Global Zero at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

Global Zero | November 16,2019


U.S. Chair of Global Zero and U.S. chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks Ambassador Richard Burt participated in the “Arms Control in the 21st Century” panel session at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum on November 26, 2019. The video and transcript of Ambassador Burt’s remarks are below.

[30:03] Des Browne, moderator: So [Ambassador] Richard [Burt], you of course were the chief negotiator of the original START Treaty, embarked upon after a period in which we thought that arms control had been lost during the 1980’s but was refound very successfully and very strongly as an element of security. 

So my question to you is given that significant history that you haveare the principles that we apply to how we prevent military conflict between major powers, are they different in an environment that is a mixture of old technologies and new technologies such as in the one we’re living in and think about all the time or are they the same basic principles and if so, what are they?

Amb. Richard Burt: Well, I think in the most basic sense the principles are the same. And the best way to talk about those principles is to say that I’m old enough to remember – at the age of maybe 14 or 15-years old – coming home from school and having my parents sit me down, turning on the television and seeing [U.S. President] John F. Kennedy announce on a nation-wide television address that U.S reconnaissance aircraft had found Soviet missiles deployed in Cuba. 

Those were the famous missiles of October and for about 2 weeks, the world held its breath because, and in many conversations that I have with Russians since then as well as with Europeans, we came about this close to thermonuclear war. 

And the principles I think that put us on a course – and John F. Kennedy very shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis gave a very famous speech at American University in Washington, D.C and said we have to do something about the nuclear arms race. That led to the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, the beginning of strategic arms control – let’s call it the Golden Age of arms control from the [19]70’s, 80’s, into the 90’s. 

The two principles that I think were overarching there: One was predictability. We take predictability now for granted. But we used to – both sides, both the Russians and the Americans and others – engaged in worst-case analysis. We thought the other side was going to build up and so we had better build up. That led to the entirely absurd situation, beginning of the Reagan administration in which I entered in the early 80’s, where both sides, Russia and the United States, deployed together over 50,000 nuclear warheads. 

We had in [the U.S.] nuclear war plan, which was then of course very classified, but in that period there was a target in Moscow that we were going to hit with five different nuclear weapons. So predictability is critical. And that goes to the point about the extension of New START. We do not want to lose the predictability which is built into the New START Treaty, the most important limit [of which] is the limit on number of warheads where Russia and the United States both are permitted to deploy 1,550 warheads. 

Second to predictability, the other overarching concept, and Des Browne was referring to this, is stability. And what do we mean by stability? The way we’ve defined it in the nuclear era is basically the idea that nobody wants to have an incentive to use their nuclear weapons in a crisis. In other words, both sides have the ability to retaliate so that they don’t feel that they will be threatened by a disarming first strike. 

Now that’s also very critical because any time there’s a big disagreement with a nuclear power – and remember folks, we’re not just talking about the United States and Russia, we’re not talking just about China here. We’re living in a world now where North Korea; potentially maybe South Korea; maybe Japan; we’ve got India and Pakistan; Iran now, the JCPOA is in very bad shape and the Iranians are now enriching uranium; Turkey is talking about acquiring a nuclear weapon. So we don’t have to just worry about vertical proliferation (the U.S./Russia build up) but horizontal as well. 

"In 2029 I don’t want to see any nuclear weapons at all." -Amb. Richard Burt Credit: Körber-Stiftung/Marc Darchinger

That takes me very briefly to the new technologies, and here is where we face a real conceptual problem… There are three or four areas where new technology is breaking the concepts, or breaking down the barriers or the divisions that allowed us to negotiate arms control in the past. 

One is between nuclear and conventional. Our Russian panelist mentioned prompt global strike. What that is is an American conventional long-range weapon that is capable to take on a strategic role because it is so accurate. So it can carry out nuclear-type operations on a ballistic missile that in the past could only be done by a nuclear weapon. 

Secondly, a total blurring of strategic and tactical. Remember we talked about START as Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, but if you can’t distinguish between different types of new cruise missiles – between strategic and tactical – what’s in and what’s out when you sit down across a negotiating table? 

Offense-defense. Because of the ABM Treaty both sides only deployed offensive weapons, but now defensive weapons are allowable because the United States walked out of that Treaty. Huge mistake as far as I’m concerned but we did. And now there’s a new generation of defensive weapons under development – so-called directed energy weapons, boost phase intercept weapons – which could destroy a missile on its launch. And this is going to again raise the unpredictability and challenge the stability of the overall balance. 

And finally, there’s the issue of new participants. We can’t talk any longer just about the U.S.-Russia balance. I know this causes problems for our Chinese friends. I know they have a strategy of minimal deterrence, so their forces aren’t as large as the U.S. and Russian forces. But at some point China, because of its technological development and because it is modernizing its forces, we’ve got to be creative and find a way to bring China in conversation as well. 

So I would just simply conclude that we need — and this is where I think the statement here was so wise — we need a good five years at least of real creativity. And as much as some people on this panel won’t agree with me, I don’t think it’s going to happen in the U.S. government, I don’t think it’s going to happen in the Russian government and, I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s going to happen in the German government. It’s got to happen in research organizations first, in the academic world, where we’re creative about coming up with new conceptual approaches to predictability and strategic stability in the years ahead. 

And I’ll just end by saying — and I’ll say this as particularly important to Des Browne because he’s so correct to talk about young people — as important as it is to do something about plastic bottles, which is a huge threat, I understand that, we’ve also got to do something about nuclear weapons. So I hope young people get into that issue as well.


Credit: Körber-Stiftung/Marc Darchinger

[39:27]: Audience questions on how China can be brought into strategic nuclear arms control; and what kind of arms control treaties, institutions and regimes the panelists would like to see in place in 2029.

[49:45] Amb. Burt: […O]n China, one of the most interesting experiences I had negotiating with the Russians on nuclear arms control over the years, it’s been a whole question of verification. And what we were able to do in the early 1990’s was actually for the first time, which I thought would’ve been impossible before, to get on-site inspection where you could actually go to Russian missile silos, they would open the silos, they would take screwdrivers, take the nose cone off and you could count the number of multiple warheads on those missiles. If you had told me in the ‘80s that we could have done that, I would have said that’s impossible. 

That’s my answer on China. I think because we’re not in a position now where, with the Chinese, we can negotiate equal levels. We have to get down to a low enough number to make it of interest, to make it equitable. But I think we need to begin looking for exercises to bring China into the process. And the Chinese have a very, let’s call it, mysterious kind of deterrent. Their missiles are deployed in caves. And one thing I would begin to think about doing is inviting the Chinese to both Russia and the United States with inspectors. Let the Chinese watch how Russia and the United States inspect each other’s nuclear forces. And then to begin the process of having them begin to propose how they could become more open and transparent in the process. It’s got to be a learning experience, it’s not going to happen overnight. And I think we need to start now. 

And finally, in 2029, I have to give you the textbook answer since I’m the USA Chairman of Global Zero. In 2029 I don’t want to see any nuclear weapons at all. And people say “that’s a crazy vision,” but I want to remind you it was only ten years ago that four well-known gentlemen, including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn, actually wrote a famous op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal proposing just that. So we have to be, I think, ambitious in looking into the future.