Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament Approaches in a Changed Security Environment

Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Oslo, Norway
September 30, 2015

As prepared

Thank you for inviting me to discuss this important topic.

Let me be clear from the outset. The United States does not undertake arms control and disarmament as an end in and of itself. Nor do we look at arms control and disarmament in isolation from deterrence and the general strategic environment, including the changing security environment in Europe.

Arms control and deterrence tools can and must be linked. Together they help create the conditions for a more durable form of strategic stability—one based on a degree of mutual restraint, reciprocity, and even trust.

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft published an April 2012 opinion piece in The Washington Post that was headlined “Nuclear Weapon Reductions Must be Part of Strategic Analysis.” In that article, they expressed their “conviction that the goal of future negotiations should be strategic stability and that lower numbers of weapons should be a consequence of strategic analysis, not an abstract preconceived determination.” I couldn’t agree more.

Arms control frameworks are one available instrument in our foreign policy toolkit to advance global stability and the security of the United States, our allies, and our partners. This same purpose motivates deterrence.

Despite what some people think, rather than being at odds, nuclear deterrence and arms control are complementary. Nuclear deterrence seeks to constrain threats; nuclear arms control seeks to reduce the threats. Both are of central interest to the State Department and, in particular, to my Bureau.

The continuing role of nuclear weapons for deterrence in a changing world was codified in the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and the 2012 Deterrence and Defense Posture Review. Even as we work to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, their deterrent effect directly informs our thinking on arms control and future negotiations.

Arms control can contribute to international stability—and thus our security and overall deterrence—by limiting the development, production, stockpiling, and deployment of weapons.

Arms control regimes also codify these mutually agreed upon force levels and structures to help create the conditions for stability by fostering understanding, cooperation, and even trust. This can help increase stability by helping shift a relationship from one based upon unpredictable, coercive formulations of deterrence by punishment to one characterized by mutual restraint.

When the United States and Russia signed New START in 2010, bilateral relations were on the upswing and expectations were that they would continue to improve. The opposite occurred. In light of this downturn, the predictability and stability provided by the Treaty have proven all the more important.

Mutual restraint does not remove the need for deterrence, but it does indicate a convergence of interests in limiting the scope of arms races, strategic competition, motivations to strike first, and the consequences of possible conflict.

Stability. Predictability. Confidence. Relative trust. Mutual restraint. These are the important tenets we should consider when we look at arms control approaches as they stand now and in looking toward the future. We can never separate them from the global security environment or divorce them from our security commitments to friends and allies.

And when nations cheat on their agreements, as Russia is doing now with its violation of the INF Treaty, then we must hold them accountable. The United States prefers that Russia’s violation be resolved diplomatically. However, we will ensure that Russia does not gain any advantage over the United States or its Allies.

When it comes to arms control, there is a tendency by some to fixate on numbers and disarmament. People like to distill a complex treaty, like New START, into a single numerical set of data or a set of central limits. That misses the point of all the implementation and verification processes and procedures that make a treaty actually work.

We must be mindful to not allow the drumbeat of “lower, faster” to lead nuclear arms control to become distanced from security and stability considerations.

Let me assure you that this Administration has not let that happen. While working to implement the steps that will secure the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, we will continue to ground all arms control proposals and initiatives in deliberate analysis.

For example, the President’s 2013 proposal in Berlin to seek further reductions up to one-third below those levels in the New START Treaty followed a lengthy and comprehensive review of what capabilities were required to maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent. As we have made clear, progress in that direction requires a willing partner and a strategic environment conducive to further reductions.

Russia has so far declined to pursue President Obama’s Berlin proposals on both strategic weapons and nonstrategic weapons. Russia’s lack of transparency about its far greater nonstrategic stockpile continues to be a source of tension.

So long as nuclear weapons exist, it is important to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal and modern nuclear enterprise. The investments the U.S. is making are fully consistent with the President’s Prague Agenda and will help sustain confidence in our deterrent and, thereby, our ability to seek further stability through additional arms control measures.

While leading efforts globally to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons and prevent their proliferation, we must consider how we effectively deter multiple adversaries with varying capabilities.

Some want to oversimplify this task by suggesting all we need to do is ban nuclear weapons. That ignores today’s complicated reality. Russia and China are modernizing their nuclear forces; India and Pakistan are adding to their arsenals; North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs remain a concern to all; and Iran, despite the landmark nuclear deal, continues its ballistic missile programs.

The historic Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (JCPOA), if fully implemented, will deny Iran the ability to acquire a nuclear weapon. Yet, President Obama has made it clear that the deal does not address the threat posed by Iranian ballistic missiles, and consequently, does not remove the need to protect our allies through the full implementation of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defense.

In addition to ballistic missiles, advanced conventional weapons and developments in the space and cyber realms increasingly affect considerations of stability. These are but a few of the issues that our arms control and deterrence strategies must take into account in seeking to shape the 21st Century global security environment.

This is by no means an easy challenge for the future of arms control and deterrence. They need to keep pace with an increasingly dynamic security environment.

Achieving a world without nuclear weapons will be a difficult, painstaking process, undertaken over many years. Not every step must include going “faster” or “lower.” The process should not necessarily be one-dimensional, and the solutions may not always be a formal bilateral reductions treaty. Future arms control success will require creativity, patience and persistence, an acknowledged bond with deterrence and national security strategy, and a firm recognition that the world we want is within our reach, only if we are willing to work together. Thank you.