“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005

Reinforcing the Beleaguered Nuclear Nonproliferation & Arms Control System



What steps can be taken by Washington and Moscow to re-engage in nuclear risk and weapons reduction diplomacy, and how can the United States and China productively engage on issues relating to nuclear risk reduction and arms control?

Subject Resources:

Upholding the CTBT Regime in a Time of Adversity



As with other critical nuclear risk reduction and arms control agreements, the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is under threat due to inattention, diplomatic inaction, and worsening relations between nuclear-armed adversaries.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill from the Russian parliament to “un-ratify” the CTBT, ostensibly to “mirror” the United States’ posture toward the treaty and somehow pressure the United States to ratify the pact.

Opening remarks from:

  • Dr. Robert Floyd, executive secretary of the CTBT Organization (CTBTO)

Followed by expert panelists:

  • Elena Chernenko, head of the international section at the Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, where she focuses on nonproliferation and arms control issues. She is also a member of the German-Russian-U.S. Experts Commission on Deep Cuts in nuclear arsenals.
  • María Antonieta Jáquez Huacuja, counselor, Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, which is a co-sponsor of the resolution in support of the CTBT at the 78th UN General Assembly.
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, veteran campaigner to end nuclear testing and advance the CTBT.
  • Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, Arms Control Association, moderator

Additional Resources

  • Reducing Tensions Over Nuclear Testing at Very Low Yield
    By Julien de Troulliou de Lanversin, Christopher Fichtlscherer and Frank N. von Hippel
    in the November 2023 Arms Control Today

    Given rising nuclear tensions involving China, Russia, and the United States, it is imperative that key states discuss a new transparency and verification regime for very low-yield nuclear tests.
  • Russia, the CTBT, and International Law
    By David A. Koplow
    in the November 2023 Arms Control Today

    Even after withdrawing its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Russia would still be obligated to refrain from nuclear testing.

  • Managing an Arsenal Without Nuclear Testing
    An Interview with Jill Hruby of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration
    in the December 2023 Arms Control Today

    The NNSA administrator affirms confidence in the U.S. stockpile and advocates more transparency among nuclear-weapon states.
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty At A Glance
    ACA Fact Sheet

    The treaty was opened for signature in September 1996, and has been signed by 187 nations and ratified by 178. The treaty cannot formally enter into force until it is ratified by 44 specific nations, eight of which have yet to do so.

Russia’s move to withdraw its ratification from the 1996 treaty is a reminder that the de facto global test moratorium cannot be taken for granted.

Country Resources:

The Risks That AI Poses for Nuclear Decision-Making: End of an Era



Monday, Nov. 13, 2023
12:30 noon—1:30 p.m., U.S. Eastern Time

Rapid advancements in technology put artificial intelligence (AI) at the heart of discussions concerning nuclear strategy, especially among nuclear-weapon states. With these states exploring the nexus of AI and nuclear decision-making, the stakes are high.

This joint event, co-hosted by the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Arms Control Association (ACA), presented the main findings of a new ELN research report on "Examining the impact of artificial intelligence on strategic stability: European and P5 perspectives,” based on the findings of a research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Presenters included:

  • Alice Saltini, Research Coordinator, European Leadership Network
  • Matthew Sharp, Director of the Office of Multilateral and Nuclear Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Tom McKane, ELN Member; Former Director General for Strategy and Security Policy, U.K. Ministry of Defence
  • Shannon Bugos, Senior Policy Analyst, Arms Control Association, moderator
  • Jane Kinninmont, Policy & Impact Director, European Leadership Network, moderator

The session explored questions including:  

  • How does the integration of AI into nuclear weapons decision-making compare as a policy and practice between the nuclear-weapon states?
  • All nuclear-weapon states accept the need to keep a "human in the loop" on any decision to use a nuclear weapon, but do they really mean the same thing, and what are the repercussions of differing interpretations?
  • What immediate steps can the nuclear-weapon states take to lessen the risks associated with the intersection of AI and nuclear decision-making?



Special report roll-out on the risks that artificial intelligence poses to nuclear decision-making and strategic stability, co-hosted by the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Arms Control Association (ACA).

The Long Journey to Eliminate the Deadly U.S. Chemical Weapons Stockpile



Friday, September 29, 2023
10:00 - 11:30 a.m., U.S. Eastern Time

When the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997, it took on the legal obligation and the complex technical and engineering task of destroying its massive Cold War-era chemical weapons stockpile, which consisted of some 31,500 tons (63,000,000 pounds) of deadly chemical agents much of which were loaded in various forms of munitions.

After years of delay, all U.S. declared chemical weapons stockpiles were irreversibly and verifiably destroyed in July 2023, two months ahead of the Sept. 2023 deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

The event is a major milestone in disarmament: the United States was the last declared stockpile possessor state to complete its safe and permanent demilitarization of chemical weapons.

This webinar featured perspectives from a senior Defense Department official on the long path to successfully eliminate the U.S. chemical arsenal, and the experiences of two local leaders who worked to reshape the government’s original plans for chemical weapons destruction to reduce the risks to local communities where the U.S. stockpiles were once stored. 


  • Kingston Reif, deputy assistant secretary of defense for threat reduction and arms control
  • Irene Kornelly, chair of the Colorado Citizens' Advisory Commission
  • Craig Williams, co-chair of the Kentucky Citizens' Advisory Commission
  • Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, moderating

This discussion was on the record. The webinar is organized by the Arms Control Association and the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition.


Perspectives from a senior Defense Department official on the long path to successfully eliminate the U.S. chemical arsenal, and the experiences of two local leaders who worked to reshape the government’s original plans for chemical weapons destruction to reduce the risks to local communities.

A Call for Meaningful Disarmament Diplomacy as Required by Article VI of the NPT


An NGO Statement the 10th NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting, August 2, 2023
(As prepared for delivery by Patricia Jaworek, member of the Young Deep Cuts Commission, and organized by the Arms Control Association.)
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.”
Patricia Jaworek (center) with the Young Deep Cuts Commission delivers the NGO Statement on behalf of its signers. (Photo: UN WebTV)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. Earlier this year, Russia "suspended" implementation of New START citing the United States "hostile" attitude but pledged to abide by the central limits of the treaty, which will expire in about 900 days.
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 that would cap or reduce their own deadly arsenals.
Meanwhile, the worlds 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 Russian sub-strategic nuclear weapons on missiles and aircraft in Belarus.
  • The United States is on pace to spend $756 billion from 2023–2032 period, as avg. of $75 billion a year according to a new Congressional Budget Office estimate. Over the objections of President Biden, the U.S. Congress is pushing to fund a new weapon, which could cost an additional $10 billion: the nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise-missile.
  • China is rapidly increasing the quantity and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal and refusing to engage in negotiations to cut-off the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, in violation its NPT Article VI commitments.
The deteriorating situation is the product of more than a decade of neglect of disarmament diplomacy in key capitals. None of the five NPT nuclear-armed states can credibly claim they are meeting their NPT disarmament obligations.
Without renewed nuclear disarmament diplomacy, there is the potential for a dangerous three-way arms race between the United States, Russia, and China, and possibly others, that would undermine global security and the NPT itself. It is  essential for the United States and Russia to immediately engage in negotiations on a post-New START nuclear restraint and reduction framework agreement.
Now is the time for all NPT states parties -- whether they are nuclear-armed or nonnuclear weapon states, allied or nonaligned, as well as civil society groups that support for the NPT and for nuclear disarmament -- to actively, vocally, and persistently, demand that all five NPT nuclear-armed states engage in good faith efforts to halt and reverse the arms race.
Progress is not only necessary, but it is possible.
On June 2, President Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declared that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), including China France, and the U.K., “without preconditions.”
Sullivan was critical of Russia's suspension of New START but also noted that “Russia has publicly committed to adhere to the treaty’s central limits.”
He said: “It is in neither [U.S. or Russian] interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces,” and the United States is “prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does."
With New START due to expire in 2026, Sullivan suggested that “rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework.” Given the existential risks posed by nuclear weapons, we agree that nuclear disarmament diplomacy must be “compartmentalized” and not held hostage to demands on other matters.
On June 5, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia remains open to dialogue with the United States on arms control. He described Sullivan’s comments as “important and positive,” but said Russia wants to learn more about the proposal through formal diplomatic channels. To date, however, the two sides have not agreed to engage in such a dialogue.    
Now is the time for the two sides to begin a serious dialogue focused on a new arms control and disarmament framework before 2026, when New START will expire and when the next NPT Review Conference will be held.
The negotiation of a complex, bilateral nuclear arms control framework to replace New START would be difficult in good times and extraordinarily difficult so long as Russia's war on Ukraine continues.
Nevertheless, there is scope for the White House and the Kremlin to reach a unilateral, reciprocal arrangement that neither will exceed the deployed strategic warhead limit set by New START until a more permanent arms control arrangement comes into effect. This would contribute to a more stable international security environment and improve conditions for overdue progress on multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament.
In the absence of such a U.S.-Russian arrangement before New START ends, each side could upload more warheads on their strategic delivery systems quickly, and China might decide to accelerate its ongoing strategic nuclear buildup. Avoiding such a scenario is in the national security interests of all nations.
Sullivan also said that U.S. President Joe Biden supports “new multilateral arms control efforts,” involving all five nuclear-armed members of the NPT. “We’re under no illusions that reaching risk reduction and arms control measures in that setting will be easy. But we do believe it is possible,” he said. Sullivan proposed that all five states agree on greater transparency on nuclear doctrines, more effective crisis communications channels, common rules for missile launch notification, and policies to keep “humans in the loop” for command, control, and use of nuclear weapons.
We believe that all five can and should immediately reaffirm and update the 1973 U.S.-Soviet Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, which pledges they will “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.” It requires that “if at any time there is the risk of a nuclear conflict [each side] shall immediately enter into urgent consultations…to avert this risk.”
So far, the P5 Process has been positive, but it has underperformed. If it is to make a serious contribution to the implementation of the NPT, all five participants must elevate their commitment to the dialogue and be prepared to take on significant commitments and refrain from making any and all kinds of threats of nuclear weapons use for any reason.
Nuclear risk reduction strategies are fundamental but they are not a substitute for progress on arms control and disarmament. Risk reduction measures cannot erase the tensions that can lead to nuclear war, they cannot remove the inherent dangers of nuclear deterrence policies, nor can they prevent dangerous forms of qualitative and quantitative nuclear arms racing. 
Now is the time for leaders of non-nuclear-weapon states and civil society groups to demand that all five NPT nuclear-armed states engage in good faith efforts to halt and reverse the arms race, in keeping with their solemn NPT Article VI obligations.
We invite other civil society leaders and NPT states parties to call upon the NPT's nuclear-armed five observe an immediate global nuclear freeze, by which China, France, and the United Kingdom would cap the overall size of their nuclear arsenals and agree to halt fissile material production so long as Russia and the United States cap their stockpiles and negotiate a new framework to cut their arsenals.
More nuclear weapons make us all less secure. Embarking on a safer path through disarmament diplomacy is imperative.
We thank you for your attention.
Endorsed by:
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Shannon Bugos, Senior Policy Analyst, Arms Control Association
Peter Wilk, Administrative Chair, Back from the Brink
Tong Zhao, Senior Fellow, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*
John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World

Dr Tobias Fella, Head, Challenges to Deep Cuts Project

Lucian Bumeder, Researcher, Challenges to Deep Cuts Project

Greg Thielmann, member, Challenges to Deep Cuts Commission
Oliver Meier, Policy and Research Director, European Leadership Network
Edan Jules Simpson Project and Communications Coordinator, European Leadership Network*
Prof. Götz Neuneck, Co-chair of the Federation of German Scientists and Pugwash Germany*
Andrew Albertson, Executive Director, Foreign Policy for America
John Hallam, Human Survival Project, co-convenor of the Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group
Fredrick K. Lamb, Research Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Core Faculty Member, Program in Arms Control & Domestic and International Security, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign*
Michael Christ, Exective Dirextor, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Ariana Smith, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Sharon Dolev and Emad Kiyaei, Directors, Middle East Treaty Organization
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Bill Kidd, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament*
Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament
Valeriia Hesse, Non-Resident Fellow, Odesa Center for Nonproliferation*
Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action 
Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee member, Peace Boat
W. Taylor Carneiro-Johnson, Interim Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Stewart Prager, Professor emeritus of astrophysical science, and affiliated faculty, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University*
Frank Niels von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs emeritus, Princeton University*
Norman Solomon, National Director, Roots Action
Marylia Kelley, Senior Advisor, Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
Noah Mayhew, Senior Research Associate, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*
Hanna Notte, Senior Research Associate, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*
Elena K Sokova, Executive Director, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation*
Sean Arent, Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program Manager, Washington Physcians for Social Responsibility
Sara Bundtzen, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
Patricia Jaworek, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
Artem Kvartalnov, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
Ekaterina Lapanovic, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
Tim Thies, member, Young Deep Cuts Commission
*Institution listed for identification purposes only.
NGO Statement the 10th NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting, as delivered by Patricia Jaworek, member of the Young Deep Cuts Commission and organized by the Arms Control Association

Keynote Address by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt



2 June 2023

As prepared for delivery

The invitation as a keynote speaker at an ACA annual meeting is a great honor. I appreciate the opportunity as an Austrian diplomat to be able to speak to you on such a crucial global issue. I see it also as recognition of Austria’s focus on nuclear disarmament and a world without nuclear weapons for many years. 

I will speak in my personal capacity, so my remarks are not necessarily the position of Austria.

When I thought about this speech, I wanted to try to contribute to the discussion in DC the perspective that I believe is widely shared among the non-nuclear majority of states. I believe the needed US leadership on these issues requires a better understanding of and more engagement with these perspectives.

It is a perspective that goes beyond the 92 states that have signed of ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) or the 125 states that vote for it in the UN General Assembly. At the last NPT Review Conference, 150 non-nuclear weapons States again joined a statement about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. 

It is a perspective of concern:

  • That the nuclear sword of Damocles still hangs above humanity with existential nuclear risks imposed on the entire international community.
  • Concern about the apparent inability of nuclear-armed states to extract themselves from a security paradigm that relies on the threat of mass destruction.
  • It is also a perspective informed by significant new scientific research and facts about the grave, complex and global humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons as well as the risks associated with these weapons and the practice of nuclear deterrence.
  • This perspective is, thus, based on profound arguments and legitimate security concerns of non-nuclear States.

Nevertheless, it is mostly disregarded in the international security and nuclear weapons discourse that is dominated by the geopolitical interests and strategic relations of the major military powers. There is a whole world out there in the nuclear debate beyond the US, Russia and China.

The result has been an increasing disenfrachisement and a deep sense of injustice about the nuclear treaty regime and the nuclear status quo as a whole.

The TPNW should be understood as the majority of non-nuclear states wanting to democratise this discourse and claim agency on one of the gravest existential and civilisational risks that humanity faces.

Nuclear Status Quo

Nuclear risks were on the rise long before Russian invasion in Ukraine and the subsequent implicit and unmistakable nuclear threats issued by President Putin and others. 

These are heightened geopolitical competition, arms race dynamics, the decline of arms control and the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Nuclear risks are increasing, including through new technologies and corresponding vulnerabilities among others.

But this already disconcerting state of affairs is dramatically compounded by Russia's irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and the potential for nuclear escalation of the war in Ukraine.

We also hear talk about the use of tactical nuclear weapons, as if this would somehow be "not so bad". The use of nuclear weapons risks being "normalized" and the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons looks increasingly fragile.

Fittingly, the Doomsday Clock has now been set to 90 seconds at the start of this year the closest to midnight since 1947, when the Clock was started.

This is indeed a very dangerous situation.

The non-nuclear majority of states watches in disbelief how geopolitics slides the world back into a perilous phase of high risk of nuclear conflict.  

We are now at a fork in the road on the nuclear weapons issue. One conclusion that states may draw from this crisis is an even stronger emphasis on nuclear deterrence. We heard this also this morning. This likely takes us down the path of more competition, new nuclear arms races, more proliferation pressure and further increasing global nuclear risks. 

The non-nuclear majority hopes that this moment of heightened nuclear dangers finally leads to an alternative conclusion. Namely, that the crisis has brought into sharp focus the fragility of nuclear deterrence. That nuclear arms races much be avoided.

That the situation in Ukraine is so much more dangerous because of nuclear weapons; that this increases concerns about the sustainability of the nuclear status quo and that that a paradigm shift on nuclear weapons is needed.

Paradigm shift

A paradigm shift would mean two things: A critical re-assessment of the veracity of the arguments that underpin nuclear deterrence, and a weighing of these arguments against the empirical evidence on the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons.

This is what non-nuclear weapons States are demanding and what is now enshrined in the TPNW.

Nuclear deterrence requires the capability to impose unacceptable costs and the resolve to use nuclear weapons. Without the belief in this resolve, nuclear deterrence theory does not work.

Of course, the assumption is that the threat will suffice to deter, and that escalation and conflict be avoided. In short, the more credible the threat of NWs use is, the more the non-use of NWs is assumed. This leads to what was called “the crazy reality that nuclear deterrence is a scheme for making war less probable by making it more probable”.

Even the horrendous concept of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) is used in the abstract and is constructed as an argument of validaton for nuclear deterrence and its assumed outcome, namely deterrence stability and the non-use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear deterrence is seen as the ultimate security guarantee, it is believed to have prevented nuclear conflict in the past decades and to do so in the current circumstances and in the foreseeable future. This belief is very deeply entrenched. Nothing must challenge it according to some.

The problem in this is that in reality we lack the hard empirical evidence. Nuclear deterrence is a theory. It assumes and projects actions, intentions, consequences and expected outcomes.

We can’t prove that nuclear deterrence has worked in the past or will work in the future, just as much as it cannot be proven that it has not prevented conflict in the past or will not do so in the future. Even a clear deterrence “success” in a particular crisis would not prove that in the next, different situation, it would work again.

Like any human belief system" nuclear deterrence depends on assumptions and carries within it the risk of overconfidence and a potential confirmation bias. 

The frequently used assertion that "nuclear deterrence works because of the consequences of nuclear weapons", is a perfect example for the assumption of non-use and a demonstration of potential confirmation bias. 

By contrast, here we have a lot of empirical evidence and a growing body of research on the broad range of humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and of the risks of accidents, miscalculations and human and technical error.

All the research and new modelling that I have seen concludes that the consequences of a nuclear conflict are graver and more complex and likely global.

The same goes about nuclear risks. All experts that I have heard are concerned about increasing nuclear risks, the difficulties of understanding and controlling them.  

Would it not be prudent to base policy decisions regarding NWs primarily on these empirical facts rather than on the assumptions that underpin deterrence and that are fraught with uncertainties?

The effectiveness of nuclear deterrence is uncertain, but we know for sure that nuclear deterrence can fail - and if it fails, we have the evidence that it likely fails catastrophically and with global impact.

The whole world carries the risks of nuclear deterrence failing.

It brings high risks for the security of all other countries, whose populations could end up as collateral damage in much more severe ways than previously understood.

This raises profound legal, ethical, legitimacy and international and intergenerational justice questions. 

Nuclear Threats

What are we to do with irresponsible nuclear threats such as we see currently from Russia?

The unlawful aggression by a nuclear weapon state, permanent member of the UNSC and depositary of the NPT, which uses nuclear blackmail as cover of its actions, must not end up being successful.

Among the many other unacceptable results, it would profoundly damage any notion of nuclear restraint and create a massive proliferation incentive.

The restraint as shown by NATO of not engaging with Russia's strident nuclear rhetoric was laudable and crucial.  Equally important are the focus on non-nuclear deterrence through the most comprehensive set of sanctions and efforts to rally the international community against RU's actions and in support of UA. Nevertheless, the nuclear deterrence aspect plays a big role in NATO's response to Russia, as confirmed this morning.

It is an understandable reaction in the face of such irresponsible and aggressive behaviour.  

But this response also compounds and perpetuates nuclear risks. This response is logically also based on the resolve to use nuclear weapons with the risk of global humanitarian consequences and gravest violations of IL. The fact that this stance is grounded - as I highlighted before - in the assumption that nuclear weapons will in the end not be used does not change this. 

For non-nuclear states, this goes to the core of the legitimacy deficit of nuclear deterrence practices.

Are any nuclear threats responsible in light of what we know today about the humanitarian consequences and risks of these weapons? What in terms of humanitarian consequences can be considered as acceptable and, especially, for whom and based on what legitimation? And what kind of security and security for whom are we talking about in such a context.

An approach based on my nuclear threat is responsible while yours is irresponsible is not convincing from this perspective. 

At this moment of very high nuclear risks and in the face of Russia's aggression and nuclear rhetoric, the international community should really strive to be united.

United in:

  1. re-enforcing the taboo against use or threat of use and nuclear blackmail
  2. take all actions to reduce nuclear risks
  3. recommitment to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, we see how the belief nuclear deterrence creates an inherent tension and difficulty to do this in a credible way. 

The Nuclear Taboo: The States parties to the TPNW, for their part, have done their share to re-enforce the taboo and to express their clear condemnation about any use or threat of use. In their joint declaration at the 1st MSP in Vienna last June, they stated:

"We are alarmed and dismayed by threats to use nuclear weapons and increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric. We stress 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."

This is the clearest and most unequivocal internationally agreed statement on this issue to date to solidify the nuclear taboo.

The G20 Joint Communique last September was also an important step - it stated that "the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible". It was a strong stand-alone sentence and obviously a compromise between those who wanted to be as unequivocal as the TPNW and those who wanted to condemn only the actions of Russia.

The recent G7 statement walks the condemnation of nuclear threats back significantly compared to the G20. Russia's irresponsible actions and policies are condemned but overall, it is a joint statement in support of and conditioned by nuclear deterrence. 

There is a tension between nuclear deterrence policies and the ability of the international community to categorically reject nuclear weapons as instruments of policy and coercion.

Nuclear Risk Reduction: We see a similar tension on the issue of risk reduction.

For non-nuclear weapon States the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, are the risks to which they, too, are exposed, against their will and outside their control. They want to see nuclear risks reduced by taking nuclear weapons as far away from any use or accident as possible. In addition to the elimination of nuclear weapons, which is the risk-reduction gold-standard, this would mean talking measures such as de-alerting, de-targeting, taking weapons out of operational service, no “first use” commitments among others. 

Nuclear-weapon States by contrast give dominance to “strategic risk reduction” understood as countering risks that could undermine nuclear deterrence relationships.

Consequently, this focus is to make nuclear deterrence work less risky, rather than consider the risks of the practice of nuclear deterrence itself. This limits the range of risk reduction measures considerably. Measures that restrict the ability to use nuclear weapons, such as the ones non-nuclear weapons states advocate for are not supported. They are assessed as having a negative impact on the credibility of nuclear deterrence.

Risk reduction measures are, thus, considered only insofar, as they do not impact the nuclear deterrence calculus, leaving aside that nuclear deterrence itself is the origin of nuclear risk.

This demonstrates the inherent contradiction: the perceived necessity to maintain nuclear weapons in a manner that demonstrates readiness and resolve to always use them, as “required” for the credibility of nuclear deterrence. And a more comprehensive approach to address nuclear risks aimed at ensuring that they will never be used, intentionally or unintentionally, or through human or technical error.

Support for the disarmament and nonproliferation regime: The 3rd element of a recommitment to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons looks equally bleak.

Picking up on what I heard this morning. I appreciate the comments by Jake Sullivan from today of wanting to keep engaging with Russia and China on arms control without preconditions, but the future of arms control is similarly conditioned by nuclear deterrence. Here, I just want to point out that the failure of the U.S. and Russia and the other NPT nuclear-armed states to engage in negotiations to end the arms race and achieve disarmament would be a violation of the NPT and a threat to the NPT.

This overarching conditionality was again obvious at the recent NPT Review Conference. Yes, Russia blocked the outcome document but what was on the table for adoption was deeply disappointing for non-nuclear weapon States. Nuclear weapon States are not ready to conceptualise nuclear disarmament in any other way than as an aspirational goal to be achieved maybe in a distant future security environment when nuclear weapons may not be needed. There are no credible plans how to actually achieve this goal.

All steps that are talked about in the NPT context are qualified by the need to maintain nuclear deterrence, which in practise means that no progress is being made.

This is what undermines the NPT and will possibly ruin it.

There are certainly differences among the NWS - with some being more engaged and more transparent - especially the US under this administration. However, the general approach is to manage the status quo and prevent any measure that would actually demonstrate readiness to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons.

The urgency that non-nuclear states see and would like to be translated into leadership is not there.

In conclusion, I just want to ask the question how long can we continue to assume that nuclear deterrence will hold, and nuclear weapons will not be used? We see Russian roulette being played at the moment. How can we be confident of this in the future, in tensions with China, with DPRK or between India and Pakistan or in a potential Middle East proliferation context?

Can it be considered as realist to continue to bet on deterrence stability or is it in reality wishful thinking based on rather flimsy evidence, many assumptions and uncertainties and the risk of confirmation bias? 

Trying to find a normative and political way out of the nuclear deterrence paradigm strikes me as a realist and prudent response to the empirical evidence on the consequences should the high-risk nuclear deterrence bet fail.

The TPNW codifies the delegitimisation of nuclear weapons because of their unacceptable humanitarian impact and risks. This is based on serious evidence and is a way to help the international community to conceptualise a change in perspective on these weapons. Ultimately, no responsible state should ever find the use of this most indiscriminate and destructive weapon acceptable. The same must go for the threat of use.

The TPNW is not a silver bullet answer for future security challenges, but nuclear deterrence most definitely is no silver bullet either and certainly not a sustainable one. In these extremely dangerous times, we need leadership, and we need cooperation. The TPNW is a constructive and serious investment into international law and the common security of all. Irrespective of different legal views regarding nuclear weapons, all responsible states should engage constructively on the profound arguments and legitimate and global security concerns now expressed in the TPNW.

The shared objective that Mr Sullivan confirmed in his statement today can only be achieved if, together, we find a way out of the precarious nuclear deterrence security paradigm.

Thank you.

Remarks by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan for the Arms Control Association (ACA) Annual Forum



National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
June 2, 2023
(As posted by the White House)

Thank you, Tom, for that very important set of introductory comments and for the kind words.

I also want to thank Daryl for bringing us all together today.

And most importantly—I want to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to just say a few words here this morning.


60 years ago next month—in grainy, black and white video—President Kennedy addressed the nation.

He was sitting behind the same Resolute desk that President Biden sits behind now nearly every day, and that I sit across from him nearly every day.

“My fellow citizens,” he said. “I speak to you tonight in a spirit of hope…Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests…”

After years of non-stop negotiations, or stop-and-start negotiations to be more precise—

Years of dialogue—

Years of commitment and courage—

Establishing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was a huge moment.

Not only for our own national security. But for the security and stability of the world.

And as this group knows well, it was one of the first steps that would help slowly usher in an era of responsible arms control and nuclear deterrence measures.

An era where nations could compartmentalize the issues of strategic stability, even if they couldn’t cooperate on much anything else.

An era where adversaries could disagree and debate across basically every domain, but could always find ways to work together to limit nuclear risks.

An era where world leaders chose transparency even during times of tension—especially during times of tension—because what was at stake was too important, too vital to our shared future.

That is the foundation of nuclear stability and security that we’ve depended on for decades.

And it’s the foundation that the Arms Control Association has helped to uphold across generations.

But over the last few years—that foundation has begun to erode.

And today, we now stand at what our President would call an “inflection point” in our nuclear stability and security.

A point that demands new strategies for achieving the same goal we’ve held since the Cold War: Reduce the risk of nuclear conflict.

So today, I’d like to lay out what we’re endeavoring to do in pursuit of this.

I’ll start with the cracks in the foundation that we see—the new threats that are challenging the post-Cold War nuclear order.

And then I’ll walk through how we’re trying to adapt both our nuclear deterrence and our arms control strategies to meet this moment.


As we’ve all seen recently, some of the major cracks in our nuclear foundation have come from Russia.

Last year, Russian forces recklessly attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine—the largest operational nuclear plant in Europe—with little concern for the potential catastrophic consequences of a nuclear incident.

Earlier this year, President Putin unlawfully suspended Russia’s implementation of the New START Treaty that places limits on the most destructive weapons in our arsenals—the kinds that could destroy the world many times over.

Only a month later, President Putin began to take steps to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.   

And, as we all saw just a few days ago, Putin formally announced that he will withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe—putting the final nail in the coffin of an agreement that once served as a cornerstone of European security, which Moscow began violating years ago.

But even prior to Russia’s brutal assault against Ukraine, Putin has been destabilizing the nuclear foundation our forebearers laid.

For years, he’s advanced the development of dangerous new nuclear capabilities, like radiation-spewing, nuclear-powered cruise missiles—all while modernizing and stockpiling old capabilities that aren’t regulated by arms control agreements—like theater-range missiles and torpedoes.

Russia’s actions have been dealing body blows to the post-Cold war nuclear arms control framework.

But it’s not just Russia that we have to look to, to consider the full scope of the context we find ourselves in today with respect to nuclear security and stability.

We’ve also seen a change in approach from the People’s Republic of China.

By 2035, the PRC is on track to have as many as 1,500 nuclear warheads—one of the largest peacetime nuclear build-ups in history.

But unlike Russia—who is threatening to walk away from the negotiating table, from the arms control agreements our countries have relied upon for years—the PRC has thus far opted not to come to the table for substantive dialogue on arms control.

It has declined to share the size and scope of its nuclear forces, or to provide launch notifications.

And it has not shown much interest in discussions regarding the changes it is making to its nuclear forces.

Simply put, we have not yet seen a willingness from the PRC to compartmentalize strategic stability from broader issues in the relationship. And that compartmentalization, as I noted before, has been the bedrock of nuclear security—indeed strategic stability—for decades.

Finally—we’re seeing increasing nuclear threats from the DPRK and Iran.

In the last year alone, Kim Jung Un declared that he aimed to have quote, “the world’s most powerful,” nuclear arsenal—announcing plans to ramp up the development of everything from tactical nukes, to ICBMs, to unmanned underwater nuclear weapons.

He announced a sweeping new “Nuclear Forces Policy Law” that would permit Pyongyang to use nuclear weapons first against non-nuclear states—in direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT.

And, he has tested more ballistic missiles than any other period in the DPRK’s history.

On Iran—after the previous Administration’s departure from a deal that put strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear development, and prevented it from obtaining a nuclear weapon—Iran’s nuclear program was left unconstrained. 

As a result, Iran is now operating more advanced centrifuges. It has enriched more uranium, including at levels closer to weapons grade. And it has done so with less international monitoring of its program, than when it was under the strict constraints of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.


Taken together, the cracks in our post-Cold War nuclear foundation are substantial and they are deep.

And today, we’re entering a new era—one that demands new strategies and solutions to achieve the goals we’ve always had:

Prevent an arms race.

Reduce the risk of misperception and escalation.

And most importantly, ensure the safety and security of our people—and people around the world—from nuclear threats.

Same goals, new strategy.

That’s the core of our approach to strategic stability—one that can be boiled down to two main lines of effort.

First, update our deterrence capabilities and plans. And second, advance new arms control and risk reduction measures.

These are two sides of the same proverbial nuclear coin.

Responsibly enhancing our deterrent capabilities allows us to negotiate arms control from a position of strength and confidence—and new arms control helps limit and shape our adversaries’ decisions on nuclear capabilities.

And so today, I’d like to spend a little time discussing each of these sides of the nuclear coin.


I’ll start with the deterrence side of the coin—where we’re taking a two-pronged approach.

First—we’re modernizing our nuclear program here at home.

In practice, that means replacing each leg of our nuclear Triad—land-based ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines, and nuclear-capable bombers.

It means updating our nuclear command, control, and communications architecture by replacing aging capabilities with next generation systems.

And it means investing in our nuclear complex and defense industry to help ensure that we have a responsive nuclear enterprise and a resilient base for long-term competition.

And I want to be clear here—the United States does not need to increase our nuclear forces to outnumber the combined total of our competitors in order to successfully deter them.

We’ve been there. We’ve learned that lesson.

Nor does the United States need to deploy ever-more dangerous nuclear weapons to maintain deterrence.

Rather, effective deterrence means that we have a “better” approach—not a “more” approach.

It means ensuring that we have the capacity and capabilities necessary to deter—and if necessary, defeat—major aggression against our country, our allies, and our partners.

So to enhance that effectiveness, we’re investing in cutting-edge non-nuclear capabilities that will help sustain our military advantage for decades to come.  

Capabilities like conventionally-armed hypersonic missiles that can reach heavily-defended, high-value targets—in contrast to the nuclear-capable missiles of similar kind that Russia and China are developing.

And capabilities like new space and cyberspace tools that will help the United States retain its advantage across every domain.

Together, these modernization efforts will ensure our deterrent capabilities remain secure and strong as we head into the 2030s—when the United States will need to deter two near-peer nuclear powers for the first time in its history.

But we can’t go at it alone—which leads me to the second prong of our deterrence strategy: investing in and strengthening our alliances abroad.

That has been President Biden’s overriding priority—indeed in many ways, his strategic North Star—since his very first day as President of the United States.

And, as we’ve worked to further deepen our alliances, we’ve always remembered that one of our greatest nonproliferation accomplishments of the nuclear age has been U.S. extended deterrence—which has reassured so many of our partners that they do not need to develop nuclear weapons of their own.

For example, in April, the President reaffirmed our ironclad mutual defense treaty with the Republic of Korea—including our extended deterrence commitment.

And together with President Yoon, he signed the Washington Declaration—a step that created more mechanisms for cooperation between our two countries—including during a potential nuclear crisis—and showed a recommitment to our shared nonproliferation objectives.

Together with our NATO Allies, we’ve been laser focused on modernizing the Alliance’s nuclear capabilities—from ensuring broad participation in the Alliance’s nuclear deterrent mission, to certifying our F-35 aircraft to be able to deliver modern nuclear gravity bombs.

All of these new steps—from revitalizing our nuclear program here at home, to reinvigorating our alliances abroad, and all of the elements that fall into those two categories—are necessary in their own right.

But taken together, they’ll help achieve the same strategic stability goals we’ve always had.

They’ll show our adversaries and competitors that in an arms race with the United States—that any arms race with the United States—is counterproductive at best, and destructive at worst.

And, they’ll help the United States negotiate arms control agreements from that position of strength and confidence that I described.

Those arms control agreements are the other side of the “nuclear coin”—which is what I’d like to turn to next.


Nearly 20 years ago—when then-Senator Biden addressed the Arms Control Association—and Tom talked about President Biden’s very long-standing commitment to non-proliferation objectives and his long experience in being a leader in this space—he said quote, “we must invent new approaches and foster new international cooperation to meet changing threats.”

Those words only ring more true today.

And under the President’s leadership, we’re advancing three new approaches to strengthen arms control and decrease nuclear risks in this changing nuclear age.

First—we have stated our willingness to engage in bilateral arms control discussions with Russia and with China without preconditions.

And before I jump into this—let me just step back and say that “without preconditions” does not mean “without accountability.”

We’ll still hold nuclear powers accountable for reckless behavior. And we’ll still hold our adversaries and competitors responsible for upholding nuclear agreements.

For example—the United States will continue to notify Russia in advance of ballistic missile launches and major strategic exercises, in line with pre-existing nuclear agreements.

But yesterday, we adopted lawful, proportionate, and reversible countermeasures in response to Russia’s violations of New START—including suspending our day-to-day notifications to Russia that are required under the Treaty.

These steps will help guarantee that Russia does not receive benefits from a treaty they refuse to abide by, and that the principle of reciprocity—a key tenet of strategic arms control—is upheld.

It will also demonstrate to Russia the benefits of returning to full compliance—including once again receiving detailed information regarding our nuclear forces—a conversation we continue to press for directly with Russian officials.

But, while claiming to suspend New START, Russia has also publicly committed to adhere to the Treaty’s central limits—indicating a potential willingness to continue limiting strategic nuclear forces through 2026.

We agree.

It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces—and we’re prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does.

And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences—the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework. We are prepared to enter into those discussions.

Now—the type of limits the United States can agree to after the Treaty expires will of course be impacted by the size and scale of China’s nuclear buildup.

That’s why we’re also ready to engage China without preconditions—helping ensure that competition is managed, and that competition does not veer into conflict.

It’s our hope that among the topics on the table for diplomatic discussion, Beijing will be willing to include substantive engagement on strategic nuclear issues—which would benefit the security of both of our countries, and the security of the entire world.

Next—the United States is willing to engage in new multilateral arms control efforts, including through the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the P5: The United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France.

We’re under no illusions that reaching risk reduction and arms control measures in that setting will be easy.

But we do believe it is possible.

And as you all know, four of the five nuclear powers are—with some exceptions that I just mentioned—already de facto committed to some transparency and restraint in their nuclear policies and postures.

The U.S., the UK, and France have also all demonstrated their commitments repeatedly to responsible behavior.

And—some of the P5 have nuclear agreements with each other. For example, the U.S. and Russia have a ballistic missile launch notification agreement with each other, which I mentioned before. So do Russia and China.

But these existing agreements are limited and piecemeal.

We can do more.

The P5 provides an opportunity manage nuclear risk and arms race pressures through a mix of dialogue, transparency, and agreements. 

For example, formalizing a missile launch notification regime across the P5 is a straightforward measure that is simply common sense.

It’s a small step that would help reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation in times of crisis.

And one that could potentially build momentum toward further measures to manage nuclear risks and arms racing—

From maintaining a “human-in-the-loop” for command, control, and employment of nuclear weapons—

To establishing crisis communications channels among the P5 capitals—

To committing to transparency on nuclear policy, doctrine, and budgeting—

To setting up guardrails for managing the interplay between non-nuclear strategic capabilities and nuclear deterrence—

These are all areas where we could take further steps in a multilateral context, working among the P5.  

This leads to my third and final point—the United States will step up to help set the norms and shore up the values of the new nuclear era.

We’re already making some progress, including across every major multilateral body that seeks to limit nuclear and WMD risks.

The Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.

The Conference on Disarmament.

The Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Biological Weapons Convention.

Across all of these forums—we’re leading results-based discussions.

And we’re ensuring that our frameworks are fit for the threats we face today and tomorrow.

For example—the fielding of weapons based on emerging technologies will create new, interconnected, and unpredictable escalation pathways.

So, we’re working to establish new guardrails—especially in space and cyberspace.

And of course, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, this entire picture only becomes more complex and challenging and requires the new kinds of approaches that I’ve been describing throughout the speech.

The approach that we are looking at takes into account technologies and tools that could complicate a potential nuclear conflict—like hypersonic weapons, like AI-enabled systems.

And as the President often says—we’re making sure that we’re leading not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

That’s why we’ve committed to not conduct destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing—and we’re encouraging our Allies, partners, and competitors to do the same.

And it’s why we’ve put forth proposals for responsible behavior in space and principles for the use of AI in the military domain—both of which we are actively promoting in international fora.


Let me close with this.

60 years ago—President Kennedy spoke to our nation in the “spirit of hope.” That’s how he put it—the spirit of hope.

Hope that we could safely manage strategic competition.

That we would one day build a world free of nuclear weapons.

That we could forge a future of greater peace, greater stability, and greater security.

Not just for Americans—but for everyone.

Today—as we face new threats and as we face those cracks in our post-Cold War nuclear foundation—I not only believe that we can find this hope again.

I believe that we must.

Because when it comes to nuclear risks, what is at stake—for our people, and for our world—is too important, too consequential for our shared futures not to.

We are under no illusions about the task at hand—of the hard work, and likely the long work needed to help lay a new, stronger foundation for this era.

But through new deterrence and arms control measures—one fit for this age—we can turn this moment of peril into a moment of possibility.

And I look forward to working with all of you to do just that—and I’m looking forward to the conversation this morning.

Thank you very much for the time.


Read executive director Daryl Kimball's reaction to Mr. Sullivan's remarks in our press room. 

Watch the panel response to Sullivan's remarks as broadcast on C-Span.org immediately following. 

2023 Annual Meeting: Reducing Nuclear Threats in a Time of Peril



Watch the webcast of the 2023 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting, recorded at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Friday, June 2. The full program is available, along with individual speakers and panels below. 

*Subject to change

9:00 am Welcome: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
9:10 am Keynote Address: Jake Sullivan
National Security Advisor to President Biden
10:30 am PANEL I: Preventing a Three-Way Nuclear Arms Race
  • Lynn Rusten, Nuclear Threat Initiative
  • Jon Wolfsthal, Center for a New American Security and Global Zero
  • Tong Zhao, Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton
  • Thomas Countryman, Arms Control Association, moderator
12:00 pm Keynote Address: Ambassador Alexander Kmentt
Director of Disarmament, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and President of the First Meeting of the States-Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
1:00 pm PANEL II: Reducing Nuclear Risks and Reinforcing the Taboos Against Nuclear Use and Threats
  • Rebecca Davis Gibbons, University of Southern Maine and co-chair of the Beyond Nuclear Deterrence Working Group at the Harvard Project on Managing the Atom
  • Morton H. Halperin, former senior official on arms control and defense matters in the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton administrations
  • Amy F. Woolf, Atlantic Council
  • Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association, moderator
2:15 pm PANEL III: The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: Is There a Diplomatic Plan B?
  • Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Association
  • Ali Vaez, International Crisis Group
  • Dylan Williams, J Street
  • Barbara Slavin, Stimson Center, moderator
3:20 pm PANEL IV: Risk and Regulation of AI in Nuclear Command and Control
  • Paul Dean, U.S. State Department
  • Chris Meserole, Brookings Institution
  • Helen Toner, Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology
  • Shannon Bugos, Arms Control Association, moderator
4:20 pm Closing: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

"Challenges and Prospects for Further U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control"



February 1, 11:00am-12:30pm U.S. Eastern Time
(via Zoom)

The last remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, the New Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), will expire in 1,100 days -- on Feb. 5, 2026. Unless Washington and Moscow begin serious negotiations on a new nuclear arms control framework, Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals will be left unconstrained for the first time since 1972.

At this special briefing, we heard from a senior White House official about the Biden administration's approach to the nuclear arms control impasse. Key experts will review the issues and potential solutions for maintaining constraints on the U.S. and Russian arsenals, analyze Russia's approach to nuclear arms control, and evaluate how the U.S. and Russian arsenals might grow if they are “unconstrained” after 2026. The briefing will include comments from a senior European official on the role of nuclear arms control in strengthening European security and the global nuclear nonproliferation system.

Opening remarks: Cara Abercrombie, deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for defense policy and arms control for the White House National Security Council


  • Amb. Steve Pifer, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a William J. Perry fellow at the Center for Intl. Security and Cooperation at Stanford University
  • Hanna Notte, Senior Research Associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP)
  • Matt Korda, Senior Research Associate and Project Manager for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists

Closing remarks: Jarmo Viinanen, Ambassador, Strategic and Arms Control, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chair-designate of the 2023 Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee Meeting

Moderators: Daryl Kimball, executive director, and Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, Arms Control Association


In 1,100 days, the last remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, the New Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia, will expire.

Country Resources:

An Assessment of North Korea’s Growing Nuclear Capabilities



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

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 capabilities 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.


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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