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former IAEA Director-General

Interviews

‘We’ve Done Something Quite Significant’ A Conversation With ICAN’s Beatrice Fihn

What’s next for the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons?

December 2017
Interviewed by Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has had an extraordinary year.

At the United Nations, ICAN’s 10-year campaign culminated in the adoption on July 7 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding accord to prohibit such weapons with a goal of their eventual elimination. Then, on October 6, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), answers a question during a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York on October 9, three days after the announcement that the group won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.  (Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)Fihn has led ICAN since 2014. Previously, she headed the disarmament program at the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, where she started as an intern. She studied international relations at Stockholm University and law at the University of London.

ICAN, founded in 2007 to ban nuclear weapons, is a coalition of 468 nongovernmental organizations in 101 countries. In making the award, the Nobel committee said its members are fully aware that an international legal prohibition “will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty.”

Still, the committee said this year’s peace prize is “a call upon these states to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world.” Fihn said she expects ICAN will continue to take a leadership role in working to achieve the treaty’s early entry into force and its eventual success. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations to ICAN for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What was your first reaction to the news?

Just really overwhelmed. There’s a video of me that my colleague took in which I was walking around shaking my hands, hyperventilating. I just felt very strongly that this changes everything for us.

How has the award affected ICAN’s work? It’s been a few months.

It gave us what we have been missing so far in this campaign. That’s media coverage and a recognition outside the diplomatic community that there is a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons, that there are people working on this issue, and that we’ve done something quite significant.

I think it’s catapulted us into the public awareness in a much bigger way than before, which is useful for many things—for us to be able to mobilize people, for putting pressure on governments, and for getting the opportunity to talk about nuclear weapons today in a way that isn’t centered around the North Korea threat only but that also questions nuclear weapons in general no matter who has them.

As you say, this was a pretty significant achievement. The prohibition treaty is one of the few breakthroughs in multilateral nuclear disarmament in many years. How do you see it affecting the global conversation around nuclear weapons in the years to come?

It’s too early to say. Obviously, the humanitarian angle, talking about what would happen if nuclear weapons were used, has stuck. Also, it has put a spotlight on all the states and organizations and people that are complicit in upholding the nuclear weapons structure in the world. We like to think that it’s just nine states, but we plan to expose how many more are participating in activities around nuclear weapons and legitimizing nuclear weapons. Long term, we really want to challenge the kind of behavior that goes against the treaty—use, testing of nuclear weapons, development, possession.

You mentioned the humanitarian dimension. Clearly, that is a key part of this treaty. How do you see the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons being different from the status quo perspective, and why is it important?

Humanitarian concerns are what have driven any kind of real progress on nuclear weapons, starting with the Partial Test Ban Treaty, when atmospheric testing had a huge impact on people. That perspective, what would happen to people if nuclear weapons were used, has always been the motivating factor.

However, a lot of governments have felt comfortable to do whatever they want in the name of state security. We see governments saying that they need to torture people or arrest them without rights for national security reasons. At some point, you have to draw a line on what atrocities governments can commit and claim [as] national security. It’s important to remember that indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians is not a national security interest. That’s what nuclear weapons will do if they’re used, and that’s what governments are threatening to do with the weapons that exist today.

The treaty elicited very strong criticism from nuclear-weapon states. Why is the treaty so controversial? Has any of the criticism given you any pause in your support for the treaty?

The treaty gets a lot of criticism because it challenges the belief that nuclear weapons are for some countries to have until they feel like not having them anymore and it removes control from the nuclear-armed states on how international law governs nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are mainly a political power tool, which means they’re also the most sensitive weapons to norms and opinions. They’re only powerful if people say that they are, so that’s why they’re also very fragile.

Three survivors of the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 pose with their supporters October 6 in Tokyo to congratulate ICAN on being awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Fihn has said the award also honors the elderly hibakusha, who embody the humanitarian aspects of the campaign.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)I think there can be criticism about certain parts of the treaty. For example, I also think that the treaty would be better if nuclear-armed states would sign on to it. I’d love to see that. Most criticism, though, is hiding the fact that the people who make the criticism don’t want nuclear weapons to be prohibited. This criticism comes from the most powerful countries in the world. They’re not easy opponents. There’s been pressure from states to back off. Nuclear-armed states held press conferences about how awful we are and how we’re doing the wrong thing. That has been, of course, tough. Not tough enough to stop us.

Another criticism, one that even the Nobel committee brought up in its statement, is that the treaty will not, in and of itself, eliminate a single weapon.

Well, that’s because the nuclear-armed states are not signing it! It’s in their power. If they wanted to, they could sign this treaty and eliminate their nuclear weapons, and then the treaty would lead to elimination. But I think that’s sort of an unjust benchmark to put this treaty against because the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty doesn’t eliminate any nuclear weapons either. A fissile material cutoff treaty wouldn’t eliminate any nuclear weapons either. But somehow, we’re judged against the benchmark of securing international peace forever.

Turning to the negotiations themselves, there were a lot of women at the forefront of the prohibition treaty effort, including the negotiating conference president and several key heads of delegations. Did you think that the higher percentage of female leadership impacted the negotiations?

It’s difficult to tell. I don’t think that the sex of the negotiators really determines the outcome, but at the same time, I think the gender perspective is a huge influencer. [U.S. President] Donald Trump’s tweets about how diplomacy is useless indicate an extremely macho culture where negotiating and compromising is considered feminine and therefore weaker than bombing and starting wars. Negotiating to find joint solutions to global problems is something that, I think, is feminine coded. Women have been trained to focus more on that.

In many disarmament forums, women are underrepresented and don’t have as many leadership roles. Could the prohibition treaty negotiations, which had more women in leadership, be a model for future negotiations?

Yes, absolutely. If you do include people with different perspectives who are shaped by different norms, I think it definitely can help. The whole humanitarian consequences perspective isn’t about whether to bomb a city but on what happens afterward and who would build up the community again. It’s very often women who have to put everything together later.

I think having that perspective will make space for women much more than the military perspective. It gives a more complete picture of the problem. We’ve also seen in peace negotiations that if you include women, the negotiations go better because it involves the communities who maintain and build up the peace afterward. It’s definitely beneficial for all processes to involve different groups and to make sure to have as many perspectives as possible to get a solution that works for everyone.

Looking ahead, the treaty needs to be ratified by 50 states to enter into force. It currently has three. How does ICAN plan to get at least 47 others? Do you have a target date?

We looked at other weapons treaties, and to hit 50, it took those treaties approximately two years. I would love to see it get 50 ratifications before the end of 2018. I know that’s an ambitious goal. If it takes longer, it takes longer, but I think we should be able to move relatively fast into entry into force.

ICAN was founded to achieve a ban, which has now happened. What’s next for ICAN?

Now we need to work on the implementation. The treaty has always been the tool, not just the goal in itself. First, we need to build a strong norm, and that comes through getting as many countries to sign and ratify this treaty as possible. Also, parallel to that is to challenge behavior that lies outside this new norm.

We’ve been very, very focused on the negotiations. Now, we need to change direction and move toward focusing on the nuclear weapons and the nuclear-armed states. In a way, they’ve gotten away very easily because we’ve just focused on negotiations. But now, we have to look at their arsenals, their decisions, and their actions and campaign against that from the position of the treaty. So, we will find what kind of activities are going on today that are not in line with this treaty and then build campaign opportunities and mobilize people against those activities to stop them, whether or not the country has signed the treaty.

 

Posted: December 1, 2017

Lawrence Weiler: Looking Back at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

NPT at 50


Interviewed by Daryl Kimball and Terry Atlas
October 2017

This interview is also being published in Russian by the Moscow-based Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) in its journal Nuclear Club (Yaderny Klub). As part of a cooperative arrangement, the September issue of Arms Control Today features an interview with Ambassador Roland Timerbaev conducted by CENESS Director Anton Khlopkov. Timerbaev was a key figure in the Soviet delegation to the Nonproliferation Treaty negotiations and subsequently played a part in six NPT review conferences.

Lawrence Weiler was special assistant to the director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and a U.S. negotiator on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and other arms control measures during his government service under six U.S. presidents. As that landmark accord approaches its 50th anniversary next year, Weiler, now 96, recalled its creation and assessed its impact in a June interview with Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball and ACT Editor Terry Atlas.

The NPT established the rules for safeguarded development of civilian nuclear technology and became the bedrock for the intricate structures of nuclear arms control that made it possible for the United States and Russia to sharply reduce their nuclear arsenals. Still, there is debate about whether the NPT has lived up to its promise, particularly in terms of the nuclear-weapon states fulfilling their Article VI commitment to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Many non-nuclear-weapon countries, which pledged under the NPT to forgo nuclear weapons, say the Article VI obligation has not been met by the nuclear powers, one of the factors that fueled their push for the newly completed treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“Most can agree that progress [under the NPT] has been slower than we had hoped and that nuclear weapons still threaten our civilization,” said Weiler. “Progress has been made, though the goal is still in front of us. Keep your fingers crossed and never give up.”

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

 

ACT: Looking back over the past 50 years, has the NPT accomplished what you, as one of the negotiators, envisioned at the time? At the most basic level, what did you hope it might achieve?

Weiler: Well, it’s not just what the treaty accomplished, it’s what the people who signed the treaty and those who followed have accomplished. In my judgment, the treaty is a product of three things: First, the obvious one was a desire to keep the spread of nuclear weapons from happening, which people worried about. Related to that but somewhat separate for the arms controllers was the concern about keeping the number of people that you had to get together to agree on anything from increasing. In other words, to prevent the whole business of arms control from becoming too complicated because there were too many people involved with nuclear capabilities. That’s sort of the architects looking at the building. Those first two they’re related, but they’re separate.

Lawrence Weiler in 2017. (Photo credit: Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)The third one was the awareness of the fact that if you were ever going to get the Russians to talk about controlling strategic weapons, you had to get the Russians to not worry about the future of Germany. Even before, the German issue was central to the Russians. In other words, they weren’t about to talk about [limiting] strategic systems with the United States until the nuclear future of Germany was settled. It was not a coincidence that the date that the NPT was signed was the date that the United States announced that we and the Soviet Union had agreed to discuss strategic weapons. That was the same day. It was not a coincidence.

The third issue you’re talking about is the possibility of a multilateral nuclear force in Europe and whether Germany was going to possess or be allowed to possess such weapons.

Yes, the multilateral nuclear force (MLNF) discussion,1 which was a kooky idea and was so regarded by many in the government. But the government was pursuing it because of the desire of European allies to be somehow part of the nuclear equation. It was clear that the Russians had some hesitations about talking about strategic defensive systems. They were coming around, and [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara had tried to talk with them earlier and didn’t succeed. One critical decision was President Lyndon Johnson’s decision that he was going to kill the MLNF.2

How do you feel the NPT has performed, that is, has it delivered on the promise that you envisioned?

Basically yes, but not completely because we didn’t get every country signed up. I think we knew by the time the negotiations were over that we weren’t going to get India. At least that was my judgment. We didn’t and didn’t get the others that you know about. But you can’t get everything in life, and it seems to me that’s a philosophy that negotiators, that deciders ought to keep in mind. You mustn’t always be satisfied only if you get the perfect outcome. We should be happy that we don’t have 25 or so countries with nuclear weapons, as President John Kennedy talked about. And we began then with Russia the first successful negotiations on strategic arms, the so-called killer weapons.

Right.

That has gone slowly with some mishaps. We didn’t get [multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles] in the first strategic arms limitation agreement, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty part has been nullified. The U.S. decision in the George W. Bush administration to withdraw from the ABM Treaty has had a very serious effect on U.S.-Russian relations. The Obama administration placed a limited interpretation on our ABM-related policy, and what the Trump administration will do remains to be seen.

Can I just add one other thing? The NPT was a great training exercise. It was really the first time that you got a large number of nations involved in actually negotiating a document. That was important because it was an educational thing for a lot of people, including the Americans and the Russians. Oh, one of the things to add to what’s happened since the NPT is that you have the precedent of nuclear-free zones. That’s one consequence of the NPT that should be noted.

Looking back, what, as a negotiator, do you see as some of the shortcomings?

Were there things that the treaty could have done differently? Nothing comes readily to mind. It was an outline of goals, as well as arrangements. I wish we could have done something more on positive and negative assurances, and we tried very hard. There were some informal discussions that came up later in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty negotiations, but they were mostly at the lower level. That’s one thing that, perhaps, I wish could have been developed more.

Why do you think those were not developed more?

Well, the tensions were still high. Neither government was ready then to move on formulations of what they would or would not do and negative and positive assurances. This proposed assurance would adversely affect the Russians, and that proposed alternative would adversely affect the Americans, as it was conceived of at that time. I don’t think that was a major issue particularly. It took some time, but it wasn’t a major issue.

How would you describe the geopolitical situation at the time, and how did that affect the relationships among the negotiators?

Well, it was a time when we were sort of optimistic. The ACDA was created.3 It was a substantial organization. In my judgment, the NPT would not have been negotiated successfully, at least not at that time, if you hadn’t had the ACDA established. The European section of the Department of State at that time—and this was reflected in other parts of the executive branch—was really opposed to taking on the problem and antagonizing our European allies. They knew it would run into the business of the MLNF, and it did antagonize our allies. There was no question about it. It antagonized the Germans. The Germans wanted to use it to bargain in German reunification talks. They also thought it was a threat to NATO.

William Foster, chief U.S. negotiator on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, signs the NPT July 1, 1968, as President Lyndon Johnson (far right) and Lady Bird Johnson (far left) look on. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk is seated next to the president, and a number of ambassadors are seated at the far end of the table, including Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin (fifth from right among those seated).  (Photo Courtesy of Larry Weiler)The ACDA staffed the negotiations, backstopped the negotiations, fought internal battles, and so it was a terrible thing for arms control when they reintegrated the ACDA back into the State Department during the Clinton administration. I wish some form of it were re-established again. That would make prospects for the future much brighter.

How about the relationship with the negotiators when working on the NPT? You had Western countries, the United States, the Soviet Union, Soviet bloc, and representatives of other parts of the world. What were the relationships among negotiators?

It got difficult with some of them. The Indians weren’t particularly happy. The Germans really weren’t happy, and we had extensive negotiations with the Germans in Washington, as well as in Geneva. There was a general concern among the Japanese about whether the inspection arrangements would interfere with their nuclear power development. We were sent on a mission, about six of us, to talk to the Japanese about how any inspection that came out of the treaty would not interfere with their anticipated use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The Russians and the Americans had a problem, and they worked on it. I would say that the Russians and the American delegates got closer together in a personal sense. In one case, an American and a Russian on a Sunday fixed up a box of edibles and some drinks and took a sailboat out on Lake Geneva. They stopped on the shore and had a picnic, the two of them, and worked out one of the problems. Each one of them sent the outcome to his government as the other guy’s proposal, and it was approved. Now that’s not necessarily something I advocate, but it developed a much better working relationship by going through that experience. We had a lot of people involved. We had two different delegations. There were no recesses, other than going to the UN General Assembly. One group went, and then they came back, and the other group went.

You’re describing one key turning point that involved U.S.-Soviet negotiators working closely together. What would you say were one or two of the other key turning points during the NPT negotiations?

Well, the first is the question of prohibiting transfer, that was dealing with the Russian concern about our transferring to the Germans or, as the Russians insisted, no transfer to anyone whatsoever. The word “whatsoever” or “howsoever,” which I had never seen in a legal document before. That related to the MLNF type of thing, and related to that was also the Russian concern about our forward base systems. I know that Butch Fisher [of ACDA] and I took a trip around parts of Europe to look at our installations to see that the treaty that resulted didn’t interfere with them and that we still retained control.

I’m not sure of this, but I think the Russians were a bit pleased to learn of the PAL system that McNamara put in—permissive action links so that the deployed American nuclear weapons on allied aircraft could not be armed without a signal from a distant place. That whole business, which is related to the nontransfer, bothered the Russians. I remember arguing privately with them that we’re not going to destroy NATO in order to get this agreement, so let’s don’t argue. Let’s get on with the negotiation.

One of the key pillars of the treaty is the peaceful uses provision, Article IV, which was not part of the initial U.S. and Soviet drafts back in 1965 or so. The draft introduced at the Conference on Disarmament, or the ENDC [Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament] as it was called in 1967, included an article on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which was based on proposals from non-nuclear states. How did that factor into the negotiation?

Well, we didn’t have it in the first draft. I’m not absolutely sure why it wasn’t there, except that you don’t like to do things that complicate a negotiation and the negotiation was aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear capability. It became very clear that you had to deal with the consequences of preventing that spread and, that is, you had to deal with the restrictions, if any, on the non-nuclear parties. We were fortunate to have the International Atomic Energy Agency already in existence. As a negotiator, sometimes you get lucky. Certainly, it was clear to me and it was clear to most of us when we got started that you’re going to have to deal with that issue. It turned out to be a very difficult provision because the Europeans wanted to have the Euratom inspection arrangement take care of it. They felt that Euratom was the first step on the way toward reunification of Europe and this would interfere. We didn’t anticipate that when we hit that argument.

We knew there were going to be problems, and there were problems. In the final draft, that was one left to be worked out later, which they did, subsequently. That turned out to the longest one, I think, in many ways to be settled but was essential for the treaty. It became very clear that without settling that, you wouldn’t have a treaty. There was a feeling that was palpable in the room in Geneva. The countries that did not have nuclear weapons did not want this negotiation to be a negotiation deciding who are the haves and the have-not nations. This was bigger than nuclear weapons. They didn’t want this to be some arbitrary fundamental decision separating the different parties of the world—part psychological, part economic. I don’t think you would have ever had the treaty without it.

Tell me about one of those have/have-not issues, which is addressed by Article VI. That provision calls on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ending the arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general complete disarmament. How did the negotiation of that provision factor into the dynamics that you’re describing?

Everyone had thought that, at some point, there would be a treaty setting the goals, and [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev had made popular the “general disarmament” phrasing. When Khrushchev came in [during 1953], Soviet policy changed. The May 10, 1955, Soviet proposal was the first serious Soviet arms control proposal, and it was looked upon at the time as something like the sunrise coming up. I remember the time when he came out for “general and complete disarmament,” the phrase we’re talking about. He was talking about the dangers of the arms race.      

Do you think at the time that this language was significant and a commitment? Was it so vague, with no deadline, as to be essentially meaningless or at least not a real obligation?

No, I thought about it. That was the easiest way to express a future goal. I always have reservations about the general disarmament in defense including general conventional disarmament, but it was accepted. It’s not a simple statement. There are aspects to that phrase, and that phrase was carefully constructed.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart signs the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at Lancaster House, London, on July 1, 1968, watched by the Soviet Ambassador (left) and the US Ambassador (right).(Photo credit: Jim Gray/Keystone/Getty Images)“To pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to…”—that’s a little squidgy room there, you see? In other words, as negotiated it said, “You’re going to work towards that.” Now, that’s because there were some general reservations about how committed you should be at this stage. It’s got not just the nuclear bit, but it’s also got this general disarmament in it. There were various factors that worked into that. I hate to say we gave ourselves some squidgy room there, but it was more complicated than a blanket statement that “we will get general and complete disarmament.” My own view at the time was that you shouldn’t worry too much about the ultimate end. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. By the way, for those seeking the end of the road in negotiations, have they ever heard of the “Gromyko proposal”?4

The U.S. negotiating team and the U.S. government at the time, what were you all thinking were the steps that would lead in that direction? I mean, what did you all have in mind about what would fulfill that obligation?

Well, we had in mind the next big step. It was to discuss the killer weapons with the Russians. You must remember, we’d been at this for a long, long time, and nothing had ever happened until the Kennedy administration. Then you had three agreements. You had the Hotline Agreement. That was a big thing. It wasn’t an arms control thing, but it was very important, assuring communications, sort of recognition of the sensitivity of the world in terms of nuclear weapons. Then Partial Test Ban Treaty. Also the UN Outer Space resolution.

Fissile material production cutoff.

No, we never did get to the cutoff.

I’m saying at the time was that one of the things that was being discussed.

Oh yes, yes. The next big step would be negotiating with the Russians about missiles and long-range bombers. The possibility was coming up because two things happened. Satellites gave us target data, but they also gave us national technical means of verification, the opportunity to have verification without intrusion in some ways.

Let’s fast forward 25 years from 1968 to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. You all as negotiators, in your infinite wisdom, determined that the treaty shall last 25 years and that there shall be a review conference concerning a possible extension.

It was not in our infinite wisdom. It was the final concession we made in order to get a treaty. 

Okay, looking back on the conference and the decisions that led to the indefinite extension decision, what is your view about whether the commitments that were made then have been faithfully carried out?

That’s a hard question because progress is hard, particularly in this area. You don’t have two people sitting down trying to draft a paper. You have many countries, you have changes in leadership in the countries. You have changes in the structure of the world. Now this can be looked on as excuses, but I wish we had made much more progress. I think most American leaders wish we had made more progress.

Just to follow up, do the non-nuclear-weapon states have reason to be disappointed or disillusioned with the NPT and the deal that they have committed to under the treaty?

Yeah. They have reason to be disappointed in the fact that more progress hasn’t been made, but that’s not a function of any deficiencies in the treaty. It’s not as much progress as the treaty commitment called for, as they see it. The effort has been made and hasn’t been as successful as one would have hoped, as American governments would have hoped. I think that the members of the NPT ought to take into account that while we haven’t done things in the exact order that they might have constructed, it’s constructing a path to nuclear disarmament.

Things are happening and have happened that are progress toward that goal. Number one, we’ve learned how to negotiate. We’ve gone through the process. We developed a cadre of people who were capable of doing that. The NPT now has a multitude of supporting institutions. Then you’ve got, for all practical purposes, a global nuclear test ban with one exception, and you’ve got a fissile material production cutoff with one or two exceptions. We’ve had a massive reduction in the total number of nuclear weapons on both sides. It’s incredible that we managed to come down to the current levels, which are still high but it’s a little hill compared to a mountain top where we were. If you think about it, we have covered much of what was usually in the first state of old three-stage disarmament plans. In practical terms, U.S.-Russia strategic-weapon treaty levels will hold under New START until 2021. The immediate issue is the conflict with North Korea, that will determine the direction for the future.

What do we need to do over the next many years to make sure that the NPT regime remains viable?

The treaty, in part, is a disarmament measure, a restriction. It’s important that the restriction be maintained. It’s also presumably a definition of the obligations. There, I can’t think of anything that can be done with the treaty. The main concern should not be about the “viability” of the treaty. I think that changes the whole nature of the discussion. It’s how much progress has been made toward a promise that was made—not as much progress as many advocated but probably more progress than some skeptics anticipated. We now really need to look at cyberwarfare.

Why?

Well, the more nuclear weapons you get around, the more options you have for mistakes being made, more options you have for them being stolen. The more weapons, the more accidents will happen. One bit of the great progress that’s been made is that we haven’t had a nuclear war, for God’s sake.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the United Nations April 27, 2015 in New York. The parties failed to reach a consensus agreement on a substantive final declaration as a result of disagreements, including over establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The next formal review conferences is planned for 2020.(Photo credit: Timothy A. Clary /AFP/Getty Images)The world is changing. People talk to each other as human beings. At the time of the NPT negotiations, it was an occasion when senior Soviet, American, and Chinese officials got together. Today, they meet all the time. The subject may not be exclusively nuclear weapons, but they’re meeting as human beings. They’re getting to know each other. Remember, one of the objectives of the NPT was to keep things from getting worse and to provide for people to be able to get together. But I’m disappointed that we haven’t done more.

One of the things that’s about to happen is the conclusion of negotiations on a convention to prohibit nuclear weapons. I want to ask for your reflections on the potential impact of that treaty on the broader nuclear nonproliferation risk reduction and disarmament effort.

I’m not sure what consequences it will have. I think it’s going to irritate the leaders of all the nuclear countries. I’m not sure that it might not end up being of benefit, however. I think one of the things that needs to be looked at is the whole issue of nuclear use, that is, the issue of no first use. The idea would be that if you had a worldwide treaty that all the leaders would sign, then anyone who ever ordered the initiation of nuclear weapons use would automatically be considered an international outlaw. Just have it as part of a treaty so this becomes an accepted part of international thinking.


 

Endnotes

1.  The Kennedy administration explored with NATO allies the idea of a multilateral nuclear force, under which U.S. nuclear missiles would be placed on submarines or surface ships manned by NATO crews. The concept was to provide a more credible deterrent against Soviet attack in Europe and, by giving NATO allies some control over nuclear weapons, reduce the likelihood that other countries, particularly West Germany, would seek a nuclear weapons capability of their own. See Steven Pifer et al., “U.S. Nuclear and Extended Deterrence: Considerations and Challenges,” Brookings Arms Control Series, No. 3 (May 2010), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06_nuclear_deterrence.pdf.

2. The multilateral nuclear force died for several reasons, including its inability to add to extended deterrence measures and the threat that it would violate the requirement for a centrally controllable, unified strategic nuclear arsenal. Further, U.S. officials anticipated that the European allies would not support such a plan once they realized the United States would retain its veto over launch and that NATO nations would be expected to share the costs of maintaining the multilateral nuclear force. See David N. Schwartz, NATO’s Nuclear Dilemmas (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1983), pp. 94–95.

3. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) was created in 1961 under President John Kennedy and charged with “formulating, advocating, negotiating, implementing and verifying effective arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament policies, strategies, and agreements.” In 1999 it was merged into the State Department. For a history of the ACDA, see John Holum, “Looking Back: Arms Control Reorganization, Then and Now,” Arms Control Today, June 2005.

4. In the 1960s, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko proposed a plan under which the United States and Soviet Union would eliminate most nuclear-weapon delivery systems, retaining only a “limited” number to provide a “nuclear umbrella” deterrent until the completion of disarmament. For more, “U.S. Bars Talks on Moscow Plan,” The New York Times, June 17, 1964.

Posted: October 1, 2017

Roland Timerbaev: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Has Largely Achieved Its Goals

The NPT at 50


Interviewed by Anton V. Khlopkov
September 2017 

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will be 50 years old next year, has proven to be the “cornerstone of the global nuclear order,” says retired diplomat Roland Timerbaev, who played a key role in the treaty negotiations as a member of the Soviet delegation.

The durable multilateral accord, the result of U.S.-Soviet cooperation during the Cold War years, has prevented what many at the time feared would be the rapid spread of nuclear weapons to many more countries, he said in an interview. It was the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that, he says, shifted the thinking of leaders in Moscow and Washington about the urgency of nuclear arms control, including steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. “Humankind was faced with a crisis that could end in a global catastrophe,” he recalls. “It is after that crisis the negotiations on the nuclear weapons problem began in earnest.”

To strengthen the global nonproliferation regime in the years ahead, Timerbaev calls for extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), with further numerical reductions from the current ceilings in the treaty, and for active engagement of China into the ­dialogue on key nuclear issues.

Roland Timerbaev in 2012 (Photo credit: Center for Energy and Security Studies)

In addition to his role in the original NPT negotiations, Timerbaev, who turns 90 this month, participated in six NPT review conferences. He was a member of the Soviet/Russian diplomatic service for 43 years, with his final posting as permanent representative of the Soviet Union/Russia to international organizations in Vienna from 1988 to 1992. He also participated in negotiations on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the 1973 Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, the 1974 Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests, and the 1976 Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty.

This interview, translated from Russian and edited for clarity, was conducted by Anton V. Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS), a nongovernmental research group based in Moscow. Anastasia (Asya) Shavrova assisted in this project.

An interview with former U.S. NPT negotiator Lawrence Weiler is available online and will run in a subsequent issue of Arms Control Today, as well as in Russian in the CENESS journal Yaderny Klub (Nuclear Club). The two interviews, the result of a cooperative effort by CENESS and ACT, were conducted to collect an oral history of the NPT as it approaches its 50th anniversary.
 

Ambassador Timerbaev, what did you believe were the main goals of the NPT? Fifty years on, do you think those goals have been achieved?

Timerbaev: The main goal of the treaty is stated in its name: it is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. On the whole, that goal has been achieved. When the NPT was opened for signature [on July 1, 1968], Soviet and U.S. specialists thought that 20 to 25 new states could acquire nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. Such a scenario has been averted largely thanks to the NPT. As you know, only eight countries currently possess such weapons [the five official nuclear-weapon states plus India, Israel, and Pakistan]. North Korea has also declared itself a nuclear power.

In this context, it would be useful to recall several historical events. First, South Africa has voluntarily relinquished its nuclear arsenal, as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Second, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine attempted to claim nuclear power status because a large part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal was located on Ukrainian territory. It took a lot of effort to persuade Kiev to relinquish its nuclear ambitions, return all nuclear warheads to Russia, and join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state. The third case I would like to cite is Iran. On the basis of a deal adopted in 2015, Iran has undertaken to limit the scale and scope of its nuclear program. At the same time, Iranian scientists continue their nuclear research in accordance with the right of every NPT member to peaceful use of nuclear energy, as stipulated in Article IV of the NPT.

The NPT’s Article VI sets the objective of launching the process of nuclear disarmament. The nuclear-weapon states have undertaken a commitment to that effect by joining the NPT. According to the latest assessments, over the past 25 years the combined nuclear arsenals of the nuclear-weapon states, mainly Russia and the United States, have been reduced by a factor of five or six compared to the peak Cold War levels. However, the situation with Article VI is not free of contention. I believe that the topic of nuclear disarmament is extremely important in the context of discussing the future of the NPT and the entire global nuclear order, so I would like to return to it later on.

Certain vulnerabilities of the NPT have come to light over the almost five decades since its opening for signature, I mean, first and foremost, the withdrawal of [North Korea] from the treaty. I visited Pyongyang in the early 1980s to persuade the North Korean diplomats of the need for their country to join the NPT. In 1985, North Korea joined the treaty, but 18 years later it announced its final withdrawal. It then stepped up its nuclear program and has since conducted five nuclear tests.

Have you identified any other vulnerabilities of the NPT? What is the nature of those vulnerabilities? Are they inherent to the nature of the treaty itself, which was drawn up in the geopolitical circumstances that existed at the time, or do they manifest only in the absence of political will to force certain states to abide strictly by their NPT commitments?

I would say there are two other vulnerabilities, both lying within the text of the treaty itself. Early efforts to draft the NPT began in New York in 1966 in a bilateral format between the Soviet Union and the United States. At the time, the Committee of Disarmament, or the Eighteen-Nation Committee [on Disarmament] as it was known at the time, was not involved in [the] negotiations process in any form. In New York, we managed to agree on the wording of Articles I and II. But we never planned to incorporate Articles IV and VI in their current shape into the treaty, and I believe these two articles to be the weakest of all.

Under Article VI, states are obliged to pursue disarmament negotiations “in good faith.” The initial draft of that article was proposed by Egypt, or rather by the entity then known as the United Arab Republic. Later on, other non-nuclear-weapon states joined in. There was another draft introduced by Mexico, listing practical measures that were not limited to disarmament. It was proposed, for example, to include [a] nuclear test ban and prohibition of the production of nuclear materials in the scope of the treaty. Using the Mexican draft as a starting point, the Soviet Union and the United States then presented an alternative version of Article VI. There were people in Moscow, such as Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and his first deputy, Vasily Kuznetsov, who argued that at least some of the practical measures proposed by the non-nuclear-weapon states should be added in the final text of the NPT. But the United States, namely U.S. Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg, insisted that these details should be left out of Article VI, and eventually they prevailed.

Starting from the 1960s, a series of bilateral and multilateral documents that had to do with nuclear disarmament and nuclear threat reduction were signed. They were aimed, one way or another, at facilitating the implementation of Article VI. Of course, there were also several pauses in that process, but up until 2010, negotiations were fairly regular, and a lot of work had been done on reducing nuclear arsenals. But seven years ago, that process ground to a halt. It is quite telling that, during the latest meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents at the [Group of Twenty] summit on July 7, 2017, these issues were not even discussed, to the best of my knowledge. Regular dialogue between our two countries on nuclear disarmament issues should be resumed, and other nuclear-weapon states should also become involved. The current state of affairs and the discussions on the nuclear disarmament issue have, in many ways, become hostage to the wording used in Article VI.

Article IV, the one on peaceful use of nuclear energy, was one of the key incentives for signing the NPT for many non-nuclear-weapon states. Its main shortcoming is that it does not say exactly how parties to the treaty should facilitate peaceful use of nuclear energy in other counties. So the question is, What is meant by “facilitate”? Take, for example, exports of uranium-enrichment equipment, including gas centrifuges. Should such equipment be supplied to non-nuclear-weapon states? Since Article IV is not specific in that regard, there are different interpretations of its text, especially since drawing a clear distinction between peaceful and military use of nuclear technologies is an impossible task.

Incidentally, recently declassified British archives contain documents showing that, during the NPT negotiations, the British tried to get the U.S. delegation to raise the enrichment issue. In particular, they argued that it would be very dangerous to leave a window of opportunity for supplying such equipment, and they wanted this to be somehow reflected in the treaty. But the U.S. delegation was confident at the time that the non-nuclear-weapon states would never manage to develop such an advanced technology, so they decided not to complicate the negotiations by this additional matter. Frankly, I am not at all sure how the Soviet delegation would react if the British or the Americans were to approach us with the proposal to include a clause in the NPT to the effect that assistance to third countries can be provided only in “nonsensitive” areas.

Speaking of the current situation in the nuclear industry, we cannot ignore the fact that global attitudes [toward] nuclear power are changing. The latest example is France, where nuclear power accounts for over 70 percent of all electricity generation. The French are gradually beginning to reduce the share of nuclear in their energy mix. They are aiming for 50 percent. Germany is going to abandon nuclear energy completely in the coming years; it will keep only several nuclear research facilities to continue the production of medical isotopes. Other countries may well follow suit. That is another factor that will affect the global nuclear order in the longer term. 

Was the signing of the NPT inevitable? What prompted the beginning of the NPT talks in earnest?

I think that the change of attitude [toward] nuclear weapons and the idea of signing the NPT had much to do with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Up until that moment, the only senior politician who had raised the nuclear nonproliferation issue on the international stage was the then-foreign minister of Ireland, Frank Aiken. In 1958, four years before the Cuban missile crisis, he introduced a draft resolution to that effect at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly.1 On the whole, the initiative earned some support, but no practical steps were taken to implement it. Incidentally, Minister Aiken later visited Moscow in 1968 for the NPT signing ceremony.

But the 1962 crisis was the trigger that prompted a widespread change with regard to this issue. Humankind was faced with a crisis that could end in a global catastrophe. It is after that crisis the negotiations on the nuclear weapons problem began in earnest. In the summer of 1963, a few months after the Cuban missile crisis was resolved, U.S. President John Kennedy gave a speech in which he outlined [the] importance of Moscow and Washington working together to prevent “the further spread of nuclear arms.”2 Fairly quickly, in about a month’s time, [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet government gave their own backing to the idea; and in another four or six weeks, on August 5, 1963, the parties signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Then came the turn for the NPT.

A change of attitude [toward] nuclear weapons also manifested itself in NATO’s cancellation of its earlier plans to create a nuclear-armed multilateral force (MLNF) and the Atlantic Nuclear Force (ANF).3 The alliance came to realize that such a plan did not sit well with the state of international relations at the time.4 

What do you think was the point of no return during the talks, the event after which the signing of the treaty became just a matter of time?

I think that point came when the United States and the Soviet Union reached an agreement in New York in 1966 on Articles I and II. These articles were the constants around which the entire architecture of the treaty revolved. They became part of the NPT in their original form agreed in New York. 

President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the Oval Office on October 13, 1966 with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko (center), National Security Advisor Walt Rostow, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, and U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson. (Photo credit: Central Press/Stringer/Getty Images)You have already mentioned that the NPT talks began in a bilateral Soviet-U.S. format. Who do you think played the key role in Moscow and Washington in making the treaty happen?

I believe they were, first and foremost, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko. I once found in Johnson’s archives his correspondence with his aides who were in charge of the NPT talks at the White House. I was amazed at how closely and personally involved the U.S. president was in the details of the talks and by the degree of consensus on this issue among the key White House staff. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk opposed the NPT, but Johnson had his way in the end.

Meanwhile, Gromyko did his best to persuade the Politburo. The negotiating process was happening simultaneously with the NATO initiatives on establishing the MLNF and ANF. NATO had also established the so-called Nuclear Planning Committee (the McNamara Committee). The Soviet Foreign Ministry and the minister himself therefore had to work very hard to secure Soviet interagency support for the NPT.

Incidentally, the body responsible for making NATO nuclear policy decisions, which is now called the Nuclear Planning Group, de facto continues to exist. This gives a pretext to some politicians and officials to interpret the NPT in a way that allows bloc participation in nuclear issues. That is a mistaken interpretation. Joint nuclear missions by NATO members, or “nuclear sharing,” are prohibited by the treaty. 

Looking back at the 50-year history of the treaty, how resilient has it been in various nuclear nonproliferation
crises?

The NPT is the cornerstone of the global nuclear order. The examples of South Africa and Iran demonstrate that the treaty can successfully overcome various crises. At the beginning of our conversation, I mentioned that the settlement of those particular crises was achieved on the basis of the principles and provisions of the NPT. I hope this will continue to be the case in the future.

Considering the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and the agreements that enabled an indefinite extension of the treaty, do you believe those agreements have been fulfilled? What issues do you think could be the source of new NPT crises in the foreseeable future?

To answer this question, one cannot avoid the Middle East issue. I think it was a great error for the United States to allow Israel to become an unofficial nuclear-weapon state. U.S. President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had a one-on-one conversation in September 1969. There was virtually no one else in the room, so the meeting notes were taken by Nixon himself. These notes will probably never be made available to the general public. But as I understand it, the gist of the conversation was that the Americans agreed to Israel developing its own nuclear weapons on [the] condition that Tel Aviv would always officially deny its possession of such weapons in the international arena. In the end, that is exactly how it happened. Apparently, the Americans would not have been able to secure a ratification of the NPT if they had not agreed to this. The situation with the Israeli nuclear arsenal hinders nonproliferation progress in the Middle East. It also remains the most problematic issue in terms of the decisions taken by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference; no progress has been made at all on that front.

Another ongoing crisis in terms of the NPT is the North Korean situation. It cannot be ruled out that the Iranian problem will come back a few years down the line. How events unfold in each case will depend on the political situation in the respective countries, in the wider region, and in the international arena in general. 

What do you think the NPT states-parties must do to make sure that the NPT remains a ­viable and effective part of the international security architecture for another 50 years?

I believe the time has come to think in earnest about a new format [for] the dialogue on key nuclear issues. The previous bilateral Russian-U.S. format no longer reflects the international reality. China must become actively engaged in this process, and I am not just talking about disarmament. China needs to play a more active role in order to reinforce positive NPT-related trends. As a first step, I believe, it would make sense to hold a high-level trilateral meeting on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament between Russia, the United States, and China.

I am well aware that, in current political circumstances, such a meeting is unlikely. But when the so-called window of opportunity opens—and I’m sure that sooner or later it will—such a meeting should be held and used as an opportunity to propose several initiatives. First, New START should be extended for another five years; the parties should also discuss further numerical reductions from the ceilings already agreed in that treaty. The scale of these new reductions to be agreed as part of the New START extension can be symbolic. Demonstrating progress in the right direction is more important than the new ceilings themselves. Second, China should make a statement to the effect that it will not further increase its existing nuclear capability. Third, the parties could formulate their stance on the nuclear weapons ban treaty [and] jointly come up with a statement so that it could be mentioned in a positive light. That would help to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime as a whole and the NPT in particular.

What role do you see the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons playing in the global system of nuclear ­governance?

If all states were to join this treaty, including all those who possess nuclear weapons, then it would supersede the entire existing system of nuclear relations. So, eventually, the new treaty would also supersede the NPT. In essence, it would signal the arrival of a new global nuclear order. However, we will be able to reach that point only when all states without exception have fulfilled their commitments under the NPT because disarmament issues cannot be discussed in isolation from all the other clauses of the NPT. The time of the ban treaty has not yet arrived, but we should think about how to make progress in that direction.


Endnotes

1. On October 31, 1958, at the meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, Ireland introduced a draft resolution on creating a special committee to study the dangers posed by further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The resolution was not passed at that meeting, but in 1959 a resolution was passed on establishing the Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament.

2. U.S. President John Kennedy gave the so-called Peace Speech at American University in Washington, D.C., on June 10, 1963.

3. The Kennedy administration explored with NATO allies the idea of a multilateral nuclear force, under which U.S. nuclear missiles would be placed on submarines or surface ships manned by NATO crews. The concept was to provide a more credible deterrent against Soviet attack in Europe and, by giving NATO allies some control over nuclear weapons, reduce the likelihood that other countries, particularly West Germany, would seek a nuclear weapons capability of their own. See Steven Pifer et al., “U.S. Nuclear and Extended Deterrence: Considerations and Challenges,” Brookings Arms Control Series, No. 3 (May 2010), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06_nuclear_deterrence.pdf.

4. The multilateral nuclear force proposal died for several reasons, including its inability to add to extended deterrence measures and the possibility that it would violate the requirement for a centrally controllable, unified strategic nuclear arsenal. Further, U.S. officials anticipated that European allies would not support such a plan once they realized the United States would retain its veto over launch and that NATO nations would be expected to share the costs of maintaining the force. See David N. Schwartz, NATO’s Nuclear Dilemmas (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1983), pp. 94–95.

 

Posted: September 1, 2017

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policies: A Conversation with Michèle Flournoy

Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. The interview was conducted May 25 by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


July/August 2017
Interviewed by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis

Michèle Flournoy (Photo credit: Erin Scott/Erin Scott Photography)Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. The interview was conducted May 25 by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

ACT: The Defense Department announced in April that the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) had commenced. Each president since the end of the Cold War has undertaken such a review. President Donald Trump has declared his ambition to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, and he has also criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. Do you think the NPR is likely to set in motion significant changes in U.S. policy or is likely to reflect more continuity than change?

Flournoy: I don’t think we know yet. What we can say is that some of the president’s early statements on these issues are not based in any deep policy review or any in-depth briefings he’s received. He hasn’t really focused on this set of issues yet as far as I know. I think we’ve also learned in other areas that as he dives into an issue, he can evolve his position, he can learn and refine his views. So, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on some of his initial statements or first gut reactions to topics as they have come up.

That said, I do think this NPR will be very consequential because it’s coming at a time when we face major decisions about how much and how to reinvest in the nuclear triad. So many systems are up for modernization. Do we modernize everything that we have, which is essen­tially the current plan, or do we use the opportunity of the NPR to ask some more fundamental questions about what we need for deterrence in the future? I think this NPR has the potential to be very consequential.

On arms control, the administration will need to decide, along with Russia, whether to extend New START and its monitoring regime for five years beyond its February 2021 expiration date as allowed by the treaty, to negotiate some kind of follow-on agreement, or to go forward without legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. What would be the consequences if the United States withdraws from New START or did not seek to extend it? How do you think the administrations should seek to engage Russia on arms control?

If we withdrew or failed to extend New START, it would be an unforced error on our part. An easy win is to pursue an extension of the treaty as is. It buys us predictability. It buys us transparency and verification measures. It buys us a lot that contributes to stability at a time when the other dimensions of the relationship with Russia are both in flux and under tremendous scrutiny. It’s probably unrealistic to expect, based on what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has said and what Russia is actually doing, that we can negotiate a new arms control framework anytime soon. I think politically that would be a tough thing on our side until we get to the bottom of questions like Russia’s role in our elections and in campaigns to undermine other Western democracies. My view is that we should pursue an extension to buy some time and to buy some stability and then see what’s possible in the future.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy testifies with General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing April 2, 2009. (Photo Credit: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)Shifting to another arms control agreement, the United States has accused Russia of deploying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Do you think it’s possible to convince Russia to return to compliance, and how should the United States respond to Russia’s alleged violation?

It’s pretty clear that they are violating the treaty. I think we should respond in a multidimensional way. First, press them through diplomatic channels to come back into compliance. I think this could be a multilateral diplomatic effort to put some pressure on Russia to come clean. There’s been some precedent for this. Back in the day when we believed that the Krasnoyarsk radar was violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, they denied it, they denied it, they denied it for years; and then finally, as the political context changed, they eventually admitted it and stopped the construction. We have some track record of Russia coming back into compliance. Do I think that’s likely anytime soon on the INF Treaty? No. But the last thing we should do is say we’re going to walk away from the treaty because then the failure of the treaty regime would be on us and not them.

The second key dimension of this is that we need to do a clear-eyed analysis of the military relevance of this new system and what are the ways that we can counter it. I think people are too quick to jump to a symmetric response: “Oh, well this means we need to redeploy U.S. nuclear intermediate-range missiles in Europe.” Well, not necessarily. Let’s take a look at how significant these systems are. What is the full range of countermeasures that we might adopt? I suspect there are a range of conventional countermeasures and other asymmetric approaches that might be used to make this militarily not a huge problem for us.

According to some estimates, the United States is on track to spend more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years to sustain, replace, and refurbish nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and supporting infrastructure. Numerous Pentagon officials in recent years, as well as outside experts, have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach. Are tough trade-offs going to have to be made in the military budget to accommodate the current modernization plans? Do you think there are options to potentially alter the pace and scope that would be more cost effective while still providing a strong deterrent?

While we need to invest in ensuring we maintain a strong, stable, effective nuclear deterrent, we also have to make sure that it’s one that we can afford and sustain. If you look at the full range of challenges we’re going to face in the future and the need to modernize other aspects of our military, there’s a lot of competition for a limited amount of dollars—limited even under the increases that are being projected by this administration. So, trade-offs do have to be made. I think that rather than automatically modernizing every single nuclear program on the books, we should use the NPR as an opportunity to say, “Can we get to a stronger, more enduring, more sustainable nuclear deterrent with a different mix of systems and capabilities?” I do think we need to debate that in looking at the broad architecture of the triad, but also looking at specific systems and what is the most cost-effective approach to creating a more modern set of capabilities.

(Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The NPR will almost certainly review the existing U.S. nuclear force structure, which currently includes a triad of sea-, land-, and air-based delivery systems. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2015, James Mattis, now the defense secretary, raised the question, “Is it time to reduce the triad to a dyad, removing the land-based missiles? This would reduce the false-alarm danger.” What contribution do you believe that intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) make to deterrence today? Has the rationale for the ICBM leg changed since the end of the Cold War?

In the middle of the Cold War when the risk of a bolt-from-the-blue strike was real or we believed it to be real, I think the ICBM leg was pretty critical to deterrence. In the world we live in now and given the advance of other technologies, I think that it’s a question as to (a) whether we need an ICBM leg and (b) if we do need some ICBM leg, how big does it really have to be to serve the purpose. I think that is one of the fundamental questions that the NPR should take on, whether we should move to a dyad and, even if you believe we should stay at a triad, can the balance change. I think everybody agrees that the most survivable leg, where we have the most competitive advantage, is the submarine leg. The bomber force, we’re going to get for both conventional and nuclear purposes.

From a triad perspective, the focus is going to really be on the future of the ICBMs, what’s strategically necessary and what’s most cost effective. In particular, I think the Defense Department should more seriously consider further extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBMs as a cheaper near-term alternative to the current plan to build an entirely new ICBM system.

Moving to the bomber leg, Mattis at his confirmation hearing declined to affirm the need for a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), stating that he’d have to study the rationale in more detail. Critics argue that retaining nuclear-armed ALCMs is redundant given current plans to build the stealthy, nuclear-capable B21 “Raider” long-range bomber, armed with the upgraded B61 nuclear gravity bomb, as well as to modernize the other two legs of the triad. There is also the growing lethality of conventionally armed air- and sea-launched cruise missiles. In your view, do ALCMs make a unique contribution to the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

This is one where, honestly, I am studying the issue because I haven’t made up my mind. I think if the B21 is everything we hope it will be, you may not need this. But if adversary anti-access, area-denial capabilities, particularly sophisticated air defenses, continue to progress—and perhaps there are issues with the ability of our current and future bombers to penetrate those defenses—you might want a cruise missile in your arsenal. That’s not so much from a war-fighting perspective but more from the perspective of an assured ability to hold targets at risk and therefore deter your adversary.

Do you have any indication from your time in government or since that there are questions about whether our submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) or our ICBMs would be able to reach even the most well-defended targets?

No, no, so you do have the options from ICBMs and SLBMs as well. As I said, I’m working my way through this, but I don’t have a definitive answer.

The Trump administration’s NPR may also reconsider the declaration in the 2010 NPR Report that life extension programs for nuclear warheads “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” Is there a military requirement for new or, in particular, low-yield warheads that don’t currently exist in the U.S. nuclear stockpile?

I think you have to add to that question, is that unique requirement worth all that that would mean in terms of starting to design, test, build, and deploy new nuclear weapons? Let’s put it this way, I have yet to hear a case for a new nuclear warhead that is compelling enough to take on both the investment costs and the political costs of going down that road.

As you also know, nuclear weapons figured very prominently in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Many Americans relearned or learned for the first time that the president alone has the ability to launch, particularly ICBMs and SLBMs, within minutes of a decision to do so and that the military retains and exercises the ability to launch ICBMs under attack. In your view, does vesting the power to use nuclear weapons in the hands of one person still make sense? Are there steps that you believe could be taken to reform current U.S. nuclear launch protocols?

With the current construct, the potential for your ICBMs to be under attack or taken out within minutes creates enormous time pressure in the decision-making process if you’re going to launch under attack. As a practical matter, it means that the president has to make a decision with very little information and very little time. He has advisers on the call with him to help. But it is, having gone through the rehearsals for these things, a very compressed timeline for a very momentous decision. I would like to see measures taken to increase the decision-making time. This has been part of what has motivated people like Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, George Shultz, and others to question whether we need to keep launch under attack as a practice. This is part of what their concern has been, along with the risk of accident or miscalculation.

I’m not ready to completely rewrite the decision-making structure of our government on this question, but I do think there’s real value to increasing the decision-making time because, by definition, you’re going to have more knowledgeable experts able to advise the president meaningfully if you give him more time in that circumstance.

Michèle Flournoy stands with other senior members of President Barack Obama’s national security team as he speaks about Afghanistan in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 27, 2009. (Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Can you envision a scenario where a president of the United States would make the most consequential decision a president will have ever made in a matter of minutes?

It’s hard to imagine. When I think of the presidents I’ve worked for, like Barack Obama, it would be hard for such a deliberative, careful, decision-maker to make that kind of decision absent being 1,000 percent sure that we were actually under attack and a nuclear explosion was going to happen on U.S. soil. The whole launch-under-attack scenario assumes a president is willing to make that decision in the absence of certainty. I think that’s an open question in some cases. Would Trump make that decision? Maybe. We don’t know. Let’s hope we never find out. But I think we are failing the president, any president, at some level to put them in that position. There have to be better ways to provide more time to verify information and make a fully informed decision. Because of our history with false alerts and mistakes made where training tapes were thought to be real, we have to be very careful not to miscalculate given the consequences.

Last year, it was reported that the Obama administration considered but ultimately rejected changing U.S. nuclear declaratory policy to state that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Are there circumstances under which the benefits of first use of nuclear weapons would outweigh the costs, and if nuclear weapons are used by one nuclear-armed adversary against another, what guarantee do we have that such use would not escalate to a full-scale nuclear exchange with the United States or against a U.S. ally?

I think if you have nuclear use by one nuclear power against another, the risk of full-scale escalation is there. The case that has, in recent years, stopped presidents from fully embracing [a] no-first-use [policy] has been the potential for catastrophic weapons of mass destruction [WMD] attacks of a different nature—for example, a successful, massive bio-attack that would have consequences on the order of a nuclear attack in terms of people killed and so forth. It’s that exceptional case that has kept people from making the full statement.

I personally believe that we should emphatically state that the purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of other nuclear weapons. Period. In a real world instance, if a president felt that there was an exceptional case where he had no other option to respond to a catastrophic WMD attack that was non-nuclear, okay, then that’s a presidential decision at that point. But I think there’s benefit to declare that we don’t believe these weapons are for war-fighting and that we stand in opposition and in contrast to countries like Russia who talk in a very cavalier manner about escalating to nuclear use in order to try to stop conventional war, which is incredibly irresponsible and incredibly dangerous. I think there’s room to strengthen U.S. declaratory policy in this area.



'Tremendous Experience'

ACT: One of your first jobs in Washington early in your career was as a senior analyst at the Arms Control Association, working on nuclear weapons policy and defense issues. Could you tell us how that experience impacted your career path?

Flournoy: It was a tremendous experience and opportunity. It was really the first time where I was able to develop a real depth of expertise in a given area and to build a body of work as a young analyst. That became important for a number of reasons. One is, it attracted a very important mentor to me. Based on an Arms Control Today article I had written, Ted Warner reached out to me and introduced himself and said, “I agreed with every word of your article. I’m working on the same thing over at RAND [Corp.] We should meet.” As my career unfolded later, Ted was the person who hired me and gave me my first job in the Pentagon.

The other thing I would say is that there were wonderful mentors within the organization. People like Spurgeon Keeny and Jack Mendelsohn invested enormously in the young people they had working for them and helping ensure that we were developing as professionals. I owe them and the organization a debt of gratitude for helping me get started.

Posted: July 10, 2017

Dealing With Russia and North Korea: An Interview With Siegfried Hecker

Hecker discusses his experiences cooperating with his Russian counterparts in the aftermath of the Cold War,  his concerns about the breakdown in relations with Russia, and North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.

November 2016

Interviewed by Terry Atlas

Siegfried Hecker, one of the nation’s top nuclear weapons experts, served as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. He organized U.S.-Russian lab-to-lab cooperation on nuclear weapons safety and security issues at the end of the Cold War era, which is the subject of the recent book he edited, Doomed to Cooperate (2016), about that remarkable period of scientific collaboration. He is an authority on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, having visited that country seven times between 2004 and 2010. Hecker currently is a research professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. 

He was interviewed by Arms Control Today Editor-in-Chief Terry Atlas at the Arms Control Association office. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

ACT: What led you to produce Doomed to Cooperate, a history of the cooperation between U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons labs?

Hecker: The idea came from the Russian side. In 2002, on the 10th anniversary of our cooperation, which dates back to 1992 when we had a weapons-lab-directors exchange between the new Russian Federation and the United States, Vladimir Belugin, the former Russian laboratory director at the Institute of Experimental Physics [the Russian Los Alamos] suggested that we capture the history of this cooperation because, in the ‘90s, it was just remarkable. We began to work on it, and then unfortunately, he passed away. So as we were coming closer to the 20th anniversary, I had a discussion with the then-director of the institute. I reminded him that I had intended to write an article with his predecessor. He said, “Oh, there’s much too much for an article. We should write a book.” This was 2010. So that was the origin.

ACT: The lab-to-lab cooperation is quite an unheralded success story, right? 

Hecker: I think so. As the Soviet Union was falling apart, the United States was concerned about four loose-nuclear dangers: loose nukes, the weapons; loose fissile materials, plutonium and highly enriched uranium; loose people, the scientific experts; and loose exports, concerns about illicit nuclear sales. My greatest concern was the security of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. We quickly began working on these problems with the Russian laboratories. President George H.W. Bush’s primary concern was what he called the “brain drain” problem, namely the fate of the nuclear experts. We worked on all these issues. As we now look back 25 years later, there were no loose nukes, very little nuclear material leakage, essentially no brain drain, and on exports, after a few initial problems in the ‘90s, Russia is a pretty responsible exporter of nuclear technologies today. So it’s remarkable. I think the laboratories, the nuclear scientists, contributed enormously to avoiding a nuclear catastrophe. 

ACT: How is it that Cold War adversaries, particularly the folks in the nuclear complex who were steeped in secrecy and national security, managed to cooperate on these very sensitive issues. Was there a top-down mandate, or was it a bottom-up effort?

Hecker: Absolutely not top down. We were not being told to go do these things in Russia. It was essentially the initiative of the scientists. The primary reason we began to work together is that the nuclear weapons laboratories and institutes were grounded in superb fundamental science. Los Alamos scientists had connections with Soviet scientists during Soviet times, not on nuclear weapons but on fundamental science. What really triggered our ability to work together, however, was the Reagan-Gorbachev Reykjavík summit in October 1986, which led to what was called the “Joint Verification Experiment” [JVE], that is, participating in nuclear tests at each other’s test sites for the purpose of verifying a test ban treaty. At that point, it was actually the Russian nuclear weapons scientists that reached across and said, “Hey look, we want to work together. We have these scientific ideas. We’d like to pursue cooperation.” So, we pushed for cooperation from the bottom up after the governments allowed us to meet for the JVE. The Soviet scientists pushed us. I pushed Washington. Then eventually, because of President George H.W. Bush’s brain drain concern, we were finally allowed to visit each other’s laboratories. When I went to Russia in 1992 with John Nuckolls, then-director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, we toured through their laboratories. What they showed us was remarkable. We looked at these guys, and it was like looking in a mirror.

ACT: Now we fast forward to today, and that kind of cooperation is an increasingly distant memory. What’s the consequence of the current strained relationships in terms of nuclear security issues?

Hecker: I think today the primary problem is isolation. First of all, you can’t do science in isolation, and the Russian scientists know that. So they’re not happy being isolated. However, the [Russian] government and the security services at this point want to restrict access to the Russian nuclear facilities. We had good access for over 20 years, and they also had good access to our facilities. They were in Los Alamos. They were at Lawrence Livermore and at Sandia labs. We knew all along it had to be reciprocal—if we wanted them to accept some of the ways that we do security, we had to show them how we do it in our places. We did that, and now, for the most part, that cooperation is cut off. But quite frankly, part of the cooperation was cut off by the American government. After Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the American government’s approach was, “[I]t can’t be business as usual.” That filtered down to the scientific interactions. Now, interactions between the nuclear scientists on both sides are being held hostage to political differences. 

ACT: You’ve had 20-plus years in which you were able to work on those nuclear safety and security issues. So at this point, is a danger still there? 

Hecker: In terms of loose nukes, first of all, they’ve always had it under quite good control, but they were in a demanding environment. Now they are, let’s say, in as good as shape as we are. As for loose nuclear material, they made enormous improvements by joint cooperation with the United States. They’re in quite good shape as far as that goes. As for the brain drain, there is no real concern. It’s not any worse than for the United States. However, with nuclear safety, nuclear security, you’re never done. So now, the danger is if they go back and they isolate the Russian scientists again, we won’t be there to compare the best practices, compare the lessons learned from each other. That’s the danger.

ACT: There’s now talk about a new arms race as the United States and Russia modernize their systems. 

Hecker: There’s no question, on the Russian side, that they have emphasized the role of nuclear weapons in their security. If you look back at President Vladimir Putin’s statements over the past number of years and as you look at their actions, they are building new nuclear weapons. They are designing new nuclear weapons. Exactly what good that’s going to do them from a deterrence standpoint, quite frankly, is beyond me. I don’t see it as doing much good. On the American side, I know there’s much criticism on the modernization of the American complex. I personally happen to believe our nuclear complex needs to be modernized. We don’t need new weapons, in my opinion, we just need to make sure that we’re actually able to do our job within the nuclear complex. Then we’ll have a deterrent. We don’t need to enter a new arms race.

ACT: What do you make of the latest North Korean nuclear test?

Hecker: By 2010 it became clear that they’re going all out to build a nuclear weapons program and a threatening nuclear arsenal, and that’s what they’re doing. After the latest test, one has to conclude that now they must have the capability to mount those weapons on missiles that can reach Japan and South Korea and then eventually the United States. That’s not what I worry about the most. I worry that when a country builds that sort of capability, it changes the strategic dynamics with its neighbors.

ACT: What’s your best estimate of how many weapons they could have now, and what’s the growth trajectory?

Hecker: It looks like they can produce about one bomb’s worth of plutonium a year and perhaps six per year of highly enriched uranium. They may have the capacity to make approximately six to eight bombs per year. By the end of this year, they have enough material, we believe, for 20 to 25 nuclear weapons.

ACT: What is the implication for proliferation concerns, particularly providing either state or nonstate actors with technology or materials? 

Siegfried Hecker (third from right) with officials and technicians at the plutonium laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear complex in August 2007. (Photo credit: Siegfried S. Hecker)Hecker: From 2004 to 2007, my greatest concern about North Korea was the possibility of export. At that time, we had reason for concern because the North Koreans were known to have exported uranium hexafluoride to Libya and they had built a plutonium-production reactor in Syria. So it was not beyond them to actually do that. Today, I’m less concerned because, quite frankly, their customer base has sort of dried up, that is, it has fewer potential customers. Now one is concerned about export to [the Islamic State] or [other] terrorists. I don’t believe that North Koreans would sell a nuclear weapon. I don’t think they would sell the plutonium. I am not as concerned today about the proliferation or the export of their technologies, unless they become totally desperate. I’m much more concerned about how it affects their relationships with South Korea and the United States and having an overconfidence in their overall capabilities because they have this nuclear overhang. Also, what if there is real turmoil in the country? When they had a handful of bombs and 30 kilograms of plutonium only, you could see as to how one might be able to take care of that. You’re now talking about 20 bombs and hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium, and you don’t know where it is. That’s what I worry about. I don’t worry anywhere near as much about missiles reaching the U.S. mainland at this time. That’s what all the talk is about right now, and of course, our military has to pay attention to that. But what’s much more dangerous is what’s going to happen in the immediate vicinity.

ACT: What about the administration’s strategy of strategic patience?

Hecker: It’s been a total failure. This isn’t just an Obama failure. There was an enormous failure during the George W. Bush administration. That was, in essence, when we sort of let the cat out of the bag with the altercation in October 2002, accusing [North Korea] of having enriched uranium and then essentially walking away from the Agreed Framework negotiated during the Clinton administration. North Korea then went ahead and proceeded with the first nuclear test [in October 2006]. It didn’t work so well, but that changed everything. When President Barack Obama came in, I think the initial intent was to work with the North Koreans, but they conducted a missile test and then another nuclear test. After that, there was great reluctance by the administration to work with the North Koreans. The policy was dubbed strategic patience, but it was essentially not doing much in diplomacy. During that time then, North Korea went from a handful of bombs to having a nuclear arsenal.

ACT: So your advice for the next president?

Hecker: You have to go back to diplomacy. As difficult as that might be to stomach for the United States, you just have to go back to diplomacy. The United States has been trying to get North Korea to do one big “no”—that is, no nuclear weapons—but that’s just not going to happen right now. So the three “no’s” I have proposed are no more bombs, no better bombs, no exporting. Negotiate that with North Korea, and agree to work with them on their security concerns, energy, and the economy. At least for the time being, don’t let it get worse. Now they’ve got the nuclear arsenal, so it’s going to be much more difficult. You have to roll it back through diplomacy.

ACT: For the first step, a freeze is the best that can be done.

Hecker: Yes. I don’t use the term “freeze,” but “halt.” What’s most important to halt has changed over the years. It was really important to halt nuclear tests five years ago when they only had two under their belt. That was important because there’s no way they could miniaturize a nuclear warhead to put on a missile without additional tests. Now they have conducted these additional nuclear tests. So, halting additional missile launches becomes very important—the solid-fueled missiles, the submarine-launched missiles, and of course, the long-range ones—and no more nuclear tests is still important. You also need to at least halt the production of the fissile materials. Then you work your way diplomatically toward rolling back the nuclear weapons program and eventually eliminating it. 

Posted: October 31, 2016

A French View on the Iran Deal: An Interview With Ambassador Gérard Araud

The ambassador to the United States and former Iran deal negotiator reflects on how that agreement was reached, possible bumps ahead, and dangers posed by Iranian ballistic missile development...

July/August 2016

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport and Elizabeth Philipp

Gérard Araud was appointed ambassador of France to the United States in September 2014. A career diplomat, his past positions include director for strategic affairs, security and disarmament (2000-2003) and permanent representative of France to the United Nations in New York (2009-2014). Araud served as the French negotiator on the Iranian nuclear file from 2006 to 2009. 

Araud spoke with Arms Control Today in his office at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C., on May 20. 

The interview was transcribed by Elizabeth Philipp. It has been edited for clarity. 

ACT: France has been involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran far longer than the United States—over a decade. Why was achieving an agreement with Iran an important priority for France?

Araud: First, the history is that, in 2002, I was assistant secretary for security affairs and disarmament in Paris and we had the idea of a letter from the three ministers.1 So it was a French idea. When I actually drafted the first letter, there was a choice about the terms in the letter about enrichment. We could say we are asking to suspend enrichment or to stop enrichment. If we had “to suspend enrichment,” the Russians were immediately on board, but the British were not. If we had “to stop enrichment,” the British were on board, but not the Russians. It was the choice to have the British on board rather than the Russians on board. 

In 2002 we discovered the program, and the letter was sent during the summer of 2003. Why? If we had the letter signed by France, Germany and Russia, it would have had absolutely no bearing in Washington, D.C. So the idea was to have the British as a sort of bridge toward the Americans, and I presented the letter to the Americans-—the American was John Bolton, the undersecretary at the time. The Americans told us that it was not a green light, but it was not a red light. So we sent the letter with sort of a yellow light coming from Washington, D.C., and on our side with the promise, the commitment, to [be] totally transparent. Because from the beginning, I knew that there would be an agreement only if the Americans were engaging in the negotiation. So that was the beginning of the story. 

Why negotiate? For us, the issue of Iran nuclear power was twofold. First, it was regional. We were convinced that Israel wouldn’t accept the prospect of a nuclear Iran, and that would lead to a military option, with all the political consequences of the region. Secondly, even without an Israeli military operation, it would mean the end of the nonproliferation system. The countries around North Korea—South Korea, Japan—were restrained enough not to follow the suit of North Korea and become nuclear, while, in the Middle East, such restraint was very unlikely.

There was a strong risk that the neighbors of Iran would follow and become nuclear powers. That would have been the end of the nonproliferation system. 

ACT: What do you think it is about this current period, beginning in 2013, that led to a successful nuclear deal with Iran given this long history of negotiations?

Araud: Actually, the negotiation started with the three European countries; and in 2003, there was suspension by the Iranians of their enrichment capability. But everything stopped in 2005 more or less with the election of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. When I was the French-designated negotiator between 2006 and 2009, I can tell you that there was no negotiation. It was not that our proposals were dismissed as insufficient; it was simply that the Iranians didn’t negotiate. They never entered into a substantial discussion of the terms of our proposals, and really, we tried several formulations, very different formulations. We went to Tehran, and nothing came out of it. It was really the feeling that the Iranians had not taken the decision to negotiate. Eventually they took it in 2013, and it means that the supreme leader made the decision first. I’m convinced—but it’s only a personal conviction, and I have nothing to base it on—that what we were looking at the moment when the regime has decided that the cost of the program was too expensive in terms of the survival of the regime. The sanctions were hurting very much, and the regime has decided at this moment to negotiate. 

ACT: Within the negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, what do you think that France brought to the table to really help that process along? 

Araud: The fact is that we have, since we have been in the origin of the process, we have been very careful about keeping excellent teams of negotiators. We have been very careful about the choice of the people, about not losing the know-how between the negotiators during all these years, and I do believe that we were a very reliable team of negotiators. I heard several times people saying that, at some moment of the negotiation, really everybody was looking at the French team because we had invested a lot into this negotiation in terms of expertise. 

The second point was that we’ve always had a very consistent line. We have had, between 2003 and 2016, three presidents in France—three presidents of very different orientation. There was a Gaullist. After that, there was a more rightist and pro-American, and now you have a Social Democrat. We have always—these three presidents and the governments and the ministers, and there were more than three ministers—have always kept the same line. We have been extremely consistent in this negotiation.

ACT: Speaking of presidential transitions, the presumptive Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump, has said he would tear up the agreement, he would seek to renegotiate it. Are you concerned at all about the impact of U.S. elections on the continued success of the agreement? 

Araud: You know all the Republican candidates were saying that they would tear apart the agreement when they arrive in office. But you know it’s an electoral campaign, and if the candidates were doing everything they promised during the campaign, and that is in all the countries in the world and all the parties, it would be terrifying. So we keep cool, and we will see when it happens and if it happens. 

ACT: Iran, though, has expressed some frustrations about sanctions relief under the deal, saying that businesses and banks have been reluctant to do business with Iran. Do you see prospects for European companies returning? Do you think there’s more that the EU 3+32 could be doing?

Araud: We are not in charge of the Iranian economy. But, nevertheless, when there is an agreement, there is a quid pro quo. The Iranian quid is the limitation of their program, and so far, they have implemented their part of the commitment. The quo is the lifting of the sanctions. But the lifting of the sanctions, it is not only an expression saying, “I lift the sanctions.” The sanctions have to be lifted, which means that the Iranians should first have access to frozen assets and secondly should be able to have a trade relationship with the rest of the world. 

The fact is—and it’s a fact—that because of the American secondary sanctions, the Iranians are saying that relief doesn’t happen. Actually, if you look—I don’t have the figures, but I think the proportion of the assets effectively de-frozen or released is really not that big. There is a lot of money, which is still frozen because since you can’t use the dollar, apparently it prevents a lot of financial operations. The fact is the banks don’t dare to go to Tehran. You can call it overcompliance on their side because, after having some trouble in New York City, they are still afraid to go there. The U.S. administration is aware of it and has said publicly that they will do their best. It’s not a question of helping the Iranians, it’s simply to give to our commitments, their whole significance. So the U.S. administration is trying to clarify the roles. The problem is your system of secondary sanctions is so complicated that even the U.S. administration has some problems really to understand it. 

So the Americans have told us and they have told also [the] business community that they are ready to answer to all the questions that the companies may have. For instance we have the example of Airbus and Boeing who want to sell planes to the Iranians. Planes come with a lot of spare parts. The question is whether it’s legal to sell the planes to the Iranians. Airbus is in contact with the U.S. administration to clarify the situation. But what we feel, and it’s public now, [it] is the will of the U.S. administration to deprive the radicals in Tehran from any pretext to say, “Oh you see, the West is not implementing its part of the deal, we have been trapped, it was a trap, so let’s do the same on our side.” 

ACT: So aside from this question of sanctions, do you see any other challenges that the agreement could face in the coming years? 

Araud: It’s such a complicated agreement—159 pages. When you enter an arms control agreement, you can’t foresee everything or every problem. So it’s obvious that we will have every six months a different interpretation between the Iranians and us, maybe between us and the Russians and the Chinese, of the different points. The Iranians, of course, will try to drag the agreement toward their interests, and we will do the opposite. So there will be disagreements down the road, and that’s the reason why we have created this committee, which will be in charge of trying to solve these disagreements.3 But disagreements are not unusual. When the Americans have an arms control agreement with the Russians, or with the Soviets at the time, there were also these bumps on the road. 

ACT: On the U.S. side, one of the areas that members of Congress in particular have voiced concern about is Iran’s continued ballistic missile testing. The UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal softens the language on missile tests. Under the new resolution, Iran is “called upon” not to undertake any activity on ballistic missiles that are designed to be nuclear capable. Since the resolution came into effect in January, Iran has continued to test missiles. Are you concerned about the continued missile testing in Iran?

Araud: Our choice was to limit the negotiations to the nuclear issue and not to go beyond that. We consider that the nuclear issue in itself should be really the only topic of the negotiation, considering the seriousness of the issue and also considering that it was certainly in a sense the only issue where the P5+1 would agree.4 So it’s on the nuclear issue. 

The second point is, and I said it publicly, I was expecting the Iranians to harden their position on the other issues after this nuclear deal, in a sense to show or to send a message that they have not caved in front of the West, which is a message toward the outside world but also toward the Iranian public opinion, which is dreaming of seeing the end of the revolution. So I guess what we see now as provocations, unfortunately, were more or less expected. 

On the French side, we have always been in favor of reacting strongly against missile testing in the Security Council, but I think you know the Russians and the Chinese have opposed it. We have said that we have expressed our concern about the missile testing, and we would be willing to go to the Security Council if necessary. 

ACT: Do you think there are any particular steps that countries, like the United States and France, could take to stem Iran’s continued ballistic missile development?

Araud: You have the regimes, [Missile Technology Control Regime] and so on, that we have to implement. We have to work with the usual suspects and implement the regimes and controls. 

ACT: What do you think that reaching this agreement with Iran means for strengthening nonproliferation norms writ large? Are there areas of the deal that you think the international nonproliferation regime could build off of? 

Araud: Yes, but during all the negotiations, especially the Russians but the Chinese also have been very keen on avoiding the impression of creating a precedent. When we negotiated the agreement, there was always this concern coming back, with the Russians and the Chinese basically saying, “No, you are not going to create a new regime.” Having said that, it’s obvious that, during the negotiation, we have faced the problem of enrichment, of uranium enrichment. As a military nuclear power, we know that enrichment is the first step toward a weapon. The militarization side is easier to hide, so the enrichment is really the critical step. The Russians have joined in floating ideas of proposing an international regime for enrichment. There were ideas of having an international bank because countries were saying, “Well, if we give up the right to enrichment, we don’t have any assurance that we will get the enriched uranium that we need for our civilian program.” There was the idea of the Russians saying that they were dedicating a plant for an international bank, and there is the [International Atomic Energy Agency] fuel bank in Kazakhstan.5 

ACT: Are you concerned, though, that other countries, particularly in the region, might choose to pursue enrichment, given that Iran has maintained its capacity?

Araud: Of course. There is the risk because some people can argue that we have created a special status, a sort of new status for Iran. After the agreement, there were some neighbors saying, “Oh, you know we would want the same capabilities.” For the moment, we have not seen any step into this direction. But of course, we have to be vigilant, considering the tensions in this part of the world. 

I do remember when I was in Paris, I was interviewed by our parliament hearing committee on foreign affairs and the chairman of the committee told me, “The nonproliferation system is broken, it’s over.” Actually, when I was assistant secretary now 15 years ago, there were two problems, which were North Korea and Iran. Fifteen years later, there are two problems: North Korea and Iran. 

When I was a student, people were saying, “In 2000 the list of the nuclear powers will be Argentina, Brazil,” and so on, and it’s not the case. So in a sense, the nonproliferation system has quite resisted this, and it has been a success. So we have to be vigilant, especially in terms of enrichment. But now that we have this deal with the Iranians, maybe we could come back to working on it. 

ACT: Speaking to the weaponization concerns, the concern over nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in Iran was a primary driver for deploying U.S. missile defense in Europe. Since that threat has been mitigated by the Iran deal, do you think the plans for keeping Aegis Ashore should be adjusted? 

Araud: That’s a difficult issue because the American administrations have been very insistent on launching this program, keeping this program, and the debate has been raging in NATO for the last 20 years. The Russians have been through the ceiling on this issue. I think eventually we are going to declare the NATO system as operational.6 But my personal opinion would be that what we have done is enough. It’s not really necessary to dedicate so many resources in a situation where we don’t have a lot of resources for such a system for a very hypothetical threat. 

For the French, the starting point is evaluation of the threat, and this is something we should re-evaluate regularly. Given the latest assessment of this threat, heads of state and government decided to move forward with this missile defense, but that doesn’t prevent re-evaluating now or in a few years what is the state of this threat. That’s actually something we, France, would be keen to doing because missile defense is not something we should do out of the blue and not just for itself. It’s to protect us against a threat, and it’s just common sense to link it to the re-evaluation of the threat. That is one of the elements we are looking at. 

There are also few elements which we look at and we said publicly when we agreed to missile defense, for example, the fact that the cost of missile defense should not go overboard. Another element is that, in NATO, missile defense, on a basis of common control, is owned and operated by NATO. These are elements which are important for us in assessing the progress of the missile defense. There are a few other ones, but those are the important ones.

ACT: On that note, France recently withheld its approval from NATO taking control, command and control, of the European missile defense system.

Araud: The problem that we have, and I’m sure it will be solved before the next summit, is we want to have a real, robust NATO command-and-control chain. For obvious political reasons, the Americans want to declare the system operational at the next summit. From the French side, we want to be sure the [command-and-control] system is robust enough. So again, it’s really not a substantial problem. I’m quite sure that it will be solved.

There is an evaluation going on right now actually in NATO on whether the system is sufficient or not. We are in that phase where we see whether or not it is sufficient to declare the system operational at the Warsaw summit. So we are in this phase where we are looking at it, [being] more careful about being sure it’s sufficient, but we are looking at the info right now that NATO is giving us in the next few weeks. 

ACT: Recently in certain disarmament fora, including last year’s [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, the five nuclear-weapon states received some criticism for not fulfilling their Article VI disarmament commitments from the NPT review conference in 2010. What does France think could be done to accelerate the progress on disarmament?  

Araud: I think that if the U.S. and Russia were decreasing dramatically their systems, it will really be very important and very critical. This has been an ongoing criticism for a long time. We do consider on our side, and if you look at the figures, that we have made significant progress in terms of disarmament. We have given up the tactical weapons. We have also made [a] declaration of transparency.7 We have been more transparent in these terms, and we do consider that our systems are very much smaller than the Russians’ and the Americans’. Before talking to us, you have to talk to the Russians and the Americans. 

ACT: Is there anything that you think that France could do to encourage the United States and Russia to take further steps? 

Araud: The [fissile material cutoff treaty] FMCT and the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] CTBT are the two main elements we are trying to promote in the international arena, given that it’s very difficult, but we still try to push for it. 

ACT: Are there any particular steps related to either of those treaties that you are hoping to promote or move forward on? 

Araud: There is going to be, in a few weeks, the 20th anniversary of the CTBT. We would like to use this opportunity to promote the CTBT a bit more. For the FMCT, we proposed a draft some time ago, and we are trying to make concrete proposals to promote these treaties. But it’s a slow process. It is a gradual step by step process to go forward. 

ACT: In the United Kingdom, there’s a debate about the salience of its nuclear weapons program and its deterrent. What is France’s view on the UK eliminating its nuclear weapons arsenal, and would that have an impact on France as a sole possessor of nuclear weapons in Europe? 

Araud: No, it wouldn’t have an impact on France. Very often, people don’t understand why France is so much committed to nuclear deterrence. They do believe it’s sort of out of glory. The fact is that, in 1940, when the Germans invaded our country, we were alone. The Americans were not here, and the British were not really here either—they had sent 10 divisions to France. France nearly disappeared. So we have drawn [a] very clear lesson that, to survive, you are alone. So we need nuclear deterrence. 

After this horrendous period for us, when our country nearly disappeared, it has become a sort of ingrained conviction that you are alone to defend your existence. That’s part of our very particular experience that people don’t understand. It’s not because we love nuclear weapons. It’s simply that now the genie is out of the bottle. Nuclear disarmament is difficult because if we get rid of the nuclear weapons you know Kim Jong Un or somebody else may still have the nuclear weapons. What will happen? He will be the master of the world. 

It’s impossible to reach universal nuclear disarmament. What we are trying to do is to limit the numbers of the nuclear-weapon states. Of course it’s unfair for the states which are not. As for the United Kingdom, I would bet everything you want that they won’t get rid of their nuclear weapons. There is a debate, but a debate we don’t have so much in France. Of course there is a fringe left which is in favor of it. But there is not a debate like the British have every decade. The British, maybe there could be debate about modernization, whether you need to modernize or not to modernize, considering the threat. That could be a debate. But on having the weapons, I really don’t see. Compared to the Americans, we Europeans know that history is a tragedy. 

ENDNOTES

1.   Iran’s heavy-water production plant at Arak and its centrifuge plant at Natanz were revealed to the international community in 2002. The first three countries to engage with Iran on the question of uranium enrichment were France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

2.   The EU 3+3 refers to the three EU countries—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—plus China, Russia, and the United States, that were engaged in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

3.   The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action established the Joint Commission as a mechanism for resolving disputes.

4.   P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) plus Germany.

5.   See Tariq Rauf, “From ‘Atoms for Peace’ to an IAEA Nuclear Fuel Bank,” Arms Control Today, October 2015.

6.   In April 2016, the United States declared the ballistic missile interceptor it built to be operational in Romania and a second site in Poland to be under construction. NATO claims this system is intended to protect against the ballistic missile threat from Iran while Russia claims it is an attempt to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. For more information, see Kingston Reif, “Romania Missile Defense Site Activated,” Arms Control Today, June 2016.

7.   In 2006, France passed the Nuclear Transparency and Security Law. In 2008, under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, France became the first nuclear-weapon state to publicly reveal the size of its nuclear arsenal. For more information, see Bill Richardson et al., “Universal Transparency: A Goal for the U.S. at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit,” Arms Control Today, January 2011.

Posted: July 5, 2016

Getting to Know Greg Thielmann

The longtime analyst reflects on Iraq, Iran, and “responsible intelligence tradecraft.” 

June 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner

Read the full transcript of this interview here.

Greg Thielmann has spent four decades analyzing national security issues. For 25 years, he was a U.S. Foreign Service officer. In his last position before he left the State Department in 2002, he headed the Office of Analysis for Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Issues in the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He then served as a senior staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Since 2009 he has been a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association and will retire this August. 

Thielmann spoke to Daniel Horner on May 10 at the offices of the association, which publishes Arms Control Today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You served in three pretty different places—Brazil, West Germany, and the Soviet Union. Did that give you some perspective on the U.S. and the way the U.S. interacts with the world?

I think trying to understand how foreigners perceive the United States gave me a lot of insights into threat assessments. One country may interpret something as being very threatening in terms of new weapons development or military actions, but from the other country’s perspective, it is what the first country is doing that is threatening. We’re dealing with perceptions, and because of that, there is often a way in which, through negotiations or realizing the different perspectives, you can actually find a space where both parties can reduce the sense of threat that they feel through a negotiated agreement. 

You observed the intelligence assessment process on Iraq from the inside and the one on Iran from the outside. Are you able to compare the two processes?

I think in many ways the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program was a great triumph in avoiding so much of what went wrong in the case of Iraqi [weapons of mass destruction]. What one had in the Iran document was the intelligence community basically admitting that previous National Intelligence Estimates had not gotten it right on Iran. For example, there was the critical determination on Iran’s nuclear weapons program—and they did have a nuclear weapons program, but it was essentially halted in the fall of 2003. 

What was so conspicuously different than the Iraq intelligence estimate was that [this conclusion on Iran] was a very unwelcome conclusion for the Bush administration, particularly the Dick Cheney wing of the Bush administration. Yet, the estimate was not tailored, shaped, spun in a way that disguised the conclusion. The administration basically allowed it to come out in its all-important, honest bottom line. That made a profound difference. 

In one of your interviews on Iraq [in 2003], you said, “The default setting of the U.S. intelligence community is to over-warn rather than under-warn.” Explain what you mean by that.

Warning is the chief function, one might say, of the intelligence community. To talk historically, this is sort of the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. That was a huge trauma that we haven’t quite gotten over. So there is that still legitimate response of the intelligence community to focus on warning of possible disastrous events. 

The problem is that this often leads us to assuming that a worst-case threat identified is the most likely outcome or that’s the most objective way to predict the future. So that’s why, as an intelligence analyst, I would always look for two different estimates: first, what could happen and what is the probability that that could happen; but secondly, what is most likely to happen, even realizing that judgments about the future are very difficult to make. It seems to me, again and again in the negotiating process, that we miss opportunities to lower the threat in a better way by overestimating what the threat is. 

So given all the political and institutional reasons you just were describing, how do you prevent that? 

One of the ways you prevent it is to make sure that your judgments are labeled for what they are. That means it’s okay and sometimes mandatory to remind people what could happen. But it’s also necessary to remind them what is likely to happen, or if we are wrong about identifying something that could happen one way or another, whether it’s good news or bad news, why might we be wrong. On what assumptions does this conclusion hinge? That’s just part of, it seems to me, responsible intelligence tradecraft. 

Posted: May 31, 2016

Getting to Know Carolyn Mac Kenzie

Her “adventuresome spirit” led to a love of travel and a career that has focused on hunting for radioactive sources.

May 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner

Carolyn Mac Kenzie has spent much of her professional life in pursuit of radioactive sources that are no longer under the control of authorities. These sources, which are used in medicine, research, and industry, can be dangerous if they fall into the hands of people who do not realize what they are or if people do know what they are and want to use them to make a radiological dispersal device, or “dirty bomb.” Mac Kenzie’s experience in tracking “orphan” sources has included stints at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. 

She spoke to Arms Control Today on April 6 from her office at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is the radiation safety officer. The interview, which was conducted by Daniel Horner, has been edited for length and clarity.

I wanted to ask how you got into this field. Could you lay out the path that led you to be interested in radioactive sources?

I sort of fell into it, but I always thought I would be probably pretty good at this when the issue of orphan sources came up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Why did you think that? What is it about you that makes you good at it?

It’s my adventuresome spirit. I’ve traveled the world a lot, and I understand how radioactive sources are used. When I was 20 years old, I had backpacked across Africa, India, and the Middle East. I knew I could comfortably go to out-of-the-way developing countries and help them find these things. 

The first opportunity came up in 2002 working with Russia and radiological thermal generators that are placed along the Arctic Circle to power lighthouses. Livermore was involved with their removal and replacement with solar units. They are a very large source of strontium-90, and they have a potential to be used as a dirty bomb. My background was in radiation safety, and I knew I could help.

So I got my first taste of this, and I enjoyed it. Some people from the IAEA had heard about that work and called me and were interested in having me come over to the IAEA and help them with their orphan-source mission. So it sort of was fate; things fell together.

Did you have a scientific inclination that led you this way, or you just followed the adventuresome spirit?

Right out of college, I got a job at a cyclotron making radiopharmaceuticals. I was taking some fairly significant radiation doses, and the regulator threatened to shut us down. So I got really motivated to try to figure out how to reduce radiation exposure. I then went back to graduate school in biophysics to learn more.

The big focus at the IAEA in 2004 was on a series of incidents around the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s where scrap metal dealers or illiterate people had found large radioactive sources and wanted to salvage the lead around them. They had not a clue what they were, nor did they recognize the trefoil [radiation] symbol as meaning anything. They saw the lead and knew it was valuable. As a result of removing it, they became excessively exposed to radiation, which caused death or severe injuries. I was tasked with helping to locate these sources and finding a symbol for the sources to prevent this from happening.

Tell me about creating the supplementary symbol.

It was fascinating. The task was to help develop a symbol that anybody, especially illiterate people, would recognize as “Danger. Don’t touch. Leave alone.” The intent was to put the symbol right on the lead, right where you would go to take off [the lead]. With the symbol that we ended up settling on, the vast majority of the people saw that there was a grave danger. 

You visited more than 35 countries to do this work. Did you have to do anything differently because you are a woman? 

Initially, in some of the countries, but we got past it. I had this one experience with the Russian military where I think initially they were thinking, “What? Why is she along with us?” And then by the end of the trip, I would be the one going forward first with the [radiation] meter and measuring the source instead of them just marching right in. Later in the trip, they would say, “Oh, Carolyn, you go on in and tell us if it’s safe to come in now.” So you had to earn their respect. 

Posted: April 27, 2016

Getting to Know Gabriele Kraatz-Wadsack

The former UN official talks about her experiences as a biological weapons inspector in Iraq and her early days as a student of veterinary medicine.  

March 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner

36_GTK.jpg“Getting to Know” is an occasional series that introduces Arms Control Today readers to interesting people active in the world of arms control.

Gabriele Kraatz-Wadsack started out studying veterinary medicine, specializing in microbiology, and ended her career as a senior official with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, from which she retired last year. She led numerous monitoring and verification inspection missions in Iraq in the 1990s, worked on bioterrorism prevention and response at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, and served as scientific and policy adviser on disarmament and nonproliferation issues at the German Federal Foreign Office.

Kraatz-Wadsack spoke to Arms Control Today on Feb. 11 from her home in New York. The interview, which was conducted by Daniel Horner, has been edited for length and clarity.

As you pursued your studies, did you think about arms control, international security issues as something of interest, or was it essentially a fluke of your career path that you ended up this way?

Well, I’m always a very curious person. So I think the first step was that while I studied veterinary medicine, my professor in microbiology said I should continue to do my dissertation in microbiology. And then I joined the armed forces, which was definitely not in my plan for life originally. But there was interesting work in microbiology, and I joined the military. And that linked me more into the defense area. And then it’s the [field of] arms control and disarmament. It was step by step, more by chance than a planned career. You have setbacks, but I think it’s really rewarding work.

During the inspections in Iraq, did you encounter any particular difficulties from the Iraqis or from your colleagues or from anyone else because you’re a woman?

Never, no. This was interesting to me as well. Iraq at that time was very secular. Some of my counterparts were women, and the main person in the biological weapons program was a woman. She, Dr. Rihab Taha, was the one I met most of the time, and she was the one in charge for the biological weapons program. At least, that’s what the Iraqis told us. But she was always there, and she was explaining how she produced anthrax and botulinum toxin. I was chief inspector, and my Iraqi counterparts treated me normally, neutrally, I would say. 

How would biological weapons inspections that are conducted today be similar to or different from the ones that you carried out 20 years ago, in terms of technology or training or anything else?

Definitely they would be different. [In Iraq] we had a special mandate [under UN Security Council resolutions]—one was disarmament, and one was to establish ongoing monitoring and verification. It was a very robust mandate, for anywhere, anytime, intrusive [inspections]. The mandate was kind of exceptional, part of a cease-fire resolution.

Nowadays, we have a different environment. There is improvement of technology. There are better tools for detection and enhanced analytical methods. You have advanced overhead imagery to support inspections. Much is different than it was in the early 1990s. But also important are the human skills and training.

The human skills as an inspector on the ground to conduct on-site inspections are the most crucial. We had a special training for hundreds of experts to conduct inspections for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The training was not to improve their technical expertise, but to add additional skills.

Another development relates to the capabilities and possible role of international organizations such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In the early 1990s, we didn’t have a chemical-designated inspectorate. So today, you have new mandates for international organizations; you have new international organizations; you have more involvement of international organizations, which also add to international inspection experience. They have accumulated vast experience and expertise, which was not in place in the early 1990s. We really had to do it from scratch in all areas. It was not known. The only entity that had inspection experience was the International Atomic Energy Agency. So at that time, we had to be very innovative and pragmatic, and we needed to know and understand the limits of what could be done.

Posted: March 3, 2016

Lowering Nuclear Risks: An Interview With Former Defense Secretary William Perry

The former Pentagon chief says intercontinental ballistic missiles are not essential to the U.S. deterrent, worries about the risk of nuclear terrorism, and advocates a “major push” on the [CTBT].

January/February 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Kingston Reif

William Perry, shown in this March 2015 photo, was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. (Photo credit: Glenn Fawcett/Defense Department)William Perry is the Michael and Barbara Berberian professor emeritus at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997, having previously served as deputy secretary of defense and undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. He is the author of My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (2015).

Perry spoke by telephone with Arms Control Today on December 8, 2015.Much of the conversation focused on the current impasse in U.S.-Russian relations and the nuclear weapons programs in those two countries.

The interview was transcribed by Elizabeth Philipp. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: In your book, you write that Russia’s ongoing and planned production of new nuclear delivery systems is likely to motivate Moscow to test new warheads for its new missiles and that you expect it to withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT] soon and begin those tests. Can you elaborate on why you believe that to be the case?

Perry: First of all, let me say that I don’t have any inside information from anybody in the Russian government. That’s not what my point was. It’s just that I know they are developing new nuclear weapons. They’ve said so themselves. I’m confident that that will lead the weapons designers to request new tests. That will put [Russian President Vladimir] Putin up to a decision. He will have to decide whether to allow that or not. I don’t know what that political decision will be, but I do believe that the pressure to test will be strong. So it will come down to a political decision on Putin’s part. Will he accept their recommendations, or will he think the political costs are too high? One of the reasons the political costs will not be as high as they should be is because we have not yet ratified the CTBT. That makes a decision to test easier for him.

ACT: Given that, is there any feasible way to prevent the resumption of Russian testing?

Perry: The best thing we could do is to ratify the CTBT. That would make the political costs substantially higher for Putin. That might lead him to decide then not to test.

ACT: Following up on the issue of U.S. ratification, even if the United States were to ratify the CTBT tomorrow, entry into force could still be years away if not longer. What steps should the United States pursue in the near term to strengthen the global moratorium against nuclear testing, especially in light of your belief that Russia may be on a path to the resumption of testing?

Perry: I think it’s very important to get China to ratify. I do believe that our ratification will put very strong political pressure on them to ratify, and I believe that they would. If that happens, then I think we’ve got a pretty good case to go forward, pushing to bring the treaty into force even if, let’s say, North Korea does not ratify.

I think a good argument can be made that we should not let an outlier like that stop the whole treaty from coming into force, but that decision is still ahead of us. The first step is to get the U.S. to ratify, then put the pressure to China, and then I think we should go forward with a program to try to bring the treaty into force even if the outliers do not ratify. 

ACT: Shifting to another treaty, the United States has accused Russia of being in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty. Russia has denied the accusation and charged the United States with being in violation of the agreement. How do you evaluate the situation?

Perry: I don’t have enough data to make a judgment on whether or not Russia is in violation. That’s what our government has stated, and that’s all I have to go on. But I do not have an independent judgment of that.

ACT: Do you have any thoughts on how to get out of the impasse that the two countries seem to be in with regard to this violation alleged by the United States?

Perry: On that point, as well as other points of contention we have with Russia, what is badly needed is serious and meaningful dialogue with Russia, which we do not have today, at high levels. So I think it’s imperative for the United States to begin serious dialogue with Russia. It’s imperative for both countries to take the political step of high-level and serious dialogue. Even if there is disagreement, the dialogue is not only desirable, but necessary.

ACT: Okay, is there anything specific with regard to the INF Treaty, or is it all part of the larger picture?

Perry: No, it is a part of the larger picture. I think it is very desirable to keep that treaty in force. But the bigger problem is the bad relations between the United States and Russia, of which this is just a symptom, I think.

ACT: In a recent appearance in Washington, you said that any reasonable definition of deterrence would not require intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs], the land-based leg of the U.S. triad. You argue that ICBMs are unnecessary and destabilizing because they are an attractive target and entail a greater risk of accidental launch than other nuclear weapons. How would you propose to phase out the ICBM leg of the triad?

Perry: I simply would not recapitalize it. If we decide to keep the ICBMs in the force, then in a number of years, not very many years, we have to begin to focus on building the replacements for the first ICBMs. So instead, I would simply let the present force phase out.

ACT: What would you say to the senators and representatives of those states in which U.S. Minuteman III ICBMs are based who say that the missiles and associated bases are an essential part of the U.S. deterrent and vital to the economies of their states?

Perry: I don’t believe it. They’re not an essential part of the deterrent. We have ample deterrence from the submarine force, and certainly if you add the bomber force to that, that’s an overwhelming deterrence force. So I cannot understand the argument that we also need ICBMs for deterrence. We might need ICBMs for other reasons, for geopolitical reasons, but not for deterrence. Any sane nation would be deterred by the incredible striking power of our submarine force.

ACT: You have said that a desire to maintain parity with the Soviet Union and later Russia has been and continues to be a main driver of the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and that this approach doesn’t make sense. Why do you believe that parity should no longer guide U.S. force requirements?

Perry: Because I don’t think it has anything to do with deterrence. I think deterrence has to do with our power and our ability to strike. The fact that we need to have, for example, ICBMs in the force, which is a kind of a parity, just doesn’t hold up. I don’t understand the argument that we need to have an equivalent number of weapons and equivalent type of weapons as Russia as an argument for deterrence. That is a political argument, and I understand the political argument. But that’s not an argument for deterrence.

ACT: Do you have in mind a rough number of [warheads], what a U.S. nuclear force should look like, should be composed of?

Perry: Certainly less than the numbers we have now. But I also understand the political argument that as we bring the numbers down, we ought to see if we can find some way of having the Russians come down at the same time, whether that be by a treaty or by some sort of a mutual understanding.

ACT: I want to go back to the larger point about U.S.-Russian relations that you raised before. As you were saying, the relations now are at a very low point. Is there anything that Russia and the United States and maybe other countries could do to improve the situation?

Perry: We have a number of points in common with Russia. So I would think our diplomacy would emphasize trying to strengthen cooperation in the areas in which we feel the need to cooperate, the desirability of cooperating. For example, we did cooperate on the Iranian agreement, and that was a big plus. We certainly have a need to cooperate in the field of terrorism and especially nuclear terrorism, and there are certainly trade areas where we could find a reason for cooperating as well, as we did in the Cold War. We should look at issues of mutual importance—certainly preventing nuclear catastrophe has to be highest on that list—and find a way of cooperating in those areas without having to agree with the Russians or having even political accords with Russians in other areas.

ACT: What would an agreement on nuclear terrorism look like that goes beyond what’s already currently agreed under the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism? What more would they be able to do?

Perry: One of the principal actions would be protecting fissile material on a global basis. The program that the president has initiated, the nuclear [security] summit [process], I think is an excellent example of what we can do along those lines. I certainly applaud the administration for their initiative on the nuclear summit and their continued pursuit of it. I think that all we can be sure of at this point is that there will be one more nuclear summit, the one in Washington next spring. So I would put the highest priority on getting major agreements at that summit meeting, and that could be facilitated by prior discussions with the Russians on what one can mutually hope to accomplish at that nuclear summit. Certainly it’s as much for the security benefit of Russia as it is for the United States to solve nuclear terrorism. So it should be a very powerful argument for working together to get major steps forward on the nuclear summit upcoming this spring.

It’s one thing just to go to the meeting and talk. It’s another thing to go to the meeting with a plan worked out with the Russians ahead of time on what the two of us might be able to accomplish to help get the fissile material controlled in other countries. So I think I would put that number one on the list of areas of cooperation with the Russians that can greatly reduce the danger to both of us of nuclear terrorism.

ACT: Do you believe that that’s realistically achievable in the here and now?

Perry: I certainly do. We have still a few months where we can be meeting and talking with the Russians. So we could have a solid program of accomplishment that we mutually agree on that we would like to see come out of that possibly last summit meeting.

ACT: Switching gears slightly, we understand that you have recently visited a number of U.S. allies in Europe and East Asia to discuss nuclear and other related security policy issues. In your conversations with officials, did they express any concerns about the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent in light of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and increasing Chinese assertiveness in its near abroad?

Perry: No, nobody raised that question with me. It seems clear to me that any informed and objective observer would see that our nuclear deterrent is quite powerful.

The nuclear deterrent, however, does not prevent the Russians from doing many things that are not directly nuclear related. I always have believed and I think events have demonstrated that nuclear deterrence is pretty well limited to deterring a nuclear attack, not deterring many other objectionable actions. During the Cold War, Russia took many actions that were very highly objectionable to us, and our nuclear deterrent did not stop them from taking those actions. Arguably, all that U.S. nuclear weapons have done is stop the Russians from carrying out a nuclear attack on us.

ACT: In any of your conversations, did any officials from allied nations take a position on whether the United States can further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in its national strategy?

Perry: The only such issue I have come across, particularly with Japan, is the extent to which our nuclear deterrence is specific to Japan—that is, whether it involved nuclear weapons specifically designed to protect Japan as opposed to general deterrence. That has to do with maintaining shorter-range nuclear weapons. But there’s never been a question that I’m aware of as to whether our long-range nuclear weapons were capable of deterrence. This was an issue we had, as you may remember, back during the Cold War. Even though we had overwhelming capability in our strategic nuclear forces, the Germans felt it necessary to have nuclear forces based in their country to guarantee our deterrence to them, extended deterrence. That was, I think, a misguided judgment on the part of the Germans. But they certainly felt strongly, and as a consequence, we did keep medium-range nuclear weapons based in Germany to give them the confidence of our deterrence. I don’t see that lack of confidence today, though.

ACT: As you write in your book, progress on nuclear disarmament has slowed since the early days of President [Barack] Obama’s first term. How can multilateral disarmament move forward when the forums for multilateral diplomacy, such as the Conference on Disarmament [CD] and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] review conference, appear to be in a stalemate?

Perry: I think they are in a stalemate. I would not say that arms negotiations has slowed; I would say it has stopped. I don’t see any significant action between the U.S. and Russia today that has any chance of moving towards another treaty. I know that many people in the U.S. government that would like to do that and are trying to move in that direction. But they haven’t gotten any two-sided discussions that seem to have any significance going forward yet. I’d say this is not the fault of the U.S. officials; it’s just that Russia isn’t showing any interest in moving forward in nuclear arms agreements. So that’s one of the main issues ahead of us, and if we can get a stronger positive relation with Russia on other issues, we should also be working with them to try to get forward motion again on a follow-on to New START [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty].

ACT: I was also asking about multilateral diplomacy, not just the bilateral U.S.-Russian interaction. Is there any way to stimulate movement in the CD, to deal with the issues that have divided the NPT members at their last review conference, issues like that? Who needs to take action to do that? Is there anyone besides the U.S. and Russia who can move that process or help move that process?

Perry: Probably yes, but I don’t have a good answer to your question.

ACT: In your book, you write that the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program over the past 15 years “is perhaps the most unsuccessful exercise of diplomacy in our country’s history.” What could the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have done differently to avoid this outcome?

Perry: Well, we had a negotiation going with the North Koreans in 2000, which was very close to an agreement. When the administration changed, the Bush administration simply cut off any discussions with the North Koreans. That was demonstrated to be not an effective way of dealing with the North Koreans, but it didn’t seem to me to be a wise way even before we saw the outcome. We should have kept the dialogue going, and that was a big mistake, I think.

ACT: With regard to the Obama administration’s approach to North Korea, how would you assess its strategy toward reducing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program?

Perry: It evidently has not been effective. But I would say, somewhat in their defense, that by the time they got into office, North Korea already had nuclear weapons. In 2001, North Korea did not yet have nuclear weapons. There was an opportunity for a much easier negotiation; it was much more feasible to negotiate with them not to develop nuclear weapons and not to produce nuclear weapons. Once they had nuclear weapons, the negotiation got very much harder. Now the administration had to argue with them to give up what they already have, and so I think the opportunity that was lost was between 2001 and 2008. That was when we had the chance to stop the North Korean nuclear program.

ACT: Given where we are now, what realistically in your view can be achieved at this point to stop and perhaps roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program?

Perry: I don’t have any better advice on that than Sig Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has given. He said that, given that they already have the nuclear weapons, making our position in the negotiations that they must give them up is a very hard negotiation. So he argues instead to put that aside for the time being and take a more limited goal in diplomacy. It’s what he calls the three noes, which is no new nuclear weapons, no more nuclear weapons, and no selling of nuclear weapons or technology.1 Those are the three noes that he states, and he offers some positive incentives we might give for that to happen. He said that should be the basis of the negotiation. If we ever succeed in that, then we can take the next step in trying to get them to roll back their arsenal. But as far as I can determine, we have not proceeded along the lines of those three noes. That was a tactical approach that Sig had that I supported at the time and still do. I think it was a reasonable approach to dealing with the North. 

ACT: I want to go back to the issue of nuclear terrorism, which we touched on briefly a few minutes ago. You wrote in your book that the threat of nuclear terrorism is the “gravest threat of our time.” Why do you think that’s the case?

Perry: The threat of nuclear weapons is the greatest threat of our time, and nuclear terrorism is the most likely form of it. If you consider the deterrent we have to somebody attacking us with nuclear weapons, it’s very powerful. But we have no deterrent to nuclear terrorism, and it’s relatively easy to imagine how such an attack could happen. So it’s not that it’s as catastrophic as a nuclear war; it’s just it has a much higher probability.

ACT: You mentioned the nuclear security summit process. How successful do you think that’s been in addressing this problem of nuclear terrorism?

Perry: I think it’s the most effective thing we can do because the most likely way for a terrorist to get a nuclear weapon is to get the fissile material and then build a crude, improvised bomb himself. So the biggest obstacle to a terrorist getting a nuclear weapon is getting the fissile material, and the nuclear summit process is specifically addressed to putting fissile material all over the world under much better control or eliminating it.

ACT: So as a result of the nuclear summit process, do you feel less troubled or less concerned than you did, say, seven years ago before the process started? 

Perry: Yes, I do. I mean, there are just fewer opportunities now for a terrorist group to get ahold of the fissile material. But I don’t feel by any means relaxed about this because there’s still a lot of it out there not under really good control. That’s why I think this final nuclear summit next year is so important. It gives us an opportunity to take even stronger actions than we’ve taken in the previous summits, including the opportunity for setting an international standard for the control and protection of fissile material.

ACT: What should be done to continue to focus high-level attention on the problem after the summit is completed? 

Perry: I’m sorry to say that the thing that would really give high-level attention to the problem is a nuclear terrorist incident. Then what had once seemed to be a theoretical possibility will become real. All I’m hoping and working for is that we can find the actions to stop nuclear terrorism without having that triggering event.

ACT: On the question of the likelihood, periodically people say within so-and-so many years there’s such-and-such a percentage chance of a nuclear terrorist incident taking place. People have been saying that for the last 30 years or so, and there hasn’t been one. So what do you think is the likelihood and over what time period?

Perry: I’ve never been able to put a number on it. But I would say it is quite feasible for it to happen in the next year, and I don’t see the actions we have now to keep that from happening as strong enough to give me any comfort that it’s not going to happen. It could happen next year; it could happen the following year. It’s a matter of the terrorist group putting the priority on doing that and putting the resources and the effort to making it happen. But I just don’t know how to put a number on it, a probability on it. Certainly, the likelihood of that happening is much higher than any of the other nuclear catastrophes.

ACT: As President Obama enters his final year in office, what more can he realistically seek to achieve with regard to the ambitious agenda he articulated in his Prague speech in April 2009?2

Perry: Number one, he could put a major effort into making this last nuclear summit a big success. That would be my number-one priority, I think, particularly since it addresses the threat I’m most concerned about, which is nuclear terrorism. Secondly, if he can get a renewed serious dialogue with the Russians, I would try to get a follow-on to New START under way. Third, a major push on the CTBT, however he could go about doing that, to try to get that ratified before he leaves office. That is a very steep uphill climb, and I don’t want to be optimistic. But as I recommend things to the administration, I do recommend that they make a major effort still to try to push that through, not to give up on the ratification of the CTBT. Many people will say that’s an impossible dream, but I would like a major push to achieve ratification.

ACT: Thank you very much for your time; we really appreciate it.

ENDNOTES

1.  See, for example, Siegfried S. Hecker, “North Korea Reactor Restart Sets Back Denuclearization,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 17, 2013, http://thebulletin.org/north-korea-reactor-restart-sets-back-denuclearization.

2.  Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic,” April 5, 2009.

Posted: January 14, 2016

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