State Department's Holum on Steps to Keeping Arms Control Relevant

"Keeping Arms Control Relevant: Ten Observations"

Address of John D. Holum
Under Secretary of State for
Arms Control and International Security

International Institute for Strategic Studies:
London, England
October 24, 2000


I'm delighted to be here. I have the highest regard for the IISS, so this is a special opportunity to talk a bit about where arms control is headed.

With my tenure in office winding down, it's time to indulge in a bit of reflection. I've thought about the arms control and non-proliferation record of the past few years, and I think we've accomplished some good things. 1) The dismantlement of thousands of strategic nuclear weapons; 2) confirming the non-nuclear status of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan; 3) the withdrawal from Western Europe of almost all of our tactical nuclear weapons; 4) the successful 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference; 5) strengthened IAEA safeguards; 6) the CTBT negotiations; 7) CWC entry into force; 8) our on-going efforts to control nuclear weapons and material in the former Soviet Union, including the plutonium disposition agreement - all help bring about a more stable international environment.

But by nature I prefer to look forward, not back, and what I see is that arms control faces some serious challenges. Many critics were more than happy to pounce on the Senate's CTBT vote as the "end of arms control." Internationally, some suggest that our National Missile Defense efforts mean the U.S. has lost interest in working with others to advance arms control, and prefers to go it alone.

But the emerging threat environment is diverse and rife with instabilities. WMD and missile technologies are increasingly accessible and to some, apparently irresistible. In such an environment, arms control will remain vital to international security and stability. But it will have to evolve somewhat - or at least, how we think about arms control will have to evolve. That's what I'd like to discuss a bit today by offering ten observations.

Thoughts, Observations, and Lessons

First, arms control must have as its preeminent objective strengthening security.

Like the U.K., the U.S. pursues arms control because it promotes our security by limiting threats to our territory, our people, and our interests. We'd like to think that others approach arms control in the same way.

But we know this is not always the case. Sometimes counties set unrealistic expectations of what can be attained. Multilateral arms control in particular is too often treated by some as a "zero sum" struggle among competing interests, instead of a "plus sum" endeavor in which all gain security.

Negotiations to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention are dragging in part because some non-aligned states insist that in exchange for a stronger BWC, we should be prepared to weaken export controls and the Australia Group. That's not a good bargain.

No country will negotiate agreements that go beyond its national interest. But if states truly seek the benefits of collective security measures, then they ought at least to try to find the convergence of collective and sovereign interests.

This happened just a few months ago in New York. The NPT Review conference was held in a strained environment. Yet Conference participants produced a final document that commanded consensus.

The skill of the Conference negotiators, Russian START II and CTBT ratification on the eve of the Conference - all helped bring about this outcome. But the Conference succeeded because NPT parties recognized how profoundly the Treaty was in their security interests. No one had an interest in bending it out of shape, for example by misusing the review process to try to pry from the nuclear weapon states speedier disarmament than circumstances permit.

Second, build coalitions with your friends.

During the CTBT and CWC negotiations, the NPT Review and Extension Conference, and many other times, the U.S. worked closely with the U.K., France and our other allies and friends to find common ground. Working together, we increase incentives for others to negotiate more seriously.

Sometimes, of course, agreement is too much to hope for, particularly when we're also seeking consensus with Russia and China. As our current efforts on the BWC attest, it's hard enough to find common ground among Western states, or other aggregates of like-minded countries. The sovereign right to decide one's own self-interest generally will prevail over mutual security, where those are not one and the same. But if we can't always agree, we need at least to consult and to work closely. The U.S. and U.K. have a strong tradition of doing this, which serves us both.

Third, reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons should remain the centerpiece of our arms control efforts.

It's tempting to ask: with Russia's economy forcing it to reduce its nuclear weapons anyway, why bother with nuclear arms control?

The answer is that we don't want to depend on something we earnestly hope is temporary--Russia's economic distress--for long-term stability. So we should continue to pursue formal, negotiated agreements as the best vehicle for locking in deep cuts, regardless of the direction of U.S.-Russian relations or the state of Russia's' economy. And we want effective verification, best achieved through formal agreements.

There will be times when opportunities present themselves even when the formal START process is proceeding slower than we'd like. We've got to seize those opportunities. The 1991 and 1992 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives are good examples. Beginning in 1994, we and Russia stopped targeting each other with our nuclear forces.

But at the same time, we seek as much formality and verifiability as we can, and in a host of new areas - shared early warning, safeguards and controls on Russia's nuclear materials and technology, steps to prevent Russian nuclear scientists from selling their expertise to the highest bidder, regardless of how unsavory. Cooperative Threat Reduction, plutonium disposition, the HEU agreement, incentives to curtail WMD and missile cooperation with Iran -- such programs make up an increasingly broad, and unmistakably essential, agenda to deal with the arsenals and the residue of the Cold War.

Fourth, we need to pay greater attention to arms control implementation.

Signing a Treaty is only one step in the long, arduous process of realizing its promise. It's not until implementation that weapons are actually limited or finally taken down. Implementation is where arms control does its heavy lifting.

As more treaties come into force, implementation will require greater financial, technical, and intelligence resources. Under CTBT, states parties must monitor for nuclear explosions conducted anywhere on earth. Under CWC, states need to be sure that none of the parties has produced, stored or used chemical weapons. To support the NPT, the IAEA must have an effective safeguards system to deter additional states from acquiring nuclear weapons. These are immense challenges and significant responsibilities.

In the U.S., our budget requests come under detailed scrutiny by a skeptical Congress. Arms control is beginning to produce "sticker shock." Nonetheless, just as we must be prepared to spend billions to deter or answer threats, we should be prepared to spend millions to avoid them.

Fifth, we need to be realistic about verification.

Verification is a sine qua non of real arms control - how we know that our Treaty partners are keeping their word.

But verification will never be perfect, and we should resist efforts by some to insist on that standard. Few would suggest that we should withdraw from the Biological Weapons Convention, for example, because it is difficult to ensure compliance; rather, we should improve it. But, given the nature of the technology, even a strengthened compliance regime, with mandatory declarations and on-site challenge inspections, will not give us full confidence that cheaters can be caught.

During last October's CTBT debate, tough questions about verification were asked. Unfortunately, we never really had the opportunity to answer them. And of course, some of the answers are quite complex - not that we could detect any violation, but that we were confident that we could detect in a timely manner violations that could damage our security.

Each treaty will have its own, uniquely tailored verification regime, and in each case we need to consider a number of questions: How can national technical means best contribute? Does the treaty regime supply "value added" to our ability to monitor relevant events, which we need to do even without the treaty? At what point is our security at risk, if a treaty violation occurs and is not detected? Does the treaty regime create sufficient probability of detection, so that a potential violator will be deterred in the first place?

If we can satisfactorily answer these and other such questions, we should be able to support the regime.

Sixth, the hard proliferation cases need special approaches.

Generally speaking, states that join treaty regimes comply with them. But some key states, as recent experience with India and Pakistan tells us, do not join, and others cheat.

I cannot offer a guaranteed formula for success. That's why these are called the "hard cases," to distinguish them from "easy" things like the test ban, the BWC negotiations, and our efforts with Russia to adapt the ABM Treaty. But I am skeptical of "one size fits all" concepts that would gather all the problem countries in a room and offer the same bargain to them all - which could, for example, have us either promoting light water reactors in Iran, or not supporting them for North Korea.

Dealing with these hard cases is best accomplished on a case-by-case basis. Concerted strategies need to focus on the specific circumstances and unique incentives and disincentives that may help to foster a solution.

Seventh, once negotiated, arms control agreements should not be considered immune from re-examination.

This is not a new idea. We agreed, for example, that Europe's sharply altered political and security landscape warranted adjustments to the CFE Treaty, replacing bloc limits with national ceilings and affording Russia greater flexibility in the disposition of its forces.

Now this issue has reared its head with respect to the ABM Treaty. The spread of missile technology, and the apparent ambitions of some states for ICBM capabilities, is creating a new security environment that cannot be wished away. Defenses may help address these challenges.

The ABM Treaty should be preserved as a cornerstone of strategic stability. But it will be more viable for the long term if it is also updated to account for threats that were not contemplated when it was negotiated nearly 30 years ago. The President's September 1 postponement of an NMD deployment decision gave us more time, but the issue will not go away.

Eighth, arms control should seek out and incorporate technological advances.

Science has become an arms control enabler. The IAEA's Strengthened Safeguards Protocol makes the case. Building on technological advances such as highly sensitive environmental sampling, the Protocol will give the Agency more capability, with broadened access, to detect activities at undeclared sites.

There is abundant potential to be plumbed. Remote, unattended sensors for monitoring; highly sophisticated data fusion and analysis techniques, to help manage and assess mountains of data; more rugged, portable and user-friendly verification equipment, all may play a role. I recall a few years ago being impressed by gas chromatograph-mass spectrometers shrunk from laboratory to briefcase size, so they could be taken to suspected chemical weapon sites. Now they are as small as cell phones.

Arms control can build on advances in basic sciences: smaller and more efficient power sources for unattended sensors; expanded interoperability between systems; comprehensive signature libraries and phenomenology studies.

All this is but the tip of the iceberg, but the point is clear -- we need to keep strengthening the nexus between arms control and technology. That was the aim of the interagency Nonproliferation and Arms Control Technology Working Group that ACDA pushed to create; I'm pleased that it has carried over into State.

Ninth, arms control will have to deal with non-governmental organizations and non-traditional tools.

Governments will need increasingly to account for the views of business, the NGO community, and others. Businesses are particularly affected, for example, as treaties such as the CWC expand inspection rights. The BWC protocol negotiations are dealing with this issue now.

NGOs have been forceful arms control advocates for many years. But I don't think the "Ottawa process" is likely to be repeated. In that case, NGOs took the lead in international efforts against anti-personnel landmines, and would accept nothing less than a complete ban. As a result, the Convention excludes many of the major producers and users of landmines. Absolutes don't fit well with the give-and-take needed to achieve arms control objectives.

But non-traditional tools for achieving traditional arms control objectives can prove useful. In some parts of the world, small arms have become weapons of mass destruction. Surely, there are creative measures to help us address instabilities caused by their accumulation.

We want to conclude a Firearms Protocol to the UN Transnational Organized Crime Convention, to harmonize global export and import policies and help stem the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons trafficking. We're also providing assistance to ensure the safe storage or destruction of surplus stockpiles of these weapons. These steps won't solve the problems, but they'll help.

Finally, a tenth observation, which reflects my own experience but may have some resonance with others: Arms control practitioners need to stay in close touch with legislators and the public.

In the United States, we had assumed that the traditional bipartisan consensus for arms control was intact. The CTBT vote showed that we have some work to do. Railing against the Senate is not the answer. They raised legitimate questions. That is why, aided by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili, we are trying to work quietly with Senators on CTBT ratification. We hope this effort will set the stage for resumed Senate consideration at a later date, with a different outcome.

The Senate's new National Security Working Group, which will help establish a better arms control dialog, is also a good step. Strobe Talbott and I have gone up frequently to describe our discussions with Russian counterparts on ABM Treaty issues. It's a tough audience. But I'd much rather we be challenged during negotiations, than almost reflexively opposed during ratification.

The bottom line is clear: if the U.S. is going to pursue an extensive arms control agenda, we'll have to do better at home.


I remain enthusiastic about the contribution arms control can make to international security. But it does have to - and will -- evolve. As it does, we'll all be more secure and better off for it.

It's a challenge, and one I'm confident that the international community will meet.

Again, let me thank you for having me here today, and I hope I've left enough time for some questions.