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Thank you all for being here today, whether in person or tuning in virtually. And thank you to Sara Beth for the introduction. I am thrilled to welcome all of you to the 2023 James Timbie Forum on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, the first Timbie Forum to be held since 2016. I am pleased that AVC is able to co-host this Forum with our sister bureau, the Bureau for International Security and Nonproliferation, with the enduring support from the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Dr. Bonnie Jenkins.

During these times of deep division and global instability, it is even more important to have a forum to discuss novel approaches to arms control and nonproliferation. As Undersecretary Jenkins has said numerous times, the future of our work must be creative, flexible, and adaptive.

Unfortunately, today’s security environment reflects a world in which we see intentional and illegal aggression. We see unpredictable military force and thinly veiled escalatory rhetoric. We are approaching a security environment where we may face unconstrained arms racing by two nuclear-capable near-peers. And it is not just the geopolitical environment that causes concern – we must recognize that emerging and disruptive technologies also increase the potential for extreme instability. Together, these challenges create a world with less predictability.

While strategic deterrence must continue to play a fundamental role in protecting our security, traditional deterrence alone cannot address all our problems. It cannot prevent the creation of challenging space debris; it cannot sufficiently highlight the amassing of forces along borders or shine a light on the opaque and unexplained build-up of weapons; it cannot define responsible behaviors to prevent bad actors from deviation; and deterrence alone cannot prevent the dangerous spread of weapons and weaponized capabilities. This is exactly where arms control and nonproliferation can play a crucial role to complement and strengthen deterrence.

It is important to remember that “arms control” is not just about restraining the weapons of potential adversaries. It is about states that share an interest in managing and reducing risk, in part by coordinating on behaviors and expectations that they see as mutually beneficial and stabilizing. This kind of arms control is less about regulating what states can and cannot do, but rather what countries who value the security and stability of behaving responsibly should do and what they accordingly expect from others.

It is also important to note that nonproliferation is not the effort to restrain competitors or promote one country’s interests over others. Preventing the destabilizing transfers of weapons and weaponized capabilities is a way to minimize risks and unpredictable and illegal aggression by unregulated and irresponsible actors.

Today, the need for these kinds of approaches is even more acute, as geopolitical tensions, emerging technologies, and disinformation campaigns blur the understandings of what is stabilizing and consistent with international law. Arms control and nonproliferation efforts work to reinforce existing international law and practice. In gray zones of state practice, we work to define stabilizing state activities- or good behavior- through normative or best-practice approaches. By collectively developing and committing to global standards of behavior we can strengthen our deterrence of bad actions.

For example, the expectation of unified and overwhelming reprobation from the majority of the world in response to irresponsible acts can deter actors from adopting those behaviors in the first place. Building on mechanisms like multilateral declarations and resolutions, even in the absence of legally binding agreements, make international recognition of the norm of behavior publicly observable, which can further enhance the capacity for coordinating action and isolating outliers. In other words: attribution and accountability.

But to be clear, the strength of normative forms of arms control and nonproliferation comes from building a global team mentality: recognizing that all of us are responsible for building a more secure, stable, and peaceful world.

Indeed, arms control and nonproliferation must be a team sport. The multitude of challenges shaping today’s landscape must be met by the coordinated application of all possible responses. We have to work together with the diverse arms control and nonproliferation toolkit for reducing and mitigating risks. These risks stem from misunderstanding, miscalculation, and unintentional escalation. They stem from unconstrained arms racing and uncontrolled and unknown proliferation of weapons. They stem from uses of AI, and space assets, and cyber capabilities in manners inconsistent with international law.

As I mentioned, our team’s tools range from legally binding agreements to political commitments, from security and confidence-building measures, information sharing and awareness-raising, to crisis communications.

Through attribution and accountability mechanisms, transparency, and the collective definition of responsible behaviors, and through the ability to place the international spotlight on growing threats, arms control and nonproliferation serve to deter further destabilizing behavior.

The examples we will discuss today and tomorrow of our use of all of these tools and methods is what Undersecretary Jenkins is describing when she encourages us to be creative, flexible, and adaptive. And the teamwork we are building can help protect our nation’s security, the security of our allies and partners, and ultimately global stability.

We certainly recognize that this is an uphill battle, and we face numerous new challenges and technologies, but in many ways, we’ve been here before. During Dr. Timbie’s 40-plus years at the State Department and at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the United States faced challenges that many feared could see the world end in a bolt out of the blue. Despite the extraordinary political obstacles between the United States and the Soviet Union, we negotiated and implemented new risk reduction measures to diminish dangers and to channel competition. This approach made us safer then, and it can make us safer now.

In 1984, Jim wrote with his usual succinct pragmatism, that success in this field will require substantial measures of hard work, imagination, and good luck. His words ring true nearly forty years later.

The Biden Harris Administration continues to work hard every day to find creative options that will strengthen and improve our security, while preserving our ability to deter aggression. Sometimes these options build on our extensive past experiences and treaties and sometimes we need to start anew, rethink, and adapt.

I invite all of you, everyone in this room and online, who represent the next generation to continue your hard work. By thinking creatively, and with a little luck, we will be able to continue to advance international law, responsible behaviors, and stabilizing mechanisms for a more secure world. Because risk reduction – including through deterrence, arms control, and nonproliferation, is never done, and these problems are ones we must solve together.

And on that note, it is my true honor to introduce two people that need no introduction, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Dr. Bonnie Jenkins, and the namesake for this forum, Dr. James Timbie. You’ll hear their reflections on “thinking big” in the current international security environment. Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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