American Bar Association Spring Meeting, International Law Section

Rose Gottemoeller
Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Washington, DC
April 25, 2013

As Delivered

Good afternoon everyone. It is great to be here at the American Bar Association Spring Meeting. Thank you for inviting me to speak. I would like to begin with something different and that is a tribute to one of the chief negotiators of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), George Bunn, who died this week at 87. A friend and mentor to many in my field, George was a highly respected wise man who never stopped thinking about how to rid the world of the threat of nuclear weapons. I thought you would like to hear what Roland Timerbaev, his Soviet counterpart in the NPT talks, had to say about the man who became his life-long friend:

"This friendship was based on mutual trust and our common and profound understanding of what is needed to preclude nuclear catastrophe, which helped our governments to negotiate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the foundation stone for mankind's efforts to build the world free of nuclear weapons."

I can think of no better tribute to George Bunn. We will miss him.

I also want to start today by noting an upcoming anniversary. June 10 is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech at American University. In that speech, he said:

“Peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.”

I like that concept. Defining goals does make things more manageable. Working step by step, we can slowly fix seemingly intractable, unsolvable problems. We would all do well to remember this concept as we discuss the challenges ahead.

It would have been hard to believe during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis that less than a year later, the Limited Test Ban Treaty would be in force. It was just 7 years later that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force: the work of George Bunn, Roland Timerbaev, and so many other talented negotiators.

The grand bargain of the NPT, where 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, sets an enduring standard that is as relevant today as it was at the Treaty’s inception. For over forty years, the regime has bent and frayed in places, but it has never broken or collapsed. It has slowed the tide of proliferation; it has facilitated cooperation among its States Parties; and it has institutionalized the norms of nonproliferation and disarmament.

There have been a number of important arms control and nonproliferation treaties negotiated and ratified since then - some of the most far-reaching were conceived by the Reagan Administration. Past brave leaders in the Executive Branch Administration and in Congress doggedly sought out international arrangements that drove the levels of nuclear weapons in the world down by the tens of thousands. Each dismantled weapon was one that could never be used by a terrorist or a rogue state. That work also had tangible benefits to our foreign policy writ large. Our treaty-based arms control interactions with the Soviets paved the way for dialogue on other issues, as well.

The United States believes that the NPT and other treaties have allowed us to make great strides in disarmament and nonproliferation objectives since 2010, but we still have far to go.

To fulfill our disarmament goals, the New START Treaty was an excellent step, but only one step among others to be taken. It is very satisfying to see how pragmatic, business-like and positive its implementation has been so far. I have actually just returned from Geneva, where Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov – my counterpart during the New START negotiations – and I gave a briefing on the Treaty’s implementation at the NPT PrepCom. That briefing is available on the State website.

The concrete measures that the United States and Russian Federation are taking to reduce nuclear weapons are measurable and significant and have set an essential foundation for pursuing additional measures in keeping with our Article VI commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So now it is time for the next step; we should get back to the table. President Obama made it clear when he signed New START that the United States would pursue discussions with the Russian Federation on reductions in all categories of nuclear weapons – strategic, non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed.

As the President said in Seoul in 2012, we can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need. We can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat to ourselves and our allies, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal.

While I know that the next steps in reductions with Russia attract a lot of attention, I don’t think that people pay nearly enough attention to our ongoing engagement with other P5 states on disarmament-related matters. We were in Geneva just last week for our fourth P5 meeting on these issues. Senior officials from China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States have had constructive talks on a number of issues, including NPT reporting, safeguards and verification technologies, spanning P5 commitments under the NPT and the 2010 Review Conference Action Plan.

In short, we have come a long way since our first meeting in London in 2009 and are moving beyond discussions around a conference table. We are beginning to engage at expert levels on some important arms control issues. For example, the Chinese Delegation has taken the lead on the nuclear definitions and terminology working group for the P5. I think that project is going to yield some really interesting discussions – such as considering what defines a strategic or nonstrategic nuclear weapon. I know that sounds a little dull to people, but a room full of lawyers can surely appreciate the importance of defining terms and developing a shared understanding of concepts.

Beyond bilateral treaties, ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) remains a top priority for the United States. As stated in the April 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review: “Ratification of the CTBT is central to leading other nuclear weapons states toward a world of diminished reliance on nuclear weapons, reduced nuclear competition, and eventual nuclear disarmament.”

The Administration thanks the International Law Section for its work on the ABA Resolution in support of the ratification of the CTBT. We hope for your support going forward, and appreciate your partnership.

As we look towards ratification we will continue to engage Congress. I like to think of our efforts thus far as an “information exchange.” There are no set timeframes to bring the Treaty to a vote, and we are going to be patient, but we will also be persistent.

While we pursue ratification at home, the Administration has been calling on the remaining Annex 2 States to join us in moving forward toward ratification. There is no reason to wait on us. An in-force CTBT benefits all nations.

We also remain committed to launching negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). An FMCT is a logical and absolutely essential next step in the path towards global nuclear disarmament.

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) remains our preferred venue for negotiating an FMCT, since it includes every major nuclear-capable state and operates by consensus. Nonetheless, we are more concerned with getting negotiations started than we are with the venue. So long as our principles are met, that negotiations be governed by consensus, include the key states, and be based on the so-called Shannon Mandate, we are prepared to move forward.

We will continue to press this issue. Our focus has been to find a way to convince others that commencement of negotiations is not something to fear. Consensus-based negotiations allow all to protect their vital national security interests. To those for whom the continued existence of the CD is vital, I say come to the negotiating table and get to work, while we still have a table from which to work.

Pivoting to nonproliferation issues, despite our past and recent successes, there are very pressing challenges all around us and on the horizon. Most critically, we have grave concerns about the actions of a few countries. North Korea, Iran and Syria have consistently violated their NPT obligations and have failed to take the steps necessary to rectify these violations. The United States is deeply concerned about all of these programs, as I am sure is the case for everyone in this room. These transgressions threaten international security and undermine confidence in the nonproliferation regime. They also stand directly in the way of our shared disarmament goals.

The United States is committed to supporting and strengthening the nonproliferation obligations of the NPT. Nonproliferation is the fundamental purpose of the NPT, which supports and draws strength from the other pillars of disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The Treaty’s pillars are mutually reinforcing and only by ensuring the strength of all three can we lay the groundwork for the peace and security of a world free from the threat of nuclear catastrophe.

The United States will continue to lead efforts to ensure member states fully comply with their NPT obligations, to ensure that there are costs for non-compliance with the Treaty, and to strengthen IAEA safeguards to account for evolving proliferation challenges.

An important goal we share with the international community is the achievement of a Middle East zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. The United States stands ready to help facilitate discussions among states in the region at the proposed Helsinki conference. The United States continues to fully support this goal. But we do so recognizing that the mandate for a zone can only come from within the region; it cannot be imposed from outside or without the consent of all concerned states. We remain committed to working with our partners and the states in the region to create conditions for a successful dialogue.

Another immediate concern is securing vulnerable nuclear materials in order to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. Under President Obama’s direction, we have held two Nuclear Security Summits, with a third to take place in The Hague next year. In anticipation of the Hague Summit in 2014, we will continue to build on pledges that are resulting in more material secured, removed and eliminated.

The United States is also working to update the legal framework for cooperative threat reduction (CTR) activities with the Russian Federation. We have been working closely with Russia over the past year to continue our cooperation under an updated legal framework that reflects our maturing bilateral partnership and allows us to build on the achievements made under the expiring CTR agreement.

The past success of CTR gives us a lot to be proud of and we aim to continue this success. As President Obama said, “missile by missile, warhead by warhead, shell by shell, we’re putting a bygone era behind us.” We are working hard to advance continued U.S.-Russian cooperation in nonproliferation and arms control.

The United States has also recently worked with the international community to negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), aimed at stemming the illicit trade in conventional arms and reducing the risk that such arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes. The ATT aims to bring other countries closer to the high standard set by U.S. import and export control systems. There is nothing in the treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of U.S. citizens – including the Second Amendment – impedes the legitimate international arms trade, or requires changes to U.S. laws or practices. We appreciate the ABA’s white paper on this particular Treaty and will value the chance to work with you in the future.

There are many other accomplishments and important agenda items that I have not discussed yet, but I am happy to expand on these issues during the Q & A.

One final thought before that – as the United States and Russia approach the lowest levels of deployed nuclear warheads since the 1950’s – and that will happen when the New START Treaty is fully implemented in 2018 – it is important to remember that our success was born out of direct communication. Communication builds trust. Trust paves the way for cooperation. This is the type of process we are trying to cultivate with our allies and partners. We will need them to move ahead and we will need all of you to help us. I look forward to the way ahead and to working with you.

Thank you.