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Thursday, March 12, 2015


03/11/2015 08:22 AM EDT
Remarks at the International Institute for Strategic Studies
Thomas M. Countryman
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
London, United Kingdom
March 6, 2015

Thank you Mark for the invitation. Having worked with IISS for years on a number of your publications, I am very happy to finally get the chance to visit your headquarters and on a auspicious day. Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of the entry into force of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty so it is an appropriate time to consider what we have accomplished and how we can approach the Review Conference starting next month. We want to keep in mind the big picture throughout. This treaty in my opinion is the most successful multilateral treaty in the history of diplomacy. It has played a fundamental and irreplaceable role in promoting the security of every state that has become a party to the treaty. It is the common foundation for goals that we share in disarmament and nonproliferation and it lays the basis for the cooperation globally in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Upholding and strengthening the treaty is central to President Obama’s Prague agenda and his commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. The treaty is not perfect, it is not immune to challenge, but it is irreplaceable and could not be replicated if we allow it to fall apart.

The NPT Treaty and Review Conference

So let’s consider the significant accomplishments of the treaty. First it provides a framework for ending the nuclear arms race, for the vast reductions in global nuclear stockpiles we have already achieved, particularly in the United States, and for reinforcing the strong taboo against use of nuclear weapons. It has succeeded in limiting the number of states that possess nuclear weapons. Projections in the 1960s before the treaty was negotiated were that by the turn of the century there would have been dozens of states possessing nuclear weapons. Instead that number has barely increased in the last 45 years. The treaty established durable, international legal obligations designed to prevent proliferation of weapons. It gives direction to safeguards and export control regimes that are needed to sustain the treaty, and it has promoted peaceful nuclear trade and assistance for energy and development throughout the world.

We are looking forward to a successful Review Conference or RevCon or short. We have been working with and will continue to work with all parties, and with particular focus on explaining our position better to Non-aligned states, in order to advance realistic and achievable objectives that reinforce and uphold the treaty. We seek a balanced review of all three pillars. As you know the three pillars are described as disarmament by the nuclear weapons states, nonproliferation and the commitment to avoid acquisition of nuclear weapons by other states, and the benefits of peaceful uses to all states. In the 2010 Review Conference, we agreed on an action plan by consensus. This was a breakthrough achievement. It was the most detailed, and substantive conclusion ever in the history of review processes. That action plan is valid today. It is a useful yardstick for implementing steps that strengthen the treaty. It is not, however, a deadline; it was not a time limited action plan. We need now at next month’s conference to take stock of the action plan and update it. We developed a series of working papers on how to update the action plan which we are now circulating in diplomatic channels. We want to reinforce all the parts that are relevant, which is most of it, and identify what can be advanced as a result of next month’s Review Conference. And of course we are actively studying all the papers produced by friends around the world because they contain valuable ideas on how to advance the goals of disarmament and nonproliferation.

Now one hallmark of our preparation has been greater transparency about U.S. nuclear weapons, about their quantity, their alert status, and their role in our military doctrine. The report we gave last year to the Preparatory Committee was unprecedented in providing insight into our nuclear weapons program. No other state has ever provided so much information and we intend to surpass it next month in the Review Conference. Similarly, we have invited a group of senior, foreign government officials to visit our national nuclear laboratories in New Mexico to encourage a more open and transparent dialogue on U.S. policies.

Nonproliferation Pillar

To get to a success in New York next month does not require consensus on a final document but it is desirable and we will do all we can to achieve it. Success can also be measured by the degree of consensus on advancing all three pillars on nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses. Let me spend just a couple more minutes on our priorities in each of these pillars. On nonproliferation, we want to ensure that the international verification of obligations under the NPT remains effective and robust. That means it requires political, technical, and resource commitments from the world. We will continue to promote the IAEA Additional Protocol which represents the highest standard for verification that states are meeting the NPT safeguards requirements. We have an active program through my bureau of the State Department to help states that seek assistance to implement their safeguard obligations. We need to give a strong statement of support to the International Atomic Energy Agency which has the responsibility for implementing safeguards. Most recently, this includes implementing the advanced idea of the State-level concept about which we could talk more.

The International Atomic Energy Agency deserves the highest degree of independence, expertise, and resources in order to accomplish its crucial mission. We need to underscore that noncompliance by the treaty’s members, that is by a state party, undermines the overall integrity of the NPT. We need to discuss how to hold accountable violators of the their own obligations and we also want to develop a consensus about how to address states that may abuse Article 10 of the treaty which gives states the right to withdraw from the NPT. We’ve been part of a group that has built a very wide consensus on this topic.

Peaceful Uses Pillar

On peaceful uses of nuclear science, at the RevCon we will address and advance our record of promoting the availability and sharing of peaceful benefits of the atom. We will highlight nuclear trade and the considerable amount that we spend in assisting states to provide for safety and security in nuclear energy use. At the 2010 conference then-Secretary Clinton announced the Peaceful Uses Initiative which was intended to expand the fund of money that the IAEA has to provide technical cooperation in developing countries. We have provided nearly $200 million dollars to this and other technical cooperation programs since 2010, and I expect we will make a new commitment on this at the Review Conference.

We will detail the progress made through the Nuclear Security Summit process initiated by President Obama. As a result of this process the number of facilities and countries around the world that possess highly enriched uranium or plutonium has decreased markedly. Security of storage sites of fissile materials is much greater, and more countries are prepared to counter nuclear smuggling. We also of course will discuss nuclear safety. Since the 2010 action plan we’ve seen the tragedy of Fukushima, and we note our support for a more wide range of programs to advance nuclear safety -- for example, the declaration of the diplomatic conference on the Convention of Nuclear Safety issued in Vienna last month. We will also use the Review Conference to seek support for new frameworks for peaceful nuclear cooperation such as an arrangement for a fuel bank facility in Kazakhstan that we hope to see finalized this year.

Disarmament Pillar

On the disarmament pillar, the U.S. commitment to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons remains firm. We continue to actively pursue nuclear disarmament in keeping with the commitment that we made under Article 6 of the treaty. We work hard to put in place the building blocks for nuclear disarmament. This approach of discrete, practical steps has achieved major reductions in nuclear weapons and fissile material stocks over several decades and continues to do so. It is a practical approach. It is a verifiable approach, and we’re prepared to explain it and defend it at the Review Conference. When I say discrete steps, it doesn’t mean one thing at a time; it means we are pursuing many channels in order to lay the groundwork for future efforts in bilateral arms reduction with the Russian Federation and in multilateral arms reduction. This includes not only changes to the U.S. arsenal and U.S. policies, but also requires building confidence and transparency with other nuclear states, including by cooperating on our nonproliferation goals. Each step that we have taken over the years has helped to create the conditions and build momentum for subsequent steps.

Some states party to the treaty are dissatisfied with the recent pace of disarmament but the fact remains that since the last Review Conference the New START Treaty has entered into force, and it is being implemented in terms of its notifications and inspections on a faithful basis by both the Russian Federation and the United States. By the time we reach the levels set by the treaty for 2018, the U.S. deployed nuclear arsenal will be at its lowest level since before I was born and that was when Mr. Eisenhower was president. But we also have to show readiness to do more. President Obama offered nearly two years ago to pursue further negotiated reductions with Russia with the goal of cutting our deployed nuclear weapons by another one third. That offer is still on the table. We are ready to engage with Russia on the full range of issues affecting strategic stability, but we’re also realistic about how much can be achieved without a willing partner in the current difficult strategic environment. A new Russian security doctrine which explicitly reprioritizes its nuclear forces is obviously creating a new and direct challenge to bilateral disarmament efforts.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zone – Middle East

Let me speak to one special topic from the 2010 RevCon that I know is of interest around the world. At the 2010 Review Conference the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom, as depositaries of the Nonproliferation Treaty, accepted a commitment that we would before the end of 2012 convene a conference to discuss the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Well we are now in the 39th month of 2012 and we haven’t yet succeeded in convening a conference. This is a very specific commitment we made and I think it requires explanation to the world of everything that we have done to try to make this possible. Here I would also note that despite differences with Russia on major issues, we have continued to cooperate well with the U.K., Russia and the UN on this particular point.

The commitment to convene a conference said explicitly that it should be attended by all states of the region, which is to include Israel. Israel, however, is not a member of the NPT and has no legal obligation to honor an invitation to the conference. Israel could, however, be persuaded and over the last three and a half years, through tireless efforts of Russia and the U.K. and the United Nations, and our facilitator Ambassador Laajava of Finland, but especially from the United States, we have reached a point where Israel accepts the value of holding such a conference which it sees as a venue for discussing not just creation of a WMD free zone in the Middle East, but a forum for discussing related security issues that must be addressed if a weapons free zone in the Middle East is to be successful. Over the past year and a half Ambassador Laajava and these three states, together with the UN, have convened five unofficial or informal meetings at which multiple Arab delegations and Israeli diplomats sat at the same table and discussed - for the first time in twenty years - regional security issues.

As a consequence, there is a better understanding by all sides of what are the obstacles and political conditions necessary for creation for such a zone are, and there is a better understanding of our Arab friends who have worked very hard on this issue and shown innovation and flexibility at times, a better understanding that this is not simply a technical exercise of taking the Africa Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty and changing the names. It is a political process. It is a diplomatic process. It is a negotiation process, not just a technical drafting process. We remain hopeful even before the RevCon that additional contact between Israel and the Arabs on this issue will allow us to agree on an agenda and set a date for the convening of such a conference.


Let me just conclude by saying that we don’t just focus on the NPT every five years. It is the constant job of my bureau within the State Department to focus on the assignments and specific obligations that the treaty has given not just to the U.S., not just to the five recognized nuclear weapons states, but to every state party to the treaty. It’s a continual process of upholding and strengthening the treaty. It commands vigilance, and effort. It requires states to watch out for the kind of technical trade that they conduct with states such as North Korea and Iran. It means that we have to take greater responsibility to resolve conflicts that could become temptations for proliferation. We have to seek consensus, we have to identify areas of agreement with states that have a different set of priorities than the United States. Of course progress elsewhere will contribute to success at this conference and in subsequent years, and here of course I am particularly hopeful that Iran will be able to take “yes” for an answer and sign a substantive agreement with the P5 + 1 that ends the possibility of Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

I am less hopeful but never totally pessimistic that we’ll make similar progress with North Korea within the months ahead and of course I hope to see a reduction of tensions in Asia, the one area of the world in which the number of nuclear weapons is increasing. So overall I am optimistic that we can build on the success of the 2010 Review Conference. We look forward to working with all parties who share our interest in achieving an objective, balanced and realistic text. It is essential not just for the security of the world but for the vision that all of us need to keep in our heads, the prospect of finally achieving a world without nuclear weapons. So thank you and I look forward to questions and ideas that you may want to give me.