“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly –- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ’Yes, we can.’”
– President Barack Obama, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009
President Obama’s historic speech in Prague in 2009 outlined his vision of a world without nuclear weapons and outlined work for achieving this goal in four pillars: (1) preventing nuclear terrorism and promoting nuclear security; (2) strengthening the non-proliferation regime; (3) supporting the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and (4) reducing the role of nuclear weapons. This administration has worked diligently since 2009 to develop enduring institutions and strengthen existing frameworks that will continue, under their own momentum, to produce a safer world when it comes to the threat of nuclear weapons.
Prevent Nuclear Terrorism and Promote Nuclear Security
Four successful Nuclear Security Summits have convened more than 50 world leaders to take tangible and lasting steps to prevent terrorists from gaining nuclear weapons. For example, we have made significant improvements across the globe in the security and elimination of fissile material. This includes the removal of highly enriched uranium and plutonium from more than 50 facilities in 30 countries – more than four metric tons of nuclear material, which is enough material for more than 160 nuclear weapons. Since 2009, 16 nations and Taiwan – countries from Argentina and Libya to Serbia and Vietnam – have eliminated their holdings of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, making Latin America, Central Europe, and Southeast Asia completely free of these dangerous materials. We also have buttressed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) capabilities and provided technical and legal support to partner nations to bolster international efforts to secure nuclear material and put an end to nuclear smuggling. Furthermore, we have developed stronger partnerships with dozens of countries and international organizations that improve our collective ability to detect, deter, and respond to nuclear and radiological threats that fundamentally make us all safer. In total, Summit participants made 350 new commitments to improve the security of nuclear materials worldwide.
The Nuclear Security Summits also served to strengthen the global nuclear security architecture. In particular, the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (the Amendment) – which entered into force due to the Administration’s efforts to secure 16 additional ratifications – makes clear the international community’s responsibility to secure nuclear materials. The Amendment, ratified by the United States in 2015, fills a gap in the existing international regime by modernizing the international legal framework for nuclear security, which is essential to our efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction or sabotaging nuclear facilities. Now that it has entered into force, the amendment becomes legally binding and will be taken into account in the IAEA’s regular review conferences on the implementation of the treaty. The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism also plays a key role in the global architecture and we encourage the United Nations to hold a high-level meeting under this treaty in 2017. In addition, the Nuclear Security Contact Group also provides a mechanism that will continue to identify opportunities to further strengthen nuclear security.
The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which was initiated under the Administration of President George W. Bush, has grown to more than 100 nations, and has significantly improved our collective ability to prevent and interdict weapon of mass destruction-related shipments. In addition, we have worked with 36 partner countries to install radiation detection equipment at more than 360 international border crossings, airports, and ports to dramatically increase and improve mobile detection systems.
In 2015, President Obama signed and ratified two Protocols to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA). The SUA Protocols established the first international treaty framework for criminalizing certain terrorist acts, including using a ship or fixed platform in a terrorist activity, transporting weapons of mass destruction or their delivery systems and related materials, and transporting terrorist fugitives. U.S. ratification of these treaties honors U.S. pledges made at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit and at the PSI 10th Anniversary Meeting in 2013.
Strengthen the Non-Proliferation Regime
President Obama’s Prague speech reinforced the necessity for international resolve to enforce nonproliferation rules, to strengthen existing elements of the nonproliferation regime, and to put in place new tools and instruments in order to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. At the center of this effort is the President’s commitment to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s (NPT’s) three pillars – Disarmament, Nonproliferation, and the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.
We have strengthened the global nonproliferation regime by continuing to unite the international community against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and strongly respond to rule breakers. This is perhaps most notable with respect to Iran but also, as U.N. Security Council resolutions (UNSCR) 2270 and 2321 demonstrate, in relation to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
When President Obama took office, the United States was also confronted by Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program. After two years of strong diplomacy, the United States, together with our international partners, achieved something that decades of animosity had not – a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that, if it continues to be fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran has removed two-thirds of its centrifuges, reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, and filled the core of its heavy water reactor at Arak with concrete so it can never be used again. Iran also agreed to the most comprehensive and intrusive verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program. Finally, the restriction at the center of the deal—that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon—is permanent.
The United States has worked with the international community to send a clear message that we will not tolerate North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile activities and will continue to impose costs on North Korea until it comes into compliance with its international obligations. We continued to prioritize the denuclearization of North Korea and have pursued a comprehensive, sustained pressure campaign – of which UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions have been a key part. In targeting the Kim regime’s reputation and sources of revenue, we continued to steadily tighten sanctions and increase pressure in an effort to compel the regime to return to credible negotiations.
The United States has maintained its longstanding support both for the IAEA’s nonproliferation verification activities as well as its valuable role in enhancing nuclear transparency. The United States provides approximately 25 percent of the IAEA’s regular budget and, in addition, provides additional financial contributions in support of the IAEA’s safeguards, security, and safety missions, as well as to support IAEA technical cooperation projects.
U.S. assistance also includes considerable in-kind assistance to the IAEA, including technical assistance from our National Laboratories. U.S. in-kind contributions include the provision of technology and equipment, subject matter experts, IAEA inspector training, and support to IAEA-hosted training courses for Member State representatives in safety, security, and safeguards. Together, these U.S. contributions help ensure that the IAEA has the tools, training, and resources it needs to carry out its responsibilities to safeguard nuclear materials and facilities worldwide to detect and deter nuclear proliferation.
Furthermore, to demonstrate our commitment to increased stockpile transparency, the United States recently committed to the disposition under IAEA monitoring of an additional six metric tons of surplus plutonium that is excess to defense needs, in addition to the 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium subject to disposition under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.
Support Peaceful Energy Use
This administration has taken significant steps in support of a new international framework for civil nuclear cooperation, so countries can have access to peaceful nuclear energy in a manner that is consistent with the highest nonproliferation standards. Working with our IAEA partners, the United States has provided significant support to the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Fuel Bank to help ensure that States in compliance with their nonproliferation requirements will have an assured supply of nuclear fuel. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) developed a U.S. fuel bank, containing down-blended material from nuclear weapons, to underscore further the reliability of supply. Through these measures, the administration has worked to ensure that States will have continued access to LEU fuel for civil reactors while, at the same time, eliminating incentives for countries to invest in the development of costly indigenous and proliferation-sensitive fuel cycle capabilities.
We also have brought into force new peaceful cooperation agreements with Russia, China, the Republic of Korea, the IAEA, Taiwan, and Vietnam. These agreements are important tools in advancing U.S. nonproliferation principles, in addition to promoting the production of peaceful nuclear energy. These agreements act in conjunction with other nonproliferation tools, and in order for a country to enter into such an agreement with the United States, that country must commit itself to adhering to certain U.S.-mandated nuclear nonproliferation norms. In total, the United States now has 22 such agreements with 47 partners resulting in the production of more than 1.5 million gigawatt hours of safe, clean nuclear power worldwide in 2015—enough to power 150 million homes for an entire year.
These agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation set the stage for U.S. companies to compete in the global civil nuclear energy market, which the Department of Commerce estimates to be $500-$740 billion over the next ten years. The U.S. civil nuclear industry remains the largest part of the American clean energy portfolio, and constitutes a powerful tool in bringing the world low-carbon electricity.
Reduce the Role of Nuclear Weapons
Reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policy, while maintaining a nuclear arsenal that is safe, secure, and effective for as long as nuclear weapons exist, is a key driver toward a world without nuclear weapons. Through the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and subsequent implementation, the Department of Defense (DOD) made adjustments to nuclear plans and command and control processes to maximize Presidential decision flexibility and timelines in a crisis. DOD and DOE are working diligently to modernize our nuclear arsenal and develop a responsive nuclear infrastructure to support further reductions in the number of deployed and non-deployed weapons. But they are doing so without introducing new nuclear weapons for new missions into the U.S. arsenal, without relying on nuclear explosive testing for stockpile maintenance, and without maintaining a significant nuclear stockpile or “hedge” once modernization is complete.
In 2010, the United States and Russia signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START Treaty). This Treaty is critical to managing the possibility of a future nuclear arms competition between Russia and the United States and maintaining stability during a time of increased tensions. The New START Treaty established rigorous verification and monitoring mechanisms for nuclear reductions, reinforcing stability in U.S. and Russian nuclear behavior. Once the central limits go into effect in February 2018, the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals will be at their lowest levels in six decades. The United States and Russia are both on track to meet the central limits by the Treaty’s deadline. As of January 2017, the United States has 681 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and deployed heavy bombers; 1,367 warheads on deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and counted for deployed heavy bombers; and 848 deployed and non-deployed launchers of ICBMs, deployed and non-deployed launchers of SLBMs, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers.
Although the Obama Administration was unable to reach its goal of gaining Senate advice and consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), significant steps were taken to reinforce the global norm against nuclear explosive testing and bolster the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organization. The United States was a leading voice in support of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2310, calling for the ratification and entry into force of the CTBT and reaffirming the global moratorium against nuclear testing. In addition, to support the U.S. ratification of the CTBT, DOE has invested heavily in the Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensured that the stockpile can be certified safe, secure, and reliable without nuclear explosive testing, thus removing both of the major impediments to CTBT ratification – concerns regarding lack of verification and lack of confidence in the effectiveness of our stockpile.
To demonstrate the continued U.S. commitment to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in our arsenal, President Obama has unilaterally reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile by approximately 500 warheads this year and added these weapons to the dismantlement queue. Additionally, DOE requested funding to accelerate warhead dismantlement by 20 percent. However, Congress has refused to provide this funding in both fiscal year 2016 and 2017. To enable further reductions to the U.S. nuclear stockpile, DOE initiated life extension programs (LEP) that enable long term reductions in the types of warheads and overall stockpile size; for instance, the B61-12 LEP, will consolidate the number and types of nuclear bombs and allow us to retire the last megaton class nuclear weapon.
Increasing the transparency of global nuclear stockpiles is important to nonproliferation efforts, including the implementation of obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the pursuit of further reductions that cover all nuclear weapons: deployed and non-deployed, strategic and non-strategic. As of September 2016, the U.S. active stockpile of nuclear warheads consisted of 4,018 warheads. This number represents an 87 percent reduction in the stockpile from its maximum (31,255) at the end of fiscal year 1967, and an 82 percent reduction from its level (22,217) when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989. From fiscal years 1994 through 2016, the United States dismantled 10,681 nuclear warheads. Since September 30, 2013, the United States has dismantled 666 nuclear warheads. With the additional retirement of approximately 500 nuclear warheads in 2016, approximately 2,800 additional nuclear warheads are currently retired and awaiting dismantlement. Additionally, the number of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons has declined by more than 90 percent since September 30, 1991. From fiscal year 2009 through the end of fiscal year 2016, the U.S. dismantled 2,226 warheads and retired an additional 1,255 weapons.