Interview
Rose Gottemoeller
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Washington, DC
July 26, 2011


QUESTION: Thank you Madam for taking the time in your busy schedule. Can you please give me an update of the New START Treaty?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It’s off to a very good start. And, in fact, I see that the spirit of Geneva, as we used to call it, has been continued in the implementation of the treaty. And the spirit of Geneva is what we consider it – that is, my Russian counterparts and I – consider it to be the very pragmatic, businesslike, and positive working relationship we established in Geneva, and it’s definitely continuing in the implementation of the treaty. We are constantly in communication. We’re over a thousand notifications being passed back and forth between Moscow and Washington since the treaty entered into force.

And I hope, Kirill, by the time this article runs on Monday that I can say a thousand has been achieved by that time. But we’re almost there – I think it’s 965 today. But the pace of communication has been very precise, very efficient, and furthermore, in terms of the inspections, we’re pretty much keeping pace with each other, with inspections going on in both the Russian Federation and also here in the United States at various missile and bomber bases.

So all in all, I would say the implementation’s going forward smoothly, and it’s going forward in a very businesslike and positive way.

QUESTION: If I may, when you say implementations, can you specify a little bit what exactly the (inaudible)? A lot of people not --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Sure. Implementation of the treaty involves several activities. It – the most famous, of course, are probably the onsite inspections. Everybody knows about them. We have Russian inspectors coming here to look at our both deployed nuclear forces – intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers – and, of course, U.S. inspectors go to the Russian Federation, to your bases as well. So –the procedures are very equal between the two sides; they are totally reciprocal. Every right that U.S. inspectors have in Russia, Russian inspectors have here in the United States to look at nuclear weapon systems.

So those are the most famous measures, but it’s not very well known that we pass back and forth notifications all the time about the status of those nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons systems. That’s very important because it helps us to have a very good day-to-day idea about what’s going on in the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal, and it helps Russia have a very good idea, day to day, what’s going on here in the United States.

For example, the notifications are passed every time a bomber is getting ready to move out of its home country. For example, when the Russian Bear H bombers go on training missions out over the ocean, we would receive a notification. And when U.S. bombers are going out for operations in a theater, then the Russian side gets a notification. So it really helps to make sure that we have a good mutual confidence in what’s going on, that we have a good mutual understanding of what’s going on, and that there are no surprises between our two countries where our nuclear systems are concerned. And that’s very important for stability – mutual stability and security.

So those are the notifications. In addition, every six months we exchange a comprehensive database. So we have a full accounting every six months of exactly what weapons systems are located, whether they are out of their deployment or operational bases and gone to maintenance, or perhaps they’re being retired. So it’s very important to have regular updates. Every six months, we do get a comprehensive update. But I will also stress that those notifications I mentioned a moment ago are used in the interim period so that, day in, day out, we have a good sense of what’s going on in each other’s strategic nuclear arsenals.

I think of the database as a living document, really. The database is updated constantly, and then every six months we do a comprehensive update just to make sure that the notifications have been keeping up with the overall activity in each of our nuclear arsenals.

So those are the three, I would say, main activities in implementation. And, of course, all those are backed up then with our own national systems, so-called National Technical Means of Verification. The United States and Russia both have systems of overhead satellites that keep track of what’s going on in each other’s countries. And so that is considered our own national technical means. And that’s one of the important rules in the New START Treaty that has its roots back in the 1970s, in the first strategic arms limitation treaties: that both sides do not take any steps to interfere with those national technical means, to interfere with those satellite assets.

QUESTION: Yeah. But if I can ask about the practical reasons for the United States to be involved in such a treaty. Because some experts in Russia and in the United States said that it has very little – structurally, it has very little practical reason simply because the situation with the Russian nuclear weapons is such that they’re aging, and in the course of a couple years, including a number of Russian nuclear warheads will be way below the START Treaty limits for natural, (inaudible) phased out, because they’re aging and they have to be removed. In your opinion, what’s the practical reason for the United States to go with such a treaty?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, we don’t see it that way. As a matter of fact, the United States and Russia still have over 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world. So we are still essential partners in the effort to first reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. So that’s the first and most important issue.

And the second is, I think, very important for both sides to have that confidence in the future, confidence in the mutual stability between our two sides. And that is something that we can achieve by having agreed central limits. So we now have agreed central limits in the START Treaty of 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 nuclear delivery vehicles, and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers. That gives each side a certainty that the other cannot build up beyond those levels.

You mentioned that Russian systems are being retired. Yes, and U.S. systems are being retired, too. Both sides want to be sure in seven years time, when the treaty is fully implemented, that suddenly one side or the other couldn’t bring some of those older weapons systems back to redeploy the warheads – sometimes we use the term to “upload” warheads onto delivery vehicles. And so I think that mutual confidence in agreed central limits is of huge value to both of our sides, because it helps us to make reasonable and reasoned decisions about the future – what exactly we need to do to sustain and, in the case of Russia, modernize forces. You understand that you’re not going to have to build up, for example, against a huge increase in U.S. weapons because the New START treaty is constraining our capabilities.

QUESTION: Before signing the treaty last spring, I believe, the United States made some unprecedented steps when the Administration disclosed the previously secret data on the number of nuclear weapons the U.S. had. Do you expect Russia to follow this move? Are there any decisions on the openness, on the mutual openness of – from Russia’s side?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: The U.S. has always taken the view that more transparency is a good thing. Of course, every country has sensitive, classified information that it can’t reveal. But that decision that you just spoke about a moment ago was made pursuant not to the New START Treaty negotiations, but it was made pursuant to the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in May of 2010 and the United States felt that it was very important to convey to the entire community of countries involved in the NPT that – hello, are you still there?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I am.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Involved in the NPT that we were going to be open and transparent about our weapons holdings, so that is why that information was published at that time. Of course, we hope all nuclear weapons states will be transparent also, and every country has to make their own decisions in that regard. But for your information, I was in Paris a few weeks ago for the P-5 Conference on Verification and Transparency. And one of the important things we agreed at that conference, and Jamie can get you the statement we released afterwards if you don’t have it--but we agreed that we would be working together on reporting our nuclear arsenals to the public. And I don’t know what we’ll be able to achieve there, but it is an important activity under the NPT, the Nonproliferation Treaty, how much we’re going to be reporting.

QUESTION: And Russian agreed to that –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- or Vice versa?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: In fact, it was agreed in May of 2010 as part of the so-called action plan that came out of the NPT Review Conference in May of 2010. But we reiterated in Paris that we will all be willing to work together on that reporting aspect.

QUESTION: It seems to be – the START Treaty was ratified. Russia threatened to withdraw from the treaty many times, even recently President Medvedev who said that if the success we achieved in – talked about European missile defense – Russia can withdraw from the treaty. Do you consider this threat serious and how – to your opinion is it just like – how is it (inaudible) how abnormal it is, how unusual it is?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, you know that every big international arms control treaty has a withdrawal clause, and there is a withdrawal clause in the New START Treaty. When a country decides that a treaty is no longer in its national interest, is no longer serving its national interest then, of course, a country, any country, has a right to withdraw from a treaty that has a withdrawal clause of this kind. That’s a very normal international legal practice and it is something that we insisted on as well, not just – it was not something that just Russia insisted on, but we insisted on as well.

Of course, as I just said a moment ago, the New START Treaty implementation is going very well. It’s been very positive. It’s a bright spot in the U.S.-Russian relationship, and we see it as continuing to be an environment where we will be cooperating together very positively, and we see it as a place where we can really enhance our mutual understanding. So as far as we’re concerned, we hope to continue on that very positive trajectory and we would see no reason to be thinking about withdrawal.

QUESTION: But if I can follow up on the missile defense because most Russian politicians are connecting these two subjects and during – before recent visit to Washington, Minister Lavrov also said that Russia can reconsider its territory if U.S. won’t give written guarantees that missile defense is not aimed at Russia. And the Russian politicians are saying that the American side continues refusing to give such assurances.

If I can ask, is it – again, the political question for the U.S. Administration to give such guarantees to Russian side or –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: We’ve been very clear all along, and this was in the course of the New START Treaty negotiations from day one. We were very clear that the New START Treaty is not about limiting missile defenses. Our presidents agreed in London in April of 2009 before the negotiations were launched that the New START Treaty was to be about limits in strategic offensive forces, and so that’s the basis on which we worked in Geneva, and that’s the basis on which this treaty was concluded.

We have also been very, very clear, and I have said it in testimony as the New START Treaty was being ratified, and it’s also part of our national policy, part of our national law, that we do not build missile defense systems to undermine the strategic offensive capabilities of any country; that is simply not the case. We are building our missile defenses against limited missile threats. So that is the focus of this system in Europe. And when you look at the technical capabilities of it into the future, that’s what the system is designed to do. It’s designed to deal with limited missile defense threats.

We really do believe that the best way to move forward in this very difficult area - the best way to move forward is by developing some pragmatic cooperation because that’s the best way to develop understanding about the technical capabilities of the system that we will be developing. I don’t know if you know the expression in American English, “to kick the tires.” It’s much better to have a chance to walk right up to a technical system and “kick the tires”: to see exactly how it operates and what it looks like and what its capabilities are. That’s how you come to have some understanding and to be reassured. It’s much better to understand what the capabilities are from a technical point of view.

QUESTION: Right. Well, what – a few more questions and I will (inaudible). Is the technical assistance, which the United States providing to Russian nuclear complexes is connected to the START Treaty anyhow? And can I ask you about the status of this – how the U.S. for 20 years by now was helping Russia to finance the systems of physical defense and (inaudible) defense and so and so forth. So what this stage this is now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: This is – with regard to the so-called Cooperative Threat Reduction Program?

QUESTION: Right. Right.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: -- That program has been in place since the early 1990s and it’s been very – I would say very effective in terms of ensuring the physical protection of Russian facilities that are involved with fissile material, nuclear weapons, and nuclear delivery systems. It’s been also a very good area of cooperation although, I must say, it’s not in my area of responsibility right now. It’s run out of the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. I was responsible, when I worked in the Department of Energy in the late 1990s, for the program. As far as I know, they’re still going very well, but a lot of work has been accomplished over the last 20 years, so they are not nearly as intensive as they were some 10 years ago when I was working in DOE.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I mean, my initial question as very – because of – and this program is quite expansive, and the economic difficulties can affect the future of this program more, and you have spoken (inaudible) with this.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Oh, that’s a very interesting question, actually, because this is our budget season here in the United States and our Congress is debating the national budget coming up for future fiscal years, FY12 and 13. And as a matter of fact, I just read the news that, in fact, the House of Representatives has really supported these programs going forward, which is a good sign because, as you know, the House of Representatives is really the home of our so-called fiscal hawks. (Laughter.) And they have been very critical of many programs across the board, but it seems like they are being positive in supporting this set of cooperative threat reduction programs.

QUESTION: It seems to me that the nuclear weapons and nuclear technologies – are actually the less sensitive area in U.S.-Russian relations. For example, if you count the achievements of the current administration, foreign policy achievements, you immediately can name the START Treaty, the 123 Agreement, the plutonium disposition agreement and so on and so forth. What is your opinion – why is it easier to talk about the nuclear issues than about anything else? And why so?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It’s because we have a long and rich history in working together on these issues. I began working these issues in the 1970s when the first strategic arms limitation treaties were being negotiated, the so-called SALT treaties. We have been steadily working on cooperation in this area now for 40 years, and it shows. We have a very good community of experts that are well acquainted with each other. They have very positive working relationships, a very pragmatic attitude. And furthermore, they are professional experts who understand the details, the technical aspects, and speak the same language. So essentially, it makes for the cooperation in these areas to be much more efficient and effective.

However, Kirill, I wouldn’t say that it always goes easily. That plutonium disposition agreement that was finally brought into force last week when Minister Lavrov was here in Washington with Secretary Clinton, that has been in the works since I was working in DOE in the 1990s. So it does take a long time to bring these things to fruition, but I do see this area of nuclear cooperation as one where we can have steady progress, even though sometimes it takes a long time, but steady progress because we have this very rich history of working together.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on, also 123 Agreement, if it’s possible?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Sure.

QUESTION: Some people in Russian agency (inaudible) openly said that if you want to (inaudible) treaty as the (inaudible) possibility for Russia to occupy the new business (inaudible), to bring to Russia and store the American-made spent fuel precisely from the power plants in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. And then do you see this possibility? Do you really think it’s realistic?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It’s difficult for me to know because there are some particular legal matters that will have to be worked out in the Russian Federation, the structure of your laws being such there will have to be some decisions made by the government; it will be entirely up to the executive branch and the Duma, the legislative branch, to work through those issues and make those decisions. So it’s very difficult for me to say, but I do know that it’s been an area of very active discussion among some Russian experts.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Kirill. Do you have a final question?

QUESTION: Oh. I’m sorry, but, well, just once more, would this such development be of any interest of American side?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, since I don’t work in the nuclear industry, I can’t say. (Laughter.) But I do think that the 123 Agreement is a great accomplishment because it opens doors to all kinds of cooperation between the United States and Russia on nuclear energy issues. And it’s also an area that I was working on, again, for many, many years, since the time I was in the Department of Energy in the 1990s. So when it was finally achieved last year, I was very, very glad about it. It’s quite an accomplishment.

QUESTION: Well, more people are writing about it in Russian media. They very often quote your op-ed pieces (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Oh, really?

QUESTION: Yes, going back to, like, the (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It’s good to know that some of the things I write have a history. I mean, they come back again.

QUESTION: Yes. Well, the (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: I guess. Okay. Well, listen, thank you very much. If there is anything you need clarified or if you want that P-5 statement from Paris, please let Jamie know and we’ll be happy to help you.

QUESTION: (In Russian)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Okay. Well, thank you very much. Nice to talk to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much for your time.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Okay. Bye-bye.