Nuclear Risk Reduction Center: 25 Years of Confidence Building Through Information Exchange

Posted by Chris Comeau
October 24, 2012

Inside the Department of States sits an operations center equipped with permanent, secure, and reliable lines of direct communication with foreign governments to perform the critical mission of sustaining strategic nuclear security twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week -- the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center (NRRC). The NRRC was established under President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev on September 15, 1987, to serve as a communications channel to reduce the risk of conflict. The U.S. NRRC is one of two Centers; the other is located in the Russian Ministry of Defense in Moscow. Both centers are staffed around the clock by officers trained to operate data and notification automation systems.

In my Air Force career, training for a grave scenario involving a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union was all too real during the Cold War. Although the Cold War is over, the NRRC is still an important enterprise that aims to keep our two great nations connected for many years to come. Behind the scenes, watch officers process notifications concerning the implementation of arms control treaties and agreements such as the New START Treaty and Open Skies Treaty. Depending on the treaty or agreement, notifications serve to exchange data on the number of deployed strategic forces, intent to conduct an inspection or over-flight, movements of heavy bombers, or an imminent test launch of a ballistic missile. NRRC officers process over 500 such treaty notifications a month and are assisted in their duties by automated computer programs, databases, and custom software, much of it locally developed by NRRC staff.

Similar to the U.S.-Russia Presidential "Hotline" created out of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which occurred 50 years ago this month, the NRRC's permanent direct government-to-government link has proven its valuable role in preventing crisis escalation by maintaining open channels of communications between the world's two largest nuclear powers.

Today, we hosted a delegation of Russian technical experts to discuss the status of the communication link, its technological improvements, and report on its reliability over the past year. We have come a long way in developing mechanisms to avoid the crisis which transpired 50 years ago. But we are not stopping there. The NRRC is nearing the completion of a modernization program, highlighted today by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cutting the ceremonial ribbon at the new facility. The NRRC is equipped not only to support established communication links but to absorb additional responsibility in arms control and confidence and security-building measures.

Having constant reliable lines of direct communication enables our diplomatic efforts across the spectrum of engagement to continue unabated. For 25 years, the U.S. NRRC has expanded its role in bilateral and multilateral security and confidence building arrangements, supporting conventional treaties and agreements with a wide variety of foreign partners and international institutions. As we face the evolving security challenges of the 21st century, the NRRC looks forward to supporting future arms control measures and exploring new ways to strengthen confidence building measures through technical and innovative means.

Learn more about the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center and its history by reading this fact sheet or visiting our website.

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