Pressing a Broad Agenda for Combating Nuclear Dangers: An Interview With Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher
Ellen Tauscher was sworn in June 27 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Before that, she represented her northern
Arms Control Today spoke with Tauscher in her office October 21. The interview covered a range of issues in Tauscher’s portfolio, from strategic arms control to plans for an international fuel bank.
Shortly before the interview, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a high-profile speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace on arms control and nonproliferation. Tauscher and ACT refer to that speech at several points in the interview.
The interview was transcribed by Anna Hood. It has been edited for length and clarity.
ACT: You were recently in
Tauscher: Well, I’m not going to negotiate with myself, nor am I going to negotiate through the press. Let me just say that we have a very senior team in
ACT: And you’re still confident that you’ll have some agreement by December 5?
Tauscher: Well, keep in mind that this is very difficult. This administration came into office, had to get people confirmed, had to step up its engagement and reset our relationship with the Russians. And we think that we have done that in a very quick time frame. But at the same time, there’s no denying that this existing START treaty expires. We are working to get something that we can put into place that meets what the presidents have agreed to. It’s hard to do, but not impossible to do. We’ve got everybody that we need to have on it on it. The Russians have met us with both seniority and expertise on their negotiating side, and we’re pressing ahead.
ACT: Secretary Clinton said in her confirmation hearing that the administration “will seek deep, verifiable reductions in all
Tauscher: Well, we are finishing the Nuclear Posture Review that is due toward the end of the year to the Congress. And what’s clear is that we’re working under the scope of strategic offensive weapons in the START treaty and that there is an asymmetry between the
ACT: I realize that it’s one treaty at a time, but can you conceptually say where you’d like to get on issues like verification?
Tauscher: Well, let me just say that the underpinning of all of these agreements is verification. There is a level of confidence that is meant to be attained by these agreements. Although it is not trivial to take down weapons, that is not the only piece of this that we’re looking to attain. It is a sense of stability and confidence building, and the way to do that is through verification protocols.
ACT: One of the things that Secretary Clinton talked about that isn’t happening in the START follow-on is verified warhead dismantlement. You seem to be moving from the past, when we looked at monitoring the missiles, to monitoring the actual warheads in the future at some point. Is this something that is envisioned as part of the follow-on to the follow-on?
Tauscher: It is certainly envisioned to be in future opportunities, but, as I said, verification is a piece of what we’re looking for in all future negotiations. It is important, not only in the sense that you move past just the accounting for things and actually have the ability to reassure the two parties, multiple parties, the world community, that we are fulfilling our obligations. The NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] obligations of Article VI of disarmament are defined more than just… “Disarmament,” what does that mean? Does it mean you put it down? Does it mean you put it down, take it apart? Does it mean that you put it down, take it apart, put it on blocks in a garage? Or does that mean you put it down, take it apart, and make sure that you can’t ever use it again? We could disagree. I could tell you I’m disarming, but it could mean that I’m just putting things on blocks in the garage. So we have to have common agreement on what these definitions are, and we have to have verification.
ACT: Are there arrangements in place to continue the verification measures under START after December 5 if there is no treaty in place and in force? How is that going to be handledf
Tauscher: Well, our plan is to find an accommodation to manage, maintain verification protocols in between [expiration of the current treaty and ratification of the new one]. We’ve got lawyers looking at that, we’re talking to our Russian friends about how we do that. But as you can see, we have a significant accent on verification. So the key is how do we maintain it in the absence of a ratified treaty but a legally binding one. So, we’re looking at that.
ACT: Moving now to tactical weapons, how could the
Tauscher: Well, we are beginning to have conversations because the NPR clearly is an opportunity for us to get in and discuss these and bigger issues, missile defense and other things, with our NATO allies. So I was on the phone with Ambassador [to NATO Ivo] Daalder this morning on how we’re going to manage the narrative, as we call it, of the NPR and what that means for extended deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons, all of that. So we are formulating our positions on these things. We will safely say that there’ll be very large engagement on these issues.
ACT: Do those conversations begin with the assumption that tactical weapons still have a useful military role in
Tauscher: That’s what the NPR will answer. The narrative of the NPR is a transformational message. While the NPR is a lot about numbers and is about declaratory policy, doctrine, and posture, the narrative of those pieces of it [is] a significant policy statement of this administration. So it is very important that everything is done to prepare what that is. We have an agreement on that inside the Obama administration. Then, once we do that, we can start to begin to have conversations with our friends and allies, interested parties and those to whom we have extended our deterrence. So there is a direct link between what we’re doing in the NPR and these conversations that you have suggested, and there are lots of people that are interested for lots of reasons, and they will become part of the conversation. But we are still in the midst of the NPR review.
ACT: The secretary of state alluded to this subject in her speech this morning. At one point, she talked about providing reassurance to allies in a way that reinforces
Tauscher: Part of the NPR is that it’s a policy and political document, and it is meant to articulate how the United States views the uses of nuclear weapons, what that says about the stockpile, what it says about our declaratory policy. But it also is meant to reassure both the people to whom we have extended our deterrence, our allies, [and to] make clear that we are—while the president has articulated a point on the horizon for nuclear zero and while it will take persistence and patience to get there, we may not get there in our lifetime, but we will maintain a credible deterrent, one that is reliable and effective, until the point where we take down our last weapon. So there is a balancing act there.
ACT: At the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] Article XIV conference in September, Secretary Clinton said that the CTBT “is an integral part of our nonproliferation and arms control agenda, and we will work in the months ahead…to seek the advice and consent of the
Tauscher: The president has set no specific timeline for achieving ratification. The vice president is very involved in the effort to seek ratification. There’s a lot of queuing and sequencing going on. Right now, we’re finishing negotiations on START. START needs to be ratified. In the meantime we’re conducting the Nuclear Posture Review. We’re going to have a [fiscal year 2011] budget submission. There are a number of pieces here that are important to the narrative for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have been living under the conditions of it since [President George H.W.] Bush. So it’s been a very long time, and we have had advances in Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship. Secretary Clinton [in her October 21 speech] also talked about Stockpile Management and where that fits in. What we have is a commitment by the administration to advance the CTBT.
The CTBT is both about policy and about politics. This administration will not attempt to [seek ratification] unless we believe it can actually pass. So there is a lot about this that is important to informing [the public and Congress] to gain [the Senate’s] advice and consent. Part of it is clearly a domestic campaign, and there is a lot of international interest because of the consequences of
From our point of view, we have a plan, but it is one that is about informing and advancing the different parts of the president’s agenda. But we do think that these information data points are very, very key to us getting the narrative right. There is clearly, for many senators, a need to thread the needle, find the sweet spot between the goal of a nuclear zero but the necessity to maintain a secure and reliable and effective stockpile until those conditions for nuclear zero are met. So there’s a need to be doing the things necessary to get to nuclear zero, which includes things that strengthen nonproliferation and the ability to maintain weapons in an effective way. Making those investments in the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] stockpile stewardship management and the [
Now we also have the issue of having to ratify START. In a perfect world, perhaps we wish it was already done. We will go to the Senate for the ratification of [a] START [follow-on]; and then at the same time, we will bring up the conversation and the narrative of CTBT, which leads us into the NPT. We’re hoping, obviously, that on an FMCT [fissile material cutoff treaty], the program of work will go forward in the CD [Conference on Disarmament]. We join everyone in requesting that our Pakistani friends protest at the right moment but not now.
As you can see, these are all interrelated and interconnected. Next year is an election year. It’s a shorter year legislatively, so a lot of this is kind of wait-and-see. But we definitely have a plan to go forward.
ACT: If the CTBT is not ratified before the NPT conference, is the administration thinking about any steps short of that to show progress on the test ban in the NPT context?
Tauscher: Yeah, we’re very aware of—I think that part of our delivery in the short term will be the NPR and the budget submission. [We are] laying the groundwork for the support of a supermajority in the Senate, 67 votes—we think we understand where we need to be to attract persuadable senators and certain senators that have voted for it before, persuadable senators who have not voted on it yet. Part of it is also to get START done in a way where we have very good support. The fact is that these are interconnected and interrelated, and we have to do them somewhat in order because of circumstances like START expiring. We [will] have a very, very short window to talk about CTBT. But when we believe that we have the right conditions, we will begin to engage the Senate.
The NAS [National Academy of Sciences] study will be coming out in January-February, so there are a bunch of data points that are coming forward. There are a number of things that we’re looking for to inform the debate and to provide the narrative and to provide the fact base and more current information. It’s been a very, very long time since the Senate considered this. At the time, it was only six and a half, seven years between the [start of the
ACT: You talked about how the various issues are interrelated and many states around the world see the CTBT as a means to limit qualitative improvements in nuclear arsenals. The president made clear during the campaign that he would “stop the development of new nuclear weapons,” and you, as a member of Congress, were instrumental in defeating an earlier proposal to develop a so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead [RRW]. However, some have suggested that, to maintain the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, the nuclear weapons infrastructure and perhaps some warheads will need to be “modernized.” You were quoted in The Cable September 15 as saying, “I think there are a lot people that still hope for the return of [the] RRW [program] and they are going to be sadly disappointed.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Tauscher: Well, it’s amazing how things happen. It’s like the tree falling in the forest. When I was still chairman of [the] Strategic Forces [Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee] in the winter and spring [of 2008-2009], we built the strategic forces component of the defense authorization bill, which included what’s called Stockpile Management. Let me just step back for a minute. RRW, when it was originally conceived by the [national laboratory] directors, was something that I supported. It was the ability to refurbish classes of weapons without [adding] any capability, changing platform, or requiring testing. It’s a life extension function; it is not to create a new capability or to boost capability or to enhance capability or to create a new weapon. It is to take the existing weapon portfolio and, as needed or required, refurbish that weapon class so that it survives, so that it is part of the stockpile that can give the assurance that Gen. [Kevin] Chilton, as the commander of STRATCOM, needs.
Unfortunately, in the previous administration’s hands, RRW became a new weapon, and it had to go away.
But the capabilities that were originally envisioned in RRW are still necessary. So we brought them back under life extension principles. The other problem RRW had was that it was out by itself. It was on its own. It looked like a whole new thing. Part of the problem was that it looked like an effort as opposed to a tool. So we created something called Stockpile Management, which effectively is the same kinds of abilities, tools under life extension programs, under stockpile stewardship. A tool called Stockpile Management, and the [congressional] authorizers say you can refurbish weapons but you may not refurbish weapons [in a way] that causes a question of certification. You may not use anything that cannot be certified that could cause you to test. You cannot do anything that is going to increase yield, change the characterization of a weapon, or change the platform. We put all these fences around it. That exists now, in the [fiscal year 2010] national defense bill. Until about three or four weeks ago, I still had people saying to me, “Don’t you think we need something to refurbish weapons?” or “Don’t you think we have to find a way to bring RRW back?” I’m saying we did. It’s called Stockpile Management. So they started looking at it, and they said, “Oh.” So we have a way to refurbish weapons.
You know, even Jim Schlesinger in that strategic posture [commission report] says that “modernize” is one of those kind of riddled terms. It makes people ask, “What do you mean by that?” So talking about it has been very difficult for a lot of people because you don’t want to lead people down the RRW path, which is that you’re going to go and build new weapons.
The other thing we killed was RNEP [Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator]. So it wasn’t like [the Bush administration] got accused of this without any history of trying to do this stuff. I think this administration understands that we need a capability to refurbish weapons. But it’s a tool. You don’t go out and refurbish everything.
ACT: Some are concerned that, in the context of Stockpile Management, RRW, by which we mean new designs of warheads that may not have any additional characteristics or military value, will be brought be back under the NPR.
Tauscher: No. No.
ACT: There are these three proposed categories of stockpile maintenance—refurbish, reuse, replace—and the concern is that RRW is the “replace.” Can you tell us if that will be part of the NPR findings?
Tauscher: Well, I cannot speculate because we’re still working on it, but I don’t consider RRW to be anything other than something from the past. As a member of Congress and chairwoman of the subcommittee, I led an effort to kill the RRW. When I kill something, it stays dead.
ACT: President Obama and other members of the administration have argued that
Tauscher: Well, we have a fabulous presidential envoy, Ambassador Susan Burk, who’s working full time on this. Susan is burning up the phone lines and racking up the miles seeing friends, allies, and others. We have a lot of friends and allies who have been not always cooperative in reaching consensus in the NPT. So we are doing everything we can to deliver a simple message: we need to have a consensus resolution in the NPT [review conference]. We need to understand that there are a number of issues that have become causes célèbres for certain countries in certain regions, and while we believe that those are very, very important, we cannot get stuck in the wickets here. We’ve got to get out and get something done because we don’t help anyone who is for the NPT by not making it stronger. That means delivering on the promise of a consensus resolution. So I think we have a good message, I think she is an amazing messenger, but it takes a lot of work.
We are a new administration that has got a much more, I think, vital vision for these things. I think it’s safe to say that President Obama has spoken more about [these issues] in the nine months [that he has been in office] than perhaps the previous administration did in [its eight years], but this is an issue that requires American leadership. This is the persistence and patience that the president is talking about. We have to give people a chance to know who we are and to know what these kinds of commitments mean. That’s why the secretary of state gave the speech today, [why] we were in
ACT: In terms of what’s being pursued, is UN Security Council Resolution 1887 a sort of a road map?
Tauscher: It was. It was. I meant to tell you that. Yes. 1887 is a road map.
ACT: How is the
Tauscher: It was the beginning step to say that even people that in the past have not agreed can find a way to agree. Part of it is to listen, and so we are taking 1887 on the road, and we’re taking the principles behind that on the road, leading us back to
ACT: One thing the secretary mentioned today was nuclear security and the summit in April. What are the aims and goals there, and how will that play into the work of the NPT review conference?
Tauscher: Well, this is an idea generated by the president; and the president is, I think, sufficiently agitated about the issue of nonproliferation not delivering on what everyone’s hopes are. Even with lots of people saying the right things and even supporting the right things, we live in a very dangerous world. So this is the president’s effort to get, at his level, at the head-of-state level, during just a one-day conference, to bear down on what these things are and to get international agreement on the kinds of efforts that we all have to support.
For too long, responsibilities for the care, custody, and control of nuclear weapons, for nonproliferation, for cooperative agreements, for disarmament, have all been at the feet of the nuclear-weapon states. As the secretary has said, as the president has said, no one can be obviated from responsibility on these issues, everybody has something to do, everybody has responsibilities and things that they have to invest in, pay attention to.
And this whole issue of proliferation security. You could just be a transshipper, you could be completely out of any of the categories, but you have a global strategic situation where you actually might not even know that you are part of global transshipping proliferation regime.
I think part of the opportunity is to have the president say, “We’re doing our part. We’re doing very well, thank you very much.” Not that many people pay attention to the fact that we are disarming. We may not be going as fast as we want or as anyone wants it, but we need to take credit for that. We’re also attempting to deal with [NPT] Article IV considerations on civil nuclear [programs]. But at the same time, as the secretary said today, the right to have nuclear power, which we recognize as a sovereign right, cannot be seized without responsibilities. We’re trying to build international consensus for multilateral fuel banking and the kinds of safeguards and controls and inspections and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] authorities and budgeting that cause us to say, “We don’t really want to worry about that country that perhaps has an immature democracy, or even a immature government, that can’t protect its own borders but wants a nuclear power plant.”
ACT: Are those countries accepting that as part of their responsibilities, or do they see this whole new security push as an added obligation that they’re being asked to assume?
Tauscher: What was made very clear is what this [nuclear security] conference isn’t. It isn’t a donors’ conference, and it’s not meant to overshadow the NPT. We’ve added this fourth pillar [nuclear security] because we believe that it is, unfortunately, what hit us on the head when we turned the corner on the 21st century. Part of it is the vestiges of the old A. Q. Khan network but [also] others, the unnamed networks that we don’t even know about, and the fact that we live in a very integrated world that’s not necessarily interdependent yet.
So there’s a lot of stuff happening that you don’t even know about, that you’re involved in. By either geography or by relationships or by circumstance, countries have got to have this brought up to them. The president decided that he wanted people at his level to understand it. President Obama isn’t the first president to talk about nuclear zero, but he is the first who pointed to a place on the horizon and said, “There it is.” He’s the first one to use his political capital and persuasion so early in his presidency. He’s using his popularity, his policy positions, his persuasiveness on this issue because he believes, he believes—this isn’t something that’s been brought to him—he believes that this is a threat and that it needs to be brought up to the level of heads of state so that they understand that it’s not just the nuclear powers that have these responsibilities; everybody does.
ACT: The United States and other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] have been trying to tighten the guidelines on the transfer of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technologies, that is, enrichment and reprocessing. In November, the NSG negotiated but failed to approve a draft proposal for criteria-based guidelines that would bar NSG states from transferring those technologies to non-NPT member states, and recently the Group of Eight agreed to adopt that proposal. What is the
Tauscher: We’re working with the NSG. We’re also working in the IAEA. We’re on the board of governors; there’s a board meeting [in November]. We want to be able to move forward on a fuel bank. We want there to be a fuel bank stood up. We are looking strongly at supporting the Russian Angarsk facility because we want something up. These are not competing ideas; we don’t want them to be viewed as competing ideas. We want them to be viewed as “Let’s get something going.” So we’re looking to work with our Russian friends; I’ve been working with my counterpart on that. What we’re trying to do is to have people look across the expanse of opportunities and to knit together the things you have to have in order to get solutions to some of these problems.
You have a lot of countries that are critical about the P-5 record on disarmament, [saying that] we’re not doing enough. You have a number of countries that believe that the P-5 have denied them their sovereign right to have civilian nuclear power. From our point of view, and as the secretary laid out today, and as I’ve said and as the president’s said, they should not be in conflict. The idea of strong nonproliferation regimes in the NPT, and a number of other initiatives, NTI [Nuclear Threat Initiative], Nunn-Lugar programs, all of the other things the president’s made a commitment to, holding a nuclear security summit in the spring, tying down fissile material within four years, all of these commitments, they are a basket that is porous, with a membrane between them. There’s a lot of things that go in between them, and they don’t contradict each other. It’s important on the civilian nuclear side that we make clear that you can have civilian nuclear power, but there has to be a way to ensure that having civilian nuclear power doesn’t create a proliferation risk.
How do you do that? How do you build international consensus to do that? What are the international regimes that you have to put in place? What are the incentives? How do you make sure that even for those of us who think that they’re climate neutral or even climate enhancing, whatever the reasoning is, how do you make sure that those countries understand that they’re going to have access to the fuel they need and maintain their reactors? We have a very good example in the UAE [
ACT: What is the current
Tauscher: None, we don’t do it.
ACT: You mentioned a fuel bank proposal, but that’s run into a lot of opposition. A lot of people had hoped it would be wrapped up by now, but the countries, the ones who would be using the fuel bank, are very suspicious; they see it as a way to deny them the capacity to enrich uranium. They don’t recognize the spread of enrichment as a proliferation concern. How do you address those really fundamental concerns that they have and move forward with this proposal?
Tauscher: Well, I think the truth is, above anything else, nobody can say, “Well, the last time I used that fuel bank, this is what happened to me.” We have to work to educate people, to a certain extent. There are two or three competing proposals right now. I think that in the end there could be one fuel bank, but I think that we need as many of them up and running as possible.
You have to find a way to create that safety and security. We have a 123 agreement with the UAE. Are we going to get other agreements like that? I don’t know, but the key here is to get agreement. That’s why we’re interested in supporting [the proposal for a fuel bank at]
But you know part of it is that we have to get some confidence going, especially in countries that are very concerned about their ability to have a reliable bank that they’re going to be able to go to. But you know there’s always a cost for doing business. The bank is there so that there are alternatives to reprocessing and enrichment.
Well, it is the luxury that you don’t have, but what we’re trying to do is to make that luxury too expensive. We’re sin-taxing it. We’re saying, “Hey, if you want to do that, we’re going to make it really, really hard for you because we just really can’t afford to have outliers.” We have to make clear that we support expansion of nuclear power and are prepared to help countries gain access to nuclear energy, but in a safe and economical way that does not increase the risk of proliferation.
ACT: Thank you very much.
1. On September 24, 1992, Congress passed a spending bill that included the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell amendment, which imposed a moratorium on
3. Under Annex 2 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force.
4. On May 29, the Conference on Disarmament in
5. The National Academy of Sciences is in the process of updating its 2002 report, Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty. The new report is expected to be completed in early 2010.
6. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the
7. For the text of the resolution, see http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/523/74/PDF/N0952374.pdf?OpenElement. See also Cole Harvey, “Nuclear Arms Resolution Passed at UN Summit,” Arms Control Today, October 2009, pp. 22-23.
8. For the text of the speech, as delivered, see www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/130806.htm. In the relevant section,
10. The term “P-5” refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—
12. Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the
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