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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

John Holum Speech on Arms Control Principles and Priorities

Speech by John Holum, Senior Arms Control Adviser to President Clinton, to the annual Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) conference, Norfolk, Virginia, May 31, 2000

"… In the past I have come mainly as an advocate, to represent the administration's views on specific arms control issues. As the Clinton administration begins winding down, I thought it would be appropriate to be a bit more reflective. …

Arms control has contributed immensely to stability. Whether through bilateral agreements to reduce strategic offensive forces; unilateral steps, such as those taken by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in 1991; multilateral efforts, such as the CWC, the CTBT, or the permanent extension of the NPT; or through other measures, such as our ongoing efforts in Russia to improve the security of nuclear materials and safety of nuclear reactors, the world has relied on arms control to reduce threats, and introduce predictability into otherwise volatile environments. Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests in South Asia and, of course, the Senate's refusal to provide its advice and consent to CTBT ratification, some question the value of this discipline. Indeed, after the Senate's CTBT vote some proclaimed, with no lack of hyperbole, that the vote signified nothing less than 'the end of arms control.' Some feel the Clinton administration's consideration of National Missile Defense portends the same fate from another direction. Are the critics right? Is there still a useful, stabilizing role for arms control, or has the enterprise become obsolete and so highly politicized that progress is no longer possible?

That is emphatically not my view. We live in an era of mounting challenges, with WMD and missile technologies increasingly accessible and, to some, apparently irresistible. It is more, not less, important to embrace all steps that can promote stability. Toward this end, I would suggest 10 broad messages - I thought of calling them 'principles for arms control in the new millennium' but that seems a bit grand. I'll call them 'observations,' and let you decide.

First, a reminder of what works: arms control must continue to have as its preeminent goal the enhancement of security. I won't dwell on this because it is obvious, certainly to this audience. But there are places where it needs elaboration. The essential point is that we don't do arms control as a morality play or as a favor to others; we do it when it serves our security, by limiting threats to our territory, our people, and our interests in the world.

Second, the security rationale for arms control needs more prominence globally. It gets lost in two ways. The first is when other agendas get in the way. Negotiations to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention are dragging in Geneva, 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. To sharpen one tool by blunting another is not a good bargain, and we won't take it. But it illustrates the problem that multilateral arms control too often is considered a 'zero sum' struggle among competing economic or political interests, instead of a 'plus sum' endeavor in which all are after, and all gain, security. …

Third, we need specialized approaches for the hard cases. Generally speaking, states that join treaty regimes comply with them. But some key states, as experience also tells us, do not join, and others cheat. I don't have a guaranteed formula for success. That's why these are called the 'hard cases,' to distinguish them from 'easy' things like the test ban and START III. But I must say 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, with concerted strategies focussed on the specific circumstances, and on what unique incentives and disincentives may be available to us and to others seeking a solution. …

Fourth, we should continue the process of negotiating reductions in strategic arms. With Russia's nuclear arsenal headed downward anyway, it may be tempting to ask, 'why bother? Russia's economic woes are forcing it to reduce its weapons anyway; what's in it for us?' One answer is that negotiated and verifiable agreements can influence how, and for how long Russia reduces its forces. Absent formal agreements, there's a good chance Russia would retain or build destabilizing systems, such as the heavy land-based MIRVed [multiple independently-targetted re-entry vehicles] missiles banned by START I and II. Absent formal agreements both sides would lose verification, which we need more of, not less. And absent formal agreements, we would be dependent on something we earnestly hope is temporary, Russia's economic distress, for long term stability - or, conversely, a Russian government, putting security first, might spend sums it can't afford on a strategic buildup, thus putting democratic reform and market economics at risk. …

Fifth, once negotiated, arms control agreements should not be considered immune from re-examination. We agreed that Europe's sharply altered political and security landscape warranted adjustment in the CFE Treaty, replacing bloc limits with national ceilings and affording Russia greater flexibility in the disposition of its forces. And, as you know, we're making that same argument to Russia regarding 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 or ignored. We're working to address it on many fronts, including both prevention and deterrence. But we are reaching the stage where defense also belongs in the mix. …

Sixth, we need to think realistically about verification. It's no secret that during the CTBT debate we were on the defensive on verification. The questions were easy and the answers were complex - not that we could detect any violation, but essentially that we could probably detect and deter violations that could damage our security in time to respond. Yet that is increasingly the case. The question is whether difficulty of enforcement is sufficient reason not to have a law in the first place. I suspect few would argue that we should withdraw from the Biological Weapons Convention because it is unverifiable; rather, we should improve it. More generally, the standard of 'effectively verifiable' is what we can realistically achieve, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. In each case, we have to do a 'net assessment.' Recognizing that verification will never be perfect, are we better off with the treaty and its verification regime than we would be without. …

Seventh, arms controllers need to be opportunistic about technology. A good example is the IAEA's Strengthened Safeguards Protocol. It was inspired by the discovery of active nuclear programs in Iraq and North Korea... But the Protocol also became possible because of advances in technology, giving the Agency more capacity, with broadened access, to detect activities at undeclared sites. … Arms control should…build on advances in enabling technologies and basic sciences: smaller and more efficient power sources for unattended sensors; expanded interoperability between systems; and comprehensive signature libraries and phenomenology studies. So I remain an enthusiast of strengthening the nexus between arms control and technology.

Eighth, arms control increasingly has to deal with non-governmental actors. This is particularly the case for business, where treaties seek to expand inspection rights, such as the CWC's 'anytime, anywhere' provisions, or the enhanced inspection rights under the IAEA's strengthened safeguards. The BWC negotiations are dealing with this problem right now. In negotiating such agreements, we need to account not only for security needs but commercial realities. As to policy, NGOs have, of course, been forceful arms control advocates for many years. The open question is whether the 'Ottawa process' pattern is likely to be repeated. My guess is not, but yours is just as good. In that case, as you know, 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 does not include most of the major historic producers and users of landmines. Absolutes don't fit very well with the give-and-take that is required to achieve broadly-based arms control results. But in any event NGOs must remain a valuable part of the process, and keep contesting our judgments of what can be achieved.

Ninth: We need to put greater emphasis on non-traditional tools, such as small arms measures and confidence-building, to deal with regional or internal conflicts. In some parts of the world small arms have become weapons of mass destruction. Arms control methods can help - one reason why our professional on-site inspectors keep encountering what I've heard Admiral Barnes describe as 'pop-up missions.' Among other initiatives, we want to conclude this year a Firearms Protocol to the UN Transnational Organized Crime Convention, to stem the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons trafficking by harmonizing global export and import policies. We're also providing assistance to ensure the safe storage or destruction of surplus stockpiles of these weapons. So we're working on many fronts, and will continue.

This leads to a tenth and final observation. It is critical that arms control policymaking and implementation have bipartisan understanding and support. The Senate's CTBT vote suggests that the bipartisan tradition of arms control has eroded. It must be restored. That is the basis of our on-going efforts, aided by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili, to quietly work the issues on CTBT, and we hope set the stage for resumed Senate consideration. In the same vein I heartily welcome, and have done my best, along with Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, to cooperate with, the new National Security Working Group [NSWG] in the Senate, co-chaired by Senator Cochran [Republican, Mississippi] and Senator Byrd [Democrat, West Virginia]. We brief them regularly, including on our discussions the ABM Treaty and START III. Members of Congress are stretched thin. It is reason for celebration when they are prepared to probe deeply into not only our policy conclusions and diplomatic strategies, but also our underlying reasoning about arms control's role. At a minimum, we can find a core understanding, so we will be dealing on the basis of reality, rather than caricatures. Perhaps, the NSWG can be a worthy successor to the Arms Control Observers Group in ensuring that, when treaties reach the Senate, they have a base of informed support. …"

Source: Text - Holum Outlines Security Rationale for Arms Control Process, US State Department (Washington File), June 8.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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