Engaging China and Russia on Arms Control: An Interview with Assistant Secretary of State Mallory Stewart

For Immediate Release: April 23, 2024

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Carol Giacomo, editor, (202) 463-8270 ext. 108

(Washington, D.C.)—Assistant Secretary of State Mallory Stewart leads the recently renamed Bureau of Arms Control, Deterrence, and Stability, which is charged with implementing and ensuring compliance with existing arms control agreements and negotiating new ones. 

Among other issues, Stewart and her team are working to address Russia’s nuclear behavior and options for nuclear arms control after the New START agreement expires in 2026 and jump-start nuclear risk reduction consultations with China, which has, so far, declined to continue the dialogue.

Working bilaterally and in multilateral forums, the bureau also has a goal of promoting responsible behavior with emerging military technologies, including artificial intelligence.

Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today, and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, explored these issues in an April 4 interview with Stewart. 

Some highlights:

Regarding China, Stewart said, "we made very clear we would like to engage with [China] again, but we need to engage in a context in which we can both share concerns and take steps to substantively address those concerns."

The United States is willing to discuss China's suggestion  that nuclear weapons states negotiate a treaty on the no-first use of nuclear weapons against each other, but has many questions about it, Stewart told Arms Control Today.

"I would love to ask [Chinese officials] all of these questions and engage on this. I would love to ask them to explain how you can have a no-first-use policy if you just declare it and when everything you’re doing or developing seems inconsistent. If they want to engage in a conversation of the many questions raised by their no-first-use proposal, we would engage," she said in the interview.

"But in that same conversation, we should talk about other risk reduction proposals that we’ve put on the table that are as minimal as missile test launch notifications. This would be similar to the launch notification agreement that China already has with Russia. Those ideas are on the table, but so far have not been taken up by China," Stewart added.

Although the United States is advocating the adoption of an international  political declaration on the military uses of artificial intelligence, Washington eventually could see a role for a legally-binding agreement, Stewart said.

She said the proposal for a political declaration advocated by the United States and endorsed by 54 countries is "consistent" with the legally binding agreement favored by Austria and other states.

"The Austrian initiative, with respect to lethal autonomous weapons, says we should look at this issue more broadly. Our political declaration addresses a unique and different context, but is entirely consistent in the sense that we are building a common understanding of the potential risks of AI across the full range of military applications," she said. 

Asked if the State Department saw a place for a legally binding agreement, Stewart said: "Eventually, yes, if we can come to a consensus on the best path forward.”

"The challenge, of course, is that these emerging technologies evolve so quickly that if you lock that into a legally binding agreement without incorporating all the possible changes and iterations of how AI can manifest, you may lock yourself into a situation that evolves next week…. [W]e don’t even have a standard definition of what AI is with respect to its use. Is it machine learning, is it intelligent learning, is it something in between? Is AI a defined concept that everyone agrees on? Not right now, and we need to work to understand that before we can embed it in a legally binding treaty."

The full interview is now available online  and will appear in the May issue of Arms Control Today.