The Global Zero "GZ|DC 2011 Convention"

Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
The George Washington University
Washington, DC
April 8, 2011

Good evening. I can barely see out there – there you are. Thank you Allie for that great introduction. And thank you Bruce for inviting me. I want to thank everyone for coming, especially those who traveled from outside of Washington to be here tonight. To everyone here today, thank you for your commitment to these issues and for your patriotism. I was first introduced to these issues as a small child. I was born in Harrison, New Jersey in 1951. So if you do the math quickly, I will be 60 in November. I was one of the kids, probably like your parents or your parents’ older siblings that spent part of my day every once in a while listening for a siren. And then trying to find my way underneath my little fragile desk in the hopes that it might protect me should we be attacked by the Soviet Union.

Later on when I got out of college and went to work on Wall Street, I joined the board of a group called Business Executives for National Security. I did that because I wanted to know more about what the state of play was in not only the national security issues, but what we were going to do about ending the Cold War. And for people like me who care about these issues, this was a very good opportunity to meet the players and understand exactly what someone without a military background and academic pedigree could do in this area. It wasn’t too far after that that I decided the best thing to do would be to run for congress. So I did in 1996 and I beat the incumbent and I represented California’s 10th congressional district. Just about fifteen minutes east of Oakland, communities like Moraga, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton and it is the only district – it is the only congressional district – in the United States that has two national nuclear labs in it. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Sandia California Lab. I like to say that I represented the smartest people in the world. Not only because they elected me seven times, but because some of them were literally rocket scientists. Those ten thousand people at those two labs are people with advanced degrees in physics, metallurgy, chemistry.

And in the Congress, I joined the Armed Services Committee. And after ten years in Congress, when the Democrats took control in 2007, I became the chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee that has, among other things, oversight over Missile Defense, our nuclear weapons, our nuclear laboratories, space, and satellites. It was actually the first time in our history that the nuclear labs had a Member of Congress sitting on the Committee of their jurisdiction. I know it’s hard to believe, but Congress is not always rational.

At that time, the debate and thinking about nuclear weapons and our defense posture seemed stuck and rooted in the past. Even though the Soviets massive nuclear arsenal did not stop it from collapsing or that the thousands of nuclear weapons that we possess did not stop terrorists from attacking us on September 11, the question always seemed to be about how many nuclear weapons we should have or needed; not how few.

My point is that for several generations, the goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons was dismissed by many in the foreign policy and defense establishments as just fantasy. In some circles it is still considered just that – fantasy. But the goal of Global Zero, a point out on the horizon, really had no political support in the past.

That, of course, has changed. President Obama in his Prague speech committed us to a world without nuclear weapons, and he outlined a practical path for getting there.

And let there be no doubt he is deeply committed to a world without nuclear weapons. And President Obama doesn’t need a staffer to explain it to him. He is the driving force here. And I’m sure that all of you know that my friends who came of age fighting the Cold War like George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry and Sam Nunn, share the goal of Global Zero. As do Richard Burt and my friend Bruce Blair. They are all great Americans and they are at the forefront of an emerging consensus that says that we can reduce the role of nuclear weapons, have fewer of them and increase our security.

I know Global Zero’s work really has made a difference when I stay up late too at night and I get to see the biggest names in Global Zero like Valerie Plame and Queen Noor and Richard Burt talking about these issues on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. That’s when you know you’ve really broken through.

But let me tell you, let’s not be confused. While we have a growing consensus, it is still fragile. As I said last year in Paris, Zero is not the Holy Grail. The journey and each step along the way is just as important if not more important than the destination. Those steps can enhance our national security and create the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons. As I already noted, President Obama put forward a series of concrete steps to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons in his Prague speech in 2009. And we’ve been moving forward ever since.

Last April, the United States and Russia signed the new START treaty and we brought that treaty into force just this past February. [Applause] Thank you. When fully implemented, the United States and Russia deployed strategic warheads will be at their lowest levels since the 1950s.

The United States also released a Nuclear Posture Review that reduces the prominence of nuclear weapons in our national defense. We made clear that the United States would only consider nuclear weapons used in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, or partners. And we are going farther.

Tom Donilon, our national security advisor, announced last week that the Department of Defense will review our strategic requirements and develop options for further reductions in our current nuclear stockpile. This effort could involve potential changes in targeting requirements and alert postures. I suspect that Bruce would approve of that.

At the NPT Review Conference – that’s the NPT is the Nonproliferation Treaty – just last May in New York, Secretary Clinton revealed the actual size of the United States stockpile and our annual warhead dismantlement figures to show how far we have come since the end of the Cold War.

But the United States by itself by itself cannot create the conditions that would lead to the day when nuclear weapons are obsolete. As President Obama has said, we have a moral responsibility to lead but we cannot do it alone. We need other countries to step forward with us and follow in our footsteps. Other countries need to be transparent and as open as we are to provide confidence for deep reductions. Our actions show that transparency and security can go together. Secrecy may sometimes be necessary, but it also can lead to misunderstandings, miscalculations, and mistrust.

To promote greater openness, the five nuclear weapons states – we’re known as the P5 – will meet this summer in Paris to conduct expert level discussions on verification and transparency measures. This will help fulfill one of the commitments from the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference Action Plan from last year.

Building trust is also why the verification regime of the New START treaty is just as important as lowering weapon levels. And that is why it’s important for other countries to work with us at the IAEA to set up an international fuel bank.

For countries starting out with nuclear power, this is an important mechanism to help countries realize the benefits of nuclear energy without the costs and risks of enrichment and reprocessing facilities. And it helps provide reassurance that their programs are designed to produce electricity and not weapons capability.

As we draw down, other countries should not build up.

That’s why we’re seeking to begin negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. There are already too many weapons, there’s already too much material for nuclear weapons in this world. We do not need more fissile material that could be used to make more bombs, and we don’t want to add to the risk of theft or misuse.

Others also need to join us in continuing the moratorium on testing. The reality is that the United States has not tested a nuclear weapon for nearly twenty years, and we do not need to do so. We already abide by the center prohibition of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty so we are about to begin a significant education process and an information process for the American people and the United States Senate on the benefits of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

I want to make one last point about Russia because together our nations have approximately 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Our relationship with Russia is much improved since the Reset at the beginning of the Obama Administration. We have worked constructively on New START as well as on Iran and Afghanistan.

Still, we’re not always going to like what we do and what each other does, and there are always going to be things about each other that are going to cause us some problems. Our goal is to move our relationship to one based on Mutually Assured Destruction, to one that is based on Mutually Assured Stability. That’s why Missile Defense cooperation is so important.

Thirty years ago at the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan saw virtue in cooperating with Moscow on Missile Defense. We in the Obama Administration do, too, because Missile Defense cooperation could make us safer and facilitate talks on further reductions on strategic, non-strategic, and non-deployed nuclear weapons.

This will not be easy and it will take a lot time. There is an element of political risk for both of us and for Russia to work with us on Missile Defenses, even though we believe the cooperation would benefit both of us and help counter the potential threat from Iran and other rogue nations. We want Russia inside the Missile Defense tent where it will see that Missile Defenses that the United States has planned to put in Europe are not about undermining Russia’s strategic deterrent.

But I want to be honest. The burden to change perspectives does not just rest with Russia. The challenge of fresh thinking is universal and it applies to us as well. For too many, it is simply easy and comforting to continue seeing things as they have in the past. Institutions and bureaucracies are also shaped over time and they often have an even harder time adjusting to new realities than individuals do. But the only way we can move forward is to break with past assumptions and past thinking. This is a lesson that I hope serves you well in life, not just in diplomacy.

So let me conclude where I began. Our Nuclear Posture Review from last year said it best, and I quote, “It is in the United States’ interest and that of all other nations that the nearly sixty-five year record of nuclear non use be extended forever.”

Our hope and interest is that these weapons will never be used again. But so long as such arms exist, we in the United States will maintain a safe and secure and effective deterrent. That’s why President Obama cautioned that achieving a world without nuclear weapons might not happen in his lifetime. But that does not mean that you should not aspire to that goal. Creating the conditions to meet that goal will be difficult.

But your generation has a unique advantage. You are not burdened by the powerful memories of Duck and Cover drills, events like the Cuban Missile Crisis or long held strategic assumptions about the Cold War. You have the freedom to bring fresh thinking and new perspectives to how we can best enhance our national security.

What we need most is to change. We need the political will to change because change is hard. Even good change is hard. Change can bring lots of disappointment and the threat of political risk. So we need your energy and your expertise to extend this debate beyond college campuses and Washington think tanks. If we are to move safely and securely to a world without nuclear weapons, then we need to build the requisite political support that can only be done by people like you. Your energy and your commitment is so important to our efforts to reduce global nuclear dangers.

Let me thank you for being here and for your time. And let me thank you in anticipation of all the things you will do in the future to make our world safer. I’m happy to answer a few easy questions if you have them. And I hope you really enjoy your time in Washington and I hope the weather improves for you. Thank you.