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As Prepared

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for having me at the Third Edition of the Scientific International Conference on CBRNe. It is a pleasure to address the conference today and I hope that I will be able to join you all in person next time.

I would like to commend the University of Rome Tor Vergata and HESAR Association for organizing this conference, which I am sure will be very productive.

I also want to acknowledge the critical role science plays in addressing CBRNe threats and once again, appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.

By way of background, I lead three U.S. Department of State bureaus:

  • Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC),
  • International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) and
  • Political-Military Affairs (Pol-Mil)

Together, we are called the “T-Family.” We lead U.S. policy progress on nonproliferation and manage global U.S. security policy.

This work includes overseeing policy and programs that advance U.S. and international security, including by directing efforts to prevent, detect, and when necessary, respond to the threats posed by WMD and CBRNe agents.

The security environment today is deeply concerning. The DPRK continues its unlawful nuclear and missile programs in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Iran is not fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s oversight of its nuclear program. The PRC continues to build up its nuclear forces in a non-transparent way.

While we face many challenges in the CBRNe space, I would like to focus on the unique challenge posed by the Russian government in the context of its unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In addition to wreaking death and destruction on the Ukrainian people, Russia’s actions in Ukraine pose a direct challenge to the pillars of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In brandishing its nuclear saber and reneging on the security assurance it gave Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum when Ukraine joined the NPT in 1994, Russia has undercut the credibility of the disarmament-related commitments it has made to NPT non-nuclear-weapons states.

Russia’s actions have only fueled the dangerous argument that non-nuclear weapon states need to acquire nuclear weapons to deter aggression from major powers.

Further, Russia’s attacks against and seizure of Ukrainian nuclear facilities have directly undermined Ukraine’s ability to maintain its own peaceful nuclear energy program, a right enshrined in the NPT; and implement its United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 nonproliferation obligations—which, despite Russian misinformation to the contrary—were quite effectively executed until the outset of the invasion.

Russia continues to compromise nuclear safety and security in Ukraine, including at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, or ZNPP.

Since its seizure of ZNPP, Russia refuses to allow the competent Ukrainian authorities to access and manage the ZNPP; refuses to allow the IAEA unfettered access to all parts of the facility; and has placed anti-personnel mines at the perimeter of the facility.

The United States would also note Ukraine’s national statement during the Chemical Weapons Convention’s Fifth Review Conference, which stated that there is “evidence coming to light of Russian military forces using riot control agents against Ukraine defensive units.”

Further concerning evidence was Russia’s state-controlled Channel 1 broadcast of an interview with a Russian soldier describing the Russian Army’s use of riot control agents against Ukrainian armed forces.

As States Parties, we know that the use of riot control agents as a means of warfare is prohibited by Article I of the Convention. Russia’s pattern of behavior blatantly violates the CWC and is contrary to that of a responsible country in the international system.

And before all of this, the entire world witnessed the Russian Federation use sophisticated chemical weapons against its perceived enemies, like Aleksey Navalny.

Disinformation is also another factor increasing the danger in global security. The world has seen Russia engage in an extensive disinformation campaign, including in the context of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For instance, Russia has repeatedly and falsely accused Ukraine of having nuclear weapon aspirations as a pretext for Russia’s aggression, while also claiming that Ukraine was planning to use a “dirty bomb” during the current conflict. The IAEA has consistently and swiftly refuted those claims at every turn and confirmed it has found absolutely no indication of proliferation in Ukraine.

Russia has also accused the United States and Ukraine of biological weapons activities, both in the press and in international bodies. We refuted these allegations in depth during a Biological Weapons Convention meeting last year – but that doesn’t stop Russia from continuing to spew the blatantly false and disproven charges.

Disinformation is dangerous. It creates false narratives that need to be continually swatted down. Worse, these narratives undermine public confidence in the stewardship of the world’s most hazardous materials.

So, what are the United States and Ukraine’s other partners doing to address the very real CBRNe risks brought on by Russia’s full-scale invasion?

We have contributed to critical efforts across the CBRNe spectrum to support Ukraine, including by providing a wide range of critical and time sensitive support—ranging from supplying much-needed CBRNe personal protective, detection, and countermeasures equipment to consequence management training—to the Ukrainian Government to prepare for a variety of unimaginable but possible CBRN scenarios given Russia’s actions; implementing broad sanctions against not only Russian persons and entities, but also against Iranian entities that supply lethal drones to Russia for use in Ukraine; and improving export control implementation and providing border security training and assistance.

Diplomatic efforts are also critical in supporting Ukraine and maintaining the CBRNe regimes and institutions so painstakingly developed since World War II.

At the United Nations, the United States condemned Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and supported IAEA DG Grossi’s May 30 presentation highlighting the dangers of Russia’s illegal presence and control at ZNPP.

We support the IAEA’s efforts in monitoring and reporting on how both parties are observing the five principles to avoid a nuclear incident at ZNPP and improving the safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities in a way that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

And, as noted earlier, the United States and its allies also consistently work to counter and debunk Russia’s false narratives and speak with one voice in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its dangerous actions related to CBRNe.

In addition to state actors, we continued to face WMD- and CBRNe-related threats posed by non-state actors.

As the Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction underscores, today’s terrorist threat has become more ideologically diverse and geographically diffused over the last two decades.

ISIS, in particular, has elevated the WMD terrorism threat in recent years through not only aspiring to but carrying out the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, in addition to plotting chemical attacks against the West.

Additionally, the rapid development and global dispersion of new technologies—such as additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and quantum computers—present new challenges that can lower the barriers to proliferation and enable new proliferation pathways.

As we face these rapidly evolving challenges, the United States is working actively and innovatively to address WMD terrorism threats through science-informed responses.

Combating this challenge through diplomacy and building national capacities is an enduring priority of State Department efforts. We focus extensively on providing at-risk partners with the tools, training, and relationships necessary to strengthen and sustain their national counter-WMD terrorism capabilities.

Let me highlight a few of these efforts.

We provide political, financial, and technical support to various multilateral institutions to strengthen norms and enable enhanced and effective implementation of activities that advance CBRNe material security globally. 

We promote and support the implementation of international legal instruments like United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which obliges all states to regulate the transfer of WMD-related goods and knowledge to all non-state actors, ranging from manufacturers to shippers, to helps prevents malicious actors from acquiring WMD-related assets.

As one of the 106 endorsing states of the Proliferation Security Initiative, we work with our partners to strengthen and expand the PSI, which enhances interdiction capabilities and increases voluntary coordination among states to disrupt illicit shipments of WMDs, their delivery systems and related materials.

We encourage countries to make political commitments to implement the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its Supplementary Guidance, as well as become parties to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Bilaterally, we strengthen partner countries’ capability to address CBRNe threats by supporting capacity building efforts, including providing the wide array of equipment and training necessary for effective implementation.

Lastly, given the significance of developing a dedicated CBRNe expertise and workforce, we support subject matter expert exchanges and dialogues to review and share, so that key partners can incorporate international counter-WMD best practices into their legal and regulatory frameworks and have “technical reachback” if necessary.  

All of these efforts mean nothing without international coordination, cooperation, and partnership. These issues are not a single country’s problem or a regional issue; they affect us all.

Like many of you, I grapple with the security and humanitarian implications posed by malicious actors who threaten and attempt to use WMD and CBRNe agents. Luckily, I work with a wide range of experts—scientists, regional experts, diplomats—who are dedicated to strengthening our collective international security.

This is why SICC’s goal to create a synergic global community of CBRNe experts by turning CBRNe into an academic discipline is essential in strengthening that international coordination and cooperation.

As I have said on many occasions, we need to ensure the next generation of security experts must include diverse voices and people, and your work is helping to make that happen.

While there is much for us to do, I would like to conclude on an optimistic note.

Following three decades of tireless work, just two months ago, the United States safely completed the destruction of its chemical weapon stockpile, bringing us one step closer to a world free from the horrors of chemical weapons.

This affirms the United States’ long-standing commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

And while we will continue to be committed to our obligations under regimes like the CWC, we realize that the threats of WMD and CBRNe agents are still there. Which is why efforts such as yours are so important and why I felt compelled to accept your invitation to speak to you today.

Thank you again and wishing you all a successful conference.


U.S. Department of State

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