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Thanks to the Center for having me here today to talk about the continued and enduring importance of arms control. It’s an honor.

I know the first panel discussed the challenges we are facing from Russia, but I would like to add a further assessment.

“Arms control will continue to be a difficult and complex subject. Major problems include finding a way to define equality despite differences in forces and geography, devising effective verification measures, and treatment of third-country forces.

The Russians will be difficult to negotiate with [and] will continue to oppose our interests around the world. The Russians consider relations with the U.S. important, but subordinate to their perceived security needs.

There will be no consensus in Washington on our objectives in pursuing arms control. There will be articulate opposition to all plausible agreements as contrary to U.S. interests.

There will be broad public support for arms control, but practical steps will be controversial. Opposition to agreements comes from many quarters—levels too high, not verifiable, unduly constrains U.S. programs, does not end the arms race, etc.

Success in overcoming these obstacles will require substantial measures of hard work, imagination, and good luck.”

A good overview, right? I agree, but it is not actually mine. Changing out the word Soviets for Russians, it was actually written about 40 years ago by Dr. Jim Timbie, an unsung hero of American arms control efforts.

Now I am not sure whether you all find it heartening or disheartening to be reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. Of course, while the trajectory of 1980s Soviet Union with Gorbachev is very different than today’s Putin-led Russia, what I take from Timbie’s sage words is that unlike so many new challenges we face, the nuclear challenge is one in which we are fortunate to be able to draw upon wisdom and battle scars – built through tested experience – to inform and strengthen our future efforts.

Of course, we want to be informed by the past not, bound to it. Today’s new security challenges, whether it is Russia’s war against Ukraine, their irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric, or the PRC’s nuclear expansion make arms control more difficult, but no less important or necessary.

In that regard, I am very happy to report to you all that arms control isn’t dead. Arms control is not an entity in and of itself. It is a set of tools and processes.

The United States has, can, and will use that set of tools and processes when it is in our security interest – and that of our allies – to do so. The Biden-Harris Administration views arms control and integrated deterrence as mutually reinforcing and overlapping. They represent two complementary elements within a single, holistic strategy for preventing war, avoiding arms races, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

President Biden has also made it clear that “No matter what else is happening in the world, the United States is ready to pursue critical arms control measures.” The President said this not in spite of the security threats that exist, but because of them.

Arms control isn’t something you cast aside when tensions are on the rise.  On the contrary, the value of arms control is greatest when conditions are ripe for miscalculation, escalation, and spiraling arms races.

Nuclear arms control promotes stability by creating predictability and transparency. Arms control measures can also reduce risks and help identify and address destabilizing activities; these measures can help define responsible behavior so that the world can more clearly recognize irresponsible behavior – to avoid it and to hold accountable those who carry it out.

And finally, by stabilizing regions and domains through transparency and accountability, arms control can prevent unnecessary and costly arms races – and hopefully – eventually – allow for nuclear disarmament.

Of course, arms control efforts are not infallible or unbreakable. Agreements crumble, countries cheat, measures become outdated. No one is debating that. It’s also not possible to complete an arms control effort, put it up on a shelf and leave it there, assuming the job is done. That’s because arms control is a continuous process.

Cooperative measures and agreements need constant tending and their utility can shift over time as needs and realities change. But we should also remember that, as we’ve often heard in other contexts, even when agreements do not go according to plan, we are learning, and that knowledge can be applied to future efforts.

Fortunately for us, arms control is inherently adaptable, which will be crucial to our ability to meet the challenges ahead. We will need to use a combination of traditional models – treaties as well as non-binding arrangements, including on risk reduction measures and approaches such as establishing norms of responsible behaviors.

It’s also important to remember that arms control is not and has never been just about legally binding treaties. Arms control can come in the form of non-legally binding risk reduction, transparency, and confidence building measures, military and scientific dialogues and exchanges, norms of behavior, crisis communications efforts, and more.

As we contend with new and longstanding bilateral and multilateral arms control challenges, we also have to think about the potential effects of emerging and disruptive technologies on these challenges.

For example, AI could advance arms control by helping us solve complex verification challenges and increasing confidence in states’ adherence to their commitments. Yet unlocking these benefits requires a careful and responsible approach to developing safe and reliable AI capabilities.

The question is not whether states will develop or use AI-enabled capabilities – they will – the question is how they do so and how they can do so responsibly. This is why the United States has put forward an initial set of principles for military development and use of AI in our political declaration earlier this year, and we are now engaging partners around the world to hear their perspectives on best practices.

We also need to continue efforts to create new, better and more expansive verification measures that will support and underpin arms control measures. We are glad to be working throughout the interagency and with the international community on this particular effort, as we are keenly aware that good ideas on verification technology are not confined to five capitals.

There is so much more to cover, so I look forward to my fellow panelists’ remarks and our discussion but will end with a thought about the future.

We are living through difficult times and the arms control mechanisms and agreements we have spent the last sixty plus years building are under duress or worse. We have hard work ahead and few bright spots on the horizon. At the same time, we are in a position where we are no longer simply the stewards of what came before.

We are now facing a future in which we – collectively – will need to build new structures, measures, and agreements fit for purpose and responsive to this new security environment. It’s our responsibility now to rise and meet that challenge.

That’s certainly what the State Department and the Biden Administration intend to do.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future