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

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

An Assessment of North Korea’s Growing Nuclear Capabilities

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Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball
Catholic Korean Peace Forum
Catholic University of America
Oct. 5, 2022
(Video)

For more than three decades, North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions have posed a major foreign policy challenge for U.S. presidents and for the international community. On-and-off U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to address North Korea’s safeguards and nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty violations, and rein in its nuclear weapons capabilities have, over the years, yielded some important but limited results.

Although these diplomatic efforts and sanctions have slowed North Korea’s nuclear program, Pyongyang has built up a small but dangerous nuclear weapons stockpile and an increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile arsenal. Today, North Korean nuclear-armed ballistic missiles could strike targets in Northeast Asia and some North Korean ICBMs may have the range necessary to reach the United States but with an uncertain degree of targe accuracy.

North Korea was a top nuclear and foreign policy challenge for Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, and the Biden administration, but it has not always been the top foreign policy priority for U.S. presidents, and U.S. and South Korean and Japanese and Chinese policy vis-a-vis North Korea have rarely been in alignment over the years.

U.S. policy has been inconsistent in recent years. President Trump’s initial approach to North Korea was like that of his predecessors: ratchet up pressure on North Korea through sanctions and international isolation, while expressing an openness to dialogue if North Korea demonstrates a commitment to denuclearization.

Then, after a series of very dangerous, escalatory implied nuclear threats and “fire and fury” from Trump in response to North Korean missile tests in late 2017, including tests of the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 (its first intercontinental-range ballistic missiles) Trump reversed course and accepted a government of South Korea-brokered invitation to meet with North Korea’s leader, Chairman Kim Jong-un, in 2018.

Trump and Kim agreed at their June 2018 summit in Singapore to transform U.S.-North Korean relations to try to build peace and security in the region and denuclearize the Korean peninsula. North Korea announced a voluntary nuclear testing and long-range ballistic missile flight testing pause, and the United States scaled back its military exercises with the Republic of Korea.

The first summit yielded a brief but important statement of goals and principles for peace and denuclearization on the peninsula, but the meeting failed to lead to a sustained process of negotiations. When Trump and Kim met for a second summit in February 2019 in Hanoi, they could not agree on concrete steps toward the broad goals agreed to in Singapore. This was due in large part to the mixed messages, inflexibility, and maximalist positions pursued by the Trump administration as well as Chairman Kim.

North Korea's nuclear testing pause prevented it from making certain qualitative advances to its warhead designs, but Pyongyang has continued to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons program and has resumed testing short-, medium-, and very recently longer-range ballistic missiles. It has also likely continued to produce additional numbers of already-tested types of short-, medium-, and longer-range ballistic missiles.

Fissile Material As a result, in the absence of sustained peace and disarmament diplomacy, North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities continue to expand. Today, it is estimated that North Korea has producedenough fissile material for 40-50 nuclear warheads, although the exact number of the stockpile remains unknown.

While there is uncertainty about North Korea’s fissile material stockpile and production capability, it is estimated they have 20-40 kilograms of plutonium and 250-500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The estimated annual production of fissile material could be enough for 6-7 additional weapons.

North Korea has a centrifuge facility in Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which is likely used to produce highly enriched uranium weapons, and there is likely at least one other centrifuge facility in the country.

Production of fissile material at Yongbyon has been halted for political and technical reasons at various points, including in 2018 following summits with the U.S. and South Korea. However, in August 2021, the IAEA raised concerns that Pyongyang had restarted its plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon.

Intermediate- and Longer-Range Ballistic Missiles In late 2019, with denuclearization and peace talks stalled, Pyongyang formally announced it would no longer abide by its voluntary long-range missile and nuclear test moratorium. Long-range, or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are those with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers and are powerful enough to deliver a nuclear warhead. 

In 2019, North Korea conducted tests of three new shorter-range missile systems, code-named KN-23, KN-24, and KN-25. Unlike its older missiles that use liquid fuel, all three of the new missiles use solid fuel. The new solid-fuel weapons, mounted on mobile launchers, are easier to transport and hide and take less time to prepare. And at least two of them, KN-23 and KN-24, could perform low-altitude maneuvers, making them harder to intercept.

October 2020, the regime paraded a new ICBM significantly larger and more powerful than prior systems. More recently it has begun to test components and capabilities related to ICBMs. In March 2022, it flight-tested a what was believed by South Korea to be an older Hwasong-15 long-range ballistic missile. This past week, North Korea flight-tested another its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Mupyong-ri, near North Korea’s central border with China. It passed high over Japan and crashed into the Pacific Ocean 22 minutes later, about 4,600 kilometers from the launch site.

In early 2022, independent researchers at CSIS uncovered what is likely a new North Korean base for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at a location some 25 kilometers from the Chinese border in Chagang Province. The Hoejung-ni missile operating base will likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles.

It should also be noted that South Korea has developed its own ballistic missile test in recent years. For example, in 2020, South Korea conducted two tests of the new solid-fueled Hyunmoo-4, which boasts an 800-kilometer range and an estimated payload capacity of 2 metric tons.

In early 2021, bilateral guidelines that have long restricted the development of South Korea’s ballistic missile program were terminated, according to an agreement announced by President Moon Jae-in at his summit with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House May 21. In September 2021, it launched a ballistic missile from a submarine making it the first country without nuclear weapons to develop that capability.

A de facto ballistic missile arms race is underway on the peninsula.

North Korean Nuclear Weapon Test Explosions North Korea has also conducted six nuclear weapons tests between 2006 and 2017, the last of which produced an explosive yield of more than 100 kilotons of TNT equivalent. This strongly suggests that North Korea has successfully tested a compact but high-yield nuclear device that can be launched on intermediate- or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. Additional tests would help North Korea perfect such a design.

Following the start of U.S.-DPRK summit diplomacy in 2018, North Korea made a show of disabling test tunnels at its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility.

But now, the IAEA and U.S. intelligence sources indicate that North Korea has resumed activity at its test site and may be preparing to conduct its seventh underground nuclear test explosion, which could help North Korea proof test a more compact, more efficient but still very powerful nuclear warhead that is better suited for delivery on a long-range ballistic missile.

North Korea's Updated Nuclear Policy Law It is also important to note that in September 2022, Kim Jong Un announced a new law outlining North Korea's nuclear posture, which says that: “the nuclear forces of the DPRK are a powerful means for defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and fundamental interests of the state.”

The policy asserts that North Korea is a “nuclear weapon state" despite the fact that the international community considers North Korea to be, from a legal perspective, a non-nuclear weapon state party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that is in flagrant violation of its IAEA safeguards and nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, despite North Korea's claim that it withdrew from the NPT in 2003.

North Korea's new nuclear law also asserts that North Korea's leaders have a right to “use a pre-emptive nuclear strike to protect itself,” which reinforces long-standing assessments that North Korea would use nuclear weapons early in a conflict against the RoK and other targets if it believes it is under attack from U.S. or RoK forces. The updated nuclear policy strongly suggests North Korea is far less willing than it may ever have been in the past to consider negotiating "denuclearization" for "peace and normalization" of relations with the United States and its allies.

Implications and Next Steps

The bottom line in my view is that North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities remain dangerous to the region and that danger is gradually growing. And South Korea risks accelerating the missile arms race by pursuing its own capabilities.

Without a lasting freeze of North Korea's missile and nuclear programs and restraint on the part of South Korea regarding its own ballistic missile programs, Pyongyang's capabilities will increase and will soon pose a threat to the mainland United States.

Obviously, diplomacy requires interest from both sides. But to kick-start diplomacy, the Biden administration can and should do more than continue to express a willingness to engage in talks anywhere, any time.

The Biden team has a lot of crises to manage right now, for sure, but it can and should signal, privately and publicly that is prepared to pursue a principled but flexible, step-by-step approach that rewards concrete steps toward denuclearization with meaningful and calibrated sanctions relief and mutual confidence-building moves that simultaneously reduce tensions and the risk of conflict. President Biden should also signal that he recognizes North Korea’s stated security concerns.

Rapid elimination of all North Korean missiles and nuclear facilities prior to Pyongyang receiving any sanctions relief, a process proposed by Trump in Hanoi, is unrealistic.

To manage, reduce, and eventually eliminate the growing risks posed by North Korea’s arsenal, the United States and its partners will first need to focus on dismantling the most dangerous elements and continue work to sustain the denuclearization and peace process over time.

As Pope Francis cautioned when he visited Hiroshima in 2019: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral…. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act.” Thank you for your attention

*The author wishes to acknowledge research support from ACA's policy intern, Heather Foye.

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Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball
Catholic Korea Peace Forum
Catholic University of America
October 5, 2022*

*(This presentation has been corrected and updated on Oct. 20, 2022)

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Putin’s Latest Nuclear Threats: What’s at Stake and What Can Be Done to Walk Back from the Brink?

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Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022
1:00 pm to 2:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time

Sixty years ago this month, the Soviet Union and the world teetered on the edge of nuclear Armageddon over Russian missile deployments in Cuba. Once again, the world is facing the heightened risk of nuclear war, this time due to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinly-veiled threats of nuclear weapons use in his war on Ukraine. 

Our expert panel provided a detailed analysis of Russian tactical nuclear weapons capabilities, the consequences of their potential use, the pros and cons of potential responses from the United States and the international community to any Russian nuclear detonations, and diplomatic and political options designed to reduce the risk of the first use of nuclear weapons in 77 years.

The panelists were: 

  • Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists and co-author of the Nuclear Notebook column in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the World Nuclear Forces overview in the SIPRI Yearbook.
  • Rose Gottemoeller, senior lecturer at Stanford University's Institute for International Studies and its Center for International Security and Cooperation, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO (2016-2019), former U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, and the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russian Federation.
  • Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association. His latest analysis on the topic, "No Viable 'Nuclear Option' for Russia in Ukraine," was published last week.  
  • Shannon Bugos, Senior Policy Analyst, Arms Control Association (moderator) 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

 

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Following President Putin's thinly-veiled threats of nuclear weapons use in his war on Ukraine, our expert panel addressed Russian tactical nuclear weapons capabilities, the consequences of their potential use, and diplomatic and political options.

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“Strengthening the Disarmament Pillar of the NPT”

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Prepared remarks by Daryl Kimball for 10th NPT Review Conference Side Event by the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, "Strengthening the Three Pillars of the NPT: Contribution to Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, and Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy," August 18, 2022

Since the beginnings of the NPT more than five decades ago, steady progress on disarmament, as expressed in Article VI and subsequent outcome documents at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 Review Conferences has been essential to the strength and viability of the treaty—and the prevention of nuclear conflict.

Although the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles have decreased significantly from peak Cold War levels, the 1996 CTBT has successfully halted nuclear weapon test explosions, several nuclear weapons free zones have been established, and the 2017 TPNW is now in force, the risks posed by the nuclear deterrence strategies and arsenals of the five NPT nuclear-armed states remain far too high.

There is no room for complacency. This is no ordinary NPT conference.

The nuclear weapons threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is accelerating. The risk that a regional military confrontation could escalate to a nuclear conflict is real and growing.

The danger of an all-out arms race and nuclear conflict has been exacerbated further by President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale attack on Ukraine and his threats of nuclear use against any states who might interfere militarily.

President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has, for now, also derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, and made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine follows more than a decade of worsening tensions between the world’s nine-nuclear armed states and neglect in key capitals for disarmament diplomacy.

The nuclear-armed states are now pouring tens of billions of dollars each year into programs to replace and upgrade their deadly arsenals. Russia is threatening to deploy exotic new strategic systems, including nuclear-armed torpedoes, and the United States has recently deployed new, lower-yield warheads on sea-based platforms. China is preparing to increase the quantity and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal. The United Kingdom announced last year it would raise the ceiling on its nuclear arsenal  

As Ireland and several other delegations have noted in the debate in Main Committee I, nuclear-armed states are going backwards in terms of doctrines, modernization, arsenal size, and transparency, and these trends are not consistent with the shared objective of a nuclear weapon free world.

For more than a decade, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on disarmament and risk reduction has stalled.

Today, key U.S.-Russian bilateral nuclear arms control agreements that have helped keep the peace are either gone or are in jeopardy.

The only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which will expire in early 2026. Complicating matters, U.S.-Russian officials have not been able to agree on how to resume inspections under New START since the Covid-19 pandemic led to their suspension in 2020.

Without new arrangements to supersede New START, there will not be any limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

In a very promising statement, however, President Biden said on Aug. 1; “… my Administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026.”

Both sides recognize the danger but have not yet agreed to resume their dialogue.

This conference can and should give leaders in Washington and Moscow a gentle shove in the right direction by securing a commitment from them to immediately begin negotiating a follow-on agreement or agreements to supersede New START before 2026

Although China, France, and the U.K. have engaged in discussions on nuclear terms and doctrines through the P5 Process, they have stubbornly refused to seriously engage in talks on ideas and proposals, let alone real negotiations that might allow them to agree to cap or, even better, reduce their own deadly arsenals.

In sum: none of the NPT’s five nuclear-armed states can credibly claim they are meeting their NPT disarmament obligations and commitments.

Article VI-related obligations and commitments cannot be voided because there exists a challenging international security environment. In fact, the pursuit of disarmament is necessary to improve the international security environment.

_________

So, what can this august body of NPT states parties do to move us in the right direction?

To start, states parties at this conference must reaffirm the validity of the commitments agreed to at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 Review Conferences.

Most importantly, they can agree on a meaningful, forward-looking disarmament action plan with specific commitments, timeframes, and benchmarks.

The forward-looking document that is being developed in Subsidiary Body 1 on “Nuclear Disarmament and Security Assurances” contains several important components. At the same time, it needs to be improved and refined in a number of ways if it is going to be successful in strengthening the disarmament pillar of the treaty.

I would respectfully advise States-parties and the Conference president to be mindful of four broad areas for improvement in the August 17 SB.1 draft text on “Nuclear Disarmament and Security Assurances.”

1. Timeframes: First, the document needs to express more than broad goals and vague principles. To be effective and to hold states accountable, the document should more commit states to take specific, actionable, measurable disarmament steps within agreed timeframes.

As the Costa Rican delegation argued this past week, the persistent lack of firm deadlines in past Review Conference documents “has provided the nuclear-armed States with a pathway to disregard their disarmament commitments.”

As several other delegations have suggested, it should be clarified that the disarmament and risk reduction actions identified in the draft SB.1. outcome document are not open-ended commitments.

One way to do so would be to agree that:

“To avert the danger of nuclear war and to accelerate progress towards the collective goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the State Parties agree to undertake the following commitments within the next NPT review cycle:”

The only item on the list of disarmament and risk reduction initiatives or actions that sets forth a clear, specific, and unconditional action within a specific timeframe is the very useful and constructive commitment in para 4 which says:

“The Russian Federation and the United States commit to the negotiation in good faith of a successor framework to the “New START” Treaty before its expiration in 2026 in order to achieve deeper, verifiable, irreversible reductions in their nuclear arsenals.”

Given that the implementation of such an agreement or agreements may not begin until after New START expires in 2026, the document should add, that: “…until such time as such a new framework enters into force, the Russian Federation and the United States should not exceed the central limits of New START.”

The document identifies other potentially important commitments that are, unfortunately, undermined by caveats and conditions. For example, in paras 6 in which:

“The nuclear-weapon States and those non-nuclear weapon States that are part of nuclear alliances agree to take steps to diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons …” and for the nuclear-weapon States this should include the adoption of no-first use doctrines.”

If this were to be included in the final conference document it would be very constructive breakthrough, but only if nuclear weapon states also commit to put such doctrines into practice within a specific timeframe of some kind.

The United States, for instance, has claimed, off-and-on for more than a decade, that it seeks to move toward a “sole purpose” policy. After promising during the 2020 campaign to adopt a “sole purpose policy,” President Biden later backtracked on that pledge.

2. Strategic restraint and Article VI: Second, the NPT Review Conference must reaffirm that States Parties consider the deployment of new nuclear weapons capabilities and any increase in the overall size of a nation’s nuclear arsenal to be inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of Article VI of the Treaty.

Presently, paragraph the SB.1. draft of August 17 includes weak language that says: “The nuclear-weapon States acknowledge and take into account the grave concerns of non-nuclear weapon States regarding the modernization of nuclear forces and the development of new types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.”

Such language is, at best, meaningless, and at worst harmful to the interpretation of Article VI because it does not state that new types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems represent qualitative arms racing that can also lead to vertical nuclear proliferation.

If NPT states parties take Article VI seriously, they will reinforce the needs for “strategic restraint” by “acknowledging that “nuclear weapons modernization programs that result in the development of new types of nuclear weapons and/or more capable delivery systems and/or that lead to an increase in the number of nuclear weapons in a country’s arsenal are contrary to object and purpose of Article VI of the Treaty.”

3. Responding to the Risks Posed by Threats of Nuclear Use: Since the last Review Conference, two NPT states parties have issued dangerous threats of nuclear weapons use: the United States on August 8, 2017 under former President Donald Trump against the DPRK, and most recently on February 24 and April 27 of this year, by Russian President Vladimir Putin against any state that might interfere with Russia’s war against Ukraine.

In response, the first meeting of state parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” issued a strong consensus political statement that declared that “…any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”

The latest draft emerging from Main Committee I does not include a similar condemnation.

Para 27.c. of the draft SB.1. document does include a line that commits the NPT nuclear weapon states to refrain from certain kinds of nuclear threats but not others.

“To refrain from dangerous rhetoric and from directly and indirectly threatening the use of nuclear weapons for military coercion, intimidation and blackmail.”

The addition of the words “for military coercion, intimidation, and blackmail” are unhelpful, this language could be interpreted to legitimate threats of nuclear from states claiming they are “responsible” and are for “defensive” purposes, but nonetheless may be dangerous and intimidating and destabilizing, and illegal and contrary to the UN Charter.

For example, at this Review Conference Russia has defended President Putin’s nuclear “warnings” as a normal part of a nuclear deterrence strategy that is designed to defend Russia.

Meanwhile, the U.S., UK, and France have issued a working paper that attempts characterizes Russia’s recent nuclear threats as “irresponsible” offensive nuclear threats that they say are designed to intimidate or coerce; they argue their deterrence policies involve “responsible” nuclear threats for “defensive” purposes of their own nations.

NPT states parties must be careful not to legitimize or justify dangerous deterrence-driven nuclear threats, which are unhelpful and counterproductive in any form.

Rather, we believe this conference must be clear that and demand that nuclear weapon states shall simply “refrain from dangerous rhetoric and from directly and indirectly threatening the use of nuclear weapons.”

4. New accountability mechanisms: Finally, this conference must grapple with need to hold states accountable for their actions, or inaction, regarding legally binding obligations and politically binding commitments made through consensus decisions at Review Conferences.

Some nuclear weapon states, such as the United States have raised questions about the validity of past NPT conference commitments. This is not helpful.

In an interview in June, U.S. Ambassador Adam Scheinman said that “only the terms of the treaty are legally binding on states-parties and that any commitment recorded at review conferences in a consensus document are political. They reflect what seems achievable or desirable at the time they were made.”

Joint commitments, goals and benchmarks need to be updated, surely, but to suggest that past commitments arrived at through consensus decision-making process can be discarded simply because they became inconvenient to achieve is highly counterproductive. 

The latest August 17 draft SB.1. document takes us in a partial step in the right direction.

The 8th preambular paragraph of the draft document reaffirms the validity of all existing commitments undertaken, including in the outcome documents adopted by the 1995, 2000 and 2010 NPT Review Conferences” and “stresses that these commitments are not conditional.”

However, the next para then adds a condition that might be interpreted by some states as an excuse to equivocate on their unequivocal disarmament undertaking: that “effective implementation [is pursued] in a way that promotes international stability, peace ,and security, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”

Also, paragraph 30 very importantly underscores “… the necessity of strengthening accountability through enhanced transparency and measurability of the implementation of nuclear disarmament obligations and commitments.”

A commitment by the nuclear weapon states to report on and engage in discussions on their actions toward the implementation of previous commitments at every NPT PrepCom and Revie Conference would indeed enable better monitoring of progress.

This modest and overdue adjustment to the NPT review process should not be controversial.

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Let me conclude by saying that given the growing deficit on disarmament and risk of nuclear war, history will likely judge the success or failure of this pivotal NPT meeting as to whether your delegations can reach agreement on a meaningful and updated disarmament action plan, and whether your governments make good on that plan in the months and years that follow.

I respectfully urge you to make every effort to do so and thank you for your efforts to date.

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Daryl G. Kimball's Remarks at the 10th NPT Review Conference, August 18, 2022. 

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“The Necessity of a Meaningful Action Plan on Article VI of the NPT”

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NGO Statement for Presentation at the 10th NPT Review Conference, August 5, 2022

Five decades ago, shortly after the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force, the United States and Russia concluded a series of bilateral arms control and arms reduction agreements to cap and eventually reduce their massive nuclear arsenals, which have constrained nuclear competition and reduced the threat of nuclear war.

Despite political differences and periods of conflict, Soviet and American leaders recognized the value of arms control in creating a more stable and predictable geostrategic environment. As then-Senator Joe Biden put it in a speech in 1979, “pursuing arms control is not a luxury or a sign of weakness, but an international responsibility and a national necessity.”

Twenty-seven years ago, as states-parties negotiated the terms for the extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the future of the treaty was not assured, as progress on disarmament remained uncertain.

Yet at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, states-parties came together, committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons,” and endorsed specific disarmament actions, including further nuclear reductions, the conclusion of talks on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and more. The bargain facilitated the indefinite extension of the NPT and the conclusion of negotiations on the CTBT. Additional commitments were made at the 2000 and 2010 NPT review conferences to advance implementation and compliance with all three pillars of the treaty.

Although the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles have decreased significantly from peak Cold War levels, and the CTBT has successfully halted nuclear weapon test explosions, the risks posed by the risky nuclear deterrence strategies and the deadly nuclear arsenals of the five NPT nuclear-armed states remain far too high.

Further progress on nuclear disarmament by the United States and Russia—along with China, France, and the United Kingdom—has been and remains at the core of their NPT Article VI legal obligations to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

But, since the conclusion of the 2010 New START agreement, U.S.-Russian strategic stability and nuclear arms control talks have not produced results. Today, important bilateral nuclear arms control agreements are either gone, are being ignored, or are in jeopardy. The only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which will expire in early 2026.

Although China, France, and the U.K. have engaged in discussions on nuclear terms and doctrines through the N-5 Process, they have stubbornly refused to seriously engage in talks on ideas and proposals that would cap or reduce their own deadly arsenals.

Meanwhile, all nuclear-armed states are spending tens of billions of dollars each year to replace and upgrade their deadly arsenals. Russia is developing new types of intermediate-range missiles and is threatening to deploy exotic new strategic systems, including nuclear-armed torpedoes. President Putin also recently suggested he might put nuclear weapons-capable missiles and aircraft in Belarus. The United States has recently deployed new, lower-yield warheads on sea-launched ballistic missiles. China and the United Kingdom, among other nuclear-armed states, are also increasing the quantity and capabilities of their nuclear arsenals.

Now, in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2022 decision to invade Ukraine and issue threats of nuclear weapons against any state that might try to interfere the risk of nuclear conflict by accident or by design is growing. As a result of Russia’s actions, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and arms control was put on indefinite hold.

The deteriorating situation is the product of more than a decade of neglect of disarmament diplomacy in key capitals. None of the “N-5” –the NPT’s nuclear-armed states—can credibly claim they are meeting their NPT disarmament obligations.

The only bright spot: in 2017, more than 130 nonnuclear weapon states decided to take action to highlight the existential dangers of nuclear weapons, stigmatize nuclear weapons use and the threat of their use, and implement their Article VI obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament by negotiating the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The TPNW represents a constructive new approach to reinforce the taboos against nuclear weapons, bolster the NPT, and create more pressure for meaningful actions by the nuclear possessor states to verifiably cap, reduce, and eventually eliminate their arsenals. The first meeting of TPNW states parties produced a concrete set of 50 actions to advance nuclear disarmament and implement the Treaty.

And in a welcome move, TPNW states parties, citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” issued a consensus political statement that declared that “…any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”

Unfortunately, thus far, all nuclear-armed states have refused to engage with the TPNW. We call upon them to do so and urge all NPT states-parties to join the TPNW.


Clearly, the nuclear arms reduction process envisioned by the NPT regime is currently not working. The deficit in disarmament diplomacy and the growing nuclear danger mean that this is no ordinary NPT Review Conference.

As always, the Conference must comprehensively assess implementation and compliance on all major political commitments and legal obligations that states have undertaken in the context of the treaty.

But make no mistake: history will judge the success or failure of this pivotal NPT meeting as to whether or not delegations can reach agreement on a meaningful and updated disarmament action plan, and whether your governments make good on that plan in the months and years that follow.

We strongly urge all states to act with a sense of urgency, a spirit of cooperation, and a determination to produce meaningful results that transcend old fault lines.

Even if a consensus final document is not attainable, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

One key issue this conference must address is the potential collapse of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control system.

In early 2021, within days of the original expiration date of New START, President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin wisely agreed to extend the treaty by another five years, and re-launched a “Strategic Stability Dialogue” in the fall of 2021 with the goal of negotiating a new agreement or agreements to supersede New START and address other issues of mutual concern.

But following Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and arms control has been on indefinite hold.

Without new arrangements to supersede New START, there would not be any limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both sides recognize the danger but have not yet agreed to resume their dialogue.

“Our progress must continue beyond the New START extension,” Biden wrote on June 2. “Even as we rally the world to hold Russia accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine, we must continue to engage Russia on issues of strategic stability,” Biden wrote. “Today— perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War—we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation.”

President Biden reiterated the call for renewed nuclear arms control talks in his Aug. 1 statement ahead of the NPT Review Conference: “… my Administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026.”

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 30 that “Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, preserving agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in arms control.”

Unfortunately, officials on both sides have equivocated on when the dialogue might resume, and the two sides have not yet agreed on the resumption of New START inspections since they were suspended during the pandemic.

Delegations at this conference must be united in calling upon them to do so.

Some NPT nuclear-armed states and their allies may bemoan the fact that the environment for disarmament progress is “challenging.”

We can expect that a few states will continue to claim that many past NPT commitments on disarmament have been overtaken by events. Disarmament progress has never been simple or easy, but such deflections are irresponsible.

Instead, the five nuclear-armed NPT states should acknowledge their legally binding disarmament commitments, work with other states-parties on a pragmatic action plan to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons that sets new benchmarks and deadlines, and pledge to act with the urgency that the grave nuclear weapons threat demands.

Notwithstanding the different views on how and whether NPT states parties have fulfilled past Article VI-related disarmament commitments and obligations, nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states should cooperate on a serious updated disarmament action plan that could include the key elements below.

  • A call for the United States and Russia to conclude talks on New START follow-on agreements that achieve further cuts in nuclear warheads and delivery systems no later than 2025 and, pending the conclusion of such arrangements, agree not to exceed the central limits of New START until such time as new arrangements enter into force.
  • A pledge by the five NPT nuclear-armed states to engage in nuclear risk reduction talks and to agree to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals.
  • A call for NPT states to initiate disarmament talks in a multilateral format no later than 2025.
  • A call for the remaining holdout states to initiate their respective processes to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and, pending the treaty’s entry into force, negotiate and implement new, voluntary confidence-building measures to address legitimate concerns about compliance with the treaty’s “zero-yield” prohibition.
  • A call for the five NPT nuclear-armed states to update their 1995 negative security assurances and to jointly or individually affirm that they will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT.
  • A call to address the legal loopholes in the current safeguards system which allow for materials to be removed from safeguards for military operations.
  • A call for all states to refrain from developing and deploying nuclear-armed cruise and hypersonic missiles, as well as other new types of nuclear warheads and nuclear delivery systems, and refrain from cyber offensive infiltrations against each other’s nuclear weapons command and control and communications systems.
  • A recognition that because the use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought and no state should, under any circumstances, directly or indirectly threaten the use of nuclear weapons.”

Now is the time to bolster the disarmament pillar of the NPT.

As Pope Francis cautioned when he visited Hiroshima in 2019: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral…. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act.”

We thank you for your attention.

Endorsed by:

Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Hubert Kum Foy, Director and Senior Research Scientist, African Center for Science and International Security

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Tanya Ogilvie White, Research Adviser, Asia-Pacific Leadership Network

Peter Wilk, Administrative Chair, Back from the Brink: Bringing Communities Together to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Alyn Ware, Director, Basel Peace Office

Rachel Bronson, President and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Tong Zhao, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Visiting Research Scholar, Princeton University*

John F. Tierney, Executive Director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and the Council for a Livable World

Hans M. Kristensen, Director, Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists

Noboru Sakiyama, President, Japanese Liaison Council of Second-Generation Atomic Bomb Survivors

Oliver Meier, Senior Researcher, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg

Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

Jean-Marie Collin, Spokesperson, ICAN France

Lotta Sjöström Becker, President, International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR)

Michael Christ, Executive Director, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

William C. Potter, Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*

John Burroughs, Senior Analyst, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Kasumi Matsui, President and Mayor of Hiroshima, Mayors for Peace

Christian Ciobanu, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Marie Dennis, Senior Advisor to the Secretary General, Pax Christi International

Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action

John Hallam, Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner, People for Nuclear Disarmament

Jeff Carter, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Emma Belcher, President, Ploughshares Fund

Francesca Giovannini, Executive Director Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School

Ellen Thomas, Executive Director, Proposition One Campaign for a Nuclear Free Future

Tomohiro Inagaki, Chair, Pugwash Japan

Reaching Critical Will of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General, Peace and Global Issues, Soka Gakkai International

Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment)

Tara Drozdenko, Director of the Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Marianne Hanson, Associate Professor of International Relations, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland*

Elena Sokova, Executive Director, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*

Darien De Lu, President, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom U.S.

Cherrill Spencer, Co-chair of the DISARM/End Wars Committee, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom U.S. Section

*Institution listed for identification purposes only.

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NGO Statement for Presentation at the 10th NPT Review Conference.

Getting Back on the Path to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

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Keynote Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, for the "International Symposium for Peace: The Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition," sponsored by Asahi Shimbun, Nagasaki city government, and the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace

Nagasaki, Japan
July 30, 2022

The English live streaming can be accessed at https://youtu.be/k80HSwG8YCg at 9:00 pm U.S. Eastern time (July 29) / 10:00 am Japanese Standard Time (July 30). 

Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people—from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the United States, Russia, and around the globe—have stood up to demand meaningful action to halt arms racing and nuclear testing, to reduce and number and role of nuclear weapons, and move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

When working together on shared goals through smart campaigns, networks of citizen activists, nongovernmental organizations, engaged scholars, scientists, diplomats, faith leaders, social and environmental justice organizations, survivors of nuclear war and nuclear testing, along with dedicated local and national decision-makers have changed the course nuclear history for the better. Among other successes, we have:

  • raised awareness of the existential dangers posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear war.
  • pushed U.S. and Russian leaders to halt arms buildups and to negotiate the nuclear arms control and reduction agreements, including New START in 2010 and its extension in 2021.
  • demanded legislation and treaties to prohibit nuclear weapons testing.
  • forced the cancellation of new and destabilizing nuclear weapons programs.
  • spurred the negotiation and entry into force of 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But there is no room for complacency.

The Growing Risk of Nuclear War and Nuclear Arms Racing

The nuclear weapons threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is accelerating. The risk that a regional military confrontation could escalate to a nuclear conflict is real and growing.

The danger of an all-out arms race and nuclear weapons use has been exacerbated by President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale attack Ukraine and his threats of nuclear use against any states who might interfere militarily.

  • The war has significantly increased the risk of fighting between NATO and Russian forces, which could—given both sides’ nuclear weapons use policies—quickly lead to nuclear escalation.
  • Russia’s attack on Ukraine has underscored the fact that nuclear weapons don’t prevent major wars. Rather, they can facilitate aggression by nuclear-armed states and make wars waged by nuclear-armed states far more dangerous—especially when nuclear-armed states become pitted against one another, dangerously increasing the risk of miscalculation and miscommunication.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has also derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states, and created a major challenge for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

Russia’ invasion of Ukraine follows more than a decade of worsening tensions between the world’s nine-nuclear armed states.

Since New START was completed more than a decade ago, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on disarmament and risk reduction has stalled. Treaty compliance disputes have dominated the bilateral U.S.-Russian agenda, and key treaties that have helped keep the post-Cold War peace, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, are now gone. The only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals—the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)—will expire in early 2026.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington are both spending tens of billions of dollars each year to replace and upgrade their deadly strategic arsenals. Russia is also threatening to deploy exotic new strategic systems, including nuclear-armed torpedoes. President Putin recently suggested he might put nuclear weapons-capable missiles and aircraft in Belarus.

And in recent days, the U.S. Congress voted to overrule President Biden’s recommendation to cancel funding for a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile—an expensive and destabilizing weapon proposed by the Trump administration that would, if developed and deployed, prompt China and Russia to develop similar capabilities and accelerate the arms race.

Although China, France, and the U.K. have engaged in discussions on nuclear terms and doctrines through the N-5 Process, they have stubbornly refused to seriously engage in talks on ideas and proposals that would cap or reduce their own deadly arsenals.

Instead, China is responding to a more adversarial relationship with the United States by moving quickly diversify its relatively smaller nuclear stockpile of some 300 nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom announced last year that it would increase the cap on the size of its submarine-based nuclear arsenal.

The only genuinely positive development on nuclear disarmament in recent years has been the so-called Humanitarian Initiative, designed to highlight the existential dangers of nuclear weapons and stigmatize nuclear weapons and the threat of their use, which led to the negotiation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by a group of more than 130 states.

The treaty represents a constructive new approach to reinforce the taboos against nuclear weapons, bolster the NPT, and create more pressure for meaningful action by the nuclear possessor states to verifiably cap, reduce, and eventually eliminate their arsenals.

In June, in a welcome move, TPNW states parties, citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” issued a consensus political statement declaring that “…any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”

Unfortunately, thus far, all nuclear-armed states have refused to engage with the TPNW.

It was also unfortunate that Japan decided not to attend the first meeting of states parties to the TPNW even though Prime Fumio Kishida said in October 2021: “I believe that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a very important treaty for a world without nuclear weapons.”

Going forward it is important that all states recognize that the TPNW is a positive contribution to global security and seriously consider joining the treaty. If Japan wants to be an effective “bridge-builder” between nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear weapon states, it will need to engage in upcoming meetings of the TPNW.

What Can Be Done?

Given the growing risk of nuclear war, we must do all we can to encourage our elected leaders to provide leadership and to take meaningful action.

Our actions will determine if we can succeed – or not – in moving away from dangerous nuclear policies and toward renewed and productive disarmament diplomacy.

An important catalyst for change is increasing societal awareness about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons use and the risks of nuclear war. Here in Japan, the persistent and dedicated efforts of the Hibakusha have been essential in helping the world understand the grave consequences of nuclear weapons. That work must continue in new and creative ways.

Now, some 77 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we must take inspiration from the Hibakusha and share their stories and testimonials even more widely ensure that successive generations understand that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Just as importantly, we must also do our part to explain why national security strategies that depend on nuclear deterrence are inherently risky and will eventually fail, and that the only cure for nuclear war is the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Progress also will continue to depend on effective and sustained pressure of concerned citizens here in Japan and around the globe on their elected leaders to take meaningful action to reduce dangers and verifiably eliminate all nuclear weapons and to use every opportunity available to put the world on a safer course.

The 10th NPT Review Conference

The next global debate about nuclear weapons and the dangers they pose will take place at the 10th NPT Review Conference at UN headquarters in New York.

The review conference is a critical opportunity for the treaty’s 191 states-parties to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons, to strongly condemn any threat of nuclear weapons use, and to intensify the pressure for action to fulfill the treaty’s Article VI disarmament provisions.

Just as they did when states-parties gathered for 1995 Review Conference to negotiate the terms for the extension of the treaty, states-parties must produce results.

At that pivotal NPT conference 27 year ago, NPT states parties committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons,” and endorsed specific disarmament actions, including further nuclear reductions, the conclusion of talks on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and more.

Today, the deficit in disarmament diplomacy and the growing nuclear danger means that this is no ordinary NPT review conference.

As always, the conference must review, comprehensively implementation and compliance on all major political commitments and legal obligations that states have undertaken.

But make no mistake: history will judge the success or failure of this pivotal meeting as on whether or not delegations can reach agreement on a meaningful and updated disarmament action plan, and whether governments make good on that plan in the months and years that follow.

All states need to act with a sense of urgency, a spirit of cooperation, and a determination to produce meaningful results that transcend old fault lines.

Even if a consensus final document is not attainable, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

One key issue this conference must address is the potential collapse of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control system.

In early 2021, within days the original expiration date of New START, President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin wisely agreed to extend the treaty by another five years, and re-launched a “Strategic Stability Dialogue” in the fall of 2021 with the goal of negotiating a new agreement or agreements to supersede New START and address other issues of mutual concern.

Shortly after Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and arms control was put on indefinite hold.

Without new arrangements to supersede New START, there would not be any limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both sides recognize the danger but have not yet agreed to resume their dialogue.

“Our progress must continue beyond the New START extension,” Biden wrote June 2 in a message to the Arms Control Association. “Even as we rally the world to hold Russia accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine, we must continue to engage Russia on issues of strategic stability,” Biden wrote. “Today—perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War—we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation.”

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said June 30 that “Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, preserving agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in arms control.”

Unfortunately, officials on both sides have equivocated on when the dialogue might resume.Delegations at the NPT Review Conference, including Japan, must be vocal and united in calling upon them to do so.

Some NPT nuclear-armed states and their allies may bemoan the fact that the environment for disarmament progress is “challenging.” We can expect some of these states will continue to claim that many past NPT commitments on disarmament have been overtaken by events. Disarmament progress has never been simple or easy, but such deflections are irresponsible.

Instead, the five nuclear-armed NPT states should acknowledge their past disarmament commitments, work with other states-parties on a pragmatic action plan that sets new benchmarks and deadlines, and pledge to act with the urgency that the grave nuclear weapons threat demands.

Notwithstanding the different views on how to fulfill past NPT commitments and obligations, nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states should cooperate on a updated disarmament action plan that could include the following elements:

  • A call for the United States and Russia to conclude talks on New START follow-on agreements that achieve further cuts in nuclear warheads and delivery systems no later than 2025 and, pending the conclusion of such arrangements, agree not to exceed the central limits of New START until such time as they enter into force.
  • A pledge by the other NPT nuclear-armed states—China, France, and the U.K.—to engage in bilateral or multilateral nuclear risk reduction talks and to agree to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals.
  • A call for NPT states to agree to begin disarmament talks in a bilateral or a multilateral format no later than 2025.
  • A call for the five NPT nuclear-armed states to update their 1995 negative security assurances and to jointly or individually affirm that they will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT.
  • A call for the remaining holdout states to initiate their respective processes to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and, pending the treaty’s entry into force, negotiate and implement new, voluntary confidence-building measures to address concerns about compliance with the treaty’s “zero-yield” prohibition.
  • A call for all states to refrain from developing and deploying nuclear-armed cruise and hypersonic missiles, as other new types of warheads and delivery systems.
  • A recognition that because the use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought and no state should, under any circumstances, directly or indirectly threaten the use of nuclear weapons.”

Even if a consensus final document is not attainable due to tensions over the war in Ukraine, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

As Pope Francis cautioned when he visited Hiroshima in 2019: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral…. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act.”

Thank you for listening.

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Keynote Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, for the "International Symposium for Peace: The Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition," sponsored by Asahi Shimbun, Nagasaki city government, and the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace

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The Nuclear Risk Dimension of the War On Ukraine

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Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association
June 20, 2022

“No matter who tries to stand in our way ... they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history ....” Russian President Vladimir Putin, February 24

"If someone wants to interfere in the situation in Ukraine from the outside and creates an unacceptable threat of a strategic nature for Russia, the response will be lightning-fast, decisions on this matter have been made,” Mr. Putin said at a meeting with members of the Council of Legislators April 27.

"Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences that you have never faced in your history. We are ready for any development of events," the Russian president added. He said that Russia has all the tools for this, "such as no one can boast of now. We will use them, if necessary," Vladimir Putin warned.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, along with his implied threats of nuclear weapons use against any who would interfere, have raised the specter of a nuclear conflict in ways we have not experienced in the post-Cold War era.

  • Russia’s war on Ukraine and the ongoing possibility of military conflict between Russian and NATO forces have significantly increased the risk of nuclear weapons use.
     
  • Unlike the extremely dangerous 13-day-long Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the war in Ukraine, will likely last many more months. And unlike the 1962 crisis, which did not involve a sustained exchange of fire, the war in Ukraine does. As a result, the world will remain in a condition of heightened nuclear danger for some time to come.
     
  • President Putin’s statements threatening possible nuclear use, and his announcement early in the conflict that he was raising the readiness level of Russian strategic nuclear forces, are designed to ward off outside military interference by U.S. and NATO forces in his attack on Ukraine.
     
  • From a legal perspective, the International Court of Justice unanimously determined in its 1996 advisory opinion that a threat to engage in nuclear weapons use, particularly under the circumstances suggested by Mr. Putin, is contrary to international humanitarian law, and, of course, the threat to use nuclear weapons, violates the UN Charter, and under any circumstance, is prohibited by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
     
  • Putin’s threats also violate Article II of the 1973 bilateral Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, which pledged the United States and Russia to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the other Party, against the allies of the other Party and against other countries, in circumstances which may endanger international peace and security.”
     
  • So far, President Joe Biden has not engaged in inflammatory nuclear rhetoric or raised the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces. U.S. and NATO leaders have made it clear their military forces will not directly enter the conflict. Nevertheless, the risk of escalation is real. A close encounter between NATO and Russian warplanes or an attack by Russia on NATO territory or vice versa could become a flashpoint for a wider conflict.
     
  • Because Russian and U.S. strategies reserve the option—under extreme circumstances—to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats, fighting could quickly go nuclear. Russian nuclear doctrine states that nuclear weapons can be used in response to an attack with weapons of mass destruction or if a conventional war threatens the “very existence of the state.” Right now, these conditions do not exist. But if the Kremlin believes a serious attack on Russia is underway, it might order the use of short-range, tactical nuclear weapons to tip the military balance in its favor. Such a scenario would seem unlikely, but it cannot be ruled out.

    U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Nuclear Posture Review states that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. arsenal will be to deter nuclear attacks while still leaving open the option for nuclear first use in “extreme circumstances” to counter conventional, biological, chemical, and possibly cyberattacks.
     
  • In addition to the possibility of an escalation of the fighting beyond the borders of Ukraine to involve NATO and Russian forces and territory, there is the potential, albeit small this time, that Russia might consider the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine itself. In April, CIA Director William Burns said that although there is no sign that Russia is preparing to do so, “none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."
     
  • Since then, Russian officials have denied there is any intention to do so because the Russian state is clearly not under imminent threat from either Ukraine or NATO. But if the Kremlin thought an attack from the United States or NATO was underway or if the Kremlin finds that Russian forces are on the verge of a catastrophic defeat in Ukraine, Putin might consider the nuclear option, perhaps beginning with the use of short-range, “tactical” nuclear weapons, to try to tip the balance in Russia’s military favor or to try to end the conflict.
     
  • Once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict, particularly between nuclear-armed adversaries, we are in completely uncharted territory. Theories that a nuclear war can be “limited” are just theories. In practice and in the fog of nuclear war, once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict involving the United States and Russia, there is no guarantee it would not quickly become an all-out nuclear conflagration. A recent Princeton Program on Science and Global Security simulation estimates the use of nuclear weapons in war between NATO and Russian forces could lead to the death and injury of nearly 100 million people in just the first few hours. As the head of U.S. Strategic Command General John Hyten said in 2018 after the annual Global Thunder nuclear wargame: “It ends bad. And the bad meaning it ends with global nuclear war.”
     
  • Nuclear threats and alerts of various kinds were not uncommon during the Cold War, before the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and after. But Russia’s implied nuclear threats to shield an attack by a nuclear-armed state against a non-nuclear-weapon state is unprecedented—and unacceptable—in the post-Cold War era. And since the Soviet Union dissolved, no U.S. or Russian leader has raised the alert level of nuclear forces to try to coerce a potential nuclear adversary’s behavior.
     
  • Such actions are dangerous for all sides. Nuclear threat rhetoric and orders to raise the operational readiness of Russian or U.S. nuclear forces could be also misinterpreted in ways that lead the other side to make nuclear countermoves that trigger nuclear escalatory moves, fears of an imminent attack, and potentially nuclear weapons use.
     
  • We must also understand that another feature of the war is that Russia is “using” its nuclear weapons to provide cover for a major conventional military intervention against an independent, sovereign non-nuclear-weapon state. We must also recognize that this is not a uniquely Russian idea. Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said in February 2021 that “[w]e must acknowledge the foundational nature of our nation’s strategic nuclear forces, as they create the ‘maneuver space’ for us to project conventional military power strategically.”
     
  • Putin’s invasion also underscores the fact that nuclear weapons don’t prevent major wars. Rather, they can facilitate aggression by nuclear-armed states and make wars waged by nuclear-armed states far more dangerous—especially when nuclear-armed states become pitted against one another and there is an increased risk of miscalculation and miscommunication.
     
  • Of course, Russia’s 2014 occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its more recent invasion violates the security assurances extended to Ukraine in 1994 by the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States through the Budapest Memorandum—and makes a mockery of the negative security assurances extended to nonnuclear weapons states in the context of the NPT.
     
  • NATO countries may argue that because Russia has not attacked a NATO member, this shows the utility of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. In reality, U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons have proven to be useless in preventing Russian aggression against Ukraine.

    Instead, Ukraine’s allies and friends have responded with political, economic, and diplomatic means to help defend Ukraine and thwart the aggressor, along with military and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine defend its territory. Even for a state or alliance possessing a robust nuclear arsenal, conventional military capabilities are key to deterring conventional attacks and to battlefield success, or failure.
     
  • Russia’s explicit nuclear threats, which President Biden and other leaders have criticized as “irresponsible,” also create a dilemma for NATO, which is a self-declared nuclear alliance that depends on maintaining the credible threat of nuclear use.

    The more NATO emphasizes the value of nuclear deterrence and the value of possessing nuclear weapons, the more legitimacy it lends to Putin’s nuclear threats and the mistaken and dangerous belief that nuclear weapons are necessary for self-defense. As Pope Francis declared in 2017: “[Nuclear weapons] exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race [and] create nothing but a false sense of security.”

Finally, the conflict has derailed the “Strategic Stability Dialogue” between Washington and Moscow that was intended to lead to negotiations on new nuclear arms reduction agreements designed to supersede the New START agreement, which will expire in early 2026.

In a statement issued to the Arms Control Association on June 2, President Biden said: “Our progress must continue beyond the New START …” But it remains unclear whether and when the U.S.-Russian dialogue will resume, let alone whether they can reach agreement on capping or further reducing their bloated arsenals beyond 2026.

As a result, neither side can say they are meeting their legally binding nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations under Article VI of the treaty, and it is more likely than not that after 2026, there will be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles—something the world has not seen in more than five decades.

Response Options: As the war drags on, it is vital that Russian, NATO, and U.S. leaders maintain lines of communication to prevent direct conflict. They must refrain from threatening nuclear rhetoric and actions that increase the risk of nuclear escalation, such as moving to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, putting strategic weapons on higher alert levels, or developing new types of nuclear weapons designed for fighting and “winning” a regional nuclear war.

In particular, the international community needs to take stronger action to strengthen the legal and political norms against nuclear weapons use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons.

We must also press the nuclear-armed states to finally take the actions necessary to fulfill their commitments to verifiably reduce and eliminate their nuclear weapons and adopt non-nuclear approaches to defense that can more effectively preserve international peace and human security.

The March 2 vote in the General Assembly condemning Russia’s invasion and Putin’s decision to increase the readiness of his nuclear forces, was important but is not sufficient. We should recall that the UNGA issued a declaration in November 1961 that said that “any state using nuclear…weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the UN, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”

The first meeting of states parties to the TPNW is a crucial and timely opportunity to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons. States attending the 10th NPT Review Conference must also seek to reinforce the norm against nuclear use and nuclear threats and steer the nuclear possessor states away from nuclear confrontation and arms racing and toward a resumption of disarmament negotiations.

Bottom Lines: The nuclear dimensions of the war on Ukraine are reminders that outdated nuclear deterrence policies create unacceptable risks. If we are to eliminate the danger, we must actively reinforce the legal prohibitions and norms against nuclear weapons development, testing, possession, proliferation, and use—and press for disarmament diplomacy that leads to concrete actions that put us on the path toward the complete, irreversible, and verifiable elimination of all nuclear weapons in our lifetimes.

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Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, June 20, 2022

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WEBCAST | 2022 Annual Meeting: Marking 50 Years of Accomplishments and Charting the Course for Challenges Ahead

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We were thrilled to see friends, colleagues, and supporters again after several years at our 2022 Annual Meeting to mark a half-century of accomplishments in arms control and to chart our course of action in the years ahead. You are invited to review the program in the webcast above. 

We are grateful for the support of our 50th Anniversary Sponsors for their commitment to our efforts in the coming years. If you would like to join this select group as a 50th Anniversary sponsor, please select from the available tiers below or contact Kathy Crandall Robinson at (202) 463-8270 ext. 101. 

EVENT PROGRAM (PDF) and SPEAKERS LIST (Bios)  
0 a.m. Registration
9:15 a.m. Welcome
Daryl Kimball, executive director

Special Remarks
Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Special Remarks
Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki, and Kazumi Matsui, Mayor of Hiroshima
9:30 a.m. PANEL | “The Nuclear Threat in the Wake of Russia's War on Ukraine - Lessons and Next Steps”

Elayne Whyte, former Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United Nations - Geneva

Nina Tannenwald, director of the international relations program at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies and author of The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945

Oliver Meier, senior researcher at the Berlin office of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH)

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, moderating
10:45 a.m. PANEL | “Restoring Nonproliferation and Disarmament Guardrails”

Thomas Countryman, former Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation

Eric Brewer, senior director of the Nuclear Materials Security Program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative

Jamie Kwong, Stanton pre-doctoral fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Kelsey Davenport, policy director at the Arms Control Association, moderating
12:00 p.m. Special Presentation
The Arms Control Association: 50 Years of Accomplishment"
Keynote Speaker
Mallory Stewart, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance

Introduced by Carol Giacomo, editor, Arms Control Today
1:00 p.m. PANEL | “Arms Control for Tomorrow: Mitigating the Dangers of New Weapons Technologies"

Michael Klare, senior visiting fellow on emerging technologies at the Arms Control Association

Victoria Samson, Washington office director for the Secure World Foundation

Lindsay Rand, research assistant at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)

Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, Arms Control Association, moderating
2:00 p.m. Special Remarks
Congressman Don Beyer (VA-8)
2:15 p.m. Keynote Speaker
Izumi Nakamitsu
, Under-Secretary-General and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Introduced by Randy Rydell, board of directors member, Arms Control Association
2:45 p.m. PANEL | “Revitalizing the Movement for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association

Joan Rohlfing, president and chief operating officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative

Denise Duffield, associate director of Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles

Zia Mian, co-director of the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security

Chris Wing, acting board chair of the Arms Control Association, moderating
3:35 p.m. Special Remarks
Amb. Bonnie Jenkins
Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)
3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks
Future Goals for the Arms Control Association

Daryl Kimball, executive director

Following the day's discussions and keynote speakers, attendees are invited to our 50th Anniversary Reception in the gardens at the DACOR-Bacon House, located near the White House and State Department (directions).

We also invite you to become a 50th Anniversary Sponsor to help propel the Arms Control Association forward in the coming years. Visit our Sponsors page to review giving options available.

“The Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons and Russia’s War on Ukraine: Meeting the Legal and Political Challenge"

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022
11:00 am to 12:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time

Prior to and during Russia’s war against Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has threatened the possible use of nuclear weapons should other states “interfere” in Russian military operations. Such threats of the use of force are the cornerstone of nuclear deterrence but, especially where states hold the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, open the door to escalation and the actual use of nuclear weapons.

How can the international community meet the urgent challenges from the threat of use of nuclear weapons?

Our panelists included: 

  • Amb. Alexander Kmentt (Director of Disarmament, Arms Control and Nonproliferation at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; President-designate for the first Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW)
  • Zia Mian (co-director, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University)
  • John Burroughs (Senior Analyst, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy)
  • Alicia Sanders-Zakre (Policy and Research Coordinator at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)
  • Daryl Kimball (Executive Director, Arms Control Association)
  • Ariana N. Smith (Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy) - moderator

Sponsored by the Arms Control Association, the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, and the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security  

Description: 

President Vladimir Putin has threatened the possible use of nuclear weapons should other states interfere in Russian war in Ukraine. How can the international community meet the urgent challenges from such threat of use of nuclear weapons?

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2022 Annual Meeting: Marking 50 Years of Accomplishments and Charting the Course for Challenges Ahead

Ten Years of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria: A Look Back and A Look Ahead

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Feb 22, 2022
10:00 AM Eastern Time

In July 2012, the Syrian government publicly acknowledged for the first time what had long been suspected: that Syria possessed an arsenal of chemical weapons stockpile. A year later, in August 2013, Syrian military forces launched a large-scale Sarin gas attack outside Damascus where Syrian forces had been attempting to expel rebel forces, killing more than 1,000 people. The attack prompted international condemnation and led to international pressure for Syria to abandon its chemical weapons program.

Under pressure, Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and the bulk of its chemical arsenal was removed and neutralized.

Since then, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report that Syria has not fully declared all of its chemical weapons elimination and that chemical attacks have occurred.

Our expert panel assessed the progress that has been achieved to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal, what is left to be done, and how to ensure chemical weapons are never used again.

Opening Remarks: 

  • H.E. Fernando Arias, Director-General of the OPCW

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Description: 

A decade ago, credible reports began to surface about the use of chemical weapons by combatants involved in the brutal civil war in Syria. Our expert panel will assessed the progress that has been achieved to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal, what is left to be done, and how to ensure chemical weapons are never used again.

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