Future of Global Nuclear Security Policy Summit

The full transcript is available as a PDF.  Watch the archived webcast, or read Senator Nunn's opening remarks.  Below is the keynote by Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Arms Control, National Security Council and the Q&A moderated by James Kitfield of the National Journal. 
 
KEYNOTE AND Q&A
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  Thank you so much, Poppy.  Good morning to everybody here and to those who are watching, streaming, listening.  Thank you so much to the National Journal for convening this policy event on the future of nuclear security, and to NTI for your co-sponsorship and your support along the way, of all the work that we are doing on this important agenda.
 
I just want to say how honored I am to be sharing this podium with Sam Nunn, one of the pioneers in this field, and you know that his cooperative threat reduction program with Senator Lugar resulted in the dismantlement of thousands of cold war legacy weapons of mass destruction, more than 7,500 nuclear warheads, more than 500 ICBMs.  And indeed Sam has inspired so many, including me, to dedicate our lives to this important work.  So thank you for your generous words, Sam, but it's really to you that I owe a huge debt of gratitude.
 
As you all know and as was earlier noted, the President's 2009 Prague speech and subsequent actions demonstrate that he places the highest priority on this nuclear security agenda.  In Prague he announced he would launch a leaders summit process to drive progress in locking down nuclear materials, the highly enriched uranium and plutonium that are the essential elements of building a nuclear weapon in order to increase security, counter nuclear smuggling and, most important, prevent nuclear terrorism.
 
Since Prague, as has been noted, there have been two summits, one in Washington in 2010 and one in Seoul in 2012, and now in less than two weeks the President will join dozens of other world leaders in The Hague, the Netherlands to advance this vital work.
 
Of the national commitments that were originally made in Washington in 2010 amazingly over 90 percent had been completed by the Seoul Summit in 2012.  And for those of you who track summit commitments in relation to achievements, that's an extraordinary record of implementation.
 
In total, over the past four years we've made great progress.  Twelve countries and two dozen nuclear facilities around the world have rid themselves of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, dozens of nations have boosted the security of their nuclear storage sites, built their own counter-smuggling teams to work with partners around the world or created new centers to improve nuclear security and training.
 
The IAEA is stronger and more countries have ratified the treaties and international partnerships at the heart of our efforts.  And we the United States have fulfilled our commitments improving security at our facilities and we forged new partnerships through this process to support the work of other countries who are trying to do the right thing.  We have removed nuclear materials and in some cases gotten rid of them entirely.  As a result, more of the world's nuclear materials can never fall into the hands of terrorists who would use them against us.  We have truly made the world a safer place.
 
In addition, and I would underscore this, we now have a vibrant web of nuclear security officials across 53 countries and multiple international organizations who are in touch with each other every day to work to advance this agenda.  We communicate via e-mail, video teleconference an in live meetings to do our work together.  And here I would note, I wake up in the morning and I have e-mails from China, from Pakistan, from India, from all over Europe, from Latin America, from Africa, working to advance this effort.  That's an extraordinary new capacity that has been built, this network of individuals who are seized with the importance of this mission and who have had to organize their own inter-agencies in their own respective governments to support the effort.
 
Now, of course there is a lot more to be done to enhance nuclear security performance, to deter and apprehend nuclear traffickers, to eliminate excess nuclear weapons and materials, to avoid the production of materials that cannot be used and to make sure that our facilities can repel the full range of threats they face now and may face in the future.  We need to share experiences and best practices and do so in ways that as has been noted or visible to friends, neighbors and rivals.
 
We also must reflect the commitment to continuous improvement because nuclear security work is never done.  As long as these materials exist they require our utmost commitment to their protection.  Therefore we see this 2014 summit that the Netherlands will host and subsequently the 2016 summit that the President has offered to host as critical drivers to make progress.
 
Indeed when my teenage son asked me last weekend, mom, why do you have to have summits to do your jobs?  I explained to him that the pressure of leaders getting together is an action-forcing event for officials and for sluggish bureaucracies.  It mobilizes them to bring forward commitments that give their bosses an opportunity to shine in front of their counterparts.  In short, as I explained to this teenager, who understood this point, peer pressure matters.
 
At the 2014 summit there is much we will get done.  Some of it I can tell you about here, and some of it unfortunately has to be held until the summit itself so that those leaders can shine in that moment.  We'll step up our efforts to remove HEU and separated plutonium from countries where it is no longer being used.  So watch this space for announcements at the summit of significant deliverables or as you may know in the summit lingo, house gifts.
 
We'll take further steps to strengthen the global nuclear security architecture we are building through these summits and in other ways as well.  And this is something that Senator Nunn alluded to, the importance of strengthening this architecture and building what he described.  We'll work to build momentum behind the concept of assurances, the voluntary steps that countries can take to demonstrate that they are maintaining the highest standards of nuclear security without disclosing sensitive information.  And we will see examples of assurances in progress reports from some of the countries that are leading the way on this important concept, which I would note has been innovated by the work of NTI.
 
As was the case at the 2012 summit, in addition to the practice of house gifts there will also be gift baskets, which means the statement of collective intent by a number of countries to work together on a specific challenge.  At The Hague we will see commitments aimed at improving security at civilian and nuclear military facilities -- excuse me, I'll state that correctly, it's civilian and military nuclear facilities, returning excess U.S.-origin HEU and separated plutonium from a number of countries to the United States, working with countries to convert their research reactors from the use of HEU to low-enriched uranium, which is non-bomb making material, strengthening the security of radiological sources, building up efforts to counter nuclear smuggling and improving nuclear detection at borders and ports.
 
One of the most interesting additional elements of this year's summit is an innovative effort by our Dutch hosts to conduct what amounts to a leader's exercise, what is being called a scenario-based policy discussion.  A series of videos will be presented to leaders with a fictitious nuclear security incident that is designed to enhance leader awareness and explore international cooperation in the face of a nuclear security incident.
 
It will be chaired and moderated by our Dutch hosts and give leaders the opportunity to consider the urgent issues that would present themselves and the dilemmas they would face if confronted with such a crisis.  This kind of exercise will be a more interactive experience for leaders than they have experienced at past summits and we salute the Dutch for their work in this regard.
 
Finally, I'd add that leaders will be discussing the future of the summit process and how we can sustain the momentum that we have established in the summits that have thus far been convened through a strengthened nuclear security architecture over the long term.  It was never President Obama's goal to conduct summits in perpetuity, but there is enough work left to be done that we know we need a summit in 2016.  And so we will begin preparing for that summit the day after The Hague summit is concluded in two weeks time.  Thank you so much for being here this morning, and I look forward to interacting with you in the conversation we're about to have.
 
(Applause)
 
MR. KITFIELD:  That was great, thank you.  You know, as a journalist, I've been transfixed by what's going on in Ukraine.  And I noted in the Nuclear Threat Initiative's recent index that one of the seven countries that since the last summit has given up all its -- or at least secured most if not all of its highly enriched uranium is Ukraine.  And it makes me wonder what would we be thinking right now if that stuff was out and wandering around.
 
So it drives home two points, one of which is how important this is but also how difficult it is to keep you on the front burner when there are so many crises of the day that are out there.  Could you talk for one second about the crisis of the day, which is Ukraine, because clearly the most important relationship in non-proliferation efforts is between United States and Russia now.  And clearly that relationship is in a point of crisis.  And I have noted some comments, bellicose probably, rhetoric for the most part of some Russian generals saying we may suspend verification under New START.
 
But talk for a second about your concerns about this critical relationship at this time because obviously it's in a rocky patch.
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  Thanks so much, James.  So first of all I would note what important leaders in non-proliferation the Ukrainians have been.  The Ukrainians agreed to give up all their nuclear weapons in 1994 and truly have been trailblazers in this field.  And they have brought home the important material that needed to be locked down, taken out of Ukraine.  Some of it has gone to Russia, some of it has come to the United States, and that's been a very, very important signal of their continuing commitment and indeed reflects their strong leadership in this domain.  And we fully anticipate that Ukraine will remain a leader in this field.
 
As you know, the Russians were participants in the Budapest Memorandum that enabled the Ukrainians to fulfill their commitment and join the NPT.  And we expect that the Russians will continue to abide by the arms control agreements that they have reached with us.  These are in our mutual interest and we see no reason that the tensions that exist over Ukraine should in any way obstruct the path toward fulfilling the commitments that we have made with the Russians to reduce nuclear weapons on both sides.
 
We continue to work toward this summit as well in The Hague with our Russian counterparts very effectively.  They are important contributors to this process as a country that has significant possession of both civilian and military nuclear material, and we expect this to be a very constructive summit in that domain as well.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  It's going to be an interesting test to see if you can sort of keep that as a separate track, why the tracks are kind of wobbly, but good luck on that.  You know, you mentioned President Obama's Prague speech and it was not lost on us in the journalistic world that he came out of the gates with this issue very much in the forefront of his mind.  And I'm just curious if you can look back at that time.  Give us a peek inside the President's brain.  Why is he so committed and energized by this particular challenge?  And since 2009, approximately, what do you think have been the milestones of what you've achieved in these various summits and along the way?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  I would say that the president is in part motivated by the experience he had in the Senate where he had the opportunity to learn from Senators Nunn and Lugar about this challenge, he traveled to Ukraine and to Russia.  In 2008 he saw the importance of continuing this work and it has been an animating feature of his presidency to focus on nuclear security and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our overall strategy.  And he believes that this is one of the most important legacies of his administration for the future of the planet and therefore has driven this process forward and has committed his time to the series of summits where we work collaboratively with so many countries and international organizations to deliver these results.
 
He is very focused on tangible results, and so as has been noted we have multiple countries that have given up their HEU, that have given up their plutonium, that are working to secure the nuclear facilities, both civilian and military that they have retained.  We have grown very strong bilateral partnerships with a number of countries that have nuclear materials as a result of this summit process and we do very important work in those bilateral channels to assist countries in improving their own nuclear security practices just as we continue to work to improve our own.
 
So I am confident this will remain a focus for the President throughout his term.  And, of course, as I indicated, we will be looking at the future of the summit process when leaders come together in The Hague it will be necessary to ensure that the momentum is sustained and the focus is retained were the nations of the world to agree that summits are no longer necessary.  That would have to rely on the growth of a set of institutions that is fully capable of sustaining this level of effort.  And while there are many institutions involved and they do very important work, as yet that doesn't exist.  And so we really need to ensure that that focus and momentum is maintained out long into the future.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Senator Nunn mentioned that there is no sort of global coherent nuclear security architecture system.  It sounds like we might need one, why? And you talk about bilaterals.  But is the world ready for something more coherent that sort of ties all these nuclear non-proliferations efforts together?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  The way we look at it is that there are a number of bricks that are the foundations of the architecture, the international institutions and the treaties in particular that govern this space.  And so we have of course the IAEA which plays a very significant role.  It hosted its first ever nuclear security summit last July in Vienna, very important step forward in its work in this field.  We also have other entities that participate in working on these issues.  And then we have the mortar in between the bricks, which is the behavior of states, the norms, the best practices, the ways in which we demonstrate assurances.
 
And so what we have to do is put the bricks in place, get the mortar in place and make sure it can stand on its own.  Right now, without the engagement of individual leaders and pushing this process forward, this will not be as energetic as it needs to be.  And one of the things that I've noted in the years of work I have done with international institutions is our international institutions are only as strong as we the nations make them be.  We have to provide them with resources, we have to provide them with human capital, we have to help guide them.  And so it's not enough to just hand off and say this is the job of an international institution.  These international institutions are us.  And even if the architecture is strong enough, we will continue to have to play a leading role in guiding their activities and ensuring they remain focused on this agenda.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Walk us through what actually happens at one of these summits because you talk about peer pressure and I got that along with your son, so thank him for sort of enlightening us, because I kind of get that, that you get under the spotlight of the media and you are all together and you want to make a good impression obviously.  But talk about what actually happens at these summits that make them so important?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  So the leaders will come together a week from Monday and they will first be greeted by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Prime Minister Rutte, and then they will join in a series of plenary sessions where they all sit around a big table.  And the Dutch have asked that leaders create a video message for one another and for the world which will be broadcast, streamed, put on the web, on big screens to give the opportunity for not only the leaders in the room but many beyond to hear about the goal of each country.  To the extent that leaders have agreed to do that, that will limit the amount of time that leaders have to sit and listen to one another's long speeches.  But there will still be some of that during the plenary sessions.
 
In addition to the individual national presentations, the leaders will have what I described, which is this extraordinary scenario-based policy discussion which will be lively and will invite the leaders to participate in real time in something that is unusual, that is to experience a crisis together and to anticipate how they might respond to it.  And as you probably know, we do a lot of exercising in the United States government to deal with potential crisis, but not every country does.  And so we're very hopeful that this will help leaders focus on the kinds of preparations that they need to make to anticipate and be prepared for a possible nuclear security crisis.
 
In addition, the leaders will have lunches and dinners together.  The King of the Netherlands will host a dinner in honor of all the leaders in a beautiful palace.  And at that session, at the dinner, although it is a social occasion, they also have an opportunity to continue their conversation.  And on the second day of the summit the leaders will have a discussion just among leaders, so no staff present whatsoever, about the future of the summit process.  And the idea is to think through this question of how much of the architecture, the bricks and mortar is in place and how much more needs to be done before we can say we can hand this off and we don't need to come together as leaders every two years to mobilize our governments to generate the kind of action that is necessary.
 
And I expect that no decision will come out of that because we know that we have a summit in 2016 and we will continue to work toward getting the job done and make a decision at 2016 about what the future of the summits will be.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  But you talk about how important momentum is on this, I mean clearly the summits have helped build momentum.  I would imagine that you would be loathed to give the summit process up unless you had a whole lot of confidence that that global security system is in place.  Is that kind of a correct -- 
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  I think that's true and I think that President Obama is so focused on the fact that there are still 85 percent of the materials in the world that are not being captured by the summit process that we know we have a lot more work to do.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  The military, the -- 
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  The military materials --
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Right.
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  Which is something that we believe we need to address in future summits.  They are referenced in our summit communiqués but more work needs to be done in that domain.  And as you can imagine countries that have nuclear materials are very proprietary about them.  And there is a lot of concern about information security.  But this is work that needs to be done again because as has been noted by Senator Nunn we have to -- trust is not enough, we have to be able to see and know that others are doing the work to make us secure.  This is a shared space.
 
And if you don't keep your materials secure, it makes me vulnerable across the border.  And this isn't about a direct threat as in pointing a nuclear weapon at me, it's about the possibility that your material could be stolen or could be accessed by someone who should not have access to it and it could then be shared with someone who ought not to have it and turn it into a weapon to be used against us.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Only strong as the weakest link, I think Senator Nunn said and I take that point.
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  Yes.  Perfect image.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  I'll make this my last question, I'm going to turn it over to some questions from the audience, but, you know, President Obama was very determined on the New START treaty, and clearly for those of us who have covered this, I mean, the -- watching the guys who have the most nuclear weapons reduce their stockpiles creates an atmosphere of a lot more cooperation on some of these others.  But tell me how that informs this summit, for instance, the fact that there is an effort underway to go to New START levels and then go beyond New START levels where you reach agreement with the Russians.  But is that an important part of the whole atmospherics of this kind of a summit?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  This summit really focuses specifically on nuclear materials and there are many international fora where disarmament is addressed.  In order to invite countries that have nuclear programs to participate fully in this summit one of the things we have tried to do is not make this about disarmament because we know there are so many opportunities to work on that in other contexts.  And so while we continue to work to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons -- and the President's new nuclear employment guidance which was rolled out last June emphasizes that point -- we continue to implement the New START treaty and expect the Russians to continue to do the same.
 
We don't think this is the venue for that to be addressed.  It certainly provides, as you said, a perspective that those who have the most are committed to reductions and to ensuring that their materials are secured, dismantled and destroyed.  But we believe this space should really focus on security of nuclear materials no matter what your program, no matter whether you have only a civilian program or whether you have a civilian and a military program.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Okay, great.  Do we have any questions from the audience?  If you have one just please raise your hand, I see one over here.  Microphone will come to you, if you will just state your name please and affiliation and give us your question.
 
MR. KING:  I am Llewellyn King with White House Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers.  I was -- 
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  I am sorry, I couldn't hear you.
 
MR. KING:  I am with White House Chronicle television and Hearst Newspapers, I am a columnist there.  I was wondering what signal the leaders in The Hague will get from the President's budget which defunds the MOX facility in South Carolina, wasn't that an example of how we can go with nuclear materials and suddenly it's to be abandoned?
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Could you hear that?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  I could hear that and I think it's very important to understand what is actually in the President's budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration non-proliferation programs.  As you may know, there have been reductions across the federal budget and each agency is having to endure cuts.  In this domain what is underway is an evaluation of what would be the most effective means of disposing of the plutonium that we are committed to disposing of as a result of the agreement we reached with the Russians.
 
And so the budget reflects the fact that we are putting the facility that is currently being built in cold standby while we assess whether there is a more effective and cost-effective way to dispose of the plutonium.  In addition, the budget for non-proliferation which has been adjusted downward in this cycle reflects the fact that much of our funding for non-proliferation initiatives was frontloaded to achieve the deliverables that we have achieved in the last four years.  As I indicated, much of -- 90 percent of the commitments that were made at the 2010 summit have already been implemented.
 
And so to the extent that we didn't require funding for specific programs because they have already gotten their work done that money is no longer in the budget.  But we assess, and Laura Holgate who works very closely with me and who is known to many of you here works on this issue with NNSA.  We assess that there is sufficient funding in this budget to achieve all of our non-proliferation goals in this timeframe and to continue the very important work we do bilaterally with a number of countries to support their nuclear security missions.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Great.  Other questions.  Think I saw another one over here, this woman, please, in the middle.
 
MS. JAMES:  Hi, my name is Alena James, I'm from George Mason and a writer for Pandora Report.  My question is what kind of role can we see the NGOs might play in terms of helping to secure nuclear materials and will they be a part of the summit process at all?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  That's such an important question and I apologize for not touching upon that.  There are crucial roles that NGOs play.  So many of you are in the audience today who are critical partners for us, many sitting in the front row, many will be up on the panel momentarily.  NGOs first of all provide incredibly important intellectual capital to our efforts.  This is a collective effort to come up with new ideas, to solve some of the world's hardest problems.  And we look to our NGO counterpart to help us think through how we can push forward on this agenda and how we can deliver the results that we seek.
 
As I noted before, NTI has been extremely helpful, Joan Rohlfing in particular, in generating the concept of assurances that we are now working with.  There will be a summit that precedes the leader summit called the Nuclear Knowledge Summit at which a number of NGOs will be represented to present their ideas and their recommendations to the world, and this is a very important venue from which the media can learn about the work that is underway and the work that still needs to be done and where individuals can share ideas and best practices.  So I can't underscore enough how important the role of NGOs is in this space now and going forward.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  And just for my own part, I mean, NGOs are a critical resource for us journalists trying to get smart in this subject which is a complex subject.  So the NGOs have been absolutely critical.
 
Question here on the end.  Could you raise your hand again so they can see where you are?  There he is.
 
MR. SCHULTE:  Thank you.  I am Pete Schulte, retired from the State Department.  And my question is Kiev and nuclear weapons, Ukraine and nuclear weapons.  1994 Russia promised to observe and protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine; in exchange Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.  Now, Russia has blatantly violated that.  Isn't the message from this it's not worth giving up your nukes for any country for a paper document?  And what's the implication of this for other potential owners of nuclear weapons around the world?
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  So I think that the, first of all the important message here is we are calling on Russia to abide by that commitment and the world is quite united in its expression of strong disapproval of the Russian current occupation of Crimea.  And we have continued to point out to the Russians that they are a party to this agreement and have an obligation to respect it.
 
What is most important for Ukraine is the solidarity of the world with Ukraine at this moment in helping this new government and the government that will be elected in May by the Ukrainian people in getting on its feet.  And this will be work that will be ongoing, Ukraine has tremendous economic challenges in addition to the political and military challenges that it faces.  And so the evidence of the commitment the world made and that that other guarantors of the agreement, the United States and the United Kingdom to the Budapest Memorandum is that we will stand with Ukraine as it goes forward and seeks to build at last a country that is fully integrated into the world.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  And just on that point, I mean I talked to some people who were very knowledgeable on this subject recently who make the point that Russia probably wasn't willing to let Ukraine keep its nuclear weapons back in those days, it might have run in and grabbed them anyway and caused a conflict more than a decade before because Russia probably, Moscow probably was not willing to let a circle of nuclear arms states spin out of its control back in those days.  So the effort to get those weapons out of those countries may have prevented conflict (inaudible) between those countries, it's a thought anyway.  Any more questions from the audience?  We'll go back to you one more time, I see the same person, I think, right here and then we'll wrap it up.
 
SPEAKER:  Thank you for entertaining my question.  I was just wondering if any members from North Korea might be involved in this summit.
 
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  We do not have any participation from North Korea in this summit.  Our Republic of Korea friends are very active participants, of course they hosted the Seoul Summit in 2012 and are key partners in the work that we do.
 
MR. KITFIELD:  Great, if you would give a hand to my guest, please.  Thank you so much, that was very interesting -- 
 
 
March 14, 2014
About

A full transcript of an event previewing the March 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. Co-hosted by National Journal and NTI, featuree a keynote by Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall of the White House National Security Council and a panel discussion with NTI Co-Chairman Sam Nunn; Norway's Ambassador to the United States, Kåre R. Aas; the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Renée Jones-Bos; Congressman Jeff Fortenberry; former Congresswoman Jane Harman; and Harvard's Will Tobey and Matt Bunn.

Authors
Matthew Bunn

Professor, Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

Jane Harman

President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Secretary-General Renee Jones-Bos

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn

Co-Chairman, NTI

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall

White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Arms Control, National Securit

William Tobey

Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs