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Interviews

Managing an Arsenal Without Nuclear Testing: An Interview With Jill Hruby of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration


December 2023

For decades, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its predecessor agencies at the Department of Energy have been at the center of the technical and political issues relating to nuclear weapons: warhead design and development, explosive testing, and non-explosive techniques to maintain the nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.

Administrator Jill Hruby (L) of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration greets Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) before testifying last year to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces in Washington, D.C.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)The last U.S. nuclear test explosion was conducted in September 1992, and since then, the United States has observed a test moratorium and supported the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Although the treaty has established a norm against nuclear explosive tests, it has not entered into force because eight specific states, including the United States, have not ratified it.

Meanwhile, Russia, China, and the United States are engaging in activities at their former test sites at Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur, and the Nevada National Security Site, respectively, prompting accusations of CTBT noncompliance and concerns about the possible resumption of full-scale nuclear testing. Recently, Russia took the unusual step of withdrawing its CTBT ratification in order to “mirror” the U.S. status vis-à-vis the CTBT. Nevertheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia will maintain its nuclear test moratorium as long as the United States does.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, and Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today, explored these issues in an interview with NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby. The transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: Can you say why, in your technical judgment, the United States does not need to resume explosive testing to maintain the U.S. arsenal or to build new design warheads?

NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby: When the United States signed the CTBT and made the decision to stop doing full-scale nuclear explosive testing, we simultaneously put in place, during the Clinton administration, this process that we refer to as the annual assessment process, by which we evaluate how the stockpile is aging. The three NNSA lab directors do an evaluation every year on the technical health of our weapons, and a major part of the determination is to say whether there is a technical reason to resume nuclear explosive testing. That evaluation has been done for about 27 years and has resulted in a finding every year that there is no technical reason to conduct nuclear explosive testing.

The process is larger than just the three lab directors. The [U.S. Strategic Command] commander also determines whether he or she believes that the stockpile is effective. So, that’s a separate process. I can’t say as much about that because that’s not the process in the NNSA, but from a technical perspective, there has not been a reason to resume testing.

It’s a very considered judgment. It’s a process by which we spend a lot of time making sure we do enough examination of old weapons. There are flight tests, laboratory tests, smaller subcomponent tests, and component testing of elements of our stockpile. We’re confident that the stockpile has the performance, reliability, safety, and security that it needs.

ACT: What is your response to the Russian suggestion that the United States is making preparations for nuclear testing at the Nevada National Security Site?

Hruby: This is the primary reason why we really stepped up talking about what we were doing at the Nevada National Security Site. Everybody makes allegations about everybody else’s activity at test sites, and it makes sense. We have a treaty that says we’re not going to test, so of course, everybody watches everybody else.

The truth is, we have activity going on at our former test site, the Nevada site. We’ve been using it all along for three reasons. One is to do subcritical experiments for our science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program [SSP]. This is part of what we need to do to make sure that our stockpile is behaving and aging the way that we think it is so that we don’t have to do a full-scale test. Another thing that we’ve done consistently at [the Nevada site] is conduct experiments for the nonproliferation program that helps us improve our ability to detect testing. We do this, as many other countries do, to improve our capability to monitor. Those tests are chemically explosive tests. They use conventional explosives; they don’t use nuclear explosives. But they use enough chemical explosives that we can get the seismic activity that’s sort of equivalent to a low-yield test so we know whether or not we could monitor that.

On-site inspection experts visit P Tunnel at the Nevada National Security Site in 2016. Today, researchers working in the tunnel conduct seismic, acoustic, electromagnetic, and radionuclide experiments that improve U.S. arms control and nuclear nonproliferation verification and monitoring capabilities. (Photo courtesy of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization)The third thing is that the Nevada site people have done other national security missions not associated with the NNSA but associated with larger national security missions, in particular for the Department of Homeland Security. When the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office was active, they wanted to test the monitors that they were putting at ports in the United States and around the world.

Honestly, we have in the last three or four years gotten sophisticated enough with this other set of experiments that we do now, concentrated on the NNSA subcritical experiments, that we are actually investing in significant new diagnostics. We call those projects “enhanced capability for subcritical experiments,” where we’re preparing to be able to do radiography, for example, which we haven’t been able to do before. To set those experiments up in the U1a tunnel [at the Nevada site], which is where we’ve done all our subcritical experiments, meant that we actually had to mine some new tunnels. These are fairly large pieces of diagnostic equipment, so we’ve had to do some new mining. The same thing is true with our nonproliferation-associated experiments. We’ve done some new mining to do some work that has better diagnostics associated with it.

Not to pick on the Russians, but if you’re the Russians or anybody else that is looking at the activity going on at the Nevada site, you’re going to see activity associated with mining. So, as soon as the Russians started saying these things, our sense was, oh well, we understand why they might interpret it that way. We need to be clearer about what we’re doing because we have nothing to hide and we’re not preparing for an underground [nuclear explosive] test. But it’s not a completely unreasonable thing, when you see mining at a former test site, to believe that something could be going on. That’s really why we wanted to just put everything out there and be very straightforward about what we are doing.

There’s one additional reason why we have actually been upgrading the infrastructure. Because of this increased amount of work associated with preparing for these new diagnostic capabilities, we have actually replaced some of the office buildings [at the site].

We’re very happy to be honest and straightforward and transparent about what we’re doing. Then we thought, well hey, if we’re going to be honest and straightforward, let’s just go the whole step and say maybe there’s more we can do in terms of transparency.

ACT: Let me ask one clarifying question about what a subcritical experiment is and what a supercritical experiment is. According to the Department of State, the United States and other governments participating in CTBT negotiations agreed that the treaty “prohibits all nuclear explosions that produce a self-sustaining supercritical fission chain reaction of any kind.” Can you provide any more clarification for the nontechnical expert about how your scientists distinguish between a subcritical and a supercritical experiment?

Hruby: We use a definition of subcritical that adheres to the strictest standard of zero yield and the international standard that we’ve proposed and hope is adopted by everybody that signed up to the CTBT. For the subcritical testing, we do not produce a sustained fission reaction. It’s hard to describe that in non-physics terms, but the difference is that there is not only not a large explosion, but there is also no sustained reaction.

ACT: You said that the United States wants to be as transparent as possible because it is not planning to or is not engaged in supercritical nuclear explosions. How are you seeking to do that? You proposed back in June at the CTBT: Science and Technology Conference that the NNSA is “open to working with others to develop a regime that would allow reciprocal observation with radiation detection equipment at each other’s subcritical experiments to allow confirmation that the experiment was consistent with the CTBT.” Could you describe what methods, technical or otherwise, you are pursuing to demonstrate that the U.S. activities are consistent with the CTBT and to address concerns about these subcritical experiments?

Hruby: We’ve been trying to be transparent. We announce, and we let the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) know, for example, when we do these chemical explosive tests; we let everybody with monitoring stations know. We publish all the results of the experiment. So, we’ve already been doing a lot of the nonreciprocal transparency. We didn’t agree to do reciprocal, but we’ve done lots of things to try to make the work that we do transparent. We also take people on tours of [the Nevada site]. We’ve invited members of the U.S. nongovernmental community to [the site] at the end of November.

What we’ve put on the table is, if other countries that formerly tested were interested in more transparency about the experiments they are conducting—because we know everybody’s doing some activities at their former test sites—we would be willing to do more intrusive things as opposed to just putting out the information. This includes ideas that would enable you to make sure that they didn’t produce a signature associated with a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

I know Arms Control Today just published an article about a verification approach that [Princeton University physicist] Frank von Hippel was involved in, and he had talked to me beforehand about his ideas. We had a team of people also looking at technical ideas and other ideas that would enhance confidence building. So, we could, for example, do video feeds that might build more confidence. Then we could do more intrusive things like radiation detection monitors within the chamber where other people, other countries, could probe. That would be a reciprocity thing that we could both do to allow people to in fact make sure that there wasn’t a supercritical reaction.

We have not provided all the details. Before I announced the potential for greater transparency, we did enough work on it to say, hey, we think this is technically feasible in a way that everybody should be willing to share, that isn’t going to reveal information about the design of their weapons or anything sensitive like that because these are not weapons that we’re working with, they’re just material samples. We think that this could be a great scientific interchange and good confidence-building measure. We’re trying to determine whether there’s enough interest to go further, to put more detailed approaches on the table.

As you know, all monitoring and verification of other people’s work requires both sides to be comfortable with the approach. So, before we go do a lot of work to put a detailed proposal on the technical approach on the table, we are trying to judge the interest. That’s the stage we’re at now. We believe there are multiple ways you could do this that we would be comfortable with. We’re trying to judge if there’s enough interest to put these ideas on the table and begin a dialogue with our counterparts in other countries and have reciprocity.

ACT: In terms of the dialogue, would the Biden administration be open to consulting with the CTBTO about some of these techniques because, ultimately, it is going to be responsible for verifying compliance with this treaty?

Hruby: Absolutely. [CTBTO Executive Secretary] Rob Floyd has been out to the Nevada site. I think he was our last international visitor. We’re willing to have other CTBTO ambassadors come visit. Again, we really have nothing to hide, but we also feel like the benefit of this is if we all do it, not just if one of us does it. That’s where we’d like to go. Rob’s been out, I’m sure we’ll have him out again. We bring the public to [the Nevada site]. We’ll do a special tour for people that are more interested in the subject, hopefully the ambassadors in Vienna. We’ll see if we can work up some momentum and some interest in transparency and reciprocity.

ACT: You say you’re trying to “judge the interest,” but what has been the interest so far?

Hruby: The interest so far is hard to judge. There are obviously people listening because there’s more chatter about it, including comments by the Russians. That being said, it doesn’t seem to be moving in exactly the direction that we had hoped, where people are saying this seems like a good idea and something that is relatively easy to do from a confidence-building measure or technical measures [perspective].

We know the arms control regime is not in a good place. We know that strategic stability isn’t where we need it to be. We would like to get back to real arms control discussions. We would like to get back to strategic stability discussions. That’s not in a good place, but let’s choose something easy, and we consider this quite easy. But so far, I would say we don’t have a positive vibe. What we have is a vibe of, well, okay, put more on the table. So, that’s going to have to be a whole-government decision whether we put more on the table. I can’t decide just to do that by myself, that would be presumptuous. Congress has a role to play in that, the White House has a role to play in that. It’s not just my decision alone. So, what we’ve gotten is,
it feels a bit more like a challenge than like a discussion.

ACT: Not only has Russia withdrawn its ratification of the CTBT, but there are reports that Russia is making improvements around Novaya Zemlya. Do you interpret these moves as political signaling, an indication that Russia is going to resume testing, or both?

Hruby: I’m not in the intelligence community. I’m not making assessments. My job is to be aware and prepared for actions that the Russians or anybody else may make. That’s why we’re doing the nonproliferation experiments, to get better at detecting seismic activities at former test sites or anywhere in the world. So, I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s political signaling or they’re getting prepared to test. But I sure would like to have an agreement that we’re going to abide by the CTBT and that we’ll do this together in a cooperative way. I’m trying to nudge it in that direction because I think the CTBT has been a stabilizing treaty and I’d like to see us all continue to uphold that treaty. If there is anything that we can do to help with that, we would like to do that.

The crater-scarred landscape of the Nevada Test Site at the north end of Yucca Flat as it looked in 1995. From 1951 until 1958, the United States conducted 119 atmospheric tests in this valley and from 1962 until 1992, it conducted more than 1,000 underground tests. The United States has observed a moratorium on nuclear testing since 1992. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)ACT: It’s been about a quarter century since the SSP was established and nuclear explosive testing in the United States was halted. Would you say, in your experience previously as a lab director and now as NNSA administrator, that the United States has a better or diminishing level of confidence in the reliability and performance of the warheads and the arsenal? Are we learning more from
the SSP as it has evolved than we did during the days of frequent full-scale explosive testing?

Hruby: I feel like we know more fundamentally about weapon performance today as a result of our SSP than we knew during the era of large-scale nuclear explosive tests.

ACT: One of your agency’s responsibilities is maintaining the safety and reliability of the warheads, and the NNSA has a very ambitious schedule and plan for modernizing and upgrading existing types of warheads. But questions come up from time to time about whether this refurbishment program is introducing new variables and new components that veer from previously tested designs and concepts. How are you trying to ensure that the warhead refurbishments now planned do not introduce those kinds of variables that raise questions about reliability that could in turn lead to calls for resuming nuclear explosive testing?

Hruby: We have a robust surveillance program, and that starts as we deploy weapons. We don’t wait for the systems to be in for 10 to 20 years and then surveil them. We begin surveillance immediately, and if we uncover any issues with any components, we address those immediately. There is this thing that we fondly refer to as the bathtub curve, where most problems happen very early from manufacturing defects, then things are pretty stable for a while, and then there’s an increase in issues over time as weapons age. So, we try to find all the problems. Again, we do flight tests. We do lab tests. We have a very active surveillance program. Can I guarantee there won’t be an issue that doesn’t require testing? No, that’s why we have the active surveillance program. But so far, when we find things, we can address them in a way that we don’t need testing. Our models and these experimental programs that we do, including the subcritical programs, help us make sure we don’t need to do nuclear explosive testing again.

ACT: The final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States recommends that your agency plan to increase its production capacity beyond the current program of record to meet the two-peer threat from Russia and China. Is that even practical, given that the NNSA is having trouble fulfilling its plan to produce at least 30 plutonium pits for nuclear warheads per year at Los Alamos and at least 50 per year at Savannah River?

Hruby: We’re going through the recommendations of the strategic posture commission report carefully. The administration will be reviewing, as we already do, our nuclear deterrence posture. At the NNSA, we are trying to design for flexibility as we build these new facilities, including the pit facilities that you referred to. The requirement for us was a minimum of 80 pits per year. We have tried to build these facilities so that there’s some room so that if we have to expand capability in the future that we would have the capacity to do that. We don’t want to overbuild, and we don’t want to underbuild, but we need to build flexibility into the way we think about the facilities that we’re constructing now.

We always talk about how we’re trying to build a resilient and flexible enterprise. Flexible means the ability to scale up as suggested in the strategic posture commission report or the ability to scale down without closing things the way we did at the end of the Cold War, which has now caused us to be in a position where we have to start from scratch on some things. Resilience means that we don’t want single-point failures. So, for example, that’s why we’re building a facility at Los Alamos and another one at Savannah River. If anything were to go wrong at either one of those, we would have resilience.

Hruby discusses what the United States is doing to ensure that its nuclear weapons are safe and reliable and how transparency can help prevent nuclear-weapon states from returning to testing.

Strengthening the Chemical Weapons Convention: An Interview with Joseph Manso, U.S. Ambassador to the OPCW


April 2023

Joseph Manso, U. S. ambassador to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, says that “a violator of the norm against chemical weapons [such as Syria] will not be treated as a normal country.” (Photo: OPCW)Delegates to the fifth review conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will convene in The Hague on May 15 with two markers on their scoresheet. One is positive: the United States is on track to complete the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile in September, in line with its CWC obligations. The other is ominous: two CWC states are known violators of the 26-year-old convention, which outlaws the development, production, and use of deadly chemical weapons and requires the verifiable destruction of remaining stockpiles. As the convention’s implementing body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), recently confirmed that Syria has used chemical weapons five times against its own civilians. U.S. and European officials have accused Russia of using a chemical agent in its attempted assassinations of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and of Sergei Skirpal, a former Russian military intelligence office, and his daughter, Yulia, in the United Kingdom. Political leaders, academics, and civil society groups have many ideas how the CWC can be strengthened, including enhancing OPCW forensic capabilities, adding more chemicals to the CWC ban list, and reframing the CWC mission to expand the use of challenge inspections. Yet, the review conference takes place under the same tough conditions plaguing many international meetings in the past year. Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine has upended the international system, intensifying hostilities and mistrust among leading nations and making it more difficult to deal with security challenges. Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today, spoke with Joseph Manso, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, about expectations for the review conference. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: What do you think have been the major successes of the CWC over the
past three decades?

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Manso: I think it is a tremendous success. The United States really values both the CWC and the OPCW. Among the successes would be, first of all, the now-almost-completed destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles. I am emphasizing declared stockpiles, and this is, I think for the first time, the elimination of a whole category of weapons of mass destruction. It’s an impressive achievement and has strongly reinforced the norm against chemical weapons use, and I think that’s tremendously important. Even today, only a very small number of countries challenge that norm, and they don’t do so openly. The Assad regime [in Syria] does not admit to using chemical weapons. The Russian Federation, even when Navalny was poisoned or the Skripals were poisoned, does not admit to using chemical weapons because they know that the norm against chemical weapons use is so strong that if they admitted to it, they would really have no sympathy in the international community. So, I would say destruction of a whole class of weapons of mass destruction and reinforcement of the norm against chemical weapons use are two very significant achievements.

Then there is the work of the [OPCW] Technical Secretariat in international cooperation and assistance, which is important [and] ongoing, and we hope to see it further strengthened. Part of what will strengthen it is the new Center for Chemistry and Technology that’s coming online. The center has a lab, much expanded from what the OPCW has now. It also has classrooms for training and cooperation, conference spaces for meetings, and an equipment storage area that allows for hands-on training with very sophisticated equipment to detect and analyze various chemical weapons and compounds. The bottom line is, I think the OPCW has done a lot of good work.

ACT: When does that center become operational?

Manso: The 12th of May is the official opening, but the Technical Secretariat is in the process of moving into the facility now.

ACT: The OPCW determined that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against the opposition in Syria. There has been public shaming, but no real price paid for that. How does that serve deterrence? It certainly isn’t deterring Assad.

Manso: That’s a fair question. I would say there are a couple of points to it. First, before the OPCW did this investigating allegations of chemical weapons use alone, it had a joint team with the United Nations, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which attributed four chemical weapons attacks in Syria to the Assad regime. The Russians decided they were not happy with this and vetoed the extension of the JIM. They used their veto three times in one day to prevent any extension of the JIM. So then, the OPCW created the Investigation and Identification Team, which has now attributed five chemical weapons attacks, through rigorous scientific methods and analyzing the evidence, to the Assad regime. This is a tremendous advance over what the OPCW could do previously, when its teams were authorized to say whether or not chemical weapons were used, but they were not authorized or mandated to attribute the attacks to any particular party. So, it is a step in the right direction and some added teeth for the OPCW because the organization can investigate and say chemical weapons were used or not and can attribute it to a particular party.

Last August, people in Idlib, Syria, staged a demonstration against the Assad regime for its chemical weapons attack on Eastern Ghouta in 2013. Thousands of women and children were affected by the poisonous agents used in the attack.  (Photo by Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The other thing is that the OPCW is a treaty-based international organization. It is a political organization, not a court of law or a military alliance. It is not fair to expect them to do things that legitimately fall in the domain of other types of institutions. What the OPCW can do, and I would agree with you that deterrence is important, is the OPCW can extract a political price for using chemical weapons. A violator of the norm against the use of chemical weapons will not be treated as a normal country. People will know that you are not a normal country, that you used chemical weapons. In fact, at an OPCW Conference of the States Parties meeting in 2021, it was determined that Syria would be stripped of certain rights and privileges at the OPCW, such as the right to vote and the right to hold office until it fulfills its obligations. Now you might say, well, President [Bashar] Assad probably isn’t up at night worrying about whether or not he has an OPCW vote or Syria holds an office at the OPCW. But there is a broader strategy here, and the broader strategy is to isolate the Syrian regime, delegitimize them, and not have them treated as a normal country.

This OPCW action is not an isolated incident. It is part of this broader policy of not treating the Assad regime as a normal country and reinforcing other tools so there is a political price to pay. Having said that, there’s also a conversation, and I’m not the right guy to go into detail on this, on judicial pathways for attributing judicial responsibility for chemical weapons use. That’s what courts could do. One person to talk to about this would be, for example, Beth Van Schaack, who is the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice. There are criminal cases that have been brought against the Assad regime by officials in Germany and France, and now there is an ongoing discussion of whether there should be an international attempt to hold them judicially responsible.

ACT: Is that something that the United States is planning to participate in, to lead?

Manso: Well, not me personally because I’m the U.S. representative to the OPCW and the OPCW is not a judicial body. But if you ask, is the United States interested in this, the answer is yes, and we’re very interested in participating in these conversations on judicial responsibility for chemical weapons use and seeing how this could be designed and carried out. But we’re in the early days on this.

ACT: You said the norm against chemical weapons has been strengthened. But Russia is a major impediment. It has been accused of using chemical weapons itself and is creating havoc in Ukraine. The Russians are aligned with Assad and don’t hold him to account. What do you do about that?

Russia is blamed for the near fatal poisoning of the now-imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, seen inside a glass cell during a district court hearing in Moscow in 2021. Russia and Syria are the only two states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention that are accused of using chemical weapons. (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)Manso: I would say that Russia is not in compliance with its obligations under the CWC, and I would very much agree that the evidence points to Russia having used a chemical agent in its attempted assassination of Navalny and also for the acts [against the Skripals] on UK soil. But I have two other points. One, it is only a very small number of countries that are willing to use chemical weapons. You have Syria and Russia. North Korea probably was also involved in an incident, but they’re not a member to the CWC. So, of the countries in the CWC that have used chemical weapons, it’s essentially Russia and Syria. As I said, they deny it. So, they feel the need to try to cover their tracks; Bellingcat has done a great job of uncovering those tracks.

I’m very glad the Navalny film won the Oscar, and I hope Navalny is released from his unjust imprisonment. But at the end of the day, on the enforcement of regimes, you strive for perfection, you don’t always get it. Most countries abide by the CWC. There are a very small number of bad actors, and we need to focus on that. You don’t cover it up, but also don’t ignore the fact that most countries are in fact playing by the rules.

ACT: As we look toward this review conference in May, apart from Russia and Ukraine, what other challenges do you see, and what are you expecting to come out of it?

Manso: The review conference is also an opportunity. The future holds different challenges than the past. Destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile should be completed by September. The new Center for Chemistry and Technology is coming online, as I said, in May. So, we have an opportunity to strengthen the OPCW and make it fit for purpose for the future.

We’d like the verification regime and international cooperation and assistance programs enhanced. We would like to see further work on dealing with the threat of nonstate actors or terrorists using chemical weapons. We would very much like to see continued scientific work and improved capacity for addressing the threats from new and novel types of toxic chemicals. All of these are opportunities to make this organization fit for the future. So, the U.S. policy is, we value the CWC, we value the OPCW. Based on that policy, we’re very much looking to have a positive forward-looking agenda as part of the review conference.

What always happens in diplomacy is that getting consensus on a final conference document among all the CWC states-parties is going to be difficult. As in other arms control forums over the past year, sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t, and my crystal ball is no better than anybody else’s. If you ask me, will the review conference succeed, the answer is, we’re committed to doing our part to make it a success. We’d certainly like to see a consensus document, which I think most participating countries would like to see. Let’s stay flexible and work for success.

ACT: On verification measures, what would you consider success coming out of this review conference?

Manso: There are a lot of different angles on verification, so part of it would be the OPCW retaining the knowledge that they have gathered from these various investigations that they’ve done and combining that with the new lab where they’d be able to do things like chemical forensics.

It is also about making the industry verification regime more efficient and updating the approach there. We could explore the challenges in the industry cluster and see what is needed in terms of improvements. The idea would be that better verification helps build confidence in the treaty. From the U.S. point of view and the point of view of many other countries, while you want to do verification more efficiently and you want to do it well, you don’t want to do it in a way that creates an undue burden on industry.

ACT: Is improved verification a priority among the things you’d like to see come out of the review conference?

Manso: It’s one of the priorities. The overarching priority is full implementation of the treaty. That means we do better on verification, and it also means we do better on areas like international cooperation and assistance.

ACT: Of the eight CWC states-parties that have declared that they possess chemical weapons, the United States was the first to begin destruction of its stockpile under the treaty but is now scheduled to be the last one to complete the process. What has been the holdup?

Manso: If you’re going to deal with these issues, you’re going to deal with local governments, with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), with the U.S. Congress, with environmental concerns. It’s a complicated process. Not that we can’t do it, not that we haven’t been doing it, not that we aren’t going to finish in September; but if you ask me why it took us such a long time, one, we did have a large stockpile; and two, we had to work it through our system. Our system is not the fastest system in the world, but it does provide for stakeholders to express their views and be satisfied.

If you go to Bluegrass, Kentucky, or Pueblo, Colorado [where the last U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles are based], the local communities are very well informed of what’s going on in those destruction sites. They are very well aware of the environmental safeguards that have been taken. I was very pleasantly surprised at the level of local support for those efforts. That didn’t happen overnight or easily, and with the congressional history of this, even just moving those chemicals around to get them to certain destruction sites was a controversial thing because who wants a trainload of chemical weapons passing through their community? These were the kinds of environmental and political issues you would expect in a project of this type. Not only is the United States committed to the destruction of our own stockpile, but we have given substantial funding and expertise to help other countries destroy their stockpiles, including the Russian Federation.

ACT: Are you confident the September deadline is firm?

Manso: Yes, we are. There are two sides to the deadline. We agreed to a compromise at the OPCW, in which September was the deadline. But my understanding, and again the experts on this are over at [the U.S. Department of Defense], and what they tell me is we’re on track. In fact, we have destroyed more than 99 percent of the U.S. stockpile.

ACT: There are still four countries outside the CWC: Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan. Can you bring them into the fold?

Manso: The United States is committed to universality, so we’d like to see everybody in. I do think it’s different for each country. South Sudan is working with a number of other participating states on developing its national legislation. My impression is that this is a capacity issue. It’s a new country, it’s a new government. I don’t think they have a political problem with acceding to the CWC, but they want to develop the capability so they’re able to say they can fulfill their obligations. South Sudan’s accession is a work in progress; I would not call it a problem.

North Korea, that is a problem. They’re not inclined to join. They probably have a very big stockpile, and it’s part of a much bigger problem that goes beyond just the OPCW. I think what we can do in partnership with the OPCW Technical Secretariat is stay ready so that when the U.S. stockpile destruction is over, the OPCW maintains the expertise to verify destruction so that they could help the North Koreans, should that ever come to pass.

That leaves us with Egypt and Israel. I think there the likely scenario would be that they both decide to join the CWC at the same time. Given the larger dynamics of the politics in the Middle East, that’s a tough one. But that’s the broad expectation, that when the politics are ripe, we could get both of them in. We would be happy to work with our Egyptian and Israeli friends on this.

ACT: You’ve been very supportive of the involvement of NGOs in the CWC and the OPCW, although some states-parties have put up roadblocks. What would it take for the CWC and the OPCW to become more inclusive of civil society?

Manso: Not just the United States. There are many countries that are very supportive of including NGOs. One thing we did at the last conference of the states-parties was, together with Canada, Norway, Germany, and the European Union, organize a series of events outside of the conference hall. We were able to invite those NGOs that had been blocked and also the NGOs that were in the hall, so the NGOs could talk with each other through organized programs. I certainly think that more could be done along those lines, and maybe we could have—these are just ideas—a one-day meeting with NGOs and civil society before important OPCW meetings. As long as you don’t have it on the premises of the conference, NGOs could participate, and nobody could block them. Under the current OPCW guidelines, and it’s going to be hard to change them because of the nature of international organizations, there is the possibility to block NGOs from participating in the [conference] hallway, but you can’t block them from showing up in The Hague and interacting with delegations.

Then maybe we can incrementally modify and improve the guidelines so it gets a little bit harder to block NGOs. A lot of organizations have this problem. It’s not unique to the OPCW, but there is a group of delegations that are committed to immediate relief, by doing events for NGOs connected to the meetings but not in the meeting hall so they can’t be blocked. They are also committed to incremental improvements in the guidelines so that we can better interact with NGOs. It should be one of the topics at the review conference: how do we improve our connection to civil society. NGOs are part of civil society, but that could also include academics and industry representatives. I mean we should be able to have fluid interaction with civil society.

ACT: Have you set up those kinds of side meetings for the May review conference?

Manso: We’re talking about them right now, and I would think that we’ll get serious about planning them right after the Executive Council session, which is on March 14–17. The only thing I’d add is that this administration is very committed to arms control. The United States wants to maintain a leadership position in arms control. We want to see it advance, even understanding that the overall geopolitical framework is not always the easiest. But we remain committed to arms control in general and the OPCW specifically. The whole idea of using the review conference to strengthen the OPCW, enhance its capabilities, enhance the norm against chemical weapons use, all of that is part of the broader policy.

ACT: As we discussed, Russia is a problem, but does China work with you?

Manso: I will say China does sometimes support the Russians. Depends on the issue, but not every time. We can certainly talk to our Chinese colleagues, absolutely.

 

Despite chemical weapons violations by Russia and Syria, Manso is bullish about the treaty and its impact.

Assessing the Ninth BWC Review Conference: An Interview with Conference President Leonardo Bencini


January/February 2023

Leonardo Bencini of Italy was president of the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. (Photo courtesy of UN Geneva)The ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which took place November 28 to December 16, came at the end of a year in which worsening international relations made it more difficult than usual to achieve multilateral cooperation on even the most pressing security challenges. The Russian war on Ukraine exacerbated tensions between Moscow and NATO and shook the system of treaties and institutions on which post-Cold War stability has depended. The United States accused Russia of possibly planning to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. Russia accused the United States of funding a network of biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. Review Conference President Leonardo Bencini of Italy was determined that the meeting should preserve the credibility of the BWC by producing a final consensus document. One focus of debate was Article X of the BWC, under which states-parties “undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes.” In February, a report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research said progress on Article X was a prerequisite for the success of the review conference. Another focus of debate was effective ways for the BWC to be verified. Days after the conference ended, Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today, spoke with Bencini about what the meeting accomplished and the challenges ahead. The interview has been edited for length and clarity

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: What do you think the review conference achieved?

Leonardo Bencini: The Biological Weapons Convention has been in a deadlock, some people say, for 21 years since negotiations broke down on the issue of verification. For a lot of countries, the issue of verification is a very important one. At this review conference, we established a working group, which is mandated to deal with basically every aspect of strengthening the convention, including verification and other key aspects. So, I think that we’ve succeeded in breaking the deadlock and set out a very good plan of action. We hope that next year we will start the working group and that we can indeed discuss all the key issues concerning the implementation of this convention.

ACT: Why should people care?

Bencini: I’ll tell you why people should care. We have to preserve this convention because it is the only instrument that we have that brings every country together. That’s why we were so keen to get a result. You might say it’s no big deal, but it is a big deal actually because we really had to break this deadlock so that we could still say that we do have a convention on biological weapons, and it is a convention that concerns, now, 184 countries. So basically, there are only 13 countries left to join. My own country believes very much in it, and that’s why we decided to take on this responsibility, because we don’t want fragmentation of the way in which the international community deals with the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is absolutely vital that we have a forum where all countries meet and discuss and try to find shared solutions.

Another reason is that we managed to get a deal at the end of a terrible year. You know the international context. In August, we were in New York for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. We didn’t approve a final document there. In September, we had a very disappointing end of the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York was very difficult too. So, it’s been very hard. [UN] Secretary-General [António] Guterres’s statement on December 16 said that the result of this BWC review conference gives us a glimmer of hope in an international context that is particularly bleak. So, I think that, yes, it gives us a glimmer of hope.

ACT: The international environment is indeed very tense and difficult, but establishing a working group still seems like a minimal accomplishment.

Bencini: That’s as far as we could go. We also had another section in the final document that we couldn’t approve, the article-by-article review. We couldn’t approve it basically because of the war in Ukraine and because Russia proposed some language that the United States could not accept. We had to drop the entire section, but we saved the decisions and recommendations, which was what mattered.

You’re right to say, basically, you just created this working group. You might say, you couldn’t agree this time on substantive issues, why should you agree next time? We don’t know, but we have to preserve the system, we have to preserve the convention, and we had to give it a new impetus. I’m sure that all the issues that we couldn’t agree on this time will be there in the future. But hopefully, the international environment will get better over the next five years, which is the timeline that we have in front of us, and we’ll be able to achieve agreements on a number of issues. If we didn’t hope so, we wouldn’t do anything. In fact, a lot of people said, “Why are you taking this on?” We said, “Because we believe we can bring something home,” and we did.

Disarmament negotiations are so complex, and the consensus rule makes agreements so difficult to reach. You have to have everyone involved. One country is enough to wreck the whole thing. Even I was quite surprised at the positive reaction that we had after the conference when everyone was congratulating us and themselves. It was really good because you could see that, in fact, people care. They knew that we got something, even something small, but something meaningful, something that gives us work to do, something that gives us a timeline, something that gives us homework. Now we’ve got something to work on for the next five years.

ACT: Do you think that a working group and what came out of this conference is enough to mitigate the threat that Russia has become to the BWC regime?

Bencini: We live in the same world, but I think it was encouraging to see that we’re much together in agreement, of which Russia is also a party. The Russian Federation joined the consensus. We negotiated also with them, and I think this is very important. Although what we agreed on basically was what we’re going to discuss for the next five years, I think it was important to have every country involved. We hope that this sends a good signal. This is what Secretary-General Guterres said also, but we don’t know yet. Let’s hope at least.

Russia’s call for a UN Security Council meeting in October to discuss its allegations of “military-biological activities” by the United States in Ukraine added to international tensions that made the Biological Weapons Convention review conference in December more difficult. Washington and Kyiv denied the charges.  (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)ACT: My understanding is that agreement on things like the proposed cooperation advisory group and the scientific advisory board looked very promising, even near the end of the conference, and yet they were not agreed to. What happened to those ideas, which arguably seem in everybody’s interest?

Bencini: There were countries that couldn’t join the consensus. I won’t mention them by name, but that’s what happened. Remember one thing: Now, we have outlined a mechanism, both for Article X and science and technology; in fact, the science and technology part is quite developed. We had a very detailed proposal, and the facilitator, who’s been working on that, won’t give up. So, we have a plan laid out there, and I’m sure that this will form the basis of future negotiations. It was important to keep any final decisions and recommendations with reference to mechanisms, both for Article X, which many states-parties care very much about, and the scientific and technology dimension, which in principle every country cares about.

ACT: What was achieved that shows the public that the BWC is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, other pandemic threats, and biological risks generally?

Bencini: That the process is not dead. It continues and needs to be developed, of course, but we’ve learned a lesson from the pandemic, and we had to respond somehow. Bear in mind, if the international context had been different, if the international context had been that of a year ago, we would have achieved much more. So, we have to always remember the general context.

As I said, [the BWC] is an instrument that is very important. People don’t quite realize how important it is because it’s easier to think of the nuclear threat. It’s more difficult to understand biological weapons because they can be any kind of weapon. But now after the pandemic, people are beginning to understand this as well. When we think of biological weapons, we should not just think of human beings being targeted. You can target a crop, and there are countries whose economies rely almost entirely on one crop. If you want to damage them, that’s enough. So, you don’t even have to infect human beings with a pathogen, you can just infect a plant. There are many ways.

I won’t go into details because I’m not an expert, but definitely biotechnology has advanced very fast in the past few years, and we need to keep up. It’s not easy, but there is a message that I want to give, that this convention is indeed important. Let’s not consider it less important than the NPT. I would say the threat could even be worse, because while it’s easier to monitor and verify a country that wants to develop a nuclear weapons program, it’s much more difficult to verify biological weapons. There are hundreds of thousands of establishments and facilities in the world that could be weaponized.

That is why we also need to address this issue from the national implementation point of view. We have to have scientists on board. We have to make sure that we have an international network of expert people to communicate with one another, but we don’t have enough resources in this BWC. If I told you that, yes, everyone wants to really strengthen this convention, that would be a lie. If this time we managed to keep this process going, that was an achievement in itself.

ACT: You said one important challenge is verifying BWC compliance. What can be done to strengthen the capability for holding BWC violators accountable?

Bencini: That needs to be further examined, studied, looked into with the help of scientists who tell us where the technology is now and what we need to do because you can’t imagine a standard verification regime for biological weapons. You need to be more creative, more innovative, and listen to the scientists. It’s a completely different approach. The approach that was followed 20 years ago will not work now, which is the reason why, when countries said, “We have to restart negotiations for a legally binding protocol from where we left off,” that wouldn’t work. This is why we need to discuss with fresh eyes, with a new approach, the issue of verification and compliance—how to verify, how to make sure that you get compliance from states-parties. Let’s remember one thing: Most of the time, the only difference between a peaceful program and a program to develop biological weapons is intent. It’s not the process. The process is the same, but it’s very difficult indeed to demonstrate this.

Tatiana Molcean, the Moldovan ambassador to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, served as chairwoman of the committee of the whole for the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. The conference drafting committee was also headed by a woman. (Photo by Mariia Koroleva)ACT: Can you talk about the gender gap and the need to promote a more inclusive BWC decision-making process? I understand that some proposals to include equal representation of women in BWC-related activities were excluded from the final document. What is the plan for doing better?

Bencini: There is a reference in the final document about the need to include more women. There were other references, actually, and also in the part that was dropped, because the countries that believe in this made it a priority. I made it a priority of my presidency. I said from the beginning I want to give this review conference gender balance, I want to make this a priority, and I did. I’m very pleased that we achieved the chairs of the two main committees—the committee of the whole and the drafting committee—were women. I had a team of facilitators, and the majority of them were women. When the conference bureau met, the majority of the people around the table were women. So, I was very pleased with that because we had very competent women in the team that made a difference.

Of course, we need to do much more. You have to raise the issue over and over again and keep at it. There are countries that don’t support it as much as we like. Unfortunately, they are more or less the same countries that oppose the other possible developments in the convention, but it doesn’t matter. We have to keep making it a priority because the vast majority of states-parties consider it a priority. A lot of Latin American and Asian countries have taken up initiatives on this issue. I think it’s very much on the agenda.

ACT: The right to exchange equipment, materials, and information for peaceful purposes under the BWC is under attack. How can states-parties ensure that Article X continues to be upheld?

Bencini: We had an intensive discussion with respect to Article X, and we managed to get a good agreement that couldn’t enjoy consensus unfortunately. But again, the vast majority of Non-Aligned Movement countries worked very much in a very cooperative manner with, for instance, Western countries. I think if the international context had been different, we would have had a good deal on that.

Remember one thing, that this should not be a development forum. We should discuss basically how to exchange information and do matchmaking. The peaceful use of science and technology is a very important principle in every disarmament and nonproliferation convention, not just in this one, but it has to be done in a way that is agreeable to everyone. It shouldn’t be just a developing world issue; it is an issue that concerns every country.

I do understand that many countries would like more technology transfer, and we have seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some countries didn’t feel that enough was done to transfer technology in that respect, and I do believe that we should do more, absolutely. But there are a lot of organizations that are involved in development. The BWC remains a disarmament and nonproliferation treaty. It is not a development treaty. So, let’s not make a development forum out of Article X. It should be a matchmaking arena, if you wish. We have to work toward that direction.

ACT: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Bencini: If it had not been for the international context, we would have had a historic agreement. It would have gone so far, and so, it is regrettable. Even in this context, the review conference produced one of the very few agreements that was reached in the international scene anywhere on any issues this year. That by itself is a very important achievement. Everyone that was involved in this should be very proud of it. This is what gives us hope and motivation to carry on. Next year, we’ll have the first meetings of this working group, and we’ll take it from there.

Although the outcome was modest, the conference produced one of the few international agreements of 2022, he says.

Making the Case That Nuclear Weapons Are Immoral: An Interview With Archbishop John C. Wester


December 2022

(Photo by Leslie M. Radigan)If nuclear weapons are ever eliminated, it will be the result of actions big and small at every communal level, from international leaders to civil society. The Reverend John C. Wester occupies a unique role in this continuum as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe, whose archdiocese is home to the Los Alamos and Sandia national nuclear laboratories and site of the first Manhattan Project nuclear tests. In January, Wester issued a pastoral letter, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” which called for the abolition of nuclear weapons and declared that the archdiocese “must be part of a strong peace initiative.” He had a compelling basis for action: In 2021, Pope Francis shifted the church’s position from accepting deterrence as a legitimate rationale for nuclear weapons to decrying the possession of nuclear weapons as “immoral.” Even with the pope’s admonition, however, Wester is finding his peace initiative slow going. He discussed his efforts with Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: You often tell the story of visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2017. It almost seems like an epiphany. How did that trip and other forces, including serving as the top Roman Catholic Church official in Santa Fe, home to Los Alamos and Sandia, propel you to take on the mission of eliminating nuclear weapons?

Archbishop John C. Wester: Until I came here to Santa Fe, I was pretty much like I believe most people are, lulled into a false sense of complacency. I did not think much of nuclear weapons, to be honest. I do remember vividly 60 years ago during the Cuban missile crisis, but going to Japan and going to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and seeing the children, that was what really hit me most. I saw the display in the museum there, the audio and video displays and all the pictures. They had this one of the children rushing to the window to see the bright light that was detonated above their heads. That really hit me hard, it was a visceral moment, and I think it was an epiphany. It was a real sea change in my own attitude and my own consciousness of nuclear weapons.

ACT: How did you school yourself on nuclear issues, which can be an arcane subject?

Wester: It was very gradual. It involved taking my family members and friends to the museum in Santa Fe and looking at the Manhattan Project [displays]. Initially, there was a feeling in me of a kind of national pride, in what our country came up with, what the scientists and all did. Then immediately I felt, wait a minute, I'm looking at what we created and developed and manufactured and sent out to Japan. These are the very bombs I'm looking at that killed those children. So, the disconnect and the sharp contrast was so real.

As a man of faith—I believe in God, obviously—I really believe it was providential. I was asked to give a talk at our state capitol in Santa Fe on peace and nuclear disarmament, and I gave the talk. To be honest, at that time, these were words to me, and I didn't really understand a lot of them yet. Then I met this gentleman, who went to the talk, and he's become a very dear friend of mine now, Jay Coghlan, the head of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. He saw me afterwards, and he asked me questions. My first thought was, “Oh gosh, here's one of these radicals.” He challenged me to be more upfront about this subject and not just to give one talk but to get into it.

A tourist at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico, examines a full-size replica of the 'Fat Man' atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. The museum is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Lab, which was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, the nation's top secret program to develop and build the atomic bomb. The lab remains central to the U.S. nuclear program. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)One thing led to another, and we ended up writing a pastoral letter. I thought this is exactly what I should do as the archbishop of Santa Fe, where all these nuclear weapons programs started. Santa Fe has to have a place at the table discussing those issues. Then I started reading up, including some things that are in favor of dropping the bomb in World War II, just so I can hear more from the other side. I don't want to be myopic on it. I'm on a steep learning curve, and I'm doing my best to get it because my whole intent is to keep the conversation going further. We have to keep talking about this until one day we can really rid the world of nuclear weapons.

ACT: Pope Francis has made disarmament a major focus, declaring that possessing nuclear weapons is “immoral.” What do you see as the faith basis for arguing for an end to nuclear weapons?

Wester: This is an extremely important point. I believe it's an ethical principle for all human beings, regardless of their faith or if they have no faith, that Pope Francis boldly and courageously, I would say, declared that even possessing nuclear weapons is immoral. To me that moved the moral needle like crazy. In 1983 the bishops of the United States said it was okay to have nuclear weapons for deterrence, and that seemed plausible to me. But then Pope Francis says no, you can't even possess them, what you're doing just having them sit there is immoral.

I think that really was a wake-up call. I have to admit that it's a good thing when the pope says it because it sure makes it easier for me because you do get interesting letters when you make a bold statement [like that]. Indeed, the pope is right on target because nuclear weapons are immoral; and considering their potential lethalness, they could destroy all of us and the planet and civilization. If anyone still survived the nuclear winter, it would send us all back to the ice age. We'd all be in caves and writing on the walls, and everything would have to be reinvented, you know, the alphabet and penicillin and you name it. I'm learning quickly that people don't want to talk about it.

ACT: You recently gave a speech in which you noted that the U.S. Catholic Church and the media have ignored the pope's call. If the pope made such an issue of nuclear weapons, why aren't all clergy speaking out? If you can't get the Catholic clergy to do it, how can you expect to rally others?

Wester: It's a very good question, but it's a complicated one. Part of it has to do with the polarization in our world and our politics and in our church, and part of it has to do with a more conservative approach, even to things like defenses and the whole nuclear armament question. I think it's also tied to a new point that the pope has made that nuclear weapons are immoral. A lot of people that I'm conversing with, and I welcome all angles, really do believe that we need these nuclear arms for deterrence. They think that this is the right way to go. I would say, unfortunately, they don't understand.

As [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara said many decades ago, the only reason we didn't have a problem in the Cuban missile crisis was because of luck. We've been lucky. We've had miscues, such as Soviet submarine officers who decided not to fire their nuclear weapons. There have been bombs dropped, even here in Albuquerque, that did not detonate because one last little low-voltage switch didn't turn on and luckily nothing detonated. How long is our luck going to last? Anybody who gambles for a living will tell you it never lasts forever. But this is something that people, either because they don't want to or because they're afraid to think of it, just don't want to deal with. Yet, we have to do it because if we don't do it now, it's going to be too late; and once it's too late, it truly is too late.

ACT: What feedback have you gotten as you advocate eliminating nuclear weapons?

Wester: The response I've gotten, including from the archdiocese and the church in general, has been—how would I characterize it? If you're a teacher, grading on the A-thru-F scale, I'd put it at a C-minus. The response has been polite. Some people, very few, have said, “Wow, we're so glad you did this, it's so important.” The people you'd expect [with disarmament organizations] have been very favorable, but in the general population, I’d say it has been polite but very unengaged, not wanting to talk about it. My sense is that they're hoping the issue will just go away. That's one thing we're doing our very best not to let happen. We've translated the pastoral letter into Japanese and Korean and Spanish. We've just ordered 1,000 more copies in Spanish, so we're doing our very best to get the word out to keep this conversation going.

But the response has been lackluster. I haven't gotten a lot of hate mail. Maybe that's because, deep down, most people do understand that nuclear weapons are not a good thing. I'm trying to read that. Maybe deep down, they know we do have to do something about it but would just as soon someone else do it. I think, too, with the Ukraine war and with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin rattling his nuclear saber, that scares people. India-Pakistan, China-Taiwan, Iran, all of these geopolitical issues scare people. They're probably feeling the best offense is a good defense so let's keep building these plutonium pit cores [for nuclear weapons] and let's keep doing what we're doing. What we're doing is really pursuing a second arms race that's probably more dangerous than the first.

ACT: Have you met with executives at the labs at Los Alamos and Sandia or with defense industry CEOs?

Workers conduct an analysis of plutonium at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where plutonium pits for nuclear weapons are manufactured.  (Photo courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)Wester: Yes. We are going to. We had quite a few date possibilities this last summer. I was going to meet with scientists in the Los Alamos labs, and we're still going to do it, we just could not come up with a date, I suppose because of the vacations and all. So, I want to have that conversation. I have gotten some responses from some engineers and scientists at Sandia and Los Alamos that have been positive. They've said they agree with the pastoral letter. They read the summary of it at least, and they do agree with its ultimate desire to rid the world of nuclear arms. But my sense is that they think that we have quite a few steps to take before we get there. It's hedging their bets maybe. We've already waited too long. There are 13,000 weapons in the world today, with more being produced. Several countries are modernizing their weapons, including with hypersonic delivery systems, and all this portends badly for the future.

ACT: Presumably, some people are worried about losing jobs if the nuclear industry goes away. You have suggested that if nuclear weapons are eliminated, the scientists and their skills can be used for other things such as verification work and environmental cleanup. Do people consider that argument credible?

Wester: The feedback has been mixed. I think it's more one of disbelief, like, prove it, show me. We're working on that, trying to get more statistics. I think there are two points there, though, that really are compelling. One is that there's going to be about $9.4 billion spent by the U.S. Department of Energy in New Mexico this fiscal year for nuclear weapons development, most of it for Los Alamos and plutonium pit core production, and also for the Sandia labs for nuclear weapons life extension programs. I think it's $8.5 billion. So, that’s 10 percent more than the state of New Mexico’s entire operating budget. People see those numbers and they go, “New Mexico is benefiting from all this money,” but in fact New Mexico is not benefiting from all this money. There are some who are, and obviously Los Alamos is one of the wealthiest areas of the United States. But the money does not really trickle down to the average citizen in New Mexico. It's kind of a red herring to think that all this money is going to help. It doesn't.

Number two, the labs are already doing other things besides developing and building nuclear arms. They were at work helping with the COVID-19 crisis. They also do work in the medical field and on climate control questions, and if we really do have verifiable, multilateral nuclear disarmament, we're going to need very clean and well-developed technology to do what [President Ronald] Reagan said, trust and verify. That's going to be a huge industry. I don't deny that whenever there's a switch—when the Industrial Revolution came along, or when technology and computers came along—obviously there are going to be instances of people losing a particular job. But in the main, I believe there'll be far more jobs available because of this. Plus, this is going to be a gradual thing. We're not going to unilaterally disarm tomorrow morning. So, I think the job question can definitely be answered clearly and, I think, satisfactorily.

ACT: Is there anybody in the New Mexico congressional delegation who's been particularly supportive?

Wester: Yes. I think Representative Melanie Stansbury has been supportive, and I'm very grateful to her. But our delegation pretty much is backing up the nuclear weapons industry here in New Mexico, and this is going to be a tough nut to crack. But we're going to do our very best to do so because we've got to really make our case with them, and we have to make the case at the grassroots level. We're trying to develop a grassroots here to get our archdiocesan and parish peace and justice commissions to be more conversant on the pastoral letter and on this issue so they can start writing letters. Politicians want to know where the votes are, and if we can show them that we've got the votes, that's going to make a big difference.

ACT: In a June public statement, you asked what the United States was afraid of when it refused to even attend a meeting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Later, you accused nuclear-weapon states of having no intention to honor their pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons. Have you gotten any pushback from federal officials on such comments?

Wester: Not to my knowledge. I know when I came out with my [state capitol speech] a couple years ago, I got pushback from the local paper, the Albuquerque Journal, which is a conservative-biased paper. They refuted my speech, and to their credit, they published a letter to the editor that we wrote back as a counterrefutation. I'm a pretty small voice in this whole question. I don't think people really hear my voice. But maybe if I keep speaking, I'll become annoying enough. It's going to take real leadership to do what we're asking, for the United States to take the lead and work with the other nuclear parties to say, “Look, we've got to do something about this.” In my opinion, we also have to come to an agreement that we will not have any first-strike plans in our nuclear posture review. That alone would be a very important first step.

Right now, everybody's too afraid to make the first move, and I think the United States has to do that. I think President Joe Biden and his administration are handling the Ukraine war tragedy very well and they're trying to tamp down any panic or possibility of miscommunication [prompted by Putin’s nuclear threats]. I think they're doing as best they can, given the circumstances. They've taken real leadership on this, and the way I see the geopolitical landscape right now, I think the United States is the one to make that first step [on nuclear policy as well].

ACT: What did you think of the administration’s new nuclear policy review, which did not include a no-first-use nuclear strike component?

Wester: I'm a neophyte in many ways on this, but from my vantage point, I found the Nuclear Posture Review that came out recently very disappointing. It's going in exactly the wrong directions and not showing the necessary leadership. It’s frustrating that a lot of times, politicians will say things as they go up the ladder, but then when they get to a position where they really can do something, they pull back. They're privy to information I don't have, obviously, but it seems to be quite logical that having these nuclear arms is just untenable and we've got to do something about it and we've got to start taking the first step.

We're not asking President Biden or President Putin or [Chinese] President Xi Jinping to unilaterally disarm. We're asking them to begin. Why can't we go back to those days when we went from, like, 60,000 nuclear weapons down to what we have now, 13,000? That was quite a significant reduction in nuclear armaments. It seems to me that we could take the leadership and start that diplomacy going again. But for some reason, there just does not seem to be the will at those higher levels that you speak of.

ACT: As you mentioned earlier, we are in a different political environment, and there's a real turn, certainly in this country, toward grievance and vitriol. That's a pretty tough environment in which to make policy that breaks the mold.

Wester: You're right, and it's absolutely irresponsible, for example, for the U.S. president to say [as President Donald Trump said to North Korean leader Kim Jung Un], “If you do this, you're going to see more hellfire from heaven than you've ever seen before.” We're just trying to get a political leader to move the needle back to the middle where he will be diplomatic and careful and prudent of what he says.

ACT: Are there any concluding points you want to make?

Wester: There's one thing that really speaks to me, and that is, as I am doing this, I do get the impression that a lot of people look at me and say, “Oh well, archbishop, aren't you a nice man, why don't you just go back to your sacristy and say your prayers and don't stick your nose where it doesn't belong.” I have a feeling that what they're saying to me is, “You're just being naive, you really don't understand what we're dealing with, we're the scientists, we're the politicians, we're the ones who know what we're talking about.” I would say back to them, who really is it that's being naive? If they look at all the years now that we've had nuclear weapons, as I've said earlier, and as McNamara, [President Dwight] Eisenhower, Reagan have said, really, it's only by luck that we haven't destroyed the planet yet.

It's far more naive to think that we can continue the way that we're going, building up our nuclear arms, and to think that luck is going to save the day. To me, that’s the epitome of naiveté. What we need to do is roll up our sleeves and start talking seriously about the danger our planet Earth is in. You talk about climate change; this to me is the number one issue of climate change. You talk about the sanctity of human life; this to me is the number one issue of human life, because these bombs would destroy all of human life and all of any living, sentient beings. So, I'm waiting for the day for somebody to come up and just say it, you know, archbishop, you're a bit naive. Oh? Because I think you're naive.

He knows some think he is naïve but says, “It’s far more naïve to think that we can continue the way that we’re going.”

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

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