It was six years ago this month that President Obama gave his landmark speech in Prague stating the U.S. commitment to seek the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The President acknowledged that reaching this goal would not be easy and may not be achieved in his lifetime, but it is a goal that can be -- and must be -- reached. One of the most important factors in reaching this goal is the creation of new and enhanced verification tools.
That is why the United States created a new public-private venture called the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification or IPNDV. Last December, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller traveled back to Prague to launch the Partnership. And last month, the idea became a reality, when experts from twenty-eight nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states came to Washington D.C. to begin the work of solving the verification challenges associated with further nuclear reductions.
We are proud to be working with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) on this unprecedented partnership and we are grateful to have a direct line to NTI’s experts who have acquired decades of experience working on these issues in all corners of the globe.
While our new Partnership is unique in its scope, lessons learned from past disarmament verification initiatives will inform the development of “work groups” -- or subject areas deserving of closer study. The United States-United Kingdom Technical Cooperation Program and the United Kingdom-Norway Initiative are two such past initiatives. Both studies grappled with how to provide confidence and transparency with respect to a country’s declared nuclear weapons while, at the same time, controlling access to sensitive and classified information.
We have come a long way on nuclear disarmament. The proof is in the numbers. At the height of Cold War tensions with the former Soviet Union, the United States stockpile consisted of almost 32,000 nuclear warheads. Decades of bilateral arms control treaties and agreements with Russia have slashed that number by nearly 85%, and the U.S. offer for further reductions remains on the table provided there is a willing partner and conducive international security environment.
For all the progress on disarmament, future steps are expected to pose significantly more complex and intrusive verification challenges than in times past. Future success in addressing such challenges will be dependent, in part, on the development and application of new technologies or concepts. On-site inspections conducted under New START are just one example of how a strong verification regime is indispensable to any successful arms control treaty or agreement. Expanding the verification toolkit will lay the groundwork for further steps in negotiating verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons.
Addressing these challenges, and finding solutions, is one bridge needed to span the gap between our aspirations for nuclear disarmament and their eventual fulfillment. Fortunately, the robust participation of countries at the kickoff meeting of the verification Partnership indicates that the United States and the other nuclear weapon states do not and will not face this challenge alone.
The benefits derived from nuclear disarmament are not limited to just one country and we know that nuclear weapon states do not have a monopoly on creative ideas. A larger, more diverse group of states, many whom possess technical expertise in nuclear verification or the related sciences, will contribute to the discussion and provide a broader intellectual basis for exploring creative solutions. This is a way for all NPT parties, without distinction to their nuclear or non-nuclear weapon status, to advance disarmament objectives of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We look forward to continuing the conversation with the public and other State Parties to the NPT at the upcoming NPT Review Conference. But we are in this for the long haul. We intend to continue working with other states on these verification challenges for years to come.
For President Obama, freeing the world from the shadow cast by nuclear weapons is not just an aspirational goal, but a deeply personal one. The President is “a father, who wants (his) two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can't be instantly wiped out."
Everyone who shares this sentiment -- shares the goal of a world without nuclear weapons -- should devote time and energy to the verification challenges that face us. An upfront investment in the tools and technologies to verify nuclear reductions at lower numbers is the means to the end we all seek. The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification can help us get there.
About the Author: Frank A. Rose serves as Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. For more information on the IPNDV, go to state.gov/t/avc or follow Assistant Secretary Rose on Twitter @StateAVC.