Inside the U.S. Department of State: Nuclear Risk Reduction Center

Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance
October 24, 2012

(Intro) The work we do here is very important because it keeps the communication open between Russia and the United States. Here we implement various treaties and communications systems, twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. We’re working holidays, we’re working Christmas and Thanksgiving and 4th of July. Things can happen at any moment and we’re constantly on alert. We’re really in the crisis prevention business.

Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller: The Nuclear Risk Reduction Center (NRRC) is a communications center here in the State Department that operates to communicate with countries around the world where we have special treaty relationships where we are communicating to implement arms control treaties, whether it’s a strategic arms reduction treaty like the New START Treaty or a conventional treaty like the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

Staff Director Ned Williams: The role of the NRRC is very important because we are an interagency resource. We support the entire U.S. government in all matters pertaining to arms control and international security communications.

Deputy Staff Director Colonel Samuel McNiel: The NRRCs were established to help exchange arms control information, to help prevent any misunderstanding, to help prevent any miscalculation, to help prevent any misinterpretation of something like a missile launch. So that we know when the Russians are going to do a test launch or the Russians know when we are going to do a test launch.

Staff Director Ned Williams: The NRRC is active in supporting over 14 different treaties and agreements in 6 different languages including the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and most importantly the New START Treaty.

This is our main NRRC watch center, where we monitor all treaty communications. Here we would have our communications officers monitoring communications circuits back here. We have watch officers monitoring various conventional and strategic arms control treaties and this giant video wall allows our watch officers to work collectively together and to share information and notice when new urgent information is communicated to the NRRC. The NRRC transmits over 7 thousand treaty notifications per year and that translates to roughly 15 thousand government to government messages per year.

Watch Officer Jonathan Winward: One of the notifications that we receive is when the Russians inform us that they will be testing one of their ballistic missiles through a launch. So what happens is a communications officer will receive the notification, pass it off to a bilateral watch officer, we’ll translate it and create a dissemination Cable. This is reviewed by the front office and then transmitted by the watch officer. The communication goes to a number of different parties including the National Military Command Center as well as other interested parties in the Department of State.

Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller: Well I know I can always count on the NRRC because if I have a requirement in the dead of night to get in touch with the Russian Federation for some reason, the NRRC is available no matter what, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. That is why it is so important; it is somewhat similar to our “hotline” that has existed since the Cuban Missile Crisis, that allowed the two countries – at that time the Soviet Union and the United States - to always be in touch between the two leaders if a nuclear crisis arose.

Network Manager Bereket Desta: During September 11th, when the network went down, this was the only network that was able to directly communicate with the Russian President.

Staff Director Ned Williams: The Deputy Secretary approached us and requested to send a goodwill message to notify the Russians that we were increasing our defense readiness condition and wanted to let the Russians know that this was not directed toward them and avoided any misunderstanding.

Acting Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller: The New START Treaty has an extensive series of notifications that are really going to keep track of what’s going on inside the Russian strategic nuclear forces – as a missile moves from a production facility into deployment, as it goes from a deployment site on a base into maintenance, all of those moves are going to be notified. So they will be passed through the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center. The notification regime is one of the core foundations for the verification of the New START Treaty, without those notifications we’re not going to get the picture of the Russian strategic nuclear forces that we would get otherwise. So the NRRC is key to the implementation of the New START Treaty.

Deputy Staff Director Colonel Samuel McNiel: In my Air Force career, I started as a missile launch officer, so I knew what it meant to go to work every day with the possibility that I was going to launch my missiles towards our enemies. Working here at the NRRC is very rewarding because I have a chance help make sure that we never have to launch those missiles.