A Full Spectrum Approach to Achieving the Peace and Security of a World without Nuclear Weapons

Anita E. Friedt
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Tiergarten Conference
Berlin, Germany
September 10, 2015

As prepared


Thank you. As was mentioned, I am Anita Friedt, and I serve as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Bureau at the U.S. Department of State. It is great to join a panel of such distinguished diplomats for this important discussion and many thanks to Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung for the kind invitation.

The title for this panel implies a rather bleak outlook for global efforts in reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons. I want to start by presenting a different, forward-looking view that takes stock of how far we have come since the depths of the Cold War and looks forward to building on that progress. Second, I will speak on the imperative to enlist all countries to achieve the end we all collectively seek.

Since the discovery of atomic energy, the United States and other states have attempted to harness the peaceful uses of the atom while minimizing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. For instance, in 1953, President Eisenhower proposed to establish what later became the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at a time when the United States and former Soviet Union were embroiled in an arms race, that later brought both powers to the brink of disaster during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The need to contain these dangers was not lost on successor generations. President Ronald Reagan famously stated, it is clear that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” We have boldly moved past the darkest days of the Cold War when fall-out shelters were accepted as facts of life. Together, we have built an intricate and essential system of treaties, laws and agreements that control the world’s most destructive weapons and the United States has been at the forefront of this effort.

Understanding the threats we still face, President Obama’s declaration in Prague in 2009 that the United States is deeply committed to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons continues to guide our efforts. The President cautioned, however, that this goal would not be achieved overnight, but rather as a product of “concrete steps” towards that final end. Of course, it is important to remember how far we’ve come – the U.S. nuclear stockpile today has been slashed 85% since its high point in 1967.

For all of the progress, we harbor no illusions that our work is behind us. More can and must be done. President Obama has made clear our willingness to engage and negotiate further reductions of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below the level set by the New START Treaty. Let me underscore: that offer remains on the table and it is a good one. Progress will require a willing partner and a conducive environment.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

When negotiations on the NPT began in the early 1960’s, President John F. Kennedy predicted that as many as twenty-five countries could acquire nuclear weapons before the end of the decade. It is a credit to the strength and effectiveness of the Treaty that Kennedy’s forecast never came to pass. The Treaty is built on three mutually-reinforcing pillars—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy—and is the basis for international cooperation on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

As you know, this year’s Review Conference concluded without adoption of a final document due to lack of consensus among NPT parties on an approach to advancing discussions on the proposed Middle East WMD-free zone. While this was not the outcome that we sought, it also is not unprecedented. Since 1975, five Review Conferences have adopted agreed decisions or final recommendations and now four have not. Therefore, we reject the view that the lack of a consensus outcome threatens the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime or progress in advancing all three NPT pillars. We believe the parties reinforced the validity of the NPT at this last RevCon, even without an agreed “final document.”

The Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War

In Seoul in 2012, President Obama acknowledged that effectively and verifiably eliminating nuclear weapons is the only way to guarantee, “(his) young daughters (do not) grow up in a world where everything they know and love can be instantly wiped out.” I know there are many countries and people – including some of my fellow panellists – who have spoken out strongly about the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. We might have a difference in approach to nuclear disarmament, but we share the ultimate objective. In our view, reaching our common goal of nuclear disarmament must include a process that involves all states that possess nuclear weapons, reflects the realities of the international security environment, and proceeds along the full-spectrum approach that has demonstrated multiple successes over the past several decades. We do not accept the false choice of whether nuclear weapons constitute a humanitarian issue or a security issue – they are both. Continued progress in reducing nuclear arsenals must take this into account.

We were pleased to exchange views and ideas about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons during the 2015 NPT Review Conference. It is precisely our understanding of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war that informs our desire and our work to ensure that the seventy-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons is continued forever. Because of that, the United States was prepared to join consensus on the draft final document across all three pillars and looks forward to carrying forward those recommendations in the future.

At the RevCon, we also were pleased to present a briefing on U.S. nuclear force posture detailing the U.S. safeguards and technical redundancies designed to help prevent any inadvertent or accidental nuclear use. Even assuming for a minute that a U.S. strategic missile accidentally took flight—a possibility that is exceedingly remote given our many safeguards—the U.S. has a practice of open-sea targeting of all land based and sea based strategic missiles, so that any such missile would fall directly into the ocean. Add to this the fact that U.S. strategic bombers are no longer on day-to-day alert.

Also at the RevCon, the United States demonstrated its unrivaled actions to enhance transparency. As part of its commitment to Action V of 2010 consensus NPT Action Plan, the United States provided an updated accounting of the report released in 2014 on the size of the U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal from every year dating back to 1962.

Full-Spectrum Approach

Our full-spectrum approach to nuclear disarmament involves not only these unilateral and bilateral steps that I have already described, but also multilateral action. It is founded on the view that nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states must all be active participants. That is why we were prepared to join consensus on the Review Conference draft final document, which included a recommendation to establish a consensus-based Open Ended Working Group on disarmament (OEWG).

That is also why we launched a new initiative called the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV). While the political obstacles to achieving further nuclear reductions are well documented, less known are the technical challenges we are sure to face. We know that the nuclear weapon states do not have a monopoly on possible solutions. The Partnership pools together the collective expertise from twenty-seven countries to build confidence in the tools and technologies that will enable us to verify future arms control agreements.

For deeper cuts to occur, all states must work to forgo the material for nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive testing. Fundamental to stopping arms races in their tracks are the Comprehensive-Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. We in the United States are engaged in a serious effort to inform the public and Members of Congress of how the CTBT’s verification architecture continues to advance; and we support negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a Treaty that would finally end the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

Placing a verifiable cap on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and denying a country the benefit of conducting a nuclear explosive test—whether open or clandestine—are two key steps of our full-spectrum approach towards a global reduction in the number of nuclear weapons.

The Role of Deterrence and Assurance

While we actively work for the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, we cannot turn a blind eye to the current state of global affairs. Even as the United States and others in the P5 take meaningful steps, it is not clear that every nation is ready or willing to pursue serious arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

We are seeing new and challenging pressures that threaten global stability. We are seeing a few nations turn away from cooperation, turn away from the common good of nonproliferation efforts, and pursue nuclear weapons and threaten their neighbors. The latest provocative behavior of North Korea, which raised tensions on the Peninsula and throughout the region, reminds us why it is important that the United States remains fully prepared and capable of defending itself, our allies, and the peace and security of the region with the full range of capabilities available.

Make no mistake; for as long as nuclear weapons exists, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent, capable of convincing any potential adversary that the adverse consequences of attacking the United States or our allies far outweigh any benefit.

Relations with Russia

For decades, the United States and Soviet Union, and later Russia, delivered on their special responsibility under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to bring the arms race to a close in a way that preserved strategic stability. From the Limited Test Ban Treaty which banned sea based and atmospheric testing (LTBT) to the 2010 New START Treaty, the one constant is that we had a partner in the Soviet Union, and later Russia, that was willing to engage with us.

A great example of this, and one of the quiet triumphs of U.S.-Russian engagement was the “Megatons to Megawatts Initiative.” From 1993 to 2013, over 20,000 nuclear weapons worth of highly enriched uranium from Russia was converted into fuel for U.S. civilian nuclear reactors. Material once capable of bringing immense destruction was converted to power homes—enough to light the entire United States for two straight years.

To our regret, however, Russia’s seeming disenchantment with arms control discussions and its selective implementation of its arms control obligations has made further progress difficult. It was a little more than one year ago that the United States announced that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Russian system is a state-of-the-art ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that Russia has tested at ranges capable of threatening most of European continent and our allies in Northeast Asia.

We believe that it is our interest - and that of our treaty partners, including Russia - that the INF Treaty remains in force and all parties abide by their obligations. The INF Treaty benefits the security of the United States, our allies, and the Russian Federation. We have reminded Russia of this and have pressed Russia repeatedly to engage constructively and return to compliance. What we do not seek is a return to the escalatory cycle of action and reaction that marked much of the Cold War.


The road to a world without nuclear weapons is not one that is easily traveled. The development of the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals was a process that did not happen overnight and it will not disappear overnight either. To succeed, we will need to both create the conditions for disarmament and the mechanisms that will verify that disarmament. To succeed, no countries will be able to go it alone. We must all commit to this, and that is why we have adopted a full-spectrum approach to our efforts.

We can and must pursue multiple paths at once, just as we can and must overcome the formidable challenges that lie between us and the future we seek.