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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Events

Addressing Current Chemical Weapons Convention Compliance Challenges

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Tuesday, March 26, 2024
10:00 - 11:00 a.m., U.S. Eastern Time

Although all member states of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention have verifiably completed the destruction of the chemical weapons stockpiles as required by the treaty, the regime still faces compliance challenges. Ten years after Syria's massive declared chemical arsenal was removed from its territory and destroyed under international supervision, gaps and inconsistencies in its declaration remain unresolved and several incidents of chemical weapons use have been documented by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Meanwhile, credible allegations have arisen in the past several months that Russia has used riot control agents against Ukrainian infantry position, which would be a violation of the CWC.

A high-level group of panelists discussed these ongoing CWC compliance concerns.

Speakers included:

  • Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, former Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will review on the OPCW’s investigations and findings regarding chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic, and approaches to addressing unresolved issues.
  • Fadel Abdulghany, head of the Syrian Human Rights Network, will discuss ongoing concerns and impacts chemical weapons use on the Syrian people, and the role of civil society in documenting incidents of CWC noncompliance.
  • Ambassador Susannah Gordon, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the OPCW, will provide an update on new allegations that riot control agents are being used by Russian forces in the war in Ukraine in violation of the CWC, what it means in terms of challenges to the CW, and how CWC member states might respond.

The webinar was be moderated by CWC Coalition Project Coordinator Mina Rozei.

This discussion was on the record. The webinar was organized by the Arms Control Association and the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition.

Description: 

Ten years after Syria's chemical arsenal was destroyed under international supervision, gaps and inconsistencies in its declaration remain unresolved. Meanwhile, credible allegations have arisen in the past several months that Russia has used riot control agents against Ukrainian infantry position, which would be a violation of the CWC. In this webinar, a high-level group of panelists discussed these ongoing CWC compliance concerns.

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2024 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting

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ACA members, friends, colleagues—please join us at our 2024 Annual Meeting, Friday, June 7, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  The theme of our 2024 Annual Meeting is: "Moving Back from the Nuclear Brink"

Our one-day conference will feature keynote speakers and expert panels considering some of the most pressing arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament challenges, and how we can effectively address them.

Final program details, including the list of speakers and panels, will be posted here once available. Topics we expect to address include:

  • How Much Is Enough? Looming Decisions on U.S. Nuclear Force Size and Spending
  • Toward a More Effective and Humane U.S. Arms Transfer Policy   
  • The Role of Congress in Reducing the Nuclear Danger
  • Future Pathways on Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament

Secure your seat early by becoming a Sponsor and helping us to meet new and difficult challenges, reach new audiences, and train the next generation of arms control leaders. Sponsorship includes registration.

Become a Sponsor (includes registration)

If you prefer to register only (not be a sponsor), please register via our Basic Registration page.

 

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Register to join us Friday, June 7 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for our 2024 annual members meeting.

The Sentinel ICBM program: Risks, Costs, and Alternatives

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January 26, 12:30-1:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time
Cohosted by the Arms Control Association and
the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction

The U.S. Air Force is moving forward with plans to refurbish all its 450 nuclear missile silos and replace its current fleet of Minuteman III land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with new Sentinel missiles.

A new study based on state-of-the-art nuclear war modeling suggests the scale of the human and environmental impact of this policy may be larger than previously known. Described as one of the largest and most complex weapon system programs ever undertaken by the U.S. Air Force, the Sentinel program is proving challenging to deliver on time and on cost.

The program already faces significant overruns that may trigger a congressional review. This provides a new opportunity to think about alternatives to the current Sentinel program and ending six decades of reliance on land-based ICBMs.


Panelists:

  • Sébastien Philippe is a Research Scholar with Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. His research focuses on modeling the impact of nuclear weapon use on people and planet. He is a former nuclear weapon system safety engineer in France Ministry of Armed Forces.
  • Sharon K. Weiner is Associate Professor at American University’s School of International Service and a visiting researcher at Princeton’s Program on Science & Global Security. She has extensive experience in Government, including as a program examiner with the National Security Division at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
  • Frank von Hippel is professor emeritus with Princeton’s Program on Science & Global Security. He has been engaged with US ICBM issues since the 1970s. He is a co-founder of the Physicist Coalition for Nuclear Threats Reduction.
  • Zia Mian is a physicist and co-director of Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security. He is a co-founder of the Physicist Coalition for Nuclear Threats Reduction and has served on the board of the Arms Control Association.

 

 

 

Description: 

Described as one of the largest and most complex weapon system programs ever undertaken by the U.S. Air Force, the Sentinel program is proving challenging to deliver on time and on cost. 

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Physicists Coalition D.C. Engagement Days

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The Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction is inviting physical scientists and engineers to our inaugural Washington, D.C. Engagement Days to engage with policymakers and practitioners and encourage efforts to reduce nuclear weapons threats.

The inaugural D.C. Engagement Days Event will kick off with a required training on Sunday, April 14, followed by two days of team meetings scheduled by the Coalition with congressional offices and executive branch officials.

Who Can Participate

Registration is open to physical scientists and engineers at any stage in their careers. All registrants should be in alignment with the mission of the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction. We especially welcome those with a strong interest or background in advocacy for nuclear threat reduction.

For complete details and to register, visit Physicists Coalition D.C. Engagement Days.

Description: 

The Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction is inviting physical scientists and engineers to our inaugural Washington, D.C. Engagement Days to engage with policymakers and practitioners and encourage efforts to reduce nuclear weapons threats.

Reinforcing the Beleaguered Nuclear Nonproliferation & Arms Control System

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Date/Time: Dec. 12, 2023, 9:30 am - 11:00 am U.S. Eastern Time
Location: National Press Club (529 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20045)

The global nuclear nonproliferation and arms control system has reduced the nuclear dangers. But for more than a decade, relations among the states with the world's largest nuclear arsenals have deteriorated and progress on disarmament has stalled. We are now on the precipice of a dangerous and costly era of nuclear competition.

The last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), will expire in less than 800 days; the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty no longer exists; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is history. And in recent weeks, Russia has withdrawn its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

Complicating matters, states have failed to agree on a final report and action plan at the past two nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conferences, and talks at the Conference on Disarmament on key disarmament proposals have been stalled for many years.

This joint event, co-hosted by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, featured:

  • Introductory remarks from the Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United States, Yerzhan Ashikbayev were offered by deputy chief of mission Rauan Tleulin.
  • Thomas Countryman, chair of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.
  • Amb. Elayne White Gomez, president of the negotiating conference for the 2017 Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
  • Nomsa Ndongwe, research fellow, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Previously, she served as a diplomat at the Zimbabwe Permanent Mission in Geneva with a focus on disarmament issues. 
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, moderated.

The session explored questions including: 

  • What has led to the breakdown in arms control diplomacy between the United States and Russia and what steps can be taken by Washington and Moscow to re-engage in nuclear risk and weapons reduction diplomacy? How can the United States and China productively engage on issues relating to nuclear risk reduction and arms control?
  • What accounts for the tensions evident at the NPT Review Process and what steps can be taken to reinforce global support for compliance and implementation of the treaty and the commitments states have undertaken in connection with the NPT?  
  • How can non-nuclear weapon states and the acknowledged nuclear weapons states work together more cooperatively to bolster the NPT, the CTBT, and the bilateral arms reduction measures in the years ahead? What role can the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons serve to reinforce key norms regarding nuclear weapons?
Description: 

What steps can Washington and Moscow take to re-engage in nuclear risk reduction diplomacy, and how can the United States and China productively engage on issues relating to risk reduction and arms control?

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Upholding the CTBT Regime in a Time of Adversity

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As with other critical nuclear risk reduction and arms control agreements, the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is under threat due to inattention, diplomatic inaction, and worsening relations between nuclear-armed adversaries.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill from the Russian parliament to “un-ratify” the CTBT, ostensibly to “mirror” the United States’ posture toward the treaty and somehow pressure the United States to ratify the pact.

Opening remarks from:

  • Dr. Robert Floyd, executive secretary of the CTBT Organization (CTBTO)

Followed by expert panelists:

  • Elena Chernenko, head of the international section at the Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, where she focuses on nonproliferation and arms control issues. She is also a member of the German-Russian-U.S. Experts Commission on Deep Cuts in nuclear arsenals.
  • María Antonieta Jáquez Huacuja, counselor, Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, which is a co-sponsor of the resolution in support of the CTBT at the 78th UN General Assembly.
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, veteran campaigner to end nuclear testing and advance the CTBT.
  • Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, Arms Control Association, moderator


Additional Resources

  • Reducing Tensions Over Nuclear Testing at Very Low Yield
    By Julien de Troulliou de Lanversin, Christopher Fichtlscherer and Frank N. von Hippel
    in the November 2023 Arms Control Today

    Given rising nuclear tensions involving China, Russia, and the United States, it is imperative that key states discuss a new transparency and verification regime for very low-yield nuclear tests.
     
  • Russia, the CTBT, and International Law
    By David A. Koplow
    in the November 2023 Arms Control Today

    Even after withdrawing its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Russia would still be obligated to refrain from nuclear testing.

  • Managing an Arsenal Without Nuclear Testing
    An Interview with Jill Hruby of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration
    in the December 2023 Arms Control Today

    The NNSA administrator affirms confidence in the U.S. stockpile and advocates more transparency among nuclear-weapon states.
     
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty At A Glance
    ACA Fact Sheet

    The treaty was opened for signature in September 1996, and has been signed by 187 nations and ratified by 178. The treaty cannot formally enter into force until it is ratified by 44 specific nations, eight of which have yet to do so.
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Russia’s move to withdraw its ratification from the 1996 treaty is a reminder that the de facto global test moratorium cannot be taken for granted.

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The Risks That AI Poses for Nuclear Decision-Making: End of an Era

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Monday, Nov. 13, 2023
12:30 noon—1:30 p.m., U.S. Eastern Time

Rapid advancements in technology put artificial intelligence (AI) at the heart of discussions concerning nuclear strategy, especially among nuclear-weapon states. With these states exploring the nexus of AI and nuclear decision-making, the stakes are high.

This joint event, co-hosted by the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Arms Control Association (ACA), presented the main findings of a new ELN research report on "Examining the impact of artificial intelligence on strategic stability: European and P5 perspectives,” based on the findings of a research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Presenters included:

  • Alice Saltini, Research Coordinator, European Leadership Network
  • Matthew Sharp, Director of the Office of Multilateral and Nuclear Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Tom McKane, ELN Member; Former Director General for Strategy and Security Policy, U.K. Ministry of Defence
  • Shannon Bugos, Senior Policy Analyst, Arms Control Association, moderator
  • Jane Kinninmont, Policy & Impact Director, European Leadership Network, moderator

The session explored questions including:  

  • How does the integration of AI into nuclear weapons decision-making compare as a policy and practice between the nuclear-weapon states?
  • All nuclear-weapon states accept the need to keep a "human in the loop" on any decision to use a nuclear weapon, but do they really mean the same thing, and what are the repercussions of differing interpretations?
  • What immediate steps can the nuclear-weapon states take to lessen the risks associated with the intersection of AI and nuclear decision-making?

 

Description: 

Special report roll-out on the risks that artificial intelligence poses to nuclear decision-making and strategic stability, co-hosted by the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Arms Control Association (ACA).

The Long Journey to Eliminate the Deadly U.S. Chemical Weapons Stockpile

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Friday, September 29, 2023
10:00 - 11:30 a.m., U.S. Eastern Time

When the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997, it took on the legal obligation and the complex technical and engineering task of destroying its massive Cold War-era chemical weapons stockpile, which consisted of some 31,500 tons (63,000,000 pounds) of deadly chemical agents much of which were loaded in various forms of munitions.

After years of delay, all U.S. declared chemical weapons stockpiles were irreversibly and verifiably destroyed in July 2023, two months ahead of the Sept. 2023 deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

The event is a major milestone in disarmament: the United States was the last declared stockpile possessor state to complete its safe and permanent demilitarization of chemical weapons.

This webinar featured perspectives from a senior Defense Department official on the long path to successfully eliminate the U.S. chemical arsenal, and the experiences of two local leaders who worked to reshape the government’s original plans for chemical weapons destruction to reduce the risks to local communities where the U.S. stockpiles were once stored. 

Speakers:

  • Kingston Reif, deputy assistant secretary of defense for threat reduction and arms control
  • Irene Kornelly, chair of the Colorado Citizens' Advisory Commission
  • Craig Williams, co-chair of the Kentucky Citizens' Advisory Commission
  • Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, moderating

This discussion was on the record. The webinar is organized by the Arms Control Association and the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition.

Description: 

Perspectives from a senior Defense Department official on the long path to successfully eliminate the U.S. chemical arsenal, and the experiences of two local leaders who worked to reshape the government’s original plans for chemical weapons destruction to reduce the risks to local communities.

A Call for Meaningful Disarmament Diplomacy as Required by Article VI of the NPT

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An NGO Statement the 10th NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting, August 2, 2023
 
(As prepared for delivery by Patricia Jaworek, member of the Young Deep Cuts Commission, and organized by the Arms Control Association.)
 
Further progress on nuclear disarmament by the United States and Russia—along with China, France, and the United Kingdom—has been and remains at the core of their NPT Article VI legal obligations to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
 
Patricia Jaworek (center) with the Young Deep Cuts Commission delivers the NGO Statement on behalf of its signers. (Photo: UN WebTV)But, since the conclusion of the 2010 New START agreement, U.S.-Russian strategic stability and nuclear arms control talks have not produced results. Today, important bilateral nuclear arms control agreements are either gone, are being ignored, or are in jeopardy.
 
The only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which will expire in early 2026. Earlier this year, Russia "suspended" implementation of New START citing the United States "hostile" attitude but pledged to abide by the central limits of the treaty, which will expire in about 900 days.
 
Although China, France, and the U.K. have engaged in discussions on nuclear terms and doctrines through the P5 Process, they have stubbornly refused to seriously engage in talks on ideas and proposals that would cap or reduce their own deadly arsenals.
 
Meanwhile, the worlds nuclear-armed states are spending tens of billions of dollars each year to replace and upgrade their deadly arsenals: 
 
  • Russia is developing new types of intermediate-range missiles and is threatening to deploy exotic new strategic systems, including nuclear-armed torpedoes. President Putin also recently suggested he might put Russian sub-strategic nuclear weapons on missiles and aircraft in Belarus.
  • The United States is on pace to spend $756 billion from 2023–2032 period, as avg. of $75 billion a year according to a new Congressional Budget Office estimate. Over the objections of President Biden, the U.S. Congress is pushing to fund a new weapon, which could cost an additional $10 billion: the nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise-missile.
  • China is rapidly increasing the quantity and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal and refusing to engage in negotiations to cut-off the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, in violation its NPT Article VI commitments.
The deteriorating situation is the product of more than a decade of neglect of disarmament diplomacy in key capitals. None of the five NPT nuclear-armed states can credibly claim they are meeting their NPT disarmament obligations.
 
Without renewed nuclear disarmament diplomacy, there is the potential for a dangerous three-way arms race between the United States, Russia, and China, and possibly others, that would undermine global security and the NPT itself. It is  essential for the United States and Russia to immediately engage in negotiations on a post-New START nuclear restraint and reduction framework agreement.
 
Now is the time for all NPT states parties -- whether they are nuclear-armed or nonnuclear weapon states, allied or nonaligned, as well as civil society groups that support for the NPT and for nuclear disarmament -- to actively, vocally, and persistently, demand that all five NPT nuclear-armed states engage in good faith efforts to halt and reverse the arms race.
 
Progress is not only necessary, but it is possible.
 
On June 2, President Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declared that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), including China France, and the U.K., “without preconditions.”
 
Sullivan was critical of Russia's suspension of New START but also noted that “Russia has publicly committed to adhere to the treaty’s central limits.”
 
He said: “It is in neither [U.S. or Russian] interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces,” and the United States is “prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does."
 
With New START due to expire in 2026, Sullivan suggested that “rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework.” Given the existential risks posed by nuclear weapons, we agree that nuclear disarmament diplomacy must be “compartmentalized” and not held hostage to demands on other matters.
 
On June 5, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia remains open to dialogue with the United States on arms control. He described Sullivan’s comments as “important and positive,” but said Russia wants to learn more about the proposal through formal diplomatic channels. To date, however, the two sides have not agreed to engage in such a dialogue.    
 
Now is the time for the two sides to begin a serious dialogue focused on a new arms control and disarmament framework before 2026, when New START will expire and when the next NPT Review Conference will be held.
 
The negotiation of a complex, bilateral nuclear arms control framework to replace New START would be difficult in good times and extraordinarily difficult so long as Russia's war on Ukraine continues.
 
Nevertheless, there is scope for the White House and the Kremlin to reach a unilateral, reciprocal arrangement that neither will exceed the deployed strategic warhead limit set by New START until a more permanent arms control arrangement comes into effect. This would contribute to a more stable international security environment and improve conditions for overdue progress on multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament.
 
In the absence of such a U.S.-Russian arrangement before New START ends, each side could upload more warheads on their strategic delivery systems quickly, and China might decide to accelerate its ongoing strategic nuclear buildup. Avoiding such a scenario is in the national security interests of all nations.
 
Sullivan also said that U.S. President Joe Biden supports “new multilateral arms control efforts,” involving all five nuclear-armed members of the NPT. “We’re under no illusions that reaching risk reduction and arms control measures in that setting will be easy. But we do believe it is possible,” he said. Sullivan proposed that all five states agree on greater transparency on nuclear doctrines, more effective crisis communications channels, common rules for missile launch notification, and policies to keep “humans in the loop” for command, control, and use of nuclear weapons.
 
We believe that all five can and should immediately reaffirm and update the 1973 U.S.-Soviet Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, which pledges they will “refrain from the threat or use of force against the other party, against the allies of the other party and against other countries, in circumstances which may endanger international peace and security.” It requires that “if at any time there is the risk of a nuclear conflict [each side] shall immediately enter into urgent consultations…to avert this risk.”
 
So far, the P5 Process has been positive, but it has underperformed. If it is to make a serious contribution to the implementation of the NPT, all five participants must elevate their commitment to the dialogue and be prepared to take on significant commitments and refrain from making any and all kinds of threats of nuclear weapons use for any reason.
 
Nuclear risk reduction strategies are fundamental but they are not a substitute for progress on arms control and disarmament. Risk reduction measures cannot erase the tensions that can lead to nuclear war, they cannot remove the inherent dangers of nuclear deterrence policies, nor can they prevent dangerous forms of qualitative and quantitative nuclear arms racing. 
 
Now is the time for leaders of non-nuclear-weapon states and civil society groups to demand that all five NPT nuclear-armed states engage in good faith efforts to halt and reverse the arms race, in keeping with their solemn NPT Article VI obligations.
 
We invite other civil society leaders and NPT states parties to call upon the NPT's nuclear-armed five observe an immediate global nuclear freeze, by which China, France, and the United Kingdom would cap the overall size of their nuclear arsenals and agree to halt fissile material production so long as Russia and the United States cap their stockpiles and negotiate a new framework to cut their arsenals.
 
More nuclear weapons make us all less secure. Embarking on a safer path through disarmament diplomacy is imperative.
 
We thank you for your attention.
 
Endorsed by:
 
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
 
Shannon Bugos, Senior Policy Analyst, Arms Control Association
 
Peter Wilk, Administrative Chair, Back from the Brink
 
Tong Zhao, Senior Fellow, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*
 
John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World
 

Dr Tobias Fella, Head, Challenges to Deep Cuts Project

Lucian Bumeder, Researcher, Challenges to Deep Cuts Project

Greg Thielmann, member, Challenges to Deep Cuts Commission
 
Oliver Meier, Policy and Research Director, European Leadership Network
 
Edan Jules Simpson Project and Communications Coordinator, European Leadership Network*
 
Prof. Götz Neuneck, Co-chair of the Federation of German Scientists and Pugwash Germany*
 
Andrew Albertson, Executive Director, Foreign Policy for America
 
John Hallam, Human Survival Project, co-convenor of the Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group
 
Fredrick K. Lamb, Research Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Core Faculty Member, Program in Arms Control & Domestic and International Security, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign*
 
Michael Christ, Exective Dirextor, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
 
Ariana Smith, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
 
Sharon Dolev and Emad Kiyaei, Directors, Middle East Treaty Organization
 
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico
 
Bill Kidd, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament*
 
Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament
 
Valeriia Hesse, Non-Resident Fellow, Odesa Center for Nonproliferation*
 
Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action 
 
Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee member, Peace Boat
 
W. Taylor Carneiro-Johnson, Interim Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
 
Stewart Prager, Professor emeritus of astrophysical science, and affiliated faculty, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University*
 
Frank Niels von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs emeritus, Princeton University*
 
Norman Solomon, National Director, Roots Action
 
Marylia Kelley, Senior Advisor, Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
 
Noah Mayhew, Senior Research Associate, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*
 
Hanna Notte, Senior Research Associate, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*
 
Elena K Sokova, Executive Director, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*
 
Sean Arent, Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program Manager, Washington Physcians for Social Responsibility
 
Sara Bundtzen, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
 
Patricia Jaworek, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
 
Artem Kvartalnov, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
 
Ekaterina Lapanovic, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
 
Tim Thies, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
 
*Institution listed for identification purposes only.
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NGO Statement the 10th NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting, as delivered by Patricia Jaworek, member of the Young Deep Cuts Commission and organized by the Arms Control Association

Keynote Address by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt

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2 June 2023

As prepared for delivery

The invitation as a keynote speaker at an ACA annual meeting is a great honor. I appreciate the opportunity as an Austrian diplomat to be able to speak to you on such a crucial global issue. I see it also as recognition of Austria’s focus on nuclear disarmament and a world without nuclear weapons for many years. 

I will speak in my personal capacity, so my remarks are not necessarily the position of Austria.

When I thought about this speech, I wanted to try to contribute to the discussion in DC the perspective that I believe is widely shared among the non-nuclear majority of states. I believe the needed US leadership on these issues requires a better understanding of and more engagement with these perspectives.

It is a perspective that goes beyond the 92 states that have signed of ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) or the 125 states that vote for it in the UN General Assembly. At the last NPT Review Conference, 150 non-nuclear weapons States again joined a statement about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. 

It is a perspective of concern:

  • That the nuclear sword of Damocles still hangs above humanity with existential nuclear risks imposed on the entire international community.
  • Concern about the apparent inability of nuclear-armed states to extract themselves from a security paradigm that relies on the threat of mass destruction.
  • It is also a perspective informed by significant new scientific research and facts about the grave, complex and global humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons as well as the risks associated with these weapons and the practice of nuclear deterrence.
  • This perspective is, thus, based on profound arguments and legitimate security concerns of non-nuclear States.

Nevertheless, it is mostly disregarded in the international security and nuclear weapons discourse that is dominated by the geopolitical interests and strategic relations of the major military powers. There is a whole world out there in the nuclear debate beyond the US, Russia and China.

The result has been an increasing disenfrachisement and a deep sense of injustice about the nuclear treaty regime and the nuclear status quo as a whole.

The TPNW should be understood as the majority of non-nuclear states wanting to democratise this discourse and claim agency on one of the gravest existential and civilisational risks that humanity faces.

Nuclear Status Quo

Nuclear risks were on the rise long before Russian invasion in Ukraine and the subsequent implicit and unmistakable nuclear threats issued by President Putin and others. 

These are heightened geopolitical competition, arms race dynamics, the decline of arms control and the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Nuclear risks are increasing, including through new technologies and corresponding vulnerabilities among others.

But this already disconcerting state of affairs is dramatically compounded by Russia's irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and the potential for nuclear escalation of the war in Ukraine.

We also hear talk about the use of tactical nuclear weapons, as if this would somehow be "not so bad". The use of nuclear weapons risks being "normalized" and the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons looks increasingly fragile.

Fittingly, the Doomsday Clock has now been set to 90 seconds at the start of this year the closest to midnight since 1947, when the Clock was started.

This is indeed a very dangerous situation.

The non-nuclear majority of states watches in disbelief how geopolitics slides the world back into a perilous phase of high risk of nuclear conflict.  

We are now at a fork in the road on the nuclear weapons issue. One conclusion that states may draw from this crisis is an even stronger emphasis on nuclear deterrence. We heard this also this morning. This likely takes us down the path of more competition, new nuclear arms races, more proliferation pressure and further increasing global nuclear risks. 

The non-nuclear majority hopes that this moment of heightened nuclear dangers finally leads to an alternative conclusion. Namely, that the crisis has brought into sharp focus the fragility of nuclear deterrence. That nuclear arms races much be avoided.

That the situation in Ukraine is so much more dangerous because of nuclear weapons; that this increases concerns about the sustainability of the nuclear status quo and that that a paradigm shift on nuclear weapons is needed.

Paradigm shift

A paradigm shift would mean two things: A critical re-assessment of the veracity of the arguments that underpin nuclear deterrence, and a weighing of these arguments against the empirical evidence on the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons.

This is what non-nuclear weapons States are demanding and what is now enshrined in the TPNW.

Nuclear deterrence requires the capability to impose unacceptable costs and the resolve to use nuclear weapons. Without the belief in this resolve, nuclear deterrence theory does not work.

Of course, the assumption is that the threat will suffice to deter, and that escalation and conflict be avoided. In short, the more credible the threat of NWs use is, the more the non-use of NWs is assumed. This leads to what was called “the crazy reality that nuclear deterrence is a scheme for making war less probable by making it more probable”.

Even the horrendous concept of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) is used in the abstract and is constructed as an argument of validaton for nuclear deterrence and its assumed outcome, namely deterrence stability and the non-use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear deterrence is seen as the ultimate security guarantee, it is believed to have prevented nuclear conflict in the past decades and to do so in the current circumstances and in the foreseeable future. This belief is very deeply entrenched. Nothing must challenge it according to some.

The problem in this is that in reality we lack the hard empirical evidence. Nuclear deterrence is a theory. It assumes and projects actions, intentions, consequences and expected outcomes.

We can’t prove that nuclear deterrence has worked in the past or will work in the future, just as much as it cannot be proven that it has not prevented conflict in the past or will not do so in the future. Even a clear deterrence “success” in a particular crisis would not prove that in the next, different situation, it would work again.

Like any human belief system" nuclear deterrence depends on assumptions and carries within it the risk of overconfidence and a potential confirmation bias. 

The frequently used assertion that "nuclear deterrence works because of the consequences of nuclear weapons", is a perfect example for the assumption of non-use and a demonstration of potential confirmation bias. 

By contrast, here we have a lot of empirical evidence and a growing body of research on the broad range of humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and of the risks of accidents, miscalculations and human and technical error.

All the research and new modelling that I have seen concludes that the consequences of a nuclear conflict are graver and more complex and likely global.

The same goes about nuclear risks. All experts that I have heard are concerned about increasing nuclear risks, the difficulties of understanding and controlling them.  

Would it not be prudent to base policy decisions regarding NWs primarily on these empirical facts rather than on the assumptions that underpin deterrence and that are fraught with uncertainties?

The effectiveness of nuclear deterrence is uncertain, but we know for sure that nuclear deterrence can fail - and if it fails, we have the evidence that it likely fails catastrophically and with global impact.

The whole world carries the risks of nuclear deterrence failing.

It brings high risks for the security of all other countries, whose populations could end up as collateral damage in much more severe ways than previously understood.

This raises profound legal, ethical, legitimacy and international and intergenerational justice questions. 

Nuclear Threats

What are we to do with irresponsible nuclear threats such as we see currently from Russia?

The unlawful aggression by a nuclear weapon state, permanent member of the UNSC and depositary of the NPT, which uses nuclear blackmail as cover of its actions, must not end up being successful.

Among the many other unacceptable results, it would profoundly damage any notion of nuclear restraint and create a massive proliferation incentive.

The restraint as shown by NATO of not engaging with Russia's strident nuclear rhetoric was laudable and crucial.  Equally important are the focus on non-nuclear deterrence through the most comprehensive set of sanctions and efforts to rally the international community against RU's actions and in support of UA. Nevertheless, the nuclear deterrence aspect plays a big role in NATO's response to Russia, as confirmed this morning.

It is an understandable reaction in the face of such irresponsible and aggressive behaviour.  

But this response also compounds and perpetuates nuclear risks. This response is logically also based on the resolve to use nuclear weapons with the risk of global humanitarian consequences and gravest violations of IL. The fact that this stance is grounded - as I highlighted before - in the assumption that nuclear weapons will in the end not be used does not change this. 

For non-nuclear states, this goes to the core of the legitimacy deficit of nuclear deterrence practices.

Are any nuclear threats responsible in light of what we know today about the humanitarian consequences and risks of these weapons? What in terms of humanitarian consequences can be considered as acceptable and, especially, for whom and based on what legitimation? And what kind of security and security for whom are we talking about in such a context.

An approach based on my nuclear threat is responsible while yours is irresponsible is not convincing from this perspective. 

At this moment of very high nuclear risks and in the face of Russia's aggression and nuclear rhetoric, the international community should really strive to be united.

United in:

  1. re-enforcing the taboo against use or threat of use and nuclear blackmail
  2. take all actions to reduce nuclear risks
  3. recommitment to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, we see how the belief nuclear deterrence creates an inherent tension and difficulty to do this in a credible way. 

The Nuclear Taboo: The States parties to the TPNW, for their part, have done their share to re-enforce the taboo and to express their clear condemnation about any use or threat of use. In their joint declaration at the 1st MSP in Vienna last June, they stated:

"We are alarmed and dismayed by threats to use nuclear weapons and increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric. We stress that any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances."

This is the clearest and most unequivocal internationally agreed statement on this issue to date to solidify the nuclear taboo.

The G20 Joint Communique last September was also an important step - it stated that "the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible". It was a strong stand-alone sentence and obviously a compromise between those who wanted to be as unequivocal as the TPNW and those who wanted to condemn only the actions of Russia.

The recent G7 statement walks the condemnation of nuclear threats back significantly compared to the G20. Russia's irresponsible actions and policies are condemned but overall, it is a joint statement in support of and conditioned by nuclear deterrence. 

There is a tension between nuclear deterrence policies and the ability of the international community to categorically reject nuclear weapons as instruments of policy and coercion.

Nuclear Risk Reduction: We see a similar tension on the issue of risk reduction.

For non-nuclear weapon States the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, are the risks to which they, too, are exposed, against their will and outside their control. They want to see nuclear risks reduced by taking nuclear weapons as far away from any use or accident as possible. In addition to the elimination of nuclear weapons, which is the risk-reduction gold-standard, this would mean talking measures such as de-alerting, de-targeting, taking weapons out of operational service, no “first use” commitments among others. 

Nuclear-weapon States by contrast give dominance to “strategic risk reduction” understood as countering risks that could undermine nuclear deterrence relationships.

Consequently, this focus is to make nuclear deterrence work less risky, rather than consider the risks of the practice of nuclear deterrence itself. This limits the range of risk reduction measures considerably. Measures that restrict the ability to use nuclear weapons, such as the ones non-nuclear weapons states advocate for are not supported. They are assessed as having a negative impact on the credibility of nuclear deterrence.

Risk reduction measures are, thus, considered only insofar, as they do not impact the nuclear deterrence calculus, leaving aside that nuclear deterrence itself is the origin of nuclear risk.

This demonstrates the inherent contradiction: the perceived necessity to maintain nuclear weapons in a manner that demonstrates readiness and resolve to always use them, as “required” for the credibility of nuclear deterrence. And a more comprehensive approach to address nuclear risks aimed at ensuring that they will never be used, intentionally or unintentionally, or through human or technical error.

Support for the disarmament and nonproliferation regime: The 3rd element of a recommitment to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons looks equally bleak.

Picking up on what I heard this morning. I appreciate the comments by Jake Sullivan from today of wanting to keep engaging with Russia and China on arms control without preconditions, but the future of arms control is similarly conditioned by nuclear deterrence. Here, I just want to point out that the failure of the U.S. and Russia and the other NPT nuclear-armed states to engage in negotiations to end the arms race and achieve disarmament would be a violation of the NPT and a threat to the NPT.

This overarching conditionality was again obvious at the recent NPT Review Conference. Yes, Russia blocked the outcome document but what was on the table for adoption was deeply disappointing for non-nuclear weapon States. Nuclear weapon States are not ready to conceptualise nuclear disarmament in any other way than as an aspirational goal to be achieved maybe in a distant future security environment when nuclear weapons may not be needed. There are no credible plans how to actually achieve this goal.

All steps that are talked about in the NPT context are qualified by the need to maintain nuclear deterrence, which in practise means that no progress is being made.

This is what undermines the NPT and will possibly ruin it.

There are certainly differences among the NWS - with some being more engaged and more transparent - especially the US under this administration. However, the general approach is to manage the status quo and prevent any measure that would actually demonstrate readiness to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons.

The urgency that non-nuclear states see and would like to be translated into leadership is not there.

In conclusion, I just want to ask the question how long can we continue to assume that nuclear deterrence will hold, and nuclear weapons will not be used? We see Russian roulette being played at the moment. How can we be confident of this in the future, in tensions with China, with DPRK or between India and Pakistan or in a potential Middle East proliferation context?

Can it be considered as realist to continue to bet on deterrence stability or is it in reality wishful thinking based on rather flimsy evidence, many assumptions and uncertainties and the risk of confirmation bias? 

Trying to find a normative and political way out of the nuclear deterrence paradigm strikes me as a realist and prudent response to the empirical evidence on the consequences should the high-risk nuclear deterrence bet fail.

The TPNW codifies the delegitimisation of nuclear weapons because of their unacceptable humanitarian impact and risks. This is based on serious evidence and is a way to help the international community to conceptualise a change in perspective on these weapons. Ultimately, no responsible state should ever find the use of this most indiscriminate and destructive weapon acceptable. The same must go for the threat of use.

The TPNW is not a silver bullet answer for future security challenges, but nuclear deterrence most definitely is no silver bullet either and certainly not a sustainable one. In these extremely dangerous times, we need leadership, and we need cooperation. The TPNW is a constructive and serious investment into international law and the common security of all. Irrespective of different legal views regarding nuclear weapons, all responsible states should engage constructively on the profound arguments and legitimate and global security concerns now expressed in the TPNW.

The shared objective that Mr Sullivan confirmed in his statement today can only be achieved if, together, we find a way out of the precarious nuclear deterrence security paradigm.

Thank you.

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