Remarks at the High-level Briefing on U.S. Nuclear Policy at the Tenth Review Conference on the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

By Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security

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August 5, 2022

Thank you, Ambassador Scheinman, and thanks to my fellow panelists, Under Secretary of Defense Kahl and Administrator Hruby. As you can see, the United States government is working in lockstep to advance a nuclear policy that maintains deterrence, enhances stability, and enables further progress on arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation.

As you have heard, the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review—or NPR—affirms that deterrence and arms control and nonproliferation are mutually reinforcing and all essential to maintaining stability.

U.S. Commitment to Arms Control and Nonproliferation

As Under Secretary Kahl outlined, the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review represents a comprehensive, balanced approach to U.S. nuclear strategy, policy, posture, and forces.  Maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent and strong and credible extended deterrence commitments, remains a top U.S. priority.

The 2022 NPR underscores our commitment to take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and reestablish our leadership in arms control.  We approach deterrence, arms control, and nonproliferation as mutually-reinforcing, complementary elements of an integrated strategy for preserving stability, deterring aggression and escalation, and avoiding arms racing and nuclear war.

We will continue to emphasize strategic stability, seek to avoid costly arms races, and facilitate risk reduction and arms control arrangements where possible.

As President Biden recently 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.”

That sentiment helps guide U.S. actions on nuclear policy, not in spite of the security environment, but because of it.

Upon taking office in January 2021, President Biden took immediate steps to extend the New START Treaty with the Russian Federation for the full five years provided for under the treaty. The United States then pushed for the resumption of a U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue (SSD) aimed at reducing risk and laying the groundwork for future arms control.

Unfortunately, President Putin has chosen war, chaos, and violence over stability and diplomacy for Russia.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine directly contradicts commitments Russia made in the Budapest Memorandum.  President Putin has also chosen to level implied nuclear threats against any countries that would come to Ukraine’s aid.  This behavior places significant strain on the global nonproliferation regime.  Responsible behavior by nuclear-weapons States is critical to the health of the NPT.

As we contemplate the future of arms control with Russia, it is important to note two things: the U.S. goal to pursue next steps in arms control with Russia has not changed, nor has the expiration date for New START – February 5, 2026.  We know that there is a ticking clock counting down toward a world with no binding limits on the two largest nuclear arsenals and therefore greater potential for instability.  Such a world would not be a safer one.

Seeing this challenge, President Biden has made it clear that we must “continue beyond the New START extension.”  And earlier this week, President Biden reiterated his readiness to negotiate expeditiously a framework to replace New START, if Russia is prepared to operate in good faith.

With that charge, we will continue to prepare to advance our objectives for bilateral arms control with Russia, which include negotiating continued verifiable limits on intercontinental-range nuclear weapons, including new kinds of such weapons, and addressing non-deployed nuclear weapons and theater-range, or nonstrategic, nuclear weapons and missiles.

The world is also facing new nuclear challenges. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is rapidly building a larger, more diverse nuclear arsenal.  As recently as 2020, our Department of Defense assessed that the PRC would at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile, which at that time was estimated in the low-200s, within the decade. Since then, the PRC has accelerated this growth, may possess up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027, and likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030.

We will continue to explore measures for reducing and managing strategic risks with the PRC in the near term, including through improved crisis communication and information sharing mechanisms, even in a period of intensified military competition.   But progress in these areas will require a willing partner in Beijing.  Guardrails built today can also help us explore what forms of mutual restraint and arms limitations may be in both sides’ interest in the longer term.

It is also important to note that Washington and Beijing have the same obligations under Article VI of the NPT, and the world is right to expect us to advance discussions that would help fulfill those obligations.  As President Biden stated earlier this week, “[t]here is no benefit to any of our nations, or for the world, to resist substantive engagement on arms control and nuclear non-proliferation.”

The United States supports multilateral arms control and nonproliferation, including the NPT and other multilateral treaties.  This conference includes many opportunities to discuss U.S. support for the NPT and other measures advancing the common goal of nuclear nonproliferation, so here I will only briefly highlight a few examples.

The United States supports the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is committed to work to achieve its entry into force, recognizing the significant challenges that lie ahead in reaching this goal.  For nearly 30 years, the United States has observed a zero-yield moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.  We call on all states possessing nuclear weapons to declare or maintain such a moratorium.

We also continue to support the commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).  An FMCT remains a key component in building towards a world without nuclear weapons.  We strongly encourage all states to follow our lead and to declare and maintain moratoria on production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

The United States will continue to champion work to advance disarmament, like the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative, or CEND, and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, or IPNDV. We will continue to partner with all who seek to make substantive progress on these issues, like the Stockholm Initiative and Non-Proliferation an Disarmament Initiative, or NPDI.

As we work to advance our policy goals, we will continue to be transparent about our nuclear policy, strategy, and forces.  Such transparency is a longstanding priority and practice for the United States.

In 2010 and 2018, we issued public reports on the U.S. nuclear posture, explaining our nuclear policy and strategy, describing our nuclear force structure, the rationale for specific nuclear weapon systems and how we posture them, and U.S. nuclear modernization plans.  Following both reviews, the United States also issued publicly available explanations of U.S. nuclear employment strategy in reports to the U.S. Congress.

As we just heard, the Biden Administration completed its Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, in March of this year.  The Department of Defense publicly released a fact sheet upon completion of the review, and a more detailed unclassified report of that review is forthcoming.

The United States has been extraordinarily transparent about its nuclear posture and policies, the size of its nuclear arsenal, and changes to U.S. nuclear forces. We know that transparency is a key confidence-building measure that contributes to our broader aim of reducing strategic risk.

We believe such transparency is not just beneficial – it is essential.

I want to close by discussing the January 2022 P5 Leaders’ Statement on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races and how it aligns with U.S. nuclear policy.

In the statement, all five Nuclear Weapons States in the NPT affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

The United States demonstrates its commitment to this statement in both word and deed.

We do not use nuclear weapons to intimidate others or as part of an expansionist policy.  U.S. nuclear weapons, consistent with the P5 statement, “serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.”

This policy of restraint continues to shape the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy, while we continue to ensure our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective, and our extended deterrence commitments remain strong and credible.

The P5 statement also declares that “nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences.”

While we sometimes use the term ‘non-strategic’ to describe certain nuclear weapons, the reality is that any employment of nuclear weapons, regardless of location or yield, would fundamentally alter the nature of a conflict, create the potential for uncontrolled escalation, and would have strategic effects.  With this in mind, the United States believes all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons should be included in future arms control regimes.  It is the basis for our conviction that we all have a responsibility to continue the record of non-use of nuclear weapons since the end of World War II.

While we know that a nuclear war cannot be won, these difficult times make clear the continuing need to maintain effective U.S capabilities for deterring attacks on U.S. forces, allies, and partners, as well as on the U.S. homeland.

But let me reiterate and underscore two other longstanding elements of U.S. policy: first, the United States would only consider using nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, our allies, and our partners.  And second, the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

Finally, the P5 statement underlines “our desire to work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all.”

We must and will continue to pursue arms control and nonproliferation steps that reduce nuclear risks as long as such weapons exist.  Coupled with the deterrence element of our strategy, these arms control and nonproliferation efforts will reduce nuclear dangers and provide critical contributions to the security of the United States and our allies and partners.  They will also contribute to global security and stability that will benefit all countries and people around the world.

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