Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank UNODA and the EU for inviting me to speak here today. It’s always a pleasure to return to Geneva to address this august group. And let me join my voice to those congratulating Ambassador Zlauvinen on his selection as the Review Conference President-Designate. I look forward to working with you to achieve a successful Conference.
I am pleased to be here today to share some thoughts on the P5 process and its contribution to the upcoming NPT Review Conference and the issue of nuclear disarmament generally. I have some familiarity with the topic, having been directly involved in the process since its inception.
To begin, I’d like to briefly highlight the significant progress we have seen in some areas of the P5 process and the NPT. I’ll also address the continued challenges we face. Finally, I’ll share the reasons why I am optimistic about the future of these vital institutions.
In thinking about the P5 Process and the NPT, I’m mindful of how far we’ve come since our first P5 conference in 2009. We weren’t quite sure what we were going to do with this process, or even if there would be a second meeting. While some members played a less enthusiastic role, the process has evolved into one which, at least at its plenary meetings, involves a “frank” exchange of views on a range of security related topics. And this, I think, is perhaps its most significant achievement.
Where the process has fallen short is in getting much substantive inter-sessional work underway. Yes, we have produced a glossary of nuclear terms, and our technical experts have continued to meet in Vienna to explore how we might use our unique expertise to enhance the capabilities of the International Monitoring System. But our hopes that this process would lead to on-going, substantive work have thus far been unrealized.
That said, the UK is now chairing the process, and my friend Aidan and his colleagues in London developed an ambitious plan for the P5 process in advance of the NPT Review Conference. We look forward to a frank discussion with the P5 at the P5 Conference in London on February 12-13. The United States, for our part, is prepared to do the work to make this a success. I think it would be a mistake to count on the P5 pulling a rabbit out of its hat for the RevCon, however. The fact is, the P5 are a disparate group, with disparate interests and intentions in the best of times. And these, as you well know, are among the most challenging times we face to promote global stability and security.
For as long as I’ve worked NPT issues, I’ve heard stressed the importance of “P5 unity.” To be honest, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of the concept. After all, in order to be “unified,” it is often times necessary to gloss over some of the most important differences between us. How, after all, are we to make a unified statement on the importance we place collectively on Article VI, when Russia violated landmark arms control treaties, such as the INF? The United States sought for six years to convince Russia to return to compliance with the Treaty, to no avail. Faced with the certainty that Russia had no intention of returning to compliance, we exercised our right under the Treaty to withdraw. This is far different from the Russian approach of simply “suspending” implementation of treaties it finds inconvenient, such as the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. And we see Russia responding to our withdrawal with their standard playbook – deny everything, admit nothing, make counteraccusations.
Working with China has been equally challenging for different reasons. China is steadily building up its nuclear forces across the range of capabilities, from tactical to strategic. China has steadfastly refused to join the rest of the P5 in declaring a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. It has, over the years, further blocked negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) of a fissile material cutoff treaty at key junctures, and continues to join with Pakistan in blocking the CD, with the two of them insisting on mutually exclusive conditions for negotiation. All this against the backdrop of China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
We heard mention of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) yesterday. If there is one area where the P5 agree, it is in our opposition to TPNW. However, the fact is that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ (ICAN’s) effort to delegitimize nuclear deterrence in the minds of the public will have no effect on authoritarian regimes. No, to the extent that these campaigners make headway, it will only be in democratic societies. I was an Army officer serving in West Germany during the eighties, when NATO deployed the Pershing II and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) as a response to the Soviet Union’s deployment of the SS-20. NATO’s response faced the opposition of the nuclear freeze movement (which we later learned received financial support from the Soviet Union). All these years later, I’m struck by how the tactics and rhetoric we see from ICAN and its fellow travelers today harken back to those days. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying ICAN is receiving such support from disingenuous actors today, I merely raise this to highlight how democracies are disadvantaged in the nuclear disarmament debate when we don’t aggressively make the public case for why our security policies are structured as they are. Nonetheless, the ability of the P5 to speak publicly in opposition to the TPNW shows that there are some significant areas of shared interest among P5 members.
Coming back to the P5 process, you can see how fraught our discussions can be at times, given the issues in play. The other challenge we face is the wide variance in transparency within the group. For example, in our doctrine discussions to date, we have been as forthcoming and detailed as possible, even bringing experts from the Pentagon and Department of Energy to explain the nuances of U.S. security policy to our P5 counterparts. We have not seen that level of effort and willingness from some others. It is our hope that this will change under the UK’s leadership in the months leading up to the RevCon, and all will engage in a more meaningful way. To be fair, China has come a long way over the years in this process, but given where it began, much more is needed. Perhaps the voice of the international community can help in this regard.
So, will there be any P5 “deliverables” for the RevCon? That is a question I’m often asked. The United States does believe it is important for the P5 to work together in the implementation of the NPT and in seeking a positive outcome at the RevCon. The P5 are working on a number of different initiatives in advance of the RevCon, but it remains to be seen what fruit those initiatives will yield given our often diverging interests. The United States will judge possible P5 products on what value they add. It would be great if our doctrine discussions to that point warrant a substantive side event. But what we want to avoid is the P5 process being used to avoid substantive discussions elsewhere. Alongside the P5 Process we are pressing to engage seriously in a bilateral and trilateral context on risk reduction, strategic security, and arms control issues. The P5 process, while important, could be a substitute for such efforts. We have heard from allies in the region that have attempted to engage China on strategic issues that China deflects those efforts, on the grounds that such issues are being discussed in the P5 process. While it is true these issues have been raised, it isn’t much of a discussion when one participant is reluctant to engage in substantive debate beyond saying “we should all adopt a no first use policy.”
It would also be great if the P5 could do something on risk reduction. This is, I think, an area where some progress might be made. Perhaps the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament Working Group will be an impetus for this. Both Russia and China participated in the first plenary and working group meetings, and we will encourage them to continue doing so. Discussing risk reduction in that venue can perhaps be a catalyst for the P5 to explore meaningful options among themselves as well.
I am less optimistic that you will see a P5 Statement of the kind we had some years back. Such statements can be problematic if one tries to address such issues as Iran and Syria in a way that conveys seriousness of purpose. It is even difficult to say something meaningful about FMCT, given all that has been done to prevent negotiations from beginning.
In the end, perhaps the fact that the P5 continue to engage will help RevCon participants maintain a sense of optimism for the way forward. Whatever else, our continued engagement reflects a shared commitment to the NPT. There are many daunting challenges ahead, not least of which is convincing China that the time has come to join us and Russia at the arms control table. But if we remain focused collectively on those challenges, progress toward our collective goals can be achieved.