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Cluster One - Disarmament: Nuclear Disarmament Progress and Challenges in the Post-Cold War World

Christopher A. Ford, United States Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation
Statement to the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Palais des Nations, Geneva
April 30, 2008

Mr. Chairman, the negotiating history of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) shows that the review cycle has always been expected to provide an opportunity for States Party to share perspectives upon the progress being made in fulfilling the disarmament objectives set forth in the Preamble and in Article VI of the Treaty. I am pleased to be able to address that subject today, because it is important that the Review process continue to address itself to these matters over time, for the strategic context in which we debate such questions does not stand still.

The world in which the NPT was negotiated is not today’s world, and States Party will do themselves, and the Treaty regime, a great disservice if they pretend otherwise. Today, thanks to the massive reductions in nuclear armaments that have been possible as a consequence of the nature of today’s strategic environment – the world is a very different place than it was at the NPT’s birth forty years ago. Then, the superpowers found themselves locked in a bitter rivalry that saw them constructing ever-bigger nuclear arsenals and facing the very real possibility of a devastating global nuclear exchange.

In this 21st Century, by contrast, none of the five NPT Nuclear Weapons States confront each other with that kind of tension. Indeed, the most likely risk of the threat or use of nuclear weapons in our world comes not from the five Nuclear Weapons States at all, but rather from the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons technology by non-state actors such as terrorists, from proliferation to dangerous regimes such as Iran or North Korea, or from escalation involving nuclear-weapons-possessing NPT non-parties.

As we discuss how best to live up to the goals described in the NPT’s Preamble and Article VI, we must bear these changed circumstances always in mind. One should not approach strategic issues as if Cold War circumstances still existed. Rather, today’s remedies must be developed in light of, and must address, today’s challenges. This does not mean that all approaches and formulae from the past are irrelevant or obsolete. Far from it. But it does mean that States Party should be wary of reflexively adhering to yesterday’s approaches just because they seemed to make sense yesterday. Instead, all of us here today bear a responsibility for clear thought and good sense in working to ensure that the sovereign governments we represent are indeed devoting their energies to solving the most pressing nuclear problems that face the modern world.

For its part, Mr. Chairman, the United States remains firmly committed to the goal of nuclear disarmament spelled out in Article VI and the Preamble. Our commitment to achieving the NPT’s objectives has not wavered over the forty years the Treaty has been in existence, and while the special challenges of the Cold War limited opportunities for progress for many years, today’s circumstances allow us to take extraordinary and unprecedented steps toward these goals.

The United States has drastically cut our numbers of nuclear delivery systems; worked to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT); continued our moratorium on underground nuclear testing; reduced our numbers of operationally-deployed strategic nuclear warheads and cut back the size of the overall U.S. stockpile. Additionally we have dramatically reduced the size and complexity of our nuclear weapons infrastructure; dismantled great numbers of warheads; removed many tons of fissile material from our nuclear weapons programs; moved to reduce reliance upon nuclear weapons, including by improving non-nuclear means to accomplish strategic deterrence; sought to negotiate a legally-binding post-START arrangement; and continued to strengthen the new strategic relationships that have resulted from post-Cold War circumstances.

We have, in fact, done more than merely “pursue negotiations” on disarmament, the expression used in Article VI. The United States has taken effective measures toward nuclear disarmament, and we continue to do so. Indeed, we stand today at the forefront of the international community’s attempts to ascertain how one might move toward a post-nuclear-weapons world.

Let me briefly mention four aspects of our exemplary disarmament record that have received, so far, insufficient attention in NPT fora: (1) our dismantlement of nuclear warheads at accelerated rates; (2) our pursuit of ways to allow further reductions in our non-deployed stockpile while improving safety and reliability of our remaining weapons until disarmament is achieved; (3) our moves to reduce reliance upon nuclear weapons; and (4) our contributions to developing realistic and practical approaches to nuclear disarmament.

(1) Warhead Dismantlement. Most of you are presumably familiar with the dramatic reductions we have been undertaking – pursuant to President Bush’s unilateral decision, subsequently codified in the Moscow Treaty of 2002 – to bring our numbers of operationally-deployed strategic nuclear warheads down to a level of between 1,700 and 2,200. What is less appreciated, however, is that we are doing more than just taking warheads off of “deployed” status and storing them. In fact, we have been busily dismantling warheads, and are doing so at an accelerating rate.

In fact, Mr. Chairman, we increased our rate of warhead dismantlement by 146 percent from 2006 to 2007. In 2004, President Bush directed that the total U.S. nuclear stockpile – consisting of both operationally-deployed and reserve warheads – be reduced by nearly 50 percent by 2012. Thanks to hard work by our Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the Department of Energy, those reductions had been achieved five years ahead of schedule. After reaching this milestone, the White House announced that it will now reduce our nuclear stockpile by nearly 15 percent from what had originally been planned to be our 2012 levels. As a result, when these reductions are completed, our overall stockpile will be less than one-quarter the size it was at the end of the Cold War.

The U.S. progress in disarmament – which has been accompanied by great reductions in the arsenals of the United Kingdom and France, as well as of the Russian Federation (at least with respect to strategic nuclear forces) – illustrates how baseless are the claims one sometimes hears that today’s proliferation challenges are due to some lack of Nuclear Weapons State progress towards disarmament. If the NPT regime is to survive the challenges it faces in the 21st Century, the extraordinary disarmament progress made needs now to be matched by a stepped-up commitment to nonproliferation compliance enforcement. The United States looks to all NPT parties during this Review Cycle for signs of seriousness in this regard.

(2) Safety, Reliability, Non-Testing, and Reductions. I would also like to note that the United States has been exploring the development of a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), which can facilitate the continuing downward trends in our arsenal. The RRW will not provide any new or improved military capabilities compared to the older warheads it replaces in the U.S. arsenal. Nevertheless, because of improvements in its reliability, coupled with the retention of a responsive infrastructure, we believe the RRW could provide opportunities to reduce further the size of our overall stockpile. The United States will be able to retire and dismantle reserve warheads that are being maintained now to hedge against any possible problem in the stockpile. Additionally, the RRW design would take advantage of state-of-the-art security technology in order to prevent use by terrorists or criminals, and uses insensitive high explosives that are less susceptible to accidental detonation. This effort would therefore advance the goals expressed in the Preamble and Article VI of the NPT. The RRW will help permit the United States to continue to meet its deterrence needs – and to assure other States Party of the continued viability of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence. It will allow the United States to do this, moreover, with safer and fewer warheads.

(3) Reducing Reliance upon Nuclear Weapons. President Bush took office determined to reduce the extent to which we rely upon nuclear weapons to ensure our safety and security. Accordingly, he promptly mandated a thorough review of U.S. strategic doctrine, in order to determine to what extent nuclear weapons are still required to meet the security threats of the 21st Century. This resulted in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which the President adopted as the foundation of U.S. strategic doctrine. The NPR concluded that we could accomplish our objectives of maintaining a nuclear deterrence capability against threats to the United States and its allies while significantly reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons. The NPR proposed a “New Triad” of strategic capabilities that expanded beyond our narrow focus on nuclear weapons – to include greater reliance on effective conventional non-nuclear weapons, greater reliance on missile defenses, and a more limited but still sustainable nuclear weapons capability.

In short, the United States is working to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in our military planning in ways unprecedented since the dawn of the nuclear age. Our new approach reduces U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons while mitigating the risks associated with drawing down U.S. nuclear forces, thus helping make significant reductions of nuclear weapons and delivery systems both possible and sustainable.

We applaud the reductions in nuclear arsenals being undertaken by most of the other Nuclear Weapons States, and we encourage all possible reductions in countries’ reliance upon nuclear weapons for military or political purposes – consistent, of course, with the maintenance of global stability, which is the real point. We support a clear reaffirmation by the Nuclear Weapons States of their commitment to Article VI obligations, and we call upon all States Party to work together, as envisioned in the Preamble to the NPT, in an effort to bring about the global conditions in which it will be possible eventually to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

(4) Realistic Vision for Disarmament. In addition to taking the dramatic steps we have taken, Mr. Chairman, the United States has played an instrumental role in discussions of how the international community might meet the broader political and strategic challenges that stand in the way of achieving the disarmament goals set forth in the Preamble and in Article VI. Virtually alone among States Party, in fact, we have tried to sketch the conditions that would have to exist in order for nuclear weapons abolition to become a realistic and attractive policy choice for real-world decision-makers among the Nuclear Weapons States. And we have drawn attention to the ways in which key strategic policy innovations being developed by the United States in the last seven years could help lay a foundation for achieving the goals of Article VI – in particular, our emphasis upon the role of passive and active defenses in preserving global stability, and upon meeting future security needs with fewer and fewer nuclear weapons through a responsive production infrastructure and improved non-nuclear capabilities.

Discussions of such broad challenges and potential ways to resolve them should not, however, be monologues. We therefore invite all States Party to reciprocate, participating in these debates with the vigor, clarity, and thoughtfulness that the subject of disarmament requires. Others may reach conclusions different from ours, and these are issues about which reasonable people can certainly disagree. But it must not remain the case that it is only one or two Nuclear Weapons States that are asking the challenging questions. If we are ever, all of us, actually to achieve the disarmament goals set forth in the Preamble and Article VI, such questions will need to be not merely asked but also answered – and these answers made the object of sustained effort by all States Party.

It is for this reason, Mr. Chairman, that I am pleased to address this body today on the subject of disarmament. I urge all of you who have not yet done so to familiarize yourselves with the facts of the U.S. record – and the U.S. vision for the future – outlined in the disarmament materials prepared in connection with the 2007 Preparatory Committee meeting. These points remain valid today, and deserve your attention. We have also prepared a fact sheet for this meeting, with updated information. Additionally, we invite any interested parties to attend two upcoming briefings here at the Palais:

  • On Tuesday, May 6th, U.S. officials from our National Nuclear Security Administration and State Department will present a detailed briefing on the U.S. Article VI record and the ongoing work we are undertaking in reducing our nuclear arsenal.
  • Subsequently, on Thursday, May 8th, U.S. officials will present a briefing on issues related to our elimination of intermediate-range ballistic missiles pursuant to the INF Treaty. This track record is particularly important in light of the commitment expressed by the two Presidents in the “U.S.-Russian Strategic Framework Declaration” – issued on April 6, 2008 in Sochi, Russia – to engage in a high-level dialogue to analyze current and future intermediate-range and shorter-range ballistic and cruise missile threats and inventory the available options for dealing with them.

We look forward to attendance by – and to questions from – as many delegations as possible at these events, and continue to solicit substantive feedback and input with respect to our contributions to current disarmament debates. States Party should contribute to thoughtful debate and serious efforts to advance the international community’s understanding of these issues.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.



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