Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins’ Remarks to the 17th Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation
Good morning, it is an honor to speak to you today at what is my first in-person public event since I was confirmed as the new Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Before I begin I also want to recognize my friends and esteemed colleagues on this panel. All of us present are committed to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and I look forward to having frank and constructive conversations with you on how to create the conditions necessary to achieve this important goal.
Our current strategic environment is one of increasing geopolitical tension and competition. As we are all keenly aware, both Russia and China are engaged in extensive, destabilizing nuclear buildup that poses new threats to collective security and endangers the international rules-based order. We also face persistent challenges from Iran and North Korea. Iran has expanded its nuclear and ballistic missile development and proliferation programs, while North Korea continues its efforts at
evading sanctions and expanding its WMD arsenal. These myriad challenges lead us towards one simple question: how can we reduce nuclear tensions and diminish the danger of a nuclear miscalculation or conflict? For the United States, the answer to this question begins with re-engaging the international community, re-emphasizing the importance of effective arms control and risk reduction measures, maintaining our commitments to nuclear safety and security, and ensuring that U.S. nuclear guarantees are safe and credible.
President Biden’s decision to extend the New START Treaty during his first days in office was a positive first step by this Administration to advance our shared objective of reducing nuclear tensions. By extending New START, the United States and Russia continue to ensure that we will have a stable and predictable foundation for the next five years as we explore future arms control steps. However, New START does not cover all of Russia’s nuclear weapons. Rather, Russia continues to develop novel nuclear weapons of intercontinental range that are not covered by New START. It also fields an arsenal of 1,000 to 2,000 ‘non-strategic’ nuclear weapons, and the number of these weapons is expected to grow. These developments, coupled with Russia’s pursuit of aggression and employment of hybrid tactics, substantially increase the risk of miscalculation and escalation.
In light of these pressing challenges, the United States is determined to use the time provided by the five-year extension of New START to pursue a new dialogue with Russia on what nuclear arms control measures should follow. Our Strategic Stability Dialogue on July 28 was a positive engagement for both sides. But this was only the beginning of the “deliberate and robust” conversation we need to have with Russia on how to adapt our nuclear arms control framework to better address evolving threats, and I look forward to both sides making tangible progress in future discussions. Our efforts are guided by several key concepts. First, we will look to capture new kinds of intercontinental-range nuclear delivery systems. Second, we will seek to address all nuclear warheads, including those which have not been limited previously, like so-called non-strategic nuclear weapons. Third, we will seek to retain limits on Russian intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments after New START expires in 2026. We approach this dialogue with an open mind and look forward to serious and substantive discussions.
Meanwhile, we also take note of the fact that the People’s Republic of China is carrying out an increasingly assertive foreign policy and intensifying its pursuit of expansive and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea. The PRC is also implementing Military-Civil Fusion,
or MCF, a national-level strategy to bootstrap itself towards global military and economic dominance. The PRC’s approach hurts the business and security interests of many countries and organizations around the world. The United States is committed to taking the necessary steps to address these challenges by helping Allies and partners to protect our economies, intellectual property, and national security from the PRC’s aggressive approach. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration has made pursuing new risk reduction measures with Beijing a priority. We don’t have to wait for a near-disaster to begin discussions on how to reduce tensions in the Indo-Pacific. That conversation begins with a frank and open discussion.
Previously, PRC officials have sidestepped a meaningful dialogue on nuclear weapons by pointing to a larger U.S. nuclear arsenal. In fact, the United States has steadily reduced the size of our arsenal over the past several decades and has shown clear, continued interest in pursuing nuclear arms control. In contrast, Beijing is planning to substantially expand its nuclear arsenal. The PRC’s nuclear build-up, which has accelerated in the last year, now looks to include novel nuclear-powered capabilities and a massive increase of its silo-based ICBM forces. The destabilizing dynamic originating from the PRC’s rapid and opaque nuclear build-up cannot be ignored.
It is our hope that China will come to see that arms control is in its security interests. Arms control is not a trap designed to weaken China’s defenses, but a mechanism to reduce risk and the chance of unnecessary arms races. Past experience has taught us why meaningful arms control and risk reduction is worthwhile and can avoid unpredictable crises that could escalate to nuclear use. The unfortunate reality is that the United States and the PRC do not have the benefit of the same mature arms control relationship that we have with Russia, which was forged through decades of Cold War nuclear competition and cooperation. However, we will apply and tailor the lessons we’ve learned in the U.S.-Russia arms control process when possible to U.S.-PRC discussions.
I also would like to take a moment to quickly discuss Iran and North Korea and how the United States is tackling the WMD challenges emanating from both countries. Iran continues its extremely troubling violations of the JCPOA by enriching uranium up to 60 percent and producing uranium metal. This recent IAEA report was met with grave concern in capitals across Europe. Such provocative actions do not put us on a path toward a positive solution. However, the United States stands ready to find a way forward to not only reduce the concerns surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, but also address other WMD threats emanating from Iran. As for North Korea, the United States is taking a practical approach that is open to diplomacy with North Korea. While
we are clear-eyed about the prospects for successful engagement with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs, our policy will prioritize making tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces. As we do so, the United States will continue to implement and promote sanctions against North Korea, as these mechanisms are vital to interrupting North Korea’s efforts to procure the items necessary to further develop its WMD programs.
Next, I wanted to affirm that the United States supports the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is committed to work to achieve its entry into force, recognizing the significant challenges that lie ahead in reaching this goal. In line with the goals of the CTBT, the United States continues to observe its zero-yield nuclear explosive testing moratorium and calls on all states possessing nuclear weapons to declare or maintain such a moratorium. The United States also supports a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and is continuing its moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. We further call on all nuclear weapons possessing states to support and implement such a moratorium on fissile material production.
In closing, I want to reiterate that the Biden-Harris Administration strongly believes that multilateralism and international cooperation are essential tools to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other WMDs. We believe the NPT Treaty remains the cornerstone of our global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Its ongoing tenth review cycle marks the Treaty’s 50th anniversary – an historic landmark for an agreement that has made the world safer and more prosperous. However, this important anniversary has arrived at a time of increasing tensions among nuclear-weapon states, one that demands our renewed leadership and focus to achieve meaningful progress on arms control and disarmament. The enduring success of the NPT cannot be taken for granted and requires sustained effort in each new decade.
We remain hopeful and committed to achieving a positive outcome for the upcoming Review Conference in which states reaffirm their commitment to the NPT, recognize its enduring benefits, and recommit to preserving and strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime. We know that our NATO Allies support the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons – one dedicated to the principle of undiminished security for all. Their efforts towards this goal have been ever more effective and verifiable, which has promoted international stability. We hope that with our combined efforts, the results of the NPT Review Conference will reflect the central role of nonproliferation in providing
security benefits to all States Parties, serve as an essential foundation for progress on disarmament, and provide a framework for cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Again, I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. The issues that we face regarding the future of nuclear arms control, while daunting, must be solved, and it is venues like these, where Allies and partners can come together to share ideas, that help build a bridge to a safe, prosperous, and secure future. I look forward to continuing the conversation during the panel discussion and throughout this conference.