Thank you to the Arms Control Association for asking me to speak today. It is truly an honor. And congratulations to the ACA on its 50th anniversary.
This community has much to be proud of. Over the last half-century, the Arms Control Association has worked to develop and advocate for solutions to the most pressing international security challenges. It has also cultivated multiple generations of national security practitioners in and out of government.
Fifty years ago, in 1972, few would have believed that U.S. and Russian inspectors would conduct on-site inspections of each other’s strategic nuclear forces; that our efforts to prevent a cascade of nuclear proliferation would be more successful than not; that the U.S. nuclear stockpile would be nearly 23,000 weapons fewer; or that the tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons would extend to 77 years.
None of these developments were inevitable. The combination of vocal and vibrant debate among civil society and the expert community, important attention from academia, shrewd diplomacy, and credible deterrence, has helped us manage the existential danger of nuclear weapons.
While we should take pride in these accomplishments, we must acknowledge the setbacks, and we must recommit to face the major obstacles to international security, strategic stability, and arms control efforts. As we have all been witness to, these challenges continue to grow.
Russia is waging a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, and European security is more challenged today than at any time since WWII. Russia has dramatically demonstrated its willingness to violate arms control obligations and security assurances. And nuclear saber-rattling has figured prominently in Russian attempts to deter the world from assisting Ukraine.
The People’s Republic of China is rapidly building a larger, more diverse nuclear arsenal. The accelerating pace of the PRC’s nuclear expansion may allow it to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads in the next 5 years, and at least 1000 warheads by 2030. [This would exceed the pace and size that the U.S. projected just two years ago in 2020.] And this growth is made even more concerning by the PRC’s lack of transparency.
More alarming, perhaps, is that through their actions and campaigns to disseminate disinformation, Russia and China seem to be actively working to subvert the rules-based international order and to construct a different reality -one that is more favorable for authoritarian governments.
North Korea continues to prioritize its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people.
And we continue to work towards Iran’s return to full implementation of its JCPOA commitments.
Amid the resurgence of strategic competition with China and Russia, their efforts to weaken the international rules-based order through massive disinformation campaigns, the continued development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, and the stalemate in our discussions with Iran, many have understandably grown frustrated with the lack of progress in global nuclear disarmament.
Although the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile is down 88 percent from its peak in 1967; there is no clear indication that Russia or China are ready to engage with us – in good faith – either to enable deeper reductions in our collective strategic capacities, or even to prevent miscalculations and reduce risks going forward.
What’s more, the appreciation and the understanding in the U.S. domestic audience, political arena, and in the international community for what arms control can achieve has diminished. The understanding that arms control can strengthen deterrence and is often required to achieve stability has waned.
But what I know, and what this community well knows, is that these obstacles are not insurmountable. We know that arms control, and especially nuclear arms control, is right now more important than ever. During international crises, when misunderstandings, mistrust, miscalculation, and arms races thrive, and when escalation is both intentional and unintentional, is when we most need the collective efforts and knowledge of this community.
What we all also inherently understand is that “arms control” can take many forms to work in many different contexts. These include:
- attribution and accountability measures
- transparency and confidence building mechanisms
- reliable and credible channels of communication
- joint statements
- unilateral or reciprocal non-binding commitments
- and of course, verifiable international agreements and treaties.
These tools have worked and will continue to do so.
Even in today’s complicated security environment, we see examples of arms control mechanisms reducing risk. For example, while the New START Treaty was indeed negotiated in a different climate of relations with Russia, its legally binding limits continue to constrain Russia from significantly expanding the number of warheads loaded onto its ICBMs and SLBMs. Continued compliance and transparency provisions in New START ensured that we were not surprised or alarmed when Russia conducted a routine test of its developmental SARMAT missile, despite Putin’s attempt to cast the launch in an intimidating light.
And even the January 2022 P5 Statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races demonstrates the continued utility of our diverse arms control tool kit.
In that statement, Russia, China, France, the UK, and the US affirmed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The five nations recognized that “nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences” and expressed the intent “to continue seeking bilateral and multilateral diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations, strengthen stability and predictability, increase mutual understanding and confidence, and prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all.”
As a result of this statement, Russia is on the record affirming a set of principles that it is now clearly violating. We must highlight Russia’s disdain and marshal the support of the entire international community to condemn Russia for its reckless nuclear saber-rattling. And China too appears unwilling to live up to the elements of that P5 statement- most clearly in its continued resistance to bilateral dialogue on strategic risk reduction. Reducing strategic risk is an obligation that nuclear weapon states owe to the world, it is in all of our interests to work on this together.
Unfortunately, some think arms control is at odds with deterrence or National Security as a whole.
Indeed, some observers treat arms control and nuclear deterrence as separate and competing approaches to national security. Some even go as far as to describe them as opposing camps. I think we should examine this frame of reference.
This Administration views Arms Control and deterrence as mutually reinforcing and overlapping. They represent two complimentary elements within a single, integrated strategy for preventing war, avoiding arms races, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
Our efforts to deter are more effective and more successful when we have greater clarity about the capabilities, posture, operations, and strategies of potential adversaries. Our efforts to defend ourselves are most efficient when we are spared the pressure to buy and deploy ever-increasing weapons systems –purely for the sake of matching or exceeding the other sides’ numbers. And our efforts to prevent unintentional escalation and even to head-off intentional escalation are only successful if we can communicate reliably and clearly in peacetime
and in crisis. In contrast, accelerating proliferation, diminishing communication, and the absence of transparency is rarely a formula that results in greater security or stability.
The mutually reinforcing relationship between deterrence and arms control is at the heart of the Biden-Harris Administration’s balanced approach to these issues. With our national security and the security of our partners and allies as the overarching objective, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent and strong and credible extended deterrent commitments. At the same time, we will continue to emphasize the need for strategic stability, seek to avoid costly arms races, and facilitate risk reduction and arms control arrangements wherever possible. We have an ambitious but achievable vision for the future, one that will enhance the security of the United States, our allies and partners, AND the global community.
So how do we achieve that vision? With Russia we have explained our goals for next steps in nuclear arms control, and those have not changed. We want to sustain limits beyond 2026 on the Russian systems covered under new START; we want to limit the new kinds of nuclear systems Russia is developing; and we want to address all Russian nuclear weapons, including theater-range weapons.
Expanding arms control to cover these theater-range weapons (sometimes misleadingly described as non-strategic or low yield) is critically important since Russia is more likely to threaten to or actually use these weapons in conflict scenarios. And these weapons are presently not constrained by any agreement, nor does Russia have any
arms control commitments or obligations to even provide transparency into its stockpile – which is on par or greater than the number of deployed weapons accountable under new START.
Former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller once referred to theater-range weapons limitations as “the Holy Grail of the arms control community.”
And addressing these weapons will not be easy. We are working hard within the interagency and with partners and allies to analyze the full range of complex issues at play, and I am confident we will be ready with an effective and workable approach.
But technical solutions and capacities are not sufficient without political will, and progress will be difficult without a willing partner in Russia.
With China, we have a very different relationship, but we face a similar political will challenge. Attempts to engage in bilateral discussions on managing and reducing strategic risks have been met with PRC resistance. China appears unwilling to engage while it is rushing to expand its arsenal. Now that China’s arsenal has surpassed the size of those of the UK and France and is on pace to be larger than both combined, Beijing’s time to be transparent and engage meaningfully on risk reduction has come.
The United States has been working with like-minded partners to highlight the benefits to both China and Russia that risk reduction, mutual restraint measures, improved crisis communications, information sharing, and guardrails can provide. 21st century strategic stability requires that we find creative ways to address each sides’ differing threat perceptions, but all sides must engage. Arms control cannot be a one-way street.
But we cannot simply wait for Russia and China to deem it in their interest to engage in good faith.
Raising awareness about those countries’ nuclear behavior is key to creating global pressure to choose stability over nuclear threats and arms racing. Building understanding of why arms control measures are crucial for national and international security is another way to encourage engagement on these issues. And we cannot hesitate to call both Russia and China to account, while we ensure we are prepared with credible arms control and risk reduction proposals when they are ready to engage.
I will end with a call to action- from Joe Biden – delivered to this community 20 years ago at the annual ACA meeting in 2002.
At that meeting, then Senator Biden explained that in order to achieve our arms control and nonproliferation objectives: “we must loose[n] the bonds of ideology … we must invent new approaches and foster new international cooperation to meet the changing threats.”
Then and to this day President Biden continues to call upon us to work together as a team: national leaders, NGOs, academia, politicians, diplomats, military officials, governments of nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapons states alike. President Biden has asked us to put aside ideology and perceived divisions between our efforts to reach a world without nuclear weapons; to put aside different backgrounds, and historical conflicts, cultural differences or assumptions, and build on our successes. We need to diversify our perspectives, and be creative, to explore how new technologies can help develop innovative approaches to verification, and how new techniques or arrangements can ensure collective confidence and stability. We need to explore novel arms control concepts to better understand their potential and their effectiveness. We need to value attribution and accountability mechanisms, and maximize the utility of communication channels, and dialogues. But we also need to clarify rules of responsible behavior to define what good behavior is in gray zones of conflict – so we can clearly see and hold accountable the bad behavior that is occurring. We need to continue to grapple with the challenging and undefined world of emerging disruptive technologies. We should use the rising tide of concern on this issue.
Finally, we all need to break through the webs of disinformation and deceit, to hold Russia accountable for its unjustified invasion of Ukraine and nuclear saber-rattling, and to hold China accountable for rejecting good faith efforts to engage on strategic risk reduction.
But we need your partnership. We need you to help remind the domestic and international audiences of the importance of arms control. We need you to continue to support the Administration’s commitment to reestablishing a leadership role in supporting arms control and nonproliferation efforts, while working to modernize and replace New START when it expires.
We need your help to hold all nuclear weapon states accountable for progress in arms control.
And looking at this august crowd – I know you will.