Arms Control as a Tool in the Promotion of National and International Security

Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Kings College London, United Kingdom
October 5, 2015


Thank you for that kind introduction and it’s great to be back at my alma mater Kings College London.

The alumni of KCL count Nobel Laureates, heads of state, composers and nobility amongst their ranks. Little did I know when I was sequestered in the KCL Library in the late 1990s that I was to embark on such a rewarding journey within the U.S. Government.

Just outside where my office is today, in what was then the War Department, General Leslie Groves led the Manhattan Project. His work and that of his team created the most destructive weapon ever known to man. We have learned how to harness the peaceful uses of the atom that has brought untold benefits to man while successive U.S. administrations have worked to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in a way that best preserves strategic stability. The same inventive spirit ‎that enabled the creation of the bomb is now needed to conquer the technical and political obstacles that stand between us and the bomb's final retirement.

To reach that end, we must first explain how arms control and disarmament are not one and the same. Second, we must adopt a full-spectrum approach that reduces the role and number of nuclear weapons in a way that advances strategic stability. Lastly, we must pool our best technical minds to develop a verification toolkit suited to the challenges we will face in future arms control treaties and agreements.

Arms Control as a Tool

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, and in our efforts to reduce the role played by nuclear weapons and to pursue deeper reductions with Russia, strategic stability has been at the core of our calculus – the United States and our allies are safer in a world with fewer nuclear threats and dangers

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. And history has multiple examples where arms control agreements have reinforced deterrence and prevented technical developments from undermining the effectiveness of deterrence. 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 contributes 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. Arms control agreements have to be faithfully implemented. 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. At the same time, it is clear from our words and our deeds that the United States remains in full compliance with its Treaty obligations and that Russian accusations to the contrary are designed merely to distract from Moscow’s illegal actions.

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.

That misses the point. Ten lines of text in the New START Treaty are devoted to the central limits. What gives the parties the confidence to meet those levels and what contributes to predictability and stability are all the processes and procedures that make up the more than 350 other pages of the New START Treaty.

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. Their willingness to engage in irresponsible and dangerous nuclear threats against US allies shows how much work remains to be done to produce greater progress on the nuclear arms control agenda.

And so, in the face of these instabilities and uncertainties, 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. It is by ensuring confidence in the weapons we retain, that we can create the momentum for further reductions.

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. The negotiation of the deal does not in itself, however, address the threat posed by Iran. Full and faithful implementation will take years but we are committed to fulfilling our obligations and encourage Iran to faithfully do the same.

President Obama also has said that U.S. sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program will continue to be fully enforced. Iran has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, which continues to be a source of concern to us and the international community.

We will continue to take actions to counter Iran’s ballistic missile program -- including through regional security initiatives with our partners in the region, missile defense initiatives, sanctions, export controls and the 34-country Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

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.


While the political obstacles to achieving further nuclear reductions are well documented, less known are the technical challenges we are sure to face. Effective verification is a key feature of any successful arms control treaty or agreement. The earliest U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties did not offer the type of intrusive inspection regimes seen today, such as in the New START Treaty. Future arms control treaties and agreements will involve even more intrusive provisions, access to new types of facilities, and new items subject to inspection.

The unfavorable political relationship with Russia should not discourage us from developing the technical solutions to nuclear disarmament verification challenges.

This technical track is divorced from the ebbs and flows of the political environment and can open lanes of multilateral cooperation that would not otherwise exist. The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), launched by the United States and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) last December, seeks to be that vehicle to explore such cooperation.

The Partnership enjoys the participation of twenty-seven states—nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states alike—all motivated to seek the tools and technologies needed to effectively verify future agreements on nuclear weapons and material. The Partnership has organized into three distinct working groups to address the types of nuclear disarmament verification issues that will confront states as they construct any future inspection and monitoring regime.

One of the IPNDV working groups will focus on this same critical study area of “on-site inspections,” building upon past experiences. The UK-Norway Initiative is one of the foundational efforts that informs the work of the IPNDV, demonstrating how a nuclear weapon state and a non-nuclear weapon state can collaborate in a way that both builds confidence and prevents the leakage of sensitive information. We also appreciate Kings College’s own “Verification of Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement” project that has empirically shown how granting prompt access to facilities is a means to foster trust between the inspecting and inspected state parties. And one need not look further than the implementation of the New START Treaty to see the impact of human interaction towards building trust over time.

Progress in Difficult International Security Environment

We advance the President’s Prague Agenda through a full-spectrum approach that acknowledges the United States and Russia, as the possessors of 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, have a special responsibility to pursue disarmament. The U.S. stockpile of today stands at just 15% of what it was at the height of the Cold War. We do not believe that numbers alone are a useful barometer in measuring security but the numbers do show that we have “walked the talk” on arms reductions.

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.


There is a saying that “scientists see the world as it is, advocates see the world as it should be and diplomats see the world as it needs to be.” We all have an important role to play in the endeavor to leave the world a safer place that we found it.

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 and I look forward to taking questions.