A World Free of Nuclear Weapons? Progress on President Obama’s Prague Agenda
Ambassador Glyn Davies
Permanent Representative of the United States to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Office in Vienna
Panel Discussion in Cooperation with the Austrian Institute for International Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon.
It is a pleasure and an honor to participate in this event with the Austrian Institute for International Affairs. I extend my sincere appreciation to Professor Heinz Gärtner for organizing tonight’s program, and to my colleagues for taking the time to participate in the panel discussion. I would also like to thank the other organizations that publicized the event and helped gather this impressive crowd.
You are holding this discussion at perhaps the most interesting moment in decades in the evolution of the role of nuclear technology. We are in the midst of accelerating developments on both the positive and negative sides of the nuclear ledger which will determine how fast and how far the world can go toward achieving a nuclear-weapons-free future – and a future in which the many positive benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear technology are fully realized.
For many of us – especially those who can remember the East-West standoff, this is, for all of its threats and dangers, a remarkably promising period.
Less than a generation ago, the nuclear arms race that characterized the Cold War cast a long, dark shadow over the lives of people everywhere—especially those living in Europe and the United States.
My earliest memories are, in fact, of the events of October, 1961, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My father was a diplomat assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. His job was to deliver President Kennedy’s messages to Premier Khrushchev, by way of the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
As a toddler I of course knew nothing of that. But I do remember, vividly, the families of Embassy staff gathered on the Embassy’s top floor, guarded by United States Marines, while loud mobs of Muscovites screamed slogans and threw rocks and bottles at our building.
Blocked by the protesters from leaving the Embassy by its front gate, my father had to boost himself over the compound’s rear wall to deliver President Kennedy’s messages to soviet officials. The rest of us huddled together, under siege. Some of the adults among us betrayed an uncertainty and even a terror that I can quite easily still picture in my mind across the decades.
That episode left a strong impression on me. I think of it often when diplomatic colleagues question the need for strong nonproliferation efforts or for further disarmament.
But that was in the deepest, darkest days of the Cold War. Today, we live in a more hopeful world. There is universal agreement that, as Secretary Clinton has said, “People everywhere have the right to live free from the fear of nuclear destruction”
Last April in Prague, President Obama outlined his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, declaring, “…I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.”
A world free of nuclear weapons is not an abstraction for President Obama. He has committed himself and his government to achieve his vision of a nuclear-weapons-free world. He has reinforced the urgency of this agenda. At every opportunity, he has sought to build international consensus on the need for action.
And President Obama moved quickly to take concrete action.
In July at the L’Aquila summit, the Group of 8 issued a strong statement on nonproliferation, reaffirming the goals President Obama laid out in Prague.
In September in New York, the President chaired an historic meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Again, the assembled heads of state and government unanimously cosponsored and adopted a resolution affirming the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and endorsing a broad framework of actions to reduce global nuclear dangers.
At Prague, President Obama said, “To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians.” (April 5, 2009 in Hradcanske Square outside medieval Prague Castle)
We are, finally, in the end game of negotiating that accord. Once completed – and our expectation is that will be soon — we look forward to making sure the START follow-on Treaty is ratified by the United States Senate this year.
The new START treaty will promote strategic stability at lower nuclear levels than ever before. It will bolster global efforts to prevent proliferation by showing that the world’s leading nuclear powers are committed to reducing their arsenals. Its verification measures will provide confidence the treaty’s terms are being met. The reductions will be conducted transparently. But while these efforts are substantial, we know we have a long way to go.
At Prague, President Obama in fact said that, “this is just a start.”
“We will,” he added, “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy”. (April 5, 2009 speech in Prague)
In the next few weeks, the Obama administration will release its Nuclear Posture Review, which will do just that — fundamentally reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.
That unilateral step will be taken at about the same time as another important effort heralded by the President in Prague, “I am announcing, he said, a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years… And we should start by having a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.” (April 5, 2009, Prague)
He launched that initiative because, although we averted a nuclear nightmare during the Cold War, we now face proliferation challenges of a new scope and complexity — challenges demanding new strategies and new approaches.
He noted an irony of our era: As the prospect of a nuclear arms race among superpowers dims, we are faced with an ever more ominous and arguably less deterrable threat — that of nuclear terrorism.
Just one nuclear device exploded in any city anywhere — be it Mumbai or Moscow; Vienna or Berlin — could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life.
So at the July G-8 summit, the President formally announced his plan to host a Global Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010. The Washington Summit will bring together 44 nations to discuss the nature of the threat and to develop steps that can be taken, together, to secure vulnerable materials, combat nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.
That work has in fact already begun. In September, the UN Security Council endorsed a global effort to lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. It also called for action to strengthen the institutions and initiatives that combat the smuggling, financing, and theft of proliferation-related materials. All states are to freeze financial assets used for proliferation. The Security Council is to take action if nuclear weapons or related material are provided to terrorists.
So the international community is moving toward consensus; we should not wait for an act of nuclear terrorism before working together to collectively improve our nuclear security culture, share our best practices and raise our security standards.
Another way to do that is to reinforce existing international agreements. President Obama also said in Prague that “Together we will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.” (April 5, 2009 Prague)
Today, the basic bargain of the NPT is more important than ever: nations with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, nations without nuclear weapons will forsake them, and all nations have an “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear energy.
The President, on the 40th anniversary of the NPT, said, “Each of the NPT’s three pillars — disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses — are central to the vision that I outlined in Prague of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and seeking a world without them.”
September’s UNSC Resolution 1887 called for a stronger NPT and a Review Conference in 2010 with realistic and achievable goals in all three pillars. The resolution supports universality of the NPT, calls on all states to adhere to its terms and makes clear the Council will swiftly address any notice of intent to withdraw from the Treaty.
And so at the Review Conference in May, we will work to strengthen the NPT Regime by working with allies and partners to ensure the rights and responsibilities of every nation are re-enforced.
In addition to strengthening the NPT, President Obama has also said, “My administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty “ (April 5, 2009, Prague)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September led the U.S. delegation at the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This was the first U.S. delegation to attend the conference since the initial one in 1999.
Last month, the United States delivered $30 million to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission. CTBTO is, of course, the entity responsible for developing the organizational framework to administer the global nuclear test ban treaty once it enters into force.
More than half of the $30 million will be used to build additional International Monitoring System stations, which supplement our ability to detect a nuclear explosion anywhere in the world.
Most importantly, the U.S. government is committed to securing the Senate’s advice and consent to ratify the CTBT. While this task will not be easy for both political and technical reasons, the International Monitoring System already provides real time benefits, before the Treaty has even entered into force.
But our commitment goes beyond strengthening arms control regimes. President Obama has pledged that we will work to build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation. (President’s statement on 40th anniversary of NPT, March 5, 2010)
“No approach will succeed “he said further,” if it’s based on the denial of rights to nations that play by the rules.” So the administration is focusing on creating incentives for states considering nuclear energy to choose not to pursue sensitive fuel cycle technologies.
While the primary incentive not to pursue enrichment is the existing strong, competitive commercial market, for those who seek additional confidence, we’re working with the international community to develop assurances of reliable fuel supply, beginning with fuel banks. After intermittent discussion over forty years, the IAEA Board of Governors approved in November the first enriched uranium reserve, at Angarsk, taking up a generous offer made by Russia.
We are now using the precedent established by Angarsk to shape the international nuclear fuel bank concept put forward by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, with the objective of bringing this second and complementary fuel bank proposal to the IAEA Board later this year.
These various forms of assurance of reliable supply of nuclear fuel are designed to serve as safety nets, to enhance confidence for countries that rely on the commercial market for nuclear fuel and reduce pressure to pursue indigenous, expensive and sensitive fuel cycle facilities.
And finally, speaking of sensitive fuel cycle facilities, I’d like to address the issue that certainly consumes the bulk of my time: Iran. Almost a year ago, President Obama extended a hand to Tehran. At Prague he said, “My administration will seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect.” (April 5, 2009, Prague, Hradcany Square)
That began a process that culminated in October, when the United States joined Germany, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China in meeting with Iran in Geneva. Javier Solana led our six nations. We went to Geneva in the hope Iran would seize the opportunity to begin to resolve our differences, and to pursue greater political and economic integration with the international community.
As a first step, the six countries endorsed an offer to provide Iran with fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which creates radioactive isotopes for medical treatment. This offer demonstrated a good-faith commitment to working with Iran toward a future civil nuclear program for peaceful purposes.
At a follow-on negotiation in Vienna, we joined the Governments of France and the Russian Federation in supporting the IAEA’s proposal to provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor using Iran’s own low-enriched uranium. (Russia and France have the technical capabilities to produce the reactor fuel.)
The IAEA proposal was fair, evenhanded, and addressed the twin goals of meeting Iran’s humanitarian need and establishing mutual trust and confidence. The proposal responded to the concerns of all parties as expressed during three days of intensive negotiations chaired by then-Director General ElBaradei, whose hands-on approach represented robust fulfillment of the IAEA’s statutory mission of facilitating such arrangements.
The proposal offered multiple assurances that the project would be fully implemented. These assurances were to be codified in a legally binding Project and Supply Agreement, to be approved by the IAEA Board of Governors and with the IAEA as a guarantor.
The United States signaled its willingness to sign the document, thereby becoming a direct party to the agreement. Furthermore, our governments offered political guarantees, including a specific declaration of support by the United States, and President Obama himself spoke publicly in support of the project.
In November, as a further assurance of fuel delivery, the U.S., Russia, and France agreed that Iran’s uranium could be held “in escrow” in a third country until final delivery of the nuclear fuel, with a guarantee that Iran would get its material back if the agreement was not fulfilled.
As Mohamed ElBaradei described the offer last year, the IAEA’s proposal has “extensive built-in guarantees.”
Unfortunately, despite all of this, Iran refused to take “yes” for an answer. It has not accepted the IAEA’s proposal, ignoring the positive first step it would have represented, instead choosing provocation over confidence-building and defiance.
We see Iran’s unwillingness to accept the IAEA’s proposal as representing not only a lost opportunity for mutual confidence-building, but also a missed opportunity for Iran to secure the ability to produce medical isotopes as expeditiously as possible.
Instead, Iran increased its enrichment activities to produce up to 20 percent enriched uranium, in violation of successive United Nations Security Council resolutions. This has only deepened the international community’s doubts about Iran’s nuclear intentions, along with increasing the isolation of the Iranian government.
There is a growing understanding in the international community that Iran should face consequences for its defiance of its obligations regarding its nuclear program. We are consulting with our E3+3 partners and others both at the Security Council and off of it, about the importance of holding Iran accountable.
The case of Iran’s defiance of its obligations, and of Syria’s for that matter – and of North Korea’s, throws into sharp relief the nuclear challenge all responsible members of the world community face today.
This is a dramatic moment. Will we shape our institutions – in particular the IAEA, and our treaty regimes – in particular the NPT – to ensure the power of the atom is used only for good?
Or will we decide that the words subscribed to by nations yesterday may be forgotten and forsaken today and tomorrow?
I saw, at the ripe old age of four, in the eyes of adults terrified at the prospect of a nuclear Armaggedon, what can happen when events veer in directions we can scarcely control.
And so I leave you with the words of President Obama:
At the United Nations, in September, he said “This is what we have already done. But this is just a beginning. Some of our actions have yielded progress. Some have laid the groundwork for progress in the future. But make no mistake: This cannot solely be America’s endeavor. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone. We have sought – in word and deed – a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.” (September 23, 2009, UNGA, NYC)
Thank you very much.