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Diplomacy in Action

Nonproliferation Remarks for Generation Prague

Thomas M. Countryman
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
George Washington University
Washington, DC
July 16, 2013



Thank you, Bruce, for the generous introduction, and for USIP’s important contributions to nonproliferation and international security. I would like to thank all of you for attending this important event. This conference started four years ago as a way to highlight the important perspectives and contributions of the next generation as we move towards a world without nuclear weapons. Today, it’s grown into an internationally recognized event. The vision that President Obama described four years ago in Prague is alive and well. A few weeks ago in Berlin, the President announced a series of steps toward a safer, nuclear-free world.

Together, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy are on the leading edge of implementing the Prague Agenda. Within this building, through the combined efforts of the International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau; the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance; and our regional bureaus, we help translate the President’s policy goals into action. You will be hearing from many of these key players today and tomorrow.

Let me say a word about you, the audience for this conference. This generation no longer needs to worry that its world could be destroyed overnight in a single flash of light. But while the threat of nuclear war between countries has receded, the world you will inherit is far more complex and, in some ways, more dangerous, with violent extremists lurking. More than a decade ago, Osama bin Laden proclaimed that “acquiring weapons (WMD) for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty.” And we know that several retired nuclear scientists met with Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan a month prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The stakes are high: Just one nuclear weapon exploding near a major American city could potentially kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Fortunately, your generation is up to this challenge. At the 2010 Review Conference for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), youth representatives delivered a rousing statement to delegates advocating for a world without nuclear weapons. They represented over a quarter of the 2,000 accredited NGO participants. The new generation’s voice was similarly on display at May’s NPT Preparatory Committee meeting. The NPT and the international nonproliferation regime will continue to face challenges for years to come, so the efforts of young people are particularly important for safeguarding the world’s most dangerous weapons. We are all grateful to the various NGOs and academic institutions represented here today that have been bringing together government officials, NGOs, IGOs and the next generation to discuss these important issues.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

As many of you know, the NPT is the cornerstone of our nonproliferation diplomacy. In the Cuban Missile Crisis’ aftermath, President Kennedy saw a chance that as soon as a decade later, his successor would have to “face a world in which 15 or 20 or 25 nations may have these weapons.” Thanks in large part to the NPT, that dire prediction never came to pass. Today, its nearly 190 member countries have agreed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, despite the capabilities many of them have to build them. The United States is committed to each of the Treaty’s three pillars: disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. As President Obama said in Berlin, we have reduced the role and numbers of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, strengthened our efforts to combat the spread of nuclear weapons, and expanded our support to countries seeking peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

As part of America’s leadership on nonproliferation, we are working tirelessly with regional parties to convene a conference on the Establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. We believe that such a conference has the potential to foster official dialogue on regional security issues where none currently exists. And we are also working to make progress towards finalizing the Protocols for nuclear weapon-free zones in Central and Southeast Asia.

Now, unfortunately, not all countries are willing to comply with their NPT obligations. Iran, North Korea, and Syria’s history of noncompliance is the most obvious threat to the NPT. The United States will continue to work with our partners and the international community to address these challenges. Our nonproliferation cooperation with China, in particular, has deepened over the past year, as China recognizes the importance of preventing the transfer of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Iran and North Korea, and has reaffirmed the importance of cooperation on nonproliferation issues to our respective bilateral relationship.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), of course, lies at the center of these efforts. The United States and others are working together to support the IAEA’s nuclear monitoring efforts and to ensure the IAEA has the resources it needs for its important missions. Strengthening IAEA safeguards and helping states bring Additional Protocol agreements into force – 120 so far – is critical to security. The United States also has contributed generously to the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, a U.S. initiative to raise $100 million over five years in support of peaceful nuclear applications in human health, water management, food safety, and the responsible use of nuclear power.


An important long-term initiative that advances NPT objectives and enhances international nuclear security is the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Disposition Agreement (PMDA). The PMDA, as it’s called, has enjoyed consistent bipartisan support under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations. The PMDA requires the United States and Russia each to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium – enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons. It establishes verification rules to ensure that both countries dispose of this dangerous material and that it will never again be used for weapons. The fact is there will be less separated plutonium and less global proliferation risk because of the obligations and constraints established by the PMDA. This is the kind of important work that’s required on the road to a nuclear-free world.

Nuclear Security

As President Obama discussed in Prague, nuclear terrorism remains the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. Our work to address this threat is strengthened by international processes, such as the historic 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits, which brought together global leaders to discuss the necessity of cooperation to reduce nuclear threats. By garnering high level attention to these grave threats, the Summit process has galvanized and sustained action at both the national and international level to maintain effective security of all nuclear and radiological materials. The United States has helped remove over 3.5 metric tons of vulnerable HEU and plutonium material from 23 countries. Overall, countries have made progress on, or completed, more than 95% of Summit commitments. The summit community hopes to build on this impressive track record at a third gathering in the Netherlands in 2014, and as President Obama announced last month, at a fourth summit right here in 2016. Happily, global enthusiasm remains high: the IAEA hosted this month a successful nuclear security conference that drew1300 registered participants from 125 member-states and 41 organizations.

A Renewed Focus on Implementation

The Prague Agenda also sought to strengthen international rules and activities that build capacity to implement nonproliferation objectives. These include UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GINCT).

UNSCR 1540 establishes a firm international legal foundation for States to take action to enhance nonproliferation. UNSCR 1540 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council in 2004; it requires all States to adopt and enforce appropriate and effective measures to secure nuclear weapons, their delivery systems, and related materials, as well as implement effective border and export controls on nuclear materials. PSI began with less than twenty countries who wanted to establish a more coordinated and effective basis for conducting WMD interdictions. It now has over 100 participating states. In May 2013, the PSI marked its tenth anniversary with a high-level political meeting in Warsaw. More than70 countries publicly issued four joint statements laying out for the first time a de facto “program of action” over the next five years. States also announced specific steps to strengthen their domestic capacity for action against proliferation shipments. The President welcomed these tangible steps to “strengthen the PSI and sustain it as a core element of the international nonproliferation regime.”


As you can see, we’re hard at work every day trying to take concrete steps to implement the Prague Agenda. But the reality is that the journey to a safer, nuclear-free world has just begun, and we can’t get there alone. We most likely won’t get there in my life time but, gradually, small steps can build to produce a big change for the better. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination – by you – and people like you to arrive at this destination. But I have faith that your generation will make invaluable contributions to help make it all possible.

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