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Diplomacy in Action

Leadership for a Nuclear Weapon-Free World: Shared Responsibilities, Shared Outcomes

Ambassador Susan F. Burk
Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Remarks at the 21st United Nations Conference on Disarmament
Niigata, Japan
August 26, 2009



Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today on the subject of leadership for a nuclear weapon-free world. On April 5 in Prague, President Obama committed the United States to taking concrete steps to achieve this critical disarmament objective. But reaching the goal of complete nuclear disarmament relies, among other things, on the security conditions offered by a strong and reliable nuclear non-proliferation regime. And the cornerstone of this regime is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT – an indispensible agreement that will be the subject of review next May in New York City.

The President has made clear that the United States is prepared to lead an ambitious effort to address the proliferation challenges we and other nations currently face, as well as the opportunities to strengthen the global regime. But every nation has a role to play – and only by working together can we reach such an ambitious and shared goal. Being ambitious means the way ahead will be difficult, but there is little of value that comes easily, and we have opportunities now to make real progress if all states work together to take advantage of them.

I note with pleasure that the Asian-Pacific states play a prominent role in the vanguard of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Recently, we have seen the selection of Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, an experienced diplomat from the Philippines, as President of the upcoming 2010 Review Conference. In addition, I congratulate the incoming Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ambassador Yukio Amano, on his appointment to that vital post. Finally, I am looking forward to the report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, co-chaired by former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans.

Let me start with a review of the challenges we are facing today within the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Then, to address the way forward, I will use the three pillars of the NPT as the structure for describing various measures the United States believes the international community has available to buttress not only the NPT, but also the broader regime.


For years, membership in the NPT grew steadily, and with it a certain complacency about the strength of the Treaty, except – for some – regarding the pace of nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon state parties – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. In part, this was because, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT were meeting their obligations; there was simply nothing to talk about.

But this complacency was shattered with the 1991 discovery of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear activities, in violation of the NPT, during the first Gulf War. This, coupled with the DPRK’s refusal to accept a request by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for a special inspection in 1993, which led the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to announce its plans to withdraw from the Treaty, further signaled the need for States Parties to pay closer attention to issues of compliance.

More recent developments underline the gravity of the nonproliferation challenge today. We have witnessed growing commercial availability of sensitive nuclear technology, as demonstrated by the activities earlier this decade of the global criminal network led by A.Q. Khan; the difficulties in bringing either North Korea or Iran into compliance with the NPT, even after their safeguard agreement violations were discovered and formally reported by the IAEA; North Korea’s announced withdrawal from the NPT, even as it pursued a nuclear weapons program; and the limitations of the IAEA’s ability to verify comprehensive safeguards agreements exposed, for example, by the construction of a covert nuclear reactor in Syria.

All of which leads to a final challenge which is the perception on the part of some that the NPT is approaching collapse and that further proliferation is inevitable. The idea that nuclear weapon proliferation is something that we must simply learn to live with is wrong and must be refuted.

The Way Forward

During his speech in Prague, President Obama said, “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He acknowledged to the world that the United States has a moral responsibility to act and outlined an ambitious agenda designed to move the world closer to that goal. As the President said, “we cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it.” We are prepared to work with our international partners to enhance the international regime by strengthening the NPT, which remains the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The question before us today is: how do we create the conditions for making progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons?What role can each of us – nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states alike – play toward realizing this vision? The NPT provides the essential legal and political framework to advance, together, down the path of nuclear disarmament. But remember, too, that the Treaty is at its core a bargain – countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not seek to acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy under effective safeguards.

We often describe the NPT as having three pillars – non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the elements of the basic bargain I just mentioned. These pillars are integrally related and interdependent. Without progress on non-proliferation, we would increase the risks of expanding nuclear energy worldwide, and efforts to pursue nuclear disarmament would be undermined. Without progress on disarmament, international support for addressing non-proliferation would be insufficient to ensure the regime can meet the challenges I have described.

Our efforts to renew the nuclear bargain requires us to reinvigorate the disarmament pillar of the NPT. In support of our commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, the President stated that the United States will reduce the numbers and the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and will urge others to do the same. There are interim steps we are pursuing that will move us closer to this goal, while also reinforcing the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and raising the barriers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons and materials by terrorist groups.

In the first of these steps, the United States and Russia are negotiating a follow-on agreement to START. At their July summit in Moscow, Presidents Obama and Medvedev issued a Joint Understanding to guide the remainder of the negotiations. The Joint Understanding establishes for both sides the decision to reduce and limit their strategic offensive arms so that seven years after entry into force of the treaty and thereafter, the limits will be in the range of 500-1100 for strategic delivery vehicles, and in the range of 1500-1675 for their associated warheads. The specific limits will be agreed through further negotiations. The new treaty will include effective verification measures drawn from our experience implementing START. Achieving a legally binding and effectively verifiable agreement will set the stage for further cuts and eventually a disarmament process that includes all nuclear weapon states.

Second, the President also committed to “immediately and aggressively pursue United States ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” Once ratified, the Obama Administration will work hard with others to ensure that the other requirements for CTBT’s entry into force are met at the earliest possible time.

Third, the United States committed to seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons purposes. After ten years of gridlock, Geneva’s Conference on Disarmament (CD) adopted a robust program of work that includes negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) that provides for international verification. The United States looks forward to working with its CD partners to conclude this important agreement. Pending that result, we have reaffirmed our decades-long unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

So the stage is set for important progress on disarmament and arms control. The political will is there. But the non-proliferation pillar of the NPT, whose goal is to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, is equally essential to international security and a vital part of the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons – and there is much work to do.

The overwhelming majority of states that have joined the NPT are abiding by their Treaty obligations. Unfortunately, a small number of states are not. Some have used their membership in this agreement as a vehicle to gain access to assistance with their nuclear efforts, and then, regrettably, have violated the rules of the Treaty – rules that all other parties are following. Others have failed to fulfill their most basic obligations – concluding comprehensive safeguards agreements with the IAEA – or have turned a blind eye to violations by other parties.

Stemming proliferation requires that the international community work together to discourage and denounce such violations. As President Obama said in Prague, “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. This world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons.” It is important that all nations stand together to build a strong regime, but all Parties to the NPT have a special responsibility for upholding the Treaty.

The IAEA has served as the principal verification instrument for NPT-required safeguards agreements. Over the years, the Agency’s membership has adopted additional measures to enhance its ability to monitor states’ compliance with safeguards obligations in response to events that have exposed weaknesses in the safeguards system. Most recently, the IAEA has developed a model Additional Protocol to comprehensive safeguards agreements and enhancements to the small quantities protocol to provide greater assurances about both declared and possible undeclared activities.

The United States brought into force the Additional Protocol earlier this year and will continue encouraging its adoption by all states. At the June meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General El Baradei provided the most compelling reason for pursuing universal adherence to the Additional Protocol when he said, “Without an Additional Protocol, we can only talk about declared nuclear material. We have learned since 1991 in Iraq, that if any country tries to divert nuclear material, they don´t divert from declared material, they divert through a clandestine programme.”

But it is not enough to detect violations. The costs of violating the treaty must outweigh the benefits. Noncompliance must be met with real consequences. The record in this area in the past has been poor, and it is imperative that the international community unite in its commitment to halt this dangerous problem.

We must also act to discourage abuse of the NPT’s withdrawal provision. Parties have the right to withdraw from the Treaty, with a 3-month advance notice of withdrawal to all other Parties and the UN Security Council, and this notice must include a statement of the extraordinary events that jeopardize its supreme interests. NPT Parties should consider how we can use this period of time to address the circumstances of a Party’s withdrawal, particularly if it is not complying with the Treaty, as well as the impact of a withdrawal on the effective functioning of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. The parties to the NPT must be prepared to consider this important issue next May. We look forward to working together to develop concrete approaches to take forward President Obama’s call in May for “consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the Treaty without cause.”

We must also work together to secure the materials terrorists need to build a nuclear weapon. Significant progress has been made in this area, but much more needs to be done. The United States has announced its plans to host a Global Summit on Nuclear Security next year to address the dangers of vulnerable materials and give direction to ways that concerned governments can collaborate to counter this serious problem.

The third pillar of the NPT calls for international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. For many years, nations have harnessed peaceful uses of the atom in energy generation, agriculture, medicine, mining and manufacturing. Nuclear science applications for peaceful purposes are vitally important to the social and economic development of many countries.

Strengthening this pillar of the Treaty is more important than ever, especially when one considers the renewed interest in nuclear power as a response to climate change, energy security, and the promotion of sustainable development. The Director General of the IAEA has recently stated that more than 60 countries have informed his Agency of their interest in launching nuclear power programs. Of those, he stated that at least a dozen are taking concrete steps towards new nuclear energy programs.

These emerging nuclear energy countries are faced with many challenges in establishing the robust infrastructure necessary to safely and securely deploy nuclear power plants. Consequently, many are turning to countries with more developed programs with requests for cooperation. The United States, along with many others, are developing rich programs aimed specifically at civil nuclear infrastructure development in emerging states. Indeed, there is so much activity in this regard that the IAEA has called several meetings to better coordinate and harmonize bilateral and multilateral efforts.

President Obama has called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including the creation and use of an international fuel bank, so that countries seeking nuclear power can access it more easily and cost effectively without the need to develop their own fuel production capabilities. The goal is not to deny countries access to fuel-cycle technologies, but rather to foster nuclear energy’s growth and provide assured access to nuclear fuel without increasing global proliferation risks.

In recent years, steady progress has been made towards the development of a nuclear fuel bank under the auspices of the IAEA. This includes a round of constructive debate, at the last [June] meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, about the remaining implementation issues in need of resolution. We believe that the IAEA and its Member States are converging on a solution that will be acceptable to all. If we succeed, this would mark a clear strengthening the nonproliferation regime.

Reciprocal Responsibilities

I have described a number of initiatives and other steps that can set us on a path toward greater international security and allow us to meet the economic and social needs of countries embarking on or expanding their civil nuclear programs. Their success is predicated on the assumption that all states – those that possess nuclear weapons and those who have foresworn them – have a responsibility for doing their part to advance our collective security.

The United States and other nuclear weapon states bear a special responsibility under the NPT to pursue nuclear disarmament. President Obama has described his agenda for meeting this responsibility, and we will pursue it with resolve.

But non-nuclear weapon states bear no less responsibility to work constructively and actively to prevent further proliferation and help create the conditions for nuclear disarmament efforts to succeed. The responsibility does not end with their decision to forswear the development of nuclear weapons and to accept IAEA safeguards to verify their commitments. It must continue through the participation of those non-nuclear weapon states in rigorous, collective efforts to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. These efforts benefit the international community as a whole, the collective security and well-being of which is threatened by the spread of nuclear weapons. Through such efforts, all states can help create the conditions necessary to achieve the nuclear free world that we seek.


Next May, the nearly 190 parties to the NPT will meet in New York to review the implementation of that agreement. This meeting will include both a look back, and a discussion of, and hopefully – agreement on – the way forward. We believe there exists new energy and a new commitment to use the 2010 Review Conference as an opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce this indispensible treaty. We hope it will generate valuable momentum for our collective efforts in Vienna, New York, Geneva and elsewhere to meet the challenges and advance the non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. The United States is looking forward to working with its NPT partners to seize the opportunities we have before us. Thank you.

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