Path Towards a Nuclear-Weapons Free World: Prospects for Nuclear Disarmament

Anita E. Friedt
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
61st Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs
Nagasaki, Japan
November 1, 2015

As prepared

Thank you for that kind introduction. 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’s a privilege to join my colleague, Mikhail, and Professor Lotfian for this important discussion. I want to thank our gracious hosts for a very moving visit to Nagasaki. It is remarkable that out of a war that claimed so many lives on both sides of the Pacific has emerged an unbreakable partnership. Or as Prime Minister Abe remarked this past April at a joint session of the U.S. Congress, “enemies that had fought each other so fiercely have become friends bonded in spirit.”

The first Pugwash Conference was held in 1957 at a time when the United States and former Soviet Union were headed down a perilous path— amassing tens of thousands of nuclear arms. Five years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis, inspired leadership was all that stood in the way of a nuclear exchange between these two nations. The immense damage that nuclear weapons can inflict was not lost on a future U.S. Secretary of State. A young Navy officer, John F. Kerry, concluded in the late 1960’s that nuclear weapons should one day be eliminated.

In the succeeding years, the United States has not wavered in its leadership to contain this danger. President Ronald Reagan famously stated 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 immutable facts of life. When Secretary of State Kerry was commissioned as a Navy Officer in the late 1960’s, the U.S. inventory of nuclear weapons numbered over 30,000. Since that time, the international community has built an intricate and essential system of treaties, laws and agreements that control the world’s most destructive weapons. The United States has been and continues to be at the forefront of this effort.

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. Actions speak louder than words, and this approach has led to a collective nuclear stockpile that is a fraction – less than 15% – of what it was at 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 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 in the Russian Federation and a conducive security environment.

I want to start by presenting a 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.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

When negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or 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 President Kennedy’s forecast never came to pass.

While this year’s NPT Review Conference concluded without adoption of a final document due to lack of consensus among the parties on an approach to advancing discussions on the proposed Middle East WMD-free zone, this should not be a cause for alarm. Since the NPT entered into force in 1970, there have been nine Review Conferences. Five have produced consensus outcomes; four have not.

The NPT owes its longevity to continued salience of the grand bargain: countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access nuclear energy for peaceful uses. All state parties to the NPT value the treaty’s three mutually reinforcing pillars that remain strong even in the face of periodic setbacks. The commitments enshrined in the NPT remain sound, and we believe the parties at the Review Conference reinforced the fundamental validity of the Treaty.

Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons

I know there are many 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.

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. 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.

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. The United States values new, creative ideas from nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states alike to advance this shared objective.

Full-Spectrum Approach

Our full-spectrum approach to nuclear disarmament involves not only unilateral and bilateral steps, but also multilateral action that includes nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states as active participants.

That is why we launched a new initiative called the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. While the political obstacles to achieving further nuclear reductions are well documented, less known are the technical challenges we are sure to face. The earliest U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties did not feature the type of intrusive inspection regimes seen today in the New START Treaty. Future arms control treaties and agreements will require even more intrusive provisions, access to new types of facilities, and new items subject to inspection. The IPNDV is aimed at drawing on a broad range of expertise and experience to begin tackling these challenges.

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 materials. The Partnership is 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. We are grateful for the cooperation of Japan and the other partners in this effort to remove one more obstacle to the future we all seek.

We also need to make progress on other multilateral efforts. Fundamental to stopping arms races in their tracks are the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

We in the United States are engaged in a serious effort to inform the public and Members of Congress of the national security merits of an in-force CTBT and the progress that has been achieved in its verification architecture. Our aim is to reintroduce CTBT to the American public and build the case for ratification by the United States and others. Secretary Kerry said just last week that “there should be no doubt that it is in the best interests of our country to join the treaty and (we) urge others not to wait.”

We must also collectively redouble our efforts to commence negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty that would finally end the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

A verifiable end to the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons and denying a country the benefit of conducting a nuclear explosive test—whether open or clandestine—are fundamental to stopping arms races in their tracks and constitute two essential steps that can lay the foundation 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.

Threats associated with Nuclear weapons, and nuclear proliferation in particular, remain among the most pressing challenges we face today. This point is particularly salient here in East Asia given North Korea’s illegal and destabilizing nuclear weapons program. It is these very nuclear threats that prompted the President in his 2009 Prague Speech to pledge that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.

Our dialogues with close allies aim to balance a responsible approach to pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons with our continuing security commitments. Reassurance that security of non-nuclear-weapon states can be protected without pursuing nuclear weapons of their own advances our nuclear disarmament goals. There is no contradiction. As we reduce the role of nuclear weapons, our security commitments will rely increasingly more on conventional means of deterrence.

Contrary to what some argue, nuclear modernization investments the United States is making are fully consistent with the President’s Prague Agenda and the requirements of the current security environment. Our investments will help sustain confidence in our deterrent, and enhance stability. This, in turn, will allow us to pursue additional arms control initiatives.


Past, present and future, the United States is committed to creating the conditions for the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Those improved security conditions are what will allow for further significant arms reductions, and eventually, elimination. This not an excuse for delay; indeed we are ready to move forward with further negotiated reductions with Russia today. We are ready to complete an FMCT today. We are ready to sign nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty protocols today.

But, in looking ahead towards tomorrow, it must be recognized that the conditions for achieving total nuclear disarmament are enormously demanding. The road to a world without nuclear weapons is not easily traveled. The world’s nuclear weapons arsenals did not appear overnight and they will not be eradicated overnight.

To reach our shared goal, all states must fulfill their arms control and nonproliferation obligations and all states must help to harness the next generation technologies to enable further arms reductions. It is only together that we can overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of a nuclear weapons-free world. The United States will not rest in its pursuit of this goal but we need your help.

Thank you.