Side Event on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and Programs

Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
UN First Committee
New York City
October 6, 2016

Good afternoon.

I am Frank Rose, Assistant Secretary of State for the Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Bureau, which plays a key role in advancing the United States' nuclear weapons policy agenda.

President Obama laid out a bold vision in his April 2009 Prague speech, and we have made great progress in implementing this agenda over the last seven years. The President outlined that the United States would seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons while maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist in order to deter any adversary and guarantee the defense to our allies.

We have advanced that agenda through the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, which laid out five main objectives: reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy; preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism; maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels; strengthening regional deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies and partners; and, sustaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal.

Additionally, the Nuclear Posture Review stated that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and are in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations. We seek to make such assurances legally-binding through our support for regional nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty protocols. The Nuclear Posture Review states clearly that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack against the United States, our allies, and our partners.

The possibility of inadvertent U.S. nuclear weapons use is as remote as it has ever been, and the United States has taken concrete steps to make permanent the non-use of nuclear weapons. To promote stability, all U.S. Minuteman-III ICBMs have been configured to carry just one warhead. To reduce nuclear risks, the United States continues its longstanding practice of open-sea targeting of all U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs, and does not maintain its nuclear bombers on day-to-day alert.

In order to reduce global stocks of nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia signed the New START Treaty in 2010, which both sides continue to successfully implement and are on their way toward meeting the central limits in February 2018. When these central limits are reached, the strategic forces of the United States and Russia will be capped at their lowest level since President Eisenhower was in office. In 2013, in Berlin, the President declared the U.S. willingness to pursue further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons up to one-third below the New START levels. Negotiations on such reductions require a willing partner in Russia and a conducive security environment. Those conditions don’t presently exist.

The United States has also continued to move the ball forward in another key area: UN Security Council Resolution 2310, passed last month, builds support for the continued moratoria on nuclear explosive testing and broad international support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The fact that the CTBT’s International Monitoring System and International Data Centre rapidly detected North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test offers a reminder as to why the infrastructure built to support this treaty is so vital, and why this resolution is so important. While entry-into-force of the Treaty is the only way to make permanent the benefits of the Treaty, UNSCR 2310 is a powerful step toward reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, lessening competition among nuclear powers, and advancing responsible disarmament.

Even as we make progress, countries that possess nuclear weapons should move in the direction of reducing the role their nuclear arsenals. As China is modernizing its nuclear forces, we need enhanced predictability and stability by preventing strategic postures that foster ambiguity and uncertainty. Similarly, our NATO Allies continue to grapple with responses to a changing security environment since Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

As part of our efforts to address the range of threats from nuclear weapons, we concluded two critical initiatives over the past year that have helped to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to proliferators and terrorists. Last year, along with other P5+1 members and Iran, we signed the Joint Comprehensive Nuclear Plan of Action. When fully implemented, this agreement will peacefully cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, healing a wound in the nonproliferation regime. And earlier this year we held the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, which has succeeded in keeping hundreds of nuclear weapons worth of vulnerable nuclear material out of the hands of those who wish us harm.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that the Nuclear Posture Review made it clear that the United States will continue to field a safe, secure, and effective deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. We are not developing new nuclear warheads, or pursuing new military missions or capabilities through our stockpile stewardship program. My colleagues from the Departments of Energy and Defense will discuss, in greater detail, the need to recapitalize our enduring nuclear weapons deterrent and its infrastructure.

Future rounds of negotiated reductions in nuclear weapons will need to incorporate new tools and technologies in order for them to be effectively verifiable. It is this imperative that led the United States to establish the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, or IPNDV, in 2014, which brings nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapons states together to collectively tackle these challenges.

Initiatives like the IPNDV become critically important because, as we reach lower levels of nuclear weapons, the perceived gains from cheating will grow, and effective verification will become more challenging. As future verification regimes potentially shift from bilateral to multilateral arrangements, we will confront additional technical challenges, while at the same time, being careful to prevent the transfer of proliferation-sensitive information.

To conclude, President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons is not one easily reached. At the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, President Obama spoke of creating the security conditions so that future generations will be spared the horrors of violent conflict and atomic warfare. To achieve this, it is essential we take into account the broader security environment, the linkage between arms control and deterrence, and the need to effectively verify future treaties and agreements.

Thank you.