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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

Nuclear Risk Reduction Centres (NRRC) 10th Anniversary

Remarks made during ceremonies held at the State Department in Washington marking the 10th anniversary of US-Russian Nuclear Risk Reduction Centres in Moscow and Washington, 7 April 1998

Remarks by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Eric Newsom

"In September of 1987, Secretary of State George Schulz and Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze signed the agreement to establish the NRRC system. On 6 April, 1988, the US NRRC sent to its Soviet counterpart its very first message - a notification that was required under the Ballistic Missile Launch Agreement.

So, you're probably asking yourself, well, what is a NRRC? In essence, it's a communications center within the Bureau of Political Military Affairs in the Department of State, [of] which I'm the head. Now it directly links us with governments around the world to clarify military intentions and actions and to reduce the risks of war.

The NRRC system grew out of a desire, during the Cold War, to avoid the risk of accidental nuclear war brought about by misunderstanding or miscalculation. In the beginning, the US and Soviet NRRC's exchanged messages informing the other side in advance of potentially provocative acts, such as missile launches, as well as notifying them of the intention to carry out inspections or destruction of weapons systems, called for under arms control agreements.

From this simple beginning, the NRRC's role has grown dramatically. In 1988, the US NRRC exchanged 1,800 treaty messages with the Soviet Union, supporting only two major arms control agreements. In 1997, the NRRC sent and received 15,000 notifications in support of nearly 20 agreements, including the INF [Intermediate Nuclear Forces] Treaty, START I Treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The US NRRC now operates seven separate communications systems linked directly or indirectly with more than 100 countries. We send all our messages in English, but routinely handle incoming messages in six languages, including Russian. These messages are received, translated immediately and disseminated within the US government 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Department of State and the Political Military Bureau are proud to continue this work, supporting US efforts to increase transparency and reduce the risk of conflict. ..."

Remarks by John Holum, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Affairs

Arms control treaties and agreements, more than 30 since 1987, are substantially reducing the numbers of nuclear and conventional weapons threatening our interests, our friends, our forces and our men and women in uniform around the world. We all follow the negotiations and the signing ceremonies with great interest; those are the dramatic moments. But what happens next is what matters most in implementation. I suspect most people outside the Beltway, at least, are more interested in what we do than what we've agreed to do. With my South Dakota farm roots, I tend to refer to this as the arms control harvest - when we actually reap the benefits of arms control in weapons sliced apart, in threats averted, in disputes resolved.

The treaties are only as good as the level of compliance and enforcement that we can assure. That's where the NRRC plays its role in giving us confidence that the parties to an agreement are doing what they promised. Verification often begins with a NRRC notification, laying out the who, what, where, when and how of arms control actions.

When we get the coordinates from a notification, we may take satellite pictures. Treaties often require the dismantled weapons be left in the open, specifically for that purpose. If further doubt exists, we can send an inspection team on short notice. And we signal that they're on their way through a NRRC notification. This center is therefore fundamental to the very fulfillment of the arms control promise.

The NRRC is a very small part of a very large endeavor. To make sure treaties are carried out to the letter, we draw on resources from the Department of State, from ACDA, from the Department of Defense and from the intelligence community. In the last decade, through these vehicles, we've confirmed that the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty has completely eliminated the 2,700 mid-range nuclear missiles targeted at Western and Eastern Europe. The START I Treaty is now eliminating the long-range delivery systems for more than 9,000 nuclear warheads, and will eventually cut 14,000 once START II is ratified.

Kazakstan, Belarus and Ukraine have already turned over their thousands of nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling, and they're now nuclear-free. Under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, signatories have destroyed more than 51,000 weapons - mostly tanks, helicopters, artillery pieces and combat aircraft.

Now, all of these arms control successes are part and parcel of the NRRC's charge, and it is continuously gaining new responsibilities, including with respect to the Chemical Weapons Convention, as Eric mentioned, that went into force last fall. The successes of the NRRC means the United States can approach arms control from a position of confidence and strength, and thus pursue additional steps, including the President's call for Senate ratification this year of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Yesterday, as you've seen, our allies in France and Britain became the first two nuclear-weapon States to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban. The ball is now even more squarely in our court. The sooner we ratify the CTBT, the sooner we set the rest of the world on the same path. US leadership is crucial to the CTBT's success. We should be in the business not of complicating arms control, but of making it happen.

The professionals here in the NRRC make compliance and verification credible for arms control policy. After 10 fruitful years, it has built a solid foundation upon which our ongoing arms control work - ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] demarcation agreements, START II, START III and the Comprehensive Test Ban among them - can be built. ..."

Remarks by Acting Secretary of State Strobe Talbott

"[W]hat this anniversary of the NRRC really represents is much more than just a decade of vitally important work. It also represents a landmark accomplishment in mankind's efforts to go back to the very dawn of the nuclear age to avert the most horrible of all imaginable catastrophes. And even beyond that immediate task, the NRRC, as John has said, has also been part of a larger effort whereby the United States has worked to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union during the waning days of the Cold War, and then to build up a new relationship with a free and democratic Russia, during the first years of the complex new era in which we now live.

Around the time that this facility began operation, the public's fear of nuclear Armageddon receded very considerably, and it did so for good reason; and that is that the organizing principle of international politics was no longer a global rivalry between two superpowers, each committed to goals and principles that were anathema to the other. But many people assumed that with the end of the Cold War, the importance of arms control as an objective of foreign policy was also receding. And to put it mildly, that has not been the case, nor should it be the case.

In fact, the possibility that weapons of mass destruction might actually be used by rogue States, terrorist groups or even individuals has increased over the past decade. That's due in part to advances in technology that make these weapons cheaper and more portable; and it's also due to the greater openness of the entire planet to trade and transportation of all sorts of goods and services, including the most lethal imaginable.

We must work especially hard with the new democracies of the former Soviet Union to make sure that the weapons and expertise that they inherited from that earlier era do not end up in the hands of those who would threaten world peace. It's in pursuit of that goal that we're offering economic incentives to encourage key countries to join us in playing by internationally accepted rules on non-proliferation and export control, even as we impose sanctions on others that actively break those rules and threaten our safety.

Meanwhile, the framework of arms control treaties and verification systems that served us so well during the Cold War remains vital in the post-Cold War world. And many of these treaties, as John has already mentioned, are still works in progress. We're working together with some 30 nations to adapt the CFE, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, to a new environment in which there are no longer military blocks squared off against each other in Europe. And our partnership with Russia has obviously been vitally important to that effort. ...

As Eric mentioned, they will send and receive roughly 15,000 messages during the course of this year. They and their Russian counterparts do the nuts and bolts day in and day out work of planetary survival. My thanks to them and their predecessors for a decade of service to their nation and, in fact, to their species. And my thanks also, in advance, to them and their successors for as many decades of effort as it takes to eliminate the threat of nuclear war altogether. ..."

Source: Transcript - State officials celebrate 10th anniversary of NRRC, United States Information Service, 7 April.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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