Five years ago in Prague, President Obama pledged, "America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." This was more than rhetoric. Since 2009, the United States has taken extensive efforts to address the threat of nuclear weapons—from reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism, to ensuring that additional countries do not acquire them, to lowering their numbers and moving away from outdated Cold War postures. The President’s agenda reflected a deep U.S. commitment to all three pillars of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
In his speech, the President called the risk that terrorists might acquire a nuclear weapon "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security." In response, the President called for all nations to take unprecedented steps to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, launching an initiative that brought world leaders together for the first time to focus on this threat.
Through the course of three Nuclear Security Summits held in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, and most recently in The Hague last month, 11 countries and Taiwan have fully rid themselves of highly enriched uranium and plutonium -- the essential materials required to build nuclear weapons -- bringing the total number of countries to 26, plus Taiwan, that as of today have removed all HEU from their territory. At The Hague Summit, Japan announced a major commitment to work with the United States to eliminate hundreds of kilograms of weapons-usable nuclear material from an experimental reactor. Participants in these summits also laid the basis for an efficient and sustainable nuclear security architecture, consisting of international agreements, guidelines, and international organizations, particularly the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Nuclear Security Summits have matched words with actions.
Despite our progress, now is not the time for complacency. The United States will host the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2016. We continue to work with partner nations to disrupt black markets for nuclear materials and technology through efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. We will also continue to pursue negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which aims to end production of weapons-grade fissile material for use in nuclear weapons once and for all.
A critical part of the Prague agenda also involves reducing the dangers from existing nuclear weapons. The United States will continue to put in place a nuclear strategy that moves beyond Cold War postures, and implement the New START Treaty, which will reduce U.S. and Russian deployed strategic warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.
But that is not all. In Berlin last June, the President announced that after a comprehensive review of our nuclear forces, we have determined we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies and partners and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent while safely pursuing up to a one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear weapons from the level established in the New START Treaty.
We are also working to make the case for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty -- an agreement that would greatly benefit America’s national security. Ratification of the CTBT is central to limiting improvements to nuclear arsenals and erecting new barriers to resume testing or new nuclear arms races.
Later this month, we will meet with parties to the NPT to discuss these issues and other priorities to strengthen the Treaty -- long considered the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime. A stronger NPT helps ensure that states do not acquire nuclear weapons while fostering the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
As President Obama reminded us in Brussels last month, "...We live in a world in which our ideals are going to be challenged again and again. We must be willing to hold firm to our principles...to back our beliefs with courage and resolve." We have many challenges ahead, but the successes of the Prague agenda over the past five years prove that when we hold firm, we can make this world a safer place.
About the Author: Rose Gottemoeller serves as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.