U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy in the 21st Century

Rose Gottemoeller
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Dixie State University
St. George, Utah
October 21, 2014

As Delivered

Thank you so much for the introduction. It is a perfect time to be visiting St. George and the beautiful state of Utah. Thank you to Dixie State University for inviting me here and to Mayor Jon Pike for giving me such a warm welcome. I understand it is Homecoming Week here. Go Red Storm! I visited Salt Lake in May and when I said I would like to come back and talk with people around the state about nuclear policy issues, former State Representative Ryan Wilcox made sure that Southern Utah was on my list of stops. I am glad that he did and I am very glad to be here today.

So, I am the State Department lead for arms control and nonproliferation. What's that, you say. I understand that most people don’t spend a lot of time worrying about “the bomb”. This is particularly true when our country faces challenges like the drawdown in Afghanistan and terrorist groups like ISIL and controlling the spread of Ebola.

Nuclear issues are not in the news cycle every day and that's mostly a good thing. But, there are still thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons in the world and lots of after effects from the Cold War nuclear build-up. You know that first hand in St. George.

Over 2,000 nuclear explosive tests took place around the world over the last 69 years. About half of them were conducted by the United States before we halted nuclear testing in 1992. As many of you know, 928 nuclear explosive tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site. This included 100 above-ground nuclear explosive tests. These above-ground tests, the purpose of which was to further improve the effectiveness, safety and security of our nuclear deterrent, had the consequence of distributing radioactive fallout downwind from the site.

Over time, radioactive and cancer-causing particles, like Strontium-90, found their way into milk and other products, eventually ending up in the bones and teeth of children. Beyond the multiple radioactive “hotspots” in Utah, hotspots were detected throughout the West and as far away as the East Coast.

Growing public concern about the dangers of nuclear explosive testing collided with a turning point in history – the Cuban Missile Crisis. As one step leading us back from the brink of nuclear war, President John F. Kennedy called for a complete ban on nuclear explosive testing in 1963.

“The conclusion of such a treaty,” he said, “so near and yet so far -- would check the spiraling arms race in one of its most dangerous areas. It would place the nuclear powers in a position to deal more effectively with one of the greatest hazards which man faces in 1963 -- the further spread of nuclear arms. It would increase our security -- it would decrease the prospects of war.”

51 years later, we are still so near and yet so far from this goal. We were able to achieve part of this objective through the Limited Test Ban Treaty back in 1963 – banning tests in the water, in space and in the atmosphere.

However, the further spread of nuclear weapons remains a threat, and we still lack a total ban on nuclear explosive testing.

In 1996, we negotiated a verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT is a legally binding global ban on nuclear explosions of any kind. Today, 183 nations have signed the Treaty and 163 have ratified it.

Although the United States signed the CTBT in 1996, the Senate in 1999 failed to give its advice and consent to ratification. At that time, two main issues concerned the Senators: our ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile without explosive testing and our ability to verify compliance with the Treaty.

Today the situation is much different.

As Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz said last month, there was a time when an active and robust United States nuclear explosive testing program was necessary, but that time is more than 20 years in the past. In fact, last month marked 22 years since the last United States nuclear explosive test. Today, the Department of Energy’s Stockpile Stewardship Program – a suite of experimental, diagnostic and supercomputing capabilities – allow us to model and simulate nuclear devices without nuclear explosive testing. With this program in place, the Directors of the Department’s National Security Laboratories affirm the safety, security and effectiveness of the current stockpile to the President every year. In fact, they believe we actually understand more about how nuclear weapons work now than during the period of nuclear explosive testing.

The ability to monitor and verify compliance with the CTBT is also stronger than it has ever been. The International Monitoring System (IMS), the heart of the verification regime, was just a concept two decades ago. Today, it is a nearly complete, technically advanced, global network of sensors, including 35 stations in the United States, that can detect even relatively low-yield nuclear explosions. My boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, recently referred to the IMS as one of the great accomplishments of the modern world. In addition to its verification role, the IMS has also proven its ability to contribute critical scientific data to benefit civil society. Since the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, the IMS has contributed considerable seismic data to the Pacific tsunami warning system. Additionally, after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, we saw how the IMS can track radioactivity from nuclear reactor accidents.

The on-site inspection element of the CTBT verification regime has advanced significantly as well. In the next few weeks, U.S. experts are going to participate in a large-scale Integrated Field Exercise sponsored by the CTBT Organization and hosted by Jordan. I will be an observer at that exercise, seeing first-hand the formidable technology and expertise the international community can bring together on short notice to investigate the site of a suspected nuclear explosion.

All told, the issues that the Senators were concerned about in 1999 are being addressed, and it is in our interest to close the door on nuclear explosive testing forever.

Plain and simple, the CTBT is good for U.S. and international security. It is a key part of leading nuclear weapons states toward a world of diminished reliance on nuclear weapons and reduced likelihood of nuclear arms races.

An in-force CTBT will make it difficult for states without nuclear weapons to develop advanced nuclear weapons capabilities.

An in-force Treaty will also make it hard for states with more established nuclear weapon capabilities from confirming the performance of advanced nuclear weapon designs that they have not tested successfully in the past.

Because of this, an in-force CTBT will also constrain regional arms races. These constraints will be particularly important in Asia, where states are building up and modernizing nuclear forces.

With the national security benefits of the Treaty in mind, President Obama called for the ratification and entry into force of the CTBT in his 2009 Prague speech.

Despite the clear merits of the Treaty, it has been a long time since the CTBT has had any attention, so we need time to educate the public and Congress to build support for U.S. ratification.

We need to make sure that people know what the CTBT is and why it is important. The most important thing that supporters of the CTBT can do is to educate their friends, their family and their communities on the reasons that the Treaty is good for America.

Two people who have been doing just that are right here in Utah. On March 8, 2010, the Utah House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification of the CTBT. The resolution, HR4, was introduced by Democratic Representative Jennifer Seelig, and co-sponsored by Republican Representative Ryan Wilcox.

In addition to noting the security arguments for the Treaty, the nonbinding Utah House resolution and the floor debate recognized the health effects suffered by Utahns and other down winders exposed to fallout from nuclear explosive testing in the past.

The work of Representatives Seelig and Wilcox is important for two reasons. First, it is critically important that Americans understand the nuclear threat and how they can help. You all have a huge say in the future of this nation’s security and it is important for you to make sure that your voices are heard. Ryan and Jennifer made sure that Utahns had a voice in this debate.

Second and just as important, they cast aside party affiliation and worked together on an issue that was important to their constituents – an all-too rare occurrence these days. They should be commended on their partnership and I hope that they can serve as an example as we expand the dialogue on the CTBT.

With an emphasis on an open dialogue, rather than a timeline, we are working with the Senate to re-familiarize Members with the Treaty. A lot of CTBT-related issues have changed since 1999, and the Senate has changed a lot since then, too. It is up to us, as policymakers and experts before the American people, to practice due diligence in consideration of this Treaty. Ratification of this Treaty will require debate, discussion, questions, briefings, trips to the National Labs and other technical facilities, hearings and more, as was the case with the New START Treaty. Senators should have every opportunity to ask questions – many, many questions – until they are satisfied. That is how good policy is made and that is how treaties get across the finish line.

We are confident that we have a good case to make. As President Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz said, “Senators might have been right voting against the CTBT some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now.” Utah’s own former Senator Bob Bennett actually came up with a nice twitter worthy hashtag, when he told me, “I’m converted” on the issue of CTBT ratification.

We have a lot of work to do in the weeks and months ahead, but as I said, this is a worthy goal. An in-force CTBT will benefit the United States and indeed, the whole world.

With that I will wrap up, as I want to leave some time for questions, but I want again to say how pleased I am to be here in Southern Utah. I realize that many of the national security challenges that lie ahead of us may seem daunting, but I have no doubt that Utahns are ready to dive in and help. I'm also hopeful that the next generation, like the students here at Dixie State will take up this cause of reducing nuclear threats. I realize that young people today have not lived with the nuclear fears that my generation did and I pray that they never do. One way to ensure that is to help us relegate nuclear explosive testing to the pages of history.

Thank you.