Rose Gottemoeller
Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Prague, Czech Republic
September 6, 2013

As Delivered

Thank you for the introduction, Veronika. It is lovely to be here in Prague. My thanks to the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, First Deputy Minister Jiri Schnider, the Institute of International Relations Prague, the Metropolitan University Prague and the Faculty of Social Sciences from Charles University Prague for their work in putting this conference together. My last visit to Prague was in April 2010, the day President Obama and then-President Medvedev signed the New START Treaty.

A lot of water has passed under the Charles Bridge since that time and Veronika has already mentioned that we are living in interesting times. That phrase, “May you live in interesting times,” is generally regarded as ominous – the implication being that a person in an interesting world is doomed to a tumultuous and possibly dangerous existence. There is no doubt that we live in interesting times, but I don’t accept the inevitability of uncertainty and danger. We have the power to control and shape our future. We are able to see the challenges facing us and to find ways to overcome those challenges. That is exactly what President Obama had in mind when he came to Prague four years ago to speak about America’s intent to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

His vision – which we call the Prague Agenda –was actually a continuation of the path set forth by previous Presidents. Every U.S. President in the nuclear age, beginning with President Harry Truman in 1945, has felt the weight of responsibility inherent in these weapons of near limitless destruction. I know, from our long experience working together, that that was the case for the leaders of the former Soviet Union and remains true for the leaders of the Russian Federation. These leaders and their advisors – as well as countless others inside and outside governments around the world, have all worked to stem the nuclear threat and to find ways to turn us away from catastrophic nuclear war.

The responsibility is ours to bear, but we are facing new and different threats. While the likelihood of a large-scale nuclear exchange has fortunately diminished through decades of cooperative, but also challenging disarmament work between Moscow and Washington, nuclear dangers have not disappeared. The threat posed by the spread of nuclear materials and technologies remains. The possibility that terrorists or other non-state actors could acquire a nuclear weapon ensures that the nuclear “Sword of Damocles” still hangs over us. While our nuclear arsenals have little direct relevance in deterring these threats, concerted action by the United States and Russia – and indeed, from all nuclear states – to reduce their weapon stockpiles and fissile material will strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. A strong nonproliferation regime makes nuclear theft, unauthorized use and proliferation harder. The ultimate solution is straightforward: take away the tools – fissile materials and nuclear weapons – and you mitigate ultimately the threat.

Of course, that is much easier said than done. President Obama made it clear in the Prague Speech that the road to a world without nuclear weapons would be long and the goal may not be reached in his lifetime. To achieve success, we will need to follow a step by step process in which we maintain nuclear stability at the same time that we pursue responsible reductions in our nuclear capabilities through a number of measures, some of them quiet, and some of them front and center on the world stage.

The New START Treaty, signed here in Prague in April of 2010, was one of those front and center accomplishments, both in its negotiation and its entry into force. Now I am happy to tell you that its quiet, deliberate implementation is going smoothly behind the scenes, providing for mutual predictability and stability on the nuclear front. This is important in any day and age, but especially important in these days when we and the Russians must ensure that we are wisely spending our scarce defense resources.

Another accomplishment on the quiet front is the work that Russia and the United States have done to eliminate fissile material from warheads. Over the past twenty years, we have together eliminated the highly enriched uranium from approximately 20,000 warheads. The HEU has been transformed into low-enriched fuel and sold to power plants in the United States. Did you know that today 10 percent of the electricity generated in the United States is from former Soviet nuclear weapons? That’s a lot of warheads turned to peaceful purposes.

But it is not enough: the United States and Russian Federation still possess over ninety percent of the nuclear weapons in the world. This past June, President Obama spoke in Berlin about the next steps in the Prague Agenda. I will focus today on what he said about nuclear reductions. The President announced in Berlin that “we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.”

He also said that we would seek bold steps to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe. How we go about these further reductions is not a matter only for Washington and Moscow, but also must involve close consultations with our allies. This work has already begun in Brussels at NATO and in other allied capitals in Europe and Asia.

Another essential element to the step-by-step process is reducing the role that nuclear weapons play in national security strategies. That is why the President’s new nuclear employment guidance directs the U.S. Department of Defense to align its planning with the U.S. policy that the use of nuclear weapons will be considered only in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States and its allies and partners. In addition, the new guidance directs strengthening non-nuclear capabilities and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks. All of this derives from the underlying principle articulated in our 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, that it is in the interest of the United States and all other countries that nuclear weapons never be used again.

No secret: our efforts to move forward on the next steps are proceeding slowly; many issues of strategic stability and beyond are taking up the metaphorical “dialogue space.” This does not mean we stop trying to move ahead. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and Russia found it in our mutual interest to work together on reducing the nuclear threat. Through creativity, patience and persistence, we have had many successes and together have contributed to a safer world.

When New START is fully implemented in 2018, we will be at the lowest levels of deployed strategic nuclear warheads since the 1950s – pre-Cuban Missile Crisis. That is quite a feat, but we have more to do. There is one simple reason to move to the next step – it is in our mutual interest, in political, security and budgetary terms.

To end, I want to read you something by President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz that I came across recently. Speaking to the UN early in his tenure – now about 30 years ago – he outlined principles for action in foreign policy. His comments focused on how and why the United States should conduct negotiations, but I think the ideas ring true for all nations.

"We manage our problems more intelligently, and with greater mutual understanding, when we can bring ourselves to recognize them as expressions of mankind’s basic dilemma. We are seldom confronted with simple issues of right and wrong, between good and evil. Only those who do not bear the direct burden of responsibility for decision and action can indulge themselves in the denial of that reality. The task of statesmanship is to mediate between two—or several—causes, each of which often has a legitimate claim…It is on this foundation that the United States stands ready to try to solve the problems of our time—to overcome chaos, deprivation, and the heightened dangers of an era in which ideas and cultures too often tend to clash and technologies threaten to outpace our institutions of control."

Secretary Shultz was right and his words can guide us today. I will end there, but I look forward to hearing from the other panelists and am happy to answer your questions.

Thank you.