Arm Control Priorities for Russia and the United States in 2015 and Beyond

Rose Gottemoeller
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Exchange Monitor's Seventh Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit
Washington, DC
February 18, 2015

As Prepared

Thank you for the introduction, Martin, and for inviting me to be here today. This has become a yearly tradition for me and before I begin my remarks, I want to say how sorry I was to learn of Ed Helminski’s passing. Ed and I worked together for many years and I was always happy to have the opportunity to collaborate with him. He was not only a colleague, but a friend to so many people here and we will miss him dearly. This forum will remain a testament to his enthusiasm and passion for this subject matter.

It may seem like an odd time to be talking about arms control priorities for the United States and Russia in 2015, given the state of the U.S.-Russian relationship. Add to that the situation in Ukraine and some say that arms control can be moved to the back burner. They are wrong in my view.

It is times like these that arms control proves its worth. Arms control measures provide stability and predictability even when other things fall into disarray. When I spoke here last year, I reminded people that the world was once faced with the imminent threat of nuclear war. Of course, no one in this room should need to be reminded that the humanitarian consequences of such a war would be as close to the definition of horror as one could possibly imagine. We have been spared that fate because we created an intricate and essential system of treaties, laws and agreements that control the world’s most destructive weapons.

Through the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the United States properly refocused our nuclear policy for the 21st century, recognizing that the massive nuclear arsenal that the United States built to confront the threats of the Cold War is poorly suited for today’s security environment, where the threats posed by nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation have increased.

A nuclear force of thousands of weapons has little direct relevance to deterring those threats. Concerted action by both the United States and Russia – and indeed, by all states – nuclear and non-nuclear – will be needed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism.

The United States’ responsible approach to arms control and disarmament has already led to major reductions in nuclear weapons, fissile material stocks and infrastructure. The New START Treaty, which just celebrated its fourth birthday, is enhancing security and strategic stability between the United States and Russia. Both nations are faithfully implementing the Treaty’s inspection regime. Current tensions with the Russian Federation highlight the durability of the verification regime and the important confidence that is provided by data exchanges and on-site inspections under the Treaty, as well as the security and predictability provided by verifiable mutual limits on strategic weapons.

I cannot stress this point enough. The 18 on-site inspections each nation conducts, combines with thousands of notifications required by the Treaty to create a real-time picture of our respective arsenals. At a time when trust has become difficult, New START allows us to verify.

Our overall arms control and disarmament efforts have led the United States to reduce our nuclear arsenal by approximately 85% from its Cold War heights. In real numbers, that means we have gone from 31,255 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile in 1967 to 4,804 in 2013.

That is still too many and we know it, so we will continue to push ahead.

Our priorities for arms control in 2015 are driven by two factors. First, further limitations on and reductions of nuclear weapons are in our national security interest. Second, the United States is committed to keeping faith with our international obligations, including our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI commitments.

Using the employment guidance for the Nuclear Posture Review, President Obama determined that we can ensure the security of the United States, our allies and partners and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent while safely pursuing up to a one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear weapons from the level established in the New START Treaty.

Following that assessment, in June 2013 in Berlin, President Obama stated U.S. willingness to negotiate with the Russians a reduction of up to one-third of our deployed strategic warheads from the level established in the New START Treaty. That offer is still on the table.

Progress requires a willing partner and a conducive strategic environment.

Everyone here knows that the environment is not great due to the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine and Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty. Addressing both situations is an ongoing process. With specific regard to the Russian INF violation, we will continue engaging the Russian government to resolve U.S. concerns. Our objective is for Russia to return to verifiable compliance with its INF Treaty obligations, as the Treaty is in our mutual security interest and that of the globe.

Even with our current problems -- actually even more so because of them -- the United States is committed to maintaining strategic stability between the U.S. and Russia and we support continuing a dialogue aimed at fostering a more stable, resilient, and transparent security relationship. Of course, I want to be very clear, as the United States considers any arms control priorities, we will continue to consult closely with our allies and partners every step of the way. Our security and defense -- and theirs -- is non-negotiable.

On the multilateral front, I will just briefly touch on a few priorities. We continue disarmament discussions with our P5 partners. We actually just finished our sixth P5 Conference in London and we continue to break new ground in our discussions. The process we are creating is the way we will build a firm foundation for future multilateral arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.

The United States is expanding public outreach on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. We will not be setting timeframes for moving forward with a vote on the Hill, but we know that the CTBT is good for American national security and that is why we will continue educating the country on the treaty’s merits. We will also keep fighting for the commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). For those that continue to thwart progress on this front, I can assure you that our resolve on this matter is boundless.

On all of these matters, the Administration is fully committed to working with Congress. We are partners in building a safer, more secure United States and world, so we look forward to constructive, collaborative conversations with the Hill in the coming year.

I want to wrap up, so that we have time for questions, but I want to emphasize again why we pursue arms control. We pursue it for the same reason the Administrations that came before us did. We pursue arms control policies, because they are in our national security interest. We pursue arms control, because we have made a commitment to the world and to our citizens to do so.

The difficulties we are facing remind us that we in remain under the “nuclear sword of Damocles.” Reducing and eliminating that ever-present threat is not, nor has it ever been, easy.

Some might worry that we are engaged in a Sisyphean struggle. I don’t think that’s the case at all. The Odyssey is a far better parallel for our current challenges. Our road is winding, no doubt, and we find ourselves, at times, off course. Nevertheless, with wit, perseverance, and a little luck, we can find our way ahead. Our goal is a safe and secure world without nuclear weapons and we are capable of getting there.

Thank you.