Introductory speech of the President of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe
Amsterdam, June 7, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends!
Let me welcome you all warmly to our conference and thank you for coming to Amsterdam at a time like this.
Special thanks go to the members of the Luxembourg Forum Supervisory Board present here: Bill Perry, Vladimir Lukin, Des Browne.
It would be remiss of me not to express my special gratitude to Anatolii Leonidovich Adamishin who has served as First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia as well as Minister for the CIS, and to Yuri Konstantinovich Nazarkin, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary, who headed the Soviet delegation at the START-1 talks.
You are all familiar with the Conference program. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the meeting of the leaders of the USSR and USA in Reykjavik, at a time when both sides were locked down in the cold war and the contradictions between them seemed insurmountable. The nuclear arms race continued apace, the US announced its ‘star wars’ program and the Soviet Union adopted three grandiose programs to counter threats in outer space.
It was a time of paradox: the meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan clearly looked as if it had been a failure, yet at the same time it signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in the thinking of both leaders, not only with regard to the two superpowers’ nuclear policies, but also in terms of their ideas about the need to withdraw from the cold war.
And all that, despite the fact that the presidents of both countries virtually turned their backs on each other in Reykjavik: the general agreement to reduce strategic weapons by 50% and eliminate intermediate-range missiles was thwarted by the US’s refusal to wind up its Star Wars program.
It is noteworthy that unlike previous summits, this meeting took place without a previously agreed agenda or a final communiqué. And there were no official social events either.
There are participants and witnesses of this summit present here at our Conference, who will tell you in detail their ideas about it at the time and now. Let me just say that Anatolii Adamishin sees this meeting in Reykjavik as a moment of truth, an intellectual break-through to a nuclear-free world.
The most significant thing about it though was the emergence of trust, the very trust which at the moment is lacking.
After Reykjavik, in the course of the next few years, the world saw the agreement, signing and entry into force of critically important treaties, which have played a historically significant role in the process of deep reductions in nuclear weapons. I am referring particularly to the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-range and Shorter-range Missiles and the START-1 Treaty.
Drafting these treaties was extremely excruciating – and not only because of the huge amount of logistical, technical and verification elements involved. The political leadership and top military brass of both countries had to rethink the main principles of nuclear policy and nuclear deterrence.
Looking back on those events of 30 years ago, what I think is most worth underlining is the very deep understanding the senior leadership of both the USSR and the US already had at that the time of how catastrophic the consequences of using nuclear weapons would be and of the need to drastically reduce such weapons.
Particularly noteworthy in this respect were the positions of such famous military leaders as Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev and Army General Yuri Maksimov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Missile Forces at the time, who, given their respective posts, one would have expected to be conservative. But when they were interviewed after the failed meeting in Reykjavik, what we see is not only their firm support of the need for deep cuts in nuclear arms holdings, but also the profound conviction that it was essential to sit down at the negotiating table without delay. And that is a recommendation which is even more urgent now.
But I’d like to wrap up this brief overview of the historical significance of Reykjavik and revert, as a well-known character in Russian movies used to say, to our own ‘doleful times’. Doleful because what we see evolving is a new atmosphere of confrontation in relations between Russia and the West.
I trust that many amongst you will recall the Address to the Presidents of Russia and the USA, drawn up in December last year at the Joint Conference of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the International Luxembourg Forum in Washington, signed by internationally renowned political leaders and scientists. Conference participants will find a copy of that Address on their desks.
Let me just remind you that with the aim of preventing a crisis in the nuclear arms control and nuclear terrorism, it identifies resumption of US-Russian nuclear-policy relations and the immediate commencement of dialogue on further reductions in nuclear weapons as the highest priority.
It also talks about the need to take measures to avoid the risk of accidental or erroneous missile launches and to extend the timeframes for decisions to launch strategic missiles.
Equally important is to resume cooperation on nuclear materials’ security in order to prevent terrorism with catastrophic consequences.
Similarly, efforts should commence to resolve the disagreements over ballistic missile defense and precision-guided conventional strategic weapons, as well non-strategic nuclear arms control.
These steps need to be taken immediately, despite the climate of confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the build-up of military activities in border zones, sanctions and counter-sanctions.
I can assure you that the Address was submitted at practically one and the same time to both presidents of Russia and the USA.
The reaction to it was quite swift. In January the White House Press Secretary reiterated to all intents and purposes the statement made by the US President in Berlin in 2013 on the US’s readiness to work with Russia to cut nuclear weapons by a third of the level stipulated in the Prague Treaty of 2010, i.e. to reduce the maximum holdings of war-heads down from 1550 units to approximately 1000. Barak Obama reiterated this proposal at the end of March this year at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, in which President Putin did not take part.
Moscow’s reaction followed in the beginning of February. The Deputy Foreign Minister declared that in the present circumstances negotiations between Russia and the USA on further reductions of the nuclear capabilities were not possible, since USA on the one hand was still carrying out destabilizing activities by deploying its ABM system and implementing its ‘Global Strike’ program, while on the other hand, it was focusing efforts on undermining Russia’s defense capabilities through its policy of sanctions.
Moreover, it was Moscow’s view that further bilateral negotiations could take place only if all nuclear weapons states were to join the dialogue on nuclear disarmament.
That is the current state of play.
It’s not easy to find the right words here, but I believe that the American proposal to begin negotiations on further reductions in strategic weapons without any pre-conditions might have been too – let’s say for the sake of argument – straightforward. It was bound to fail. Simply because it is well known that already long since, at least two very weighty contradictions were preventing it: the US ballistic missile defense in Europe and around the world and high-precision conventional strategic weapons. And of course there is in addition the obvious influence of the heightened confrontation between Russia and the West over the situation in Ukraine and the build-up of additional forces in border areas.
Quite apart from that, recently the situation has become all the more acute after the BMD base in Romania has been put on alert. Moscow maintains that this is a blatant violation of the perpetual INF Treaty inasmuch as land-based interceptor launchers could be used for launching American nuclear and conventional long-range cruise missiles.
Washington in its turn has objected for a long time to Moscow’s testing of cruise missiles with a range of over 500 km using land-based launchers, which is also banned by the INF Treaty.
And all this is happening as US Under-Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller stated in February this year that progress has been noted on the intermediate-range and shorter-range missile dialogue and that it should be possible to resolve outstanding problems in the upcoming months.
It is difficult to say whether this will be possible. In an untroubled atmosphere such objections are fairly easily resolved in the framework of a conciliation committee, but now they have turned into intractable problems.
Embarking on negotiations for further cuts in strategic arms will probably only be possible after a gradual process of compromise on BMD, strategic conventional weapons, as well as progress on implementing the Minsk agreements and a partial lifting of sanctions.
I think, however, that some shift in Moscow’s position on BMD can be observed of late. For example, President Putin said a while back that Russian strategic missiles were capable of overwhelming even the most advanced BMD systems, and very recently he raised the issue to political level, pointing out that Russia had in the past been ready to engage jointly on a BMD architecture, but this had been prevented by unilateral actions of the USA.
I trust that our conference will be able to come up with an additional analysis of how further progress could be achieved in this and other areas.
And of course, we need to press on with our analysis of how to implement the proposals thrashed out at the Joint Conference with the NTI in December in Washington on reducing the risk of accidental missile launches, strengthening measures to counter catastrophic nuclear terrorism and securing nuclear materials.
In conclusion, I think it is highly relevant to quote the key appeal we make in our December Address: “Today we find ourselves in a race between cooperation and catastrophe. Consequently, leaders must begin this work immediately. Because of growing tensions across the globe, renewed and enhanced dialogue is essential. No security architecture, no set of rules, no efforts to negotiate or implement agreements can succeed without leaders who are committed to addressing core issues and who are willing to cooperate. It is their obligation as leaders to work together to build a safer world for all our citizens.”
It remains only for me to say that I feel confident that our conference will be productive – and to wish us all success.