Arms Control in the Information Age
Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
New START was just the beginning. President Obama made it clear in his now-famous Prague Speech that the United States is committed to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. In order to pursue this goal, we know that we are going to have to think bigger and bolder. With this is mind, I have been challenging myself and my colleagues to think about how we use the knowledge of our past together with the new tools of the information age. I look out at a crowd like you and realize that I don’t need to convince you that the technologies of the 21st century are changing the world as we know it. While I may still be figuring out how to use my Ipad, I know it too. That is why I have been talking about arms control in the information age at universities around in the United States.
Today, I will talk to you about our diplomatic toolbox, the changing nature of diplomacy, and the new technologies that can help us on the road to nuclear zero. You all are the first international university to hear this, so I would like to start out saying the same thing I tell students back in the United States—this is not a policy speech, this is an ideas speech.
Tools in the Toolbox
When it comes to pursuing the next steps in nuclear reductions, we have a lot on our plate, and getting to zero is going to take time and heavy effort. There can be no shortcuts. The United States and Russia still have a lot of work to do, as together we still control over 90% of the world’s nuclear stockpile. Proliferation and nuclear terrorism continue to be a serious security threat. And when we come to agreement on disarmament and nonproliferation measures, it will take hard, persistent work to implement those agreements. Even more complicated: the lower the numbers or the smaller the parts, the harder it will be to monitor compliance.
It is clear that we are going to need every tool we have, and many we have not yet developed or even thought of, to fulfill the Prague Agenda. That means the first thing we need to do is take stock of the tools we have in our diplomatic toolbox.
First up in the toolbox is the formal, legally-binding negotiation process, like the one we used for the New START Treaty. This process is responsible for the important Treaties and agreements that undergird our arms control and nonproliferation regime.
In the United States, we also have international agreements that do not require Senate advice and consent; they are called “executive agreements.” They too are legally binding. While these types of agreements are not used for reductions, they could be useful in securing agreements on confidence-building, verification or other actions that may be as important as future treaties.
Another way to makes changes in nuclear posture that was used in the past was through reciprocal actions that two countries take at the same time. The pros of such an approach include speed and flexibility. A con is that such arrangements may not be verifiable and can be reversed as a result of a change in policy.
Progress on reductions is sometimes difficult due to a lack of trust between parties. A solution for this is mutual confidence building measures, or CBMs. These measures help establish lasting stability, while at the same time taking into account each nation’s security interests. CBMs may include exchanging information about the size of the defense budget, giving notification of planned military activities, or even things as simple as issuing invitations for national holidays, cultural and sport events.
An important way to build mutual confidence is to work together on tough problems. One of the great unsung success stories of the early post-Cold War years is how U.S. and Russian scientists, sometimes with other scientists from the then Newly Independent States, worked together to ensure the continued safety and security of fissile material and warheads.
We can also use “alphabet soup” cooperative efforts, like Cooperative Threat Reduction or CTR. Introduced in 1991 by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, the CTR legislation helped destroy a large amount of former Soviet weaponry, including hundreds of ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launchers. The CTR programs continue today and have expanded to tackle the threat posed by terrorist organizations or states seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD) expertise, materials and equipment.
All these efforts will be key parts to moving forward, but it is not just what we have in our toolbox that is important, it is how we use those tools.
21st Century Diplomacy
Diplomacy today is very different than it was at the dawn of the nuclear age. More often diplomacy is happening in the open, and at quicker speeds. The world has changed and we diplomats have to work under new circumstances.
In my own experience, diplomacy has been changing before my eyes. I was a junior member of the U.S. START delegation in 1990-91, an experience that served me well when negotiating the New START Treaty. I remember how things were done back then: masses of paper had to be shuttled among delegation members—we were constantly burning up Xerox machines, and faxes flowed from Geneva to Washington and back. Remember the fax machines? It has disappeared like the dinosaur. In Geneva in 1990, if you had secret and urgent business with Washington, you had to sandwich yourself into a steaming hot secure phone booth and shout to make yourself understood at the other end.
When the New START negotiations began in April 2009, the world had changed. The U.S. and Russian delegations launched into the negotiations committed to keeping them respectful and businesslike, even when we did not agree. And we agreed to disagree in private. That was good considering how easily either delegation could have broadcast negative comments that would have reached Moscow or Washington before we could pick up a phone.
For me, the biggest change in how we did business was email. Instead of making hard copies and waiting days or weeks for the mail, we could get information around the delegation and to our leaders in Washington within hours, even minutes. Both classified and unclassified materials could be sent, decreasing necessary trips back to Washington.
After some discussion, we also agreed to exchange negotiating documents with the Russian team electronically, although on disks and not via email. Still, even CDs made a big difference to after-hours communication. There was a famous story about how in the 1990s, during the START talks, a member of the U.S. delegation had to hurl a satchel of negotiating documents over the fence of the Soviet mission to his counterpart, because no guard was there to open the gates late at night. Obviously, a CD could be handed more easily between the bars of the fence--which we did from time to time.
In my view, these new approaches to a formal negotiating process, especially our new digital toolbox, were a big factor in the fast pace of our negotiations--exactly one year from our first meeting to our last one. No longer bogged down by paper processes, things moved quickly. Nowadays, I don’t have to wait until the next time I travel to Geneva or Moscow to advance business with my counterparts; I can email or call from my home or office, and hopefully soon, I can walk across the hall and have a video-chat in our conference room.
New Technologies and Arms Control
These astonishing advancements in communication technologies over the past decades may not just be useful in diplomacy, they might also be able to aid in the verification of arms control treaties and agreements.
Our new reality is a smaller, increasingly-networked world where the average citizen connects to other citizens in cyberspace hundreds of times each day. They exchange and share ideas on a wide variety of topics, why not put this vast problem solving entity to good use? Or put another way, how can we use new media technologies by combining them with 222 years of U.S. diplomatic negotiating expertise?
Today, any event, anywhere on the planet, could be broadcast globally in seconds. That means it is harder to hide things. When it is harder to hide things, it is easier to be caught. The neighborhood gaze is a powerful tool and it could help us make sure that countries were following the rules of arms control treaties and agreements.
Open source information technologies improve arms control verification in at least two ways: either as a way of generating new information or as analysis of information that already is out there.
The DARPA Red Balloon Challenge, which you can google, is an example of the first. It demonstrated the enormous potential of social networking to solve problems and also showed how incentives can motivate large populations to work toward a common goal. Applying such ideas to arms control, a country could, for example, show it is complying with a treaty by opening itself to a verification challenge.
A technique like this—I call it a “public verification challenge”—might be especially valuable as we move to lower and lower numbers of nuclear weapons. Governments, in that case, will have an interest in proving that they are meeting their reduction obligations and may want to engage their publics in helping them to make the case.
It will then be necessary to work together to make sure nations cannot spoof or manipulate the verification challenges that they devise—that’s a big problem, but one I am sure you can tackle.
This kind of citizen-run verification and monitoring project could add to the standard international safeguards or verification of a country’s nuclear declaration. Once again, we have to bear in mind that there could be limitations based on the freedoms available to the citizens of said country—an issue to tackle in thinking through this problem.
The Information Age is also creating a greater talent pool of individuals. People can reach a broader, diverse market for their products and services. These private citizens can develop web base applications for e-book readers, cell phones and any touch pad communication devices. This “crowd sourcing” lets everyday people solve problems by getting innovative ideas out of their heads and onto the shelves.
Open source technology could be useful in the hands of inspectors. Smart Phone and tablet apps could be created for the express purpose of aiding in the verification and monitoring process. For example, by having all safeguards and verification sensors in an inspected facility wirelessly connected to the inspector’s iPad, he or she could note anomalies and flag specific items for closer inspections, as well as compare readings in real time and interpret them in context. Some of this is already happening. Another new application idea would take sensor readings and feed them into a 3-D virtual model of a facility, so an inspector could tailor an inspection in real time before he or she even steps inside.
As we think through new ways to use these tools, we should be aware that there may be trouble ahead. We cannot assume that information will always be so readily available. As nations and private entities continue to debate the line between privacy and security, it is possible to imagine that we are living in a golden age of open source information that will be harder to take advantage of in future.
In the end, the goal of using open source information technology and social networks should be to add to our existing arms control verification capabilities, and we will need your help to think about how it can be done.
So, as you have heard, we are thinking about a lot of new concepts. As I said at the outset, this is not about policy; this is about coming up with the bold ideas that will shape policy in the future. As the first set of university students outside the United States that has heard this, you have a head start on helping us find new ways to use the amazing information tools at our disposal to move the world closer to eliminating nuclear weapons.
Thank you again for inviting me here to speak. I would now love to take some questions.