The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at 45

Rose Gottemoeller
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
New Zealand Institute for International Affairs, Victoria University
Wellington, New Zealand
March 9, 2015

As Prepared

Thank you, Sir Douglas Kidd, for the introduction. I am happy to be visiting New Zealand for the first time. The U.S. – New Zealand relationship has never been stronger.

On the occasion of Waitangi Day last month, President Obama sent a message to the people of New Zealand praising our common heritage and shared commitment to democratic values. These provide a solid foundation on which to further strengthen our already close relationship. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign. It serves as a reminder of our shared sacrifice in the global struggle of World War I.

I share the President’s sentiment that we look forward to our close collaboration and ever deepening common efforts, as we face the challenges of the 21st Century in the Asia-Pacific region and across the globe.

I am honored to be here today to deliver the Annual Foreign Policy Lecture of the New Zealand Institute for International Affairs. Thank you to the Institute and to Victoria University for hosting me.

New Zealand is a powerful voice for progress on arms control and nonproliferation issues.

The United States joins you in that call for progress and today, I would like to talk with you about the cornerstone of international arms control and nonproliferation efforts: the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Last Thursday marked the 45th anniversary of the entry into force of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

The “grand bargain” of the NPT set an enduring standard that is as relevant today as it was at the Treaty’s inception. That bargain comprises three reinforcing aspects wherein nuclear weapon states pursue disarmament, non-nuclear weapon states abstain from the pursuit of nuclear weapons and all countries are able to access the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy. For 45 years, the regime has thrived. When has faced with challenges, NPT Parties have worked together to make the entire nonproliferation regime stronger. Beginning with 62 signatories, the Treaty is now nearly universal – and universality remains our ultimate goal.

The Treaty has stemmed the tide of proliferation; it has facilitated cooperation among its States Party; and it has institutionalized the norms of nonproliferation and disarmament. The three pillars of the Treaty provide its stability, its endurance. Each pillar is as important as the others. Each pillar reinforces the others, and each State Party can and must help strengthen all three.

Looking at the success of the NPT, it is easy to forget that the world once faced the unpredictable and harrowing prospect of dozens of nuclear weapons states. It is easy to forget that nuclear war was once a daily fear for people around the world. While some people in this room – like me – might remember it vividly, most people on this planet don’t remember how close we came to ultimate destruction. They don’t remember that for 13 long, tense days in October 1962, Soviet missile placements in Cuba brought us to the edge of the nuclear abyss.

In some ways, that shouldn’t be too surprising. It has now been over 50 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Faced with the prospect of nuclear war, leaders in Washington and Moscow stepped back from the brink all those years ago and set about the task of reducing both the tension in our relationship and the threats posed by our respective nuclear arsenals. Together, these leaders created the first “Hotline” between the Kremlin and the White House, allowing for direct, immediate communications between our leaders. Within a year, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated, signed and ratified a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which went into force just four months later. The LTBT outlawed nuclear explosive tests on land, in the sea, in the atmosphere, and in space. This was a tremendous step in the right direction and one that helped create the political conditions to conclude the NPT.

At the U.S. signing of the NPT in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that “[a]fter nearly a quarter century of danger and fear – reason and sanity have prevailed.” The NPT, he said, was “evidence that amid the tensions, the strife, the struggle, and the sorrow of [those] years, men of many nations [had] not lost the way—or…the will—toward peace.”

Indeed, if the LTBT was the turning point away from the unthinkable, the NPT was proof that the world was committed to creating a safer, more secure world.

Now 45 years after the Treaty’s entry into force, we find ourselves in a completely different security paradigm. The threat of nuclear war has been eclipsed by threat of nuclear terrorism – an amorphous, ever-changing threat that has no home address. As the world works to further reduce and prevent the spread of stockpiles of nuclear weapons and to provide the best nuclear security, the NPT remains an essential tool.

In late April, the 190 Parties to the Treaty will meet in New York to discuss progress on advancing the commitments laid out in this essential agreement, as well as the challenges to its viability.

For its part, the United States is fulfilling its commitments in all three pillars of the NPT.


No nation has provided as much time and as many resources to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons as the United States. We are the single largest supporter of the IAEA and we put an extremely high priority on promoting and facilitating nuclear safety and security programs around the world. We have worked to strengthen the IAEA’s safeguards system for verifying peaceful nuclear programs, and championed the Additional Protocol as the accepted standard for verifying the absence of clandestine nuclear programs. Our support for the IAEA also includes leading a global effort to secure nuclear material in order to prevent nuclear terrorism. The United States knows that nuclear security and nonproliferation efforts are never "finished." As long as nuclear and radioactive materials exist, they require our utmost commitment to their protection, control, accounting and disposition.

The United States also has been hard at work implementing a comprehensive system of export controls for material, equipment, and technology that could be used for nuclear explosive purposes and we will continue to expand on other cooperative threat reduction activities. At the same time, we are helping to strengthen multilateral nonproliferation efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and encouraging their growth. On the regional level, we are also working to provide security assurances for regional nuclear weapons free zones across the world; importantly for this region, the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zones. And we support the proposed conference to discuss a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Finally, the United States is working with our P5+1 partners to seek concrete, verifiable steps to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. We are also working with partners in the Six-Party Talks to seek the denuclearization of North Korea and its return to the NPT and IAEA safeguards.


In Prague in 2009, President Obama made clear the U.S. commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. The U.S. commitment to disarmament is clear. It is unassailable. Since the entry into force of the NPT, the United States has reduced its nuclear stockpile by more than 80%. The New START Treaty just celebrated its fourth birthday, and it is being well-implemented by both the United States and Russia. Current tensions with the Russian Federation highlight the importance of the security, stability, and predictability provided by verifiable mutual limits on strategic weapons.

President Obama stated U.S. willingness to negotiate reductions in both non-strategic and strategic nuclear weapons with Russia. In June 2013, in Berlin, the President proposed a reduction of up to one-third of our deployed strategic warheads from the level established in the New START Treaty. That offer, which was a good one, is still on the table. Progress requires a willing partner and a conducive strategic environment.

To pave the way to lower numbers in the future, the United States is putting its best and brightest to work on creating new verification and monitoring techniques. As part of this effort, the United States has created, in partnership with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. Starting at our first meeting in a few weeks, we will work with both nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, as well as non-governmental organizations, to discuss technical issues associated with verifying nuclear disarmament and to consider possible solutions to those problems.

Peaceful Uses

The third pillar of the treaty – the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – is perhaps less heralded, but it is no less important. This pillar aids in addressing modern challenges such as climate change, food, water and energy security, and sustainable development.

The United States is a stalwart supporter of the astonishingly varied peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology, and we are helping to advance projects that are making a real difference in countries throughout the world. These include projects to advance human health, combat cancer and infectious diseases such as Ebola, support water resource management, ensure food security, protect the environment, promote nuclear safety and security, develop nuclear power infrastructure, and develop uranium resources.

P5 Process

International cooperation is vital to the success of these efforts. We will continue to work with the other four nuclear-weapon states as defined by the NPT – China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom – to advance our common goals of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The P5 Process, as it has come to be known, is a multilateral discussion forum among the P5 covering a broad range of international security and stability topics, including our progress in implementing the Action Plan from the 2010 NPT Review Conference. It has been heartening to see countries like China adding to the discussion in a constructive and creative manner. The regular interaction, cooperation and trust-building activities are providing the foundation on which future P5 multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament will stand.

New Zealand’s Contributions to the NPT

As a strong and determined advocate for both disarmament and nonproliferation, New Zealand is a key player in the NPT review process.

On nonproliferation, New Zealand leads by example, serving as a vice-chair of the 1540 Committee, a UN effort to stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction and facilitating cooperation and collaboration at the International Atomic Energy Committee in Vienna. New Zealand has also provided over $150,000 in monetary contributions to the PUI, as well as in-kind contributions to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Center in Monaco by coordinating such research in the Australasian region.

With its membership in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), along with other nuclear security efforts, New Zealand is helping to curb the threat of one of the most unpredictable dangers of our time. It is a danger that should serve to move all nations to work harder and faster to reduce the likelihood of nuclear terrorism ever becoming a reality.

At last year’s Preparatory Meeting for the NPT RevCon, New Zealand called for an increased focus on the nuclear disarmament pillar of the NPT. Such focus can take many shapes. As I mentioned, the United States is particularly interested in expanding our collective work on developing the technologies that will help us verify further nuclear reductions.

Further, there are initiatives and agreements that are essential to progress in this pillar. The United States and New Zealand have both provided strong support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). As the United States works to complete its ratification process for the CTBT, we look to partner with Wellington on further development of the Treaty’s International Monitoring System and efforts to move towards the Treaty’s entry into force. We and the New Zealanders are equally committed to finally spurring the negotiations of an FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament.

CTBT and FMCT share a long pedigree. Both are needed to support more ambitious disarmament steps and more immediately, to end the nuclear arms build-up in Asia. These treaties remain an important part of our dialogue within the P5 and discussions with India and Pakistan.

There is no doubt that New Zealand is fulfilling its NPT commitments in both word and deed, and the United States looks forward to constructive cooperation at the RevCon in April.

Challenges Ahead

As I said, the NPT is facing challenges and the United States is aware of criticisms it will face in April. There are those that think the United States is not moving fast enough to fulfill our disarmament commitments. The record, as evidenced by a more than 80% reduction in stockpile numbers since the entry into force of the NPT, refutes that notion. In hard numbers, the United States had 26,008 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile in 1970. In 2013, the active stockpile consisted of 4,804 warheads. That is still too many and we know it. We continue to drive downwards, but occasionally we will find ourselves on a plateau. That is not a failure; that is the reality of how any process works.

The United States and the Russian Federation continue to possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, so further bilateral reductions between our nations is the next logical move. That is why, as I said, President Obama proposed a next round of strategic reduction talks between the United States and the Russian Federation.

Unfortunately, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have made it difficult to engage with Russia on the full range of issues affecting strategic stability. This is unfortunate, as there are real and meaningful steps we should be taking that can contribute to a more predictable, safer security environment.

Addressing current Russian actions is an ongoing process. For example, we will keep pushing the Russian government to return to verifiable compliance with its Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) obligations, as the Treaty is in our mutual security interest and that of the globe. We have been clear with Russia that our preference is to resolve this issue diplomatically and not risk a return to the action/reaction dangers of the past. The United States appreciates the support of Australia as we deal with these issues.

The United States is also aware of whispers to scrap the NPT or the 2010 Action Plan in the hopes that an outright ban on nuclear weapons can be negotiated and brought into force at this time. That desire is short-sighted at best and reckless at worst, as the NPT has served to protect and promote stability for over four decades.

For the advocates of moving ahead to a ban at this moment, it is important to remember that the United States shares the goal of the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. We are aware that the “nuclear sword of Damocles,” as so eloquently described by President John F. Kennedy, still hangs above the head of every man, woman and child on this planet. That concept has weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of U.S. leaders since the dawn of the nuclear age. Our deep understanding of the humanitarian consequences has become and will always be inseparable from our nuclear policy.

Moreover, as we weather new and enduring pressures to the nonproliferation regime, we must be doing the hard work to make the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons possible. As I have said before, it is not enough to have the political will to pursue this agenda; we have to have a practical way to pursue it.

Further, pushing for a nuclear weapons convention or fixed timeline for the elimination of all nuclear weapons is not an efficient way to use the time at the NPT RevCon. The nonproliferation regime faces clear and present dangers that would make a world free of nuclear weapons more elusive. Non-compliance by some NPT Parties is a good example, as is the potential abuse of the Treaty’s withdrawal clause. Inaction on these issues would make the international security environment more chaotic and arms reductions less likely.

Those who support disarmament must acknowledge that not every nation is ready or willing to pursue serious arms control and nonproliferation efforts, least of all a total ban. Together, we must push those nations to accept their global and ethical responsibilities. Together, we must put aside disagreements over process and remember that we share the same end goal. Together we must strengthen and support all three pillars of the Treaty that has brought us so far.

The Road Ahead

We face challenges to progress in this arena, no doubt. President Johnson rightly said to expect challenges and setbacks when he signed the NPT in 1968, but he “solemnly pledge[d] the resources, the resolve, and the unrelenting efforts of the people of the United States and their Government” in the pursuit of the Treaty’s ultimate goal.

President Obama and the United States continue to honor this pledge today. We still face challenges, of course. When he chaired the United Nations Security Council in September of 2009, President Obama said that “we harbor no illusions about the difficulty of bringing about a world without nuclear weapons.”

“We know,” he said, that “there are plenty of cynics, and that there will be setbacks to prove their point. But there will also be days…that push us forward.”

I have seen those days. I have seen Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus take the wise, brave and bold step to send nuclear weapons out of their countries for dismantlement or disposition. I have seen the United States and Russia reduce their respective arsenals again and again. I have also seen the United States and Russia work together to turn the equivalent of 20,000 Soviet nuclear warheads into energy that is lighting up homes and offices across America. Most importantly, I have seen more countries give up nuclear weapons or programs than have acquired them. The Nonproliferation Treaty is the foundation that allowed for all of these things to happen.

As we head into the RevCon and beyond, we will need to work together. With New Zealand as our partner, the United States is confident that we can move forward in advancing all three pillars of the NPT.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your questions.