and Russia) is in the national security interests of all countries involved. For that reason, missile defense cooperation with Russia remains a priority for the President. To be clear, U.S. missile defense efforts are focused on defending our homeland as well as our European, Middle Eastern, and Asian allies and partners against ballistic missile threats coming from Iran and North Korea. These are threats that are growing, and must be met.

In meeting those threats, it is important to note that U.S. missile defenses are not designed for, or capable of, undermining the Russian or Chinese strategic deterrents. For its part, Russia has been insistent on legally binding guarantees that our missile defenses will not threaten its strategic deterrent. Rather than legal guarantees, we believe that the best way for Russia to see that U.S. and NATO missile defenses in Europe do not undermine its strategic deterrent would be for it to cooperate with us. In addition to making all of us safer, cooperation would send a strong message to proliferators that the United States, NATO, and Russia are working together to counter proliferation. With regard to China, the United States welcomes the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about missile defense and other security issues of strategic importance.

As our work together over the past four years has shown, we can produce significant results that benefit both countries. As mentioned earlier, the New START Treaty is a great example of this. Cooperation on missile defense would also facilitate improved relations between the United States and Russia. In fact, it would be a game-changer for those relations. It has the potential to enhance the national security of both the United States and Russia, as well as build a genuine strategic partnership.

None of this will be easy, but the policies the Administration is pursuing are suited for our security needs and tailored for the global security threats of the 21st century. By maintaining and supporting a safe, secure and effective stockpile — sufficient to deter any adversary and guarantee the defense of our allies — at the same time that we pursue responsible verifiable reductions through arms control, we will make this world a safer place.

To paraphrase President Kennedy, whose speech 50 years ago at American University launched the NPT process, we will succeed by moving forward step by step, confident and unafraid. There is something very appropriate in mentioning President Kennedy and his era because your generation has a unique advantage. You are not burdened by the memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the experience of duck and cover drills, events that characterize the experience of those who lived through the Cold War at its most dangerous points. You have the freedom to bring fresh thinking and new perspectives to how we can best enhance our national security. Positive change is hard to accomplish, so we will need your energy and your expertise to extend this debate beyond college campuses if we are to move safely and securely to a world without nuclear weapons. Your energy and your commitment are important to our efforts to reduce global nuclear dangers.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.

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