"[The Arms Control Association is an] 'exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size.'" 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011

Protecting Civilians in the War Zone: An Interview With Michael Gaffey

November 2022

From the start of its war on Ukraine, Russia and its military forces have pummeled civilian neighborhoods, inflicting grievous pain on ordinary people. By mid-October, the onslaught reached new ferocity as Russia bombarded civilian targets and infrastructure in Kyiv and elsewhere, threatening millions of Ukrainians with shortages of water, heating, and electricity as winter sets in.

(Photo courtesy of the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva)The war gave fresh urgency to the new international political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas that was agreed in June and will open for endorsement at a conference in Dublin on Nov. 18. The declaration recognizes the devastating harm to civilians from bombing and shelling in towns and cities and commits signatory states to impose limits on the use of these weapons and take action to address harm to civilians. States that sign the document commit to develop or improve practices to protect civilians during conflict, collect and share data, and provide victim assistance.

Regarding weapons use, the states also commit to “ensure that our armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to help avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining as appropriate from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, when their use may be expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects.”

Michael Gaffey, the new head of Ireland’s development agency who as Irish ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva chaired negotiations on the declaration, spoke to Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Arms Control Today: You worked a long time on this political declaration. Now that it’s about to take effect, what do you really hope to achieve?
Michael Gaffey: We’ve been holding negotiations since 2019, but Ireland and other countries have been involved on the issues arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas for quite a number of years. The UN secretary-general called on the international community to negotiate a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and Ireland took on the role of leading the consultations in 2019. I think reaching agreement on a political declaration represents a sign of hope in times of great difficulty in international relations, when the use of explosive weapons in urban areas is causing huge concern and harm.

We are very grateful to states, international organizations, and civil society for reaching this agreement in Geneva in June. The Irish government will hold an international conference in Dublin on November 18 to adopt the declaration and to have as many countries as possible sign up to it. The political declaration doesn’t involve a prohibition on the use of any type of weapon. What it does is recognize very clearly that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a problem and that the humanitarian impact, the impact on civilians, is large and wide-ranging. The impact is direct, and it’s indirect. What I think we will achieve from this is that there will be follow-up action by governments and militaries of states that sign the declaration. This will improve the level of protection for civilians from the use of explosive weapons in urban areas. That’s why we regard it as a significant move forward. We always said our aim was to have a declaration that would lead to real change in the protection of civilians.

ACT: There are already international laws, including laws against genocide and harming civilians in war. Yet, they are violated every day, including in Ukraine. Not to be pessimistic, but to some extent, is this declaration wishful thinking?
Gaffey: I don’t think so. The use [of these weapons] is covered by international humanitarian law, but what we’ve got in the declaration is agreement that there actually is a problem regarding the protection of civilians, and that we need to better implement international and humanitarian law. We expect to have a range of countries coming to the Dublin conference from all regions, including large, militarily active states, recognizing this and agreeing to work at a political level and with their militaries to take action on that basis.

Russian strikes on populated neighborhoods in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities gave fresh urgency to adoption of the new international political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. (Photo by Oleksii Samsonov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)It is not just that we’ve agreed that countries need to “ensure that our armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to help avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining as appropriate the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, when their use may be expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects.” We’ve also got agreement on just what that harm is and how wide-ranging the harm is, not just in terms of deaths and injuries but also in terms of civilian infrastructure, food systems, health systems, and long-term development.

The implementation of the declaration will hopefully lead to change in military practices, which would reduce the harm to civilians. Yes, there is some idealism in that, but it’s only idealistic if we then sit back and say that words alone bring change. We’re not going to do that. There has to be follow-up, and that will involve political cooperation and military-to-military contact on the sharing of best practices on the protection of civilians. It will involve member states, international organizations, and civil society, because civil society is very much to the fore in highlighting the need for this declaration, and we agreed that it needs to be fully involved in the implementation. What we said on June 17 when we reached the agreement was, this isn’t the end of a process, this is the start of a process, and its success will only be measured, not by its adoption but how it is implemented. That will be the next step.

ACT: The war in Ukraine has brought renewed attention to this problem of explosive weapons targeting civilians in populated areas. If this declaration is implemented, how might the war in Ukraine be different?
Gaffey: The impetus for this declaration was there even before the war in Ukraine because we had seen the increased urbanization and harm to civilians of conflict in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria, and in other places. It is true that, in the final phase of our negotiations, we were seeing on our screens really clear evidence of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas of Ukraine. That did help the push toward agreement, but it’s very important to emphasize that this is not a Ukraine-alone declaration. It is a humanitarian disarmament declaration about an issue that is happening in Ukraine but also elsewhere.

This declaration doesn’t have legal force, and it doesn’t prohibit the use of any specific type of weapon. Our aim is to get as many states onboard for the declaration so that those states, in their military operations, will be acting differently and will be putting the protection of civilians to the fore. Now, while it is open to all, some states may not sign up to it, but we need to build up a sense of pressure and moral force behind this declaration. After all, the UN secretary-general several times called for us to negotiate this. It was never seen as a legal instrument but a political instrument, and one that we have to keep promoting and implementing, so that militaries will make lasting changes in their approach, prioritizing the protection of civilians.

As you say, a lot of the law is there. A lot of the suggested practices are there. But weapons are developing all the time, practices are not being observed, and the more countries that we can get to return to this issue on the basis of this declaration, the more we are going to be able to see change in the impact on civilians. Today in Ukraine, we’re seeing the opposite. We’re seeing civilians directly under fire. So, that is why the declaration is the start of a process for change. It will take time, but it’s a real positive that we have agreement and will have agreement from a large number of states and from across different regions.
It is not a European or a Western initiative. Presumably, to be honest, some of what might be seen as the most egregious offenders may not sign up to it, but we want to create a sense of what needs to be done and pressure to do so. The declaration also focuses on the behavior and actions of non-state actors that put civilians in danger. I do think that declarations like this can have a real impact.

ACT: You do have the United States on board, correct?
Gaffey: We expect the United States will be on board, yes.

ACT: What about Russia, China, and other major military powers?
Gaffey: We won’t know for sure who will sign up until we launch the declaration. Some countries have indicated already that they will sign. Others will indicate closer to the day. I would say Russia was fully aware of the consultations in Geneva and China participated in the consultations, so that’s a hopeful point. This is a process, and we’ll see how it goes, but we were really encouraged by the level of countries that participated and sustained engagement right through COVID. I’m not sure we would have had that level of engagement 10 years ago.

ACT: You said an important piece of this declaration has to do with militaries changing how they operate. Have you seen any signs so far that any militaries are beginning to make these changes?
Gaffey: Militaries and defense ministries were involved in delegations and participated in the negotiations. In Section 3 of the declaration, we have agreement in broad terms on what needs to be done, for instance, on comprehensive training of armed forces on the application of international humanitarian law. There is a commitment to ensure that our armed forces, including in their policies and practices, take into account the direct and indirect effect on civilians and civilian objects, which can reasonably be foreseen in the planning of military operations and the execution of attacks.

The declaration has commitments on the clearing and removing of explosive remnants of war. We also have agreement that there will be political engagement between states, and there will be military-to-military engagement on what this means in practice. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is very engaged also in looking at what this will mean in practice. I think we’re satisfied that there will now be a process underway that will involve consideration by militaries, in a shared setting, of how to implement the commitments in the political declaration. Everything’s not going to change in a day or even a year, but there is going to be a new process underway, which we believe does put the protection of civilians front and center in a way that hasn’t happened in recent years. Now, that might seem idealistic; but I think it’s also something that’s realistic, frankly.

ACT: Given the panoply of conflicts today, would the coalition that is working on this declaration prefer to focus first on one crisis such as Yemen and try to get some better result there, or will the focus be more wide-ranging?
Gaffey: We wouldn’t want to limit implementation. We have a declaration that should be applicable globally, but we also want countries to engage with it, to sign up to it on a cross-regional basis, from different regions. In the run-up to the negotiations, there were a number of regional conferences, in Maputo and in Santiago. That shows the way that I think we should work. We’ve got a commitment to progress across regions. Countries will, of course, examine how the declaration is being implemented regionally, in their own regions, but I don’t think we would all focus exclusively on just one country. I think the regional element is vital because it is not a centralized process and international humanitarian law needs to apply universally.

ACT: Given the thousands of people being killed in conflicts today, is a voluntary commitment like this enough?Gaffey: There’s been a big debate on this issue of prohibition or legal obligations. It was recognized in recent years that to start to make progress on the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas, rather than starting to negotiate a new instrument, if we could focus on a political declaration, we could start to get movement, even though it’s voluntary. It was a long and difficult process. To be honest, countries didn’t agree to any of this easily; there were a lot of compromises.

The debate on the use of the word “avoid,” committing to “avoiding” using explosive weapons in populated areas, was probably the most difficult part of the negotiations. I think what we will do with this is see if we can achieve a better understanding and clarity on what practical steps are required to reduce civilian harm in conflict, including with respect to the full implementation of international humanitarian law. It’s another step after that to look at the issues that you have raised. But if we can get greater clarity and commitment on the implementation of international humanitarian law, this would be a big step forward.

We set out on this process with the intention of it making a difference, and we think that our conference in November and the follow-up to that will start to make a difference. That is an obligation we are placing on ourselves in signing up to the declaration. Of course, everyone won’t sign up to it, but if we get enough, we can create a new sense of pressure here.

ACT: The international network on explosive weapons and many civil society proponents of the declaration had called for stronger prohibition language. Do you think this process could eventually lead to a stronger legal commitment?
Gaffey: Those groups called for prohibition, but they also have welcomed the declaration because they see its potential to move forward in terms of political-level understanding and military-level change in operations. Between states working on implementation and civil society pushing on the declaration’s potential and then working with the UN and the ICRC, I think we have a real opportunity to achieve progress on the protection of civilians in conflict. We have been ambitious, and we have together built a broad community of interest. All are committed to change. The challenge for us is to demonstrate over the coming years that that change will happen.

ACT: Without a verification mechanism, how will you assess implementation of the declaration?
Gaffey: That was something we didn’t set out in detail, to be honest, and for a reason because we wanted to get the commitments clear first. We were not prescriptive about follow-ups in the declaration. We do envisage regular meetings to review implementation of the declaration, including exchanging policies, practices, and views on implementation. Critically, these meetings will involve not just states, but also the UN, the ICRC, other international organizations, and civil society. In this way, we will put together a sort of broad verification mechanism that is collaborative.

After the Dublin conference, there will be work by all parties on implementation. When will the next meeting take place? I imagine it will be about 18 months after the November conference. Where will depend on who steps forward with an offer to host. I know this is an issue under active consideration. At that point, states and the UN and the ICRC will work with civil society to demonstrate progress made, that there are policies and practices starting to come into effect that will make a difference.

Michael Gaffey (L), Irish ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva who headed negotiations on the political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and Jamie Walsh, Irish deputy permanent representative in Geneva in charge of disarmament issues, bring down the gavel after the declaration was agreed in June.  (Photo courtesy of the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva)ACT: Since the declaration was agreed in June, you have moved on to a new position as director of Ireland’s development agency, Irish Aid. Is there a connection between those two roles?
Gaffey: There’s a tendency sometimes for arms control negotiations and consultations to take place in a totally different room from the humanitarian consultations. Development is often in yet another different room. So, I do think it is a major challenge for us in our multilateral engagement to look at the problem from the eyes of the civilians who are experiencing the impact of explosive weapons. Getting the humanitarian and development and arms control communities to work together is vital. It is very much how the UN Sustainable Development Goals are framed. Humanitarian disarmament is a traditional foreign policy priority for Ireland, notably through our work on the anti-personnel landmine convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and our focus on the declaration carries this forward.

ACT: Any final thoughts?
Gaffey: I would emphasize that this declaration is cross-regional, it’s global, it’s not exclusive, and it’s not solely about Ukraine. It results from collaboration between states, civil society, and international organizations. That continued collaboration can ensure that a political declaration is effective. The goal is to reduce the unacceptable level of harm to civilians in conflict.

The Irish diplomat discusses the initiative he led to better protect civilians from the ravages of war.

How to Save the Irreplaceable Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: An Interview With Adam Scheinman

June 2022

The world has been trying to contain the nuclear genie ever since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. A core element of that effort centers around the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970 and now includes 191 states-parties, including five of the world’s nine states that have nuclear weapons.

In August, hundreds of diplomats representing the states-parties, along with representatives of civil society, will convene at UN headquarters in New York for the 10th NPT Review Conference. This event occurs more than a quarter-century after the states-parties agreed on the indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 review and extension conference.

The month-long meeting will cap a five-year review of implementation and compliance with the treaty. Diplomats will attempt to reach agreement on an outcome document that helps to advance the treaty’s main goals: preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons while supporting the peaceful use of nuclear technology, halting and reversing the nuclear arms race, and achieving nuclear disarmament.

Over the past decade, growing tensions among the major nuclear powers have been accompanied by the intensifying risk of nuclear proliferation, nuclear competition, and nuclear weapons use.

Now, the NPT regime faces a new challenge: the attack by Russia, one of its recognized nuclear-armed members, against Ukraine, a non-nuclear-weapon state, along with open threats of nuclear weapons use by Russia against any state that might try to intervene.

As a result, this review conference could prove to be one of the most important in the 50-plus-year history of this bedrock nuclear agreement. Carol Giacomo, chief editor of Arms Control Today, asked Adam Scheinman, the U.S. special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, to discuss the Biden administration’s expectations for the meeting. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Arms Control Today: In a recent interview, nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “blown up” the global nuclear order. How has the Russian invasion of Ukraine affected the global nuclear proliferation and disarmament regime, including the negative security assurances that nuclear-weapon states have extended to non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT?

Adam Scheinman: I think that's really an important question. I have absolutely enormous respect for Dr. Hecker. He's a legend in the field, but I'd say "blown up" is a little bit hyperbolic. There's no doubt that this is a very serious shock to the nonproliferation system and wider global order, but I wouldn't say the damage is total or irreversible. It is going to require that the international community respond and recenter the NPT in that rules-based order.

It's certainly the case that Russia’s aggression undercuts every core precept of the NPT. It's totally irresponsible. Russia’s nuclear saber rattling is out of step with the treaty’s disarmament goals. It has betrayed the security assurances given to Ukraine in 1994 that helped bring Ukraine into the treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state, and its military actions around Ukrainian civilian nuclear facilities raise fears of a serious radiological calamity. It also threatens the right of NPT parties to access the peaceful atom. So, these are very serious problems. It's going to require that we deal with them equally seriously.

More than 50 years after U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as U.S. President Lyndon Johnson (R) looked on, the agreement remains the bedrock of the international arms control and disarmament regime. But it has grown increasingly unstable, especially since Russia invaded Ukraine. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)I would say that the argument of some that Russia's violation of the Budapest Memorandum shows that security assurances are worthless is just wrong. It's Russia that violated the security assurances. That's an indictment of Russia, not of the utility of security assurances that the other nuclear-weapon states have given, including the United States, and implement faithfully.

If nothing else, I think Russia's war on Ukraine should focus the minds of the parties on the fact that, by every conceivable measure that I can think of and most intellectually honest people can think of, the world is better off with the NPT than without it. So, if we're interested in solving nuclear problems, the fact that there's wide agreement around the idea that we’re better off with it should give us some optimism that the treaty will hold together and we’ll find our way through this troubling time.

ACT: In light of this war, has the NPT review conference taken on greater significance?

Scheinman: I think this review conference was always going to be significant. We're at the 50-year, half-century point with the NPT, which is pretty astonishing. It's hard to find examples of durable, global security treaties in history. Even before Russia's invasion, we understood that the NPT faces pretty serious challenges; I think of them as both political and strategic in nature. The political challenge concerns well-documented frustrations over the pace of nuclear disarmament, one that the United States in fact shares, even if we don't agree with everyone on the solutions offered to deal with it.

Of a more strategic character, I think it's pretty widely understood that if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon and if North Korea’s nuclear buildup were to continue, others might wish to leave the treaty and seek their own nuclear weapons capabilities. So, I think that's more of a strategic kind of problem for the treaty.

But without a doubt, I think this review conference takes on even greater significance and consequence following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. We hope that NPT parties will come to the review conference and reject Russia's very reckless behavior, and we should insist that states-parties take their obligations to one another seriously. So if there's ever a time for parties to set aside their differences and focus on what we share and put a marker down in support of this treaty, I think this is the time.

ACT: What else does the United States want to see emerge from the review conference? Will President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken address the conference?

Scheinman: I can't really tell you today who will address what, when, and where, but the administration is tracking our preparations for the conference very closely. The NPT is very much part of the president's commitment to multilateral institutions, treaties, and norms to uphold the rules-based order and tackle big transnational problems like nuclear proliferation. So, what do we want to emerge? I think one is that the conference reaffirm the commitment of the states-parties to all three pillars of the treaty and to strengthen it. Given the current security climate, it should be evident how important it is that we work collectively to insulate the NPT and preserve its authority. There is no global treaty that can take its place, so it's important that we work to preserve it. It's a really big deal and is why the United States nominates a special representative with the task of watching over the treaty.

One additional point: It's apparent that Russia's actions have created a new fault line in the NPT. It's one that distinguishes states that act responsibly from those that don't. What I think can emerge at the review conference is convergence on a set of principles and actions that advance the treaty's contributions to international security and highlight the security and economic benefits shared by its members. It necessitates holding states to account when they act outside of accepted norms.

ACT: How can you hold Russia to account?

Scheinman: We should understand that the review conference is not an enforcement mechanism. It serves a political function; states-parties can make clear in their national positions that this is totally unacceptable. They can work on a set of principles or proposals that a review conference could endorse or if not the entire review conference, then the vast majority of states. It should be made clear that it's not acceptable to threaten the use of nuclear weapons, as Russia has. It's not acceptable to put at risk nuclear facilities and impede the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ability to conduct safeguards inspections and allow for safe and secure operations. It's that political action that I think the conference can take to hold Russia to account.

ACT: What else would make the review conference successful?

Scheinman: There's a tendency to rate a successful review conference by whether it produces a consensus final document. In the history of the NPT, I think we've only had five such consensus final documents, and the treaty has continued to function and has force. So, I wouldn't say the fact of reaching consensus is the right measure of success. We certainly will do our best to secure a consensus, but I think it's as important that we deal openly and honestly with the challenges made plain by Russia's actions, as well as longer standing challenges, such as regional proliferation concerns, securing universal adherence to the [Model] Additional Protocol, and expanding peaceful nuclear uses in energy and for sustainable development.

ACT: How can the conference constructively encourage North Korea to reengage in diplomacy? Is there a new opening with the North Koreans because of their COVID-19 problem?

Scheinman: I can't really say whether the COVID-19 issue has opened the door to diplomacy. There are others in the administration responsible for North Korean policy and have a better feel for what is or is not possible. But I'd say that the review conference ought to address North Korea, and in particular, I think we all need to be very concerned about reports of a possible North Korean nuclear test and ongoing efforts to develop ballistic missiles.

The administration has said repeatedly that the door is open to diplomacy with North Korea and we're ready to meet without preconditions. We hope North Korea takes up the offer, and we'd like to see the review conference urge that it do so. The review conference should also call attention to North Korea's reckless behavior and its repeated violations of UN Security Council resolutions.

There's one other point worth noting. It's not specific to North Korea; it's more of a consequence of what North Korea has done by exiting the treaty. This is the issue of preventing abuse of the treaty’s withdrawal provision. It's been 20 years since North Korea announced its intention to leave. In that time, NPT states-parties have not agreed on a single step to discourage abuse of withdrawal. I would think at a minimum we should discuss this issue openly and agree that, as a principle of international law, states remain accountable for violations of the treaty that occurred when still a party to it. There's no “get out of jail free” card because you withdraw. It's that kind of abuse of withdrawal that we ought to discourage, and I hope we can have a productive discussion at the review conference.

ACT: Do you think there will be agreement on a course of action?

Scheinman: I would very much like to see something in an outcome document that at least restates the principle in international law. Other ideas include convening extraordinary meetings of the parties, cutting off nuclear supplies to a state that engages in such behavior. There are a number of ideas that could be considered.

ACT: When you say cutting off supplies, do you mean the supply of nuclear material and fuel?

Scheinman: Yeah, any nuclear-related exports ought to be terminated in such cases. It's hard to think how this would work in practice, but the withdrawing country could also be required to return materials that have been supplied so they are not used for a military program. States-parties could also insist that international safeguards remain in place in the withdrawing state. North Korea kicked out the IAEA inspectors after terminating its IAEA safeguards agreement. We don't want to see that in the future. We should aim to preserve verification, even as we pursue all diplomatic options.

ACT: In 2010 the review conference agreed to an action plan on all three pillars of the treaty, including Article VI. Does the administration recognize those past commitments as still valid? Will it seek to update those goals, particularly Article VI, through the consensus document?

Scheinman: I think this issue of past commitments, which is talked about quite a bit, is a bit of a red herring. It's important to understand that only the terms of the treaty are legally binding on states-parties and that any commitment recorded at review conferences in a consensus document are political. They reflect what seems achievable or desirable at the time they were made. Now, it's certainly the case that many of the actions in review conference final documents remain relevant and certainly important. Others are past their shelf life. There's a call in previous documents for fully implementing the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, which hasn't been in force for two decades now. Other actions are important, but were the product of the time, when conditions for action were more favorable.

That's certainly the case in terms of U.S.-Russian arms control opportunities in the early post-Cold War period and also in connection with the Oslo Middle East peace process in the mid-1990s. What I will say is that we remain firm in our support for legal undertakings in the NPT, as I hope all parties are, and in our support for realistic arms control and disarmament measures. We also recognize the political importance of implementing commitments made in past documents. But security conditions change in unpredictable ways, and so it's probably more productive if we take a forward-looking approach and not lose time debating the history.

ACT: Do you expect the proposal for a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction will be as contentious as in the past? What is the U.S. approach on this issue?

Scheinman: I think whether the issue is likely to be contentious is a question for others, not for us. We have no desire to hold the review conference hostage to this issue or any other particular issue, and I hope other states-parties see it the same way. In terms of our approach, we have consistently supported the goal of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery.

But we also made clear that progress toward that goal can only be achieved through direct and consensus-based dialogue among all states in the region, which as a practical matter is both the arms control issue and the wider regional security issue. That remains our position. I'm well aware that there's a UN conference process on the Middle Eastern zone that started a couple of years ago. We're not participating in it, but I expect parties can find a way to address it at the review conference in an even-handed and factual manner.

ACT: In past review conferences, the five nuclear-weapon states have consulted on issue-coordinated statements. Are you consulting with Russia and China in preparation
for the conference? If yes, do you see hope for constructive action beyond a reiteration of the statement from December, that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought?

Scheinman: I don't want to comment on specific diplomatic undertakings at the moment, but I'll say that we have to be realistic about what can be achieved among the five in the current environment. Russia's war on Ukraine naturally limits possibilities for productive work among the five; I think that's just the reality of where we are today. But in the interim, we'll continue to work with others on topics that hold promise for engagement among the five down the road.

One example is strategic risk reduction, a topic having obvious relevance to strategic stability and disarmament goals. At the end of the day, I think we should probably recognize that a full and functioning P5 process is not a precondition to work on issues of common interest, whether of interest to the five nuclear-weapon states or the wider NPT membership. I really don’t expect the five to issue new statements beyond the one on preventing nuclear war that Russia joined in January, six weeks before invading Ukraine. We certainly stand by the statement. Whether Russia does, they'll have to speak for themselves.

ACT: The United States has identified China and its expanding nuclear capability as a threat. What conversations are you having with China about the review conference and its Article VI obligations?

When states-parties meet for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty 10th Review Conference in August, one wildcard is the role that China, on a path to increase its nuclear weapons capability, will play in determining the treaty’s future. The DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, shown here, are an important part of the Chinese arsenal. (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)Scheinman: There’s no doubt that China’s rapid nuclear buildup is out of step with the other nuclear-weapon states. It is certainly out of step with the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. I'd say it's not exactly keeping with the spirit of Article VI, and that merits some attention at the review conference. Our approach has been to seek bilateral discussions with China on measures to reduce and manage strategic risks. President Biden conveyed our interest to President Xi Jinping last November, suggesting that we ought to have some commonsense guardrails in place to ensure that competition doesn't veer into conflict. To this point, China has not engaged or shown interest in engaging. We hope China will take a fresh look at this and see the value of exchanges both for regional stability and for nuclear security.

ACT: Are the Chinese really not talking to you about the review conference?

Scheinman: I didn't really answer in that context. I was answering more in the context of bilateral strategic stability discussions. But now, in the context of the NPT review, we did meet regularly with China as part of the P5 process prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But our NPT dialogue with China isn’t limited to the P5, and we will pursue all avenues for dialogue as we would with any other NPT state-party. We have our differences but probably many more NPT issues on which we agree.

ACT: May 26 marks the 50th anniversary of the first U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms control agreements: the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) agreement and the ABM Treaty, which emerged after the NPT entered into force in 1970. If there is no official U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability, nuclear risk reduction, or disarmament now, how does the Biden administration think the two sides can maintain verifiable limits on their strategic stockpiles past 2026, when the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is due to expire?

Scheinman: I'm glad you note the anniversary of SALT I and the ABM Treaty. It has particular personal meaning to me because my first job in the field out of grad school was for a small Washington-based think tank led by Ambassador Gerard Smith, who was the negotiator of the SALT I and ABM treaties. This is someone who understood the purposes of nuclear arms control as well as anyone. He understood that arms control was needed for both stable nuclear deterrence and to preserve the future credibility of the NPT, that we couldn't choose whether to base our nuclear strategy on deterrence or arms control, that we have to do both together, and I think that is exactly true for today. It's among the reasons why President Biden on his first day in office gave the administration direction to extend New START for five years, to 2026.

Looking ahead, our thinking about future steps in arms control with Russia hasn’t changed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We remain interested in pursuing a future agreement that maintains control on intercontinental-range systems and deals with some of the novel nuclear systems that Russia has developed, as well as nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which aren't subject to any arms control agreement and which Russia has developed in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, at least in the intermediate-range category.

We also remain open to pursuing a broader type of arms control to address strategic stability, which could mean discussion of threat perceptions and of non-nuclear systems that can have strategic effect—conventional, missile defense, and so forth. Strategic stability talks are on hold given Russia’s actions in Ukraine. I can’t predict when it would be appropriate to resume that dialogue, but we'll certainly consider doing so when it best serves U.S. interests.

Ahead of a conference to review the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, U.S. President Joe Biden's special representative for nonproliferation says Russia's nuclear saber rattling is out of step with the treaty's goals.

The Humanitarian Case for Banning Nuclear Weapons: An Interview With Alexander Kmentt

May 2022

The Russian war on Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons to compensate for his country’s conventional military setbacks there have concentrated public attention on nuclear weapons to a degree not seen in decades. It is also likely to raise the profile of a meeting scheduled for June 21–23 in Vienna of the states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty, which makes a humanitarian argument for banning all nuclear weapons, went into force in January 2021, and this meeting is the first time that member states are gathering to reinforce its provisions and press forward its mission. Carol Giacomo, chief editor of Arms Control Today, asked Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and president-designate of the first meeting of TPNW states-parties, to discuss what they hope to achieve, especially in light of the Russian war. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Arms Control Today: What is the subject and the purpose of this first meeting of TPNW states-parties in June?

Alexander Kmentt: The treaty entered into force a little over a year ago, after the 50th state notified the United Nations of its ratification. Because of COVID-19 delays, this is the first time the states-parties are getting together after the treaty entered into force to basically put the treaty and its implementation on track. It's very important because, after the entry into force, we are moving into a different phase. There are several important decisions that need to be taken, from basic organizational ones to substantive ones.

Anti-nuclear activists of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and other peace initiatives protest with the 51 flags of countries that ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in front of the German Chancellery in Berlin on January 22. Their banner reads: “Nuclear weapons are forbidden!” (Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)ACT: Can you talk about those substantive decisions?

Kmentt: One basic thing is, we have to agree on rules of procedure, so how are we going to work in the future as states-parties. In terms of substantive decisions, there are several. I can tell you where we are now in the preparations, a little over two months before the meeting starts, but of course all of this is subject to the approval of states-parties. First of all in terms of the main message, states-parties are clear that they want to show that this new treaty is a serious undertaking. The meeting is not an activist gathering. Of course, there will be a very strong civil society presence, which is very important and very welcome. But this is a formal meeting of states-parties who have gone through the due national processes to ratify this treaty and considered this very carefully. The states-parties are embarking on the implementation of this new international legal instrument. This is the most important message because there is such a contestation and false narrative around the TPNW. Secondly, the rationale of the TPNW is the evidence around humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons. We want to very strongly reemphasize these profound arguments and reconnect the nuclear debate to this aspect.

ACT: On the issue of humanitarian response, is there actually going to be a proposal on the table for how you approach this?

Kmentt: Yes. The TPNW has some important, novel aspects with the positive obligations of assistance for victims of nuclear weapons use and nuclear weapons testing, environmental remediation, cooperation, and assistance. We have several states-parties and signatories that have communities and areas that are, to this day, very heavily impacted by past nuclear weapons testing campaigns: Kazakhstan, for example, some of the Pacific Island states, or Algeria—that's a signatory state. So, we are embarking to develop a culture of work to find a way as a community of states-parties to address the humanitarian harm that has been caused, which of course underscores the need for prevention. The rights of victims, essentially, and communities will very much be put into focus. This underscores the humanitarian rationale of the TPNW in a very tangible way.

This approach is inspired by some of the victims-related work that has been done in other conventions, for example, on cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, where some of those concepts around a very human security-focused approach to victims have been developed. We are learning and profiting from this past experience.

When member states of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) meet in June, one issue will be ameliorating the effects of nuclear testing on places such as Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union detonated 467 nuclear bombs at the Semipalatinsk test site in the northeastern region of the country before it closed in 1991, resulting in thousands of victims who suffer from radioactive diseases. In this 2007 photo, a 4th generation radiation victim, accompanied by his grandmother (R), was treated for a liver disorder at the Medical Academy Center.  (Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)ACT: What other substantive issues will the meeting address?

Kmentt: There is one important decision related to the elimination of nuclear weapons, which the negotiation conference in 2017 explicitly tasked the first meeting of states-parties to take up. The TPNW foresees two ways for nuclear-armed states to join. One is essentially the South African model, by which a state first eliminates its weapons, has this verified, and then joins the TPNW, as was the case when South Africa joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state in the 1990s. The second avenue is for a nuclear-armed state to join the TPNW and then eliminate its nuclear weapons in an agreed process of verified elimination. So, this is the framework foreseen by the TPNW. The treaty deliberately does not specify this further because the nuclear-armed states did not participate in the negotiations. This will have to be done at the later stage if and when a nuclear-armed state is ready to join the TPNW. Nevertheless, we have to agree at the meeting on a maximum deadline of verified elimination for nuclear-armed states that want to join the treaty. Of course, the individual time frames will have to be negotiated with individual nuclear-armed states once they join and to take into account the specificities.

Secondly, the treaty also foresees a maximum deadline for the removal of nuclear weapons if a nuclear hosting state joins the TPNW. So, this is again another substantive decision for the meeting. Then, the treaty foresees the designation of a competent international authority or authorities that will foresee the future elimination of nuclear weapons within the TPNW framework. Of course, we know that this is not that urgent because nuclear-armed states are currently reluctant to join the TPNW. Nevertheless, we will most likely take a decision to explore this issue in detail during the intersessional period [between states-parties conferences]. We will assess what is available in terms of existing expertise, what the competencies and mandate of such an authority would have to be so that states-parties are in a position to take a very well-informed decision on this issue in the future.

Moreover, universalization is an obligation under this treaty to its states-parties, and we are preparing that. Working on universalization is not merely encouraging new ratifications but promoting the arguments on which the treaty is based, namely the humanitarian consequences of and the risks associated with nuclear weapons.

Two more issues are being discussed. I'm optimistic that we'll find an agreement on how to best harness scientific advice for the treaty. I think that could be a very important deliverable for the first meeting of states-parties. We are discussing proposals for a scientific advisory group that will help states-parties implement technical aspects of the treaty, such as verification, and also to identify what is out there in terms of research on the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons. This is a novel area and could be a very significant contribution for the TPNW and possibly beyond.

Second, states-parties are very clear that they want a strong message on the complementarity of the treaty with the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime, in particular the NPT. States-parties are preparing all these decisions in a very serious way. There is a very high degree of common purpose. I have asked facilitators for all these different topics to prepare working papers that contain recommendations, possible actions, and decisions. I hope that these papers are very broadly supported by states-parties before and at the meeting.

ACT: How is what you are doing affected by the war in Ukraine and Putin’s nuclear threats?

Kmentt: I'm very happy to give you my own perspective on this, but I cannot do that as president of the TPNW meeting because states-parties have not yet formally discussed this. I think all of us struggle to understand what the implications of the war in Ukraine are going to be on the nuclear regime. I think the honest answer is that none of us really knows, except that the repercussions will be really profound. It can go in many different ways. I hope that what we have seen is a jolt that maybe rallies the international community, or at least the vast majority of the international community, into more focused and urgent action on nuclear disarmament.

I'm concerned about some of the nuclear weapons “muscle memory” that we observe. We have seen nuclear threats being made in the context of the situation in Ukraine, essentially to enable a nuclear-weapon state to invade a non-nuclear-weapon state in good standing with the NPT. I think it is profoundly damaging to the NPT. This highlights not only nuclear risks and the fragility of nuclear deterrence, it also further underscores the many legitimacy issues around nuclear weapons. What we have seen by these disconcerting developments turns the notion of nuclear-weapon states in the NPT broadly working together as five upside down. I think the P5 process is in very big difficulty and has lost credibility. I hope that there will still be some areas of cooperation left.

What we also noticed is that maybe the attention on the nuclear issue is back. We in the nuclear community were always convinced that this is an important issue, but the wider public didn't really care. It fell off the radar after the Cold War. I think we see that this is changing, that people realize that this is not something of the past or it's not something that's limited to the North Korean issue. In Europe, we see this very much, and people are scared and for good reason. I think that is also a consequence.

For the TPNW, I think the context is difficult, but it's difficult for the whole disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation field. What we have seen underlines the fragility of nuclear deterrence stability and how precarious this entire construct is. The question is, What conclusions are drawn from this? I think it is also an opportunity for the TPNW to highlight the arguments of humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons. I always was convinced that this is very topical, but I think it has become even more important now. Ultimately, the question is whether reliance on nuclear deterrence as a construct that is supposed to bring stability to international relations is too precarious and unsustainable given the existential risks it entails for all humanity.

ACT: Are you concerned that the current international environment will propel non-nuclear-weapon states, such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey, to acquire nuclear weapons?

Kmentt: It's an absolutely pertinent question. It is one of those pivotal moments where we could go two ways. It is possible that we move in the direction of more focus on nuclear weapons and the consequence of that will be a proliferation cascade. Whether the world at the end of that process is more secure, I think, is highly questionable. I suggest that it's not. Or, we use this as an opportunity to reinforce the treaties that we have. Maybe those in the international community that are responsible, that care about this normative framework, try to reinforce this normative framework. It is a real threshold moment. Are we “jumping back to the 1950s,” so to speak, into a situation where we did not yet have a nuclear treaty regime and basically have to restart again with rules and treaties, or can we use this as an opportunity to try to strengthen the framework that we have and prevent it from falling apart? The TPNW is the new kid on the block in this framework and we need to strengthen it.

ACT: Are states outside of the TPNW, such as Finland and Switzerland, still interested in attending the meeting and participating in the process in some way?

Kmentt: The short answer is yes. I think people are watching very carefully, very closely what we do in the TPNW process. There's a lot of false narratives going around, if I can say it in that way, from opponents of the TPNW, and that's why I think TPNW states-parties will be extremely focused on the seriousness of the enterprise. I am very much focused on the first meeting of states-parties, and I want this to be a successful meeting, but at the end of the day, the more important thing, really, is what happens afterwards. My goal is that at the end of the first meeting, the treaty is firmly established as a serious forum to engage meaningfully on the profound issues on which the TPNW is based.

This engagement by skeptics of the TPNW has been lacking. The TPNW has been vilified and accused of all sorts of things. We all understand the political dynamics behind it, but states-parties are undisturbed by that. We remain serious about this treaty, serious about our commitment to the TPNW and for a multilateral approach to nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament, and nonproliferation. If this message comes out very strongly at the first meeting of states-parties, then I'm optimistic that some of these unfounded criticisms will fall away. At the end of the day, given what we are seeing now, TPNW opponents should ask themselves whether it is a good thing or a bad thing if more states are willing to take on legally binding obligations against nuclear weapons. I would make the point that we should welcome any additional legally binding commitment from any actor at the moment that tries to reinforce the normative framework and the nuclear disarmament regime.

ACT: Are there going to be any surprises? Is anybody going to show up at this conference that maybe we aren't expecting?

Kmentt: The UN secretary-general is the convener of this meeting. He has sent invitations to every UN member state. So, every UN member state is invited to participate, and our door is certainly open. As I said, from the TPNW side, we are not doing anything and will not do anything that will be an easy excuse for anyone not to show up and be part of this discussion. Of course, we cannot force anyone, but it will be the decision of non-states-parties whether or not to attend. It's not something that we do on the TPNW side to exclude the participation of anyone.

ACT: Have you had much conversation with the United States about this?

Kmentt: I had plenty of conversations with U.S. colleagues. Of course, the overall U.S. position on the TPNW hasn't changed. It's very clear, but there is a dialogue, and I think that's important. Certainly [the Biden] administration is very concerned about the future of the NPT, like all of us should be. With all the disagreement that there may be on some issues, I think there is a willingness to find ways of working together where possible. I think there's very clearly the interest there. Logically, the TPNW states-parties understand that the objective of the treaty will only be achieved with engagement with the states that have these weapons. We're not naive in that sense. We know that we cannot wish nuclear weapons away. This is a discursive process.

From my perspective, it is a very powerful proposition to discuss nuclear weapons from the perspective of humanitarian consequences and risks. It's only fair and a legitimate approach because the risks are borne by the entire international community. I’m convinced the TPNW represents the perspective of the vast majority of non-nuclear-weapon states who have felt disenfranchised about the nuclear discourse over the decades. The request for this discussion
is not going to disappear, and the stronger the TPNW becomes, the legitimacy and the weight to ask for this engagement will grow. I think that is why we want to set this treaty up in a serious way because that discussion has to happen at some stage.

ACT: How do you see the TPNW reinforcing what the NPT review conference, which meets in August, will do?

Kmentt: I think the prospects for the NPT review conference are very uncertain at the moment. It's extremely fragile, and we're all concerned about that. I can say this with absolute certainty, TPNW states-parties have absolutely no interest whatsoever that the NPT is damaged, quite the opposite. The entire TPNW community has always felt it was grossly offensive to be accused by some that the TPNW undermines the NPT. If you look at the states that have most actively promoted the TPNW—Ireland, for example, which has practically invented the NPT with the Irish resolution; South Africa, which had nuclear weapons, gave them up, and joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state; Mexico, which has led the entire continent with the Treaty of Tlatelolco, Kazakhstan; my own country, Austria; I could go on—these are states that have a clear and clean record in support of the NPT. We always felt that this was really an offensive accusation coming from states whose own NPT Article 6 implementation leaves some scope for improvement, to say the least.

The TPNW clearly reinforces Article 6 of the NPT [requiring states-parties to pursue nuclear disarmament]. This is one of the pillars of the NPT, and even opponents of the TPNW will agree that a prohibition of nuclear weapons is necessary to implement Article 6. The NPT is a framework treaty. Also, the nonproliferation provision of the NPT required additional instruments, for example, the safeguard systems of the [International Atomic Energy Agency]. So, conceptually, a prohibition is necessary to implement Article 6. The disagreement, if you wish, is, should this come at the end of the process of disarmament, or is it better to do it now? You can have a discussion about it, but that a prohibition is necessary, I think, is unequivocally clear.

Take the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), another weapons of mass destruction prohibition treaty. Nobody disputes the validity of the BWC, which does not have any verification provision. The TPNW follows the same logic and very clearly supports the NPT obligation of Article 6. Moreover, I would argue—and this an aspect that is underrepresented—that the TPNW is also a strong measure to support nonproliferation. By looking at the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons, we make the argument that reliance on nuclear weapons is ultimately an irresponsible and unsustainable approach to security, so nobody should have them. This is absolutely a nonproliferation measure. So the TPNW supports the nonproliferation pillar of the NPT as well.

How can anybody with a clear mind therefore say that the TPNW undermines the NPT, because obviously the two essential pillars of the NPT, disarmament and nonproliferation, are supported by the TPNW? There was great care and consciousness in the negotiations to make sure that the TPNW is fully compatible with the NPT, and we are absolutely adamant about this. There will be a very clear message at the meeting of states-parties on complementarity between the TPNW and the NPT. I hope that these politically motivated accusations against the TPNW will stop being made.

The president-designate of the first meeting of states-parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons prepares to move the pact forward at a difficult time in Russian-U.S. relations.

When Ukraine Traded Nuclear Weapons for Security Assurances: An Interview with Mariana Budjeryn

April 2022

Since Russia launched its war on Ukraine many have wondered why Ukraine relinquished control of the nuclear weapons it inherited after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and whether, in retrospect, that decision was a mistake. After all, in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States promised “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders” of Ukraine and “refrain from the threat or use of force.” Carol Giacomo, the chief editor of Arms Control Today, put those questions to Mariana Budjeryn, a research associate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, whose book Inheriting the Bomb: Soviet Collapse and Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine will be published this year. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Arms Control Today: Help us understand why Ukraine gave up its nuclear stockpile and the implications.

Mariana Budjeryn: When the Soviet Union broke up, there were four former republics that inherited chunks of the Soviet strategic arms arsenal and production complex: the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Only Russia had a full nuclear fuel cycle, including warhead design and production facilities, and the ability to produce all the launch vehicles, such as bombers and missiles.

None of the three non-Russian successor states possessed a full fuel cycle, so they would have had to invest in these facilities to complete the missing links. Kazakhstan was the most endowed in terms of fuel; it was a supplier of uranium to the Soviet nuclear program and had fuel fabrication facilities. Ukraine did not have that, but it did have launch vehicle production. In addition, there were actual nuclear weapons on the ground, the so-called tactical nuclear weapons and the strategic missile force and strategic bombers, all armed with nuclear warheads.

When Ukraine began deliberating these choices after its independence, it had to contend with several things. One was that it was a part of the nuclear force that was designed by a different country—the Soviet Union—for the strategic purposes of that country. It would have had to do quite a bit of work to reshape the nuclear force into something that would have suited Ukraine. Even if Ukraine decided to establish control over these armaments, which, technically, it could with some effort, Ukraine would still not be able to use whatever it had to deter Russia because of the ranges. The intercontinental ballistic missiles that Ukraine inherited had ranges of 10,000 and more kilometers, so what kind of targets could you really hold at risk in Russia? Vladivostok? That wasn't very credible. Trying to maintain and then replace nuclear warheads would have required investment and would have, most importantly, put Ukraine at odds with the international community and its nonproliferation consensus.

An old Soviet SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile on display at the Ukraine Strategic Missile Forces Museum outside of Kyiv. (Photo: Stefan Krasowski via Wikimedia)With all that said, we often forget that Ukraine started its path toward independent statehood with a preference to become a state free of nuclear weapons. That was codified in Ukraine's declaration of sovereignty that was passed by its parliament in July 1990, a full year and a half before the Soviet Union collapsed. That founding document set out a vision for how Ukraine might go about achieving independence from Moscow. In it, the parliament said Ukraine has the desire to become in the future a neutral, non-nuclear state.

It was a completely voluntary move, and the reason was twofold. One was Chernobyl. This general anti-nuclear sentiment in Ukrainian political discourse also translated into an anti-Moscow, anti-institutional sentiment because the perception was that these people from the Soviet Union are building these faulty reactors that blow up, contaminate our land, and cause a humanitarian disaster. Then they lie to us, there's negligence, cover-up, and the mishandling of the aftermath. So, Chernobyl and this anti-nuclear sentiment became a very important part of this pro-independence movement, and it helped unite Ukrainians based on civic and humanitarian grounds rather than on ethnonationalistic grounds in their attempt to gain political independence from Moscow.

It turns out from talking to people who were part of drafting the declaration that the other part of the thinking behind this unilateral renunciation was that Ukraine was deeply integrated with the Soviet military machine. The command-and-control lines ran directly from the military units deployed in Ukraine to central command in Moscow, bypassing the republican authorities. At that time, the leaders of the republics didn't even know fully what was deployed in their territory. The understanding was that unless we sever these military ties, there will be no way we can attain our independence.

When the Soviet Union collapsed faster than anyone had anticipated, the question became, “To whom do the armaments in the non-Russian republics belong?” It was a much easier question to answer when it came to conventional armaments because it was decided that whatever was on the territory at the time rightfully belonged to these republics, but when it came to the nuclear inheritance, some really difficult questions arose. It has been my argument that part of that predicament was the fact that nuclear possession was not a matter of just national policy. There was the international nuclear nonproliferation regime centered on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and the NPT recognized only five nuclear-weapon states. So, it was basically a framework for guarding and managing a legitimized nuclear possession. In that kind of international nuclear order, Ukraine's nuclear situation was a square peg that had to be fitted to the round hole.

Ukrainian leaders formulated a claim that, as a successor state of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was just as entitled to Soviet nuclear inheritance as the Russian Federation and wanted to be compensated for giving it up. These claims were often misunderstood in the West and aided by Russian voices to mean that Ukraine was intending to go nuclear, wanted operational control over these armaments, and wanted to do all these nefarious things. But a major driver for these claims was Ukraine’s attempt to reconstitute a relationship with this new Russia on more equal terms.

What I found in my research was that, within Ukrainian political discourse, those who advocated for actual retention of these armaments as a deterrent were very few and very marginal. To begin with, Ukraine had set out this grand vision of disarmament. Another factor was the economic resources and time it would take to build up the missing links of a fully fledged nuclear weapons program, which Ukraine did not have at the time. Ukraine was an aspiring democracy, emerging out of this totalitarian empire. It wanted to join the international community on good terms. So, much of it was about the kind of country Ukraine wanted to become rather than just the things it wanted to get out of it. Ukraine was accused of bargaining and haggling. No, Ukraine wanted a fair deal. It negotiated with Russia and the United States, and at the end of that process, it got a deal. I would consider it a fair deal.

ACT: The United States also pushed Ukraine to give up its nuclear capability and be a real democracy. What was the effect of such pressure? How did it lead to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum?

Budjeryn: Beginning in the fall of 1991 with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, the United States took a pretty straightforward stance: there shall be no more than one nuclear successor to the Soviet Union. I think later with the Clinton administration, that singular focus on nuclear issues in engagement with Ukraine was relaxed. That's not to say this demand became qualified, but there was a greater willingness to engage beyond just the nuclear issue and offer positive inducements instead of just saying disarm or else. That kind of mix of carrots and sticks proved more effective than just sticks under the George H.W. Bush administration. It’s just that [as] the administration went into the presidential election campaign, the focus shifted, and it wanted to have this issue sorted quickly. Ukraine was seen as recalcitrant in making these demands.

Part of the story was that Washington has been focused historically on Moscow alone. There were lines of communication, negotiations and relationships that had developed over years. Moscow was the seat of power. I think maybe this overwhelming focus on Moscow led to a blindness about what was going on in the provinces. The Soviet collapse came as a surprise to which the West kept reacting, and it reacted in very creative ways. The Nunn-Lugar [Cooperative Threat Reduction] program and the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives were among the entrepreneurial foreign policy responses to an unprecedented situation. It took time for Washington to hone the specialists and the mindset to say that people in the former republics have agency, they are new countries with certain national interests. We have to take them seriously and engage with them. By the time the Clinton administration comes in, there's a greater understanding that things might not be going so smoothly, you can't just bend people to your will, you have to give them a fair deal.

Ukrainians initially were unprepared to engage with two nuclear superpowers on nuclear issues. President Leonid Kravchuk and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko in their first meeting with Baker could only take notes, then go back to their scientists and their military and ask how to respond to some of these questions about nuclear weapons. There was, among the political leadership, a low level of knowledge about the nuclear arms on Ukraine's territory. But they learned quickly and held their own, even with very little leverage. The negotiation of the security guarantees started in June 1992 with the Bush administration and concluded with the signing of the Budapest Memorandum on December 5, 1994.

In Moscow in January 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton (L), Russian President Boris Yeltsin (C), and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (R), set the stage for Ukraine’s disarmament. They signed a statement providing for the transfer of all nuclear weapons in Ukraine to Russia for dismantlement and for Ukraine’s compensation by Russia for the highly-enriched uranium in those weapons. In December that same year, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the Budapest Memorandum which gave Ukraine security assurances for giving up its nuclear arsenal. (Photo by Wojtek Laski/Getty Images)That was one part of the deal. The other was the compensation for the fissile material contained in the warheads that would come to Ukraine from Russia in the form of nuclear fuel assemblies for Ukrainian power plants. The idea was that the highly enriched uranium in the warheads would be down-blended to low-enriched uranium and then come back as fuel assemblies. The United States underwrote that deal, as part of the Megatons to Megawatts program, where the United States would buy the down-blended uranium from Russia for its own nuclear power plants. These ideas showed quick thinking. It was inventive and entrepreneurial foreign policy.

The deal granted to Ukraine not only the nuclear fuel and compensation, but the recognition thereby that these were Ukraine’s warheads to give up. That was just as important to Ukraine as the actual goods it got in return. Russia had just unceremoniously taken over all of the international statuses and all of the political space that was previously occupied by the entire Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was part. I think the fear was, not unjustified in retrospect, that if you grant Russia these statuses, maybe the geopolitical ambition would follow.

I think still, amazingly, in Western imagery, we conflate the Soviet Union and Russia all the time. It seems like a minor thing, but we are seeing these chickens come to roost right now. We think somehow the Earth just opened up and out came the Ukrainians and the Kazakhs and the Belarusians and Russia is just kind of this slightly truncated Soviet Union. No, the process of succession had to be negotiated, and it involved policy and the implementation of policy. It's not a given that the outcome should have been what it is now, even in the nuclear realm. Ukraine tried to challenge this nuclear monopoly, without challenging the entire nonproliferation regime.

The Ukrainian argument was, “You cannot claim that these are Russian weapons on our territory. We were part of a nuclear superpower. We contributed our resources, human, natural, and so forth, to the creation of this. We are entitled to something, at least a recognition that this is our stuff to give up.”

ACT: Was the Budapest Memorandum a good deal for Ukraine?

Budjeryn: Ukrainian negotiators knew very well at the time of the memorandum that what they got in the end was not exactly what they sought. They sought a more robust set of security guarantees, whether that came in a form of a legally binding treaty or in some pledges of consequences for their breach. Whether that was at all possible to achieve is difficult to say. On the one hand, Ukraine was pushing hard, but it was up against two nuclear powers that had a lot of leverage. Ukraine had very little. It's commendable that U.S. policymakers and negotiators did go for a signature of a separate document that was attached to the act of Ukraine's succession to the NPT.

But in terms of substance, those were just clauses, basically copy-pasted from the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, and the kind of general nuclear positive and negative security assurances that are pledged by the United States and the UK and Russia, the three depositary states of the NPT, to all non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT. So that was essentially the content of the memorandum. The only new thing was the consultation mechanism that was written into it that should any issues arise in connection to the memorandum, parties should consult. I think what Ukrainians envisioned was ironically some form of guaranteed neutrality, something we're talking about for Ukraine right now. It wasn't a NATO Article 5 type of protection, but rather, we just want our borders secured, what can you promise or threaten for the breach of that?

It was a tricky question then, just like it remains a tricky question now, not only because Ukrainians are keen on joining NATO, given the peril they are in, but also because there seems to be an asymmetrical interest and engagement in Ukraine from Western and Russian sides. It clearly looks like the Kremlin's current ruler, [President Vladimir] Putin, wants to reshape Ukraine. He wouldn't be happy with just leaving it neutral and deciding its own affairs. So what would the West have to threaten in terms of negative consequences to keep Putin away? At that point, it becomes some kind of security commitment that involves something more robust than just reassurances taken from other multilateral instruments.

Even though the Budapest Memorandum did not contain robust guarantees, and they were not legally binding, the mere fact that Ukraine's succession to the NPT took place in conjunction with this document made the Budapest Memorandum part of the broader nonproliferation regime. Therefore, its breach has an impact on the nonproliferation regime writ large because it erodes one of the main bargains enshrined in that regime, that if you make this decision to forgo a nuclear weapon, that should not happen at the expense of your security. The survival of a non-nuclear state should not be imperiled by a country that has nuclear weapons that has been granted this privilege under the NPT to be a recognized nuclear power. The nonproliferation regime is essentially discriminatory in nature, and this memorandum is among the bargains that ameliorates that inequality.

What I see happening now, meaning after 2014 and the seizure of Crimea and the way the issue of the Budapest Memorandum has been treated in Ukraine's public discourse, is that much of the nuance about the history of disarmament, about what Ukraine had and didn't have, about what it would have taken for Ukraine to refashion its nuclear inheritance into a fully fledged deterrent, gets lost. So the story is boiled down to “Ukraine had the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal, it gave it away for nothing, and now look what happened.”

Even though it is incorrect, it is understandable, and it's extremely damaging to the credibility of the nonproliferation regime. I imagine the value of security assurances like the ones in the Budapest Memorandum has declined considerably as a tool in nonproliferation going forward. Think about what we can promise North Korea to convince it to disarm. Think about other states that are looking at Ukraine and again might not know all the nuances of the story. What conclusions will they likely make? It reinforces in a very damaging way some of the existing tensions within the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Even apart from Ukraine, the tension between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states has been high, and the outcome of that is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, this insurgency that has been mounted by the non-nuclear-weapon states who are saying, “You guys are not holding up your side of the deal, in particular when it comes to fulfilling NPT Article VI on pursuing arms control and disarmament.” The damage of Russia’s breach of its commitments to Ukraine in connection with the latter’s disarmament is difficult to assess. At this point, we can't foresee all of the possible consequences, but I really don't see how this could amount to anything good.

ACT: Was it a mistake for Ukraine to give up those weapons?

Budjeryn: I think it was not. I think it was the right thing to do. But I think the West could do a better job in dispelling Ukraine’s regrets. We've heard President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reference the Budapest Memorandum and how those guarantees are not holding up. I think it has been a failure of Western policy to sideline that document altogether. I, for one, cannot understand why the United States and the UK, the other two signatories, have made so little of the Budapest Memorandum. The consultation mechanism provided for in the memorandum was invoked, there was a meeting of the signatories on March 5, 2014, just as the Russian troops were taking over Crimea. Even though Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Paris where the meeting was happening, he did not bother to show up. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was at the table, as was UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. They issued a joint statement in support of Ukraine sovereignty, and that was it.

After that, all the military assistance that came to Ukraine, all the statements of support were not framed in reference to the memorandum and in reference to the commitments made by the other signatories under the memorandum. If the United States is providing Javelins and over $2 billion in military assistance, why not say, “We have committed to uphold your security back in the day, now our bill has come due, this is what we're doing.” I also really don't understand why the Obama administration decided to stay out of the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia on stopping the war in eastern Ukraine. France and Germany were at the table. Maybe it was part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy of “leading from behind” where the Europeans were expected to take charge. I think the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum should have been the ones at that table, especially the United States. It would have been a different set of negotiations had the United States joined that format.

So, the West kind of bears the responsibility not for signing the wrong thing back in 1994, but not making enough of the document that already existed and certainly had the scope for serving as a framework for that kind of political and security support for Ukraine.

ACT: Could the memorandum serve that same purpose today in Ukraine?

Budjeryn: It should. I mean, as Zelenskyy's statement at the Munich Security Conference indicates, the Budapest Memorandum has a very bad reputation right now in Ukraine. But I don't think all is lost. I think there's still an opportunity to take it out, dust it off, and make good of it precisely because it does link Ukraine's current security situation back to its decision and validates it.

But I think the credibility of the Western world and the entire global nuclear order is at stake here because you have a country that did the right thing, that disarmed in accordance with the global nonproliferation consensus, and thus contributed to international security. Then you have one of the major nuclear powers going rogue, basically. We haven't even talked about the Russian shelling of nuclear power plants. This is something we expect terrorists to do, not a stakeholder in the global nuclear governance and a founding member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear dimensions of this war in Ukraine have to be emphasized to reassure Ukraine that it did do the right thing and to communicate to other potential proliferators that are looking at all of this and taking notes that, no, you will not be left to stand alone, which is, to the extent possible, something that the United States and Europe are already doing. But they need to make that linkage.

Russia's war on Ukraine erodes a main bargain of the nonproliferation regime, that if a country forgoes nuclear weapons, its security will not be threatened.

Long in the Making: The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

March 2022

A week before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, unleashing the biggest military operation in Europe since World War II, three experts on Russia—Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and former NATO deputy secretary-general; Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia for the International Crisis Group; and Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. presidential adviser on Russia—were interviewed on Zoom and email by Carol Giacomo, chief editor of Arms Control Today, about the origins of the crisis and what an eventual solution might involve. Their comments, made as U.S. and European leaders were still working for a diplomatic solution, have been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: What do you see as the core of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis? What led Russia to demand security guarantees?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Vladimir Putin’s ego. I’m only slightly kidding.

THOMAS GRAHAM: From the Russian standpoint, this is really a question that concerns the post-Cold War settlement back in the 1990s that Russia now believes was imposed on it at a time of extreme strategic weakness in Russia. Of particular concern has been the expansion of NATO eastward across the continent, beginning with the initial invitations issued in 1997 and threatening core principles of Russian security going back decades if not centuries. Russia has sought its security in strategic depth and in buffer zones. They don’t like the idea of a military-political alliance, created to contain the Soviet Union, pressing up against its borders. So while in the United States we talk about a Ukraine crisis, from the Russian standpoint this is a crisis in European security architecture, and the fundamental issue they want to negotiate is the revision of European security architecture as it now stands to something that is more favorable to Russian interests.

OLGA OLIKER: I do think that at the core of this is a European security order that is out of date [and] that does not meet the needs of security as it has developed. Part of that is we have very different views of what it means to be secure in Europe, what sovereignty means in Europe. Why we’ve been unable to adapt the system to current needs is because Moscow on the one hand and Western countries on the other have these misaligned views of what it means to be secure.

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to repel an attack in the breakaway Luhansk region on February 24 after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)GOTTEMOELLER: There is a major economic aspect of this, and that starts at the crisis in 2014 over Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union. It had nothing to do with NATO. Ukrainians are heading to Europe in terms of its culture, its democratic practices, so it is also about Ukraine eventually joining the EU. For me, it’s a bit artificial the way Putin has created NATO as the enemy because NATO all along, and up to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, was trying to promulgate a partnership with Russia based on the Rome Declaration of 2002 that Putin himself signed and included a wide range of pragmatic projects. They got increasingly difficult to implement in the years running up to 2014. But there were still some significant practical projects going on, like the European Airspace Initiative, right up to the invasion of Crimea.

From NATO’s perspective, they were trying to make it work for Russia. I won’t say that everybody inside NATO was equally trying to make it work; the former Warsaw Pact states were nervous and anxious about Russia’s engagement and involvement in NATO and suspicious about it undermining NATO. But from a NATO policy perspective, the alliance was trying to make its partnership with Russia work. So, that’s what is being missed in the discussion now. Everybody seems to accept at face value that NATO is a problem for Putin. He created the problem in my view, and what this is more about is Ukraine having a healthy economic relationship with the EU; Ukraine suddenly having more of a future than Russia in a way.

OLIKER: I think there’s a lot of truth to that in terms of the facts, the realities of Ukraine’s evolution [and] Russia’s own economic system. But it is also important not to discount the extent to which Russia has consistently viewed NATO as a threat even as NATO was making overtures and saw itself as working to improve relations with Russia, to improve security. Throughout this process, Russia was always pushing back. The Russian view that NATO is an alliance against Russia, that the United States is a threat, and that NATO and the EU work for the United States one way or another is false but consistent, and that is a driver of Russia’s vision. It is interesting that none of the demands we’ve seen in these Russian draft treaties have anything to say about the EU. In fact, there is about as much risk of the Ukraine joining the EU anytime soon as of their joining NATO anytime soon. Neither of these institutions has any plans to incorporate Ukraine, and the EU is going through its own identity crisis.

For Russia, there is this visceral understanding of Ukraine as naturally its own, and that is crucial to Russia’s self-image and its view that Ukraine, however independent or not independent it is, be aligned with Russia. This is something they created for themselves. You invade a country, you annex a chunk of it, [and] shockingly, it’s not going to be as prone to being aligned with you. But there you have it, and they view this as NATO doing it to Russia rather than Russia doing it to itself, and they see this as a threat. The logic doesn’t quite work, but I do believe that they believe this.

In the diplomatic flurry before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron (R) met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on February 7. The distance between the two men as they sat at a long formal table was a sign of the gap between Moscow and the West over the crisis. (Photo by Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)GOTTEMOELLER: I don’t disagree, but who are the Russians in this case? I think there are different views out there. There are Russians, [Andre] Kortunov [director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council], some retired military and KGB senior officers who are saying, “Is it really such a good idea to be heading in this direction of a war, invasion of Ukraine?” They are also saying, “Do we really want to abandon our Western-facing objectives and throw ourselves into the arms of China, is that a good idea?” The Russians aren’t monolithic on this. There always has been a debate of the Westernizers versus the Slavophiles. In this case, the Westernizers are those who still see the necessity of links to Europe for economic, cultural, [and] traditional reasons and because people like to send their kids to school in Europe versus those who say to heck with Europe, to heck with the West, we’re throwing ourselves into the arms of the Chinese.

OLIKER: Those voices that see Russia as European, that see Russia’s future in cooperating with Europe, are not the voices that the government is listening to. Even among those voices, there are two factors to keep in mind. One is that they do continue, for the most part, to see NATO as fundamentally an anti-Russian institution. Even the most liberal Russian has a very difficult time visualizing a Ukraine that isn’t aligned with Russia. Part of the problem is that very few Russian men, especially, have visited Ukraine since 2014, so they are not familiar with some of the changes that have taken place in that country. My point is that even the most liberal, pro-Western Russian thinks of Ukraine as an appendage to Russia, and that has become unacceptable in Ukraine. It has also become quite unacceptable to a variety of European countries to give that to Russia.

ACT: This Russian animus toward NATO and the West has been going on a long time. Does Putin making a big issue of it now seem artificial?

GRAHAM: In 1999 and 2000, Russia really didn’t have the capability to push back. Russia believes now that it is in much better shape, certainly from a military standpoint, probably from the standpoint of political stability and economically, to push back. Also, the West is in greater disarray now than it has been in many years. Beyond that, there are things over the past year that concern Moscow. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has moved actively against what he sees as pro-Russian forces inside Ukraine, putting under house arrest Viktor Medvedchuk, who served in the Ukrainian government at one point but is seen as very close to Putin and a representative of pro-Russian forces in the Ukrainian system. They closed down three TV stations they claim were broadcasting Russian propaganda. Zelenskyy also in the past year has pushed actively for NATO to make some early-term decision on NATO expansion into Ukraine. He tried to put on the international agenda the question of Crimea, which had not been at the center of discussion on European issues over the past several years.

Since Ukraine was granted the enhanced opportunities relationship with NATO, Russia has seen a much more active NATO presence in Ukraine. The United States is there with instructors. The United Kingdom has been on the ground. We’ve done annual exercises that are more ambitious. The Russians saw this as a threat. Finally, Putin wanted to see how the new Biden administration would deal with Russia. He didn’t want to be written off as a significant global actor. I think the Russians resented the national security strategy guidelines that the administration issued in March 2021, which basically said Russia is a destructive element on the international stage and China is what we’re really concerned about. So, from the Kremlin standpoint, they wanted to make sure Russia was on the agenda in this administration. We had the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, which created some sense of perhaps now is a time to push so we can get a favorable decision out of the Biden administration. Finally, you have the energy crisis in Europe this year, which gave Russia some leverage. So a host of things came together that led the Kremlin to decide this is the moment to throw down the gauntlet about NATO expansion.

ACT: Are you somewhat sympathetic to the Russian side?

GRAHAM: When you’re doing an analysis, you shouldn’t be sympathetic. I am trying to describe what is driving the Russians at this point, and that’s important in the United States if we’re going to develop a policy that advances our interests and defends our principles. I don’t find this unusual. Any major power that felt that a peace was imposed on it will seek to revise that peace when it’s strong enough to do that. We saw Germany do that after the Versailles Treaty was imposed on it in 1919. That said, obviously there are certain things the Russians have done that are problematic from our standpoint. Even if it doesn’t invade Ukraine, and my sense is that is not the first option the Kremlin is thinking about at this point, they have used the threat of force in coercive diplomacy to put this on the agenda. That is problematic. It does lead to questions of how do we deal with this in a way that will resolve the crisis but not encourage Russia to use coercive diplomacy in the future to try to advance its interests. That’s where diplomacy comes in, how do we do this in a way that accommodates Russia but doesn’t undermine our interests or jeopardize our core principles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signs documents, including a decree recognizing the independence of two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 21. (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)ACT: What do you think is Putin’s goal? His foreign minister has called for “radical changes” in European security, among the litany of Russian demands.

OLIKER: What I hope he wants is as much as he can get. Then, when you get to the talks, you can actually negotiate something. What I fear he wants is to prove to the United States and NATO that he cares more about Ukraine and possibly all of European security than they do, that none of the rest of them will use force but he will, and then they’re going to have to reckon with him. I think that would be a horrible misjudgment on Moscow’s part if they really think that is what is going to happen.

GOTTEMOELLER: This hasn’t been emphasized, but this is also about Putin’s domestic situation and trying to position himself for a successful transition. Like most autocrats, he cannot designate a successor for fear that he’ll end up getting knocked off by his successor before time. I think he is trying to also shape Russian politics as the ultimate strongman, the ultimate all-wise, all-powerful leader, and show he is tactically adept. That means he can also handle the domestic political environment. It’s a huge roll of the dice for Putin, whether he can come out of this successfully. Some ways we would not be happy with, some ways we can work with, particularly if Russia heads in the direction of really useful negotiations that produce good results for Russia, of course, but also for NATO and the United States. But I also think he’s trying to position himself as he turns 70 this October, to say, let’s figure out with his barons, his power structure the next moves in terms of governance in Russia, but “don’t mess with me in the meantime.”

ACT: There are specific Russian, U.S., and NATO proposals on the table. Do you see convergence? What is likely to result from talk of realigning or reforming the security architecture of Europe?

GRAHAM: Certainly, these are negotiable at this point, in part because if you look at the draft treaties that Russia presented publicly, see the U.S. and NATO response, there is an agreement that we need to negotiate new arms control measures, confidence-building measures, if we’re going to enhance security in Europe for everybody. So, we’re not going to call it the [Conventional Forces in Europe] CFE Treaty, but certainly some of the principles that informed that treaty would be appropriate today. I think the United States and NATO would be willing to undertake obligations not to deploy certain types of weapons systems or even concentrations of military forces in a certain zone along the Russian-NATO frontier. We’ll see how much flexibility there is on the Russian side.

Ukranians flash the v-sign after taking down the Soviet red flag from the Ukrainian Communist Party headquarters on August 25, 1991 in Kyiv. (Photo by Anatoly Supinski/AFP via Getty Images)In the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, NATO pledged it would not deploy “substantial permanent combat forces” in new member states. We adhere to that up to this point, but we may be able to define that with greater clarity. This would require reciprocity on the Russian part, which means they would have to undertake not to deploy their forces within a certain distance of the border, which means they will put limitations on their ability to move their own forces and staff on Russian territory. The Kremlin standpoint is that Russia has every sovereign right to deploy its forces anywhere it wants to on its sovereign territory and that shouldn’t be a problem for any other country [because] it’s not threatening. That said, if you’re planning on invading a country, you generally concentrate your forces along the border, right? So any concentration of forces along the border does raise legitimate concerns in neighboring countries as to what your intentions actually are. Can we negotiate something like that? I think the answer is yes, but it’s going to be difficult because it will require concessions on both sides. Reciprocity is something the United States is focused on. We believe Russia violated the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty. That’s the reason we withdrew or at least one of the reasons we withdrew. Russia had its own grievances about our missile defense sites in Poland and Romania.

The whole dance around ending the INF Treaty was undertaken to cast blame on the other side for the demise of the treaty, which both countries actually wanted to get out from under. Now in the current circumstances, in the interests of European security, there’s some interest in reviving this treaty, but limited to Europe. If we’re going to negotiate that, the Russians are going to have to answer our concerns about the missile system that they’ve already deployed. We’re going to have to answer their questions about our missile defense systems. We’ll see over the next several weeks whether there is the political will to find the technical fixes that will allow us to come to an agreement that we will not deploy land-based intermediate-range nuclear forces or nuclear-capable forces in the European theater. Then there are notifications of military exercises, rules of conduct to avoid dangerous incidents at sea and in the air. All those things are negotiable. I think both sides agree they’re important to European security.

OLGA: The analyst, Gabriela Rosa Hernandez, sent me an email on the Russian response of February 17, which she summarized as follows: “There’ll be a military technical response if you keep ignoring us, but we won’t invade Ukraine. We’re not going to negotiate confidence-building measures or arms control deals unless we address the European security architecture and Ukraine’s NATO membership. It’s a package, not a menu.”

Protesters carry a giant Ukrainian flag during a rally in Odessa on February 20 to show unity and support of Ukrainian integrity amid soaring tensions with Russia. (Photo by Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images))It’s not a good Russian response because it is very hard-line. I can see points of overlap. Everybody at this point is okay with a European intermediate-range nuclear forces deal, even if we might have questions about its military usefulness, since the United States isn’t planning to do this anyway. I think the mutual inspections, exercise limits, and things like that, you can do these things. One big disconnect is the Russians want the limits where it’s Russian, and perhaps Belorussian, territory up against NATO territory. When it comes to Ukraine, the Russians want the ability to build up forces all around Ukraine, put a bunch of ships in the Black Sea with missiles on them, and threaten Ukraine. There is no new European security architecture deal, I don’t think, that doesn’t also take into account the security of countries like Ukraine one way or another. If the Russians really do push this “it’s a package, not a menu” story, I mean good luck with negotiating. You can’t negotiate one big package like this quickly.

GOTTEMOELLER: One of Putin’s early-warning shots was to say, “I don’t want to get into the dead-end swamp of endless negotiations.” But now, if they are taking this position that it’s a package and not a menu, that is a recipe for endless negotiations. Speaking from the perspective of a negotiator, I can say that you have to carve off doable do’s where you can quickly see some momentum building and you work through it piece by piece. That’s why, to my mind, that was Putin’s offer in the first place, that we take intermediate ground-launched missiles out of Europe. Although he doesn’t admit the [Russian] 9M729 is a missile that is flying to intermediate range, he was willing to say, “We’ll take it out as a goodwill gesture and put in place monitoring and verification.” That was his so-called moratorium proposal. Now, we’re ready to say, “Yes, let’s do this, and let’s do it quickly and figure out what the monitoring and verification would be.” That is where there could be quick progress, and it would lend momentum to these further things that we want to get done. But if they’re saying, “You’ve got to agree to our whole package and talk about our whole package,” it’s like they’re saying no to real diplomacy.

ACT: Is there a solution to Russia’s opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO?

GRAHAM: The stumbling point at this point is the issue of NATO expansion eastward into the former Soviet space. The Russian position is never. They want legally binding guarantees about that. The U.S. position is that NATO has an open door and sovereign states have the right to decide who they’re going to associate with for security, political, and other purposes. At the end of the day, this issue has to be put on the table. The question is, How do you bridge the gap between those two positions and come up with some reasonable solution that satisfies minimal security requirements for Russia, but also allows the United States to say it hasn’t compromised its core interests or its core principles? I think the Ukrainians understand NATO membership is a distant possibility for them. So you would think that, given what everybody will tell you in private, we ought to be able to find a clever diplomatic solution to this problem. This is where the idea of a moratorium comes up. My guess is, eventually, we’re going to get there.

In some ways, the simplest solution for NATO and the United States would be for Ukraine to decide that it didn’t want to join NATO, take it out of the constitution, and reinsert a provision about nonalignment. That may be where we end up. But I think the United States, as a major power, ought to simply be prepared to say that we’ve looked at the situation, [that] we don’t believe Ukraine is going to be ready for decades, and that a moratorium is the best way of doing this at this point, then allow the Ukrainians the space to sort out how they feel about that and what they want to do going forward, as opposed to pressuring them to make a statement that takes us off the hook.

ACT: Should negotiations on European security and arms control take place within the
U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue format?

GRAHAM: My preference would be for a separate group to work on these questions of European security. There’s not a strict overlap between those people who deal with security architecture and those who are focused and should rightfully be focused on arms control negotiations, developing a follow-on treaty for New START, which expires in four years. You could do that under the umbrella of a strategic stability dialogue by setting up a separate working group with different individuals to focus on this.

A woman clears debris at a residential building in a Kyiv suburb that was believed to be damaged by a military shell on February 25 after Russian forces reached the outskirts of the capital city. (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)While it’s important to have this type of structure, we also need a genuinely confidential back channel where we can discuss what are very sensitive issues. Much of the dialogue over the past several months has been conducted in public. To a great extent, the Russians are to blame for that by publishing those treaties 24 to 48 hours after they had presented them to the United States. It was clear our response was going to be leaked at some point. But these are such sensitive issues, you can’t negotiate them seriously in the public glare because resolution will require backing away from stated positions. That’s very difficult to do given the political context in the United States. It’s also difficult to do on the Russian side. So if you’re really serious, you have to have a platform that is protected from the public glare, where serious people can get together and discuss very sensitive issues that will require difficult trade-offs. You have to do this in confidence and then present the total package to the public for debate. Any element of a compromise solution can be debated to death. When you see the whole package and how pieces fit together, you have a different assessment.

ACT: How does this conflict with Russia end? Is there a chance it could escalate to use of nuclear weapons?

GOTTEMOELLER: I don’t think it will escalate to the nuclear level, but I do think we could get into a serious kinetic conflict that would be bolstered by serious and continuing hybrid attacks. There’s a kind of mixed bag here of hybrid action, cyberattacks; there’s [a] very strong misinformation campaign and then kinetic action gets added on top. Perhaps what I fear most is the spillover that would affect NATO allies, and that’s the reason why the Biden administration has bolstered troops in Poland. Other NATO countries are sending some troops forward to help deter and defend in those states directly bordering on Russia and Belarus. No NATO troops will be involved in Ukraine per se, but I do worry about spillover into NATO countries. We already see spillover on the hybrid side. There are constant cyberattacks on NATO headquarters and on NATO countries individually.

OLIKER: I don’t think this conflict has a real nuclear risk. I think the next conflict, the next crisis does. This is my concern that however this ends, if it does not end with everybody at the negotiating table thinking about how to build a more secure Europe and staying at that negotiating table, in the next crisis, everybody comes to that table saying we failed in Ukraine. This time we have to do more. This time we have to push harder, and by everybody I mean both on the Russian side and on the NATO side. There I start seeing risks of escalation that involve NATO member states, and there I start seeing risks of escalations where the Russians are thinking that there are going to be attacks on the Russian homeland, and that’s where you start getting into nuclear use areas.

But I don’t want to end on that note. For a lot of years, one of the things we’ve been saying, those of us who’ve been trying to push for some conventional arms control mechanisms and not seen much progress, is that it might take a crisis to get everyone to come to their senses and realize how important it is to have these conversations. If this could be that crisis, that would be a huge silver lining. The problem is that it really is a crisis, so it could go in the other direction.

GOTTEMOELLER: Yes, to close as well on a bit more of a positive note, when I was assistant secretary for arms control over 10 years ago, I used to call conventional arms control the redheaded stepchild of the arms control agenda. Any attempts that we made at the time to push forward in that arena, there were a lot of people in Washington who were just not interested or liked the way things were and felt why mess with conventional arms control at all. Then things just keep getting worse. Again, I lay the blame in part at the Russian door. They ceased to implement the CFE Treaty. They put roadblocks in the way of modernizing the Vienna Document; they played a bit fast and loose with implementation of the Open Skies Treaty. But I also think there was a lack of energy and interest on our side. So now there’s energy and now there’s interest. Let’s hope the Russians pay attention. It’s an opportunity we need to grasp.

ACT: Should the primary focus be conventional arms control and not nuclear weapons generally or withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe?

GOTTEMOELLER: From a NATO perspective, that will be off the table. The NATO nuclear mission in Europe is not even a couple hundred warheads. It’s a very small number, but it’s the essential glue that links the NATO alliance to the central strategic deterrent of the United States. But I don’t want to see the strategic stability talks abandoned as we switch our focus to trying to right the conventional architecture in Europe. We have to do both. We also need to be sitting down now to begin to think about how to replace New START.

OLIKER: I think we can do both. Honestly, if we’re willing to sit down for the conventional conversation, we are surely willing to sit down for the nuclear conversation. It won’t be easy. All of these issues—Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons arsenal, missile defense that has frozen things for so long—they’re still there. A real negotiation has to reckon with all of that, and it is in everyone’s interest that it does. However, doing so becomes that much more difficult in the face of escalation.

Three experts on Russia talk about the origins of the crisis and what a resolution could involve.

Confronting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Challenge: An Interview With New CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd

October 2021

For a treaty that has never formally entered into force, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has a very good success record. It opened for signature on September 24, 1996, and has near-universal support, with 185 signatories, including the five original nuclear testing states. More importantly, no state except North Korea has conducted militarily significant nuclear test explosions in the last 23 years, and North Korea halted testing in 2017.

Robert Floyd took office as the fourth executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization on Aug. 1. (Photo by CTBTO)Nevertheless, unless eight key states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—actually ratify the treaty, it cannot enter into force. That raises serious questions about the durability of the unofficial testing moratorium that nuclear-armed countries are currently observing and about the long-term future of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and its sophisticated global network of sensors that monitor for nuclear testing.

The person elected by CTBT member states to lead the organization into this uncertain future is Robert Floyd, the former director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office. He became the CTBTO’s fourth executive secretary in August. He spoke with Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball on September 16 about the challenges ahead.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

ACT: This month marks the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT, made possible in part by the diplomatic leadership of Australia, your home country, back in the summer of 1996. Looking back over the last quarter century, give us your broad sense of what has been accomplished in terms of international security since then on nonproliferation and with respect to
the CTBTO.

Robert Floyd: The 25th anniversary and any anniversary, I think, is a really good time to look back at what has been done and take stock of that, as well as to review what has yet to be done. In the case of the CTBT, in the 25 years since its opening for signature, so much has been done, and this is at several different levels.

One level is that there is almost universal support for this treaty. We should never lose sight of that. We have 185 states out of 196 that have signed the treaty. We have 170 states that have ratified the treaty. Of those states that have not done so, the vast majority of them actually support the treaty, but there are two main classes of reasons as to why they may not have signed or ratified.

The first is actually bandwidth. It’s to do with how much legal drafting skills, et cetera, do they have available….
[M]any of those that haven’t completed [ratification] are the smaller and new countries. So, there’s a special case where I think more work can be done in support.

Then there’s another set of countries that have…their own circumstances which might limit their ability to take the decision politically now to either sign or ratify the treaty. Some of their considerations may well be more strategic than anything. So, all of that aside, the vast majority of countries support it, so that’s the first achievement.

Antarctica, Ascension Island, Greenland, and United Kingdom are just some of the 300 sites worldwide where the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization has located its sensors to detect potential nuclear tests. This one is in Qaanaaq, Greenland. (Photo by CTBTO)The second achievement is that the treaty organization, the CTBTO, is responsible for establishing the verification mechanism so that it can be ready for when the treaty enters into force. That verification arrangement contains over 300 monitoring stations of what we call the International Monitoring System (IMS). It entails the International Data Centre (IDC), established here at the CTBTO, and the network of national data centers in various states. It entails developing on-site inspection protocols and approaches and the training of a cadre of would-be inspectors for any inspection which may be required by the verification regime of the treaty. The network is 90 percent complete, which is an amazing achievement.

This goes to your point about the accomplishments in terms of international security and nonproliferation, what we then have is something like a global norm that’s been established, a global norm against nuclear testing. Although we do not yet have a legally binding treaty—of course it has not entered into force due to eight of the states listed in Annex II having not yet ratified—we have a verification system under development that can demonstrate very clearly if there has been a nuclear test conducted anywhere, anytime... [B]efore the treaty was opened for signature, more than 2,000 tests had taken place. Since then, very few, and by very few states: India
and Pakistan late in the 1990s, and then the only state to test in the 21st century being North Korea. That to me is a story of great success.

ACT: Let me zero in on some of the challenges that you were alluding to. There are eight countries that have either not signed or ratified the treaty that are listed in the Article XIV provision on entry into force. What specifically do you plan to do to engage with those eight countries and to work with other friends of the CTBT countries to try to advance entry into force?

Floyd: The eight countries are an important focus of activity. My plan for engagement is that I want to meet with each of those eight countries individually, and I want to sit down with them to better understand three things: For five of the eight, when they signed this treaty, what were their considerations, and why did they sign the treaty? To understand their current context with regard to the treaty—their policy goals, situation, and natural disposition with regard to the treaty. Importantly, to explore with them scenarios as to how we can move from where we are now to where we want to be, where they would ratify.

That, to me, is a discussion I would want to have with each of those states to understand their individual history, journey, and possible scenarios to move forward. It would be presumptuous of me to be just writing the script for those meetings without actually meeting with the individuals that hold those responsibilities. I recognize, though, that the steps forward may not be so individual, the step forward well may be regional and coordinated in some ways in different parts of the world. Some would even suggest that it’s entirely global.

So, that’s how I would approach it, but let me put just one rider on that. Entry into force of the CTBT is a team sport. I have a part to play, and I take it very seriously. The CTBTO as an organization has a part to play, and we take it very seriously, but it’s actually a team sport of all those that love and appreciate the objectives of the CTBT. So, working with other state signatories, working with civil society, working with the youth—all of these are important avenues of engagement that we together could make a difference.

ACT: Speaking of one of the team players, so to speak, you met with some senior Biden administration officials here in Washington earlier this month. What was your basic message to the Biden administration about what it can do to advance the CTBT and to support the organization beyond rhetorical expressions? What can you share with us about what you might have heard back?

Floyd: Yes, of course I would not go into the greater details of discussions with members of the Biden administration, for which I am very thankful to have had some helpful discussions and to have had a good deal of their time. It is clear, everybody can see, that President [Joe] Biden and his administration are certainly keen about the CTBT. His history of involvement early on with the CTBT is well known. It’s also clear that the process for ratification is not just about the president’s wish, and so there are some practical challenges to seeing the treaty move to a point where a ratification might happen.

I am confident that if any opportunity arose for that to happen, then the opportunity would be seized, but that is for the judgment of the U.S. administration and the U.S. officials. So, I think that the discussion with the U.S. administration is not one that should be single dimensional. If it is unidimensional and it’s just about entry into force, then it’s too narrow a discussion. The discussion, to me, is to see a continuation of the great commitment that the United States has made across many administrations to support financially the CTBTO, both through regular assessed contributions, but also through some very generous extra contributions. We are deeply appreciative of that clear and very strong demonstration of support.

An additional demonstration of support has been the engagement of U.S. technical experts in areas of the processes, committees, and considerations and even technologies used by the CTBTO, and I would love to see that continue on. In addition, I would like to see strong political support by the U.S. administration in encouraging, even though this is slightly awkward, further ratifications moving toward universalization—ratifications and signatures with other states.

Obviously with the Nuclear Posture Review coming up, we would appreciate as strong and as forward-leaning language as can be produced to be put into that document. I would personally love to see that that would be stronger than has ever been used before in the Nuclear Posture Reviews of the past. All of these are things that the U.S. administration can do, could do, and would be good illustrations and demonstrations of their commitment to the treaty, even if delivering on ratification was not possible in the immediate term.

Infrasound Station IS50 on Ascension Island. (Photo by CTBTO)ACT: Speaking of some of the technical operations, you are the head of a large organization that has a global span, and one of your core missions is maintaining the IMS and the IDC. What do you see as some of the main challenges facing the organization, in particular, maintaining the funding necessary to keep the organization’s operations going? Is it more difficult to do so given the delay in the formal entry into force of the treaty?

Floyd: Yeah, the IMS and the IDC are the major cost centers of the CTBTO. The on-site inspection area should never be forgotten, it’s a very important part of the verification mechanism, but it certainly demands less of the budget than those other two areas.

ACT: That has not yet been implemented because on-site inspection can only be triggered with entry into force, correct?

Floyd: Absolutely. The preparation for approaches, protocols, handbooks, et cetera, and even the training of a possible cadre of inspectors are important preparatory activities, but nonetheless the cost of that is way less than the cost to set up the monitoring and the analysis and the data center part. It’s been estimated that the IMS and the IDC is about a $1 billion asset that has been invested in over the last 25 years. So, that is a very significant asset. When I look at the functioning of the IMS and the IDC, I see continuing improvement, continuing adding of stations, but I’ll give you what keeps me awake at night.

What keeps me awake at night is that a $1 billion asset needs to be serviced in terms of its depreciation….[T]his equipment needs to be sustained. There are repairs, maintenance, and replacement that need to be done. You need a significant financial commitment that should be continuing over every year and accumulating over years to be able to sustain a $1 billion asset such as this one, spread across some of the far reaches of the globe. That, to me, is the challenge. The normal operation of the agency through the goodwill and generosity of the state signatories is being covered even with the impact of COVID-19 on global and national economies, but this other aspect is yet to be worked through.

ACT: Let me ask you a question about the role of some of the former nuclear testing states, particularly the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which happen to all have had nuclear testing programs. You will be attending a special meeting on September 27 on the CTBT, convened by Ireland. While there has been cooperation on the council in expressing support for the CTBT, there have also been some disagreements. I wanted to ask you to offer some thoughts about one of these issues.

As you’re aware, the United States has alleged that Russia has engaged in activities at its former test site that are inconsistent with the zero-yield prohibition established by the treaty. Russia has denied this charge. Has the United States presented or sought to present any evidence to the CTBTO or to member states about its concerns
about Russia’s activities so far?

Floyd: As far as I am aware, and I would never be fully aware of everything that the U.S. government would do, but as far as I’m aware, the United States has made, on a number of occasions, that declaration that you just mentioned. But I’m not aware of a sharing of more detailed information that might back that up.

ACT: The CTBT, when it was negotiated, was not really designed to operate indefinitely in the situation in which on-site inspections are not available, but that’s where we are. So, just a technical question: Does the treaty allow for states to discuss or explore confidence-building measures to supplement the formal system, and how might the CTBTO play a technical role in facilitating that if states-parties request it?

Floyd: Confidence-building measures are an important part of the treaty. They particularly are opportunities for states to give some explanation of any incidents or events that may occur in their jurisdiction which could end up being misread or misinterpreted in various ways. Sharing that information with other states is a helpful thing so that people don’t jump to wrong conclusions. This mechanism, building confidence, is an important one, and the application of that in a context that is pre-entry into force is a slightly different consideration as to how that would and could take place. At this point, this is all quite theoretical in that nothing has been brought to the CTBT for consideration by the [CTBTO]…. Until it is, we don’t have something to be responding to.

ACT: As you were saying at the outset, the test ban treaty has always been viewed as part of the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament architecture. As we all know, at some point if it’s not delayed once again, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) states-parties will convene for the 10th review conference, and the CTBT has always been part of the NPT deliberation. What are you hoping that NPT states-parties agree to do with respect to the CTBT when they meet for this review conference, and how important do you think the treaty is with respect to the NPT, which is now more than 50 years old?

Floyd: Obviously, it’s kind of a significant review conference for the NPT. It’s slightly delayed, so it does coincide with their 50th anniversary and, for us with the CTBT, the 25th anniversary of opening for signature. My desire is that there would be some strong language in any document which is produced by the NPT review conference speaking about the importance of the CTBT and calling on all states yet to do so to sign and ratify so that the treaty can enter into force. The CTBT has a very important draw when it comes to fulfilling part of the NPT, and in the space of nonproliferation and disarmament, having an effective and verified ban on testing is an important element. Maybe in this coming 10th review conference, the work and the achievement of the CTBT is one of the things that states can point to that helps us in the space of ultimate disarmament. Moving to ultimate disarmament is not possible unless there is a testing ban and a verifiable testing ban to put that block in the pathway of the proliferation of weapons capability or the enhancement and development of new weapon types. So, I think that the CTBT and all it has achieved is the good news story…and its recognition in [the NPT] concluding document would be wonderful.

ACT: There is a new treaty that has come on the scene since 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). How do you see the relationship between the TPNW and the CTBT? Does it reinforce the norm? Is this helpful for the CTBT regime as a whole? How do you personally view it?

Floyd: The TPNW is the latest element of the international nuclear architecture. The NPT is probably in many ways the centerpiece. The CTBT augments and delivers a part of that. There are many other treaties that are important, such as treaties on nuclear security like the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its amendment, and there are nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties. All of these have complementary roles. The TPNW is a part of that broad, international legal instrument landscape around nuclear weapons. My responsibility is clearly for one of those treaties, the CTBT, and its entry into force and the implementation of particularly the verification architecture associated with that. My goal is to work cooperatively with all of the other elements of the nuclear architecture.

ACT: To circle back to one of the things you mentioned at the top about the role of civil society, your predecessor, Lassina Zerbo, and his predecessors launched some key initiatives to engage civil society in the work of the CTBTO and the treaty. What is your plan, your view, about how such initiatives can help advance the CTBT regime?

Floyd: As I said early on, the role of civil society is very important. It’s not about governments alone, and governments reflect in democracies the will and the interest of people. Civil society, the media, all of these players have a part in this important social discourse. A couple of things that Dr. Zerbo did when he was executive secretary that I think were particularly important were the establishment of the CTBTO Youth Group, an initiative to engage the next generation of policymakers, maybe legislators, as well as the thinkers and academics of the next generation. I had the privilege to speak to the youth group on a video chat earlier this week. I had been so looking forward to it, and I was not let down. It was such a pleasure to meet with them and to hear their ideas, their enthusiasm, and their commitment. Sadly, the entry into force of this treaty is a multigenerational activity, and so the work of Dr. Zerbo to work with the young people to establish the youth group is particularly to be applauded. I would like to see how we make it even better. To review, to take stock, and to look at how we improve the effectiveness of the youth group, as well as its support for the CTBT and the CTBTO.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Dr. Zerbo established another group called the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM), and that is picking up on a number of people from different countries around the world that have had deep experience in issues related to nuclear policy and the establishment of the nuclear architecture. Engaging with these people to learn from their experiences and to also see them continue to be involved in influencing and shaping, I could see the logic of why that was also important, and I heard of the very positive experience when
GEM met the youth group and the generations were able to interact and learn from one another.

Again, using the wisdom and experience of elder statesmans is something I want to look at. How do we do that best, how do we harness all of that potential in the most effective way? Those are important initiatives and ones that I am wishing to understand better and look at how we enhance our effectiveness with both cohorts.

Confronting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Challenge: An Interview With New CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd

The Future of the Global Norm Against Chemical Weapons: An Interview With Susanne Baumann, German Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control

July/August 2021

World War I taught the horrors of using chemicals against adversaries, but it was not until 1997 that the international community agreed to a treaty that aimed to outlaw this entire category of weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) took effect in 1997, and today, 193 countries count themselves as adherents. The treaty encompasses 98 percent of the global population and has resulted in the destruction of more than 98 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

Susanne Baumann, the German Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control, says in an interview with Arms Control Today that it is essential for the UN Security Council to continue to deal monthly with the issue of Syria's use of chemical weapons.  (Photo by German government)Yet, concerns are rising that some desperate leaders have become newly emboldened to use chemical weapons, which generally cause slow, agonizing deaths. Russia, for instance, has been accused of poisoning Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny, opponents of President Vladimir Putin. In 17 cases, Syria was found to likely or definitely have used chemical weapons, according to the head of the international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Arms Control Today interviewed Susanne Baumann, German commissioner for disarmament and arms control, by email on the status of the global norm against chemical weapons and how it can be strengthened.

Arms Control Today: The global norm against chemical weapons use is eroding. In the past five years, chemical weapons have been used in violation of the CWC in the poisoning of political dissidents or high-level officials and in numerous and indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Violators of the treaty have done so with relative impunity. What is the reason for this trend? Has the world become numb to such weapons? Are nuclear weapons viewed as so much more lethal that chemical weapons are dwarfed?

Commissioner Susanne Baumann: Nuclear and chemical weapons are both weapons of mass destruction that could cause horrible human losses and suffering. At the same time, chemical weapons are in many respects different from nuclear systems. Access to chemical weapons is easier, and their manufacturing, handling, and use are technically less demanding compared to nuclear weapons. In addition, correct and rapid attribution can be a challenge if chemical weapons are used in asymmetric conflicts or for the targeted assassination of individuals. In my view, it is exactly these characteristics of chemical weapons that have led to their use in a number of cases in recent years, ranging from the notorious and appalling chemical attacks in the Syrian civil war to the infamous cases of Skripal and Navalny. These incidents come with new challenges for the international community and the rules-based order. It is now extremely important that we strengthen the notion that the CWC is not only about banning the use of chemical weapons in international conflicts. On the contrary, the CWC is based on the principle that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, and under any circumstances constitutes a violation of international law. That is why the German government cooperated very closely with the OPCW after the attack on Navalny. That is also why we actively support the efforts of the OPCW to shed light on chemical weapons use cases in Syria.

ACT: What specific steps could be taken within the next five years to reinforce the global norm and strengthen compliance with the CWC?

Baumann: It is obvious that norms have to be enforced in order to really be effective. In today’s international environment, this is often easier said than done. Yet, the recent cases of chemical weapons use clearly show that the international community is not willing to accept the erosion of the CWC. Within the OPCW framework, a number of new mechanisms have been established in order to clarify the circumstances of the chemical attacks in Syria and to attribute responsibility. This evolution has not been self-evident. The OPCW became the central player on the Syrian file because Russia vetoed several decisions at the UN Security Council that would have allowed further clarification and investigation into the issue of responsibility for the attacks. As a consequence, a growing majority of OPCW state-parties supported the creation the OPCW’s own investigative instruments.

ACT: Moving forward, how can the treaty be strengthened to provide for stronger accountability mechanisms against CWC violators?

Baumann: With the new mechanisms, the OPCW has successfully started not only to determine whether, when, and where chemical weapons were used in Syria, but also, based on reports of the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), to identify the guilty parties. Given the circumstances, that is an almost revolutionary step forward for the CWC and, in more general terms, for the international rules-based order. In times of hybrid warfare and disguised attacks, the notion of accountability and impunity becomes increasingly central. That is also why initiatives like the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons are of great importance for raising international awareness and generating support for international bodies like the OPCW. It is also essential that the UN Security Council continues to deal with chemical weapons use in Syria on a monthly basis despite opposition from some Security Council member states.

ACT: What additional steps could be taken to deter would-be CWC violators?

Baumann: Deterrence is closely linked to the concept of individual accountability. The OPCW has investigative mechanisms at its disposal but no judicial means to penalize individuals. To this end, states-parties are required by the CWC to put effective national legislation in place, explicitly penalizing any activity banned by the CWC. Roughly two-thirds of OPCW states-parties, including Germany, have translated the CWC into their respective national legislation. Although having laws on paper is an important first step, what counts is implementation. Training and education of experts is key. In this field, international cooperation, including with the OPCW, remains essential. Here too, Germany is supporting the organization very strongly.

ACT: CWC states-parties have voted to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under CWC Article XII, which states that a noncompliant state’s rights and privileges may be suspended until it returns to full compliance under the treaty. Syria has been called on to declare the entirety of its chemical weapons stockpile and affiliated facilities to regain its rights and privileges. In your view, what next steps should the CWC states-parties and the international community writ large take if Syria fails to cooperate with the OPCW and return to compliance with the CWC?

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walks to his airplane seat on a January 2021 trip to Moscow from Berlin, where he was treated for a poisoning attack that he said was carried out under orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny was arrested upon arrival in the Russian capital and remains imprisoned. His case has exacerbated concerns about the eroding global norm against chemical weapons use. (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)Baumann: With the decision to suspend Syria's rights and privileges under the CWC, the conference of states-parties in April 2021 for the first time made use of the sanctions mechanism provided for by the CWC, thus making clear that chemical weapons use is not tolerated by the international community and will not avoid consequences. In a next step, this decision will be submitted to the UN Security Council and General Assembly through the secretary-general. If Syria does not return to compliance with the CWC, the international community might decide on further steps in the UN framework. It should not be overlooked that the European Union, as a consequence of the chemical attacks in Syria, established a sanctions mechanism specifically to react to violations of the CWC. The EU used this mechanism to impose sanctions on Syrian individuals and institutions and, more recently, on Russian individuals and institutions in connection with the Navalny case.

ACT: In the latest progress report, the OPCW identified a new issue with Syria’s stockpile declaration, which was described as an undeclared chemical warfare agent. As the OPCW works to clarify inconsistencies with Syria’s dossier, how can the organization ensure the completeness of Syria’s stockpile declaration?

Baumann: Ensuring the complete declaration of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile is the mandate of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team. The team has worked in a very thorough way since its inception in 2014. There have been numerous rounds of consultations with Syria. The next visit to Syria is planned for early this summer. The detection of a newly undeclared chemical warfare agent by the team in samples taken in September 2020 shows that there are still open questions and, what is even worse, there are new inconsistencies. What is also obvious is that the team experts are extremely able and cannot be easily fooled by Syria. Even if progress is very slow and not without setbacks, the work has to continue. The Syrian case cannot be closed. The more imminent worry remains, of course, to ensure that the Syrian regime does not embark on the use of chemical weapons again.

ACT: Nearly nine months have passed since Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was poisoned in Russia with a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent. Despite strong evidence of Moscow’s involvement, the Kremlin has yet to be held accountable for violating the CWC’s prohibition on developing, possessing, or using chemical weapons. What can be done to ensure that Russia is held accountable for violating the CWC?

Baumann: The use of a chemical nerve agent against Navalny, a Russian citizen, represents an outrageous breach of the taboo against using chemical weapons. The attack happened on Russian territory. It is up to Russia to clarify the circumstances of this attack, which raises a number of questions on Russia’s compliance with the CWC. Russia has all necessary evidence to start criminal investigations into this attack. In this regard, it is also regrettable that Russia has so far not cooperated with the OPCW, which stands ready to provide technical assistance to Russia. The pressure has to be maintained by CWC states-parties in order to assure that Russia actually fulfills its obligations under Article VII of the CWC.

ACT: Can the CWC ever really be a credible restraint on chemical weapons use if Russia, a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, violates it?

Baumann: International efforts on disarmament and arms control are uphill battles by nature. Enforcing arms control norms is the biggest challenge. Arms control and nonproliferation arrangements like the CWC provide only limited tools for sanctioning or penalizing the guilty party. That is why concerted action taken by different international organizations and bodies is needed. In the case of the poisoning of Navalny, the EU has reacted very rapidly by imposing sanctions. We have to uphold this pressure together, with and through other international forums like the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, the UN International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, and human rights bodies. Progress is possible when we put the necessary commitment to the task and cooperate with one another. The latest decisions at the OPCW on creating investigative mechanisms and taking measures against Syria show a growing support for the concept of attribution or the notion of accountability. This is encouraging.

ACT: The OPCW IIT is an important mechanism to ensure that instances of chemical weapons use in Syria are properly attributed and that the perpetrators of those attacks are identified. In your view, are there benefits to expanding the IIT’s mandate beyond Syria to investigate instances of chemical weapons use on the territory of any CWC state-party?

Baumann: The decision of the conference of states-parties in 2018 already foresees support by the OPCW for investigations of chemical weapons use beyond Syria. The director-general, if requested by a state-party to investigate possible chemical weapons use on its territory, can provide technical expertise to identify those who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors, or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons. Hence, there is a path to broadening the mandate of the IIT for other cases. It would require further detailing and, first of all, the consent and the cooperation of the state-party concerned.

ACT: What role do you see the IIT playing in future efforts to strengthen compliance and accountability under the CWC?

Baumann: The IIT plays an essential role because it identifies those responsible for the use of chemical weapons and thus prepares the ground for holding them accountable. Professional, independent investigations and the identification of perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks send out a clear message: chemical weapons use will not be without consequences. More IIT reports are to come, as only four of nine incidents that the IIT planned to investigate have been addressed up to now.

ACT: During a recent UN Security Council Arria Formula meeting, several nations, including Russia, expressed concern over what they view as “politicization” of the OPCW, despite offering little concrete evidence. Those states reiterated their concerns during the CWC Conference of States Parties and voted against the call to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the treaty. How would you respond to this and similar remarks that the OPCW’s work is politicized?

Baumann: Claims of a politicization of the OPCW have been pronounced by states-parties who apparently fear naming and shaming and, quintessentially, fear attribution and the establishment of accountability. In a very blunt and absurd manner, they try to question the professionalism and the impartiality of the OPCW experts. The current problem in this respect is the state-sponsored chemical weapons use by Syria. Very few allies of Syria seem determined to shield Syria against consequences in international forums. The camp of those who want to slow down the evolution toward stronger attribution and stronger norms remains small. The Syria attacks and the cases involving Skripal and Navalny have shown the growing strong support for the OPCW and the CWC.

ACT: What is your view on the role of the OPCW in identifying perpetrators of chemical weapons use?

Baumann: The OPCW has the necessary instruments and expertise at its disposal to identify guilty parties, including individuals. Yet, it does need the cooperation of the respective state-party to fulfill its mandate. Moving from attribution to judicial accountability remains one of the biggest challenges in fighting the use of chemical weapons. But again, here the OPCW and the states-parties have made significant progress over the last decade, which gives reason for optimism that the OPCW can become a driving force in the overall fight for more accountability.




International reaction to the recent cases of chemical weapons use clearly shows that the world is not willing to accept the erosion of the Chemical Weapons Treaty, Baumann tells Arms Control Today.          

Negotiating With North Korea: An interview with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun

June 2021

For more than two years, Stephen Biegun was U.S. deputy secretary of state and the top envoy executing President Donald Trump’s highly personal and ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Biegun had eight meetings with North Korean officials and accompanied Trump in 2019 to meetings with Kim in Hanoi and also at the Demilitarized Zone. In his first interview since leaving government, Biegun discussed his views on what the last administration tried to accomplish and what went wrong and offered some advice to the Biden administration. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Arms Control Today: When Trump took office in 2017, the outgoing Obama administration warned that North Korea's nuclear program posed one of the most significant security threats. It remains so today. As the Biden administration prepares to adjust U.S. policy to deal with the North’s nuclear and missile arsenal, what advice would you offer? 

Stephen Biegun (L), the U.S. special representative for North Korea during the Trump administration, answers questions from the press after talks on North Korea's nuclear activities with Lee Do-hoon (R), South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, at the foreign ministry in Seoul in December 2018. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)Stephen Biegun: The administration has begun to roll out its recent policy review, and so we're starting to understand how they intend to proceed. During the transition between the two administrations, we did a very thorough, deep dive on a number of issues, but none more so than North Korea. As the former special representative for North Korea, I and my team sat down with President-elect Joe Biden's team to walk them through where we were and really to share almost every detail of our interactions with the North Koreans, certainly everything that was available to us. It looks to me like the Biden policy is largely a continuation of what the negotiating team in the [Trump] State Department was trying to attain from the North Koreans, which is an agreement on a path toward denuclearization with a certain endpoint that is complete denuclearization but that we can structure along the way with some flexibility. We wanted to move in parallel on other things that might help open the aperture for progress like people-to-people exchanges, greater transparency, and confidence building on the Korean peninsula. I think the Biden administration's conclusions are logical and, frankly, are the best among the choices that are available to any administration. 

That said, it's not significantly different than much of what's been tried in the past, and so it begs the question whether or not one can expect any different outcome. I think the key factor in whether or not the United States will make progress with North Korea rests with whether or not the North Korean government is prepared to go down this course. That's the challenge that we confronted in the Trump administration. We eventually came to the conclusion that the North Koreans simply weren't prepared to do what the two leaders had laid out. So I'd advise them to start with the establishment of communication, which I think they have been making some progress doing. Get a reliable channel for that communication going forward, so that we can have a more sustained set of diplomatic engagements.

ACT: In April, the U.S. intelligence community’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report concluded that "Kim Jong Un views nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent against foreign intervention and believes that over time he will gain international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power." Do you share this assessment? 

Biegun: I think it's less important what the North Koreans think in this regard than what we in the rest of the world think. I would certainly never advocate accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and the Biden administration has been quite clear that they don't either. The implications of that are larger than the Korean peninsula. If North Korea were to essentially convince the world that it would never give up its nuclear weapons, fairly soon other countries will begin making decisions on their own security in relation to North Korea that could also involve the development of nuclear weapons. There are several countries in East Asia that could over a short period of time develop nuclear weapons. 

So, I think it's incumbent upon us to retain our determination and clarity about the need to do away with these nuclear weapons. 

That's not to say there aren’t other things we can do. If the Kim regime truly wanted to make the transition to a different relationship with the rest of the world, there are ways to address concerns about security that don't require nuclear weapons. The premise of a country needing nuclear weapons as a deterrent is that they are at risk of being invaded. I just find that to be an absurd proposition. There's no intention in South Korea and certainly no intention in the United States to act militarily against North Korea, so the whole premise frankly is absurd. 

I actually don't think security is the driver of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. It’s national mobilization around the ideology of the regime. Also, I think the North Koreans know well, it's an attention getter. They used their weapons of mass destruction program to attract concessions from the outside world in the past. What we tried to do is show them is there is a better way through diplomacy. 

ACT: Should the goals set out by Kim and Trump in their 2018 Singapore summit joint statement of working toward a "lasting and stable" peace regime and "complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula" remain U.S. policy objectives? 

Biegun: Absolutely, it should remain the policy objective. I would be surprised if you would find anybody who would suggest otherwise, even among the more hard-line voices on North Korea policy. The challenge has never been what our goal is. The challenge has been how to get there. 

The Singapore joint statement offers a high-level agreement on where we're going. What we tried to do over the two and a half years that I was leading the efforts on behalf of the secretary of state and the president is translate those commitments into more detailed road maps that over time would get us to an agreed end state—normalization of relations, a permanent peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, the complete elimination of weapons of mass destruction on the Korean peninsula, even in later stages economic cooperation–and all this affected and tempered by broader societal contact, people-to-people exchanges, inter-Korean cooperation, and so on. 

Trump had a sweeping vision for how to get there, and he was prepared to move as quickly as the North Koreans were prepared to move. But at the end of the day, the North Koreans get a vote. They were really stuck in an old form of thinking. They wanted to bicker and minimize their commitments and give up as little as possible and gain unilateral concessions. That wasn't going to happen. 

The failure to reach an agreement in Hanoi underlined for them that this wasn't going to be a one-sided diplomacy. Had they moved, had they engaged, had they been willing to see where this can go, I think they could have changed history on the Korean peninsula, but I don't think they'd made a decision they wanted to do that. I don't know when we'll be able to queue up that alignment of opportunities again. I hope the Biden administration and their team are able to do so, but the short of it is, the North Koreans missed an opportunity. 

ACT: Why do you think that was such a special moment? 

Biegun: The North Koreans have long said in engagements with my predecessors on these issues that if the two leaders could agree, then anything was possible. It was almost something of a mantra from North Korean representatives over the years, and President Trump, in his own unconventional and often controversial way, put that to the test. The president had a lot of confidence in his own abilities. He was not constrained by critics over the conventions of the past. So, he proposed a summit in Singapore to sit down with Kim and basically say, hey, you know, this war ended 65 years ago, let's find a way to put it behind us.

For all the controversy and debate that his foreign policies generated, I can say as a negotiator that it was incredibly empowering to be able to test a proposition like that. For many of the president's critics, their concern was that somehow he was going to give away the store, that he was going to accept the one-sided deal. I think what the summit in Hanoi showed was that it was going to take two to tango. 

We had high hopes going into the summit. I and our negotiating team were there a week before the summit. We'd been to Pyongyang a few weeks before that, and we met in Washington a few weeks before that. We had laid out to each other in detail what our views were, what our objectives were. They didn't align entirely, but each side knew what the other side was looking for out of this. When we got to Hanoi, our North Korean counterparts had absolutely no authority to discuss denuclearization issues, which is just absurd. It was one of the core points of agreement between the two leaders in Singapore.

Ahead of the United States-North Korean summit in Hanoi that would ultimately collapse, Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief (L); Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, held planning talks in Washington in January 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)ACT: Do you still think a negotiated settlement with North Korea is possible? 

Biegun: My belief in that is unshaken. 

ACT: One apparent area of tension within the Trump administration was the pace and sequencing of denuclearization by North Korea, with some U.S. officials advocating a complete denuclearization within a very short time frame. 

Biegun: Without a doubt, there were differing views among the staff in the administration. But elections are for presidents, not for the staff. The president's view was that he was prepared to reach an agreement provided that it successfully denuclearized North Korea. I think the speed with which that happened, were we to have gotten that agreement with the North Koreans, was negotiable. 

Our hope was to move as quickly as possible, and we wanted to tie the benefits for North Korea to the speed with which North Korea wanted the lifting of sanctions. They controlled the tempo of that. The faster they met our expectations on denuclearization, the faster the sanctions went away. It was a fairly simple formula. 

But we were also looking at denuclearization as just one line of effort across multiple lines of effort, including transforming relations on the Korean peninsula, economic collaboration, and potential diplomatic representation in each other's capitals. We saw that in parallel with creating a more secure Korean peninsula, with confidence-building measures and transparency through military exchanges, ultimately through the negotiation of a permanent treaty to end the Korean War.

Of course, denuclearization was going to be the toughest. The other thing that was non-negotiable from our point of view was that, regardless of the timing, two things had to happen. To begin, the North Koreans had to freeze everything. We weren't going to take everything out on day one, but they could stop. They could turn off the centrifuges. They could turn off the nuclear reactors. They could stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. The other non-negotiable was that the endpoint had to be complete denuclearization. The rest of it in between, plenty of room to negotiate how that happens. 

ACT: Could that Trump-Kim summit-level approach have been adjusted in some way that would have made it more successful?

Biegun: What would have made it more successful is if the North Koreans engaged in meaningful, working-level negotiations in advance of the summits in order to produce more substantive agreements for our leaders. I have very good reason to believe that the North Koreans felt like they got exactly what they wanted, which was profile and prestige, without having made any commitments that were actionable. I think that may have lulled them into a mistaken view that that's all this was about, and in coming to Hanoi, that they could similarly do so. What they didn't realize was we were getting into a deeper level of discussion at that point. 

Had the North Koreans been willing to discuss denuclearization with our negotiating team, had they brought appropriate experts to those discussions—we never saw a uniform or a scientist at these meetings. Our delegation was comprised of scientists from the Department of Energy, missile experts from the intelligence community. We had international law and sanctions experts. We had an interagency delegation that we brought to Pyongyang and Hanoi. The North Koreans simply failed to match the ambition.

The other thing I'd say about the president's diplomacy is that I saw absolutely no downside in it and, in some ways, it may even have created challenges for the North Koreans because their regime is being judged by itself and by its own people as to what they're able to achieve. If North Korea were to continue to seek that kind of engagement without delivering on the commitments that it makes or the commitments that it's expected to make, I think that it only worsens global opinion toward the North Korean regime. 

One of the things that was always very effective for us is that we worked with partners and allies and even countries with whom we had more challenging relationships, like China and Russia. We were always willing to meet. We weren't putting any price on the North Koreans sitting down across the table. 

ACT: You said the North Korean negotiating team wasn't empowered to discuss steps toward denuclearization in meetings with your team ahead of the Hanoi summit. Did that inhibit progress? 

Biegun: Of course it did, because in the lead-up to the summit in Hanoi, the two teams spent nearly a week together trying to hammer out the basis for the two leaders to reach an agreement, a much more detailed set of documents than my predecessors had been able to obtain at the Singapore summit. To their credit, the North Koreans brought some creative ideas of their own on how we could improve people-to-people cooperation and transform relations on the Korean peninsula, but the key driver of the Singapore summit was denuclearization. Literally, the offer from North Korea was a “big present.” The negotiators said when Kim would arrive in Hanoi, he would have a big present for Trump, but we had to agree at the front to lift all the sanctions. I'm a practical person; tell me what your opening gambit is, tell me what your bottom line is, but don't tell me you're bringing me a big present. 

ACT: They told you that without defining what the big present would be? 

Biegun: Without any definition of what it would be. 

The North Korean delegation came with ideas on everything but denuclearization. I think the play was that they thought that the president was desperate for a deal and they were going to save that for the leader-level meeting. Lo and behold, that proved to be a very mistaken strategy. Anyone who encouraged them to pursue that policy, whether it was internally or external voices, perhaps even in South Korea, it was a huge mistake. 

But the president's meetings with Chairman Kim, even though the gap was too large for us to reach an agreement in Hanoi, were cordial and friendly. The president's last words to Kim in Hanoi were, “Let's keep at it, let's get something.” Another summit was not going to happen without substantial engagement by the North Koreans at the working level. Unfortunately, after Hanoi and then COVID in 2020 made it all but impossible, the level of engagement diminished significantly. 

ACT: Why were there conflicting reports about what was put on the table in Hanoi? North Korean officials denied they offered partial denuclearization for a full lifting of sanctions. Instead, they said, Pyongyang requested a partial removal of UN sanctions in exchange for a permanent halt of nuclear and ballistic missile testing and the full verifiable dismantlement of facilities at Yongbyon. 

Biegun: Yongbyon is only a portion of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The North Korean rebuttal, which was delivered after the summit by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Choe Son Hui, was that they'd only asked for a partial lifting of sanctions. But we understood the value and the impact of every sanction that was in place, and what the North Koreans were asking for was a complete lifting of UN Security Council sanctions. In effect, the only remaining strictures on trade would be actively doing business with the weapons of mass destruction facilities and enterprises themselves. So in terms of what the North Koreans offered, any knowledgeable expert would recognize it was a partial denuclearization for a full lifting of sanctions, and there were no subsequent commitments. It would in effect accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. That was implicitly what was in that offer. 

ACT: Some observers argue the lack of progress on denuclearization was due to the failure of the two sides to maintain a regular dialogue between high-level meetings. Do you agree? 

Biegun: This takes us back to where we started and why I am so emphatic that establishing a reliable channel of communication is an essential antecedent to making progress. You can't have these episodic engagements. The North Koreans, as my predecessors can attest, use even the willingness to answer the phone or not answer the phone as a negotiating tactic and then oftentimes seek to extract a concession to answer the phone. There is a deeply ingrained tactic on the part of North Koreans that to show up for a meeting requires a concession. 

During the two and a half years that I carried the North Korea portfolio, I met eight times with the North Koreans, and that wasn't enough. It was a lot. It was more than I think most people recognized, and not all the meetings were highly publicized, but it wasn't enough. We need that sustained engagement. I think the United States, whether under Trump or Biden or quite frankly any other president, would be committed to a process like that. But the North Koreans get a vote. 

ACT: North Korea has become highly adept at sidestepping U.S. and UN sanctions and has been unwilling to make concessions in response to those sanctions. No doubt, some partners, namely China, could do more to enforce international sanctions now in place. Have we effectively reached the limits of using sanctions to coerce better behavior on nuclear matters from North Korea? 

Biegun: Sanctions rarely if ever produce, in and of themselves, a policy shift. The sanctions are a necessary component of diplomacy that affects the choices or the timetable that the other party may have in terms of whatever it is you're seeking to address. So, sanctions are a tool, not the policy itself. 

No amount of sanctions evasion is able to overcome the severe downward turn of the North Korean economy because the sanctions are draconian, but if you wanted to make them more severe, that decision really lies in Beijing. I'm not sure at this point that more could be accomplished by more sanctions. I think it's kind of a reflexive statement that policymakers make when put on the spot. The key here is to find a way to appropriately use the pressure of sanctions to produce a better outcome in diplomacy and to get on with what needs to be done on the Korean peninsula to end this ridiculous 65 years of hostility, long after a war between two systems that no longer even exist today, at one of their first showdowns after World War II.

ACT: The latest U.S. intelligence report foresees China doubling its nuclear stockpile over the next decade. Do you think that is accurate? 

Biegun: I don't think we've spent sufficient time trying to understand what's happening in the strategic weapons program with China, and I think policymakers, arms control advocates, experts, scientists, and specialists need to devote substantially more time than we have. I think we've been neglectful in understanding this, and it is serious, and it is growing, and this is a substantial factor for U.S. national security. Quite honestly, it's a substantial factor for Russia's national security and for the world as well. China is the only country that's moving against the tide of the basic commitments made in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that nuclear-weapon states would be making efforts to reduce their nuclear weapons. 

I expect that the purpose is the same as it's always been, to have a convincing deterrent in the case of conflict. But even if one accepts—and China is an accepted nuclear-weapon state—that they are going to have nuclear weapons, we need to devote a lot more effort to understanding their doctrine, to building new mechanisms for strategic stability between the United States and China. Basically, we have to kind of crack open some old playbooks and go back and think about how we can create a world that can remain free of the use of nuclear weapons at the same time that we're sustaining peace and security. 

ACT: Even if the Chinese doubled their arsenal, they still wouldn't approach what the United States and Russia have. Yes, China is building up its stockpile but so are other countries, such as India and Pakistan. Don't we need to keep that in perspective?

Biegun: There are ample reasons to be worried about strategic stability, not only in the U.S.-Russian context, but the U.S.-Chinese context and in the context of other states. We've spent a long time talking about North Korea. Our commitment and China's commitment in the NPT is to commit to making efforts to reduce those nuclear weapons, not to increase them. It's not about what they owe us. It's about what their treaty commitments are internationally. This year, we have an NPT review conference where we hope China answers how its nuclear ambitions square with its commitments made in the NPT. From the U.S. and Russian points of view, I think certainly we should continue efforts to create a sound, stable, strategic formula that reduces nuclear weapons while maintaining the effectiveness of deterrents. 

Ultimately, the ideal that so many advocate—the complete elimination of nuclear weapons—is well beyond our reach, but that doesn't mean we need more. I've personally never been an advocate of more. I've been an advocate for sound, treaty-based mechanisms that reduce weapons while sustaining stability. If we could do that with the Chinese, all the better, but I can tell you that there's nothing stabilizing for China or for the rest of the world that will come from a rapid expansion of their nuclear arsenal. 

As the Biden administration prepares to engage with North Korea, Biegun says establishing a reliable channel of communication with Pyongyang is key to making progress.

Can Disarmament Be Revived? An Interview With Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde

May 2021

Sweden has long played a significant role in seeking to advance nonproliferation and disarmament. For example, Sweden was part of the New Agenda Coalition, which has sought to bridge the divide between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states that surfaced during negotiations regarding the indefinite extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says the Stockholm Initiative, which aims to prod the world to revive progress on disarmament, is more important than ever. (Photo: Kristian Pohl/The Government Offices of Sweden)In 1998, Sweden co-authored a joint declaration calling for a new agenda for nuclear disarmament and deploring the fact that “countless resolutions and initiatives [with respect to the elimination] of nuclear weapons in the past half century remain unfulfilled.”

In February 2020, the 16 countries involved in the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament endorsed 22 measures, or “stepping stones,” to reinforce the disarmament goals of the NPT.

To help readers understand what this latest initiative has achieved and where it is headed, the following questions were posed by email to Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: How do you think the Stockholm Initiative can accelerate progress on nuclear disarmament? What do you hope it
can achieve in the short term and the long term? Is the effort more or less necessary since the initiative was launched in June 2019?

Foreign Minister Linde: The Stockholm Initiative and the 22 specific stepping stones adopted in Berlin last year are proposals for concrete measures for nuclear disarmament. They are honest suggestions for measures that we believe can be taken now—in the current security situation—to implement commitments and obligations from previous NPT review conferences. In parallel, these measures will contribute to building confidence and pave the way for further progress and additional steps. Nuclear risk reduction is a key area for the Stockholm Initiative, but our proposals also cover doctrines and policies, transparency, and disarmament verification.

The initiative is as important today as it was in June 2019, if not more so. The global security situation continues to deteriorate, and disarmament diplomacy remains highly polarized. This was a main reason for launching the initiative in Stockholm almost two years ago. At our latest ministerial meeting in Amman in January this year, we agreed that the challenges persist and that the initiative’s raison d’être and proposals for stepping stones remain valid. It is crucial that we move away from the deadlock and instead contribute to building an inclusive process that can lead to real progress at the next NPT review conference in August and beyond. In a nutshell, this is what the Stockholm Initiative is about. I sincerely think that it is possible to achieve progress if there is unity of purpose.

ACT: Many of the stepping stones call for nuclear-weapon states to open or deepen discussions on such issues as nuclear doctrine and strategic stability. How will the Stockholm Initiative encourage not only discussion but also action by nuclear-weapon states on these measures?

Linde: Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in doctrines and policies is crucial. The trend in the opposite direction that we have seen in recent years is deeply worrying and must be reversed.

This is why the issue figures prominently in the stepping stones package, in line with the commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Doctrines and policies will be high on our agenda in discussions with nuclear-weapon states. Increased transparency from the nuclear-weapon states with regard to their policies is certainly a welcome step, but more needs to be done. We should seek an outcome at the upcoming review conference that paves the way for concrete progress in the next review cycle.

ACT: What specific outcomes does Sweden envision coming out of these discussions, particularly in the next round of nuclear arms talks between Moscow and Washington following the five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)? How, specifically, could you prod other major nuclear armed states to engage more effectively in the nuclear disarmament process?

Linde: The five-year extension of New START was obviously of fundamental importance. But as was rightly pointed out by the United States, it should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of nuclear arms control efforts.

Negotiating new arms control agreements is difficult and time consuming, so I hope new talks can be launched soon, primarily between the United States and Russia. With an arsenal that is both expanding and becoming more diversified, the relevance of China’s participation is clearly also growing.

As for the agenda, I would hope that negotiators are ambitious and set out to do the following: (1) seek further reductions in the strategic arsenals; (2) for the first time, regulate arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons; (3) seek effective ways of mitigating the consequences of the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; and (4) enhance awareness of how emerging technology, including space-related technology, could impact future arms control.

ACT: The Stockholm Initiative last met in January 2021. Afterward, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas released a statement that said the initiative “will reach out to all groups and initiatives, both governmental and from civil society.“ Has this outreach occurred since this meeting, and if so, how has it been going? Have additional states signaled support for the initiative?

Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde (center) poses with officials from other countries involved in the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament at a ministerial meeting in Berlin in February 2020. (Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)Linde: We have been happy to note strong interest for the initiative from other countries that are NPT states-parties. Several countries have chosen to align with the stepping stones proposals that were agreed in Berlin in February last year and we hope that more will follow. In any case, we hope that the initiative will be considered an effective method to achieve further disarmament and that our proposals can help stimulate discussion.

The pandemic and the current uncertainties related to the holding of the 10th NPT review conference complicate our work, but I am pleased to see that the engagement nonetheless remains strong.

ACT: One of the initiative’s recommendations is for “visits to and interaction with communities affected by nuclear weapons, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and former nuclear test sites.“ Why do you believe this is important? Should heads of state and foreign ministers commit to visiting sites where nuclear weapons have inflicted health and environmental consequences?

Linde: Such visits would serve several purposes. We are obliged to learn from history and to use our knowledge to make better choices in the future. Visits could help raise awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and contribute to putting these issues back at the top of our political and public agendas. It would also be a key part of further engaging the younger generations, which in turn could promote a much-needed growth of knowledge and innovation in these areas.

Increased and inclusive knowledge of nuclear disarmament affairs is something that I find of utmost importance at all levels. Nationally, we are establishing a knowledge center with the purpose to engage in education and research in related areas, guarantee future expertise, and provide cross-disciplinary support for policy work. It is also a part of the broader quest to raise public awareness on nuclear disarmament and to stimulate a public debate.

ACT: In the February 2020 statement on the Stockholm Initiative, the group resolved “to strengthen the NPT against the background of disturbing trends—the unravelling of the arms-control fabric that has served and must continue to serve global security well, increasingly tense relations between nations, and risks arising from new and emerging weapon technologies.“ What specifically does Sweden believe needs to emerge from the 10th NPT review conference, tentatively scheduled for August, in order to jump-start progress on disarmament and to address new and emerging weapons technologies? Is it your goal to see the conference not only reaffirm past commitments and obligations on the Article VI disarmament pillar, which describes the mechanism by which disputes over the treaty may be settled, but also adopt an updated consensus action plan on specific disarmament-related measures?

Linde: The upcoming NPT review conference provides an important—and long awaited—opportunity for states-parties to strengthen all three pillars of the NPT. Much is at stake. Political engagement at the highest level is therefore essential. The format must allow for in-depth discussions, negotiations, and deliberations. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to not underestimate the value and power of honest in-person exchanges of views in order to achieve results.

We need to collectively reaffirm the continued validity of previous commitments made within the NPT framework. Equally important is that real progress must be made in implementing these commitments, not least when it comes to Article VI. We need not only to review what has been done so far, but also to look into the future and examine what lies ahead and how greater progress can be made, regardless of the prevailing security environment. This is not the time to abandon or set aside what has once been agreed. There is only one possible direction, and that is going forward. There can be no backtracking.

In this regard, we would do well to remind ourselves that all states-parties to the NPT carry a responsibility to help make sure that the review conference achieves the desired outcome. Yes, it is true that nuclear-weapon states carry a special responsibility, particularly in terms of disarmament. However, this does not mean that the rest of us should not work hard to make sure that we reach our common goals. All efforts are needed. With the Stockholm Initiative and its stepping stones, Sweden, along with the initiative’s 15 other partner countries, is trying to do just that, to contribute in an ambitious yet realistic manner that embraces differences of opinion and that allows for an inclusive process. Only with everyone seated at the table can real progress be achieved.

ACT: Have you discussed the initiative with the Biden administration, and if so, what has been its response? Will the United States be an active participant?

Linde: Nuclear disarmament is a central Swedish foreign policy priority. I took the opportunity to raise the Stockholm Initiative with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in our first conversation just days after he had taken up his duties. We had a brief discussion then, and I have since, together with my Canadian and German colleagues and on behalf of the members of the Stockholm Initiative, sent a letter encouraging the new administration to seriously consider the 22 stepping stone proposals to advance nuclear disarmament. These proposals are aimed at providing an ambitious and realistic set of measures that we hope that all NPT states-parties, not least the nuclear-weapon states with their special responsibility, will study with an open mind and act on.

The United States is a critical partner and without a doubt will be highly active and engaged in all our deliberations ahead of the review conference. I look forward to continuing the conversation with Secretary Blinken on how we can move forward on an implementation agenda.

ACT: In March, the United Kingdom announced that it will raise the ceiling on its total nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40 percent, from its earlier goal of 180 by the mid-2020s to 260 warheads. Do you view this action as consistent with the UK’s political and legal commitments under the NPT, which include pursuing “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament“? If this decision is inconsistent with those obligations, what can be done about it?

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, addresses the 2015 Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which fell apart when members could not reach consensus. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says the next conference, tentatively set for August, cannot afford such failure.  (Photo: United Nations)Linde: First of all, we regret that the UK is set to increase the cap on its nuclear arsenal and no longer provide public figures on operational stockpiles, deployed warheads, and deployed missiles. I believe this to be a clear step in the wrong direction, at a time when our focus should be on achieving progress on disarmament ahead of the review conference. It adds to a deeply worrying trend, with also China increasing and diversifying its arsenal and with major modernization efforts going on elsewhere, not least in Russia. We must do everything in our power to avoid a costly and dangerous arms race.

This has also been my message in recent discussions with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. It should be pointed out, however, that while the UK has announced a raised ceiling, the arsenal has not increased so far, and we certainly hope it never will. The UK has made clear that they will continue to press for key steps to achieve multilateral disarmament and that they remain strongly committed to the full implementation of the NPT in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament. I trust that they plan to honor this commitment. I should also mention that the UK has been and continues to be a great partner to Sweden in areas such as nuclear disarmament verification through the Quad Nuclear Verification Partnership.

We will now have to find constructive ways to go from here. I would welcome further engagement by the UK on key areas such as nuclear risk reduction, transparency, and declaratory policy, and I do believe that the Stockholm Initiative offers a path forward in this regard.

ACT: In 2019 the United States launched the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative, which U.S. officials described as an effort to overcome obstacles to and create conditions for furthering nuclear disarmament. Almost all members of the Stockholm Initiative are also members of the CEND initiative, and Sweden is one of those. Where might the CEND and Stockholm initiatives’ efforts converge and diverge?

Linde: At the outset, let me make clear that I welcome all efforts and initiatives aiming to find ways forward on disarmament and to bring us closer to making our common goal of a world free from nuclear weapons a reality. There are quite a lot of groupings out there, be it at the regional, the cross-regional, or the thematic level; and in my opinion, they all bring something to the table. We have consistently underlined that the Stockholm Initiative is not there to replace or go against any other existing formats. Rather, we see efforts as complementary. If anything, the Stockholm Initiative proposes an agenda that can be supported by a large number of countries. Many of the countries of the Stockholm Initiative are also, as you rightly pointed out, active participants in other initiatives such as the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), the CEND initiative, or the Non-Aligned Movement, to name a few.

The CEND initiative gathers a broad group of countries, including states that are not part of the NPT but nevertheless possess nuclear weapons. In that sense, it fills a gap, providing a much-needed platform for discussions that go beyond treaties or commitments and possibly helping to build confidence, trust, and better understanding of positions among countries. However, the Stockholm Initiative is a more focused effort in that it proposes concrete steps that can be taken now, in the short term, and that could lead to further, substantive measures down the road. It also proposes a method in this regard, a stepping stones approach, and puts an emphasis on high-level political engagement. Committed and sustained political leadership is crucial if we are to achieve concrete and sustainable results.

ACT: Since the Stockholm Initiative was launched, the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has entered into force, and the first meeting of states-parties will likely be held in January 2022. Should the TPNW be recognized as a positive contribution to efforts to reinforce the basic goals and obligations of the NPT, including disarmament, and to reinforce the taboo against nuclear weapons? Do you believe, as the five NPT nuclear-armed states put it in their joint statement in 2018, that it does not contribute to the development of customary international law and “is creating divisions across the international non-proliferation and disarmament machinery, which could make further progress on disarmament even more difficult“?

Linde: The entry into force of the TPNW constitutes a significant development in multilateral nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

It is clear that there are different views regarding the TPNW. For example, Sweden is one of the countries that decided not to sign or ratify the treaty due to what we perceived as a series of shortcomings. Nevertheless, Sweden intends to become an observer to the treaty as soon as a framework and process for this is put in place by states-parties.

It is essential that the upcoming NPT review conference does not turn into an argument for or against the TPNW. We must not let the differences in views add to further polarization among states-parties to the NPT. Digging ourselves deeper into trenches will not solve anything. Rather it may risk having a negative spillover effect on other issues. Only through understanding each other’s points of departure can we reach our common destination—a world free from nuclear weapons.

ACT: At the start of 2021, you became the chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In 2020 the United States withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty, and in January of this year, Russia announced that it would begin domestic procedures to withdraw from the treaty if the United States remains outside the treaty. From Sweden’s perspective, how does this treaty contribute to European and international security? What does Sweden believe can be done to preserve the treaty, and what would Sweden like to see the United States and Russia do to ensure the treaty does not collapse?

Linde: The Open Skies Treaty plays a key role in contributing to transparency, predictability, and confidence building in the OSCE region. There is great value in maintaining it.

Although all OSCE countries are not parties to it, the Open Skies Treaty is a part of the comprehensive OSCE arms control framework. It is therefore a concern for the OSCE. As chairperson-in-office, I would regret to see any state withdraw from the treaty. Sweden would welcome the United States rejoining it.

The signals that Russia is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty are also worrying. A situation where neither the United States nor Russia would be parties to the treaty would be negative for confidence building and security in the OSCE area. Full implementation by all parties is key to preserving the treaty.

As global security deteriorates and the world becomes more polarized, Sweden is advocating moves to stabilize the situation and create a new opening for arms control progress.

Reviewing the NPT: An Interview With Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen

January/February 2021

Since the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force on March 5, 1970, states-parties to the treaty have gathered every five years to assess implementation of and compliance with the treaty and to seek agreement on steps to advance common goals and objectives related to the three pillars of the treaty: nonproliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and disarmament.

(Photo: Argentine Foreign Ministry)This year, representatives from most of the 191 NPT members will meet no later than August for the 10th review conference, which has been delayed twice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With progress on key NPT goals stalled, relations between key nuclear-armed states poor, and some key nonproliferation successes in jeopardy, this review conference has the potential to be among the most contentious.

Argentinian Foreign Ministry official Gustavo Zlauvinen has been chosen to preside over the review conference as the president-designate. Among other diplomatic postings, Zlauvinen has served as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) representative to the United Nations in New York, where he represented the agency during NPT meetings from 2001 to 2009.

Zlauvinen spoke with Arms Control Today by video conference on December 9 from Buenos Aires. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Arms Control Today: This year [2020] marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT. From your perspective, as someone who has worked in the field for so many years at the international level, how has the treaty succeeded? How has it fallen short? Why is it important today?

Amb. Gustavo Zlauvinen: Yes, 2020 marks three anniversaries. First, it is the 50th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force. The second is the 25th anniversary of the treaty’s indefinite extension in 1995. That was part of a grand bargain at that point, which is still valid and for many states is an important part of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, the third marking [of] 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the use of the atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is a very solemn and an important year, and it gives an opportunity and a challenge for states-parties, civil society, and the international community in general to ponder what the NPT has achieved in these 50 years and where it has fallen short of the aspirations that were the drivers during the treaty negotiations.

There are many accomplishments that the NPT and its states-parties have achieved. One in particular was to keep the number of nuclear-weapon states to a reduced number. It prevented many potential countries that could have had the capabilities, and maybe even the political will, to develop nuclear weapons from doing so. I’m not talking about cases like my own country, Argentina, or Brazil. Let’s start with Sweden. Remember that, in the 1960s, Sweden had a nuclear weapons program, and there is no secret about that. Other countries, very influential ones at that time, were concerned at the time that there was no norm against acquiring nuclear weapons.

To us now, it seems that’s the benefit of having the NPT. You know, it seems bizarre, even abnormal, to think that a country like Sweden could have had a nuclear weapons program. Not that it is impossible in today’s world, but that’s a sign of the NPT’s success. The NPT changed our mind-set in the sense that what was considered okay in the 1960s and part of the 1970s became unacceptable for most countries in the international community.

Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka presided over the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. If the conference had decided to extend the treaty by 25 years, this year's review conference would be debating extension during difficult circumstances. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)A second achievement is that while preventing the spread of countries with nuclear weapons, it helped the spread of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. You can see that in the large number of countries around the world that have adopted nuclear power generation and applications in nuclear medicines, agriculture, and many other sectors. This probably could not have happened without the NPT. In the 1960s, only a few countries had the technology, so it was not easy to get access to that technology by yourself. Therefore, you needed the cooperation from countries having nuclear technology, and those countries were not going to pass it on that easily. By accepting IAEA safeguards, as required by the NPT, countries received more chances of receiving nuclear technology transfers from more advanced nations, and that helped the transfer of technology.

In both achievements, the key element is the robust IAEA safeguard system. What it has achieved is tremendous in that all non-nuclear-weapon countries under the NPT receive regular inspections from the IAEA to prove that their nuclear programs are not being diverted for the development and production of nuclear weapons.

Now, where does the NPT fall short? What I have heard during my consultations with states-parties is that a large majority of states-parties feel that progress toward the nuclear disarmament obligations of Article VI of the NPT, which is about achieving an eventual total elimination of weapons and total disarmament, has not evolved in the way that the NPT has provided for.

Another one is that some states-parties say that despite the treaty’s enablement of technology transfers, they are not receiving access to nuclear technologies from those countries having those technologies. They claim that they are blacklisted even though they are party to the NPT and have IAEA safeguards agreements, and they claim that this is for political reasons. This is a concern that has been expressed by not many, but at least some, states-parties.

There is also a discussion about making the IAEA safeguards system more robust and better able to show the nuclear intentions of NPT states-parties. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq was discovered with a clandestine nuclear weapons program just under the radar of the IAEA safeguards system, a review led to negotiations and the adoption of the Model Additional Protocol to nations’ safeguards agreements in 1995. At that time, IAEA member states decided that nations would adopt an additional protocol on a voluntary basis.

That is the dilemma that NPT communities still have. Several states-parties would like to have an additional protocol as the new verification standard for the NPT. But others, including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, and a few others say that because it is not a mandatory measure, it therefore cannot be established as a new standard. So, that is an issue I expect to be debated at the review conference.

As to why the NPT remains important today, we should consider what would have happened if the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference had not extended the treaty indefinitely. Remember that Mexico and others at the 1995 conference were pushing for an extension of another 25 years in order to see whether the NPT nuclear-weapon states were going to fulfill their obligations under Article VI. They didn’t want to keep committing themselves as non-nuclear-weapon states forever while the nuclear-weapon states may not implement Article VI. So, what would the situation be today if the negotiations in 1995 had agreed to extend it only for 25 years? The treaty would have ended this year, and the review conference would not be a regular review conference; it would be a conference to extend the treaty. Under the present circumstances, it would have been extremely difficult to come to an agreement on the extension of the NPT.

So, it’s better to have the NPT with all its limitations rather than to not have the NPT. It is as relevant as 50 years ago because the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, obviously; and it will continue to be so for a while, unfortunately. As long as we have our situation, as long as we have nuclear weapons, as long as we have an incentive for some countries to develop a potential program for nuclear weapons, as long as you have the spread of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes but they are of a dual-use nature, then you will need to have a system under a treaty with legal obligations by which the large majority of the international community commits itself not to develop and not to use these awful, horrible weapons.

Maybe the states that are also party to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will see that their approach is one to complement or fulfill that NPT aspiration to achieve full nuclear disarmament. That’s fine, but I think the TPNW would not have been possible without the NPT having been established in the first place.

ACT: The TPNW will enter into force on January 22, just about the time this interview will be published. If some nuclear-weapon states continue to oppose the treaty, could that provoke TPNW supporters and create schisms or rifts at the review conference? How will you seek to reconcile the views of states that believe the TPNW reinforces the NPT with those who say it creates a norm contrary to the NPT?

Zlauvinen: The TPNW is obviously a new fact that we have to take into account. Obviously for those states that are party to the TPNW and the NPT, they believe that the TPNW reinforces, complements, and completes the NPT. Meanwhile, other NPT states-parties that are not party to the TPNW have said that they will never join. They see that the new treaty has come to be a challenge and even to help erode the legal norms and systems that the NPT has established during these 50 years.

This is a debate that we must have and is already happening. Those who have not signed or ratified the TPNW cannot close their eyes and act as if the TPNW doesn’t exist. But I hope that this debate is not going to create another challenge, another problem at the review conference between NPT states-parties. We have to see how we maneuver that discussion. It will be up to the states that are party to both treaties to explain to those who are not party to the TPNW that the TPNW should not be seen as a challenge to the NPT. It is on them to explain and to prove that it is not contrary to the NPT, it has not come to erode the NPT. If they do their job correctly, hopefully they will convince at least the majority of those who have not signed and ratified the TPNW at least to accept that they have to live with that. At the end of the day, with this type of complex, difficult diplomatic negotiations, everything boils down to political will from both parties and the language. I always say that the language that we can develop to accommodate both positions will be key. I hope that, on both sides, they will be willing to make a political compromise so that we can move forward and this issue will not be a stumbling block for a successful outcome of the conference.

A B-2 bomber prepares to take flight from the U.S. base at Diego Garcia in 2020. The issue of nuclear-weapon states' commitments to their NPT obligation to move toward nuclear disarmament is expected to be a major topic once again at the NPT Review Conference. (Photo: Heather Salazar/U.S. Air Force)


ACT: When you became president-designate of the review conference, you could not have foreseen the consequences of this COVID-19 pandemic. What have you been doing in these conditions to maintain the pace of preparation for the review conference? How are you seeking to engage states in the coming months and in the lead-up to the review conference and before the end of August?

Zlauvinen: The hiatus that we are facing due to the pandemic is something that we were not expecting when I officially took over as a president-designate in January 2020, just two months before the pandemic hit us in a major way. The main challenge was and still is how to keep momentum, how to help states-parties and civil society to keep momentum as we are unable to conduct negotiations until the review conference. That is obviously not going to happen because you cannot have negotiations before the review conference. Negotiations take place at the review conference.

Nevertheless, in every review cycle of the NPT, as has happened with many other treaties before their own review conferences, you have consultations and discussions among states-parties and members of the different regional groups. This is what I’ve been trying to do as president-designate: to keep motivating states-parties and delegations, to keep looking at the challenges that the NPT is facing, the problems that we are going to have at the review conference, not to shy away and to confront those issues without replacing negotiations. Let’s have open and frank discussions among the states-parties to the NPT and including civil society. The views from a gender perspective, the views from the industry, the views from youth—they are all part of our society. At the end of the day, we diplomats and government officials, we don’t work in a vacuum. We work in real life and on issues that affect real people. Therefore, the NPT should not be a closed club. It should be open to youth, industry, and gender perspectives if we want to keep the NPT fit for future generations.

Secretary-General António Guterres (left at table) meets virtually with leaders of the UN Climate Change Conference in January. The Covid-19 pandemic has created uncertainty over what level of in-person participation will be allowed at the 10th NPT Review Conference. (Photo: Eskinder Debebe/UN)In a normal situation, during the months before the review conference, the president-designate would travel to New York, Geneva, and Vienna for consultations with the regional groups in person. Then they will travel to several capitals to have bilateral conversations and discussions and to hear firsthand from the states-parties about their concerns, about their positions, and to see what margin of maneuver they will give the president-designate during the review conference.

I started traveling in January and February and the beginning of March, and then I had to stop. So obviously, that is a huge challenge because I have to start doing business in a different way that has not been done by my predecessors. I have to start engaging delegations and even capitals in a virtual manner, but it’s not the same as being in person. I have also held informal consultations with the regional groups, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), the Eastern European Group, and the Group of One (China). I have had do it virtually, which is not the same.

What I miss the most is that you can have the same conversations virtually as you can in person, but you cannot have the personal interactions in virtual discussions. Say that you go to Vienna, you meet with the WEOG or the NAM for two hours in a meeting room; and after that some delegation will approach, and you will have coffee with them; or another delegation will approach you in the corridor and tell you something that they could probably not tell you in front of others. In a more relaxed environment, maybe they can tell me things that they probably would not be able to in front of others, and I’m missing that part.

Even when I’m having virtual bilateral discussions, as several capitals asked me to do with senior officials of their own capitals, it’s kind of a scripted conversation because it’s being recorded. We have done a good deal of using these new technologies to reach out to the delegations and states-parties to continue the consultations. I’m trying to hold those every two months, so the next one will be in the beginning of February, then one in April, and then June or July before the conference.

I’m trying to challenge the delegations that when we do have those consultations, even virtually, to address the real important issues. So, let’s address substantive issues. Let us have a frank discussion, even if they disagree. Fine. I’m not afraid of delegations disagreeing. On the contrary, it is part of the nature of this political animal, the NPT. There are more than 190 parties. There will always be some disagreements, and you have to deal with that. The more those disagreements are being aired, there’s a better chance that we have that we can accommodate those positions at the review conference.

ACT: Based on what you know at this stage and based on the experience from the UN General Assembly and its First Committee meetings, how do you expect the review conference will physically operate? How many persons might be there? Might some sessions be held virtually?

Zlauvinen: Based on what we have seen of the General Assembly and the First Committee, the review conference will have a limited in-person presence. There could be one delegate per country at a given time at the conference room, plus two additional delegates linked virtually. It proved to work for the General Assembly, which managed to adopt resolutions, and for the First Committee also. But I understand that business was done in a reduced manner. They didn’t have time, for example, for formal presentations of draft resolutions. Some delegations were not pleased with the way that it worked under that hybrid concept.

Now, what may work for the General Assembly or the First Committee or the IAEA General Conference may not work for the NPT review conference. No two forums are going to have the same dynamics. We have to look into the NPT review process itself and see how the states-parties can engage with each other and try to get a successful outcome.

What I’ve heard so far from the consultation with all regional NPT groups is that a large majority of states-parties prefer to have a full-fledged review conference, meaning a conference that lasts four weeks, that will be in person, and that will allow for delegations from capitals to attend, as well as delegations from Geneva and Vienna.

The conference should allow for parallel meetings, in the sense that you may have two main committees working in parallel because the work is very extensive. We have many issues to handle, and even four weeks is not enough if you’re going to have, for example, one single conference room. That was the situation we would have faced had we decided to go ahead with the conference taking place in January 2021 in New York. The UN Secretariat advised us that, under those circumstances, under the pandemic circumstances, we would have had only one conference room for four weeks, and delegations found this unacceptable.

On the other hand, there is a group of states-parties that says the most important thing is to have the review conference as soon as possible, regardless of the format. That is another rift that I’m trying to avoid, so I have decided that we are going to have another round of consultations in April to discuss the time and the format of the review conference. I hope that, by April, the UN Secretariat can tell us, based on the overall pandemic situation in the world, how many conference rooms we may have in August, how many parallel meetings we can have, and if we will allow for in-person or limited in-person meetings. Based on this information, states-parties have to decide whether it will be acceptable to go ahead in August. If the UN Secretariat cannot provide us all the conference rooms and services necessary to have a full-fledged conference, then we are going to have another major, major headache in April on how we will proceed.

ACT: The NPT’s entry into force in 1970 helped open the way for U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control, but now that arms control architecture is under severe stress. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is gone. The future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is uncertain. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has widespread support, but key nuclear-weapon states have still not ratified it. Many states have argued that the nuclear-weapon states are not meeting their NPT Article VI obligations and have failed to fulfill key obligations agreed at the 2010 review conference. How important is it to the health of the NPT and the success of the coming of this review that we see progress in these areas in the coming months?

Zlauvinen: The arms control treaties that the Soviet Union and the United States, and later Russia and the United States, have managed to agree to and implement during the last 40 years or so have eroded and deteriorated. The demise of the INF Treaty, the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, and the questions about whether New START is going to be extended before it expires in February have contributed to a very pessimistic view by many that the chances for the 10th review conference to have a successful positive outcome are very slim. Obviously, the overall international security context has an impact on the NPT and its review conference. What is more important is the lack of agreement, but also of trust, between Russia and the United States and between China and the United States. This is not helping our conversations on how we move forward in the implementation of the review of the NPT in the next five years.

I’m not that pessimistic. I believe that the NPT has faced similar challenges in the past, that the arms control system put in place by the Soviet Union and the United States started in very difficult times and has evolved. Remember what President Ronald Reagan said: “Trust but verify.” You need some kind of verification, even if you’re going to try to trust your adversary.

The NPT has managed to overcome all those challenges in the past. I hope and I really believe that the NPT and its members are going to overcome the current challenges. We will also have to wait until January, when there is going to be a new administration in the United States. We have to see what the new administration is going to do regarding the extension of the New START. The current U.S. administration has placed a condition for extension, demanding that China also be included in the negotiations. China has openly rejected that proposal.

So, we have to see whether the new administration is going to continue with those new conditions or whether it’s going to extend New START for another year. We have to wait also to see if the new administration conducts a new nuclear posture review.

Nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear technologies, and nuclear weapons are a matter of U.S. national security, and therefore they are one of the most important issues for any U.S. administration. Traditionally, change of administrations didn’t bring a major shift or changes in the overall U.S. approach to these issues. But in the past, we have seen some changes in the tone, in the attitude, the approaches from one administration to another. I hope that, by August, it will be an environment more conducive for our conference to achieve success.

What I mean by success is a meaningful and fruitful outcome, an outcome that is not going to be only a piece of paper, but an outcome that means practical things for the states-parties to implement in the next five years, an outcome that is going to be fruitful in the sense that everybody will leave the review conference saying that we have achieved something, maybe it’s not so much, but we have achieved something. We have a fruit. We have a result that we can take home and care for and implement.

The outcome will be up to the states-parties. If they want to have an overall document or if they want to have no document at all, fine. If they want to have a high-level political statement or declaration, fine. It’s up to them. I’m not going to be drafting such a declaration. It’s not in my prerogative to do so. It’s up to them.

ACT: This is the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the treaty. This conference is seen by many as being unique and different because of that. How are you planning to elevate the profile or the stature of the meeting despite the pandemic conditions? Are you seeking some higher-level national participation in the conference by prime ministers and presidents, for instance, or in some other way trying to encourage a heads of state-level communique?

Zlauvinen: I hope that governments will see it is in their own interest to have an outcome that is going to be positive for them and therefore they’re going to do their utmost to help in the process. One way that they can do so is by attending at least the first few days of the conference at the highest levels. I cannot impose on parties who that high level should be, but heads of state or government would be more than welcome. Even if they are not able to attend at that level, I think foreign ministers will be very welcome. Before the 2020 review conference was delayed, we were expecting almost 40 foreign ministers and six or seven heads of state or government.

In my bilateral consultations, I’m encouraging states-parties to do so. But again, I cannot impose participation on heads of state or heads of government. That’s my wish. I hope so. I think it is going to be for their own benefit.

ACT: When you mentioned potential changes to U.S. nuclear policy by the next president, will you also look to see how policy might change toward the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? Is it important that the United States return to the JCPOA and that Iran return to the limits of the deal?

Zlauvinen: The review conference will be addressing challenges to the safeguards system and obviously the Iran nuclear program. From what I have heard from delegations, that is going to be a very complex and difficult discussion. The JCPOA is going to be an issue of contention.

I’m not here to take sides. I’m not here to say whether the U.S. administration should go back to the JCPOA or whether Iran should limit itself. It’s up to the states-parties in the context of the NPT review conference. What I hope is that, by August next year, this issue will have evolved from where we stand today. I hope that the new administration will review its policy regarding the JCPOA, and whether the decision is to keep the current positions or change them back or move to a new position, I hope that, by August, it will have a positive result in the negotiations and discussions with Iran, and in particular at the IAEA regarding the Iran nuclear program. I hope that, by August, the whole situation regarding Iran’s nuclear program will be much clearer and less tense than it is now.

ACT: Even if tensions over the future of the JCPOA are resolved, there would still be discussion at this review conference about strengthening safeguards. Given the fact that some states have still not fully adopted an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements and some countries such as Saudi Arabia have outdated small-quantities protocol arrangements, how might the review conference encourage more states to adopt a stronger set of safeguards standards in the future?

Zlauvinen: This issue is also going to be an issue of contention because many countries believe that an additional protocol should be the new verification standard, while others don’t believe so. At least they believe that it is, and it is, on a voluntary basis. It’s not mandatory. This is linked to what many call the grand bargain, the 1995 decision of the review conference to extend the treaty indefinitely and the recommitment by all states to the nonproliferation obligations and to Article VI by the nuclear-weapon states.

Those countries that have not signed or ratified an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements have several reasons not to do so. I’m not here to support or take part in that. I’m just describing the situation the way that I see it. First, the IAEA Board of Governors, when it adopted the Model Additional Protocol in 1995, said that the decision for member states to adopt an additional protocol was voluntary. Therefore, those countries that have not adopted it have decided for national reasons not to.

Secondly, some countries believe that they have adequate systems in place. Argentina and Brazil, for example, believe that their current safeguard system, consisting of a bilateral agreement, an agreement with the Brazilian-Argentinian Agency for the Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), and a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, is strong enough and it doesn’t leave any doubts about the peaceful nature of both nuclear programs. Therefore, they don’t need to have an additional protocol because they have almost that kind of additional protocol in the ABACC itself.

Beyond those technicalities, there is the issue that countries that have placed their peaceful nuclear programs under safeguards agreements believe that they have fulfilled their obligations under Articles I and III. Now, they don’t want to take on more nonproliferation obligations while nuclear-weapon states have not fulfilled their own obligations under Article VI. This is becoming more of a political question as opposed to a technical issue, so that makes the overall issue a bit more complicated. This going to be a contentious issue at the review conference.

I don’t believe there is going to be an agreement. It is not up to the NPT review conference to suggest that an additional protocol is mandatory. It is up to the IAEA Board of Governors. Nevertheless, there are going to be many voices at the review conference calling for an additional protocol to be the new standard, so we will see how we manage that disagreement.

ACT: How can you move forward the debate on the zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East? This has been a goal that states-parties committed to try to advance, beginning with the outcome of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. What are the main issues that still need to be settled, and who needs to be involved in sorting them out?

Zlauvinen: It’s going to be another challenge, another issue of contention as it has been for many review conferences. I thought that the 1995 decision, a resolution to push for the establishment of a nuclear weapon-free zone and other weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, was going to do the trick, but it didn’t. At the end of the day, it depends on overall political settlement among all the states in the region. For that, obviously you need Israel. You cannot establish a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East without the direct involvement of Israel, and so far, Israel has not participated.

There is a new development with regard to this issue that is going to be important at the negotiations and discussions during the NPT review conference, and that is the UN-convened conference in November 2019 on the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East. Most countries in the Middle Eastern region, as well as many European nations and others, attended that conference, with the exception of Israel. The United States also did not participate. The result of that conference is being seen by many parties to the NPT as a step forward in the direction that was designed by the 1995 decision on the Middle East. Therefore, they see that finally there is positive movement, a positive development in the implementation of the 1995 resolution. Therefore, they would like this to be reflected in the outcome of the NPT review conference.

Other countries, Iran and Syria in particular, believe that while the UN-convened conference is important, it is a separate track from NPT Middle East resolutions. They say that there are two different tracks, you cannot link them, so we should not even mention the UN-convened conference at the review conference.

Then you have a separate view, held particularly by the United States, that it refuses to accept that the UN-convened conference even took place or existed or mattered at all. Therefore, it doesn’t want to have any mention at the NPT review conference of that UN conference. Therefore, something that could be seen as a positive step could also be another complication for our conversations and discussions at the NPT review conference. I hope that we can manage language that will accommodate the different positions to acknowledge the UN-convened conference and maybe just set the tone for how to keep moving from the NPT point of view during the next five years in pursuit of the goal of the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East.

It is very important for the countries in the Middle East. I’ve been told by all states-parties that come from that region during my consultations that, for them, this is one of the most important issues for the review conference and, without an adequate reflection of this issue at the review conference, the review conference is going to have a big challenge. Aside from nuclear disarmament, this is the second most important challenge we face at the review conference.

ACT: A few times, you’ve mentioned the position of the current administration coming in late January. With the new administration on the way, given what you know about the tendencies of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, are you more hopeful that his administration will be able to bridge that divide about simply recognizing past review conference commitments; and can that help move this conference toward a meaningful, fruitful outcome?

Zlauvinen: Indeed, the issue of how we deal with the commitments made in past NPT review conferences is going to be another crucial element. It’s part of the challenge that we are going to face related to nuclear disarmament, because when people talk about past commitments, they mainly focus on the commitments of past conferences related to progress toward the implementation of Article VI. Yes, the current U.S. administration has expressed that it saw no need to reconfirm those commitments because circumstances have changed. It claimed that those commitments were made in the past during a different global security environment and different situations and those situations don’t exist anymore. There is a lack of confidence and trust, among nuclear-weapon states in particular, and therefore they are not in a position to reconfirm those commitments. Obviously, for a great majority of states-parties, that’s very important. That is key because they believe that the commitments made at previous conferences are an integral part of the obligations under the NPT. This is the view that they have, and therefore they would like to have those commitments reasserted during the next review conference.

I cannot speak just now on what the new administration is going to do or what approach it is going to have regarding those commitments. Whichever that position may be, I hope that, at the review conference, we can find a way among all the states-parties to a common position on this. But more important than those commitments is what we are going to do as a community regarding nuclear weapons, what we’re going to do regarding the full implementation of Article VI. I believe that the reason why many states signed and ratified the TPNW is because of their frustrations on the lack of progress on the implementation of nuclear disarmament. This is being seen by many, not only in government but in civil society, that as a global community we have to do something better regarding moving forward to that overall goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

I would like to have that question answered by the new administration. I think that the commitments are a secondary or tertiary issue related to that. If the new administration answers that question, then it will be easy to know what they’re going to do with the commitments at previous conferences. It is more important to answer how they’re going to deal with the demand from the overall community that nuclear-weapon states have an obligation, they have a responsibility to do something much more regarding how we move forward to that goal of achieving one day a world free of nuclear weapons.

The president-designate of the 10th NPT Review Conference discusses the political and logistical hurdles facing the delayed meeting.


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